Who will replace Taurean Henderson as Texas Tech's tailback? Is Chase Daniel the answer for Mizzou's title quest? Did Oklahoma find some answers on the offensive line? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Baylor coach Guy Morriss was enthused with his team's development during the spring. The Bears' biggest challenge was replacing six defensive starters. "We felt like we got everything we set out to do in spring training pretty much done," Morriss said. "We lost five or six pretty good defensive players and feel good about our replacements. We've got younger, better athletes, but they don't have as much experience. We feel good they'll get the job done, they just need to get seasoned up in a hurry." Georgia Tech transfer LB Nick Moore and redshirt freshman LB Antonio Jones have emerged as new starters inside. The Bears' switch to a new spread passing offense has had some unexpected recruiting benefits. "We've probably had more calls from quarterbacks and wide receivers than ever before," Morriss said. "And even the offensive linemen are getting into the act." Baylor's assimilation of the new offense has come along about like Morriss expected. "It's a very simple system," Morriss said. "It looks like a lot and it's hard to prepare for. There are a lot of different formations and motions and wrinkle stuff. But when you boil it down its really pretty basic. It's very easy to teach and extremely easy to learn."
The battle between Bernard Jackson, Brian White and James Cox for Colorado's starting quarterback slot is expected to stretch through the summer. Cox missed most of the spring with a hand injury, so Jackson and White received most of the spring snaps. "We aren't pushing it and will worry about that when we get to the fall," Hawkins said. "It was kind of a two-horse race, but James Cox didn't get a lot of reps. Hopefully, James will be a factor in that when we go in the fall." Junior T Tyler Polumbus and senior G Jack Tipton both are expected to be ready to go during the fall after missing much of spring practice with injuries. Hawkins' new spread offense will be a marked contrast from former coach Gary Barnett's ground-based attack. "People have asked us to try to put a term on our offense," Hawkins said. "I don't what it is. I call it 'Just Score.' I don't think we are so confident in a certain set of rules that we can't do things to accentuate guys' abilities." Colorado players enjoyed some of the wrinkles of Hawkins' early practices. Among the highlights included a competitive belly slide to determine post-practice sprints, a golf chipping contest between the offense and defense and a seven-on-seven passing drill featuring offensive and defensive linemen in pass catching and secondary roles. "That's schoolyard ball -- that's fun," Hawkins told the Rocky Mountain News. "I love throwing them a little curveball, make it exciting, make it fun."
Senior MLB Matt Robertson's career is over at Iowa State after he tested positive for a banned nutritional substance. "We will sure miss him, but he put himself in this position and took responsibility for it," ISU coach Dan McCarney said of his leading 2005 tackler. "His career at Iowa State is over." The Cyclones' projected starting linebackers trio of Tyrone McKenzie, Adam Carper and Alvin Bowen has turned heads in spring practice. Their speed might be the best of any linebacking unit in McCarney's 11-season tenure at Iowa State. Despite missing nine starters from last season, McCarney was "pleasantly surprised" by the development of his young defensive unit. "Clearly, our defense had an edge in a lot of our scrimmages," McCarney said. "It was something very positive and gives us hope we can build on it." The ISU coach's first chore after the end of spring practice was to interview 100 players during a three-day period to gauge their personal development. "I'll have a good heart-to-heart with them about their strengths and weaknesses as we head into the fall," McCarney said. Two-year starting QB Bret Meyer's experience has helped ISU's confidence this spring. "It makes a big difference," McCarney said. "There's a confidence and calmness that guy leading us has. He's been there and done so many positive things. Bret leads that offense with so much passion and is never satisfied. Yet, he knows there are so many challenges ahead of us." One of the spring's biggest surprises has been the emergence of S James Smith, an undersized redshirt freshman who turned heads throughout the spring with his playmaking abilities. "I know he isn't as tall as you want safeties, but he's just a football player," McCarney said about Smith, who received one Division I offer coming out of Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "He made the best defensive play in the spring game with an interception, he's one of the best tacklers on our team and we're fortunate to have him. I love him and think he has a bright future."
Redshirt freshman QB Kerry Meier appears to have earned the starting job heading into the fall. Meier was the most impressive of Kansas' quarterbacks in the spring, capping his work by passing for 184 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. "He's a very talented young man and has the intangibles that go with that position," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "He's still a young guy -- he's a redshirt freshman who has never taken a snap in a college football game before -- but I'm pretty confident he will learn as he goes in a lot of areas. He'll be fine and be a heck of a player for us." Unlike many coaches, Mangino thought it was more important to designate a starter at quarterback rather than create artificial competition that would have stretched through the summer. "We've had plenty of competition over the years at quarterback," Mangino said. "But if there is a clear-cut leader, you make the choice so that one player takes all the reps in practice with your No. 1 unit and gets some continuity. Kerry won the job outright during the spring and he earned it. We're ready to have a cohesive No. 1 unit work together through the spring." Kansas has made two bowl trips in the last three seasons, including a 42-13 victory over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl that was the Jayhawks' first bowl victory in nearly 10 years and the largest bowl victory margin in the school's 116-season football history. "There's no question we've made big strides in our program," Mangino said. "We're light years from where we were in 2002, (when he was hired) there's no question about that. We've been able to recruit kids who can replace our veterans, but we're not holding it together with spit and putty. We have some solid players stepping up for the players who have graduated."
The Wildcats' five-headed quarterback race showed no real separation in the spring game. Four of the five contenders -- seniors Allen Webb and Dylan Meier, sophomore Allan Evridge and heralded true freshman Josh Freeman -- all accounted for touchdown passes as the White beat the Purple, 21-14, before a school-record crowd of 31,875 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Lopina struggled, with a sack in the red zone followed by an interception on the next play and a botched exchange. The tight ends were featured in the scrimmage as Donald Raymer and Rashaad Norwood both snagged TD receptions. The KSU defense showed increased opportunism with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the scrimmage. New KSU coach Ron Prince is proving more publicity-savvy than his predecessor, Snyder. Prince has opened some practices for the media and fans and even served as a guest analyst on the KSU radio network broadcast of the spring game. "I haven't done much color commentary," said Prince, who was rarely interviewed at Virginia because his former boss Al Groh forbids his assistants from being interviewed. "But I go to a Holiday Inn Express, so I'll have a chance." Prince started with a fresh slate with each player in his program before spring practice. "We've tried to assess individual talent and find where they fit the best in our system. We haven't taken too much time to look at where they played in the past. We want everybody on the team to feel they can compete for playing time. We just tried to start fresh and have some competitive tension." Sorting through the five quarterbacks has been the biggest challenge of the spring. Webb, Meier, Evridge, Lopina and Freeman all had their moments. "All of them are talented, they can throw the ball and have mobility," Prince said. "They can all make throws. But there's a level of degrees and an offense has to have all of those components. We just want to see which one can lead the best."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was pleased with his team's development during the spring. "You always have questions you want answered, but we felt like we got a lot of those answered," Pinkel said. "We're very pleased with our efforts and attitude of our football team. Now, we need to focus on the process." Sophomore-to-be QB Chase Daniel has emerged as Missouri's likely starter for the Tigers' Sept. 2 opener against Murray State. "Coming out of the spring, he's clearly No. 1," Pinkel said. "Chase is a very confident quarterback, he loves to play, is a heck of a competitor and you can just see his skill level rise. We're pleased with his progress, but he can get better." With RB Tony Temple missing all of spring practice after shoulder surgery and RB Marcus Woods hobbling at the end of the spring with a sprained ankle, redshirt sophomore RB Jimmy Jackson and redshirt sophomore Earl Goldsmith emerged as key contributors. "We're very young there and I think they are all very similar athletes and very talented," Pinkel said. "There will be a lot of competition there in August. We're pleased with maturity at that position." Despite the loss of record-setting QB Brad Smith from last season's team, Pinkel is pleased with his team's spring growth. "At quarterback, we'll be fine," Pinkel said. "We had 17 starters back from our bowl team. We just wanted to have our starters to have a better spring than what they were a year before." Pinkel's biggest concerns after spring practice are developing depth in the secondary and along the offensive line. "I think we have more players in position to play, we just have areas where we have to sort things out," Pinkel said. "I felt like we made some progress."
Eighty recruits from 16 different states turned out to watch the Cornhuskers' spring game. "It was a great day and great way to conclude the spring," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. The competition between I-backs Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn is expected to stretch through fall practice. "We're very pleased with where we are at," Callahan said. "We made some real commitments to improving our running game this spring in how we contacted and scrimmaged more than any of our years. We're becoming more physical, but we still need more work." Backup QB Harrison Beck missed work at the end of spring practice with a knee injury. An MRI after spring practice came back negative and Callahan isn't worried that Beck's late absences will be a setback. "I think he missed six practices and I feel confident he'll make that up in a heartbeat when we get to training camp," Callahan said. "I still have confidence he will come through for us." QB Zac Taylor's development has been one of the most impressive aspects of the spring, Callahan said. "I think continuity is huge at that position," Callahan said. "Whenever you can bring back a guy at that position just provides you with a little more stability. Zac has done a tremendous job and we were able to do more things with him this spring. Every day he came in here, he was wide-eyed, energetic and wanted to do all he could do. He's challenged every day by the system and we couldn't have a better leader this fall."
A young offensive line was Oklahoma's biggest concern going into the spring. Coach Bob Stoops felt better about the four new starters after the practices ended. "We had four guys out with injuries, but the guys who got work have a chance to be really good," Stoops said. "They got a ton of work and got a lot of experience. It was like they got two springs in one. There's still a ways to go, but they did a solid job in the spring and back during the winter in how they've worked." After P Cody Freeby was kicked off the team earlier in the spring, Mike Knall and Garrett Hartley received most of the work at the position during the rest of spring. "We'll also see if anybody is free (at the position) in the spring," Stoops said. The Sooners' biggest strength coming out of spring practice is the defense. OU returns eight starters, along with key contributors DE Larry Birdine and DE John Williams who were hampered by season-ending injuries last season. "I think we have a chance to be really a special defense if we keep working the way we have," Stoops said. "We are so much further along in our understanding of the concepts. And I like the techniques and the way we are playing up front." The return of Birdine and Williams has enabled the Sooners to experiment with using DE C.J. Ah You inside as a tackle during some pass-rushing situations. S-turned-CB Reggie Smith was singled out for his development at his new position. "Reggie's just been exceptional," Stoops said. "He's such a bright, smart player with great anticipation. He's a big corner with great change of direction and ball skills and all that showed up. He looked awesome out there."
QB Bobby Reid showed flashes at Oklahoma State's annual Orange-White scrimmage, passing for 248 yards and three touchdowns. But Reid was victimized by two interceptions in the scrimmage that saw the Orange (starters) outscore the White (reserves), 38-6. "He had another good day, but he had some mistakes," OSU offensive coordinator Larry Fedora told the Daily Oklahoman. "There were some bad decisions and we'll work from it." WR Anthony Parks was among the standouts, grabbing three passes for 81 yards, including a scintillating 64-yard TD reception. The Orange defense allowed only 117 yards, including 1 yard in the second half. DBs Martel Van Zant and Jacob Lacey each scored touchdowns on interception returns. And DT Ryan McBean had five tackles, including four for losses and two sacks. Reid has emerged as the likely starter after a close early battle with Zac Robinson for playing time this spring. "He's running the football better," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "After Bobby was injured last year, he wasn't the same player when he was running the football. He needs to make plays running the football to benefit our offense. He's making better decisions and is more confident this spring and there's a dramatic difference now than last year." Gundy flatly predicts the Cowboys will be much improved than last season, when they finished 4-7 for their worst record since 2000. "We're a better football team than we were last year," Gundy said. "We have more skill players who can make plays. Our defensive linemen are much better and there are advantages on both sides of the ball. We're in a system for two years now and we're much better physically than we were at the end last year." Opponents outscored the Cowboys by 122 points last season, the biggest margin since an 0-10-1 record under Pat Jones in 1991. Those disappointments were difficult for Gundy to come to grips with during his first season as a head coach. "I'm a very competitive person like most in this profession," Gundy said. The Cowboys struggled in a 3-0 start last season, sputtering despite a weak opening schedule that featured games against Montana State, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State. Gundy has placed special emphasis on a strong start in 2006 against a schedule that will be noticeably tougher with nonconference games at Houston and against Arkansas at Little Rock. "If you look back at last year, we won our three nonconference games, but just by a little bit," Gundy said. "It doesn't matter who you've played, you still want to play well and feel like a better football team after you've played those. We didn't have that luxury because we were limited. We need to play better this year."
Any concerns about a hangover after his team's national championship didn't materialize this spring for Texas coach Mack Brown. "Our guys did not come out of the national championship game complacent," Brown said. "They were up every morning at 6 a.m. They went right back to work, as well as our coaches. We had an outstanding offseason program. We had our toughest, most physical spring and more competition as guys worked hard to try to continue to do what we've been doing." The Longhorns sustained no injuries in the spring that should keep a player from competing in the fall, Brown said. Both freshman QB Colt McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead will receive a long look during fall practice. "Right now, we would plan to play both of them in the fall unless somebody separates themselves for any number of reasons from the start of the fall," Brown said. "We feel like we need both of them because we don't have any experience at quarterback. One may struggle and another one could get hurt, so we have to prepare both to play." Lyle Sendlein (center and guard) and Justin Blalock (tackle and guard) are versatile enough to play two positions and likely will do that during the fall, Brown said. "That gives us a lot of flexibility with the younger guys who can play one spot on one side," said Brown, who considers both players among the best offensive linemen in the country. TB Selvin Young had a strong spring, picking up where he left off after averaging 8.7 yards per carry in Texas' Big 12 championship game victory over Colorado and Rose Bowl triumph over USC. "Selvin had a great spring," Brown said. "He seems to have lost some weight and got his confidence back. He played in the spring like he finished the season." But Texas coaches still expect a rotation among Jamaal Charles, Ramonce Taylor, Henry Melton and Young at the position. "We feel like we'll use them very similar to what we did last year," Brown said. "You can never have too many running backs. Two years ago, Selvin got hurt and we looked up and Cedric Benson was the only running back ready to play. But we feel good that we have quality depth at the position."
Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione was enthused with his team's development during the spring, particularly on defense as the Aggies learned new defensive coordinator Gary Darnell's 4-2-5 alignment. "We had a good spring," Franchione said. "It was an installment spring with three new coaches and a new scheme. I was impressed with the amount we were able to get done. It was probably more than I realistically expected." The A&M defense emerged in the final practices. "The first four or five days, I was a little concerned about them because they were playing slow a little tentative," Franchione said. "But then, like a light switch, it came on and everything started to speed up. We're not where we want to get to with fall camp, but it was pleasing to see how far we did get in 15 days." One of the spring's biggest surprises was LB Mark Dodge, a 25-year-old transfer from Feather River (Calif.) Community College who is returning to school after serving in the military. Among his stints was at the Pentagon on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "He's a unique individual," Franchione said. "He committed to us last summer and part of the appeal was the tradition of this school and the corps of cadets. He's developed a deep love for A&M in a short amount of time." QB Stephen McGee has taken the clear lead at the position, in front of back-ups Ty Branyon and Jamie McCoy. "Stephen had an outstanding spring practice," Franchione said. "This is his team in a lot of ways. He may be only a sophomore in terms of his class, but he's much older in his leadership ability. He's a great worker and committed young man. We feel like we have experience at the position heading into the fall." Franchione was pleased with the development of both Branyon and McCoy during the spring. "Ty is a steady guy who can back up Stephen and Jamie is a young colt with tons of ability, he just needs more time," Franchione said.
While the quarterback battle between Chris Todd and Graham Harrell got most of the public notice this spring, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said the competition to replace Taurean Henderson at tailback was just as intense. Leach said that Kobey Lewis, Pete Richardson and Shannon Woods are "neck and neck" after spring practice concluded. "I think they are all very close," Leach said. "They all do different things well. The odds are that the one who blocks the best will be the one who plays the most." Todd has emerged in a surprisingly close race against projected starter Harrell to replace Cody Hodges at quarterback. "He did a good job of taking command," Leach said of Todd, who threw for 10,768 yards and 120 touchdown passes at Elizabethtown, Ky., in high school. "I've had a number of guys who look good in practice, but the first time they go out in a scrimmage it's a disaster. But Chris looked real sharp in all the scrimmages. He's a very composed guy."
Tech's defense seemed to have the upper hand in the spring game, limiting the offense to three points through three quarters and notching six sacks in the situational scrimmage. But Leach said that he takes that effort with a grain of salt. "Our recent spring games have been like that," Leach said. "I thought it was a productive scrimmage, but I deal with it as just one of three scrimmages. A lot of people talk about a spring game as if it was a huge milestone, but I don't view as anything but just another scrimmage." Tech's biggest hole on defense is at safety, where starters Dwayne Slay and Vincent Meeks are gone from last year. Junior Joe Garcia and sophomores Darcel McBath, Anthony Hines and Lance Fuller all bring different qualities to the defense. "We've got some good bodies and good people to select from," Leach said. "All four did some good things for us. I think we've got a pretty good combination in them."
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.