Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders
To the 'bag...
Grant Rohach is named the starter. He was clearly the best QB in the spring game, and coming off the way he played at the end of last season, momentum is in his corner. I know the Cyclones are high on the potential of redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, and Rohach will have to perform once the season begins to keep the job, but at this point, it's difficult envisioning anyone other than Rohach starting the opener against North Dakota State.
Cedric Reed, Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Oklahoma's Charles Tapper, TCU's Devonte Fields and Baylor's Shawn Oakman. On the next tier, I'd have Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom, Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Bean.
Davis Webb has made tremendous improvement since December, and he's going to have plenty of firepower surrounding him. Assuming Fields is back to his old self, the Horned Frogs will again be a formidable defense. The big question, as always, is, can they score enough points? But if Matt Joeckel can step in at QB and direct what is essentially the same offense he had at Texas A&M to respectability, TCU could be a handful.
Jordan Evans played well as a true freshman, and shined in place of Shannon in the spring game. A linebacking corps of Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander, sack-master Eric Striker and Evans would still be stout. Of course, it would be even better with Shannon.
Ty Zimmerman wasn't on the field last year, but I have faith Dante Barnett is ready to assume a leadership role in that secondary and stabilize the defense. I have less faith right now in K-State's running backs. So far this spring, no one has really emerged from a crop of backs with almost no meaningful experience. The K-State attack has always been predicated on a strong running game, so this is no small issue. Maybe freshman Dalvin Warmack can jumpstart the position when he arrives this summer. But running back looks like the biggest question on a solid-looking team with not many questions elsewhere.
- West Virginia's defense made big strides in the spring, says Mountaineers' defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
- What does naming Montell Cozart as the starting quarterback at Kansas mean? Matt Tait of KUsports.com has the answer.
- It's a small sample size, but Texas students aren't overly confident in David Ash, according to this poll.
- Oklahoma is still looking for answers in the secondary.
- Former Red Raiders quarterback Mike Richardson explains why he decided to leave Texas Tech.
- How does the Big 12's 2014 bowl lineup match up with 2013? The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel takes a closer look.
- Rough Wednesday at Oklahoma. One Sooner is being accused of sexual assault and the program lost a commitment from one of its top recruits.
- Here are five questions that remain after Texas Tech's spring game.
- Two more departures have left Davis Webb as the lone quarterback on the Red Raider roster. TTU has had five different quarterbacks transfer since last year.
- Baylor is gearing up for what it hopes is a national title run.
- Kansas safety Isaiah Johnson has a even bigger goal in mind after earning Big 12 defensive newcomer-of-the-year honors last season.
- West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce is feeling more comfortable after his move back inside after spending last season at outside linebacker.
- TCU lost one quarterback, Tyler Matthews, but could be gaining another in former Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel.
- A former wrestler has been impressing along Kansas State's offensive line.
- Five questions about the Iowa State football program are answered by Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register.
First came the news that Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel is leaving the Aggies and is eligible to play immediately. The Arlington, Texas, native will have one season left after finishing his undergraduate degree in December. He played in four games last season and threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Might TCU be his most logical destination? The Horned Frogs had been considering transfer options this offseason, including former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer -- who chose Virginia Tech after the option to transfer inside the Big 12 was blocked -- and Joeckel has two years of experience playing in the kind of high-speed spread offense the Horned Frogs are installing.
Then came another move, perhaps clearing the way for Joeckel: TCU backup quarterback Tyler Matthews is also transferring.
A TCU spokesperson confirmed Matthews' decision, which he also announced on his Twitter account.
Thankful for the opportunity I was given here at TCU, excited to see where this next chapter takes me!— Tyler Matthews (@TylerS_Matthews) April 16, 2014
As a redshirt freshman, Matthews appeared in four games last season while backing up Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin. So the Horned Frogs' decision, with Pachall now graduated, comes down to Boykin and incoming freshmen Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer. And maybe Joeckel, or another transfer.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, is dealing with its own departures at quarterback. Walk-on backups Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson are both leaving the program, a spokesperson confirmed.
Tausch is going to focus on academics after one semester with the team. He is a junior-college transfer who threw for 255 yards in Tech’s spring game last Saturday as the No. 2 QB. Richardson is planning to transfer after one semester, leaving Davis Webb as the only quarterback on the roster.
That will change this summer, when touted signee Patrick Mahomes joins the program along with walk-ons Payne Sullins, Hunter Rittimann and Vincent Testaverde, the son of former NFL QB Vinny Testaverde. There's no doubt Mahomes, a two-sport star who also plays baseball at Whitehouse (Texas) High School, will have to assume the backup job this fall.
Of course, Joeckel isn't the only option if these Big 12 coaches go looking for free-agent QBs. Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, Chad Kelly was dismissed at Clemson, and several more could enter the market in the next month. That's just how it goes now. Quarterbacks don't want to sit on the bench, especially if they aren't in their coach's immediate plans.
It's always a big-time endeavor for the ESPN crew of scouts, so be sure to click HERE for the ESPN 300 rankings.
Several of today's updates to the ESPN 300 affect the Big 12. Here's a closer look at what you should take away from the rankings:
- Oklahoma State quarterback commit John Kolar enjoyed an incredible jump, going from unranked to the nation's No. 3 pocket passer. He's now ranked No. 82 overall in the ESPN 300. The Norman (Okla.) North senior-to-be impressed filling in for injured Alabama signee David Cornwell last year, and he has wowed our scouts as well.
- What a killer start for Baylor. The Bears have verbal commitments from six high school prospects, and all six made the ESPN 300. The highest ranked of the bunch is WR John Humphrey Jr., who announced his commitment last night. He's one of three ESPN 300 receivers in the class, joining Devontre Stricklin and Chad President. The Bears signed four ESPN 300 recruits in last year's class, and three the previous year, so this is quite the jump. With Baylor high on the list of several other ESPN 300 prospects, including WR DaMarkus Lodge (No. 63 in ESPN 300) and DE James Lockhart (No. 113), there's a good chance this class ends up being the best in the Big 12 when it's all said and done.
- Texas now has verbal commitments from five ESPN 300 recruits: S DeShon Elliott (No. 94), OT Toby Weathersby (No. 138), OG Patrick Vahe (No. 171), new RB commit Tristian Houston (No. 208) and RB Jordan Stevenson (No. 296). The Longhorns are in the mix for more than 30 ESPN 300 prospects and have offered several more elite out-of-state recruits. Texas has some real momentum under new coach Charlie Strong at the moment, and it's possible more than 10 uncommitted ESPN 300 prospects visits Austin this week for the spring game.
- The state of Oklahoma has five prospects in the ESPN 300, and nearly all of them could end up being Sooners. OU already has verbal pledges from DT Marquise Overton (No. 150) and OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 190) and is among the leaders for OG Jalin Barnett (No. 36) and S Will Sunderland Jr. (No. 212). And then there's Kolar, who the Sooners could still make a push for over time. Four of Oklahoma's five current pledges are in the ESPN 300.
- Texas Tech already has two top-50 recruits in QB Jarrett Stidham and DT Breiden Fehoko, and they'll be the lead recruiters of this Red Raiders class. Stidham checks in at No. 37 in the new ESPN 300, which puts him No. 4 among all prospects in Texas, and Fehoko is the nation's No. 7 defensive tackle.
- It's a great year to find a running back in the state of Texas. Ten of them made the newest ESPN 300, and six have already committed to schools. The top-rated member of the group is Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones II, the nation's No. 3 running back. Texas already has Houston and Stevenson, Baylor has Ja'Mycal Hasty (No. 274) and Texas A&M has pledges from Rodney Anderson (No. 263) and Jay Bradford (No. 277).
- West Virginia is off to a great start with the 2015 class thanks to its dedication to recruiting Florida. Two of its verbal commits made the ESPN 300 in WR Jovon Durante (No. 120) and S Kendrell McFadden (No. 153), and half of its 10 pledges come from the Sunshine State. WVU is one of only seven program in the country with double-digit commitments at this point.
- New summer rules could help West Virginia start to narrow down its quarterback battle.
- A look at West Virginia's defensive line after spring football.
- The Mountaineers have a bunch of quality running backs. That's a good problem to have.
- Kansas State's offensive line is a work in progress. Multiple starters return but position changes and replacing both tackles makes spring practices a key time at KSU.
- Is Pasta-gate a thing of the past? Former Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard likes what a potential NCAA rule change could mean for walk-on athletes.
- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury remains a fan of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and he says a social life is just one plane ride away.
- Baylor landed another speedy athlete for its Class of 2015.
- Iowa State players enjoyed the schedule change for the Cyclones spring practices this spring. ISU started spring drills before spring break, splitting up the 15 practices into two sections.
- Don't be too concerned about Trevor Knight's poor performance in OU's spring game.
The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.
Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:
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The 28-year-old Morris, who was a key receiver on Mike Leach’s 11-win team at Texas Tech in 2008, finished his playing career with 184 receptions. After coaching stints at Houston under Kevin Sumlin and Washington State under Leach, Morris returned to his alma mater last year to be Kliff Kingsbury’s inside receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. This offseason after Sonny Cumbie bolted for a job at TCU, Kingsbury (who is the primary playcaller) promoted Morris to offensive coordinator and coach of the entire receiving corps.
Morris took time to chat with ESPN.com on a range of topics, including the similarities and differences between Kingsbury and Leach, how Kingsbury has grown as a coach over his first year and the benefits and challenges of Texas Tech having such a young staff:
You’ve coached with Kliff, you’ve coached with Leach, how would you compare and contrast the two?
Where has Kliff really found his stride as a coach? Where has he improved over the last year?
Morris: He’s always been really good with the players. The players love him, he relates really well to them. Him sitting in a team meeting is like cake to him. The kids really understand where he’s coming from. He uses young terminology, which they appreciate. I would say outside of that, learning how to deal with the media with the instant success with people in and out. With interviews, he’s night and day better from last year speaking in public. He does a great job handling all the girls that want to take photos with him, that want to take selfies with him. He definitely has a lot of patience, he’s not the most patient guy I’ve ever known, but he’s learned how to have patience.
So he’s gotten better dealing with the donors and the dinners and those things?
Morris: Night and day. When we go speak at recruiting dinners or with a lot of our donors, he’s a lot more relaxed, comfortable, himself up there. And just comfortable in his own skin and not trying to impress all these guys. Just being himself, which is good.
This has been written about before, but with five Texas Tech alums on the coaching staff (Kingsbury, Morris, Trey Haverty, Mike Smith and Kevin Curtis), what benefit does that give you guys?
Morris: Yeah, absolutely. It means a little more to us to put on the Double T and represent that. We’ve put in so many hours, blood, sweat, tears in the uniform. So that symbol and putting on that uniform means more to us, because we are so much more vested in it. One, I think it helps as far as recruiting, people see that, the energy, the passion we have for this place. And two, I think it helps with our current players. It’s funny we’ll be in an academic meeting, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have Dr. Timmons,’ and I’ll go, ‘I had Dr. Timmons six years ago in the same anatomy class.’ We can relate to them. We passed all the classes. We know what to do and what not to do around town, on campus, with our academic staff. We can just relate on a different level.
Morris: The worst thing ever is if you mistake our kindness for weakness. It’s definitely a case where we have to pull on the reins a little bit more at times. And Coach does an incredible job of really teaching these guys about how to be respectful to women, to people that are trying to help this program, to donors, to people that serve us food at the training table and things of that nature. And if they don’t, there’s punishment for it. He’s done an awesome job of not letting things go, even though they have excuses. If they mess up, there’s going to be a cost to pay. That’s one thing they know, and you can ask any player right now, if they’re not going to class, if they’re not doing the right things, then there’s going to be a price to pay.
What’s one thing about Kliff that’s interesting that people don’t know about him?
Morris: Well, he’s a health freak. He eats extremely healthy. I lived with him for a couple years when we were at Houston and usually you’d hear the cereal bowl get filled at 3:45 a.m. He’d eat cereal every morning, then go work out. And then protein and all of his shakes and supplements that he takes. Then snacks nuts and little snacks throughout the day. Then you’d go to lunch and it’s always grilled chicken, some kind of salad, something like that. He works hard at it and he’s pretty disciplined. That’s really impressive to me, how he stays on the straight and narrow with that.
I think his way of relieving stress is working out. But it has been funny. Because Coach Leach used to always call me late to ask questions about the program. And this semester, Kliff has started to do that. You can tell he’s up late at night, thinking about the program. And so I’m getting more phone calls at night again asking hypothetical questions and recruiting questions, ‘What do you think we need to do here? Do you think I was too hard on them? Do you think I should have called that play?' It’s definitely on his mind 24/7, he’s definitely infatuated about making this place really good. I think still there’s a doubt in people’s mind and there’s a lot of people we lost to last year that Kliff -- I don’t think he’ll ever stop until he gets to the top of this thing. And so losing always pushes him. He hates to lose, and that drives him every single day, to see these kids be successful and win a lot of football games at Texas Tech.
Oklahoma State cornerback R.W. McQuarters had an interception and a touchdown catch in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.
During Oklahoma’s national championship run in 2000, Andre Woolfolk, as a wide receiver and cornerback, became the first Sooners player in 21 years to go both ways.
Bill Snyder utilized Kansas State cornerbacks Chris Canty and Terence Newman at receiver.
In 2014, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams could become the next in a short line of Big 12 two-way players.
Williams has been the Red Raiders’ starting running back the past two seasons, but he spent spring ball exclusively at outside linebacker. Williams didn’t take part in Texas Tech’s spring game Saturday because of a minor injury. But he took snaps with the first-team defense all spring, and turned heads doing it.
“Kenny has done a great job coming over and learning the system,” said defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt. “He’s a football guy, so it doesn’t take him a whole lot of time. He sees everything, understands the concepts.”
The impetus for Williams expanding his football résumé began with a simple request before the spring. The Red Raiders graduated outside linebacker Terrance Bullitt, and Williams was looking to help every way he could. That included asking for an opportunity to boost the other side of the ball.
“I talked to Coach [Kliff] Kingsbury and Coach Wallerstedt, and basically told them, whatever the team needs, I’d be willing to do it,” Williams said. “I’ve always considered myself a defensive-minded person, so switching over to linebacker, I didn’t think it would be very hard for me. It’s kind of been like second nature.”
At first, the position switch seemed merely experimental. That's what spring ball is for. Williams had been a tackling machine on special teams for the Red Raiders, but learning linebacker in one spring appeared to be a monumental task. Yet, as the spring waned on, Williams showed his coaches and teammates he was a natural for the position.
“I think he’s a guy [who] can help us,” Wallerstedt said. “He played on all our special teams last year. He knows the offense cold. Kliff wouldn’t have given him the opportunity if he didn’t feel like he could miss reps at running back, and go back on offense and do what he does. With all these reps he’s been getting at linebacker in the spring, he’s going to be a guy we can count on.”
Though it’s possible -- if not probable -- that Williams ultimately ends up on one side of the ball or the other, Kingsbury and Williams both indicated the plan right now for next fall is to use him on both sides.
The Red Raiders have DeAndre Washington, who rushed for 450 yards backing up Williams in 2013, returning at running back. Sophomore Quinton White is primed for more playing time. Texas Tech will also add four-star signee Justin Stockton in the summer.
That depth gave the Red Raiders confidence they could try Williams on the defensive side. But Williams has also proven to be a key and reliable offensive weapon, rushing for 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons. Williams has also been Texas Tech’s best pass protector among the running backs, and it’s no secret Red Raiders can ill-afford for Davis Webb to get injured as the only experienced quarterback on the roster.
“I’m willing to go from starting offense over to defense, or starting defense over to offense,” Williams said. “Wherever I can get in and help.”
There’s precedent for a player taking on both running back and linebacker in the modern game. UCLA’s Myles Jack was named the Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year last season while manning both linebacker and later running back for the Bruins.
The next few months will dictate if Williams can become Texas Tech’s version of Jack. But coming out of the spring, one valuable Red Raider has the chance to become even more valuable next season.
“We have a lot of time to really push the envelope with this,” Wallerstedt said. “We’ll have to see how we end up defensively. … we’ll know more in August camp.
“But saying we could only have him 25 snaps, would we take him? Certainly. He’s the type of kid who’s going to do whatever it takes to help his football team, whether that’s offense, defense or the kicking game.”
To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:
Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?
Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.
Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.
Who has disappointed?
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Best offensive performance: A bulked-up Davis Webb put on a show, completing 25 of 37 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Most of his reps came in the first half, and he showed off some impressive touch on his TD throws -- his 23-yard score to Bradley Marquez under pressure was a gem. The sophomore QB even added a long touchdown run that was called back. And for what it’s worth, Webb was even better in Tech’s previous open scrimmages this spring. He’s just no fun to defend, and his coaches will vouch for that. “He’s driving me to drink Pepto-Bismol,” defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt joked after the game.
Best debut: This wasn’t a true debut, since he did play some special teams last season, but receiver Brent Mitcham made a nice impression. The senior spent three years on the scout team and had a minimal role in 2013 but stepped up on Saturday with a game-high six receptions for 80 yards. The best of the bunch was a catch over the middle that Mitcham turned and took down the sideline for a 41-yard gain.
Notable play: On a play-action pass in the first quarter, Webb rolled right, planted and fired a pass toward the opposite hash to a wide-open Jakeem Grant. The speedster made a defender miss along the sideline and cut across the field for a 75-yard touchdown. Grant finished with 105 yards on five receptions.
Developing storyline: Help is still on the way for this Texas Tech defense. Much will be expected of ESPN 300 cornerback signee Nigel Bethel II and junior college transfers Rika Levi, Brandon Thorpe and Marcus Smith when they arrive this summer. You should see a few more freshmen (maybe safety Payton Hendrix and linebacker Dakota Allen) fight their way into the two-deep. “As all of our guys get here in June and we have a monster summer, this thing will look a little different than even what it looked like today,” Wallerstedt said.
Biggest question answered: Can Texas Tech’s receivers make up for the loss of Eric Ward and Jace Amaro? From a statistical standpoint, they will go down as two of the all-time greats among Red Raider pass-catchers, but Webb is confident this group can be even better. In addition to Grant and Marquez, he singled out Reginald Davis, D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale and Derreck Edwards as playmakers he’s excited to utilize this fall. “This is the fastest receiving group I’ve known since I’ve ever watched Texas Tech football,” Webb said.
Quotable: "We have a lot more confidence than last year. Last year, we just tried to install and the guys are trying to figure us out and figure out our expectations. They know what they can be after that bowl game and carry that confidence over to being a top-15 team. They know what they can be if they put it all together, so that's exciting." -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury
- Big 12 revenue was more than $200 million dollars in 2012-13, reports Blair Kerkoff of the Kansas City Star.
- Kansas State receiver Deante Burton has "proven he can play" says Wildcat coach Bill Snyder.
- A halftime talk sparked a comeback during Kansas' spring game.
- KSU defensive end Ryan Mueller wants to be even better this season after a breakout campaign in 2013.
- Kansas safety Isaiah Johnson expects the Jayhawks to be the Big 12's top defense.
- Former KU quarterback Todd Reesing thinks the offense is in good hands with new offensive coordinator John Reagan.
- Iowa State's quarterback competition remains wide open after the spring game.
- David Irving's dismissal from the ISU program was the right move, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune.
- West Virginia's special teams could be a strength for the Mountaineers.
- Oklahoma State will need cornerback Kevin Peterson to be a leader on defense this fall.
- OSU's defensive line might be the foundation of the Cowboys' success this fall.
- Oklahoma will enter the season with high expectations, which hasn't always turned out well for the Sooners, writes John E. Hoover of the Tulsa World.
- Zack Sanchez is a symbol of OU's defense, writes Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman.
- Here's a position-by-position look at Baylor after the spring from John Werner of the Waco Tribune.
- Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell was in Lubbock, Texas, for the Red Raiders' spring game. Mitchell is looking to finalize his future home after deciding to transfer.
- Anyone have some tackling drills to share with Texas Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt?
- A superb post-spring wrapup of TCU football from Alex Apple of the Dallas Morning News.
- "We got what we needed to get done," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of the Mountaineers' spring game.
I know where you live Rhoads...have a nice prom. pic.twitter.com/NZDRnRtMaG— Fred Hoiberg (@ISUMayor32) April 12, 2014
- Kliff Kingsbury had a dance-off against a Texas Tech wide receiver.
- Oklahoma opened up its Thursday spring practice to its student fans, though only 200 showed up.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman wants to see the fiery New Orleans Sooners again in 2014.
- Baylor released its post-spring depth chart, and it doesn't have many seniors.
- Bob Connelly is delivering a fresh message as the new Oklahoma State offensive line coach.
- A Texas Tech offensive lineman appears to have suffered a career-ending injury.
- Local kid WR Deante Burton has moved up to a starting role in the Kansas State offense.
- TCU landed a commitment from a Dallas-area wide receiver.
- "Snap and clear" is the motto of Iowa State's new defensive backs coach.
- ISU running back DeVondrick Nealy was charged with an excessive noise complaint.
- Five things to keep an eye on in Kansas' spring game this weekend.
- Former Jayhawk great Todd Reesing reflects on his career and the new KU offense.
- Who's the sleeper team of the Big 12 this season?