Big 12: Jamal Palmer

Baylor spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
11:00
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about Baylor this spring as the program prepares to defend its Big 12 conference title.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. The nation’s No. 1 offense is ready to reload. There’s no replacing guys such Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, but Bryce Petty is fired up about the new weapons he gets to work with. RB Johnny Jefferson, TE Tre'Von Armstead and WRs Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee were a few of the many who stepped up this spring.

2. Art Briles loves this defensive line. The Baylor coach says he’ll put his D-line up against any in the nation, and with good reason. Even after losing some key seniors, a unit that features ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer, tackles Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, Byron Bonds and the versatile Javonte Magee should frustrate opposing offenses.

3. A historic season ending in heartbreak left the Bears with plenty of motivation this spring. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF left a sting that troubled Baylor’s players and coaches in the winter, and there's a stronger sense that there’s unfinished business entering 2014.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Can Baylor’s defense play up to the level of its stellar 2013 unit? DC Phil Bennett is optimistic about the caliber of his new starters, and the depth that BU’s strength program is fortifying. But you can’t just assume the new guys will immediately match the quality play of Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, Sam Holl and so many other departed starters.

2. How will the Bears’ offensive line hold up? Losing left tackle Spencer Drango midseason was a major blow to this group last season, and while he’s back, All-America guard Cyril Richardson was one of three senior starters who graduated. Baylor needs LaQuan McGowan, Kyle Fuller and several others to step up.

3. What can the newcomers bring to the table? Briles brags that he signed the best wide receiver class in the country, but it’s not as if Baylor needed much help at that position. You know the junior college additions will play early on, but what can the rest of the Bears’ incoming class contribute?

One way-too-early prediction:

Calling Baylor a lock for a top-10 spot in the polls requires a lot of confidence in a defense that must replace 10 seniors on the two-deep, but the staff believes its talent evaluation and development will pay off big in 2014. But the Petty-led offense is absolutely loaded, and the Bears’ sights should be squarely set on fighting for a playoff bid.
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.
During the Big 12 spring teleconference this week, Baylor coach Art Briles was not bashful about touting his defensive line, which is loaded with potential if somewhat short on experience.

“I’ve been saying it for four months,” Briles said, “I would put our D-line up against any D-line in the United States of America, when you’re looking at six- or seven-deep personnel and say, hey, let’s roll the ball out there and let’s play, let’s see who’s better.

“I think our guys are really good up there.”

The Big 12 could be chock-full of talented defensive lines this season.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman has been nearly unblockable this spring.
Oklahoma basically returns the entire unit -- led by ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper -- that overwhelmed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners will also be getting back tackle Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level last season before undergoing season-ending back surgery in early October. Tackle Charles Walker, who redshirted as a freshman last fall, has been turning heads, and reportedly ran the fastest defensive tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) since Bob Stoops became coach.

TCU could be formidable up front, too, especially if end Devonte Fields returns to his 2012 Big 12 Defensive-Freshman-of-the-Year-form, as Horned Frogs defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas suggested he had this week.

Texas and Kansas State should be stout along the line as well, spearheaded by the returns of all-conference ends Cedric Reed and Ryan Mueller, who combined for 22.5 sacks last season.

Baylor, however, has a chance to field a defensive line as good as any in the league.

The defensive tackle trio of Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear and Javonte Magee could be especially menacing.

Billings, a four-star signee last year who chose the Bears over Texas, instantly became a key rotation player inside as a true freshman. Blackshear started last season but is getting pushed for that starting spot by Magee, who shined in the spring after sitting out last season due to a personal issue. Like Billings, Magee was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Oregon.

The Bears are talented on the outside, as well.

Shawn Oakman, who was sixth in the Big 12 with 12.5 tackles-for-loss last season, will take over a full-time starting spot. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, Oakman has the size to be a dominant player. He showed that during the spring.

“I think the same thing I’ve thought all spring -- we can’t block him,” Briles said after the Bears’ spring game. “And I don’t think anybody else will either.”

Opposite Oakman will be returning starter Jamal Palmer as well as Sam Ukwuachu, who will be eligible this season after transferring in from Boise State last year. Ukwuachu was a starter for the Broncos in 2012 as a redshirt freshman and was second on the team in sacks.

The Bears have questions elsewhere defensively. At linebacker, only Bryce Hager returns, and he was out this spring recovering from a groin injury. In the secondary, only safety Terrell Burt comes back, and he also missed spring ball recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

But Baylor could overcome those questions in its back seven with a dominating defensive line -- something Briles firmly believes he’ll have in 2014.

“These guys can play, and they’re good,” he said. “I really think these guys are that special up front.”
WACO, Texas -- Spend an hour in the office of Phil Bennett and you’re likely to hear the term “football playin’ fool” thrown around a few times. For the Baylor defensive coordinator, that’s high praise.

He had a bunch of them last season, at every level of his Bears defense. Freaky athletes, experienced studs, players who exceeded expectations. They’re ultimately the reason why Baylor won the Big 12.

Those players had been building toward that breakthrough season for years. Now Bennett has to repeat it, and do so without 10 seniors from last season's two-deep.

“To get back,” he said, “we’ve got to have those guys play at a level we played last year.”

As Baylor wraps up its final week of spring ball, Bennett sees plenty of reason for optimism all over his roster. Replacing leaders such as Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, Sam Holl and Chris McAllister will be a tall task, but the cupboard is far from empty.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Singleton
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBaylor and cornerback Terrence Singleton don't plan to slip from the championship level the Bears achieved in 2013.
In fact, Bennett is a bit offended by the implication this Baylor defense is starting over. Defensive ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer played as many snaps as the starters in 2013, and often more than them. Defensive tackles Andrew Billings and Byron Bonds were virtually starters, too, as true freshmen.

Defensive backs Xavien Howard and Orion Stewart received major playing time. Linebacker Bryce Hager and safety Terrell Burt, both out for the spring, are trusted starters. The pieces are in place to maintain Baylor’s production level on defense.

But that’s just the core of the defense, and Bennett is just as excited about the more unknown commodities.

Coach Art Briles and Bennett both speak highly of Howard, a big, 6-foot-2 sophomore corner who shined in a small role last season, and defensive lineman Javonte Magee, a big-time talent playing end and tackle this spring after sitting out 2013.

Bennett says he’s “tickled” by the comeback that Terrence Singleton has made at corner after several injury setbacks. He has been impressed by the impact senior walk-on Collin Brence is making in the “Bear” nickel role that Holl played.

Linebacker Aiavion Edwards, forced to start late last season when Hager went down, has had a strong spring. Junior college transfer Grant Campbell is catching on quickly.

And Bennett has found another one of those so-called football playin’ fools in redshirt freshman linebacker Taylor Young.

“Whatever the 'it' factor is, he has it. He’s 5-foot-9, 225 pounds, runs a 4.5 [40-yard dash] and he finds the ball,” Bennett said.

And more help is on the way this summer. Bennett already has his eye on a few three-star signees who could surprise, including defensive backs Jourdan Blake and Verkedric Vaughns.

Never heard of these guys? You’ll get familiar this fall. Bennett and Briles see no reason why Baylor should take a step backward on defense, even with so many top players being replaced.

That’s because the Bears understand their mission on defense. Bennett swears that his time working with Briles has changed his entire perspective.

[+] EnlargeBryce Hager
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThought linebacker Bryce Hager is out for the spring, he will anchor the Bears' defense in 2014.
His goal, quite simply, is to complement Baylor’s high-powered offense. Get the ball back to quarterback Bryce Petty and all his weapons as fast as they can, in the best possible position. Stops and turnovers and punts lead to points.

“That was our plan when I came here,” Bennett said. “Get two sides of the ball that could complement each other, and if need be, carry each other. We’re getting closer to that.

“The yardage deal, I can give a rat’s ass. It’s takeaways, it’s red zone, it’s three-and-outs and it’s scoring. Get them the ball.”

Baylor was about as good as it gets on those fronts last season. This was a top-10 defense in points per drive that forced 29 takeaways, second-most in the Big 12. No team in the nation forced more three-and-out drives (63) than the Bears.

Those are the ambitions Bennett and his players aim to replicate. When they trot out of the football facility and smack the white “BE THE STANDARD” sign hanging on the chain-link fence on their way to the practice field, this is the standard to which they refer.

After years of struggles, Baylor’s defense set the bar high in 2013. The next step is exceeding it every season, no matter which football playin’ fools Bennett plugs in.

“I don’t want to say tradition,” Bennett said, “but we’ve started building expectancy.”

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
AM ET
Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

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