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.
6' 0" 205
Wichita Falls, Texas
Not so very long ago, some folks were wondering whether Eric Ward was ever going to develop into a player. Some observers hinted that he might be a bust. Such is often the case for high-profile recruits in our impatient age.
But concerns about Ward's progress are entirely a thing of the past. Following a redshirt season and an unremarkable freshman campaign, Ward emerged clearly as Tech's leading receiver in 2012.
As a mere sophomore Ward tallied 84 receptions for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns. And he saved his best for last, catching 16 balls against Baylor in the season finale.
By way of comparison, Alex Torres was second on the squad in receptions with 51, while Darrin Moore was second in touchdown catches with eight. Ward was clearly the lead dog.
The only downside to his season was a very modest 9.5 yards per reception. A receiver with Ward's strength and speed should be more explosive than that.
In addition to his route-running skills and ability to catch the passes he should, Ward is an excellent blocker. He is an aggressive, physical receiver who takes pride in springing long plays for his teammates. Ward will combine with the likes of Tyson Williams and Alex Torres to give Texas Tech probably the most physical receiver corps in the Big 12.
Ward sat out the bulk of spring camp after suffering a concussion early in the proceedings. In his absence, redshirt freshman Derek Edwards and senior Marcus Kennard got the lion's share of the reps at Ward's X-receiver post.
Edwards received increasing praise from Tommy Tuberville, while Kennard really blossomed toward the end of camp. Ward will, of course, be 100 percent healthy for fall camp, but his absence during the spring allowed Edwards and Kennard to demonstrated that depth will not be a problem at X-receiver.
But the backups may not see the field a great deal in 2012. Ward, who earned All Big 12 notice from numerous publications last season, is primed for the proverbial "break out" campaign. He has allayed all doubts about his ability to flourish as a Big 12 wideout, and looks to prove himself as one of the conferences true elites in 2012. In order to do that and burst onto the scene at a national level, all Ward needs to do is become a more credible big-play threat. The projection here is that he will do just that.