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Tech looks to lanky edge players Steve Linton, Myles Cole to help fill Tyree Wilson-sized void

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Tyree Wilson came walking across the Texas Tech practice field Thursday afternoon, a visual reminder of what the Red Raiders will be missing next season. The tall, imposing defensive end was one of the Big 12’s most intimidating pass rushers last season and is considered a surefire first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft.

Replacing a player the caliber of Wilson on a talent-for-talent basis isn’t possible most years in programs not named Alabama or Georgia or Ohio State or Clemson.

High on Texas Tech’s list of off-season needs is putting together a pass rush as best it can, post-Wilson. Defensive tackle Tony Bradford leads the returnees with 5 1/2 sacks. Jesiah Pierre, who had a strong second half of the season, finished with 4 1/2 sacks. For now, Pierre has moved from boundary end to field inside linebacker, given a shot to take over the position leading tackler Krishon Merriweather played last season.

Among those who will get a long look this spring as edge rushers are returnee Myles Cole and newcomer Steve Linton, a first-semester transfer from Syracuse. Tech player personnel director James Blanchard wrote Wednesday on Twitter that, “With all due respect, Myles Cole and Steve Linton will be the best edge duo in the Big 12.”

That’s a bold prediction, given the measurables have easily outpaced the production by Cole and Linton, both far along in their college careers. Cole, listed this spring at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, has played in 47 college games the past five seasons and gotten credit for 54 tackles, six tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.

Linton, listed at 6-5 and 235, has played in 29 college games the past four seasons and gotten credit for 45 tackles, 8 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks.

Tech coach Joey McGuire points to Tim DeRuyter as a defensive coordinator who can work wonders. During his 2021 season at Oregon, DeRuyter coached edge player Kayvon Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick in last year’s NFL draft. At Texas A&M, he also oversaw the last college season of Von Miller before Miller was drafted second overall in 2011.

“If you want to rush the passer, if you want to play in a pro-style defense — talking about edge players — then you come play for Tim DeRuyter,” Tech coach Joey McGuire said. “That’s the thing for Steve. He’s so athletic. He’s such a great kid.

“Our guys who were on campus … Tyree talked to him and was like, ‘If you want to change your trajectory in football, come play for coach DeRuyter.’ You’re going to see the same thing with Myles Cole. He had a really good bowl game. I think the plays that he did make have created a lot more self-confidence. That was the one thing that we’ve really got to build with him.”

During the NFL combine a few weeks back, Wilson generated a buzz when his wingspan was measured at 86 inches, uncommonly rare length.

Cole is one-half inch shorter than Wilson, McGuire said, “but Myles Cole has longer arms. And so I think you’re going to see that that’s all he does, between him and Steve, and then the other guys that we have, that’s going to be a strong position for us.”

The Red Raiders have high hopes for Joseph Adedire, who was in the two-deep at defensive end right off the bat last year as a true freshman, and for Isaac Smith, who emerged at the end of last season as a redshirt freshman.

Smith, at 6-6 and 240, also fits the long, lean mold. Adedire’s a different body type at 6-3 and 280. Those two, along with fellow edge player Bryce Ramirez, are out this spring while letting their bodies heal from last season.

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Texas Tech defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter on what led to adding OLB Steve Linton

Texas Tech defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter on what led to adding LB Steve Linton.

Carlos Silva Jr., Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

DeRuyter, seeing Wilson declare early for the NFL draft, perused the NCAA transfer portal looking for “a guy who’s exceptional as an edge rusher.”

He sees that potential in Linton, even if the senior from Dublin, Georgia, hasn’t fully tapped it yet.

“We looked at all the guys in the portal, really primarily looking for a guy who can rush the passer,” DeRuyter said, “and we thought he was a guy that had a different get-off than most everybody else that was in that portal. He hadn’t played a ton, but he had played some quality reps, and we thought he really fit what we are looking for in that position.

“Since he’s been here, he’s gained a ton of weight [Syracuse last season listed Linton at 6-5, 219]. He’s jumped in with two feet, really like the way he works. He’s a smart player who works hard, and I think his future is very, very bright.”

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