Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville's main message at Big 12 media days on Monday: The Red Raiders are a "little closer defensively."
A defense that ranked dead last in stopping the run in 2011 -- Tech gave up 258.83 rushing yards per game -- helped keep the Red Raiders from extending their consecutive bowl streak to 12.
Texas Tech went 5-7 in 2011, and the expectations are high enough around Lubbock because of Mike Leach's run (eight straight eight-plus win seasons) that Tuberville already is answering questions about his job security.
"Just being here a couple of years, everybody said: 'You're on the hot seat,'" Tuberville said. "I'd like to coach a few of these guys I recruited. So hopefully we can get this thing going a little bit better each year. We're not there yet. I'll be the first to tell you, but we're much closer than we were three years ago."
New defensive coordinator knows how to stop the run
To fix his defense, Tuberville hired defensive coordinator Art Kaufman this offseason. Kaufman was Tuberville's DC from 1995 through 1998 at Ole Miss.
In 1999 after Tuberville left to coach Auburn, Kaufman guided the Ole Miss defense to a ranking of fourth nationally in stopping the run. Kaufman was the defensive coordinator at North Carolina last season and his defense ranked 27th against the run.
The Red Raiders not only finished last against the run last season, they also were 117th in scoring defense, giving up 39 points per game.
"I think it's a big factor of having an experienced coordinator being able to make those changes week in, week out, personnel, move people around, how to do those things in terms of giving yourself a chance for success," Tuberville said. "You're still going to have to score a lot of points no matter what."
Depth the key to improving defense
Tuberville has been hesitant to add junior college players to his roster in the past -- "We want to take a few junior college players and build it with high school kids" -- but with a need to add depth quickly to help Kaufman's new defense, Tuberville signed nine junior college players this year.
"We haven't had enough depth to compete in this league with all the high-powered offenses we've seen over the last couple of years," Tuberville said. "You need around 30 players that can go day in, day out and play in this league, and we've been about half that. But we've pretty much doubled our talent on that side of the ball."
RB Stephens, WR Torres back and improving
Tuberville said that running back Eric Stephens is at about 80 percent and receiver Alex Torres should be ready to go when the season starts -- both players suffered season-ending knee injuries last year.
Stephens' injury was a killer for Texas Tech, as the Red Raiders were 4-0 before he went down in a loss against Texas A&M. Stephens still led the team with 565 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Tuberville said that Stephens, who is wearing a knee brace, started running about five or six weeks ago and will go full speed with no contact during two-a-days.
Torres has been running with a limp, Tuberville said, and is also wearing a knee brace.
“He'll be ready to go," Tuberville said. "Whether he's going to be 100 percent, probably not at the beginning. But he's been cutting and running, probably a little bit longer than the other guys with knee injuries."
A dig at Mizzou
A reference to the departed was rare on Monday at Big 12 media days, but Tuberville did get in one subtle shot at Missouri in reference to the multiple knee injuries the Red Raiders experienced last year at Faurot Field.
"The turf they had up there was not conducive to being safe," Tuberville said.
Tuberville addresses status of Amaro, Williams and Darrin
Tuberville made it sound like sophomores Jace Amaro and Kenny Williams would be allowed to play this season after their March arrest on charges of unauthorized use of a debit card, allegations that both players denied.
The fate of senior receiver Darrin Moore was not as clear. Moore was suspended indefinitely in July for his April arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated.
"I let it go through the system pretty much," Tuberville said. "We find out exactly what they did and what they find out about them, and then we'll go from there.
“Jace and Kenny's has been a little bit longer. I think that's about wrapped up. Darrin Moore, we'll have to wait and see, probably a week or so more in that situation. But right now they're kind of in limbo.”
Tuberville, near the end of his media session, said that he expects Amaro to be one of the better players in the country the next few years; so one would think he plans to have the sophomore tight end in his lineup this fall.