May 19, 2008

Key Red Raiders: #24 Ryan Hale

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 take a reverse-order look at the 25 players who will be most crucial if the Texas Tech Red Raiders are to have a successful 2008 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 discussion and debate.

Ryan Hale: There will undoubtedly come a time in some game next season where the Red Raiders will desperately need to pick up a first down on third or fourth and short with the game on the line. And picking up that first down may mean the difference between a BCS bowl game and the Holiday or Cotton Bowl.

In such a situation it always improves the odds of the offense if it can force the defense to guess. A defense that knows a run is coming or a pass is coming stands a far better chance of stonewalling the play than a defense that must guard equally against both possibilities.

In the past, Mike Leach's Red Raiders were almost always compelled to throw the ball because their running game was so anemic in short-yardage situations. Defenses were fully aware of this tendency, and the good ones often thwarted Tech in those circumstances.

A point of emphasis for the 2008 offense will be to convert a higher percentage of short opportunities, and one way of accomplishing that goal is improving the running game. The Red Raiders will boast three highly competent backs in the form of Baron Batch, Aaron Crawford, and Shannon Woods. They will also be blessed with a large, talented and experienced offensive line. The feature that could push the Red Raiders over the hump in the running game though is new fullback Ryan Hale.

Hale, who actually converted to fullback from linebacker before the Gator Bowl last season, is adapting to his new position very well. Based upon his blocking, Hale looks a lot like running backs coach Seth Littrell who was known as a devastating blocker in his fullback days for the Oklahoma Sooners. Hale has good size and strength, but more important, he has a linebacker's love of contact and a fearlessness that verges on reckless abandon.

When given the opportunity in spring drills-and he was given the opportunity quite a bit-Hale proved to be an excellent lead blocker on running plays. He locks onto defenders, stones them with the initial contact, and drives them backward effectively. Hopefully, Hale will make a real difference for the Red Raiders on short-yardage situations in 2008.

Key Stat: In 2007 the Red Raiders tallied 48 passing touchdowns to 17 rushing touchdowns. That's a three-to-one ratio. If Tech can get that closer to two-to-one in 2008 while increasing its overall number of touchdowns it will mean that the Red Raider rushing game has become much more potent and the Air Raid even more difficult to defend.

Where He Fits In: The unquestioned starter at BHB (Big H-Back)

2008 Expectation: We don't expect Hale to catch many passes or run the pill very often, but we do expect him to be a blocking maniac. He should see significant action against the more physical defenses Tech faces, and he will make several key blocks to spring Red Raider backs for crucial first downs. Hale will be an important factor as the Red Raiders finally have their dream season.


TOP 25 KEY PLAYERS:

24. Ryan Hale
25. Marlon Winn


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