Texas Tech head football coach Matt Wells took to the podium at this year’s Big 12 Media Day to talk about the upcoming football season.
Senior offensive lineman Dawson Deaton and senior linebacker Riko Jeffers joined Coach Wells in answering questions about Tech's potential this season throughout the day.
Wells answered a variety of questions during his time at the podium and during a press conference, many of which revolved around transfers and how those players will be utilized and developed during the season as well as offensive and defensive strategy for the season.
There have been 18 transfers over the past two years, Wells said, and getting them through the offseason was “priceless.” The leadership of the older players on the team and utilizing the transfer portal are two aspects Wells said he plans to continue with moving forward.
Wells also reflected on how COVID-19 affected the previous offseason and how the team is moving forward in the current offseason.
“It affected every one of us; we all went through it, every school did, every program did, but for us, as somebody that prides themselves on development in the offseason, and the things that we need to do from changing the culture of this program and accountability and discipline, it came at a bad time,” Wells said. “And I think the best thing now is, first of all, you got 10 super seniors coming back. A lot of those guys came in at the very end of July we were talking about earlier, early August, and it's quiet, it was a quiet offseason. I think we got in and we grinded and the vibe is good right now, and I think it just takes time to do this in terms of trying to turn this thing around.”
COVID-19 not only affected the offseason, but Wells said it also made forming personal relationships within the team more difficult. It was hard to form connections when there were COVID tests and close-contact tracing occurring frequently. However, moving forward, Wells said going into the third year, the chemistry is better than it has ever been in Lubbock.
When asked about a jump in defense, Wells said there have been improvements since the 2019 season.
“We made a jump last year. We were awful in 2019 to, I think pretty decent, last year in 2020, and you just look at the Big 12 games alone and most of that improvement came in the secondary,” he said. “Hiring Derrick Jones, a secondary coach, Keith Patterson, our D coordinator went back to safety to coordinate, but we've added some of those transfers back there in the secondary. But the strength of the unit is the linebackers: Rico Jeffers, Colin Schooler, Krishon Merriwether, just named them. Brandon Bouyer-Randle is back, he started some of the year last year, Jacob Morgenstern started, Kosi Eldridge, Tyrique Matthews. We were fairly deep, now we're old. We're very old at linebacker, but that'll absolutely be the strength of that defense.”
With the addition of Tyler Shough, junior transfer from Oregon, as the new quarterback for the Red Raiders, Wells said the quarterback room is better than it has ever been while he has been at Tech.
Shough got in during the third practice in the spring and has been shaping up to be everything Wells said he is looking for. Additionally, the other players in the quarterback position are people Wells has been impressed by.
“(Shough has) been every, everything that we want and, especially in terms of a leader, coming in early, staying late, and being a football junkie,” Wells said. “Henry (Colombi) had a really, really good spring. I'm proud of Henry; he won some games last year in the Big 12 for us. And then we, we have two ultra-talented freshmen: Donovan Smith and Baron Morton, both of those guys. So that room, top to bottom, is better than it's ever been. We all know that room has to produce, has to play at a high level, and so that'll be a better race, and a better fight, I would say, for those guys in August than we've ever had.”
The offensive line has clearly developed since Wells’ first year, and that is due in part to the talent of the younger players. Wells said the more the offensive line works together and communicates, the more it will help the production of the unit.
Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie also has played a major role in developing the offensive line even further. Wells said the vibe right now between him and the offensive players is good, and they are excited.
“In terms of him (Cumbie) and the quarterbacks, that's part of the reason I do believe I chose him is just his ability to coach and connect with those quarterbacks,” Wells said. “He's a detailed teacher, is a technique teacher. He's done a nice job with those guys in the spring and (I) look forward to the work that he's going to do with them throughout this season.”
Some of the transfers Wells specifically was asked about were Kaylon Geiger, T.J. Storment and Marquis Waters.
Kaylon Geiger, senior transfer from Troy, has one year of eligibility, and when asked about how he would fit in to the team, Wells said he plans to play him at an outside receiver position. Wells sees him as a dual threat and is looking forward to watching him this season.
“I do believe he can play both – he can play inside or outside. He's a speed wideout, really good with the ball in his hands post-catch. (He) had about 140 catches over two years at Troy … I do believe that will utilize him in the kickoff return game,” Wells said.
T.J. Storment, senior transfer from Texas Christian University, is another asset to the team Wells said fits in well to the offensive line rotation. Storment is able to play both tackle spots and has adapted well to the coaching and terminology at Tech. Wells believes he will be playing a big part in the success of the offensive line this year.
Marquis Waters, senior transfer from Duke, was a three-year started, and Wells said he is a leader. He has not only been confident in his abilities, but also has been adaptable to how things are done at Tech.
“And again, I keep talking about these transfers, it's not just the fact that they played and played well at the other schools, but it's the transition into Texas Tech and into Lubbock, and we've certainly had a lot of practice with that because we've taken so many transfers, but I'm proud of him and I'm proud of the rest of those guys but he has become a leader,” Wells said.
To build up the momentum of this season and get the ball rolling into a winning record in the Big 12, Wells said the key is to start fast right out of the gate.
“We got to start fast. We get two non-conference games right at home. We have to go on the road back-to-back; I think we're the only team in the league that goes back-to-back at Texas and at West Virginia. You've got to win close games. That's what it comes down to,” Wells said. “Our first year, we were 0-4 in one-score games. Last year, I think we were 4-2 in one score games, that's what it's going to come down to. You got the last couple possessions, the last three or four minutes of the game, you got to find ways to win close games, and I think when we do that, we'll be on the, on the other side of the ledger, you know, where we all want to be, and that's competing for a championship in the month of November and consistently be in a bowl program.”
The difference in the close games comes down to maturity, Wells said. Maturity leads to experience, and although there have been games that have hurt the team, Wells said it gives the players the knowledge they need moving forward.
Confidence also plays a key role in bridging the gap during those close games, Wells said. If the players can think clearly and execute plays, they can find a way to win.
“I think as a program we continue to build and to, to gain strength and confidence in our processes. Off the field, academically we're doing very well, you know, 73 people in our program with the 3.0 or higher. We're making gains in strength and conditioning, and right now the vibe and the continuity with our players is really as strong as it's ever been,” Wells said. “…(S)o as we head into this, to this third season, (we are) looking to build on that and to become bowl eligible and to get to the month of November and compete for a championship. (That) will be the goal of this program always.”