Skip Holtz just capped off his fourth year in Ruston, meaning the last of the Sonny Dykes recruits should be stepping out the door. 2017 will be his time to show us what a team of his recruits can do. 2016’s big 3 (Ryan Higgins, Trent Taylor, and Carlos Henderson) are gone, so what will Tech need for 2017?
It may surprise you, but quarterback and wide receiver don’t feel like huge needs. Backup QB J’Mar Smith almost beat Arkansas in his first college game. After a year of added experience, plus presumably getting the first-string reps all offseason, he should only be better next year. As for wide receiver, we saw last year what Alfred Smith and Kam McKnight could do. Add Marcus Gaines returning from injury and Teddy Veal being eligible after transferring from Tulane, and the wide receiver corps should be just fine next year.
So with that in mind, here are my top 3 positions for Tech to nail in 2017:
Key returners: Russell Farris (Sr), Brandon Durman (Jr)
After 2015, all three starting linebackers graduated. Graduate transfers Dalton Santos and Jordan Harris came in from Big XII country, but that didn’t play out very well. Adding insult to injury, both were academically ineligible for the C-USA championship game and the Armed Forces Bowl.
Lloyd Grogan, a converted safety, is also out the door. So with the Bulldogs facing losses from an already under-performing unit, finding quality replacements will be critical.
JUCO transfer Randy Hogan (Pearl River CC, MS) is the only pure LB committed so far, but an upperclassman like him should be able to be an immediate contributor. Tech also has a commitment from Tristan Allen (Atlanta, TX), a 2-star linebacker/defensive end hybrid. He could specialize in edge rushing from either the DE or OLB positions.
Key returners: Secdrick Cooper (Sr S), L’Jarius Sneed (So CB), Ronald Lewis (Sr CB), Ephraim Kitchen (So CB)
Like the linebacker corps, the secondary also struggled. Team captain Xavier Woods held down the fort after every other 2015 starter graduated, but now he’s gone too. Graduate transfer Prince Sam is out the door as well. Ephraim Kitchen was injured most of the year but hopefully he’ll be good to go in 2017.
Although there’s plenty of players returning, last year’s performance can’t be repeated for a successful 2017 campaign.
Four defensive backs have committed to Louisiana Tech thus far. Tech’s first overall 2017 commitment came from 2-star DB Kollin Hurt (Gilmer HS, TX). He’ll probably play safety. Three more commits were added to the list in the past month: two from Neville HS, LA (2-star JaCorion Andrews and 3-star Jaiden Cole) and JUCO transfer Jordan Baldwin (Iowa Central CC). The two Neville teammates will both play safety, and Cole could contribute immediately, even though he played quarterback in high school. Baldwin is a smaller safety, but he can still deliver big hits. He was a high school teammate of Elijah Walker, a quarterback who has also committed to Tech.
Four DBs are committed, but all are expected to play safety. No cornerbacks. Hopefully defensive coordinator Blake Baker has someone up his sleeve here.
Key returners: Will Parker (Jr)
Bear with me, here. Kickers (and punters) are people too. A good punter can flip field position and have a massive impact on a game, even if it isn’t always obvious.
Tech had two punters in 2016 (Gerald Shouse and Logan McPherson), but had trouble settling on one. Both had struggles at some point.
Oh, and both were seniors.
Tech does list one more punter already on the roster: Will Parker, who will be a junior next year. That’s fine, but he has yet to punt in a game.
The punters also served as holders for field goals. So Will Parker will be expected to start at punter and holder despite having spent his time at Tech as a redshirt and a third string punter.
Hopefully, he’ll do just fine and be a solid contributor to the special teams unit. I’ve never seen the guy play, so I’m not gonna sit here and say I don’t trust him. But even if he does play well, Tech only has him for two years.
So to me, it would be a good idea to bring in another punter in 2017. If Parker does fine, the new guy can redshirt. But on the chance that Parker struggles, you’ve got a back up plan.
Currently, Tech doesn’t have any punters committed. There is a kicker on the list: Brady Farlow (Purvis HS, MS). But he’s a placekicker, not a punter. His 2017 contribution is likely to be kickoff specialist while starting kicker Jonathan Barnes plays out his senior year. So maybe Holtz isn’t as concerned with the punter position as I am. We’ll see how it plays out.
So there you have it. Linebacker, defensive back, and punter are my 3 positions to fill. As I said before, I think quarterback and wide receiver will just be reloads.
But what do you think? Is there another position you think Tech needs to fill? If so, let me know in the comments below!