For Tuberville, speed must kill at Texas Tech

Texas Tech has been in the news this week, but not because of any ongoing NCAA investigation. This offseason, as we unfortunately know, probing into big-time programs has been all the rage.

No, the Red Raiders have been in the college football conversation due to the release of former head coach Mike Leach’s book, Swing Your Sword, which portrays Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance and ESPN analyst Craig James as, well, overall bad guys.

Of course, Leach currently has lawsuits pending against the school in Lubbock over unpaid wages as well as a libel suit against ESPN and Spaeth Communications, which is the firm that James hired in 2009 following the incident involving his son, Adam James, the former Red Raiders receiver.

No matter who is right or wrong in Leach’s lawsuits, the fans in Lubbock have reason to be excited about their Red Raiders in 2011 under second-year head coach Tommy Tuberville, who has mostly gone under the radar at the Big 12 school. Well, at least when he’s not campaigning for USC’s vacated title from 2004, as he did earlier this offseason.

While many expect Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M to occupy the top spots in the 10-member Big 12 this fall, Tuberville has Texas Tech positioned to build off its 8-5 mark in 2010.

Tommy TubervilleICONTommy Tuberville has made it his priority to improve the defense by getting more speed on the field.

Despite losing veteran quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield, who started the last two seasons, new signal-caller Seth Doege does have a victory as a starter to his credit. Problem is that it came in his only college start at Tech, against Kansas in 2009. In fact, that was the only start he’s made in the last five seasons — including his final two years in high school.

Still, Doege received the most snaps this spring and enters the fall as the unquestioned starter. And with productive Eric Stephens pacing a strong rushing attack (yes, that now exists in Lubbock) and Alexander Torres leading a deep corps of receivers, the Red Raiders will remain prolific on offense.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism in Lubbock this fall, however, is the new-look defense. Yes, it sounds crazy, but the Red Raiders will be better on that side of the ball moving forward. And it better be as the team moves forward with its third coordinator in as many seasons after finishing 2010 with a No. 114 ranking in total defense.

New coordinator Chad Glasgow has arrived from TCU, where he coached the safeties since 2001 and was instrumental in helping oversee a defense that has been as stellar as any in the nation under head coach Gary Patterson. Seven starters return to a unit that was very susceptible to the big play in 2010 — the most generous defense in the Big 12. Injuries did play a role, specifically in the secondary, but the defensive backfield could end up being a strength of the defense if Cody Davis, who is the team’s leading returning tackler, and D.J. Johnson remain healthy and pick up the new 4-2-5 scheme — the same defense that Glasgow helped run in Fort Worth.

At the heart of the Horned Frogs’ success on defense over the last decade has been a consistently good pass rush. Tuberville and his staff wanted the Red Raiders to be stouter along the line, so ends Kerry Hyder and Donald Langley were moved inside this spring. Meanwhile, the hope is that Sam Fehoko and Dartwan Bush could prove to be speedier options off the edge while their youthful linemates get acclimated to the system.

It will take another year or two until Tech is able to get the speed it wants on the field and fully flourish under Glasgow. However, the future is very bright for this unit because the former TCU coach is one of the best in the business.

Upon arriving in Lubbock, Tuberville knew not to tweak the offense too much. Rather, he’s emphasized the need to establish a ground game to make the offense more balanced. He also knows that for the Red Raiders to compete with the best in the Big 12, fielding a consistently solid defense week in and week out is of the utmost importance. Having a defensive background, Tuberville will make sure that Tech continues to build off a strong recruiting class — arguably its best haul in school history — where speedy defensive linemen and a nice batch of running backs were brought into the program.

This past spring, five of those freshmen arrived on campus as early enrollees — fitting, as this is going to be one of the youngest Tech teams in recent memory.

But with “The Riverboat Gambler” leading the way, the Red Raiders are in good hands.

As long as those defenders don’t mind making a stop here or there along the way.

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