Texas Tech’s slot receiver position is shaping up as a battle of former Friday Night Lights stars from West Texas.
The three leaders at the Red Raiders’ H receiver spot are McLane Mannix from Midland, Dalton Rigdon from Perryton and Xavier White from Lubbock Monterey.
“I don’t know who would start right now,” offensive coordinator David Yost said Monday, “but all three of them would play about a third, a third, a third.
“Because Xavier White has made huge gains in just a short time. He’s really exceptional with the football. He’s just got to clean up the knowledge of everything.
“Rigdon, you know what you’re going to get every time. He always does the right things. Mannix has got that game experience and has a really good feel for space.”
Rigdon and Mannix lined up at the H receiver during spring practice, though Mannix missed time with an ankle injury, and then the personnel changed. Coaches moved returning inside receiver KeSean Carter outside, and White joined the team as a walk-on transfer this summer from a Kansas community college.
Coaches and other players have repeatedly mentioned White as a player who’s stood out from the start of preseason practice.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound sophomore caught 64 passes for 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior two years ago at Monterey, including eight for 95 yards and a touchdown in a regional-semifinal loss to Denton Ryan.
Tech coach Matt Wells can see why.
“He catches the ball and makes a move real quick,” Wells said, “and at our H position, those are some skills that are needed and necessary.
“He’s still a young receiver. He’s improving his route-running ability. He’s actually made some decent blocks out on the perimeter against some bigger overhang safeties and outside linebackers.
“And it’s coming fast at him, because this offense is a lot to handle early when you haven’t been through it in the summer.
“And so I”m proud of him. He’s caught the quarterbacks’ eyes. He’s caught the defensive coordinatory’s eye, and he’s got himself in the conversation in the next two weeks.”
The team had a closed scrimmage Saturday, and coaches came out of it still not sure about the pecking order behind starting quarterback Alan Bowman.
Jett Duffey, having started three games there last year when Bowman was injured, might have seemed an easy call for the No. 2 job, but coaches have been open to what true freshman Maverick McIvor can offer and, to some extent, walk-on transfer Jackson Tyner from Rice.
On Saturday, the team ran nine series with the second- and third-string offenses, and each of the backups got three series apiece.
Offensive coordinator David Yost said Duffey has improved since spring.
“But it comes down to production,” Yost said. “Maverick and Jackson are putting a lot of pressure on him, and he knows you’ve got to produce to stay in your role. There were some good things today (in practice), but not enough on Saturday. So that puts more pressure on him. Every job is there to be had.”
Yost said McIvor “had his probably best day” of camp so far on Saturday.
Among Duffey, McIvor and Tyner, each day one gets the majority of work as the No. 2 quarterback, the other two work as the No. 3 and the next day it rotates. They’ll keep it that way through another scrimmage this Saturday.
“Really, they’re all kind of in a big bucket right now,” Yost said.
Outside linebacker Evan Rambo and safeties Douglas Coleman and Dadrion Taylor all intercepted passes in Saturday’s scrimmage. Rambo returned his for a touchdown, and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said Coleman’s came in a critical situation.
That was part of a pretty good day in Patterson’s eyes.
“I thought we did a great job stopping the run,” Patterson said. “We forced three takeaways, which is our standard. Three or more a game gives us a chance to win, so I was very excited about that.
“And then, I don’t mean to jinx myself or our unit, but I felt really good about our tackling.”
Patterson doesn’t like singling out individuals, but said he thinks “we’ve come along as a unit.”
Patterson’s defense last year at Utah State shared the FBS lead in turnovers gained with 32, led the FBS in interceptions with 22 and ranked third in defensive touchdowns with six.
To replicate that in the Big 12 and at Tech, the Red Raiders will need high-level play from their cornerbacks, who have shown signs early.
“They’re pretty good, I think,” Patterson said. “We’re challenging receivers, obviously. We’ve got some new people coming in that have really helped not only with our depth, but have allowed us to be … I don’t know what scheme or what was really taught here a year ago, but I know that we’re very aggressive. They’re starting to get a very good feel for what we’re trying accomplish.
“They’re being very aggressive and squeezing and topping routes and, as you see, it results in takeaways. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Patterson said he feels good about four or five corners on the roster. In the half hour of Monday’s practice open to reporters, Penn State transfer Zech McPhearson and sophomore John Davis rotated on one side and returning starters DaMarcus Fields and Desmon Smith rotated on the other.
Running backs Ta’Zhawn Henry and SaRodorick Thompson and wide receiver T.J. Vasher weren’t on the field during Monday’s segment of practice open to media. Wells called them “day-to-day” with injuries. “Nothing major,” he said.
Running back Armand Shyne, who has missed time with a hamstring issue, was back on Monday.
With Henry, Thompson and Shyne all limited, offensive coordinator David Yost said Jax Welch took advantage of the running back snaps during the scrimmage.
Wells said there is no update on tackle Terence Steele (upper body) and defensive end Lonzell Gilmore (biceps), who have been out since the start of camp.
Offensive coordinator David Yost said sophomore tackle Casey Verhulst has gotten the most work as a result of Steele’s absence. Two-year returning starter Travis Bruffy has shifted back to left tackle, and Verhulst, Troy Bradshaw and Zack Adams have worked at the spot opposite him.
“Casey Verhulst is having a great camp,” Yost said, “and really made a lot of improvement.”
Yost said redshirt freshman Weston Wright has been working lately at left guard. Wright’s a young lineman that coaches have been high on, but they’ve taken some time deciding at which position he fits best.
Good news, bad news
The departure of Lou Groza Award semifinalist Clayton Hatfield and Ray Guy Award semifinalist Dominic Panazzolo left big holes at kicker and punter.
Tech coach Matt Wells said true freshman Austin McNamara and returning walk-on Cody Waddell are “a pretty good set of two punters.” McNamara, as expected, is the front-runner, having been a USA Today second-team all-America honoree last year at Gilbert (Ariz.) Highland.
Wells is more concerned about kicker, where junior-college transfer Jonathan Garibay, redshirt freshman Trey Wolff and freshman walk-on Gabriel Lozano are vying for the vacancy Hatfield left.
Asked about the kicking competition, Wells said, “Next question. Not ready to talk about them.
“I’m not trying to be the funny guy,” he continued. “I would love to talk about them when they’re ready to be talked about. … And I hope they read that.”
Redshirt freshman Xavier Benson and junior transfer Evan Rambo have worked as the starters throughout camp at the hybrid positions, Benson at the rush end-outside linebacker spot that coordinator Keith Patterson calls “Raider” and Rambo at the outside linebacker-safety spot Patterson labels “Spur”.
The depth behind them figures to be young, especially with Lonzell Gilmore out. The senior spent time at Raider in the spring.
On Monday, true freshman Tyrique Matthews was backing up Benson at Raider, and sophomore Quincy Addison was behind Ramdo at Spur.
Matthews was working with the second team last week, too.
“I really like where Tyrique Matthews is,” Patterson said. “I think he’s going to be a guy that can step up and play a significant role for us this season.”
Matthews, listed at 5-11 and 220 pounds, was a finalist last season for the Greater Houston Touchdown Club defensive player of the year. He’s from Aldine Eisenhower, the same high school as Tech safety Adrian Frye.