Tough QB decision looms at Texas Tech

Despite the absence of Mike Leach, Texas Tech fans will recognize the familiar Air Raid offense being run this fall in Lubbock, Tex.

But exactly who will be in charge of the attack?

With the offense essentially remaining the same under new coordinator Neal Brown — with the exception of terminology and how plays are relayed to the signal-caller — the Red Raiders are expected to continue to score points in bunches in 2010. They return all but one key wide receiver from last season and have the same running back core intact with leading rusher Baron Batch, as well as sophomores Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens.

But new head coach Tommy Tuberville has a decision to make under center between a pair of seniors, Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts.

The situation is unique for the Red Raiders because both signal-callers missed most of spring practice with injuries. Potts, the Week 1 starter in 2009, suffered a serious laceration to his throwing hand, while the former walk-on Sheffield re-broke his foot after stepping on a teammate’s foot. Both underwent surgery and will be healthy for fall camp, but their injuries did little to settle the quarterback derby.

Sheffield looked to have a slight edge when both went down, but the competition will certainly be intense in the fall. While Tuberville doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to name a starter for the opener Sept. 5 against June Jones’ SMU squad, the job could be Sheffield’s to lose.

On The Dallas Morning News’ website, Michael Graham makes a case for the former Auburn boss to appoint Sheffield as the starter over Potts for two main reasons.

First, new coordinator Brown said that having a mobile quarterback will increase the efficiency of the offense, and he noted when he was hired that quarterbacks will have the green light to tuck the ball and run if the opportunity arises — the biggest difference from the offense run under Leach. Sheffield is better on his feet than Potts, as he is more comfortable and capable throwing on the run, which would also give the wide receivers more time to get open down the field.

Second, Texas Tech rallied behind Sheffield last season when Potts was knocked out with a concussion against New Mexico on Oct. 3. Sheffield led an 89-yard touchdown drive with 56 seconds left in the first half and tossed two more scores the rest of the way to give the Red Raiders a 48-28 victory. With Potts still out, Sheffield threw seven touchdowns in a 66-14 win over Kansas State and led the Red Raiders to a 31-10 road victory at Nebraska.

He broke his foot for the first time late in the Nebraska game, which re-opened the job to Potts. But after some ups and downs in his return, Potts left the Alamo Bowl with a minor injury, paving the way for Sheffield to toss Tech’s go-ahead score and lead the offense down the field in the final minutes to seal the victory.

The team rallied behind Sheffield last year, and Tuberville should take stock in that fact.

Sheffield’s health should still be a concern, however, after breaking the same foot twice in one year. And at 6-5, 190 pounds, there is concern as to whether he can hold up for a full season against Big 12 defenses.

Perhaps 2010 will be a repeat of 2009, with a revolving door under center because of injuries. Despite the depth at quarterback with the talented Sheffield and Potts, Red Raiders fans are hoping that one of the two could remain healthy all season and help make Tuberville’s first season in the Big 12 a successful one.

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