Spring Practice Questions: Will these two transfers elevate the Texas Tech defensive line?


Texas Tech football has opened spring practice with yesterday’s firs team workout. Coming off of a 7-6 2015 season that saw the program return to a bowl game after 2014’s losing campaign, the Red Raiders look to build momentum and climb the Big 12 ladder. But as Texas Tech appears to be heading in the right direction, there remain numerous questions to be answered by the 2016 squad. Over the next month, the spring practice sessions will begin to bring those answers into focus.

Today’s question: Will defensive line transfers Kolin Hill and Ondre Pipkins make an impact in 2016?

 To say that the Texas Tech defensive line must improve in 2016 is as obvious as noting that the Titanic needed to look out for icebergs in April of 1912. Last season, the Red Raiders ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams allowing 279.9 yards per game on the ground.

Additionally, the defensive line struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks. With only 19 sacks in 13 games (1.46 per contest) Texas Tech came in at No. 104 in the nation.

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No matter how one analyzes the situation the truth is clear. Until Texas Tech improves on the defensive line, the story on the defensive side of the ball is not going to change.

What is concerning to Texas Tech fans is the fact that 2016 will see only two players of any impact return to the defensive trenches.

Sophomore defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko is already the best defensive lineman on the team and should be poised for a breakout season. Manwhile, junior defensive end Gary Moore is the team’s most established pass rusher with three career sacks and 20 career tackles (numbers that will not make anyone do backflips).

Even more concerning is the youth movement that defensive coordinator David Gibbs will be running through the defensive line. Texas Tech signed seven high school defensive linemen to its 2016 recruiting class and head coach Kliff Kingsbury has said he expects all seven to play next year.

So how can Texas Tech fans hope for any improvement in the team’s weakest unit? The answer may lie in two players that sat out the 2015 season after transferring from two of the game’s most iconic programs.

Sophomore defensive end Kolin Hill played one season at Nortre Dame in 2014 before transferring home to the Lone Star State and Texas Tech. Joining him as a new face on the defensive line will be Kansas City, MO native Ondre Pipkins who spent 2012-2014 playing for the Michigan Wolverines. Both will need to be reliable players at the very least in 2016 to help reinforce the Red Raider defensive line.

Hill is 6-foot-2, 235-pounds and was rated a 3-star prospect coming out of high school in 2014. He received offers from Boise State, Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt in addition to his offer from Notre Dame.

Hill played only in only four games for the Irish in 2014 recording seven tackles and two sacks. His best game came against Notre Dame’s archrival Michigan in which he had 1.5 sacks and three tackles.

Kolin Hill was listed at third-string on the depth chart at rush defensive end. He saw action almost exclusively in pass rush situations. But in 2016, Texas Tech will expect Hill to be an every-down player to pair with Gary Moore.

As for Pipkins, he has three years of experience in the Big 10 Conference, which could be invaluable to the young Texas Tech defensive line. The former 5-star recruit arrived at Michigan with high expectation that he never met.

As a true freshman in 2012, he played through a neck injury that prevented him from performing at his best. Then, in 2013 a knee ligament injury forced him to miss the final eight games of the year. Unfortunately, 2014 saw an assortment of injuries and a new coaching staff limit him to just four games making fans in Ann Arbor grow frustrated with the former No. 6 ranked high school defensive tackle in the nation.

With any transfer, be it from a junior college or another university, there is risk and expectations should be tempered. Texas Tech fans learned this the hard way last year as former 5-star high school linebacker Mike Mitchell, a transfer from Ohio State, failed to live up to the hype surrounding him. Mitchell is not even on the Texas Tech roster for 2016 and he is just the most recent in a string of disappointing transfers.

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Hill is an impressive athlete who is said to have completely bought in to the Texas Tech program. He has the pedigree to be a top pass rusher but until he displays that ability on the field, he will remain a question mark.

Pipkins is an even greater enigma. Can he stay healthy? Does he have the talent to be an effective piece on the Texas Tech defensive line?

Both are legitimate questions to ask of him and his participation in spring practice will begin to tell Texas Tech coaches what he has left. Pipkins has been instructed by Texas Tech coaches to drop significant weight from the 330 pounds he carried during 2015. He will be certianly a test of new strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt’s training tactics.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Texas Tech defensive line can’t be significantly worse than it was in 2015. The new faces may be young but are as talented, if not more so, than the players they are replacing.

Next: How will the 2016 offensive line shape up?

Still, Texas Tech needs Kolin Hill and Ondre Pipkins to be integral members of next season’s defense. This spring, look for reports on these two transfers because the second-worst defense in the nation in 2015 needs all the help it can get up front.