August 5, 2007

Key Red Raiders: #9 Colby Whitlock

A huge number of factors go into the success of any football team. In this series, we will be examining 25 of them. More specifically, we will be taking a reverse-order look at the 25 players who will be most crucial if the Texas Tech Red Raiders are to have a successful 2007 season, however that may be defined.

This is not, however, a list of the best players on the team. Rather, this series takes into consideration the importance of a given position on the team, depth issues, experience and inexperience, and the historic strengths and weaknesses of Mike Leach's program. The results, therefore, may surprise many readers, and will hopefully spur spirited discussion and debate.

Colby Whitlock: Pre-season projections for the 2007 Texas Tech football team are now coming hard-and-fast and, truth be told, they are not pretty. A considerable body of opinion is forming to the effect that the Red Raiders with be the fifth best team, not in the Big 12, but in the Big 12 South division. A large slice of the punditocracy believes that Tech will be better than only Baylor.

Mike Leach and the Tech fan-base seem to be taking this pretty well, all things considered. Scragger Leach says he really doesn't give a toss one way or the other and the rabid Raider rooters are allowing that a fifth-place projection is not unreasonable.

The key reason that projected near cellar status does not seem ridiculous-aside from the apparent strength of Texas, Oklahoma, A&M and Oklahoma State-is the now traditional concern with the Red Raider defense, and more specifically, the defensive front seven.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Air Raid will score its usual points in bunches but that the water-weak Tech D, in all too many instances, will give them up even faster than the offense can score them. Popular opinion also suggests that if, somehow, the Red Raider defense is able to conjure up some unsuspected toughness up front the team will be the surprise of the league.

A key to fortifying the front seven will be the ability of three incoming freshman tackles to contribute. Of those freshmen, Noble, Oklahoma's Colby Whitlock has made the biggest splash since his arrival and appears most ready to contribute immediately. For that reason, the spotlight is shining upon his six-foot-two 290-pound physiognomy with far more intensity than is usually the case with a freshman.

Whitlock, who failed to attract a huge amount of recruiting attention his senior season, obviously has the size to play immediately. And judging by his videos, his talent far outstrips his status as a recruit.
Whitlock simply overpowered opponents at the point of attack in high school. He caved in offensive lines in impressive fashion, was never knocked back on his heels, and rarely even stonewalled momentarily. In other words, Whitlock delivered the blow rather than received it.

Whitlock also plays with great intensity and has an unerring nose for the football, taking the perfect angle to quarterbacks and running backs alike. This usually means running smack over blockers in a straight line to the ball. In this regard Whitlock reminds one of fellow Okie and Texas Tech defensive end Jake Ratliff.

Still, Whitlock is a true freshman playing one of the most physically-demanding positions in football. Too, Rylan Reed, Brandon Carter, Shawn Byrnes, Louis Vasquez and Marlon Winn, not to mention the linemen he will face in the Big 12, will be a shade better than what he was up against in the Oklahoma schoolboy ranks. We will know very shortly just how much Whitlock will be able to contribute this season. Tech's extreme need for his contributions, however, is not in any doubt whatsoever and that is why he is such an important piece of the puzzle.


TOP 25 KEY PLAYERS:

9. Colby Whitlock
10. Marlon Winn
11. Kellen Tillman
12. Richard Jones
13. Brandon Carter
14. Clint Stoffels
15. Jake Ratliff
16. Chad Hill
17. Marlon Williams
18. Stephen Hamby
19. David Neill
20. Chris Parker
21. Jonathan Lacour
22. Alex Trlica
23. Edward Britton
24. Kobey Lewis
25. L.A. Reed



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