Juco duo fills needed roles for Red Raiders

Texas Tech needed help.

The team's top two running backs, Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington, suffered major knee injuries during the 2011 season and the status of each for 2012 was in doubt.

There were talented freshmen behind them, but depth was needed whether Ronnie Daniels, Kenny Williams or Bradley Marquez were ready to contribute or not.

Daniels was suspended in January, then permanently removed from the team Tuesday.

Enter SaDale Foster.

"We didn’t know the situation at running back," Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We went out and took a chance on SaDale Foster, and man he’s been a blessing."

Marquez was moved to receiver; Williams is in limbo while legal issues surrounding an arrest earlier this month are sorted out.

Foster was needed, and he has excelled. Williams and Daniels practiced throughout the spring, but it is Foster, the newcomer, who tops the depth chart until Stephens and Washington prove they're healthy and can be more productive than the juco transfer.

"He can really play in this league. He can play in any league," Tuberville said. "He’s really going to help us."

Not only has he shown up and made an impact this spring, but the Red Raiders also stumbled upon their new top linebacker while recruiting him.

Tuberville and his coaches were eyeing Foster at Riverside (Calif.) Community College, but Will Smith, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, caught their attention, too.

"We were so short in depth in both of those positions, at linebacker and running back, we just hadn’t been very good. Bront Bird left and he was really the only true linebacker left on the team," Tuberville said. "We’ve gone out and recruited some guys, but they were so young. We needed immediate help. Your linebacker position is your quarterback on your defense. They’ve got to understand what’s going on at every position, get people lined up."

Smith stepped on campus in the winter, and by the end of Saturday's spring game, had proven himself to be the Raiders' best linebacker. Coaches originally played him outside, but knew that on passing downs, he'd be taken off the field for additional defensive backs.

The solution: Make him the team's starting middle linebacker.

"In this conference you’ve got to have people who can tackle in the open field. Most teams in this league run the spread, the short passing game," Tuberville said. "They get it to the quick receivers and if you don’t have quick linebackers who can tackle, you’ve got no chance."

Tuberville hopes Smith gives him that chance. The same is true of safety Chris Payne, who came to Texas Tech out of junior college, too. He's made an impact years after being recruited by Tuberville at Auburn, signing with South Carolina but taking the junior-college route to major college football after not making grades.

"That was kind of a no-brainer for me," Tuberville said. "I’ve coached linebackers most of my life and I knew he could play."

But Smith? Smith was a surprise, and one that brings a smile to his new coach's face.

"Will Smith has been kind of the find you always hope to run into. People slow-played him for some reason," Tuberville said. "We watched him, looked at him, and he fit the criteria of exactly what we needed. A smart guy, he’s a 3.0 student. He can change directions. He loves football and has great football instincts, but you don’t know that until you get on the team. And so, we just said, 'Hey, this guy looks the part, so let’s sign him, bring him in and we’ll see if he fits the part.' And he’s done that."

So did Foster. And come fall, Texas Tech will be cashing in on two quick fixes who could also be big fixes for the two positions of greatest need in Lubbock.