Photo CC: texastech.com
Texas Tech has had its fair share of defensive woes over the years. But this year we should see a next-step resurgence in the defensive trenches under Coaches Keith Patterson and Paul Randolph. For 2020, experience and leadership will be the name of the game, as All-Conference DE Eli Howard anchors a primed group that should have no problem replacing DT/NT Broderick Washington. Other than Howard, look for a heavy rotation of D-lineman this Fall. Red Raider fans, let’s remember this offseason could make or break for a lot of players, especially with the lack of normal spring preparations. Basically, this was an offseason of “Who wants it more” and “Who’s coming ready to play this Fall”.
DE – Eli Howard SR-TR
DT/NT – Nick McCann RS-SR
DT – Jaylon Hutchings RS-SO
In the rotation mix – Nelson Mbanasor RS-JR, Devin Drew JR-TR, Tony Bradford SO
#98 Nick McCann DT/NT RS-SR
With Broderick Washington graduating, Nick McCann is now the senior of the interior defensive line. The Texarkana, Arkansas native has a big smile…but don’t let that fool you. The 6’2, 305 lb-er has paid his dues at Tech, acclimated well under DC Keith Patterson and DL Coach Paul Randolph, and should be primed for a big year. Playing next to now Baltimore Raven Washington and getting playing time since his RS Freshman year adds to his potential leadership in the trenches. While his tackle totals from 2018-2019 did fall from 24 to 12, don’t you dare think twice about crossing him. He’s got a strong motor – but what about an eye for the football? Over the last three years in the trench rotation, McCann has yet to post any forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, or pass deflections. But don’t be deceived, he probably has had that on his mind throughout the offseason. McCann will be interesting to watch and should more than double his tackle output from 2018. If you want to look for a player on the defense that will be getting the most out of his season, look no further than Nick McCann. Question for Nick McCann – Are you ready to lead? Let your play do the talking.
#95 Jaylon Hutchings DT RS-SO
At 6’0, 300 lbs, the sophomore from Forney has the size to plug that middle. Like McCann, he’s got an excellent motor and has had Broderick Washington to play alongside and learn from, so there should be a very significant change in his gameplay as he makes his first year as a projected starter. His stats from his RS-F to his RS-SO year demonstrate excellent growth under Coach Randolph (27 tackles, 3.5 TFL 1.5 sacks, 1 FF), but is Hutchings ready to take on more of the load? Is he ready to take that next step and position himself to be the starter for the foreseeable future? Hutchings has been a favorite of Patterson since his arrival, but development needs continue, especially within his playmaking ability. Look for his 2019 forced fumble (1) and sack (1.5) stats to get grow this year. Patterson didn’t put Hutchings in as an RS-Freshman if he didn’t expect to see big things coming.
#53 Eli Howard DE SR-TR
This DE was a two-star prospect?? Huh? Sure wouldn’t know that by watching him. Since his transfer from North Texas four years ago, Eli Howard has transitioned from 240 to 280 lbs and even grew an inch. The preseason All-Big 12 First Team selection is undoubtedly the anchor of this year’s defensive line, with a head of hair that would make Sunshine from Remember the Titans jealous. The San Angelo Central product has NFL potential written all over him. He has the size, quickness, intelligence (graduated with his masters in May), and DE mindset to wreak havoc in backfields. His 8.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2019 should be dwarfed by the coming year. What makes his playmaking ability even more watch-worthy is his eye for the ball, with three forced fumbles in 2019. Some all-time Red Raider greats at the DE position should have their season records challenged by him this year. Expect him to be a defensive household name come mid-season as he is sure to be a candidate for the Nagurski, Hendricks, and Bednarik trophies. With all the physical tools, one thing Tech fans wouldn’t mind seeing – Eli adding his best Brandon Carter game face. Eli, if Coach Wells gives you the green light on the war paint….DO IT! Talk about scary….
#91 Nelson Mbanasor DT RS-JR
Mbanasor has a lot of the same intangibles as many of the starters, even Eli Howard. That’s excellent news for the defensive future. Mbanasor’s 6’3, 275 frame makes him ideal to move around the defensive line and create mismatches. But for Mbanasor to really make the leap this year, he needs to take as much as he can from current starter Eli Howard. Like Broderick Washington did for other up and coming DT/NT’s, Mbanasor needs to model his play and learn from Howard. Let us not forget that 2019 Spring game where he had two tackles for a loss. The Pflugerville native has the talent, but has not made the splash he came in with being the 24th ranked defensive end in the nation (Rivals). Look for him to change that in a big way if he wants to be a permanent starter for the Red Raiders next year.
#90 Devin Drew DT/DE JR-TR
Getting a transfer player like Devin Drew gives the Red Raiders a wild card that should see some time in the rotation. Coming from Iowa Western CC, Drew was definitely a man among boys as he posted 23.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 51 tackles, and was named Defensive Player of the Year for the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference (2019). Big stats and awards for a transfer player, that’s for sure. There is a reason he is here though, and Keith Patterson knows this could pay off big-time. But questions still remain – How has he adjusted to Patterson’s defensive scheme, has he been coachable under DL Coach Randolph, and what has he done during this extended offseason to enter the rotation right away? Sure he is athletically built at 6’2, 280, but transitioning to D1 has a lot to do with speed and quickness off the snap. He will need to work on getting off the line faster if he is to break into the rotation right away as a DE/DT. Definitely a wild card that has a massive upside.
#97 Tony Bradford DE SO
There is a consistent body type on Patterson’s defensive front, and the Houston-North Shore product Tony Bradford certainly fits that mold at 6-1, 290. Coming off a freshman season where he saw playing time in 11 games, garnering 13 tackles and 2TFL, there is definitely promise from the true sophomore. But with Devin Drew coming in and competing, Bradford will have to take it up a notch to cement time on the field. What Bradford does have that many sophomores don’t? Freshman Experience. Like Devin Drew, Bradford needed to have had a monster off-season to solidify his position for 2020 and beyond.