Big 12: Gus Penning

Breaking down spring camp: Baylor

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
9:00
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Baylor kicks off its spring practice later today. Let's take a closer look at what you can expect.

Schedule: The first of Baylor's practices will be today, concluding with a spring game in Waco on April 6. The Bears usually hold a controlled scrimmage at the practice field as part of a day-long festival, rather than a game at Floyd Casey Stadium.

What's new: Not a whole lot beyond the loss of skill position talent, which is welcome news for the Bears. There weren't any staff changes for Baylor this offseason, and we'll talk a bit more later about the factors that could make Baylor a dangerous team carrying the Big 12's longest winning streak (four games) into the 2013 season. No one else in the league has a streak of more than one game.

New faces: Baylor is welcoming four players onto the practice field this spring as early enrollees from its 2013 recruiting class. Junior college transfer Gus Penning brings some size to the tight end spot at 6-foot-5 and 245 yards, and he's joined by quarterback Chris Johnson, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat passer. Receiver Kiante' Griffin and linebacker Brian Nance are also suiting up this spring.

Getting defensive: This is Year 3 under Phil Bennett, but we saw some major, major improvement late in 2012. The Bears had a similar jump in 2011, but it didn't stick through 2012. The pieces are in place with guys like Chris McAllister, Bryce Hager, Eddie Lackey and Ahmad Dixon, but every time I visit Waco in the spring, the defense gets worked over. We may get an idea of their progress this spring in scrimmages and workouts. Progress has to happen now if Baylor's ever going to take the leap to Big 12 title contender.

Question marks: Does Baylor have enough firepower at receiver to keep its offense rolling? We'll talk about quarterbacks later, but the Bears lose Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson, and I don't necessarily buy Tevin Reese as a ton more than a deep threat who stretches the field. Can guys like Levi Norwood or Antwan Goodley become big threats underneath? Look out for tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk to play a bigger role in the offense, too. They've got tons of experience.

Breaking out: LT Spencer Drango. He had a great first season on Baylor's offensive line, but look out for the former blue-chip recruit to start looking like one of the Big 12's best offensive linemen alongside Cyril Richardson. He's already solid, but he may blossom into a star this offseason.

Much to prove: RB Lache Seastrunk. He turned heads and produced headlines when he predicted he'd win the Heisman next season, but Baylor's got a solid group of backs and we'll see how he handles the bulk of the first-team reps and the attention that comes with his bold proclamation. He's got the skills to back it up, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of tone he strikes in interviews this spring.

All eyes on: QB Bryce Petty. If Baylor's going to continue this run, it simply has to be excellent at quarterback. I'm not ready to completely write off Seth Russell, but I love what I've seen from Petty in my visits to practice in Waco the past couple springs. He's got a big, NFL-quarterback body at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, and a big arm, but decision-making and ability to move the offense is something you can't tell until it's time to take over the team. That time is now for Petty.
Our ESPN Recruiting team released its new Junior College 100, a list of the top 100 prospects in junior colleges across the country. There's a whole lot of Big 12 teams getting in on that action.

You'll need ESPN Insider to see the full list, but here's a quick taste of how the Big 12 is shaping up on the list:

Kansas leads the way with six commits, including the nation's No. 1 juco talent, defensive tackle Marquel Combs. That's pretty impressive work from coach Charlie Weis, who clearly wants to win now.

Texas Tech has a pair of skill position talents headed to Lubbock, led by No. 11 on the list, the spectacularly named receiver Javess Blue.

Kansas State has two players on the list, led by No. 24, CB Nate Jackson from the College of San Mateo in California.

Oklahoma State grabbed No. 13 on the list, DE Sam Wren.

Baylor grabbed No. 25, tight end Gus Penning. Iowa State has two commits on the list, led by No. 39, tight end Emmanuel Bibbs.

Texas even got in on the tight end action, grabbing No. 27 on the list, Geoff Swaim.

West Virginia has the No. 26 player on the list, RB Dreamius Smith, who was headed to KU out of high school at one point. TCU linebacker Deryck Gildon left the team because of grades, but he's heading back to Fort Worth and is No. 59 on the list.

That's some pretty serious work from the Big 12. Seventeen total players in the top 100 are headed to Big 12 schools.

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