May 27, 2008

Key Red Raiders: #23 Aaron Crawford

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.

Aaron Crawford: You might expect a football team's starting running back to rank somewhere above number 23 in a listing of most important players on the roster. The 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders, however, will not be a typical football team.

To begin with, of course, Tech is the very opposite of a running football team. In Mike Leach's offense, the running game is a safety valve utilized to bleed pressure away from the passing attack. Put another way, the run is complimentary rather than primary.

And second, the Red Raiders are blessed with a wealth of talented depth at the running back position. So much so, indeed, that Aaron Crawford is by no means assured of a starting spot throughout the duration of the season.

Shannon Woods is a former starter and a productive one at that. He will be champing at the bit to regain his former status. Baron Batch is a speedy bruiser and may be the team's most talented back. Situation specialist Kobey Lewis is too good at too many things not to get his fair share of snaps. And heck, true freshman Harrison Jeffers could conceivably crash the whole party and stir up a major kerfluffle as he bids for the starting post.

That's the case for why Crawford should be slotted no better than number 23. But there's also a case to be made for why he should be considered no lower than that spot.

Crawford is the starter at a skill position and that commands respect. The fact that he swiped the starting position as a true freshman last year commands even more.

Crawford clearly possesses his fair share of talent. He's a fine receiver out of the backfield, having caught 30 passes last year while averaging 7.3 yards per catch. That is better than Woods' average of 4.1 yards per grab, and barely trails Kobey Lewis who averaged 7.6 yards on his 22 receptions.

Moreover, Crawford was at his best in what was arguably Tech's most pivotal game of 2007, the 34-27 victory over #4 Oklahoma. In that one, Crawford plowed for 47 tough yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and hauled in a whopping 11 receptions for 81 yards. Crawford showed what he is capable of doing in pressure-packed situations. If he is can deliver at that level on a consistent basis in 2008, he will start the entire season.

Key Stat: 4.0. As far as we know, that is not Crawford's grade point average, but it is his yards per carry average from 2007 and it must improve. A quality running back enjoying the advantage of surprise in the Air Raid needs to average 4.7 yards per carry or better. If Crawford hesitates less and learns to attack the line of scrimmage more aggressively, his yards per carry average will improve.

Where He Fits In: The current starter at running back, but he'll have a battle on his hands to keep it.

2008 Expectation: Crawford holds on to his starting position through summer camp and several games into the season. Baron Batch, however, proves to be more productive and finishes out the season as the starter.


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TOP 25 KEY PLAYERS:

23. Running Back Aaron Crawford
24. H-Back Ryan Hale
25. Right Tackle Marlon Winn


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