Chuck Heinz - The Morning Drive
The obvious. The receiving group gives you great confidence with Coutee, Cantrell, Batson and Willies, Shorts, Martin and Bowman in no certain order. Any and all can catch the ball provided Shimonek has time to throw it. The good news is that Shimoneck told us Monday he's been working on this speed and footwork to elude the defensive ends and feels he's faster than any of them which will give him time to find an open receiver.
All that said the offensive line is a huge concern. You have to hope and hope is not a plan that new coach Brandon Jones can work some magic and get some luck and have the hard work pay off to get the big guys up front success so the offense has time to work. They gotta stay healthy. I truly believe the defense will be better they don't have to be great...but the key to the whole thing is can the offensive line improve especially as the season gets tougher.
Jamie Lent - The Morning Drive
With the struggles that the Red Raider defense has had for the last 15 years or so stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback, it is hard for me to be comfortable with the Tech Defensive Line. Especially when you lost a few key guys from last year. That being said, there more be more depth at the position than Tech has had in a long time, but I guess I will have to see some success before I come anywhere near comfortable.
I think this year's group of wide receivers has the potential to be really good. There is plenty of depth on both the inside and outside and with a solid quarterback running this offense...it's kind of hard to imagine this group of receivers not putting up big numbers.
Zach Logsdon - The Morning Drive and Sunday Sports Blitz
The "correct" answer to the most secure position group is probably wide receiver and with good reason. For the sake of changing it up, I'll point to linebacker. With Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen, you finally have some guys with real star power at the position. Add D'Vonta Hinton, Tony Jones and any surprise contributors and you have a group that's the foundation for some real defensive improvement. I think/hope that by the end of the season, we are talking about these guys as the best position group on campus.
I feel the least confident in the offensive line. There were times last year where teams could drop 7 or 8 into coverage and you couldn't A.) run the ball effectively and B.) protect Patrick Mahomes effectively. Not a great combo. Add in that Nic Shimonek probably isn't the runner that Mahomes was (in fairness, not many are) and it could spell trouble for an offense that will still be among the best in the nation.
Casey Cowan - The Bottom Line
Da'Leon Ward is only one man, but his finish to his freshman season left me with renewed hope that Kliff Kingsbury's offensive backfield may soon be able to return to being one that features a one-thousand yard rusher. Texas Tech has been searching for the next playmaker at running back to pick up where current Oakland Raider DeAndre Washington left off in 2015 & while it took until the second half of the season to materialize, a shred of hope did eventually appear -- & also stuck around. There was much to learn from the workload the relatively unknown freshman was trusted with as the season wore on. After only 14 touches (carries & receptions) in his first two consequential appearances of the season in games six & seven (v. WVU, v. OU), Ward would go on to finish the season touching the ball 107 times in 4 of the final 5 games of the season. And if he hadn't missed the game against Oklahoma State with what was described as a head injury you could likely add another approximately 25 to that final number. In the 2nd half of the year, i.e. the most trying of Big 12 days, Tech deferred to Ward as an offensive playmaker as much as anyone not named Pat Mahomes. For a guy who started the season as a Plan C freshman running back, it was hard to predict he would be as involved from game-to-game in the second half of the year as any running back has been since the aforementioned Washington was on his way to over 1,800 yards from scrimmage in 2015. All this behind a pedestrian (to be kind) offensive line. It has to be noted that Ward is recovering from a knee issue described as a "bone bruise" suffered in spring camp, but if healthy as a sophomore I anticipate him having the ability to be a central offensive contributor as the most versatile & consistently dependable threat in the stable of Tech running backs.
On the other end of the spectrum, gray hair & sleep gone un-slept is most likely the result of the memory of Texas Tech's 2016 offensive line. The Red Raiders made it through the first four weeks of last season starting the same five men, and then the rest of the season happened. Those same five would never start together & in the same original spots again. Make no mistake, many offensive lines all over the country are fluid when it comes to starters or rotations well into the year - but employing another six different combinations over the final eight games would seem to be a back-breaker for most any o-line's chances of establishing any synergy. Oh, and their charged task: develop a feel for protecting one of the greatest improvisational quarterbacks to ever wear the Double T. As an added shoulder shrug to the year-that-was up front for Tech's offense, GAME ELEVEN featured maybe the most disheartening "swap" of all when what was thought of as a groomed-through-ten-games replacement for Le'Raven Clark at left tackle in Terrance Steele, suddenly became someone whose time was best served at right tackle. In summation, a season that featured seven different starting lineman combinations & ended with the ten-game starter at left tackle switching to the opposite side for the final two games (& entering 2017 so) has left me unsure of essentially everything entering this new year with a new man in charge of the group. That man is former Tech o-lineman Brandon Jones who I understand is hammering home technique, fundamentals, & the small things as his guys prepare for the season. And improving upon the little things sure could come in handy for a group that was primarily the catalyst of an offense repeatedly shooting itself in the foot via penalties or other unforced miscues. I have high hopes for the future of Tech's o-line under Coach Jones, but am at the ready when it comes to tapping the brakes on expectations of dramatic improvement from '16 to '17.
Chois Woodman - The Bottomline
No question, the best position group for the Red Raiders heading into 2017 is the receiving corps. Despite losing three receivers in the offseason (Johnathan Giles, Tony Brown, Ian Sadler), this group has a lot of depth and is by far the most proven on the squad. I am expecting big things from Derrick Willies, Dylan Cantrell, Keke Coutee, and Cam Batson, but there are also several younger players with a plenty of promise.
There are is one position group that comes to mind that will make a person squirm more than any other: defensive line. This is a position group that has been a struggle for Texas Tech for just about every season in the Kliff Kingsbury regime. Texas Tech has to find a pass rush and a way to stop the run. Both areas have been a problem and it doesn't appear there is a clear cut answer to solve it.
Aaron Dickens - Tech Talk
Much like the Houston Astros are far-and-away the best team in baseball, Texas Tech's wide receiving corps is far-and-away the best position group on the Red Raider football team. Led by Keke Coutee, Texas Tech's collection of pass catchers is deep and talented.
Texas Tech's offensive line, meanwhile, is the biggest question mark on the team. The group of front does return some key contributors from last year's unit, but none are bonafide stars and the two-deep is chock full of unknown commodities. The fact that the program was counting on Cal transfer Aaron Cochran to come in and, right away, be a plug-and-play starter at left tackle should be viewed as an ominous sign.
Chris Level - Tech Talk
Most Comfortable: Wideout. Even with the departure of Jonathan Giles I'd be shocked if most didn't say the same. Keke Coutee might be the most explosive player on the roster, Cam Batson or Dylan Cantrell the most consistent and Derrick Willies might have the most potential and they all play wideout. Makes it an easy answer for me.
Least Comfortable: This one comes down to the two lines for me but I think the defensive line likely worries me a bit more. Does that group have depth and potential? Absolutely. But, do they have anyone that can ring the bell or pressure the quarterback? We don't know that yet and that makes me nervous. I think Eli Howard is a name to watch but this is a largely unproven group and if this defense is going to improve it starts up front.
Marissa Crawley - Tech Talk
The group I feel most comfortable with is the wide receivers. Texas Tech receivers accumulated 5556 yards and averaged 13 yards per catch last season. This group will also have 5 returning players who averaged over 10 yards per game. With the returning players and latest additions this group has me feeling confident and comfortable going into this season.
The least comfortable position group for me would have to be the defensive line. I don't really know what to expect with new coaching change. Coach Jamison's background suggest that he knows how to transform and mold teams to become top performers. I guess we will just have to wait and see.
Jeff McGuire - The Sunday Sports Blitz
The answer that everyone else has is the receivers. They are the best group, but for most comfortable I am going with the starting Quarter Back and specifically Nic Shimonek. He is a senior quarterback in an air raid offense. He won't be as good as Pat Mahomes, but he won't have to be either. Granted, all we have seen on the field of him is the half vs Kansas last season, but that half brought questions all season long about if he could run the offense better. Tech is going to throw the ball to the best group, and Shimonek is the one doing the throwing.
As for least comfortable, I really want to say something different than the offense line. I want to not see the spring practices where the d-line dominated. I wish the running game was not being hurt so much by that line. They have to get better. I will be interested to see what the new o-line coach brings to the group. I don't think the problem is coaching, I think it is talent.
Andres Flores - The Sunday Sports Blitz
I feel most comfortable with the Quarterback. All Kliff Kingsbury QB's have put up plenty of numbers and have scored lots of points wherever he has been. Don't see anything different here. Nic is a 5th year starter and at Texas Tech, tradition shows that those guys can play.
I feel the least comfortable with the running backs. Right now we don't have "A Guy" that we can rely on when it comes to 3rd and short or goal to go situations. I am also concerned with pass protection, it never has been great with this position group.
Chris Williamson - The Sunday Sports Blitz
I think as per usual I am most comfortable in our receiving corps. We have talent returning and incoming so I feel good about them.
Least comfortable would have to be the O-Line. Let's face it, Mahomes ran for his life often last year and we may possibly have a less mobile qb this year. Not sure we brought in enough to make us as good as we may need to be. And I hope I'm 100% wrong BTW!
Zach Sparkman - Producer Extraordinaire
Most Comfortable: Wide Receivers, while there's a lot of intrigue with the linebackers they don't have the track record of the receivers. Yes the loss of Giles will hurt, but Keke Coutee should be more than capable to fill that spot, and I expect Derrick Willies to take a big step forward assuming he stays healthy. Throw in 2 more reliable threats like Cam Batson and Dylan Cantrell I'm really excited about what this group can do.
Least Comfortable: Offensive line, a lot of my excitement about the receivers relies on the O Line being able to give Shimonek time to get them the ball. The Defense and Pat Mahomes' escapability covered a lot of this groups issues last year, if we don't see improvement this season we could see more of the Nic Shimonek we saw against Iowa State than the guy who dominated Kansas.