Here we stand, ladies and gents, one day before the start of the most important Spring Training in the history of Baylor football as the Bears try to build on the second 10-win season in program history and recover from the loss of its first Heisman Trophy winner ever, QB Robert Griffin III. To prepare for spring practices, which begin tomorrow and run through to a controlled scrimmage on April 14, I though I would break things up into offense and defense and look at the biggest questions facing each unit. I'll lead off with the offense this afternoon before hitting the defense
tonight tomorrow, and we'll keep it to five questions each for the sake of brevity (HA!). If you think I missed something, please feel free to add it in the comments below.
At least one other website that covers Baylor Athletics beat me to the punch today and I wanted to recognize their excellent work; Jake Shaw of Baylor's Rivals.com page penned a position-by-position analysis this morning that is available to subscribers. I suggest you take a look even though I don't agree with everything he said.
The easiest way to do this, it seems to me, is by position groups. Coming off its best season in recent memory, Baylor will have to numerous key losses on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. RG3 isn't the only impact player Baylor will lose to the Draft from its top-ranked offense this past year; RB Terrance Ganaway, WR Kendall Wright, and C Philip Blake will join him in having their names called this coming April. Baylor also loses 2-year starter at RG Robert T. Griffin. Removing their names from Baylor's depth chart leaves an arrangement that probably looks somewhat like the depth chart going into the Spring with one key caveat: that chart did not include any of the redshirted freshmen. Several of those players could play big roles for Baylor this year.
Let's take a look at that depth chart and the five biggest questions for Baylor's offense going into Spring Training 2012 below the jump!
Taking out the graduating seniors and players leaving early for the NFL from Baylor's offensive depth chart leaves the Bears with these players coming back (all classifications are for 2012):
TE: Jordan Najvar (JR) or Jerod Monk (SR)
IR: Tevin Reese (JR)
Before we get to who will fill in the blanks, I think it's safe to assume that the starters from 2011 will likely start in 2012 barring injury or someone absolutely blowing up (which we may see on defense once the incoming freshmen for 2012 arrive). For now, we will assume that is the case:
Five Questions for the Baylor Offense:
1. Who plays QB?
I thought about entitling this section "Who replaces RG3?" before stopping myself. The answer to that question is "no one." Baylor fans, myself included, have got to get beyond the mindset of trying to replace or duplicate RG3's production in our offense. He played it like a finely-tuned fiddle and his unqiue blend of athletic and decision-making ability is something we may never see again.
That being said, offenses typically don't function without a QB running them, so we will have to man the position somehow. The common assumption as we head into spring training is that the leader in the clubhouse is SR Nick Florence, who started 7 games in 2009 after RG3 was injured and lit Texas Tech's defense on fire with his burning redshirt this year. Florence is the logical choice given that he knows the system extremely well and has the physical tools to run it at a high level. Recently, however, there has been significant message board chatter (take that for what it's worth) that the choice may not be so clear-cut and that RS-So Bryce Petty may eventually win. If that happens, I think it will be more a sign of where Petty is than Florence, and I will be extremely excited to see Petty in action given his limited experience so far. I don't expect it for that very reason: experience, so I will predict that Nick Florence starts against the SMU Mustangs on September 1, 2012.
2. Is this the year Salubi establishes himself?
I've talked about it ad nauseum around here before, but one of the biggest surprises, if not the single biggest surprise, to me about the 2011 season was the incredible performance by RB Terrance Ganaway, who, in his first year starting for the Bears, went on to set just about every major single-season record for a Baylor running back. Most observers that I read before the season expected then-JR Jarred Salubi to get the majority of carries for the Bears given his scatback style. Some even suggested that SR Isaac Williams might even work into the mix (he didn't). By the end of the season, however, this was Ganaway's offense and RS-So Glasco Martin and Salubi were basically splitting carries behind him. With former-5* RB Lache Seastrunk (who will be a RS-So in 2012) becoming eligible this coming season, Baylor could be primed for a vicious three-way battle for the starting spot in Briles' offense this coming season. Nothing will help whoever answers Question 1 above more than having a strong running game, and I expect the Bears to emphasize that part of the offense this season to help take pressure off Florence or Petty.
I also expect that, because of their advantages in size and speed, respectively, Martin and Seastrunk will emerge as the primary backs for Baylor's 2012 offense and will be asked to do different things. With his sub-4.4 speed, Seastrunk will be most dangerous if/when he can get to the edges, while Martin's size (6-1, 215 by some accounts) should give him the ability to work more effectively inside. If Seastrunk can or already has been convinced to work inside the tackles as well as he did outside in high school, watch out. Baylor may have its best overall group of RBs ever, even after losing the workhorse Ganaway.
3. Who will be the next Baylor center to go in the NFL Draft?
Assuming that Philip Blake follows in the footsteps of his predecessor J.D. Walton and is drafted in April, which seems a safe assumption at this point, Baylor's last two starters at the center position will have been drafted to play in the NFL. While great for the program from a recruiting standpoint-- can any other school in the country claim consecutive center draftees?-- having such an important position unfilled (the center typically calls out the defensive alignment and changes blocking schemes if asked to do so at the line) is a bit scary for a unit that played so well in 2011.
Thus far, however, Coach Briles has shown zero hesitancy to move starters at other spots on the line into this position. He did it with Blake, who moved from guard, and I think he'll do it again in 2012. Jake Shaw of Rivals disagrees in the article I linked above; he has JR Stefan Huber moving into that role and all of our current starters remaining where they are. I'm not seeing that.
The guy I see as our 2012 starter at C now leads the entire team in both consecutive and overall starts (33 counting the Alamo Bowl) and will be entering his senior season. I'm talking about Ivory Wade, Baylor's 2011 starting RT. I don't have a really good reason to believe he will move other than that he is our most experienced lineman by far, he has prototypical size for the position, and he is probably our "best" lineman at this point based on what I've heard. We also have several good, young tackles who might break in to the starting lineup this season, which leads me to...
4. How does the rest of the OL stack up?
There is probably no better example of how far Baylor has come in recruiting and player development recently than on the offensive line, which has improved from being, at best, humiliating when I was in school in the early 2000s to probably being one of the absolute best in the country in 2011. In addition to our success at center, Baylor has developed good guards and excellent tackles. That we have had so much success in the running game in our offense is testament to that fact.
Assuming that Wade moves as I predict he will and the other starters remain the same, that leaves Baylor with the OL covered completely on the left side but uncovered completely on the right. If Wade doesn't move to C, I could definitely see him staying on the right side but sliding in to guard, leaving C for Huber as mentioned above or going to SR Jake Jackson. Jackson and JR Jeramie Roberts could also be options at RG, but there's a mammoth freshman in my sights that I think will end up there eventually: the 6-6 345 pound Laquan McGowan from Lubbock, TX. Of all of Baylor's young OL, McGowan might intrigue me the most because of his size and brute strength. He is raw enough, though, that expecting him to start as a RS-Fr might be too much. If Baylor wanted to balance the right and left sides experience-wise, it could move Kaufhold to RG and install McGowan at LG with Richardson.
The other remaining hole is at RT, which with a right-handed QB is an ideal position to break in a young tackle. Baylor is lucky enough to be flush with options for that spot ranging from RS-Freshmen Pat Colbert and Spencer Drango to RS-Sophomores Troy Baker and Luke Burleson. Drango, my personal favorite, was by far the most highly-recruited of the bunch and it wouldn't surprise me at all, given Briles' comments about him when he signed, to see him grab a starting position by the horns.
If that were to happen and Baylor goes as I, in my vast uneducated wisdom, think they should, Baylor's OL would look like this L-R: JR Richardson (6-5, 330), RS-Fr McGowan (6-7, 345), SR Wade (6-4, 330), SR Kaufhold (6-4, 315), RS-Fr Drango (6-6, 300). Of course, like I said, I am largely guessing. If you have any inside information (I'm looking at you, Thermhere) please let me know!
5. Which untested WR steps up next?
Baylor is actually pretty well set going into 2012 at the WR position, both inside and outside, but given Art Briles' love for 4-wide sets and how much our offense rotates its receivers, the chance for a heretofore untested WR to step up will definitely come in 2012. I have two candidates in mind that I think could make the jump: RS-So Antwan Goodley and RS-Fr Jay Lee. Like Glasco and Lache, each brings something different to the table. At 5-10, 215, Goodley, who ended the season as the starting kick returner for the Bears, is more of an inside receiver while Lee, who goes 6-2, 205, is built more for the outside. That could mean that both have the opportunity, Goodley inside with incumbent Tevin Reese and Lee outside with Williams and Sampson, to make a big impact. True freshman Corey Coleman, or Kendall Wright 2.0 as I see him, will also probably work into the mix at Wright's old position if he isn't redshirted.
What do you think, Baylor fans? What are you hoping to see from Baylor's offense in Spring Training this year?