June 3, 2013

2013 Spring Recap: Baylor

West Virginia didn No team in the Big 12 Conference ended the 2012 season with more momentum than Baylor, and Art Briles' program enters the 2013 season as one of the more intriguing teams in the league.

BAYLOR AT-A-GLANCE
Briles has guided to BU to three-straight bowl games, a program first.
THE BASICS
Coach: Art Briles
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-5 in the Big 12. Beat UCLA 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of seven starts in 2012)
Offense (5): OT Troy Baker, OT Spencer Drango, TE Jordan Najvar, WR Tevin Reese, OG Cyril Richardson
Defense (8): S Ahmad Dixon, LB Bryce Hager, DB Sam Holl, LB Eddie Lackey, DE Terrance Lloyd, DE Chris McAllister, CB K.J. Morton, CB Joe Williams
Special teams (4): PK Aaron Jones, P Spencer Roth, LS Zach Northern, H Brody Trahan
Following a 1-5 start in Big 12 play last year, the Bears righted the ship and reeled off wins against then-No. 1 Kansas State, Texas Tech in overtime and then-No. 23 Oklahoma State before embarrassing UCLA in the Holiday Bowl to finish the year 8-5. But quarterback Nick Florence is gone and star receiver Terrance Williams is now a Dallas Cowboy. Furthermore, the defense was atrocious for much of 2012.

Will the Bears go bowling for a fourth straight year? Can they contend in a wide-open Big 12?

We caught up with John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald for the latest on the Bears.

THE SPRING LEAD

Tommy Tuberville left the Red Raiders in December and Briles, a Texas Tech graduate, was instantly mentioned as a potential replacement. While the Red Raiders struggled to find consistency in the post-Mike Leach days, Baylor's head coach added a Heisman Trophy and two bowl victories to what was formerly one of the weakest BCS programs in all college football.

With a program built and a new football stadium on the way, BU fans weren't that concerned about the possibility of Briles leaving.

"I think there was much more of a concern back in 2009," Werner said. "There wasn't really much of a concern this time. Coach Briles is really tied into this program, especially with the new stadium coming. I think he's just really excited about being here. Three straight winning seasons, they've been getting some really good recruiting classes coming in here. I think he really just loves it here."

Briles certainly is a force to be reckoned with, and Baylor can no longer be chalked up as an automatic win for the rest of the Big 12. Furthermore, the Bears have proven to have some staying power after following up Robert Griffin's departure with an eight-win campaign in 2012.

Now it's up to Bryce Petty, a junior, to keep the high passing offense afloat.

"The biggest thing is Bryce Petty taking over at starting quarterback," Werner said. "This will start his fourth year in the system so he knows it very well. He's really anxious to get in there and play. He's been behind Robert Griffin and Nick Florence so he's ready to go. He knows Coach Briles system backwards and forwards.

"He came quite a ways in spring. I think he needed to get in tempo with the offense, maybe just pick up things a little quicker. By the end they were just really pleased with him and are all set to go at quarterback."

Then there's running back Lache Seastrunk, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. He only had 29 carries through the team's first seven games in 2012, but exploded in the back-half of the season and ended up leading BU in rushing yards.

"Probably the reason he didn't play a whole lot at the start of last year is he was still trying to adjust to the offense and just trying to learn the system," Werner said of the Oregon transfer. "By the end of the season he had gotten it. He knew his game and knew the offense very well. He knew how to hit the hole harder and he's obviously a great downfield runner.

"The last half of the season, he had over 800 yards in the last five or six games. I think he is a candidate."

Baylor's defense passed the eyeball test this spring, especially when compared to how bad the unit looked at times last season.

"I think they're going to be better," Werner said. "They look more athletic across the board. I think where they've really improved is defensive end. They've got a couple of starters back. Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd, and a couple of young players coming up. Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman, who sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules, he's 6-foot-8 and 250, 260 pounds. He can really move and they think he has a great future. Another guy is Jamal Palmer who really came on late last year."

Baylor is so deep at defensive end it has moved former four-star recruit Javonte Magee to defensive tackle.

Ahmad Dixon has moved from nickelback to strong safety in an effort to get more speed on the last line of defense. Werner said it's Dixon's natural position.

Former safety Sam Holl is moving to nickelback.

"I think that switch will work pretty well for them," Werner said.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Baylor's offensive line is somewhat of a question mark as the staff tries to find the best fit for a group that has been more than adequate in recent years.

"(Right tackle) Troy Baker tore his ACL and he probably won't be back until early October so they had to move a bunch of guys around," Werner said. "They moved Kelvin Palmer from center to right tackle. Stefan Huber moved from right guard to center, and they moved Desmine Hilliard to right guard."

Defensive end depth was a modest positive surprise and sophomore Terrell Burt shored up depth at safety as a solid No. 3 option.

"There weren't any real shockers, but some guys really came out strong," Werner said.

KEY CONCERN

It's just hard to trust a defense that historically has struggled to keep up with the offense.

"It's probably just the development of the defense," Werner said. "Whether they can get a good pass rush. With those ends, they feel pretty good about it. They're going to get some help at tackle with Andrew Billings, a Waco High kid coming in, and they have a few JUCO guys they're moving in. I think they feel their defensive line is stronger. They obviously needed a better pass rush last year.

"So I think the biggest concern is just continuing to improve on defense. They got a lot better toward the end of last year and they're hoping to keep that going."

QUICK HITS

Missed Significant Time: RT Troy Baker (ACL, out until at least October), WR Corey Coleman (hamstring).

Position Switches: NB Ahmad Dixon to SS, SS Sam Holl to NB, DE Javonte Magee to DT

Schedule Note: Baylor starts the season with four straight home games, including West Virginia in the fourth week to start the season. ... The Bears will play out-of-state just three times. ... Oklahoma and Texas visit Waco. ... Tech gets the Bears after a game against Oklahoma in the second game of a four-game gauntlet also featuring TCU in Fort Worth and Texas to wrap up the season.



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