According to Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells, senior defensive back Justus Parker has been suspended for the 2019 season by the NCAA thus ending his collegiate career.
Entering the 2019 season, one of the biggest question marks facing the Texas Tech football team was the safety position after the program graduated three senior safeties last fall, including both starters, Jah’Shawn Johnson and Vaughnte Dorsey. Now, according to news broke by head coach Matt Wells at Big 12 media days on Monday, the questions at that position have become even more difficult to answer.
Speaking to the media in Arlington, Texas, Wells shared that senior defensive back Justus Parker, who was presumed to be a candidate to start at one of the safety positions, is no longer on the team. According to Wells, Parker was suspended for this season because of an NCAA violation (he did not specify what the violation is) and given that Parker has already used his redshirt year, his collegiate career is now over. The news was shared on Twitter by Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Parker joined the Red Raiders in prior to the 2016 season after transferring from Texas Lutheran. After sitting out that season, he earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2017 as a walk-on who registered 42 tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.
In fact, you could argue that his 4th-quarter interception of Texas’ QB Sam Ehlinger in 2017’s final regular-season game was the biggest play of that season. Returning the interception 55 yards to the Texas 10-yard-line, Parker set Tech up to score the game-winning touchdown two plays later when Nic Shimonek found Cam Batson to give Tech a 27-23 win that clinched bowl eligibility for the Red Raiders.
Entering 2018, Parker was named a preseason All-Big 12 defensive back but he did not live up to those expectations. Bouncing back and forth between nickel corner and safety as needed, Parker registered only 18 tackles and one forced fumble to go along with a sack in what ultimately proved to be his final season as a Red Raider.
Now the safety position becomes even more of a mystery for Wells and his defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Most thought that Parker would play a key role in the secondary this year, especially at safety where he was thought to be a frontrunner to earn a starting position.
His experience would have been valuable given how green the other options on the roster are. The door is now wide open for junior Thomas Leggett to grab a starting job. But though he has been in the program for two seasons after joining the Red Raiders as a 2017 JUCO signee, he has started just two games, the first two of last year when Johnson was out with a shoulder injury.
Thus far in his career, Leggett has amassed just eight tackles. But he has shown a tendency for making big plays as he did in blocking a punt last year at Iowa State. In each of the last two springs, Leggett has stood out because of his physicality as he’s made a number of jarring hits and has seemingly always been around the ball. Now it is time for that translate to Saturdays.
Another inexperienced option could be redshirt sophomore Adam Beck. Redshirting in 2017 at Minnesota and sitting out 2018 after transferring to Tech, the Richmond, TX native has yet to see the field in a college game.
That will change this fall. And given that he was a highly-recruited player who held offers from Houston, Boise St, Colorado, Iowa State, and Mississippi State, there’s reason to believe that the No. 119 player in Texas in 2016 could be a solution at safety this year.
Another young safety that has at times turned heads on the practice field is sophomore Quincy Addison. Last year, the Angleton, TX native saw the field primarily on special teams but also got some snaps as a backup safety. Still, the former 3-star signee has quite a way to go before he seems ready to play meaningful snaps.
Another sophomore who will get a look is John Davis Jr. from Euless, Texas. Also primarily a special team’s player last fall, he has only two tackles to his name thus far.
Right now, it seems unlikely that Tech will turn to either of the two true freshmen DB’s that signed in 2019, Alex Hogan or Dequan Watts, as both are projected as corners. But the coaching staff may look to move a veteran corner to safety to provide some leadership on the last level of the defense.
In Douglas Coleman, Adrian Frye, Desmond Smith, and Damarcus Fields, Tech has four capable corners who have all started multiple games. Being as Fields and Frye have both earned All-Big 12 first-team honors (Fields in 2017, Frye in 2018), it would seem to make sense for each to stay at corner.
Both Coleman and Smith have the size to play safety and each will likely take some reps there early in fall camp next month. Coleman might seem like the more likely of the duo to move to safety given his versatility as he has played in both the slot and on the edge whereas Smith has primarily played on the outside.
Safety is going to be a key position for the Red Raiders this year. Given that Patterson plans to apply tons of pressure on the QB, Tech’s safeties will have to be rock-solid because they will be placed on more of an island than they were last year when Tech managed to finish second-to-last in the nation against the pass.
Regardless of how Patterson decides to shuffle his roster, the loss of Justus Parker is far from ideal. Though he was not the second coming of Dwayne Slay or Kevin Curtis, his leadership and experience were going to be important aspects of this year’s defense. Now, the Red Raiders might be far more green at safety than any of us are comfortable with.