By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Texas Tech Red Raiders 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 5-7, 2-7 Big 12
Spring practice dates: Feb. 17-March 24
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
Passing: Seth Doege, 398 of 581, 4,004 yds., 28 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Eric Stephens, 108 car., 565 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Eric Ward, 84 rec., 800 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Cody Davis, 93
Sacks: Dartwan Smith, 2
Interceptions: D.J. Johnson, 2
Redshirts to watch: WR Javares McRoy, WR Jakeem Grant, DE Branden Jackson, OL Tony Morales
Transfer to watch: WR Tyson Williams (West Texas A&M)
Early Enrollees: DE Lee Adams (JC), WR Javon Bell (JC), OL Rashad Fortenberry (JC), ATH SaDale Foster (JC), OL Jared Kaster, DB Thierry Nguema, LB Christofer Payne (JC), LB Will Smith (JC), S Austin Stewart (JC)
Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)
Offensive Strength: Quarterback Seth Doege was solid in his debut season, throwing for 4,004 yards and 28 scores. Doege finished seventh nationally in total offense with 337.5 yards per game. Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL late in the 2011 season, but the receiving corps is still in good shape with the return of Darrin Moore and Eric Ward.
Offensive Weakness: With Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington nursing significant knee injuries this spring, the Red Raiders are short on depth in the backfield. The offensive line also loses two starters, including guard Lonnie Edwards and is shuffling some players around this spring.
Defensive Strength: It’s hard to call any unit on the defense a strength after ranking 117th nationally in points allowed last year. However, the Red Raiders have some young talent returning in 2012, and Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson could both contend for all-conference honors this season.
Defensive Weakness: Six starters are back, but the coaching staff still has a lot of work to do with this group in 2012. The Red Raiders were one of the worst defenses in the country and six junior college players were brought in to help immediately this spring.
Spring Storylines Facing the Red Raiders:
1. For the first time since 1992, Texas Tech is coming off a season in which it did not win at least six games. The Red Raiders got off to a solid 5-2 start, including a surprise 41-38 upset over Oklahoma in mid-October. However, the upset over the Sooners was the highlight of the season, as Texas Tech dropped its final five games to finish with a losing record and no bowl appearance for the first time since 1999. It’s important for the Red Raiders to build some confidence this spring and get back on the winning track in 2012.
2. Generating yards and points hasn’t been an issue for several years in Lubbock and 2011 was no different. The Red Raiders finished 13th nationally in total offense and averaged 33.8 points a game. However, this unit suffered some key injuries last year and will be a focal point through preseason workouts. Running back Eric Stephens was off to a fantastic start – averaging 113 yards through the first five games of last season – but suffered a significant knee injury against Texas A&M and was forced to sit out the remainder of the 2011 season. Stephens will sit out spring practice and could redshirt this season. Making matters even worse is the status of sophomore DeAndre Washington. He suffered a torn ACL late in the year against Missouri and may also sit out 2012. With Stephens and Washington sidelined, sophomores Kenny Williams and Ronnie Daniels will be expected to take on a bigger role in the rushing attack. With concerns about depth, receiver Bradley Marquez may see some time in the backfield this spring. At 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, Marquez has the size and speed to fit perfectly as a running back in Texas Tech’s spread attack. The Red Raiders finished last in the Big 12 in rushing offense last year and the injuries may make it difficult for this group to see much statistical improvement in 2012.
3. The Red Raiders have the firepower on offense to get back to a bowl, but whether or not they can climb into the top five of the Big 12 depends on the defense. Texas Tech will have its fourth defensive coordinator in four years, as Art Kaufman was appointed from North Carolina to fix a defense that ranked 120th nationally against the run and 117th in points allowed. Kaufman has a lot of work to do this spring, but will have six returning starters. The Red Raiders’ pass rush was almost non-existent last year, as they averaged only 1.3 sacks a game. The front four was inexperienced last season, but the return of sophomore tackle Delvon Simmons, junior tackle Kerry Hyder and senior Leon Mackey is a good building block. After using the 4-2-5 defensive scheme last year, Texas Tech plans to switch back to a 4-3 look in 2012. Making improvement on this side of the ball will be the difference between finishing 5-7 again or jumping to 7-5 or 8-4.
4. The secondary wasn’t much better than the run defense, as the Red Raiders ranked 113th nationally in pass efficiency defense and intercepted only five passes. Cornerback is a concern, especially with Tre Porter moving back to safety and converted receiver Cornelius Douglas likely entrenched as one starter. Douglas should benefit from a full spring to work on the defensive side, but he will be tested early and often in 2012. Safety is in good shape with D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis returning. Terrance Bullitt started nine games at safety last season, but is expected to move to linebacker. Although the secondary needs help from the defensive line, this group has to play better and force more turnovers next season.
5. With the injury concerns at running back, quarterback Seth Doege is going to have much of the offensive workload on his shoulders. The senior’s numbers figure to only get better in his second year as the starter, but he has some injury concerns in the receiving corps as spring practice begins. Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL against Missouri and will be sidelined for spring workouts. However, Eric Ward is back after catching 84 passes and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. Darrin Moore caught 21 passes in the first two games last year, but suffered an injury against Nevada and finally got back to full strength late in the year. Ward and Moore will form a solid duo of options for Doege, but the team hopes redshirt freshmen Javares McRoy and West Texas A&M transfer Tyson Williams can help add playmaking ability to the inside receiver spots.
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