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July 15, 2021

Matt Wells

Arlington, Texas, USA

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Coach Matt Wells from Texas Tech.

COACH WELLS: As always, good to be back and be in person. Somewhat normal. I think we all appreciate what you have when you don't have it. And we all appreciate it a little bit more in person this year.

It's good to be here. I think as a program we continue to build and to gain strength and confidence in our processes. Off the field, academically, we're doing very well. 73 people in our program with a 3.0 or higher. We're making gains in strength and conditioning. And right now the vibe and the continuity with our players is really as strong as it's ever been in our two years that we've been there at Tech.

And the buy-in is at an all-time high and I credit our players and our leadership. And so as we head into this third season looking to build on that and to become bowl eligible to get to the month of November and compete for a championship will be the goal of this program always. But glad to be here.

Q. Kaylon Geiger, your transfer from Troy, can you tell us how you envision him fitting in, both by position he will play and just what style of player he will be?

COACH WELLS: Kaylon Geiger, a transfer from Troy, he'll have one year of eligibility. We'll play him at an outside receiver position. I believe he can play both, he can play both inside and outside. He's a speed wideout really good with the ball in his hand, post-catch. Had about 140 catches over two years at Troy. Fort Worth kid. To come back home. We're happy to have him. I do believe that we'll utilize him in the kickoff-return game. And so I think he's a dual threat-type of guy for us in terms of the kicking game.

And the receivers in that receiver room, the outside receiver room, particularly obviously Erik Ezukanma is as good as anybody in the league. And EZ's going to have a great season. Looking forward to watching him. But we're very talented in that room but young. We're tall, we're young in that room. And so Kaylon (Geiger) gives us a little more experience in that room, especially early in the season.

Q. You brought in the transfer quarterback, of course. What do you feel like you need from that position to kind of take a step forward on the offensive side of the ball? What do you feel like you need versus last year from the quarterback position to be able to take the step that you hope to take on offense?

COACH WELLS: I think it's obvious, we need to play better in that room. And I think top to bottom that room is better than it's ever been in the three years I've been at Texas Tech, going into our third season.

You mentioned Tyler (Shough). Tyler got to Tech, practiced three in spring ball. And I think the things he brings, things that are hard to measure. He's in early, stays late. He's a football junkie. He's been a really good leader, and fit(s) in with our players almost immediately.

Henry Colombi, who won a few games last year in this league for us. He had a really good spring. I'm proud of Henry. That will be a really good battle. I think the other two freshmen, Behren Morton and Donovan Smith, top to bottom, that room is better than it's been. And we all know you've got to play well in that room to compete in this league and you've got to play at a high level.

I think as coaches we put the talent in there. And it's up to those guys to compete. And it will be as good a fight as we've had in that position since we've been there, the month of August.

Q. Can you give us your thoughts as Sonny Cumbie as offensive coordinator, what he's been able to do as a quarterback, and what you saw at TCU? And how has he worked with Tyler (Shough) and other quarterbacks in the locker room, establishing his offense for this season?

COACH WELLS: A lot packed in that question. I'll try to remember all of those.

It's good to have Sonny (Cumbie) back. He's West Texas, from Snyder, Texas, obviously had a really good senior season at Tech and a career at Tech. He's been under several staffs before me. I think the vibe is really good with him and the offensive players, they're excited. In terms of him and the quarterbacks, that's part of the reason I do believe I chose him is just his ability to coach and connect with those quarterbacks.

He's a detailed teacher. He's a technique teacher. He's done a nice job with those guys in the spring. I'm looking forward to the work he's going to do with them throughout this season. But I think overall it's been positive.

But he knows we need to play well. Texas Tech means a lot to Sonny. And it's a place where I know he and his wife and his family are comfortable. Great to have him in the building as part of our staff.

Q. What would you identify as the main obstacle to playing better defense in years one and two? And how do you see your team resolving that issue in the next season?

COACH WELLS: I think we made a lot of progress from year one to last year, from '19 to 2020 in our defense. If you look at the Big 12, just in the Big 12 games, we improved from really not very good in 2019 to okay in a lot of areas last year. But we need to make a jump again this year.

And I think the strength of that defense will be our linebackers. Riko Jeffers, Colin Schooler, both those guys had draft grades and chose to come back as super seniors. Khrishon Merriweather, Brandon Bouyer-Randle and Jacob Morgenstern have all started, so we're old at linebacker. We've added a few transfers in the secondary. DaMarcus Fields is back. And so that will be a unit that I know, just internally in the locker room, we're going to rely on that unit on the defensive unit early in the season.

We're older there. We've got returning guys. We need to play well. They know it. But the strength of that will be those guys in the middle, those linebackers and their veteran leadership.

Q. I was curious how much you're kind of haunted by the loss to Texas and Baylor where you're in the game and have great chances to win both of those games. And how much has that kept you from really seizing momentum for your program?

COACH WELLS: You hit the nail on the head right there. I think the name of the game in this league is finding a way to win close games. Our first year in 2019 we were 0-4 in one-score games. Last year I think we went 4-2 in those one-score games.

But we know that. In order to get into a bowl game and to get to the upper half of the Big 12, you'll have to win close games. And your comment there is spot on. You're right on. And hopefully leadership, experience, being in a lot of those games -- we've been in a lot of them the last two years. You need to win a couple, especially early, to give your guys confidence and momentum as the season, I think, lingers on, because you're going to be in those games every Saturday in this league.

Q. A lot has been made about your transfer quarterback, but you also have a transfer left tackle in T.J. Storment. What did you see out of him in spring ball and where does he fit in in the offensive line rotation?

COACH WELLS: He's fit in really good, first of all, with those guys. And that's a close-knit unit led by Dawson Deaton, right down here, T.J. (Storment) can play both tackle spots. He's got really good feet. He's athletic. He's gotten stronger.

He's had a few schools that he's been at. So as he's gone through this process, I think he's adapted to coaching and to a language. I say language, like our terminology and stuff like that, pretty quickly. He's had some good practice at it.

But in terms of him and fitting in from day one -- and our guys, our returning guys, really did a great job of wrapping their arms around him. But it goes both ways, him learning what we do at Tech what's been different than other stops. But he'll absolutely be a part of the offensive line success this year.

Q. Couple, three years in the league now. What do you know about this conference that you didn't know when you took the Tech job?

COACH WELLS: Well, you know something that I knew when I took the job that's been pretty much validated is the championship runs through Norman. Right now, we already knew that coming into the league.

But I just think top to bottom, the strength of the league. One thing that you know and you assume and it's been validated is every Saturday there's a real play caller. There's a real wideout and a real quarterback. Almost every Saturday you're going to face that.

But I think -- I just got done talking about it on the set -- one thing that doesn't get talked about quite a bit, and it needs to, is the defenses in this league. There's really good defensive coordinators and defensive-minded head coaches in Coach (Dave) Aranda and Coach (Gary) Patterson and coordinators in this league that are very good.

And I think the reality is that you can point to the defensive line play. That's probably what I didn't know. You look at Baylor, 2018, 2019, with Matt (Rhule), I mean that was the D line for Baylor. And that was the big reason why they were really good.

Look at Oklahoma's D-line and what West Virginia has done -- Iowa State had a draft pick; they're going to have another draft pick. Oklahoma State has guys that can rush the passer -- TCU does. I think that's what probably doesn't get written about. But we as coaches know and the players know and that's probably the biggest thing that I didn't know coming into the league.

Q. Wondered if you could speak to Cameron Watts and the rest of your secondary, and the importance they'll play this year.

COACH WELLS: Secondary, when I mentioned our improvement from 2019 to 2020, that was a big area was the secondary. I think it was led by hiring Derek Jones, and then moving our D coordinator, Keith Patterson to secondary to coordinate. You mentioned Cam (Watts) from Union, right down the road from you. You mentioned him. We've got some other guys from Oklahoma on our team.

But the improvement of that secondary, I think, will be another key this year for us to take another step forward. I mentioned DaMarcus Fields who had a draft grade, another super senior who chose to come back. We've added Muddy (Marquis) Waters from Duke, a transfer; Reggie Pearson from Wisconsin -- both those guys are safeties; Malik Dunlap from NC State; and Rayshad Williams from UCLA; Adrian Frye returns, who is a veteran; we've got two young guys in and two guys in Nate Floyd and Kobee Minor. That will be an area that we have made improvements but we've got more improvement to make. But I'm looking forward to watching them.

Q. You mentioned the transfers in the defensive back room, how important is it to have that Power Five experience back in the secondary?

COACH WELLS: I think Power Five experience, it could be a group of five experience. I think Kaylon Geiger, the wideout, the first question I got, his experience at Troy is tremendous for us.

But those guys who do have Power Five, I just named four transfer DBs in the secondary that we're bringing in that have been in since January. I think their experience is valuable, but more than anything, they've got to be able to translate that experience to playing a team defense at Texas Tech and into Texas Tech Red Raider defense, led by Riko (Jeffers) and (Colin) Schooler and those guys.

But being a part of that defense is the key in the transition of a transfer into that defense more than anything, is the most important thing.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about Marquis Waters and what you think he can bring?

COACH WELLS: Yes, Marquis Waters, we call him Muddy. He's from Delray Beach, South Florida. He was a three-year starter, All-Academic guy at Duke, three-year starter, played for Derek (Jones) at Duke. He's a team captain. He's a leader.

He's into ball. He's a football junkie. Comes in early. Stays late. He studies the game. And he's done a really nice job, I think, of being who he is, being confident in his skills but yet being a great teammate and learning what we do at Texas Tech, how we do it and how it's different.

Again, I keep talking about these transfers. It's not just the fact that they played and played well at the other schools, but it's the transition into Texas Tech into Lubbock. We've certainly had a lot of practice at that because we've taken so many transfers. But I'm proud of him and proud of the rest of the guys, but he's become a leader back there day one since he got into Lubbock, in January.

Q. You talked a lot about the transfers. What do you feel about the first couple of recruiting classes that you have? And do you feel like the balance is there on your roster to both kind of have the old and the young as well?

COACH WELLS: Yeah, when we first got here, I said we need to get old. We're going to try to recruit the best Texas high school players and a few outside the state but mainly here in this state where we don't need to leave the state much in high school recruiting. We've upgraded our high school recruiting, but we've certainly needed to get old and we needed to get old in a hurry in the transfers.

Now it's gone from grad transfers to every-year transfers, I should say, or whatever-year transfers. And so right now I don't know, we're 60 percent, 65 percent high school players and another 30, 35 percent or whatever transfers.

I see us being that way at Texas Tech right now. Maybe that number goes down just a little bit over the next couple of three years, but they've certainly added, first of all, talent and competitive depth in certain rooms but they've added some leadership and some maturity where we've needed it in some other rooms.

Q. Question about the transfer portal. Has it made head coaching or all the coaches, does it make your job easier, harder or just different?

COACH WELLS: Different. It's a hard job. I mean, whether you're recruiting high school players -- I'll tell you what, it is different recruiting transfers. It's different. I mean, it's a whole lot more -- a little bit more business-oriented, and in some ways transactional. But I think the biggest key for us in terms of that is: Why are you leaving? Where's your heart? What do you need? And does it match up with what we need and what we want in those certain position meeting rooms? And I think we've done a great job at Texas Tech. I think we do transfers as good as anybody. They've come in. They've played well and they've been really good leaders and 100 percent of them, all 18 of them, have come in with the right heart and added to the culture we've tried to change at Texas Tech. And they've been really really good, but I can't tell you that it's any harder. It's just different. It looks different.

I will tell you, thank goodness, that the deadline is going to May 1 next year instead of July 1. That made for the month of June to be, obviously, the busiest and craziest month in college football history for all of us, in the transfers. And the late deadline, which I think was good for this year. But going to May 1 will help all of us as coaches manage that roster a little bit better.

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