The injury bug hit Texas Tech hard last year but the Angel of Mercy seems to
have dropped by Lubbock to give the Red Raiders an almost completely healthy
roster entering the 2012 season.
It's amazing to think that less than 10 months ago running back
Eric Stephens sustained both a torn ACL and a torn MCL. The rising senior
running back was just recently cleared to resume normal team activities as if
the injury had never happened. The same goes for DeAndre Washington who
sustained a torn ACL a month after Stephens.
Miraculously, Tech's stable of running backs can once again be considered a
strength on offense. Combined with a passing offense that contributed more than
4,000 yards last season while dealing with injury issues of its own, the running
game should allow the Red Raiders to be more effective overall and help swing
some of the close games the team lost last season.
"I'm lucky that I have another opportunity to play again," an upbeat Stephens
said. "It was disappointing but I think everything happens for a reason and I
have the chance to get to that 1,000 (yard) mark this year. I have another year
and that's all that really matters now."
was on pace to become Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher in over a decade before
suffering his knee injury. And if Stephens had remained healthy, who knows how
the Red Raiders' season would have gone.
If Stephens is truly healthy and truly back in good shape like he says he is, he
should have a big year.
But it's not just Stephens.
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Despite the struggles the Tech offense had without Stephens, Washington really
was starting to come along at the time of his injury. He had more than 300
rushing yards while splitting most of the load with senior Aaron Crawford. Tech
added Riverside Community College transfer SaDale Foster at midterm and
signed College Station (Texas) A&M Consolidated High School running back
Quinton White in February; both are expected to play this fall.
Rising sophomore running back Kenny Williams also looks like a player
with a lot of potential in the running game.
"Kenny Williams has come so far over what he was before the spring," Stephens
said. "Kenny was a good player last fall, but after the spring he's a completely
different guy. He got a lot of reps this spring with DeAndre and I injured and I
told the younger guys, 'The more reps you get the more comfortable you'll feel
back there.' He looks comfortable. I think he has learned how to use his body
better for blocking and things like that."
NEW FACES: Foster and White give the Red Raiders a lot of depth
at running back with five available scholarship running backs in total.
Foster was somewhat of a surprise at running back. He was mostly recruited for
his skills as a return man, but was placed at running back because of some
previous experience at the position.
Foster, however, made the most out of a lot of reps during spring football and
established himself as a player who will at least factor into the running back
rotation this season.
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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said in February that White might be
the sleeper from the class of 2012.
White reminds the offensive coaching staff of Stephens when Stephens was in high
school. The true freshman may not redshirt this season.
"Those two guys work really hard," Stephens said. "That's the thing you notice
about them right away. The running backs, now more so than ever, are working
hard as a whole group. Quinton and SaDale have bought into the culture and want
to be great and are doing everything they can."
PRESSURE IS ON: Eric Stephens. Texas Tech's offense was
noticeably less potent once Stephens went down with his season-ending knee
injury. Quite simply, Stephens was the Red Raiders' best player a year ago and
was playing at an all-conference level through four and a half games. If he can
get close to that level this year, it could be the difference between a six-win
season and an eight-win season. No pressure.
BIGGEST QUESTION: How healthy are Stephens and Washington, and
how confident are they in their surgically repaired knees? At this point, the
biggest hurdle standing between them and a successful 2012 season is mental, not