Texas Tech Football: Linebackers Should Finally Be A Strength In 2017

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 17: Running back Jarred Craft
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 17: Running back Jarred Craft /

The Texas Tech defense is once again a question mark as 2017 approaches.  However, for the first time in years the linebacking corps will be the most trusted unit on that side of the ball.

For decades, Texas Tech football was synonymous with great linebackers. Former stars like Zach Thomas, Brad Hastings and Michael Johnson led some of the best defenses in school history from the linebacker spot.

However, during the “Air Raid” era, Texas Tech has seen a drop in the quality of overall play at the position.  Not coincidentally, that drop coincided with the overall decline of the Red Raider defense.

But as the 2017 season approaches, there is reason to believe that the current group of linebackers on campus could be the best unit since the 1990’s when Spike Dykes’ “Swarm” defense was at its best.  If that comes to fruition, 2017 could be the season that the Texas Tech defense finally shows some significant improvement.

Sophomore middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks is undoubtedly the leader of the unit and the best defensive player on the team.  Though he has just one season of college football under his belt, many think he could be the best linebacker to wear the Double-T since Zach Thomas.

Brooks burst on to the scene last year as a true freshman to lead the team in tackles with 86.  He also ranked in the top 10 in the Big 12 in both total tackles and solo tackles (61).

Brooks’ best game came in the season finale against Baylor.  He recorded an amazing 18 tackles and forced a huge fumble as the Bears were on the Texas Tech goal line.

He received honorable mention all-conference recognition and was named to the “Athlon Sports” all-Big 12 freshmen team and “247Sports’” True Freshman all-American team.

At 6-foot-1, 235-pounds, Brooks already has the look of an NFL linebacker.  He is big enough to take on the most powerful backs in the conference, a trait that has been lacking in the middle of the Red Raider defense for far too long.

Some smaller Texas Tech middle linebackers have been productive (Micah Awe, Sam Eguavoen, Will Smith) but have been too small to be forces in the run game.  Tech fans have become far too accustomed to seeing large running backs like Texas’ D’Onta Foreman or Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine play the role of the windshield while Red Raider linebackers have played the role of the bug.  With Brooks in the middle, those days should be over.

Brooks has an uncanny ability shed blockers and find the ball carrier in traffic. And when he meets the runner in the hole, he is physical enough to make the play on his own.

It is important to have such a player in the middle of a defense because the ability to make individual stops helps cover up for instances when other players are not in position to help or are taken out of the play.

While Brooks is the star of the Texas Tech linebackers, a player making an unexpected return to the program could be the player that transforms David Gibbs’ defense this year.

Junior Dakota Allen returns to Texas Tech after a year in junior college.  Allen was dismissed from the program after being arrested on burglary charges following his freshman season in 2015.  However, the charges were dropped and he has returned to solidify the middle of the Texas Tech defense.

Allen’s true freshman season was every bit as impressive as Brooks’ 2016 campaign.  In 2015, Allen was second on the team with 87 tackles (45 solo) and had five games of at least 10 tackles.

Like Brooks, Allen is also 235 pounds forming the biggest and most athletic linebacking duo to patrol the middle of the Texas Tech defense since the Dykes’ era.  Having Allen to pair with Brooks gives the Red Raiders two all-conference caliber talents at linebacker, both of whom are dynamic playmakers.

Brooks and Allen have a combined 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble in their two collective seasons with Texas Tech.  For the defense to take a significant step forward next year, both with must force turnovers and help provide some pressure on the quarterback in addition to stopping the run.

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Speaking of rushing the passer, a new addition could bolster the anemic Texas Tech pass rush.  2017 JUCO signee Tony Jones comes to Lubbock with a reputation as a disruptive force.

Last year, he recorded 101 tackles and 5.5 sacks for Butler Community College.  The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is likely to be used as a hybrid outside linebacker and defensive end in pass rush situations.  He could be bolster a Texas Tech defense that recorded a meager 14 sacks a year ago.

The fourth linebacker that should see significant playing time is junior D’Vonta Hinton.  He missed seven games last year due to an ankle injury originally suffered in the season opener.  In his four starts, he made 19 tackles and as a true freshman he racked up 53 as he played in all 13 games.

Depth is also a luxury for the Texas Tech linebackers.  Sophomores Jonathan Picone and Brayden Stringer each played in 11 games last year and will be counted on as special teams contributors.

Plus, Tech has brought in one of the top 2016 high school linebackers from the Dallas area in Riko Jeffers of Sachse.   The true freshman is already 235 pounds and recorded 141 tackles during his senior season.

Next: Texas Tech Needs To Settle With Mike Leach

Texas Tech finally appears to have the caliber of athletes at linebacker necessary to compete in the Big 12.  If linebackers coach Zac Spavital is able to get this group to perform at its highest level, the heart of Texas Tech defense will be noticeably improved this fall.