Mike Smith Gives Update on Fehoko and Defensive Line

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Texas Tech Red Raiders’ co-defensive coordinator and new defensive line coach Mike Smith has finally broken the unusual silence coming from Tech’s spring practices this year.

All of the practices have been closed, and there will only be one scrimmage for the fans and it’s not even in Lubbock.  Additionally, there will be no spring game this year because the seats at Jones Stadium are being replaced.  Thus, any information to come from the coaches is more valuable to Red Raider fans than gold.

On March 6th, Mike Smith did a sit-down interview with Chris Level of DoubleT 104.3 for Level’s Radio Show, Tech Talk (weekdays, 11-1 in on 104.3 FM in Lubbock).  Smith was brutally honest and avoided using “coach-speak cliches.”  And the information he provided on the progress of Breiden Fehoko and the rest of the defensive line was like water to a fan base wandering through the barren deserts of football’s seemingly empty offseason.

When speaking of the interior defensive linemen, Smith said, “We’re starting from ground zero, like they don’t know anything.”  It is great to hear that fundamentals will be the foundation of Smith’s defensive line, and in the one-on-one battles in the trenches, techniques and fundamentals are crucial for success.  These teaching points are often taken for granted as only useful for junior high players learning the game.  But fans often take for granted that college players may not have had proper coaching since they were able to rely on their athleticism.

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  • Smith’s next comment was refreshingly blunt and painfully accurate. “The next biggest thing is toughness.” Smith said.  “That’s what I take pride on.  That’s where I made my career… we’re going to get tougher and I’ve been pretty hard on them and they’ve done a good job of not having baby deer skin.”

    It was easy to see that Tech’s defensive line was bullied in most games last year. Part of the reason was that the team grew tired due to a lack of depth, but at other times, Tech was unwilling to fight back when the other team hit them in the mouth.  Smith has spent time as the understudy of Ray Lewis and learning from Rex Ryan in the meeting rooms, so it’s safe to say that he understands toughness.  “I want guys who break noses and have a chip on their shoulder,” Said Smith in the interview — a philosophy I am particularly fond of.

    When asked about Rika Levi, who was told by Smith that he would not play unless his weight was under 330 lbs. (when he came to campus last year he was 370 lbs.), Smith said, “He’s now at 228… and he’s a ten-times-better football player already.”  Smith then described how Levi struggled with the fundamentals of his position:  “He had the worst stance I’ve ever seen…didn’t know how to tell if it was run or pass.”

    Oct 18, 2014; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive tackle Rika Levi (99) during the game with the Kansas Jayhawks at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    Though JuCo players have played two years after high school, the competition they face is such that bad habits are not exposed.  It also reminds us that the coaching JuCo players receive can be less than optimal, and Levi is a perfect example.  Until last season, his coaches let him do whatever he wanted because his size was so dominating that technique was not a focus.  Now, Smith is teaching him to be a complete player.

    Another JuCo senior the team will count on is Keland McElrath. Smith said McElrath will need the most work, but added, “We need him.  It’s tough to find guys so big and so athletic.”

    Finally, Smith gave the update that the entire fan based coveted.  When speaking about Breiden Fehoko — the true freshman 4-star DT from Hawaii — Smith applauded his work ethic, saying “Obviously, he’s extremely raw… he should be at his prom right now.”  Smith then reinforced what Red Raider fans have known about Fehoko thanks to scouting reports and YouTube videos, “He might be the strongest player on our team right now, he’s right up there.”

    But what Smith said next might be the most interesting factoid he shared about the H.S. All-American.  “[He’s] an extremely intelligent kid…coaching points I’ve already made; these older guys are still kind of stuttering with their answers and he can spit it out…”  Finally, Smith spoke to Fehoko’s character, saying that “football means something to him and it means something to that family… He’s very coachable… He’s on a mission, he want’s to get better… I can’t be more fired up about Breiden.  He’s going to be a great kid.”

    In the interview, Smith also spoke about his desire to be in Lubbock, calling it his “dream job” and he gave some insights about what the defensive scheme will look like.  It is an excellent interview and I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety by clicking this link.  The interview begins at the 20:27 mark.