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Big 12 Media Days and 5 Underrated Baylor Players

Aranda shows himself as Baylor’s football sensei

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, Big 12 Football had their “media days” over the past few days, a yearly preamble where each school’s coach and a few of their players are made available to the media at large. In nearly any scenario, most coaches stick to their script of coach speak and you don’t learn much, but media days can be enlightening because the atmosphere becomes more relaxed and you can get some interesting tidbits from both coaches and players.

I was unable to attend this year unfortunately, but thankfully sites like SicEm365 (Smoaky in particular did some great interviews) along with people like Shehan Jeyerajah and Ian Boyd were there to get some good questions in.

Here are some of the best things we learned:

Aranda Continues to Differentiate Himself

Ever since he was hired, Aranda being “different,” “cerebral,” and “introspective” has become a bit of a tired meme. But it’s true — he really is much different than you average high level football coach. One unique thing that Aranda brings to the table is a focus on the individual psychology of his players, and how to maximize their potential given their psychological and physical skillset.

This quote comes from a terrific interview that David Smoak and the guys at SicEm365 did with Aranda:

Aranda Gives Some Info on the QB Race

When addressing the QB battle, Aranda gave specific info for each of the three guys fighting for the starting job. Specifically, he discussed what each of them needs to get better at.

  • Gerry Bohanon — “the drop back passing game, the quick rhthym passing game, things where he has to make reads and go 1-2-3 and get the ball off on time.”
  • Jacob Zeno — “increase his accuracy with the long ball and his leadership with the team, his voice, his assertiveness.”
  • Blake Shapen — “his continued understanding of the offense, the lagnuage, feeling comfortable, his ability to respond when there is adversity and things aren’t going right, to attack that next play with confidence and vigor.”

Given these statements, and Aranda’s statements earlier in the press conference about how the offense will be based on running the ball and taking play action deep shots, I think the best money right now is on Gerry Bohanon winning the starting job. But I don’t think I feel too strongly about that and I don’t know that anyone could — none of the guys really separated themself in the Spring, it’ll be a battle throughout fall camp no doubt.

The Offense’s Identity is Firm

The best thing about this offseason is the clear direction the offense is headed. After a disastrous 2020 offense which was seemingly predicated on nothing and had no cohesion, coach Grimes has brought in his system and the players and coaches both understand it. One of the players at media days for Baylor was Connor Galvin, the starting left tackle, and he demonstrated that the players have a firm grasp of what’s going on.

Ian Boyd has some quotes from Galvin in his article talking about the new Baylor offense here.

Ultimately, I feel very comfortable that Baylor will have a competent running game in 2021, especially if Bohanon is starting and regularly using his legs. The OL will know what they’re doing and they have some very talented running backs. I feel similarly confident that Baylor won’t have a great passing game in 2021 — it just doesn’t seem like they have a guy at QB who is ready to execute a passing game at an elite level right now. But that’s OK, they need to make the best of what they have, which is why Aranda talked about featuring the run and hitting play action passes.

Speaking of Baylor’s good running backs ...

My Underrated Guys Heading into 2021

I did a twitter thread of 5 guys I think are undervalued heading into 2021, I’ll post them here. These are guys that Baylor fans who are really paying attention likely know a lot about but may not be getting a lot of conference-wide attention. So I wouldn’t put a guy like Tyquan Thornton here because I think fans know what he can do.

  1. Abram Smith, RB. Maybe people have heard about the fun project of him making the position switch. I don’t think most realize he’s very likely the leading rusher and up there with the best RBs in conf and even an NFL guy. Abram is a terrific one cut and go runner, which is why he’s back at RB as this was the scheme he was initially recruited to back in 2017. He’s a tough son of a gun and won’t go down easy, all in a big frame which still retains 4.5 speed. The Big 12 is loaded at RB, but I’d bet on him being a 2nd or 3rd team All Big 12 guy at this point. I think he gets drafted.
  2. Sqwirl Williams, RB/toy. I think a lot of average fans remember the brief spurts of Sqwirl b/c of the awesome name. After a nasty ACL tear against Iowa State last year he didn’t play all spring, but he’ll be ready to go this fall. We didn’t get to see him this spring, but I saw enough of the offense to realize that he’s a perfect fit and is going to do some serious damage with a handful of touches per game. Look for him to get a couple of sweeps, run some wide zone, and be targeted in the pass game.
  3. Kalon Barnes, CB. Most fans probably know him as the fastest recruit Baylor has ever signed. He was a project out of tiny Silsbee HS and was brand new to CB. 6-0 corners with his length who can run like him are rare, rare, rare. In the most recent NFL Draft Eric Stokes—a slender, tall CB who is weak in the run game but super fast—ended up sneaking into the late first round after being a two year starter with a great last year. I could see something similar happening for Barnes.
  4. JT Woods, FS. Woods is an absolute athletic freak with speed and acceleration for days in a 6-2 frame. He forced his way into early playing time because he’s so good, but you get the sense (like teammate T. Thornton) that he needed time to get his weight up. He’s around 190-195 now and still plays really fast. He absolutely planted RJ Sneed on his back in a spring practice which was really fun to see. If he stays healthy and continues the improvement that he saw in 2020, he’s on his way to getting drafted.
  5. Ben Sims, TE. Sims was one of the slew of TEs Rhule took early in his tenure and has always had a good amount of potential and high floor. He’s a pretty good athlete with good size. I doubt he becomes capital D Dominant threat or Baylor’s primary option on critical downs, but he’ll be a guy who commands enough attention to where you can’t ignore him. He’ll probably be targeted 4-5 times per game and be a threat in the red zone. I think he’ll be the first Baylor TE in at least a decade who is a reliable passing threat and racks up some stats.