Like any football team, good, mediocre or bad, Texas Tech has several players whose play will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership ability, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, 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 series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
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At the all-important defensive tackle position, the 2012 Texas Tech Red Raiders will roll with a platoon of obscure and somewhat undersized players. The least unknown of this unit, and also the most experienced, is junior Kerry Hyder.
It has been a long time since Tech has had a mammoth interior defensive lineman who was anything close to dominant. Colby Whitlock, who earned First Team All Big 12 honors in his senior campaign, comes closest to filling that bill.
But Tech has had numerous smaller defensive tackles who, in a rotation, managed to get the job done. Prime examples here are Ra'jon Henley and Richard Jones. Hyder is basically a facsimile of those two players.
In a 2011 season defined by defensive misery, Hyder quietly had a solid season. He was not a true disruptor and a big play waiting to happen, but he was quite active. Hyder notched 42 stops, which was fifth best on the team.
In 2012 defensive coordinator Art Kaufman will count on Hyder to be the bell cow up front. Hyder played extensively as a freshman and started all 12 games last season; he's more accustomed to the Big 12 grind than any other defensive tackle on the roster.
Because of his experience and knowledge of what is expected of the interior linemen, Hyder will act as the adhesive which binds this group of players together. Hyder will work with Dennell Wesley, Lee Adams, Donte Phillips, Leon Mackey, Delvon Simmons, and possibly Anthony Smith.
Of Hyder's defensive tackle mates, only Wesley and Simmons have experience at the position at the D-1 level. Adams is a new JUCO transfer, Phillips is a redshirt freshman, Mackey has just moved to tackle from defensive end, and Smith will be a true freshman.
Soldering this unit into an effective, cohesive whole will be no mean feat. But if Hyder can spearhead this group's development into a solid presence rather than a liability, he will have done yeoman work worthy of real respect.