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Thursday, February 26, 2009
Big 12 newcomers set for opportunity

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Several key players are poised to earn their shot at playing time after sitting out last season. Here are some of the more notable newcomers who will start practicing with their teams during the spring with hopes of winning starting jobs.

Texas RB Tre' Newton -- The son of former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton didn't fall too far from the tree as far as his blocking skills, even if he is more than 100 pounds lighter than his father was during his playing career. Texas coaches visualize him as the ideal replacement for Chris Ogbonnaya as a third-down specialist because of his receiving and pass-blocking skills.

Baylor DT Phil Taylor -- You may remember him after he played two seasons as a starter at Penn State before his dismissal from the Nittany Lions squad for his role in an on-campus fight. The 6-foot-4, 340-pounder practiced with the Bears and turned heads throughout practice last season. He arrived at Baylor because of his association with defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, a former Penn State assistant. And the best example of Baylor coaches' expectations for him can be seen in this nugget: Of Baylor's 29 recruits in its most recent recruiting class, none were defensive tackles.

Missouri WR Rolandis Woodland -- Missouri coaches likely could have used him last season, but preserved his redshirt because of the depth at the position. Some observers are reminded of Jeremy Maclin when they watch Woodland's receiving and kick-returning skills.

Nebraska DT Baker Steinkuhler -- How about this for a neat family twist? Steinkuhler has a good chance to slide into playing time opposite Ndamukong Suh at the same position his older brother, Ty, played for the Cornhuskers last season.

Kansas State DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald - -A two-year starter at Virginia who earned Freshman All-American honors in 2006 should immediately boost the Wildcats' dormant pass rush. Fitzgerald produced 12 sacks and four interceptions in two seasons as a starter with the Cavaliers before leaving school because of academic issues.