Our position-by-position preview of the Texas Tech roster ahead of their season opener against Eastern Washington on Saturday continues with a look at the linebackers. On a perennially poor defense, this position group might be the best on that side of the ball.
The 2017 season will be a culmination of promise that emerged in 2015 before taking a severe hit, only to re-emerge with another bright spot in 2016.
Two years ago, the Texas Tech defense was in its first year under defensive coordinator David Gibbs. While the defense did a better job of forcing turnovers than it had in years past, it still struggles as a whole. Arguably the player on that defense who showed the most promise was then redshirt freshman linebacker Dakota Allen, who finished as the team’s second leading tackler.
However, that hope was interrupted shortly after the season. Allen was dismissed from the program for an off the field incident, and enrolled at East Mississippi Community College – the subject of Netflix’s viral original series “Last Chance U.”
While Allen was in Scooba, Mississippi, another freshman was about to emerge in the Texas Tech linebacker corps. Jordyn Brooks out of Stratford High School wound receiving considerable playing time in 2016 and finished the season as Texas Tech’s leading tackler. His freshman campaign was capped off by an 18-tackle performance against Baylor which included a forced fumble right at the goal line to prevent a touchdown.
Shortly after the conclusion of last season, Allen rejoined the Red Raiders after earning his scholarship back after his JUCO stint, joining forces with Jordyn Brooks. So heading into 2017, Texas Tech’s starting linebackers will be one junior and one sophomore, both of whom have proven their capability at the Power 5 level. That is not something that has been common on the defensive side of the ball, and is a real reason for optimism.
Texas Tech’s base defense includes a nickel defensive back, so there will only be two listed starters at linebacker. Sophomores Brayden Stringer and Christian Taylor are backing up Allen and Brooks, and while folks are excited about their talent, each are still relatively inexperienced. The depth of the unit recently took a hit when it was announced that junior D’Vonta Hinton would not be back with the team this season.
True freshman Riko Jeffers from Sachse figures to work his way into the rotation as well. The coaching staff was excited when Jeffers showed up for camp weighing in at 245 pounds., and he has the ability to play immediately despite his youth. A dark horse to look out for in this group is Jamille Johnson, a former highly touted recruit out of South Oak Cliff who is now in his third year as a redshirt sophomore. The talent appears to be there, and if the light bulb goes off for him this year he could become a contributor as well.