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August 2, 2012

Preview: Secondary is a concern


MORE: Two reasons to be anxious about the DBs | Free 30-day trial

The Texas Tech secondary, with 46 combined starts returning from last season's squad, could be a team strength this season. The only thing standing in the way is the lack of a clear-cut No. 2 corner and unproven depth up and down the defensive backfield.

The coaching staff did what it could to help out the secondary during the offseason with the addition of cornerbacks Bruce Jones, Olaoluwa Falemi and Austin Stewart from the junior college ranks plus a few freshman players who could potentially help out immediately.

Tech can also hope that Tre' Porter is ready to make an impact after missing five games last season due to a head injury. Derrick Mays and Jarvis Phillips return after making a handful of starts in 2011, and Jeremy Reynolds had a very solid spring.

POSITION VITALS
Typically, a position group that returns a combined 46 starts from a year ago would likely be referred to as a team strength. That isn't the case for Texas Tech's defensive backfield, as it cycled through starters at corner due to injury and inconsistency. The Red Raiders hope that they have found an answer at one of the spots in converted wide receiver Cornelius Douglas, but the team enters fall camp looking for someone to step up opposite of him.
THE BASICS
Returning Starters: D.J. Johnson (12), Cody Davis (11), Tre' Porter (6), Eugene Neboh (5), Derrick Mays (4), Jarvis Phillips (4), Cornelius Douglas (2), Happiness Osunde (2)

Others Returning: Shawn Corker, J.J. Gaines, Urell Johnson, Jeremy Reynolds

Newcomers: Micah Awe, Olaoluwa Falemi, Bruce Jones, La'Darius Newbold, Thierry Nguema, Austin Stewart, Keenon Ward

Departures: Giorgio Durham

2011 NUMBERS TO KNOW
Texas Tech ranked second in the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per games (226.75), though that was likely attributable to the team's porous rush defense.

The Red Raiders ranked No. 116 nationally in interceptions last season, picking off just five passes -- only three by defensive backs. This was by far the team's lowest interception total in over a decade.

Cody Davis logged 72 solo tackles in 2011 and is the nation's active career leader in the category (202).
BATTLE TO WATCH
No position battle will be more important to Tech's defense than the battle for the starting boundary cornerback spot. There are several returning contenders -- Jarvis Phillips, Derrick Mays, Eugene Neboh -- but none really grabbed hold of the position in the spring. Newcomers Bruce Jones and Olaoluwa Falemi will get a look during camp.
"There's some added depth back there," strongside linebacker Terrance Bullitt said. "We've added depth and those guys have looked good this summer."

That being said, the Red Raiders will really be counting on senior safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson to help over the top and the team needs both players to go injury free throughout the season. Both are solid football players -- Davis is the NCAA's active career-leader in solo tackles -- but the team will need them to be difference makers this season.

Behind Davis and Johnson, the Red Raiders have viable options between Porter, Stewart and J.J. Gaines. Freshman athlete Keenon Ward has been assigned to the defensive backfield, but he won't be ready to contribute this fall.

[ More RRS: No need to worry about the safeties ]

At cornerback, Cornelius Douglas is Tech's clear No. 1 option. He started out last season as a receiver but was converted over as attrition hit the secondary depth as bad as injuries hampered the Red Raiders' running game.

Douglas, who was recruited out of high school as a defensive back by some programs, has committed himself to learning the cornerback position. He dramatically improved his body for the position over the offseason and had a good spring.

Who will line up at the other cornerback spot is a huge question. Jones or Falemi will get a good look this fall, as none of the returning players made a definitive case during the spring.

Behind those three cornerbacks the Red Raiders will be counting on a combination of Happiness Osunde, Mays, Phillips and Reynolds to round out depth plus maybe freshman La'Darius Newbold, although Newbold will likely start out at safety.

Depth isn't ideal in the secondary, but Tech is at a good starting point. As long as the injury bug doesn't bite too hard, the Red Raiders' defensive backfield should be expected to show improvement from last season.

NEW FACES: Both Jones and Falemi should make an impact right away after transferring from junior colleges. Jones is more polished at this point, but Falemi may have more upside.

Stewart, another junior college transfer, will be relied upon as a backup this fall. He's still adjusting to the Division I level, but he could be a major factor in 2013 and 2014.

[ More RRS: Not many answers in the defensive backfield ]

Ward could play either receiver or safety, but has been handed over to first-year secondary coach John Lovett to bolster depth at safety. There's a good chance Ward will redshirt.

Newbold rounds out the newcomers, and could conceivably play this season. He has great athletic ability and very good size, so it will just be a matter of how quickly he can adjust to playing Big 12 football.

Thierry Nguema joined the team in the spring after greyshirting last season.

PRESSURE IS ON: Cornelius Douglas. If Douglas isn't an answer at cornerback -- remember, he's only played a handful of games on defense -- then the Red Raiders are in deep trouble.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Who emerges as the starter at boundary cornerback? Will it be newcomer Bruce Jones or Olaolua Falemi, or a returning player like Eugene Neboh? Either way, this is arguably the biggest question mark of camp for Tech.


PRE-CAMP DEPTH CHART
Aside from the boundary cornerback spot, the top of the Red Raiders' defensive back depth chart is fairly set in stone. Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson return at the two safety positions, Cornelius Douglas is locked in at field cornerback and Tre' Porter has a solid hold on the primary nickel spot.
STRONG SAFETY
1. D.J. Johnson SR-3L Johnson is entering his third season as a starter; he has started 20 games in his career.
2. J.J. Gaines FR-RS Gaines, coming off of a redshirt season, impressed the Red Raiders' coaches during the spring.
FREE SAFETY
1. Cody Davis SR-3L Davis is the NCAA's active career leader in solo tackles; he has started 36 career games.
2. Austin Stewart SO-TR Stewart transferred in at midterm from Los Angeles' Pierce College and is expected to play a backup role this fall.
BOUNDARY CORNERBACK
1. Eugene Neboh SR-2L Neboh has started nine career games for the Red Raiders; some of his teammates call him 'The Reptile.'
2. Derrick Mays JR-2L Mays, a onetime UTEP commitment, has started seven career games for Texas Tech.
FIELD CORNERBACK
1. Cornelius Douglas SR-3L Douglas is entering his first full season as a defensive playmaker; he played wide receiver before moving to corner.
2. Jeremy Reynolds FR-RS Reynolds had a very good spring and could be a future answer for the Red Raiders.
NICKELBACK
1. Tre' Porter JR-2L Porter battled injuries last season and only played in seven games; could possibly factor in the safety rotation, too.
2. Jarvis Phillips JR-2L Phillips is the best pure cover corner on the team, but he has a hard time letting go of bad plays.




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