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July 14, 2011
A huge number of factors go into the success of any football team. In this series, we will be examining 15 of them. We are taking a reverse-order look at the 15 players who will be most crucial if Texas Tech is to have a successful 2011 season, however that may be defined.
This is not, however, a list of the best players on the team. Rather, this series takes into consideration the importance of a given position on the team, depth issues, experience and inexperience. The results, therefore, may surprise many readers, and will hopefully spur discussion and debate.
We continue our fifth-annual Key Red Raiders series with a look at No. 3 on our list, running back Eric Stephens.
The 2010 AP All-Big 12 second team member is easily the Red Raiders best threat on the ground and his role will get even more important this upcoming season with the departure of now-Pittsburgh Steeler Baron Batch.
Stephens has almost everything you could want in a running back.
First and foremost, Stephens has durability that no other Red Raider running back has displayed up to this point. Stephens is definitely the Red Raiders' best option as an every down kind of back.
He ran for 668 yards on 127 carries as a sophomore last season and should be in store for more touches this year.
While not a burner, the 5-foot-8, 192-pound junior is deceptively quick and powerful. He has good agility, enough to make the first tackler miss in space and good breakaway speed to separate from the pack.
With those tools, Stephens will be in charge of leading a running back group that should see the most touches it has in at least a decade.
It's perfect timing.
Having a strong corps of running backs will significantly take pressure off of first year quarterback Seth Doege and it's a win-win situation for Tech. Doege gets a chance to develop without all the pressure bing on him from the get-go and the Red Raiders get to take advantage an improved running game.
Stephens also can be useful in the kick return game. He had 1,071 yards on 44 kickoff returns last season. That put his total to 1,739 all-purpose yards.
Stephens had had a few fumbling issues but really improved in that area as the season went on -- part of this was due to a shoulder injury. Expect him to continue to improve during the 2011 season and further market himself as the Red Raiders' every down back. Fumbling problems usually coincide with inexperience and the upcoming season will be Stephen's third season on the field.
With playing experience also comes leadership and it's Stephens' time to step up into a leadership role. In the past he's been able to lean on Batch but Stephens appears to have a level head on his shoulders and should be up for the task.
Originally out of Mansfield (Texas) Timberview High School, Stephens originally committed to Minnesota. As the weeks wore on, Stephens had a change or heart and switched his commitment to the Red Raiders.
Stephens chose Tech in over offers from Minnesota, Boise State, Buffalo, Duke, Houston and Vanderbilt.
As a true freshman, Stephens quickly found a role as the Red Raiders' No. 2 back behind Batch.
HE IS RANKED TOO HIGH BECAUSE...: Stephens has never been the No. 1 back and will be asked to carry a heavier load this fall than he did during his first two seasons on campus.
HE IS RANKED TOO LOW BECAUSE...: Stephens is one of few proven playmakers that return to Tech's offense, and will be used to take some pressure off of Doege as the quarterback eases into his role as the team's starter.