Texas Tech QB still not picked; Tuberville intends to pass first, defend better

Tommy Tuberville has a dilemma familiar to Texas Tech.

The new coach doesn't have a starting quarterback picked for a Red Raiders offense he says will continue to throw the ball all over the Big 12.

Predecessor Mike Leach often waited to pick a starter, though never because of injury.

Tuberville, who stepped in after the university fired Leach late last year amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion, will decide between seniors Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. Both got injured early in spring workouts.

A starter will be picked about a week before the Red Raiders host SMU to open their season Sept. 5.

Neal Brown, who Tuberville brought in as offensive coordinator from pass-heavy Troy State in Alabama, said Potts has the stronger arm, while Sheffield is the better runner.

"I want both of them to think that they can be a starter," Tuberville said. "What we're looking for is more consistency from both of them. Both will play, but we're not going to have a situation where one plays the first quarter, and one plays the second."

Sheffield and Potts each had surgery in March. Sheffield, who threw for 1,219 yards and 14 touchdowns in six games in last season, needed repair to the same bone in his left foot that he injured in October at Nebraska.

Potts, who threw for 3,440 yards and 22 touchdowns in 11 games last season, needed surgery to fix an injury between his index finger and middle finger he got hitting a helmet while throwing.

Competing for the same job hasn't created friction, the seniors said.

"We're cool. We never walk by each other without saying, 'What's up?'" Sheffield said. "But at the same time, we're not texting each other or playing video games together or anything like that."

Whoever is picked won't have to watch over his shoulder, said Brown, whose Troy State team finished third nationally in total offense (486 yards) and fourth in passing (336 yards) last season.

"It's not a deal where if he throws five incompletions in the first quarter you go to the next guy," Brown said. "I think you got to let him play, and obviously if he doesn't produce over an extended period of time then you make a change."

The offense will pass first but Brown wants to spread the ball around to the team's playmakers, including running backs Baron Batch and Eric Stephens and a receiving corps that returns two strong starters — Detron Lewis and Alex Torres.

"The No. 1 goal is to win and we want to run the ball good enough where if our quarterback doesn't play his 'A' game, let's say he plays his 'C' game, we want to run the ball where we still got a chance to win that game," Brown said. "That's what we're looking at."

Time will tell whether Browns' concerns on offense — depth at running back and the line — will continue to keep him "up at night."

Overall, Tuberville wants more quickness on offense and defense. To that end, many offensive linemen dropped a combined total of about 240 pounds this summer. They are trimmer, have more endurance and are stronger, he said.

"All those little things will add up," Tuberville said.

A lingering question is the Red Raiders' defense, long the stepchild of Texas Tech football and for years maligned as the reason the program couldn't get to a conference championship.

"To me they don't walk around with the swagger that they need to," Tuberville said. "They need to feel like, 'Hey, we're as much of this team as anybody else and we can win as many games as the offense.' We have to get to that point."

Enter defensive coordinator James Willis, an assistant under Tuberville for three years at Auburn before spending last season with national champion Alabama.

Willis said spring workouts showed him a defense that was faster than he anticipated.

He has focused on tackling, addressing woes Texas Tech has shown in recent years. Too often opponents have slipped out of Red Raiders' tackles.

"You get what you emphasize, so we've stressed tackling very much everyday. We teach it everyday," said Willis, who played for Green Bay, Philadelphia and Seattle in his seven years in the NFL. "If you're not doing the things all the time, it's hard to do it on a certain day."

Texas Tech opens the season Sept. 5 at home against SMU.