Like any football team, good, mediocre or bad, Texas Tech
has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the
squad’s success. These players, whether by virtue of sheer talent, experience,
leadership ability, importance of the position played, or depth concerns, are
especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they
would be very conspicuous were they to be absent for any reason. In fact, that
may be the best way to conceive of the critical players—they are the
performers the team could least afford to lose.
With this weekly series, we will take a reverse order look
at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
Lost in the hubbub surrounding Tommy Tuberville’s
first season as Texas Tech’s head coach was a promising first season by Red
Raider noseguard Pearlie Graves. The six-foot-two
285-pound former blue chip recruit from Tulsa finally got his shot after a
redshirt year, and served notice that he will be a player to reckon with.
To even play as a freshman in the defensive interior is a
good accomplishment, but Graves actually started five games and saw action in
two others. He marked time on the scout team for the first five games of the
Once in the lineup, Graves wasted no time making things
happen. In his first outing against the University of Colorado, he made three
tackles, tallied two sacks and recorded three tackles for loss. Graves started
for the first time the following week against Texas A&M and logged seven tackles
and 1.5 tackles for loss. For the season he had 14 tackles, two sacks and 4.5
tackles for loss.
Graves is not a hulking behemoth of a defensive lineman, but
verily, size isn’t everything. What Graves lacks in girth he makes up for in
quickness, explosion and hustle. Graves is not a classic run-stuffing fireplug,
but he is a disruptive player who gets into the backfield often and gives great
effort on most every play.
One problem for Graves in his short Texas Tech career has
been injury. He has been bedeviled by various physical setbacks almost since
his arrival in Lubbock, and the trend continued in the spring. Graves missed
the second half of spring camp and Donald Langley assumed the starting role in
his stead. What’s more, Langley flourished so there is no guarantee the
sophomore will unseat the junior.
If, however, Graves can get healthy and stay that way, he
will be difficult to keep out of the starting lineup. The good news for Tech is
that Graves, Langley and Chris Perry will ensure that depth is not a problem at
noseguard. And with Graves on the field, talent won’t
be an issue either.