Meet The Bears Notes
I made the trip down to Waco yesterday to attend Meet the Bears, and I was thoroughly impressed. I missed last year's event, but the stands at the practice fields were completely packed, with fans standing several rows deep off to the sides and cramming the indoor practice facility afterwards for autographs. I was lucky enough to meet the fine fellow behind DarthBear, as well as Pagitt and her tiny human. It was an awesome day, and I took some notes on practice and the proceeding autograph session. I'm no scout, but here are my observations:
- I don't know how we keep KD Cannon off the field this season. He lacks the size and strength of Robbie Rhodes, but it's pointless to compare the two. Cannon is a much more mature football player at this point in his development; his routes are crisp, he demonstrates his knowledge of the offense on every down, and his combination of speed and agility will make him a nightmarish mismatch against any safety, nickelback, or linebacker. He's going to be a star, folks.
- All of the new receivers could play immediately, but Baylor has the luxury of depth at the position. Davion Hall and Ishmael Zamora look like grown men. Zamora is probably more physically mature, but Hall is a lithe and natural athlete. Ideally these guys redshirt, but Hall got reps with the first team and would be ready if needed.
- Tre'von Armstead has hands. He's still settling into his role as a tight end, but he caught pretty much everything that came his way. He's already a better blocker than Jordan Najvar due to his experience on the offensive line, and he'll be a utility player in the same vein as Oklahoma's Trey Millard if we utilize him correctly.
- It's hard to get a read on the offensive line right now, since players weren't in full pads. I think LT (Drango), C (Fuller), RG (Hilliard) and RT (Baker) are pretty much set. The most obvious battle, as has been mentioned many times, is at left guard and is between LaQuan McGowan and Blake Muir. My fear with McGowan is that while his mass is perfect in the run game, he is susceptible to athletic rushers. At one point yesterday, Shawn Oakman beat McGowan for a sack. Muir sacrifices size for balance, and I have no idea who will get the start on opening day.
- After seeing them in person, the defensive secondary went from being my biggest question mark to one of my primary reasons for excitement. The new guys in the backfield trade out experience for superior talent, and it shows in camp. Xavien Howard is extremely physical. He's able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and fight for the ball as a result of his height. Singleton is a freak athlete; a bit raw, but with plenty of talent. The only way to mold him into what we want is to let him see real playing time, and Baylor's non-conference schedule will do just that.
- Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt should be fine. Stewart was beaten over the top twice by Cannon, but I didn't see him blow any other assignments. Burt had a very nice interception on Bryce Petty in the first half of practice that had fans cheering and chuckling.
- Chance Waz has a lot of upside. I didn't realize that Xavien Howard had adopted the number four, so when I saw Waz getting reps in the 18 jersey, I held him to Howard's standards and wasn't too disappointed. He needs time with Kaz, but he'll be a role player one day.
- I'm pleased by Seth Russell's progress since the spring. In 7-on-7 drills, he was more focused than he was in the spring, and his passes seemed to have a lot more force and accuracy. I can see why Zach Smith was so impressed with him at the first practice. Chris Johnson towers over Russell and Petty, but aside from having a good arm I don't know what to expect from him.
- Collin Brence is the smartest man on the defense. The senior walk-on always makes the right decisions, but was limited somewhat by his lack of athleticism compared to Baylor's premiere receivers. Brence has a lot in common with Sam Holl in that regard. I think he'll be great in run support and should have no trouble countering tight ends.
- All four scholarship running backs ran with the first offense, and all four caught passes out of the backfield. Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson are obvious candidates if Baylor is going to utilize backs in the passing game. One of Bryce Petty's biggest problems last year was his inability to check out to his backs when he didn't have a downfield option. Chafin could also be a terror in the screen game.
- This is Bryce Petty's football team. If he wasn't actively involved in a drill, he was huddled up with his teammates discussing ways to improve. He's really taken the younger skill players under his wing. I saw him have several conversations with Zamora and Hall between snaps, and he's already developed a great rapport with Cannon.
Autograph Session Notes
There's no news here that's relevant to the team's on-field performance. I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to several Baylor athletes yesterday, and I compiled all of my thoughts here. Read this section if you want to feel good and gain some insight into our players' behavior.
- Bryce Petty had his own autograph line. His table was set up in one endzone of the Allison Indoor Practice Facility. The line stretched to the far end of the field, then folded in on itself three times. Petty stayed for hours and met every single fan that waited to see him. He took pictures, talked to little kids for minutes at a time, and never stopped smiling for a second. He didn't have to stay past two, but he did, and he won the heart of every fan there.
- Art Briles is just as conversational at teams events as he is at his own book signings. When I reached the front of his line, he shook my hands, complimented my helmet, and stopped halfway through writing his name to ask me about my studies and where I went to high school (upon hearing the latter, he grinned and dropped the name of our coach). I know that Art Briles won't remember me out of that sea of faces, but it's impossible to not respect the way he tries to get to know everyone he meets.
- The offensive linemen are the most personable position group. They were constantly chuckling about something or other, and Jason Osei is one of the most jovial people I've ever met. McGowan is the love child of Gregor Clegane and Lil Terio.
- Some of these guys just care. Shock Linwood, Terence Williams, and Orion (oh-RYE-unn) Stewart stuck around for ages just making conversation with fans and tossing footballs around with the kids.
- I mentioned to Quan Jones that he singlehandedly knocked my high school out of the playoffs in 2012. He couldn't believe that I'd been at the game and we spent a moment laughing about what a crazy game it was. It was possibly my favorite player interaction of the day.
- The young guys love it when fans know who they are and call them by name. I elicited huge smiles when I greeted Ishmael Zamora by his first name and told him I was a fan. The new recruits, especially those that come less heralded than the guys like Cannon, really appreciate fans who take the time to read up on them.
Clay Fuller Injury Update
Correction on previous tweet: Briles said he hopes Fuller will be back Iowa State on 9-27 NOT O-State. My fault, guys.— Craig Smoak (@CraigSmoak) August 9, 2014
W/ Fuller loss Briles says they may switch Coleman back to left side. Will also look @ Hawthorne, "KD, Tootie (Hall) and maybe Chris Platt."— Craig Smoak (@CraigSmoak) August 9, 2014
Devin Chafin's frohawk beard laughs at the national media's doubts.