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July 30, 2012

Preview: DL looking to improve

MORE: Tech feels good about the DL | Free 30-day trial

Texas Tech's defensive line -- like the rest of the team's defense -- wasn't effective in 2011. The Red Raiders' defensive front couldn't stop the run and couldn't sack the quarterback. The defense as a whole was historically bad, and the line was certainly responsible for its share of the unit's overall ineptitude.

The graduation of Scott Smith, the team's leader in sacks a year ago, stings but Tech returns almost everyone else of consequence from last season's team. The Red Raiders also bolstered their depth up front by adding a junior college transfer, signing three high school prospects and moving Pete Robertson from linebacker/safety to defensive end.

The availability of Branden Jackson, coming off of a redshirt season, may be the most impactful change from 2011.

"Last year I redshirted a defensive lineman," head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We just said, 'Hey, we're going to do it. We're going to bite the bullet.' He's going to be a great player. His name is Branden Jackson. Left a redshirt on him, didn't play him, and it's going to help us in the long run.

Texas Tech's defensive line, much like the rest of the team's defense, was ineffective in 2011. The Red Raiders return almost everyone of consequence from last season's team, have added a few pieces via recruiting and could have a pair of young game-changers in Branden Jackson and Pete Robertson.
Returning Starters: Kerry Hyder (12), Dartwan Bush (7), Leon Mackey (6), Jackson Richards (4), Dennell Wesley (3)

Others Returning: Kindred Evans, Christopher Knighton, Donte Phillips, Pete Robertson, Delvon Simmons

Newcomers: Lee Adams, Chase Robison, Anthony Smith, Michael Starts

Departures: Donald Langley, Chris Perry, Scott Smith
Texas Tech's returning defensive linemen have combined for just 11.5 career sacks; Dartwan Bush (3) and Kerry Hyder (3.5) are responsible for 6.5 of them.

Scott Smith registered 5.5 sacks in eight games last season. If he had played in enough games to qualify to be listed on NCAA stats, Smith's rate of 0.69 sacks per game would have ranked third in the Big 12.

Only six teams in the past 10 seasons allowed more rushing yards per game than the Red Raiders did in 2011 (258.83). Of that group, Northwestern (2002) is the only team from a BCS AQ conference.
The Red Raiders' official pre-camp defensive line depth chart doesn't include Lee Adams or Pete Robertson. They will be battling Kindred Evans for a spot in the team's defensive line depth chart. Evans is currently second at left defensive end, but Robertson really impressed the coaches with the limited action he saw in the spring. Adams could work his way into the rotation as well thanks to his versatility.
"The thing that we had to do and knew we had to do when we got here is build our depth up, build our talent level up, get three deep at almost every position, because you win with depth in college football."

Jackson did some serious work in the offseason and has transformed his body. He filled out his 6-foot-4 frame and is now north of 250 pounds as of the most recent weigh-ins.

Jackson is currently slated to start at left end with sophomore Kindred Evans backing him up. Evans, like all defensive linemen in the two-deep, will see very significant playing time this season and could be preferred in certain down and distance scenarios.

[ More RRS: Pay attention to the DEs when camp opens]

Dartwan Bush, the pre-camp No. 1 at right defensive end, is considered to be the best pure pass rusher on the team. Now that he's expected to fill a more prominent role, the Red Raiders will need him to be more productive than he was last season (two sacks). Jackson Richards is penciled in behind Bush, and he could be someone that switches from end to tackle depending on down and distance.

Leon Mackey will be looking to have a better 2012 season after so-so production as a first-year junior college transfer last season. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder started at defensive end last season but sustained a deflated lung injury in the very first game of the 2011 campaign against Texas State and it clearly affected him the rest of the season. He's been moved to a more natural defensive tackle position and will back up junior Kerry Hyder.

Dennell Wesley will start the season as the No. 1 at the nose tackle position head on against the opposing center and the opposing interior linemen regardless of the defensive front. Delvon Simmons, who enrolled late into the 2011 offseason workouts and entered the season out of shape, has had a fantastic offseason and will back Wesley up.

Lee Adams could see time at defensive end or tackle. The 6-foot-1, 269-pound junior college transfer missed most of the spring with an injury; Adams adds a third level of depth along with Christopher Knighton.

U.S. Army All-American and four-star recruit Michael Starts could add depth somewhere depending on how quickly he adjusts from playing offensive tackle in high school.

NEW FACES: Despite missing most of the spring due to injury, Adams should contribute in some capacity this season.

Starts will be a good competitor for the Red Raiders down the line. The question is whether he can adapt to playing on the defensive line quick enough to contribute this season. If Starts proves he could play only sparingly, the right call will be to redshirt him.

[ More RRS: Hyder was the best defensive player this spring? ]

Defensive tackle Anthony Smith also was a great get for Tech in the 2012 recruiting class and can run a sub-five second 40-yard dash time at just about 300 pounds. Given the team's depth on the interior, he could be another newcomer who foregoes a redshirt season if he adjusts quickly.

The Red Raiders fended off home-state Tennessee at the last minute to land defensive end Chase Robison, and he's added a good amount of weight to his frame since signing in February. Tech has good numbers on the outside of the defensive line, so it seems probable at this point that Robison is headed for a redshirt season.

The Red Raiders landed another solid defensive tackle recruit in J.J. Lollar but Lollar will not enroll before the 2013 spring semester due to a medical issue.

PRESSURE IS ON: Leon Mackey. Mackey is the lone senior expected to be in the team's defensive line rotation, and he has 12 or 13 games to make an NFL case. He arrived in Lubbock with much fanfare, and seemed to be on his way to living up to that buzz before suffering an internal injury against in the season opener. Mackey only missed two games and was back in time for conference play, but he didn't look like quite the same player that we saw during camp and against the Bobcats.

BIGGEST QUESTION: How effective will Robertson and Mackey be at their new positions? If Mackey can be an answer on the interior and Robertson lives up to some of the buzz that's been building around him since the end of spring, the Red Raiders' defensive line could be one of the more pleasant surprises of the season.

The important thing to remember about Texas Tech's defensive line is that the depth chart means less than at any other position. The Red Raiders expect to have an eight or nine-man rotation this season, and all of those guys will play; some may play more than others, but the typical starter/non-starter paradigm isn't at work here.
1. Branden Jackson FR-RS Jackson almost had his redshirt taken off at several points last season, but Tech's defensive coaches ultimately resisted the temptation.
2. Kindred Evans SO-1L Evans played in three games last season before suffering an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.
1. Kerry Hyder JR-2L Hyder, the team's active leader in sacks, is a steady and consistent presence in the middle.
2. Leon Mackey SR-1L Mackey, who missed two games last year with a punctured lung, will play tackle this season after playing defensive end in 2011.
1. Dennell Wesley JR-1L Wesley arrived late last summer and started out the season out of shape; he has really attacked the weight room this offseason.
2. Delvon Simmons SO-1L Simmons was also a late arrival last year; the sky is the limit for him, he just needs to continue to get bigger and stronger.
1. Dartwan Bush JR-2L Bush is the Red Raiders' best pure pass rusher; he'll be expected to up his production now that he'll be filling a more prominent role.
2. Jackson Richards SO-1L Richards could be a candidate to play inside and outside depending on down and distance.

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