Texas Tech has built a reputation in recent years for having one of the worst pass defenses in the Big 12. This can be proved in the chart below that shows the per game passing defense stats for the last nine years.
|Passing Yards Allowed (per game)
In 2020, Texas Tech fielded their best pass defense of the last six years. This put them at 8th in the Big 12 and 101st in the nation. While allowing 258.5 yards per game and ranking outside of the top 100 nationally isn’t overwhelmingly great, it does show improvement for a position group that has grown to be the punchline of recent Texas Tech football teams.
This improvement is great, but it does raise some questions. One, how is Texas Tech going to build on this improvement. And two, was the 2020 season an outlier or is it an indication on what’s to come for this unit?
To answer these questions, we need to know who exactly is going to make up this unit. In the 2021 recruiting cycle, Texas Tech landed six new defensive backs. Of these six, four have in-game experience at the Power-Five level, and three of them were preseason starters at their respective schools.
To start off this group is Malik Dunlap. Dunlap is a 6’3 215lb cornerback out of Charlotte, NC. In his three seasons as a member of the Wolfpack, he appeared in 23 games, starting 10 of them. He recorded 41 tackles and broke up 13 passes. Dunlap has experience playing at both safety and corner. Dunlap’s versatility will allow Defensive Coordinator, Keith Patterson to utilize the North Carolina native in a number of ways. Something to keep an eye out for Dunlap is that he could spend time at the ‘Spur’ position (linebacker/safety hybrid) due to his large frame and athleticism.
Next, we have Marquis Waters. Waters is arguably the most hyped transfer to come into the Texas Tech football program during this recruiting cycle. Listed as a safety, Waters is 6’0” and 200 pounds of pure athletic playmaking ability. For the last 3 years he was a consistent starter for the Blue Devils and accumulated 35 starts in his Duke career. This past season Waters finished second on his team in tackles with 71 and also finished with five deflections and a sack. Texas Tech Associate Head Coach and former Duke coach, Derek Jones, brought Waters here to lead this secondary and if he can bring to Texas Tech anywhere near what he brought to Duke, this Texas Tech secondary could flip the script on the perception of the position group.
Another large frame to enter this secondary comes from UCLA in Rayshad Williams. Williams is listed at 6’2” 190lbs and shared time as a starter in the UCLA secondary. In his 22 games as a Bruin, Williams started eight of them. In his last full season in 2019, he finished with 33 tackles (30 being solo tackles) and two pass break ups. Williams is likely to be starting at cornerback when Texas Tech kicks off against Houston in the season opener. With his length, athleticism, and potential, he could develop into a star at the position for Texas Tech in the next three years.
Reggie Pearson out of Wisconsin is the biggest wildcard of this bunch in my opinion. On the field he has excelled. As a redshirt freshman in 2019 he was fourth on his team in tackles with 60 and even led his team in forced fumbles with a pair of those. However, over the past year Pearson was deemed ineligible to play at Wisconsin due to a ‘medical condition’. This is definitely something to keep an eye out for as we get closer to the season, but if Pearson is able to suit up for the Red Raiders in the fall, he would be an excellent piece to add that has experience playing high quality football at a power five level.
Two other players that will enter the Texas Tech football program are Ezekiel McPhearson and Imari Jones. Zeke is best known as being the younger brother to now former Texas Tech standout Zech McPhearson. Imari Jones is a local kid out of Coronado High School and comes in at 6’3”. I would not expect either player to get significant playing time this season, but both guys could develop into pivotal depth guys for this Texas Tech secondary over the next few years
The Red Raiders also lost a few key pieces to their secondary with two starters entering the NFL and several key depth guys pursuing their options through the transfer portal.
The 2021 Red Raider team will be without two of the better secondary players in recent memory, losing both Zech McPhearson and Thomas Leggett to the NFL. McPhearson was selected 123rd overall by the Eagles, the highest a Tech DB has been selected since Darcel McBath went 48th in 2009. McPhearson was a two-year starter for the Red Raiders at cornerback after transferring from Penn State in 2019. Last season he capped off his college career with 53 tackles, four interceptions, and a first team All-Big 12 designation.
Leggett was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs. He appeared in 32 games over three years in the program. Playing from the safety position, Leggett notched his best year in 2020 where he was sixth on the team in tackles with 51. Leggett was a team captain his junior year, just one of five juniors with the designation, and his leadership will be missed as much as his on-field performance.
Ja’Marcus Ingram, Adam Beck, and Alex Hogan have all transferred from the program after being regulars in the secondary last season. Ingram & Beck both appeared in nine games with one start a piece, while Hogan appeared in all 10 games with three starts at corner. The trio totaled 50 tackles in the 2020 season as well as one interception. Alex Hogan has committed to Houston while both Beck and Ingram have not announced their future plans yet.
Three other members of last year’s roster that did not see any game time have also left the program. Beau Iovinelli, Dequanteous Watts, and Ryan Frank were scout team members/reserves for the 2020 season and will not be returning to the team in 2021.
Texas Tech will have 17 players from their 2020 defensive backfield return for the 2021 season. Of these players, eight of them were listed on the 2020 preseason depth chart, and three of them were listed as potential starters.
These three players are DaMarcus Fields, Eric Monroe, and Dadrion Taylor-Demerson.
DaMarcus Fields is a four-year starter for the Red Raiders. After his redshirt freshman season in 2016, he has played in 43 games and started in 38. In 2020, Fields played in eight games, while starting six of them. In these games, he recorded 31 tackles, 11 pass break ups (led the team), and a forced fumble/fumble recovery. Fields has been a consistent performer in this secondary and has been a huge part of this group’s progression in recent years and will be pivotal for their success in 2021.
Next is Eric Monroe. Monroe transferred to Texas Tech after spending his first three years at LSU. In his first season at Texas Tech, he started in all 10 games at safety. Statistically, he led the defensive backs with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles. His influence as a vocal leader and playmaker will be key for this secondary as they look to flip the narrative that has been written by the Texas Tech defense of old.
Dadrion Taylor-Demerson was a relatively late riser for this Texas Tech secondary. After being mostly sat for the first seven games of the 2020 season, he was able to earn the final three starts of the season at the spur position. Taylor-Demerson was able to average over three and a half tackles over this same span. His development into this system will be key as coach Patterson will be looking to add quality depth that is desperately needed in this secondary.
There are a few more players that were not listed as preseason starters in 2020 that I could see/ expect to see fill larger roles within the team in 2021.
These players are Adrian Frye, Seth Collins, Cam White, and Cameron Watts.
Frye started his career off with a bang after leading the team in 2018 with five interceptions. In the last few years he has seen his production fall off as well as his playing time, but with the loss of several key players at his position and the development of his skillset under defensive backs coach, Derek Jones, I would expect to see a rise in Frye’s performance in 2021.
As for the trio of Collins, White, and Watts. They barely sniffed the fields in 2020 as none of them were able to accumulate more than five tackles on the season. That being said, for the overall success of this defensive backfield it will be pivotal for Texas Tech to develop the depth that is hidden on this roster. And with Collins being 6’3 and White being 6’1, these players would be key guys to face off against some of the bigger receiving targets in the Big 12.
Our projected secondary unit as of today is listed below.
CB: DaMarcus Fields
CB: Rayshad Williams
SPUR: Malik Dunlap
S: Eric Monroe
S: Marquis Waters
It should be expected that Monroe, Waters, and Fields are sure fire starters come September 4th.
As for Rayshad Williams, he has looked the part of a quality starting cornerback through spring ball with his ability to use his size and his athleticism against some of the bigger Texas Tech receivers, but some other guys like Taylor-Demerson and Frye could compete for that spot as well.
Malik Dunlap seems to be a perfect fit at Spur on paper. Despite suffering through some injuries throughout spring ball, being 6’3″ and 215 is the ideal size for the defensive back/ linebacker hybrid that the Spur position. Malik Dunlap has a very similar frame to Evan Rambo who played the position for Texas Tech in 2019, he was listed at 6’4″ 220.
I would also expect guys like Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, Adrian Frye, Reggie Pearson, and even Seth Collins to compete for some of these starting spots. While I don’t believe they will end up winning their position battles by the Houston game, each of these guys will definitely find themselves on the gridiron for the Red Raiders come this fall.
Another name that has to be mentioned when regarding this group is defensive backs/ associate head coach Derek Jones. Jones got to Lubbock last offseason and was able to lead this group to their best season since 2014. The leader of ‘The Coalition’ has been an excellent recruiter and developer of talent under Matt Wells.
With the development of players like Zech McPhearson and DaMarcus Fields who played some of their best ball in 2020, I would expect Jones to consistently improve the production on an individual level for these athletes as well as a group level for this team going into the 2021 season.
To help him with this, Jones has put together one of the most talented defensive backfields in recent Texas Tech history with all four of his transfers being experienced power-five football players. Pairing this with guys like Fields, Monroe, Frye, and Taylor-Demerson will likely lead to even more improvement among ‘The Coalition’ in 2021.