Texas Tech football: Xavier Benson’s leave of absence a potential setback

Sophomore LB Xavier Benson has announced that he is taking a leave of absence from the Texas Tech football program, a move that should not be overlooked by Red Raider fans.

If we asked most Texas Tech football fans to name the second-leading returning tackler from last year, how many would be able to name Xavier Benson?  Likely not many.  Thus, the news that the redshirt sophomore is going to take a leave of absence from the program might not make significant waves but it is a development that must not be overlooked.

Of course, what is most important is the fact that Benson, a native of Texarkana, gets the help he needs.  In a twitter post, he shared the reasoning for his decision.

“…I have decided to take a leave of absence as a football student-athlete here at Texas Tech, so I can improve my mental health. This isn’t a decision I take lightly, but it’s I know will help me in all walks of life moving forward. I want to be more productive for my friends, my teammates and most importantly my family–not just now but in the future. I know I need help with dealing with my past and how it affects my personal life. My hope is that my story can inspire anyone facing the same challenges I’ve battled my entire life to seek help.”

Naturally, all Red Raider fans wish Benson well as he addresses his mental health, something that takes courage, especially for a Division-I athlete who may feel the pressure to put his teammates before himself.   And if he never plays another down of football, so long as he is mentally healthy, everyone should be in his corner.

But as we turn our attention to the football field, it isn’t difficult to see how Benson’s absence could impact the 2020 defense.  That’s because he was one of the most productive players on last year’s team.

With 57 total tackles as a redshirt freshman, he finished fourth on the roster behind Jordyn Brooks, Riko Jeffers, and Douglas Coleman.  What’s more, his 4.0 tackles for loss were good for eighth among all Red Raiders.

There was a question of how he was going to be used this year given the way the Red Raiders had added to the defense.  That’s because the plan is for Jeffers to remain at outside linebacker, which is Benson’s natural position, thanks to the addition of JUCO All-American Krishon Merriweather, who will take over at middle LB in an attempt to fill the massive shoes of the graduated Brooks.

That would have allowed Benson to slide into the “Raider” position, which is a combination defensive end and linebacker generally tasked with rushing the passer and being a disruptive force.  The athletic 6-foot-3, 220-pounder might have blossomed into an all-conference-caliber player in that role (a role he filled at times last season but not on an every-down basis).

Though other Red Raiders such as Michigan State transfer Brandon Boyuer-Randle or sophomore Tyrique Matthews could also flourish in that role, a defense that has been as beleaguered as the Texas Tech defense has been in recent seasons needs all the productive players on the roster that it can muster and Benson fits that description.

Imagine for a moment what will happen if Merriweather either proves to be incapable of being the starting middle LB or goes down with an injury.  Now that Benson is not likely to be an option this season, such a scenario would be tough to overcome.

If Jeffers has to move to middle LB, which would likely be how Tech would handle the above worst-case scenario, Matthews or Randle will have to handle a huge role as the “Raider” and that’s something neither has yet to prove ready to do. Matthews had just ten total tackles in 2019 while Randle has never had more than 21 stops in a season and has just one year to his credit in which he played more than seven games.

Next: Tech must be better in close games

Again, Xavier Benson’s health is all that really matters in the grand scheme of life.  But as it pertains to the Texas Tech football program, his likely absence is one that could have a significant impact on a defense that needs as many playmakers as possible.


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