Texas Tech Red Raiders

Five storylines to follow as Texas Tech begins spring football drills

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will focus his efforts on football this spring after splitting time between baseball and football a year ago.
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will focus his efforts on football this spring after splitting time between baseball and football a year ago. Star-Telegram

Texas Tech football games project to be high-scoring affairs again this fall.

The Red Raiders, who posted a 7-6 record last season, were the only Big 12 team that scored more than 500 points (586, a school record) and allowed more than 500 points (567) in 2015.

As the team prepares to begin spring drills Saturday, Tech should remain robust on offense because the Red Raiders return quarterback Patrick Mahomes, last year’s FBS national leader in total offense (393 yards per game).

Mahomes, a junior, will focus his efforts on football this spring after splitting time between baseball and football a year ago.

Tech returns lots of proven receivers, as well as some key junior-college additions, to serve as Mahomes’ primary targets during 15 spring workouts. But top receiver Jakeem Grant (90 catches, 1,268 yards, 10 TDs) has graduated, along with leading rusher DeAndre Washington (1,492 yards, 14 TDs), creating key vacancies for coach Kliff Kingsbury to fill.

The defense will lean on the continued maturation of several players who contributed as freshmen last season, as well as an influx of 14 newcomers targeted for that side of the ball in February’s signing class.

Seven of the newcomers play defensive line and many are expected to play immediately.

Washington rushed for 248 yards in a 59-44 victory over Kansas State.

15 Interceptions by Tech defenders last season after collecting a league-low six in 2014.

Although the Red Raiders allowed lots of yards and points last season, the defense collected 25 turnovers in their first season under defensive coordinator David Gibbs. That is 10 more than Tech collected in 2014 when it ranked last among league teams in that department.

Below are five storylines to monitor as the Red Raiders prepare for Saturday’s first workout:

Who becomes the primary face of the ground game? Justin Stockton is the most productive returnee from last season (367 yards, five TDs, 6.0 yards per carry) now that Washington, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014 and 2015, has graduated. Demarcus Felton averaged 12.2 yards per carry in limited duty last season as a redshirt freshman. Both players figure to be pushed in fall drills by freshman Da’Leon Ward, who rushed for more than 1,900 yards last season at Dallas Skyline.

How many newcomers will bolster the 2016 defensive line? Coaches envision an all-hands-on-deck approach as they seek to improve a unit that allowed the most rushing yards (280.5 per game), rushing TDs (49) and yards per carry (6.2 average) of any Big 12 defense last season. Any of Tech’s seven fresh additions in the defensive trenches could see duty next fall, with JC transfer Mych Thomas (6-foot-1, 325 pounds), a Dallas Skyline product, and DE Houston Miller, a freshman from Keller, among the names to watch.

393 Yards per game in total offense by Tech QB Patrick Mahomes last season, making him the national leader among FBS players.

Who backs up Mahomes at quarterback? That question could be pivotal because last year’s backup, Davis Webb, headed to Colorado as a graduate transfer. Webb threw for 5,527 yards and 46 touchdowns during his three seasons at Tech, including an MVP performance in the team’s 2013 Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. His departure leaves Nic Shimonek, a transfer from Iowa who threw two passes last season, as the most experienced returnee behind Mahomes. Jett Duffey, a January enrollee who led Mansfield Lake Ridge to last year’s Class 5A state title game, will take part in spring drills, but coaches would prefer to redshirt him if possible.

Texas Tech’s 2016 football schedule

Which newcomers should emerge quickest? Two wide receivers with strong junior college credentials will take part in spring drills: Derrick Willies (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), a much-needed upsized target who grabbed 14 TD passes last season for Trinity Valley CC, and DeQuan Bowman (5-11, 180), a speedy target who will get a chance to succeed Grant as Tech’s primary kickoff returner. Bowman (43 catches, 571 yards) was a standout return man for Hutchinson (Kan.) CC. Another anticipated impact newcomer at WR, freshman T.J. Vasher, is expected for summer workouts in June.

Can Tech defenders continue to improve as ball hawks under Gibbs? The coordinator’s track record says “yes,” based on recent evidence. Gibbs’ units forced a combined 73 turnovers in two seasons at Houston (2013-14), with an emphasis on interceptions. Seven returnees intercepted at least one pass a year ago, with the Red Raiders combining for 15 interceptions in Gibbs’ first season. The year before, Tech intercepted only six passes as a team. Among the returnees who had multiple interceptions last season include cornerback Jah’Shawn Johnson, linebacker Dakota Allen, cornerback Tevin Madison and defensive back Justis Nelson.

In his first season at Ranger College, Billy Gillispie has his team ranked 10th. The team is 25-4; all four losses were forfeits (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

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