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August 25, 2011

Roundtable: Tech's best player?

RRS publisher Chris Level, managing editor Aaron Dickens, associate editor Michael Graham and staff writer Will McKay weigh in on three Texas Tech football questions in this installment of The Roundtable.


Dickens: "I can't get over how quickly Bradley Marquez has transitioned from a record-setting running back at Odessa (Texas) to a receiver getting reps with Tech's first-team offense.

"We all knew that Marquez was a tremendous athlete, fast and versatile -- he was, after all, drafted this summer by the New York Mets -- but playing receiver involves more than an electric 40 time. Playing wideout is about catching the football, running precise routes, blocking downfield and much more.

"In less than three months, Marquez has improved enough in those areas -- again, starting practically from scratch -- to the point where he's entering the first game week listed in the Red Raiders' two-deep."

Graham: "Easily, the most surprising thing from fall camp was how quickly the offensive line went from a team strength to a potential weakness.

"Entering August the big question was whether the defensive line had enough depth to revamp itself into a competitive unit. The answer is that it has enough talent to compete with Red Raiders' first-team offensive line and overwhelms the second and third teams.

"We don't know what any of that really means until Tech starts lining up against guys in different colored jerseys but it's clear that there's a fine line between offensive linemen that are competitive against Tech's defensive line and those that are not.

"With starting center Justin Keown out, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he trusts about six available guys right now. That's two injuries away from having a significant gap in the line and a potential depth issue on par with the defensive line woes last year."

Level: "I think the biggest surprise has been how much better Tech's 2011 signing class was than we all originally thought. We knew they were good on paper, sure, but I don't think anyone expected this kind of impact this early.

"I think overall competition in camp has been better at a variety of positions because of the newcomers. Plus, you have guys like Sam Eguavoen, Pete Robertson and Bradley Marquez that are pushing harder for immediate playing time than we all thought they would at this point.

"Still, all of this should be qualified by noting that the lights haven't been turned on yet and we don't know how they're going to respond to playing in an actual Division I game. But up to this point, the results from the Red Raiders' 2011 class have exceeded expectations."

McKay: ""The increase in depth and ability on the defensive line has been the biggest surprise for me this fall. Newcomers Leon Mackey and Dennell Wesley have met expectations thus far, and returning players such as Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush, Donald Langley, Aundrey Barr and Jackson Richards have all been very productive during camp. There isn't a tremendous amount of experience there, but talent doesn't seem to be an issue. Look for the Red Raiders' defensive front four to make a big impact this fall.""


Dickens: "I think the best football player on the roster right now is Lonnie Edwards. He consistently performs at a high level, is the most experienced player on offense and is regarded in many corners as one of the two or three best offensive guards in the Big 12.

"There aren't many Red Raiders that can match those credentials. Guys like Leon Mackey or Ronnie Daniels could end up being the roster's best at some point in the future, but I've got to go with Edwards until someone proves on the field that they're better."

Graham: "The player that will make the biggest difference, whether he is the best player or not, is quarterback Seth Doege.

"The Red Raiders will lean on the junior quarterback more than any other player. Doege is a guy that touches the ball on every offensive play and the team's drives will live and die on his decisions.

"From what we've seen, honestly, Doege has easily separated himself a great distance from the rest of the quarterback field. Sure, he'll make some mistakes like any first-year starter, but he was very consistent throughout fall camp, showed good arm strength and even better touch.

"He reminds me of an inexperienced Graham Harrell. Just as Harrell grew up before our eyes, so will Doege and the good will vastly outweigh the bad.

"Doege will be a top three player at least.

"In terms of raw skill, defensive end Leon Mackey will be an All-Big 12 player at the end of this season."

Level: "Eric Stephens. There's nothing that I need to see from Stephens that I haven't seen over the last two years. He fulfills a variety of roles for the Red Raiders -- he is the featured running back, he returns kicks, he's a weapon in the passing game and he can operate out of the Wildcat.

"You know what you're getting with Stephens. You're not hoping for, 'Man, I think he can turn out to be the guy.' He's already there. On paper anyways, he's the best offensive player Tech has, and Neal Brown would tell you the same thing."

McKay: "I think I'll go with Seth Doege, but the left side of the offensive line and Eric Stephens were also heavily considered. While Doege may not be the best player physically or athletically, he's thrown a mere four interceptions in over 400 attempts during camp. He's looked razor sharp at times, keeps his cool under pressure, and seems to be able to make every throw in the book with relative ease. Things may change when he's thrown into a real game situation, but with guys like Lonnie Edwards protecting him and Darrin Moore to throw to, his job will be a little easier."


Dickens: "Over. Easily over. Five newcomers from a much less heralded class started at least one game for the Red Raiders in 2010, and two of the program's 2011 signees -- Leon Mackey and Blake Dees -- are already slated to start this fall. All it would take for Ronnie Daniels to start would be Tech's offense opening the game in a two-back set. Dennell Wesley and Delvon Simmons are both capable of starting.

"Injuries are part of the game, they're going to happen. With as many newcomers as the Red Raiders have in the two-deep, I think the odds are good that more than five newcomers log at least one start this season."

Graham: "This is a tricky question but I'm going to take the under.

"Starts are based on who shows up on the field for the first snap of the game. For example, running back Ronnie Daniels will see significant playing time but Eric Stephens and Aaron Crawford are ahead of him right now and would be the first two guys on the field. Therefore, Daniels wouldn't be counted as a starter.

"I personally think eight or nine newcomers will see significant playing time but I think, barring injuries, none of the freshmen will be able to supplant upperclassmen aside from linebacker Blake Dees and maybe receiver Bradley Marquez.

"So that gives you Leon Mackey, Dennell Wesley, Marquez and Dees at best. Four.

"Defensively, strong safety Pete Robertson, linebacker Sam Eguavoen and defensive end Delvon Simmons are capable second stringers while running backs DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams are capable of getting touches if it comes down to it."

Level: "Over. Injuries happen, that's part of football. Pete Robertson's probably going to start a game if one of Tech's safeties gets hurt. Leon Mackey is going to start. Dennell Wesley could end up starting more than one game. Delvon Simmons could start a game. Blake Dees is going to start the season. I could go on and on, but you get the idea."

McKay: "Under. The only newcomers I see starting right now are Blake Dees, Leon Mackey and possibly Ronnie Daniels. While I expect guys like Jace Amaro, Bradley Marquez, Sam Eguavoen, and Pete Robertson to get their fair share of playing time, they all have older, more experienced guys starting in front of them. If the team stays healthy and current starters meet expectations, then don't count on a large number of newcomers to be in the starting lineup."

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