Texas Tech Spring Football: New Assistant Coaches Must Improve Critical Position Groups

Sep 10, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back D.J. Polite-Bray (3) in the huddle with teammates against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back D.J. Polite-Bray (3) in the huddle with teammates against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

As Texas Tech football continues its spring practices, new assistant coaches must have a huge impact on three position groups that underperformed in 2016.

Under Kliff Kingsbury, the Texas Tech football program has made an annual tradition of shuffling the lineup of assistant coaches every offseason.  This year, in what virtually everyone considers to be a do-or-die year for the head coach, the Red Raiders are counting on three new assistant coaches to breathe life back into crucial position groups.

The first new addition to the Tech coaching staff is Brandon Jones.  The former Texas Tech offensive lineman returns to Lubbock to take over the offensive line.

2016 saw the Red Raider line take a step backwards.  It ranked 95th in the nation with 30 total sacks allowed in 12 total games (an average of 2.5 sacks per game.)

In contrast, Tech allowed 27 sacks in 13 games (2.08 per game) in 2015.  And in 2014, the Red Raiders tied for 10th in the nation with a mere 13 sacks given up in 12 games.

It is important to remember that Pat Mahomes’ magical ability to escape pressure in the pocket likely saved the offensive line at least 15 more times last year.  Next season, Nick Shimonek will not be able to pull of the Houdini-like escapes that Mahomes was known for so the offensive line must be much better.

Equally important for Brandon Jones’ unit will be to improve its run blocking.  The 2016 Red Raiders averaged just 3.22 yards per carry.  No player rushed for more than 428 yards last year and the team will be without 2016’s third-leading rusher, Mahomes.  Those numbers were a considerable drop from 2015 when Tech averaged 5.4 yards per carry.

Jones has a difficult task ahead of him.  He must mold a unit that has only one senior, center Tony Morales, into an effective Big 12 front.  Jones will also have to get as many as three true freshmen (Jack Anderson, Dawson Deaton and Will Farrar) ready to contribute as attrition along the offensive line has left the group dangerously void of depth.

Coming from the Mike Leach system should allow Jones to quickly assimilate into Kingsbury’s system.  In addition to playing for Leach, Jones coached under fellow Leach disciple Sonny Dykes at California for the past two seasons.

While the offensive line must improve, especially in opening holes for the running game, the Texas Tech running backs must also make big strides this offseason.  The task of developing the young Texas Tech backs falls on new running backs coach Jabbar Juluke.

Hired on February 7th, Juluke is in Lubbock for his second stint on Kingsbury’s staff.  This year, it is fair to assume he will stay in town for more than a month.

The Texas Tech offense is best when the running backs prove to be legitimate threats with the ball.  After former Red Raider DeAndre Washington put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014-15, the 2016 running backs were a tremendous disappointment.

The top three returning backs on the roster (Da’Leon Ward, Demarcus Felton and Justin Stockton) totaled a mere 936 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.  Ward led the team with a scant 47.5 yards per game.

Felton and Ward flashed promise at times last season but neither are close to being considered complete backs yet.  Each must improve his ability to read defenses to be a dependable pass protector.  Furthermore, both must learn how to read the blocks of the offensive line and make defenders miss to pick up tough yards in critical situations.

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Juluke must also figure out how to get something out of Stockton.  The senior is the best home-run threat of all the running backs.  He has electric speed when in the open field but last year he scored just three times while amassing just 374 yards of total offense.

Expectations were high for Stockton after 2015 when he put up 708 total yards and 11 touchdowns.  But his inability to carry the ball between the tackles cost him his starting job and he became an afterthought in the Texas Tech offense.  Juluke and Kingsbury must find a way to utilize Stockton in a way that allows him to be the same type of weapon he was as a sophomore.

Though the Texas Tech running game is a concern, the biggest concern for most fans is the Red Raider defensive line.  After years of futility, 2017 must finally be the year that Texas Tech fields an effective defensive front.

New defensive line coach Terrance Jamison is the latest coach to try to make the Texas Tech defensive front respectable.  Of last season’s top-10 sack leaders, only five were defensive linemen and none recorded more than one sack.

Even worse, Tech allowed 238.6 yards per game rushing last year.  That averaged out to 5.73 yards per carry.

If these numbers do not improve, there is no hope for 2017 to be any better than last year.  And Jamison inherits a unit that is frightfully inexperienced.

Only three seniors are on the 2017 spring football roster.  Meanwhile, Jamison will have to count on as many as eight underclassmen to play significant roles this year.

In 2015, Jamison’s defensive line helped Florida Atlantic rank 13th in the nation with 35 sacks. But, it is a bit concerning to note that last season’s FAU defense was statistically worse against the run than Texas Tech.  The Owls allowed 245.4 yards per game in 2016.  Jamison’s ability as a teacher will be put to the test this year with the very green Texas Tech defensive line.

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Overall, each of these coaches must make an immediate impact if Texas Tech is going to return to a bowl game in 2017.  That work is underway this spring and fans hope the results are evident in the fall.