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Preview: LBs will make impact

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What a difference an offseason makes.
From additions by way of recruiting to the weight room to a new defensive
scheme, it looks like all the tools are in place for Texas Tech to show
improvement on defense. And that progress will be fueled by an improved
linebackers unit.
On the first day of the Red Raiders' spring football season -- a cold, rainy
February afternoon that captured the bad taste that the 2011 defense had left in
everyone's mouth -- the team's linebackers trotted out and looked much different
than they had three months prior.
That was largely because most of the faces were new.
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stood out for different reasons. Smith, 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, looks and moves
like a big-time linebacker. Payne isn't as physically imposing, but more than
makes up for it with his speed and ability in coverage.
Terrance Bullitt, a newcomer to the position but not the roster, stood out as well;
he was Tech's most consistent defensive playmaker in 2011 despite suffering from
a nagging and painful shoulder injury.
Smith will quarterback the entire defense just a few months removed from
Riverside (Calif.) Community College. He will be in charge of calling the front
and responsible for communicating between the front seven of the defense -- all
the linebackers as well as the defensive line.
"Will came in as a two or as a three in the spring and worked his way to middle
(linebacker) early," Bullitt said. "He gave the defense a spark and because of
that he came a leader on defense. I'm sure he's going to be able to hold onto
that spot and make some plays for us this year.
"He's doing a good job. He says the transition isn't as hard as he thought it
would be. He's just playing football and he's used to the position."
[ More RRS:
Expectations are high for Bullitt ]
This is a big departure from last season where the Red Raiders could not find
any consistent linebackers. Smith, Bullitt, Payne and Sam Eguavoen give
Tech four dependable options without even reaching into the backers' depth.
Daniel Cobb should see plenty of reps along with Blake Dees.
Both saw significant playing time last season but battled consistency.
Zach Winbush also saw some playing time.
Justin Cooper is an eighth linebacker the coaching staff is excited
about. He is coming out of a redshirt freshman year.
There's some depth left to be desired on the defensive line, but the linebackers
should help the line stop the run in a fashion the defensive front just wasn't
capable of last season.
If all goes to plan the Red Raiders can swing some of those close games they
failed to last season.
NEW FACES: We've already talked a lot about Smith, but we need
to talk about the respect he earned so quickly.
Smith quickly found himself atop the depth chart at middle linebacker this
spring thanks to a combination of solid tackling, pass swatting and even the
occasional interception on an errant pass. He showed a knack of making plays,
which was something Tech's defense sorely lacked in 2011.
[ More RRS:
Kaufman looking for two more to step up ]
Payne, a defensive back and linebacker tweener from Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community
College, adds depth and could be used situationally. He missed some of the
spring with an injury, so fall camp will be key to how much he will contribute
this season.
Kris Williams, an incoming freshman from Dallas, is expected to
redshirt.
PRESSURE IS ON: Will Smith. Smith was arguably the biggest
story of the spring for the Red Raiders, and enters the fall surrounded by a
healthy amount of buzz. He's proven everything possible except for whether or
not his success in practice will translate to Saturdays.
BIGGEST QUESTION: Will this group of linebackers be able to
make plays? Last season, the Red Raiders' linebacking corps seemed almost
non-existant at times. If Tech is to return to the postseason, the team's
linebackers will need to make their presence felt on the field.
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