Byron Hanspard and Rodney Allison may pack the
stadium, but it’s Gabe Rivera, E. J. Holub and Ecomet Burley who win football games. And that is a point
upon which Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville would agree.
For all the flash
and spectacle of Leach’s offensive-oriented teams, he went on record as stating
he’d rather sign a great lineman than a great receiver. And that’s because, as
Leach further elaborated, God doesn’t make too many six-foot-six 300-pound
athletes. You win with those scarce commodities.
Tuberville is more
specific. For him, it is the defensive linemen who make all the difference.
“From the top to
the bottom, from Alabama, you separate the men from the boys, when it comes
down to it, with the defensive line. Defensive linemen. Because
you can control the football game with defensive linemen. You can stop
the run, you can rush the passer, but if you can’t make a difference in the
defensive line then you’re like everybody else except the real good ones. “
working to make Texas Tech like “the real good” ones, and he is doing this by
trying to build up the defensive line. Defensive linemen have been a prime
recruiting priority, and with the move of Pete Robertson from linebacker to
defensive end, we may be witnessing the initial move in a personnel trend.
“You’re not gonna go to high schools very often and find one that is a college
defensive lineman,” Tuberville asserts. “It’s usually a college linebacker or
undersized college defensive end. A guy that’s athletic.
For years, even at Miami that’s what we did. We took fast linebackers and fast
safeties and put weight on ‘em and played.”
provides an example of “growing” defensive linemen that will be familiar to fans
of the Dallas Cowboys.
“The teams that win
usually bring defensive players in that are linebackers or defensive ends and
make defensive tackles out of them. Jay Ratliff, he was a starter for the
Cowboys who probably weighs about 310; he was a 225‑pound
tight end for me at Auburn. So you got to try to project what they're going to
be when you sign them and then put weight on them.”
Of the current Red
Raiders, tackle Leon Mackey is one example of Tuberville’s
growth strategy. The all everything JUCO defensive end struggled to overcome a
collapsed lung last season, but is now healthy and has a new lease on life on
the defensive interior. According to Tuberville, Mackey played at 260 pounds
last year but is now close to 280.
The other example
is the aforementioned Pete Robertson. Tuberville again harks back to his Auburn
days to explain what he envisages with Robertson.
“We had a guy at
Auburn named Reggie Torbor that’s a lot like him
[Robertson]. We moved Reggie from running back and defensive back to defensive
end right off the bat,” Tuberville explains.
“He ended up
playing, still playing in the NFL. Ten years.”
“This league you
need a guy like him on defense chasing down quarterbacks, chasing down screen
plays from the inside out. I think he’s gonna bring an
extra dimension. He likes not having to think like we do in the secondary. He
likes getting down, playin’, hittin’
somebody. I think it’s gonna be his calling. Jury’s
still out. But he’s worked hard to gain some weight. He can run. He’s a 4.4,
4.5 guy playing defensive end. Undersized, but hey I don’t want him to take on
any big linemen. I want him to go tackle a fast quarterback or fast wide
receiver, and I think he’ll be able to do that.”
complete inability to stop the run last season, some observers may be concerned
about the team’s relative lack of size on the defensive line, and Tuberville acknowledges
that this is a concern. But overall, one senses that he is more concerned with
shutting down the Big 12’s high-test passing attacks, and according to Tech’s
head coach, you do that with speed and athleticism more than bulk.
“You’ve gotta have athletic ability. A big ol’ toad in there that gets in the way and can’t rush the
passer in this league? You don’t need ‘em. You
gotta have guys that can get up the field and push
the pocket,” says Tuberville in no uncertain terms.
With the moves of
Mackey and Robertson, and the addition of stellar high school defensive linemen
such as Mike Starts, the Texas Tech defensive line will certainly be more
athletic in 2012. We shall soon see if this athleticism, and the strategy that
worked for the Miami Hurricanes and Auburn Tigers, also produces results for
the Red Raiders.