NCF Nation: Deon Beasley
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Some Big 12 position groups are clearly above others as far as raw talent and athleticism. Here's a look at some of the most dominant in the conference.
Oklahoma's front seven: The Sooners go two-deep in talent in the defensive line and linebackers. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy anchors the defensive front and is an Outland Trophy candidate. Adrian Taylor and Cordero Moore also are capable players. The Sooners have the best collection of defensive ends in college football with Frank Alexander, Jeremy Beal, R.J. Washington and Auston English. Travis Lewis could develop into one of the finest linebackers in Oklahoma history and Mike Balogun, Brandon Crow and Keenan Clayton all are expected to contribute. If heady team leader Ryan Reynolds comes back from his knee injury, this group could rival any in the country -- if it doesn't already.
Texas' secondary: After producing only six interceptions last season, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp ratcheted up competition among defensive backs. The results were seen in the spring, when the group was the best defensive backfield group I saw in the conference. Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown have emerged as starters at the corners with Curtis Brown and Deon Beasley providing backup. Safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott both are emerging, but the key player might be sophomore safety Earl Thomas, who played the nickel position with tenacity and abandon. It's not a stretch to say that two Thorpe Award winners could emerge out of this group in the next several years.
Colorado's running backs: The Buffaloes seemingly have a back for every situation with the deepest backfield in the conference. Darrell Scott appears intent on making a comeback after a disappointing freshman season. Rodney Stewart looks recovered from a broken leg sustained last season that kept him from rushing for 1,000 yards. Sophomore Brian Lockridge appears to be the fastest back and 215-pound Demetrius Sumler is the biggest back with the best inside running ability among the group. This group will serve as the backbone for the Buffaloes' hopes of returning to a bowl game and perhaps their dark horse challenge for the Big 12 North title.
Kansas' wide receivers: Dezmon Briscoe missed all of spring practice for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but is back to serve as one of the nation's most explosive deep talents. Coach Mark Mangino hopes to be able to permanently switch Kerry Meier to receiver for his senior season after a breakout season in 2008. Meier and Briscoe were two of the nation's top-15 receivers last season when they combined for 189 catches, 2,452 yards and 23 touchdown grabs. And Wilson emerged as quarterback Todd Reesing's go-to receiver in the spring when Briscoe was gone, notching six catches in the spring game. Add Rod Harris, Tertavian Ingram and Raimond Pendleton and it might be among the most potent pass-catching groups in the nation.
Nebraska's running backs: With unproven Zac Lee starting at quarterback, look for Shawn Watson to lean heavily on a pair of talented returning backs. Quentin Castille trimmed about 20 pounds to get into better shape and leading returning rusher Roy Helu Jr. boosted his weight by 24 pounds to become a more powerful rusher between the tackles. Together, it wouldn't be a stretch that the two backs could combine for 2,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns if both can stay healthy.
Iowa State's running backs: With new offensive coordinator Tom Herman taking over with a spread offensive attack, a talented array of running backs still will have frequent opportunities to contribute. Leading returning rusher Alexander Robinson could be poised to become one of the most underrated rusher/receiver combination backs in the conference. But Robinson will have to fight for playing time with a stacked group that also includes bruising redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz and heralded University of Florida transfer Bo Williams. Herman will be able to utilize all three backs in a variety of roles.
Missouri's defensive ends: The Tigers appeared loaded before spring practice with Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith back, but redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has developed into an immediate contributor. Converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt Marcus Marlbrough also had strong springs, leading Gary Pinkel to say it was his best group of defensive ends he's ever had at Missouri.
Texas Tech's wide receivers: Even after losing two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and Eric Morris, the Red Raiders developed several potential playmakers during the spring. Edward Britton appeared to have crawled out of Mike Leach's doghouse with strong late production. New quarterback Taylor Potts should have many productive targets including Detron Lewis, Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, walk-on flanker Adam Torres, 6-foot-7 Adrian Reese and redshirt freshmen Austin Zouzalik and Eric Ward. The Red Raiders won't have two players grab the majority of balls like Crabtree and Morris did in recent seasons. Instead, they will feature a more balanced attack featuring eight to 10 receivers capable of thriving in a tag-team approach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Longhorns coaches have been adamant about what they've wanted at each practice from an emerging secondary this spring.
"The coaches are on us hard about getting turnovers after last year," Texas cornerback Chykie Brown said. "Every day in practice our goal is to get at least three turnovers. It's turned out pretty good."
|Brian Bahr/Getty Images|
|Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is pleased with the development of the secondary this spring.|
And while the Texas secondary didn't exactly reach that goal in Sunday's Orange-White scrimmage with two turnovers, they can feel like they have accomplished something this spring as they get ready for the upcoming season.
If Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has any doubts about his defensive backs, all he has to think about is where they were at the same time last year.
"Comparing then to now is light years," Muschamp said. "It was an adventure every day as far as installation of our defense from day to day. It's a lot of fun the second year teaching and installing and working more on fundamentals rather than teaching schemes all the time."
The Longhorns struggled making big plays last season, producing a Big 12-low six interceptions and ranking 104th nationally and worst in the Big 12 with only 16 forced turnovers.
"If we had made more turnovers last year, the sky would have been the limit for us," Muschamp said. "But it's all on us. Playing hard and playing relentlessly is the most important thing to me and I think we're getting more guys to buy into that."
This spring, the most important number for the Longhorns' secondary might be eight -- as in the quantity of talented defensive players with a chance to start. That depth will provide the Texas defensive coordinator with all kinds of weapons to tinker with as he attempts to counter the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12.
"It's good because it allows competition," Muschamp said about his secondary's depth. "These guys know if they don't perform, they're on the bench the next day. It allows for our guys to go out every day and play consistently well, and that's what makes guys compete and improve as football players. Your best motivator is competition."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE|
|Earl Thomas and the Texas secondary will have a big challenge on Saturday.|
Curtis Brown had a huge challenge for his first college start. And it will only get that much bigger if the Texas sophomore cornerback has a second one this week.
After being thrust into the starting lineup when usual starter Chykie Brown missed last week's game against Oklahoma State with an ankle injury, Curtis Brown got his first college starting opportunity. His test was against Dez Bryant, who was merely the hottest receiver in the Big 12 coming into the game.
"I was afraid he would transfer," Texas coach Mack Brown told reporters with a chuckle. "I bet I would have."
There were no first-game jitters. Brown played every snap and led the Longhorns to a gritty 28-24 victory that was punctuated by his game-saving deflection on the final play of the game. The stakes will only get bigger for him and his injury-depleted teammates from the secondary this week.
Like trying to contain Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and Texas Tech's high-powered offensive attack Saturday night in Lubbock.
"If my number is called, I just show up," Brown told reporters earlier this week. "That's just what I had to do."
The test for Brown mirrors that for the Texas defense, which will be challenged to stop a Tech offense that ranks first nationally in passing offense, second in total offense and third in scoring. The Red Raiders have scored at least 35 points in every game this season and feature a deep collection of playmakers besides Crabtree.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas coach Mark Mangino can finally rest, not worrying about whether his words, gestures or coaching methods on the practice field will be picked apart by the prying eyes of the public.
Of course, it was nothing a little horticuture couldn't help -- or hide.
The Kansas athletic department will spend $90,000 to strategically plant 100 pine trees around the $31 million Anderson Family Football Complex with hopes of enhancing the team's privacy during its workouts.
Kansas assistant athletic director Jim Marchiony told the Lawrence Journal-World that the additions will help the campus in several ways.
"You can say we're doing it for the sake of those who use Mississippi Street so they won't feel like they're disturbing practice if they make noise," Marchiony joked. "Also, it's an effort to assist the campus in going green."
"The real reason," he added, "is just to allow for more privacy during practice with respect to how much can be seen and heard."
Mangino told the Journal-World that he didn't have a problem with the location of the practice fields and the exposure they provided.
"I'm not at all concerned about that stuff," he said. "I think it's a tempest in a teapot. Much ado about nothing."
Ah, Coach ... If I'm going to believe that, you probably have some swamp land for me just outside Olathe, right?
No matter. The Kansas practice field is shrouded and the season is only a week away.
But most importantly, here are some tasty Big 12 links for a Saturday morning.
- Bob Stoops' seldom-publicized compassion for sick children is profiled in a touching story by the Oklahoman's John Helsley. Stoops wears a gold pin of hope on his coaching visor for a special reason.
- Austen Arnaud earned the starting QB job for Iowa State's Aug. 28 opener against South Dakota State. But backup Phillip Bates will get a few snaps, Iowa State coach Gene Chizik said. "Some people will say that when you have two quarterbacks, you have none," Chizik told the Des Moines Register. "That's not our case."
- Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk lays out the steps to an 8-4 record for Colorado this season, capped by a trip to the Alamo Bowl.
- Texas CB Deon Beasley tells the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte in a video interview about the Longhorns' development in the secondary.
- Have Bartles & Jaymes come to sports journalism? Check out the Austin American-Stateman's columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden's most recent video effort and you might think so.
- The Austin American-Statesman has taken the humble depth chart one step into the future, creating an easy-to-use PDF file highlighting Texas' roster.
- Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel blogs that Oklahoma State's home schedule isn't the most attractive for ticket buyers.
- Line of the day comes from Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Austin Meek, who had this to say about the Kansas State-Iowa State game in Kansas City next year: "A K-State-Iowa State matchup has all the sex appeal of Al Roker, with considerably less star power."
- Missouri athletic director Mike Alden told the Kansas City Star that no changes are imminent in the Tigers' annual football games in St. Louis against Missouri and in Kansas City against Kansas. Alden also denied that the Kansas State-Iowa State game announced earlier this week would affect where the Border War game ends up. "I think our game is something that's pretty special," Alden told the Star, "and it wouldn't be affected by that game."
- Sophomore CB Carl Gettis is emerging as a leader in Missouri's secondary.
- Heralded freshman Nebraska WR Khiry Cooper is off-limits to the media because of Coach Bo Pelini's media-relations rules. But Cooper's teammates say he hasn't talked much about his decision to play college football and baseball rather than accepting a huge potential baseball contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
- Bruising 245-pounder Quentin Castille is playing like the most physical of Nebraska's I-backs. "I look at Quentin as a guy who's a thumper," Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told the Omaha World-Herald. "He's a guy who you just pound people with."
- Dust off your pom-poms. The Kansas City Star has video of a Kansas City-area pep rally where thousands turned out to watch coach Mark Mangino talk about the upcoming season. And he didn't mention his tree-planting plans anywhere.
- A hearty welcome to the Big 12 media corps to Brian "Boom Goes the Dynamite" Collins, a new sports anchor at KXXV-TV in Waco, Texas.
- Baylor's three competing quarterbacks got equal time in the Bears' final scrimmage and all had their moments.
- Lawrence Journal-World columnist Chuck Woodling looks into the Big 12's future - complete with 150,000-seat stadiums and salary caps for players.
- Manhattan Mercury columnist Mark Janssen breaks down the good and bad of Kansas State's special teams.
- Oklahoma State and Texas Tech agreed months ago to move their 2009 game to the Dallas area. Andrea Cohen of The Oklahoman reports, however, that the two schools still haven't decided where to play the game.
- Oklahoma MLB Ryan Reynolds hopes to disprove doubters who wonder if he can remain healthy for an entire season.
- Texas Tech's AaRon Moore and Brent Nickerson have emerged as the likely replacements at cornerback for L.A. Reed, who appea
red at practice with an orthopedic boot on his injured right ankle.
- Despite the arrival of heralded junior-college transfer Lucien "The Punisher" Antoine, Quinton Moore remains entrenched as Oklahoma State's top free safety.
- Punt returner Niles Paul is expecting big things from Nebraska's special teams. "It should be an explosive year as a return game," Paul told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I know we can make a splash on returns."
- Unlike last season, Bob Stoops expects a number of freshmen to see action for the Sooners. Only one true freshman played for Oklahoma in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas coach Mark Mangino is notoriously reclusive, preferring to prepare his team behind locked gates to maintain some semblance of privacy.
That's all changing after the Jayhawks moved to the new Anderson Family Football Complex, which provides a more expansive viewing by spectators outside the complex of Mangino's practices.
And according to Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan, it's providing the Kansas coach with a tough decision. He can practice behind closed gates, irritating fans who want to watch the proceedings. Or he can open his practices and allow all the world to see.
I've known Mangino a long time. I first met him back when he was working as an offensive assistant for Bill Snyder at Kansas State. That same Bill Snyder who used to order his players to huddle around injured teammates along the sidelines at games to keep the prying lens of television cameras away so they couldn't provide a picture that could determine the severity of the injuries.
Considering every one of Snyder's coaching proteges has shared a similar disdain for open practices, I'm betting you won't teach the Jayhawks coach new tricks. And that's why I would imagine some kind of barrier will be erected to keep unwanted eyes from watching Kansas' practice.
On the other hand, these links are present for your enjoyment. Don't be satisfied with just one reading. Come back many times throughout the day. Tell your friends about them.
Read them often. They're good for you.
- Colorado LB B.J. Beatty (fractured bone in left leg) and CB Cha'pelle Brown (fractured left hand) continue to participate in practice drills despite their injuries. Beatty originally thought the injury was a bad bruise and spent one practice pushing wheelbarrows full of sand for Colorado strength coach Jeff Pitman, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.
- John Helsey of the Oklahoman delves deeply into the background of how Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione hired Bob Stoops in 1998. And a healthy dose of pragmatism helped convince Stoops to come to Oklahoma rather than take an open job at his alma mater at Iowa.
- Iowa State TB Alexander Robinson is bracing for a lot of work as the Cyclones break in two new quarterbacks.
- Veteran Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz admires the moxie of Playboy sports editor Gary Cole, who ranked Kansas State 22nd in his preseason top 25 poll. It's the only top 25 mention the Wildcats have received this season.
- As a team, Kansas watched the movie "The Express," about 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis of Syracuse. And Mangino gave it a solid endorsement. " 'The Express' was both inspiring and educational," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "It is a movie not just for sports fans, but for everyone. It was outstanding."
- Missouri's experienced linebackers should provide the backbone of the Tigers' rapidly improving defense.
- Tad Stryker of the Web site huskerpedia.com writes that Nebraska must reclaim its home-field advantage. The Cornhuskers were lucky to escape with a 4-3 home record last season. Hall of Fame Nebraska coach Tom Osborne lost 15 home games in his 25-year coaching career.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy will put his team through a "mock game" on Friday, practicing every detail of game day. "[We'll practice] putting the game uniform on, substitutions," Gundy told the Oklahoman. "Everything."
- Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles has been waiting two years for his chance to play with the Sooners, Tulsa World beat writer John Hoover writes.
- Austin American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden calls T Adam Ulatoski the Longhorns' most important offensive starter, considering he has the job of protecting Colt McCoy's blind side.
- Houston Chronicle reporter Joseph Duarte had a busy day as a multitooled reporter Tuesday in Austin. He captured Texas LB Sergio Kindle for a video interview and provided one of the first glimpses of the Longhorns' new wall of fame at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium's Ring of Honor, which honors five players with retired jersey numbers.
- Starting Texas Tech CB L.A. Reed was carted off the field with his right knee and right ankle iced after suffering an injury at practice Tuesday afternoon. Tech coach Mike Leach declined to release any information about his injury. Sophomore LaRon Moore took Reed's spot for the rest of the practice.
- Backup Oklahoma SS Quinton Carter will miss at least two weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Freshman Joseph Ibiloye will take his place.
- Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple says that Nebraska hasn't has this much depth and talent along its offensive line since the 2001 team that played for the national championship.
- Texas CB Deon Beasley said the Longhorns didn't always play with passion during their 10-3 season last year.
- Missouri WR Danario Alexander was running routes and doing catching drills after being cleared for light practice as he recovers from a torn ACL.
- Kansas State S Chris Carney was so disappointed in his team's late-season collapse, he failed to watch any bowl games last season.
- Des Moines Register beat writer Andrew Logue breaks down the Cyclones in his weekly chat. Logue said that QBs Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates remain even in the battle for the starting job and calls the Big 12 North more competitive this season than in any previous year.
- Baylor extended a four-year contrac
t with former Southwest Conference rival Rice. The series begins in 2013 in Houston, with games in 2014 and 2015 in Waco and 2016 in Rice.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini still hasn't distributed "Blackshirt" jerseys to his top defensive players and said there's no timetable. "When I feel it's right," he told reporters. "It's not right yet."
- Nebraska CB Anthony Murillo promises a more aggressive secondary under Pelini. "We're going to attack the ball this year," Murillo told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "That's what we're going to do -- no ifs, ands or buts about it."