Everybody has a couple of games under their belt and we're all starting to realize who can and can't make plays on this team. I can't speak for Texas or any of the other Big 12 programs, but I can mention a little about Texas Tech and it's time to assess where this thing is going on defense.
McNeill has done a good job to date of putting his best players on the field. Schematically speaking, it's tough to say as I haven't had any decent film to watch. I will be seeing the SMU game in person, so that should tell me a little. Much like your weekly Big Board, here's a list of guys that have shown the ability to do some positive things throughout a football game to date:
Tier 1 Guys
1. Brian Duncan, MLB - A breath of fresh air to actually see a MLB on your screen making plays within 3 yards of the LOS. He's young and will only get better as the DTs continues to mature.
2. & 3. Rajon Henley/Colby Whitlock/Brandon Sesay/Richard Jones/Chris Perry, DTs - they aren't perfect, but they're pretty damn solid and not much drop off from 1 to 5. Probably have more to do with Duncan's impressive play to date than anything.
4. Bront Bird, OLB - He didn't play as well as his 14 tackles would suggest against Nevada, but he made some big plays and is definitely not a liability out there. He's got some speed and like his versatility in defending the run and pass with that frame.
5. Daniel Charbonnet, SS - He's come up with a big turnover in each game. Charb gets beat on a deep ball from time to time, but he justifies that risk with the impact plays he makes. At a minimum, he's been a huge upgrade at the position from Garcia.
6. Brandon Williams/McKinner Dixon, DE - Together, they have combined for 5 of Tech's 7 sacks this season. We've seen Williams do this before. Plays real well for 2 games and then disappears for 5, so I don't necessarily trust him yet, but these guys have been getting to the QB from time to time. I should also concede here that they were absolutely horrendous in defending the zone read and option plays of Nevada and Kaepernick except on a couple of occasions. You can't always get the best of both worlds, I guess.
That's 6 through two games (I'm counting Williams/Dixon as 1, since they play the same postion....also, max of 2 at DT since that's all you can have on the field at once), which is about 5 more guys than we had last year. Those are our assets and guys that will carry this defense through conference play. I can't say whether they're good enough, but they're the guys who have been making plays. The next group of guys consists of those who have shown flashes of potential to jump into the first group. It's usually the development of these guys throughout the season, which determines whether your unit transforms into salty outfit. Part of Tech's problem in the past has been they've only had 2 in the first group, 5 in the second group, and none of the 5 ever committed to joining the 2. See Brandon Williams. Great teams obviously have 11 in the first group, but that happens a lot less than you think. Usually, if you can get to that 8 number and have them spread out between every level, you can protect the other 3 in most cases. It's not good for those 3 to all be in one group (i.e. DL/LB/DB).
Tier 2 Guys (Williams/Dixon are very borderline)
7. Jamar Wall, CB - He's actually been outplayed by his counterpart, Brent Nickerson to date. We all know he belongs in that first group, but much like last year, he's had a rough go at the start. Due to my limited viewing capabilities, I'm not too sure if Wall was responsible for the long TDs in each game. I know he wasn't in the EWU game, but the view of the Nevada game wasn't sufficient enough for me to determine. If we are truly playing a Cover 2, then in all likelihood, Wall was expecting deep help like he was in the EWU game. Needless to say, it was late getting there. Now that we've got that covered, he hasn't been playing very well on all the other shit, either. I'm going to keep him here based on his body of work from last year.
8. Brent Nickerson, CB - A pleasant surprise after L.A. Reed went down. Is this a fluke? I'm not sure. I'll keep him here because he hasn't really done anything to hurt us at this point. Put him at left corner, and he might get abused. At the college level, you can hide a guy like this at right corner as long as your left is solid and you can generate some semblance of a pass rush.
Tier 3 Guys
The next group of guys consist of players, who may not be a liability for your team, but you know they've maxed out their potential or they would have been in the first group in one of the two priors years you waited for them to get there. They're typically 3 or 4 year starters, who showed promise by starting early, yet it really wasn't because of their ability, but more a lack of depth or competition at the position they occupy. They never make any players, but you're not getting them off the field.
9. Darcel McBath, FS - The dude passes the eyeball test, has the physical ability, but just never does anything to wow me. I don't think he's a liability by any means, but you just never see him make any plays. Example: Red Raider fans, name the biggest play you can remember McBath making in his career? I know there's one or two, but I can't think of them. Help me out. I'm usually good at that stuff. Brian Orakpo sounds like he fills this role for Texas from listening to you.
10. Jake Ratliff, DE - He's actually more technically sound than Williams or Dixon, he's just easy to block. Somewhat of a liability, but serviceable. At a minimum, he's consistent, which is why he's still in our 2 deep. When Williams and Dixon are spending their time chasing TBs either with the ball and into the hole they were just occupying, or without the ball into the opposite hole from them, you need someone to start or sub in that you can somewhat trust while you chew the ass of one of the other two on the sidelines. Ratliff fills this role. Yours is Rashad Bobino. And actually after thinking about it, Williams and Dixon should be moved to the second group for their play against the run, it's just too hard to edit in this format.
Tier 4 Guys
The next group are guys who have been liabilities to date, but you may not have any better options at this point. Maybe you have options, but they're not ready or need to be used a different way in lieu of these guy. Tech has one of them at this point. I'm not sure Texas does, but I'm not real familiar with your personnel yet this season.
11. Marlon Williams, OLB - He didn't sound very good against EWU and he didn't look very good against Nevada. Williams looks like he's riding a treadmill to me. Dude's legs are moving real fast, but he's not really going anywhere. Which might work, if you have superior recognition skills to your competition. I find myself having flashbacks, when I watch Williams play, to that time we were shipping 400 head of 8-weight steers out of a small set of corrals. We were short handed for gathering a two section pasture, but when my dad and I pulled up, all 400 were standing right outside the gate of the corral. We unloaded our horses and in 10 minutes had all 400 penned. My dad jinxed us by saying, "This is going a little too smooth." As we were trying to push them into the shipping pens from the larger trap, they spooked when my uncle got there late as usual and drove his pickup right to the worst spot. They began to make a beeline to the barbwire gate in the corner. My dad was already yelling at me, "YOU'RE FUCKING LATE, SON! YOU'RE FUCKING LATE, SON! YOU'RE FUCKING LATE, SON!" He was right as I lightly trotted my big, gentle sorrel towards the corner of the pen. I arrived at the gate just in time for 400 head to split around each side of my horse and the first one bucked out into the pasture with a barbwire gate hanging around his neck. My dad didn't even attempt to help me hold what we still had, he just hauled ass at a high lope straight towards me, taking his rope down in one motion. He told me to get down off that fucking horse and grab that saddle horn. That was in the 7th grade, and I haven't been late for many things since. Fast forward 5 years, and you remember that time your uncle pulled up and spooked the herd and know to start moving your slow-footed sorrel over there 10 steps earlier. In the end, you avoid the wreck, and pretty soon ol' sorrelly figures out what's going on. He's not so slow-footed any more, and you've got a better horse to boot. We're riding a goddamn Shetland pony in an AQHA Cutting Horse Futurity with Marlon Williams. At least, Jake Ratliff is an apple-butted Paint. I find myself yelling the same words as my father to Marlon Williams at my TV screen. Kaepernick exposed him to the corner multiple times for nice gains. With the dual threat QBs of spread offenses we'll face, this position has become more and more important every year.
Maybe an Option Guys
The last group of guys are the ones who have shown very small flashes of exceeding the production of guys not in your first two groups. You would like to see a little more of these guys, but they may not fit any mold to a tee. Typically, they'll have a specialized skill set that can either be used to your advantage or exploited by your opponent depending on how they are schemed. Tech has always had a lot of these guys, and that's the biggest thing I always admired about John Goodner. He knew how to use them. Here are the guys Ruff has to work with.
12. Jordy Rowland, SS - McNeill has been using him on passing downs as the nickel safety. Rowland is a decent matchup against a tight end in coverage and a bad matchup against a tight end in the run. Vice versa on small, quick slot receivers. He likes to hit and always knows where he needs to be. In other words, he's got a LB skill set stuck in a DB body. Typical of most Nazareth Swift Big 12 football players. Most people dog on the lack of talent at the high school level in the Panhandle and West Texas, when compared to other parts of the state. Admittedly, the depth is thin, but the top 2 of 3 guys in that region could play anywhere in the country and usually do (Roy Williams/Benson/Walters....well, I guess mostly Texas). However, the next 4 through 10 are often some of the most underrated recruits each year and often land on all conference teams at the next level. Auston English and Ziggy Hood are good examples this year. I really like what Tech has done in recruiting the last several years, and we're in much better shape than we've ever been. I think Leach has figured out what Spike did in that instead of taking a JUCO player with only 2 years and some baggage, you're better off taking some project guys in that 4 to 10 group. My point is project guys with upside in that 4-10 group from that region are better players than 2nd or 3rd tier guys ranked higher in other parts of the state. That's it. You may not agree. That being said, I think Rowland is a better football player than Marlon Williams. Marlon doesn't really make many of the plays we have him in there for (stopping perimeter runs), isn't great in coverage, and not fast enough for the duty of chasing down a running QB. Rowland appears to possess the skillset to do two of the three. It wouldn't surprise me if he's better against the run, too. He's made plays in practice for 3 years now, and in limited action. Let's see some more of him. We don't have anything to lose by doing so.
At this point, including anyone else on this list would be a stretch. Anthony Hines hasn't really done much to impress me over Charbonnet, but he might be able to perform the same role as Rowland. Taylor Charbonnet and Laron Moore have done some nice things on special teams, but not sure if they would be an upgrade from Wall or Nickerson. Blake Collier intrigues me like he does all Tech fans, but from the little I've seen, he's just a fast guy that doesn't know what's going on. I think that's where this unit is at personnel-wise right now, and we'll see what Ruffin does next.