With over half of its spring practices in the books, on Saturday the Texas Tech football team hit the road for Midland to partake in a mid-spring scrimmage. Though the exhibition was more of a glorified workout meant to appease fans and (let’s be honest) big time donors from the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin, it was still our first look at the 2016 Texas Tech football team. Here are some thoughts on what we learned.
Note: I was not at the scrimmage in person so all of my reports on what happened are based on what I have gathered through media accounts.
Justin Stockton is clearly in the lead to be the starting running back. The junior from San Antonio has been a backup behind DeAndre Washington for the first two years of his career but now has an opportunity to be the team’s lead horse on the ground.
"According to the Lubbock Avalanche Journal , “Stockton only had three carries, but he made the most of them. The junior from Cibolo Steele rushed three times for 44 yards and two touchdowns.”"
I’d rather see Stockton run for fewer yards per carry than he has in his career. This is clearly an unusual perspective but what we need to see out of Stockton is an ability to pick up tough yards in between the tackles as Washington was so apt to do.
Thus far, Stockton has been a one-trick-pony as a change of pace back. He has made his greatest impact on draw plays or screen passes that he has been able to break to the outside and use his elite speed to outrun the defense.
If he is to be the feature back with 15 or more carries per game, he must show diversity in his play. He must pick up blitzers, identify defensive fronts and most importantly be able to pick up three yards up the middle of the defense on 3rd-and-3.
So far, everyone on the coaching staff is raving about his improvements this year so we must take them at their word (or not if you are a cynic as I tend to be). But in yesterday’s limited sample size, Stockton scored on an eight-yard touchdown run up the middle and then broke loose on a 32-yard touchdown.
We will need to see more from him in a featured role to determine if he is capable of being a true workhorse. It will not be until September until we get that answer.
Cameron Batson was the star receiver on the day. Also a junior, Batson has been nothing more than a backup at inside receiver in his two years at Texas Tech.
But with the loss of Texas Tech football’s all-time leading receiver, inside receiver Jakeem Grant, there is an opening at the position that must be filled.
"“He has had an exceptional spring and he is another guy who has been waiting in the wings because he had an incredible player in front of him,” Kingsbury said. . “But Cam is a 4.0 student and works as hard as anyone. He is starting to understand the nuances.”"
Batson caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in Midland. He certainly seems to be taking the lead in the competition to start at one of the inside receiver positions.
With one assumed starter at inside receiver, Ian Sadler still mending from a knee injury, Batson has become the star of spring ball at the position that is often the quarterback’s first option in the Texas Tech offense. What is encouraging is to see Batson developing a connection with Pat Mahomes and asserting his confidence as a junior with the carrot of a starting position dangling in front of him.
Saturday, we got our first look at how the Texas Tech offensive line might look in September. Redshirt freshman Terence Steele played first-team at left tackle. Kingsbury told the press that he expects Steele to earn one of the starting tackle spots in the fall.
Paul Stawarz, a redshirt sophomore started at guard but Kingbury made it seem like he is far from a guaranteed starter. Last year’s starter at right guard, Justin Murphy is out as he recovers from a torn knee ligament suffered mid season last year.
Finally on offense, Madison Akamnonu got first-team reps at guard, not tackle where most predict he will eventually wind up. Senior Baylen Brown was the starter at right tackle, which indicates that the team may not be comfortable starting two redshirt freshmen at the tackle positions. Of course, the offensive line is fluid until near the end of fall camp.
Defensively, the name of defensive end Gary Moore Jr. came up quite a bit. In scrimmages, no defender can come within a quarter mile of the quarterback but it was noted by many that Moore was continually beating Texas Tech’s tackles and getting into the backfield.
Since arriving on campus, the Texas Tech football staff has expected Moore to break out as a legitimate pass rush threat but due to injury and an inability to put weight on his lanky frame his arrival as an impact player is yet to occur. However, he seems to be taking well to the strength program implemented by new strength and condition coach Rusty Whitt and has finally gained the size and strength he needs.
Other defensive players specifically mentioned by Kingsbury as having stood out are defensive end Breiden Fehoko and redshirt sophomore and Notre Dame defensive end transfer Kolin Hill.
Hearing that Fehoko stood out is no surprise as the sophomore was the team’s best defensive lineman last year as a true freshman but to hear that Hill is making an impact is encouraging for those worried about the talent along the defensive line.