Big 12: Jeremy Sanders
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
And then there were three.
Big 12 teams, that is, who will have begun spring practice after Tuesday afternoon (Baylor and Texas are the other two). Oklahoma's practice begins today.
Bob Stoops will be busy trying to rebuild an offensive line that loses four starters and finding a few new receiving threats for Sam Bradford to throw to. It should be an interesting spring around his team over the next several weeks.
Here are some stories around the Big 12 for your lunchtime perusal this afternoon. Enjoy them.
- The Miami Red Hawks are trying to get out of their Sept. 12 game against Colorado in order to play a potentially more lucrative game against Kentucky in Cincinnati, Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo reports. If the move is made, the Mid-American Conference will work to find a suitable replacement for the Buffaloes that could be Akron, Bowling Green or Toledo.
- The Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner writes that converted Baylor running back Jeremy Sanders can help the Bears at his new position of safety due to his athleticism.
- Oklahoma redshirt freshman linebacker Austin Box was cited by Norman police for urinating in public early Saturday morning, the Tulsa World's John Hoover reports.
- The Kansas City Star reports that Illinois State athletic director Sheahon Zenger, a Kansas State graduate and a former associate athletic director for development at KSU, could emerge as a leading candidate for the vacant athletic director job at his alma mater. The school announced an eight-member search committee that will help KSU president-elect Kirk Schulz find the president, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Austin American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden have video anlyzing what they've seen at Texas' first two spring practices.
- Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's experience in developing quarterbacks in his previous coaching history should be invaluable as he attempts to find a new starter for the Cornhuskers this spring, Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple reports.
- Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler turned down a restructured offer from South Florida coach Jim Leavitt to become a defensive co-coordinator for the Bulls, Greg Auman of the St. Petersburg Times reports. The Tampa Tribune's Brett McMurphy reported that Ekeler, who had earlier turned down a similar offer to join Leavitt's staff, was offered a co-coordinator position along with Iowa State secondary coach Chris Ash.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Baylor started spring practice Monday with six players playing different positions than those they played at the end of the 2008 season.
Some notable players were key contributors at their old positions.
Here are some of the changes:
- Senior RB Jeremy Sanders to safety. Sanders rushed for 128 yards on 34 carries and scored a touchdown last season. He also recorded Baylor's highest kickoff return average with six returns for 163 yards (27.2 yard per kick average).
- Senior WR T.J. Scranton has moved to safety. Scranton accounted for two catches for 24 yards and one kickoff return for 19 yards.
- Sophomore WR Romie Blaylock has moved to cornerback. Blaylock rushed once for 7 yards and accounted for two receptions for -6 yards
- Junior CB Krys Buerck has moved back to wide receiver. Buerck produced 24 tackles, broke up two passes and notched an interception for a return of 46 yards.
- Senior DT Sam Sledge has moved to fullback. Sledge notched nine tackles, and produced 1 1/2 sacks.
- Senior WR Ernest Smith has moved to the inside receiver position from outside. Smith produced seven catches for 175 yards and a team-best 25.0 yard-per-catch average.
The Bears worked out for two hours, 20 minutes on their first day of practice on Monday. Coach Art Briles was excited about what his team showed.
"We're just glad to be back on the field," Briles told reporters after the workout. "You spend all your time planning and hoping and now you get to put it to realization on the field. It's just a great time."
The Bears will work three more days before taking next week off for spring break. Their work will conclude April 2 with a controlled scrimmage.
"The thing we are really excited about is just getting a chance to concentrate on our guys," Briles said. "When you are in a season, you spend a lot of your time working on opponents and yourselves. When you get to spring ball, it's all about you.
"This is what we are all about. We're about Baylor. We are about getting ready to be bowl bound in '09."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Baylor is facing the Big 12's most enduring drought period as the Bears have failed to make a bowl trip since 1994. Only Vanderbilt and Duke have longer bowl droughts among teams from Bowl Championship Series-affiliated conferences.
New coach Art Briles arrives from Houston intent on changing that trend. He led the Cougars to four bowl appearances in his last five seasons, but will be facing the challenge of his coaching career as he tries to resuscitate the Baylor program.
As he heads into his team's Aug. 28 opener against No. 23 Wake Forest, Briles has some obvious questions to consider. Here are five of the most pressing ones.
1. Who will emerge at quarterback -- Briles said on Wednesday that he's no closer to picking a starter for his opener than he was in spring training. Blake Szymanski, Kirby Freeman and heralded freshman Robert Griffin all can do different things well. Look for him to use all of them at some point of the season, with Griffin getting more playing time late in the season if he can stay healthy.
2. Can new players provide backfield depth -- Brandon Whitaker's departure leaves the Bears scrambling for answers at running back. The most interesting decision has been moving converted safety Ray Sims and converted quarterback Jeremy Sanders as potential challengers for playing time. Along with Jacoby Jones and Jay Finley, the Bears have more options than last season. But will it be enough to hold up against punishing Big 12 defenses?
3. How will the Bears respond to Briles -- His upbeat enthusiasm has been contagious -- so far. But the Bears have never played a game under their new coach. He's been a winner at every level in his coaching history, but this will be the biggest challenge of his career.
4. Will offensive line improve with experience -- The Bears have averaged no more than 110 yards per game in any of the last six seasons and their yard-per-carry average has been no higher than 3.1 yards in any of those years. But with four starters back, the line should be improved this season.
5. Can they stop anybody -- The Bears regressed badly last season, ranking last nationally in turnover margin and among the bottom 10 nationally in pass defense, scoring defense and total defense. New coordinator Brian Norwood will bring some new ideas, but defense will be breaking in two new linebackers around Joe Pawelek and two new corners. Not a good sign in a conference that should be as potent offensively as the Big 12 will be this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
WACO, Texas -- Heralded recruit Robert Griffin was set to come to Houston where he could play with Art Briles, who had recruited him for the Cougars throughout his high school career.
But when Briles left Houston for Baylor last November, Griffin decided to follow him to his new job.
Griffin was one of the top dual-threat quarterback prospects in the nation after a strong high school career at Copperas Cove, Texas. He arrived at school a semester early and immediately pushed his way into a tight three-way battle for the starting quarterback job with Blake Szymanski and Miami redshirt Kirby Freeman.
Griffin has shown flashes of talent on the football field and also placed third in the NCAA 400-meter hurdles outdoor track championship after winning the Big 12 and NCAA Midwest Regional titles leading up to the championship meet. That athleticism has earned him the nickname of "Rambo" from his teammates because of his dedication.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Griffin is expected to see action in the Bears' Aug. 28 opener against Wake Forest. We sat down with him for a few minutes earlier this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
WACO, Texas -- Surprising performances from converted quarterback Jeremy Sanders and converted defensive back Ray Sims has help boost competition for playing time at running back for Baylor during the dog days of training camp.
With the graduation of leading 2007 rusher Brandon Whitaker, depth was lagging coming into the season. Jay Finley, the team's leading returning rusher after producing 207 yards as a redshirt freshman, was expected to get most of the carries coming into the summer.
Sanders and Sims both have made strong showings for playing time during training camp despite of their lack of experience at running back.
"Nobody knows what we can do," Sims said. "When we play, it will be a big surprise. I love this role. We're going to shock a lot of teams with our speed and our aggression."
Sanders passed for 2,252 yards in a two-year career as a starting quarterback at Navarro Junior College and was expected to challenge for playing time at the position for the Bears.
His churning inside running style has brought a physical style that compliments the bullish charges of 224-pound senior tailback Jacoby Jones.
"It's different, because as a quarterback, you drop back in the spread and you won't take much of a pounding," Sanders said about his position transition. "But when I get the ball as a running back, I run with a lot of power and speed. One miss and I can take it all the way to the house."
Baylor's glut of quarterbacks made it doubtful that Sanders would receive any playing time at the position. He decided to ask about a position switch after talking with Baylor coach Art Briles earlier in camp.
"I looked at the big picture," Sanders said. "And as far as me helping the team right away, I decided to ask him to get me on the field as quickly as possible. Running back gave me that opportunity."
Briles has incorporated a variety of roles for Sanders in his new offense as a rusher and a receiver. He's also incorporated a "slash package" where Sanders worked under center at times on direct snaps.
His emergence has been almost as big a surprise as that of Sims, a 210-pounder who played outside safety last year as a junior after transferring from Navarro College.
Sims has little experience at running back, seeing action there only for a few games as a senior at Corsicana High School. After that, he was primarily a defensive back and a player on special teams until this spring.
Running behind an experienced offensive line, Sims said that Baylor will feature more running than in previous seasons. The Bears averaged only 77.8 yards rushing per game last season -- 113th nationally and 11th in the Big 12 -- while utilizing Guy Morriss' spread offense last season.
"I think the offense has changed. We get a lot of carries and our offense is pretty balanced. A lot of people think we are just going to throw it, but it's going to be a surprise to people how much we run," Sims said.
All four backs are expected to see action next week against Wake Forest, Briles said.
"You've got to have more than one guy in Division I-A ball and we'll use all four of them," Briles said. "We like to have a lot of depth and these guys can play. They're good football players. Ray Sims is a good athlete and Jeremy Sanders is a good athlete. We've got to find ways to help them help our team."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
New Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's attitude is all about swagger. But it's hard to build that kind of confidence playing some of the weak sisters that will dot his future nonconference schedules.
It seems that Pelini isn't exactly excited about the schedule he inherited from former athletic director Steve Pederson and former coach Bill Callahan.
Nebraska assistant athletic director for football Jeff Jamrog told the Omaha World-Herald that he's actively seeking upcoming games -- and only against Division I opponents.
The Cornhuskers will be playing Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State next season, and Western Kentucky, Idaho and Football Championship Subdivision power South Dakota State in 2010.
"It looks like they wanted to schedule a bunch of wins," Jamrog said. "We can't do anything about it. We can't do anything about the guarantees that were set, unless you want to cancel the contracts. But we aren't interested in doing that."
Pelini is in favor of taking on all comers in the future.
"That's what the fans want to see," Pelini said. "That's the shame of the BCS. Fans aren't seeing the games they used to see in September. We want to play those games. I don't want to shy away from anyone."
Assuredly, this is very refreshing attitude for a new football coaching staff to have. But something tells me that Pelini will prefer his schedule of Western Michigan, New Mexico State and San Jose State this season before facing Virginia Tech than if he had switched to a tougher one.
Hope that Pelini is up to the challenge of tackling a few morning links, too.
- Versatile WR Quan Cosby has had to argue to convince Texas coach Mack Brown to use him as a punt returner in the past. But his role looks assured heading into this season.
- Converted QB Jeremy Sanders has thrived at his new position at RB, Waco Tribune-Herald reporter John Werner writes.
- Colorado LB Jon Major, one of the top two in-state recruits for Colorado last season, has been lost for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
- One of the real treats of covering the Big 12 each week is Kansas City Star beat writer Mike DeArmond's priceless Vlog from Missouri's camp. But how come I always think of "Sex, Lies and Videotape" when I watch his sometimes brutal weekly assessments of the Tigers?
- Kansas State DE Ian Campbell is back at his original position after an abortive stab at linebacker last season. I wonder what took KSU coaches so long to move him back, comparing his performance last season to the previous one.
- Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell showed quick dexterity with the new clock rules, running a no-huddle offense during all of his snaps in the Red Raiders' first scrimmage. Harrell needed only 14 plays to produce three 60-yard scoring drives, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.
- Converted RB Cody Glenn is getting a few extra tips in his conversion to linebacker from a long-lost relative, legendary former Nebraska LB Broderick "The Sandman" Thomas.
- Joe Kines, a 64-year-old coaching veteran with 40 years of experience, is facing an ultimate challenge of trying to resuscitate Texas A&M's "Wrecking Crew" defense, Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News reports.
- It seems Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is a big fan of the Olympics. "All of them, I like watching all of it," Stoops told the Oklahoman. "What's so neat about it is you get that one moment to be at your best. That's what I love about boxing as well. You get that one shot. And if you happen to have over-trained, or you don't hit it just right..." Sounds a bit like playing in a bowl game, doesn't it?
- Oklahoma State WR Jeremy Broadway appears to be making the most of his last chance with the Cowboys after his suspension last November.
- Tulsa World reporter John Hoover wonders if Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias is the most underappreciated player in the Sooners' football history. Hoover's statistics make a good case.
- Veteran Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told Lincoln Journal-Star that his current group might be the deepest in talent he's ever coached.
- Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News profiles Oklahoma's defense. Buried deep in the story is the quote of the day from Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who isn't exactly enthusiastic about the development of his young linebacking corps. I'm not ready to puke yet," Venables said.
- Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler said Kansas' rapid ascension last year is providing hope to Oklahoma State players. "After what Kansas did last year, everybody realizes just how close the Big 12 [race] is and no games are given to you anymore," Oklahoma LB/S Andre Sexton said. "We're pretty much in the same situation now as they [the Jayhawks] were in last season."
- Construction-worker-turned OLB Mike Balogun has been thrust into the mix as Oklahoma scrambles for a replacement for injured Austin Box.
- If new Troy WR Josh Jarboe is declared immediately eligible at Troy, he still might play in the state of Oklahoma this season. The Trojans will face Oklahoma State Sept. 27 in Stillwater.
- Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the battle to replace Tony Temple in the Missouri backfield. Sophomore Derrick Washington from the strangely-named hometown of Peculiar, Mo., appears to have nailed down the starting job -- mainly because of his receiving skills. "
- 5-foot-6 freshman RB Rodney Stewart is t
urning heads at Colorado's practice -- despite his diminutive size and the presence of heralded RB Darrell Scott in the Buffaloes' camp. And along with fellow freshman Ray Polk, all apparently will receive playing time this season.