Takeaways From The Texas Tech Football Midland Scrimmage

Sep 3, 2016; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Nic Shimonek (16) prepares to throw a pass in the second half against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2016; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Nic Shimonek (16) prepares to throw a pass in the second half against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Texas Tech football team held a scrimmage in Midland on Saturday giving fans a glimpse at how the team is taking shape.

In the first of three public scrimmages scheduled for this spring, the Texas Tech football team took the field in Midland, Texas yesterday giving fans a sneak peek at the 2017 squad.  While the overall results mean nothing (the defense prevailed over the offense 50-36 based on a scoring system manufactured by the coaching staff) a few players competing for key roles stepped forward.

Most in attendance agreed that the defense won the day.

"According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, “The defense curtailed big plays. The longest gain of the day came when [Payne] Sullins hit Quan Shorts for 26 yards up the left sideline”."

This development is encouraging considering the struggles that the Texas Tech defense had in preventing big plays last year.  Many of those big plays were a result of breakdowns in the secondary but on Saturday numerous defensive backs stood out.

Kingsbury praised the play of corner back D.J. Polite-Bray who had five tackles and impressed the coaches with his physical coverage.

"“He really has gained confidence,” Kingsbury said. “…he was down there being physical, which is what you want. He’s come a long way. This is his third year playing corner, and hopefully some things are clicking.”"

Defensive backs, Jah’Shawn Johnson, Octavious Morgan and Douglas Coleman amassed six totals apiece according to TexasTech.com .  Most interesting from those three is the play of Morgan.

The 2017 JUCO signee has impressed defensive coordinator David Gibbs this spring and could be an upgrade for the defense in the fall.  Both Morgan and Polite-Bray are at least 6-feet-tall and 200-pounds allowing them to play more physical press coverage than the smaller corners Texas Tech has fielded in years past.

In addition, they provide the Red Raiders with experience (Polite-Bray is a senior and Morgan a junior) at a position where injuries and attrition forced Tech to start two true freshmen at times last year.

Improving the secondary has been a focus of the offseason for Kingsbury.  Six defensive backs were added in the 2017 class, of which three are JUCO transfers.

Morgan appears to have stepped forward from that trio thus far.  Likewise, Polite-Bray has the early lead at the other corner back spot.

If the secondary was a weakness last season, the pass rush was a travesty at best.  Texas Tech ranked last in the Big 12 with just 14 sacks in 12 games.

Therefore, it is nice to see the defensive linemen put pressure on the quarterback.

"According to TexasTech.com “The defense totaled four sacks on the day – two of which came from Noah Jones”In addition, the Avalanche-Journal notes that, “Broderick Washington and Joe Wallace and end Talor Nuñez [recorded] one [sack] apiece.”"

Jones, a redshirt freshman from Moore, Oklahoma is one of eight defensive linemen signed in the 2016 class.  Tech desperately needs to receive production from several pass rushers that sat out last season like Jones.

Nunez is one of just a handful of seniors in the Texas Tech defensive front.  A career special teams player and occasional backup, he is not expected to be a difference-maker this year.

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However, he could be a rotational piece capable of providing a spark off the bench.  The former walk-on from Midland has an opportunity to earn a more significant role on a defense desperate for depth and experience.

Washington and Wallace are competing for the starting spots at defensive tackle (along with senior Mychaelon Thomas).  Their primary role will be to stop the run but both have proven to be athletic enough to get to the quarterback.  Following the transfer of two-year starter Breiden Fehoko, the defensive tackle rotation is in flux and early on Wallace and Washington are stepping up.

One of the biggest position battles on the other side of the ball is at quarterback where there is an open competition for the backup quarterback job.  Junior Payne Sullins took the early lead over JUCO signee McLane Carter with his play in Midland.

"“Payne did a good job,” Kingsbury said in the Avalanche-Journal . “Payne knows it. He’s going into his fourth year. He keeps sticking around. Every time you try to put somebody in front of him, he’ll come back and play well. He always shows up when we have these scrimmages.”"

The A-J reported that the walk-on from Waco was 10-13 for 115 yards and a touchdown.  But no matter what Sullins or Carter does this spring, the backup quarterback position is troublesome for the Red Raiders.

No quarterback on the roster other than presumed starter Nick Shimonek has completed a pass in a FBS game.  While the focus of fans is almost always on the starting QB, the most important work Kingsbury does this spring may be in developing a trustworthy backup capable of leading the offense should Shimonek go down.

Next: Football: New Coaches Must Improve Critical Position Groups

The Red Raiders are half-way through their allotted 15 spring practices.  On April 1st, the Red Raiders hold another scrimmage at the Star in Frisco, Texas (the new training facility of the Dallas Cowboys).  This event is sold out but will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest at 1 p.m.  Check in with Wreck ‘Em Red for analysis of Texas Tech football throughout the spring.