Texas Tech got its spring practice schedule started on Sunday. Here's a preview of what to look for from the Red Raiders this spring:
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Receiver Devin Lauderdale closed out 2014 in a big way. He hauled in seven touchdowns over his last seven games, including scores of 82, 76, 56, 48 and 47 yards. The split end is poised to establish himself as one of the Big 12's better big-play threats in his junior year, especially if Tech can get a bit more stability from its quarterback play.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: New defensive coordinator David Gibbs has said he'll be shocked if defensive end Branden Jackson doesn't break out in a big way this fall. The senior, a two-year starter, logged 44 tackles (10.5 for loss) and five sacks in 2014. When returning Big 12 sack leader Pete Robertson commands extra attention, Jackson will have to make opponents pay.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Well, technically, he's kind of a double-redshirt freshman. Linebacker Mike Mitchell is ready to break out after sitting out his first two years of college. The coveted Ohio State transfer is slated to start at weakside linebacker and brings freaky athleticism to the position. Expectations are mighty high for Mitchell this year, and Gibbs can find a bunch of ways to use him.
Most significant position battle: Quarterback, of course. Patrick Mahomes impressed as a true freshman in his final three games, including the 598-yard, six-touchdown barrage of Baylor. Davis Webb is back from left shoulder surgery and still has 14 starts under his belt. Both are more than capable of leading this Tech team, and coach Kliff Kingsbury is going to push them hard this spring.
Key midterm enrollee: Breiden Fehoko has only been in Lubbock a few months but is already a fan favorite. The brother of former Red Raiders Sam and V.J. Fehoko was the top-rated member of Tech's signing class and, at 6-foot-3 and 287 pounds, already has a college-ready body. He's starting off a third-stringer this spring but should become a force up the middle in time.
Question that could be answered: The quarterback situation. Kingsbury has insisted he's not interested in dragging this battle out for any strategic purposes. When he finds what he's looking for, he'll make the call. Finding a way to have Mahomes available for all 15 practices despite his baseball commitments was crucial, as was getting Webb healthy in time to practice. I wouldn't be shocked if Tech coaches are comfortable with naming The Guy by the end of spring ball.
Question that won't be answered until fall: How quickly can this defense get fixed? Gibbs was a turnover wizard at Houston (FBS-high 73 takeaways over the last two years) and inherits a group with some real flaws that's endured a revolving door of leadership at DC. Gibbs promises to make this defense more disciplined and sound, and Tech will get back to being competitive in the Big 12 as soon as its D starts getting stops on a consistent basis. This spring is about fundamental progress. We'll have to wait until September to see the results.