Big 12: Clay Fuller

With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We start with Baylor, which released an official two-deep shortly after concluding spring ball in early April.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCan Bryce Petty be even better this season?
QB: Bryce Petty (Sr.), Seth Russell (So.)

The Bears have one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football in Petty, who was phenomenal last year in his first season as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be better in 2014. Russell performed well in limited duty last year, suggesting the Bears could survive at least a minor injury to Petty.

RB: Shock Linwood (So.) or Devin Chafin (So.), Johnny Jefferson (RFr.), Terence Williams (Fr.)

The Bears boast four potentially outstanding runners who all have at least three seasons of eligibility remaining. Linwood finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing last season, despite backing up Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Jefferson, however, was the back who created the most buzz during the spring. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder looks poised to give the Bears a dynamic home-run threat to complement the rest of the backfield. It’s not often a program can lose two talents like Seastrunk and Martin and remain loaded.

WR: Antwan Goodley (Sr.), Davion Hall (Fr.)

WR: Jay Lee (Jr.) or Robbie Rhodes (So.), Quan Jones (RFr.)

IR: Corey Coleman (So.) or Clay Fuller (Sr.), Cal Spangler (Jr.)

IR: Levi Norwood (Sr.), Lynx Hawthorne (So.)

TE: Tre’von Armstead (So.) or Gus Penning (Jr.), Jordan Feuerbacher (Fr.)

Despite graduating all-conference performer Tevin Reese, the Bears should easily have the deepest collection of pass-catchers in the Big 12. Coleman was tremendous all spring, capped by a 47-yard receiving effort in the spring game. He and Rhodes could have breakout campaigns in their second years in the rotation. Goodley is one of the two best wideouts in the league along with Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and Lee, Fuller and Norwood are all proven commodities. More firepower is on the way this summer, including hotshot freshman K.D. Cannon, who looks like a virtual lock to crack the rotation somewhere.

LT: Spencer Drango (Jr.), Pat Colbert (Jr.)

LG: LaQuan McGowan (Jr.) or Blake Muir (Jr.)

C: Kyle Fuller (So.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

RG: Desmine Hilliard (Jr.), Jarell Broxton (Jr.)

RT: Troy Baker (Sr.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

The Bears lose unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson, but will get a huge boost if Drango makes a full recovery from a back injury he suffered late last season. With Drango out, Baylor’s blindside pass protection also suffered the final month of the season. When healthy, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. Baker, who started as a sophomore, returned late last season after tearing his ACL last spring to reclaim his starting job, which he held through the spring. With Hilliard returning at guard, Fuller locking down the starting job at center and other quality depth inside, the Bears should be very solid on the offensive line -- provided Drango can get healthy and Baker can stay healthy at the bookends.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShawn Oakman has elevated his game.
RE: Shawn Oakman (Jr.), K.J. Smith (RFr.)

NT: Andrew Billings (So.), Suleiman Masumbuko (Jr.)

DT: Beau Blackshear (Jr.) or Javonte Magee (So.), Byron Bonds (So.)

LE: Jamal Palmer (Jr.), Sam Ukwuachu (Jr.)

Last week, Baylor coach Art Briles said he’d put his top-seven defensive linemen against any other top seven in college football. The unit still has a lot to prove to reach that level, but there’s no denying the potential. Oakman elevated his game to another level this spring, and was basically unblockable. He’s a candidate to be an All-Big 12 performer even in a league that’s stocked at defensive end. The fact that Magee is listed as a co-starter with Blackshear -- a starter last season -- underscores what the coaching staff thinks of Magee, who before taking last year off due to personal matters was among the most highly touted recruits Briles had ever signed. This group is high on ability, and has the capability to prove their coach right in the fall.

WLB: Aiavion Edwards (So.), Taylor Young (RFr.) or Raaquan Davis(RFr.)

MLB: Bryce Hager (Sr.), Grant Campbell (Jr.) or Kendall Ehrlich (So.)

Hager missed the final four games of last season due to a groin injury, which also kept him out this spring. But Hager is about as reliable as it gets in the Big 12, having earned second-team all-conference honors the last two years. Edwards is the one to watch. He was given the first nod on the weak side, after playing in the middle last season and in the spring in place of Hager. But he’ll have to perform to fend off the competition, including Young, who impressed defensive coordinator Phil Bennett during the spring with his nose for the ball.

NB: Collin Brence (Sr.), Pat Levels (So.)

CB: Terrence Singleton (So.), Ryan Reid (So.)

CB: Xavien Howard (So.) or Chris Sanders (Jr.)

DS: Orion Stewart (So.), Alfred Pullom (RFr.)

CS: Terrell Burt (Jr.), Taion Sells (So.)

This unit comprises by far the biggest question mark on the team. The Bears should be in good shape at safety. Burt, the only returning starter in the group, will be back shortly from offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of a spring ball. Briles also singled out Stewart for having a very promising spring as the replacement for All-American Ahmad Dixon. After a series of injury setbacks early in his career, Singleton returned to win a starting job at corner, at least for now. Howard also showed a ton of promise during the spring, but he’ll have competition from Sanders, one of the top juco corners in the country, who had a shoulder injury this spring. Brence, a walk-on, was the biggest surprise in the secondary, and is listed as the starter at nickelback. How this untested unit comes together could ultimately determine whether the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs.

Q&A: Baylor WR coach Kendal Briles

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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There are few assistants in college football who pulled in a better recruiting haul this year than Kendal Briles.

Earlier this month, the Baylor wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator inked four receivers ranked in the ESPN 300, padding what was already a loaded position in Waco.

As the defending Big 12 champs get ready to open spring practice Friday, Briles took time to talk to ESPN.com about his signing class, the new expectations at Baylor and what he’s learned coaching under his dad -- Bears head coach Art Briles.

Let’s first go through the four receivers you signed, and what each brings to the table. Start with K.D. Cannon, who was recruited by virtually everyone in the country.

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Tom Hauck/ESPN.comK.D. Cannon is one of four ESPN 300 wide receivers that Baylor signed in the 2014 class, making an already-rich position that much more stacked.
Briles: Well, we feel like we know a lot about K.D. already. He possesses a lot of things you look for in a wide receiver. His body control, how he catches the ball, his shiftiness, competitiveness -- all those things. He’s got a great family and all the intangibles to become a great wide receiver. We’re real excited to get him here in June. From a talent standpoint, he’s off the charts.

What about Davion Hall?

Briles: Davion is already here and is doing a really good job. His body weight has already come up. He looks real good. He’s a powerful, powerful athlete. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s not going to be as fluid as a K.D.-type player, but he’s a really powerful kid who runs well. He’s a great, great person, and wants to be extremely successful. That’s the thing we really love about him; that he's a really good person. We’ll see what he can do here in a few days. He’s going to get a chance to put the pads on and see where he’s at. He’s a little bit nervous, as he should be. But he’s been great since he’s been here working with the strength and conditioning program, and he’s going to compete in spring ball.

Ishmael Zamora?

Briles: Ishmael is a guy who might have the greatest upside of all of them. He was up to 210 pounds when I talked to him the other day. I expect him to win the state title in the 110-meter hurdles again in [Texas Class] 5A. He’s a great athlete whose talents didn’t flourish in high school because of the offense he played in. I think he had like five catches as a junior. But his upside is incredible. We’re very, very excited about him.

Last, but not least, what about Chris Platt?

Briles: Chris Platt is a sleeker guy, 168 pounds probably right now. He’s going to win the state track meet and become the first four-time state champ in the 400 meters in Texas state high school history. He’s a guy who can play -- good ball skills. We had him in camp, and you might think he’s just a straight-line guy, but he’s got some good hip flexion. He catches the ball, is competitive. He’s got tremendous upside as well.

OK, let’s get to the guys you have coming back, starting with Antwan Goodley. I remember talking to a Big 12 coach last October, and he was like, ‘Where did Antwan Goodley come from?’ How did Goodley make so much improvement, and where can he go after a monster junior season?

Briles: Antwan was a really good high school football player. I saw him, and the kid could run. He wasn’t real tall. He committed to us on a junior day in February and held strong the whole time. He was 192 pounds, and he’s been as high as 222 -- he’s gained 30 pounds of pure muscle. He’s one of the strongest kids we have on the team without a doubt. My expectation for him now is to be the best wide receiver in the United States of America. He’s proven what he can do on the football field, now we have to make sure he keeps getting better. The spring is big for him. We won’t let him go as much -- we have other guys we want to get reps, and we know what he can do. But there are things for him to work on, and he’s very excited to get back out there and get back to work.

You’ve got two highly-touted young guys in Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes who haven’t made that big splash yet. What is your expectation for them as sophomores?

Briles: With Corey, you don’t think he had a splash as a freshman, but if you look at it, he was second all-time among Baylor freshmen in receiving yards next to Kendall Wright. That’s pretty good company. He has a chance to have a tremendous career. He’s a little bit raw, but has tremendous speed, tremendous hands and catches the ball very well. He wants to be great. And he’s a tough guy. He’s not a big guy (5-foot-10) but at 190 pounds, he’s very stout. He can play inside and outside because he can handle the blocking stuff well with how strong he is. We’re going to have him plugged in all over the field, and he gives us a really dynamic factor.

As for Robbie, it’s hard to come in and play as a true freshman. I probably should have redshirted Robbie because he didn’t get the experience that he probably needed. He got to play in some big games, but he hurt his ankle early against West Virginia, then again against Kansas, and was out the latter part of the year. He gained 10 pounds in the fall, changed his body in the last two months and looks tremendous. He’s going to have an unbelievable spring, and I can’t wait for the fall for him. He’s about as natural as it gets.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood's size and ability to get open makes him a lethal weapon in Baylor's high-powered offense.
How would you characterize Clay Fuller's role on this team? Seems like he’s a reliable target for you.

Briles: That’s Clay. That’s what we call him. If it’s third down or we’re in the red zone, you throw it up to him, and he’ll make the catch for you. He runs really well, and he’s reliable. Add in Levi Norwood, who’s in the same mold, and you’re playing two big guys inside who are long, rangy, block well, catch the football well, run well. They do a tremendous job for us. Both do a great job on special teams for us, too.

With so many options at receiver, seems like you’ve got a good problem to have, right?

Briles: Yeah it is. One guy we haven’t talked about, Jonathon Lee, came on at the end of the year. I expect him to have a good year, too. We’ve done a good job recruiting as a staff. And playing wide receiver at Baylor is a pretty good deal. Wide receivers in this league have had success. We’ve led the country in total offense, we chuck the ball around, play in space. We have great uniforms, we’re going to be playing in a great stadium. It’s a pretty good gig playing wide receiver for us.

This season is going to have a different feel for you guys. As the defending Big 12 champs, you’re going to have a target on your backs. How will you guys adjust?

Briles: There’s no doubt there’s going to be a target on our backs, but we’ve always had a chip on our shoulder the way we play. We’re not going to change our mindset. Our guys play fearless, physical and fast. People will be gunning for us, but we’ll be ready for the task. We have a great team, and we’re looking forward to defending our Big 12 championship.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned about being a coach from your dad?

Briles: Treating people right. The way he treats people on a daily basis is one reason why he’s been so successful. The humility, the way he cares for people, he truly wants people to be successful. He makes people around him feel good, and he gets the best out of people. That’s a great trait that he has.

There was a lot of talk leading up to the bowl game about him possibly taking a job elsewhere. How did you guys handle that behind the scenes, and what was it like with all that around you?

Briles: To be honest with you, it never came up inside this office or practice field with our players. People say stuff, put stuff out there. But if other people are coming after your head coach, then you’re doing something right. But I think Baylor University understands the coach we have here, and weren’t going to let him go anywhere. And Art Briles understands how much he loves Baylor, and doesn’t want to go anywhere. It’s a great marriage, and we’re looking forward to being here a long time.

What’s the one thing about your dad that people don’t know about him?

Briles: Everyone knows he’s competitive. But if he sends you a text message to play golf at 11:30 in the morning, you better understand you’re getting into a war. He’s not going out there to enjoy the scenery or to a swing a club. He’s going out there to kick someone’s [butt]. Most people don’t know that. But it better be understood by the people getting into that situation.

Season report card: Baylor

January, 6, 2014
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Baylor had one of the best seasons in school history, winning 11 games for the first time, making its first BCS bowl and winning the Big 12 for the first time. Those accomplishments easily could have been forgotten with the Bears' horrible showing in their 52-42 loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but this season will be remembered fondly in Waco, Texas.

Offense: A+

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty led Baylor to a nation's-best 52.4 points per game.
Is there anything higher than an A-plus? What more could Bryce Petty & Co. do? The Bears averaged 52.4 points per game, 618.8 yards per game and 7.49 yards per play as their offense led the Big 12 in nearly every offensive category. During his first season as the starting quarterback for Baylor, Petty earned Big 12 offensive player of the year honors and was the driving force behind the Bears' title run.

The running backs were superb, with Lache Seastrunk, Shock Linwood and Glasco Martin each finishing with at least 500 rushing yards, helping Baylor lead the conference in rushing. The receivers were just as good, with Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese ranking among the Big 12’s top receivers and Levi Norwood, Corey Coleman and Clay Fuller providing quality depth.

The foundation was the offensive line, led by Lombardi Award finalist Cyril Richardson. Their offensive front allowed Petty’s accuracy to draw praise, Seastrunk’s shiftiness to frustrate defenders and Reese’s deep speed to scare Big 12 secondaries.

Defense: A-

The defense was the biggest reason the Bears won their first Big 12 title. In recent history, the Baylor offense has been good consistently, always explosive. This season, the defense held up its end of the bargain, finishing among the top 10 nationally in yards per play at 4.75, ranking ninth among FBS teams.

Safety Ahmad Dixon was the emotional leader of the defense and set a tone for its aggressive approach with his physical presence in the secondary. Cornerback K.J. Morton was a playmaker on the outside and linebackers Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager were versatile tackling machines in the middle of the field.

The defensive line did its part as well, leading the Big 12 with 99 tackles for loss and recording 31 sacks. Defensive ends Shawn Oakman and Chris McAllister were active throughout the season and defensive tackle Beau Blackshear was an underrated presence in the middle.

The lone reason the Bears don’t get an A-plus was their performance in Baylor’s two losses. They allowed 594 yards to Oklahoma State and 556 yards to UCF. As good as Baylor's defense was in 2013, it took a step backward on the big stage against the Cowboys and Knights.

Special teams: C

Baylor’s special teams weren’t special; they were average. The Bears finished ninth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, seventh in kickoff returns and eighth in punt returns. Baylor did have two punt returns and one kickoff return for touchdowns this season, but its special teams units didn’t win games. But the Bears didn’t need their special teams do to anything but operate efficiently and allow their offense and defense to perform.

Overall: A+

The Bears will receive rings that say "Big 12 champions" on them. What more could you ask for from a team that opened the season picked to finish fifth in the conference?

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