Spring primer: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech kicked off its spring ball Wednesday. Here’s a preview of what to look for from the Red Raiders during their spring practices:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Reginald Davis flashed what he’s capable of while taking a kick to the house in the bowl game. Davis, a former smaller class quarterback, has been picking up the nuances of playing wideout the last two years and seems primed for a breakout campaign. With Eric Ward gone, the Red Raiders will be looking for another playmaker on the outside. Davis has the speed and explosiveness to be just that.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Cornerback Justis Nelson signed with the Red Raiders last year with an offer list that included Bucknell, Colgate and Harvard. But Nelson proved to be a pleasant surprise as a freshman, starting the final three games for the Red Raiders. He also picked off an Arizona State pass to seal Tech’s bowl win. Nelson doesn’t have top-end speed, but he has the awareness and ball instincts to make plays in the secondary. He figures only to get better, too.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Offensive guard Josh Outlaw was the highest-rated signee in last year’s class. The Georgia native signed with the Red Raiders, despite reporting offers from several SEC powers. Even though Tech returns Alfredo Morales and Baylen Brown at guard, Outlaw is talented enough to break into the rotation after redshirting last season, especially with Beau Carpenter off the team now.

Most significant position battle: The Red Raiders need to figure out how they’re going to replace Terrance Bullitt at the pivotal Raider outside linebacker spot. Despite playing injured, Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups last season. The Red Raiders have a host of possibilities to fill his role, including seniors Dorian Crawford and Austin Stewart and redshirt freshmen Collin Bowen and Jacarthy Mack. If Tech can find the right answer here, the entire linebacker corps could be very solid, with Micah Awe, Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson all back after productive seasons.

Key midterm enrollee: After ranking ninth in the Big 12 in rush defense and losing top inside D-linemen Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder, the Red Raiders desperately need a newcomer to emerge at defensive tackle. They have one option already on campus in juco transfer Keland McElrath, who chose Tech over West Virginia and Kentucky. McElrath has reportedly been dealing with a stress fracture, but if he can get healthy, he can give the Red Raiders some much needed beef up front.

Question that could be answered: The Red Raiders will be counting on several inexperienced players on the defensive side next season. Nose guard, defensive tackle, Raider linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions of contention. Tech needs to build depth on this side of the ball, and with reps going out to numerous players, the competition for time should be intense across the board. Coming out of spring, the Red Raiders should have a decent idea of who they’ll be able to rely on in the fall.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The Red Raiders really won’t know whether sophomore quarterback Davis Webb will be ready to take the next step until he’s out on the playing field. After an up-and-down true freshman season, Webb was fabulous in the National University Holiday Bowl, giving him plenty of momentum going into the offseason. He has plenty to work on this spring, notably eliminating the big mistakes that plagued him at times as a freshman. But his progress won’t be easily measured until he’s playing in a game again.