Big 12: Chris Caflisch

These Big 12 positions got most help during spring

May, 22, 2009
5/22/09
6:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.

Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.

Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.

Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.

Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.

Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.

Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.

Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.

Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.

Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.

Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.

Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.

Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.

Sherman hopes to transform A&M after struggling first season

March, 26, 2009
3/26/09
12:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The theme of change is predominant this spring at Texas A&M.

Coach Mike Sherman hopes to transform his program as the Aggies begin practice on Thursday. A&M hopes to rebound after last season's disappointing 4-8 record that saw them tied for fifth in the Big 12 South with Baylor.

The most notable switch will happen at quarterback, where wide receiver Ryan Tannehill will move to quarterback -- at least for the spring -- where he will challenge starting quarterback Jerrod Johnson.

Sherman's move is calculated to boost production in the offense. Tannehill, who was recruited to Texas A&M as a quarterback, was promised a chance to move to his original position after a standout freshman season at wide receiver.

Even as Tannehill recovers from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Aggie coaches are excited about what Tannehill could do at quarterback.

That's even considering his production at wide receiver, where he set school freshman records for receptions (55) and receiving yards (814) and was named the team's most valuable offensive player.

"He's actually doing very well with his rehab," Sherman told reporters at his Wednesday press conference. "We don't want to throw the ball with him right now. He feels very good but doctors are holding him back because we want to make sure he's at 100 percent."

And on defense, the Aggies hope to improve after last season's disappointments. A&M ranked among the nation's 12 worst defenses in all four major statistical categories -- 108th in pass efficiency defense and 114th in rushing defense, passing defense and points allowed.

It was even worse in conference play. A&M allowed at least 35 points in seven of eight conference games, capped by a three-game losing streak at the end of the regular season where the Aggies permitted an average of 52 points per game.

Hopeful of turning that around, Sherman will install a defense that will feature four linebackers. Veterans Matt Featherston and Von Miller into a hybrid position Sherman has termed a "jack" where the players will be lined up at either linebacker or end.

"We're trying to get more speed on the field by playing more linebackers," Sherman said. "It's easier to find linebackers, kind of link in the old days when we used to recruit them. We always found safeties that we made into linebackers and (moved them).

Sherman told reporters Wednesday he's also made several other changes, moving starting defensive tackle Lucas Patterson to offensive left tackle in a move calculated to improve A&M's pass protection. The Aggies ranked 115th nationally with 39 sacks allowed.

"We needed to impact our offensive line," Sherman said. "I think in order for us to be a good football team we've got to be tougher every single day on both sides of the ball and I think it starts with those guys. If we don't get tougher and nastier with that group then we won't have the success we want to have."

Starting cornerback Jordan Pugh has been moved to safety and Jordan Peterson, who started four games at safety last season, has been switched to cornerback. And wide receiver Chris Caflisch will be moved to safety.

"I think it's a more natural position for him (Pugh) and if he has a future beyond college, I think it would be at that position," Sherman said. "We want a guy back there who can communicate and articulate what we're trying to do defensively."

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