Today we mark the return of ODB's Position Preview series, a look at each of the major position groups on the field this season for Baylor Football in terms of roster space, depth, and talent. The purpose here is to try to give a little back story behind how each player came to Baylor, put their expectations for playing time in perspective, and maybe get a look at the future of the program through the lens of the present.
The first position we'll look at this time around is again that of the quarterback, a position so important that these players are often blamed for things over which they have absolutely no control, such as the play of their defense. Last year, we said that Baylor was extremely fortunate going into the season just to know who its starting QB would be; this year, we're even more so that ours distinguished himself enough last season to finish 7th in the Heisman voting and earn front-runner status (among a few others, granted) for this year's Trophy. There's no doubt, barring injury, who will be calling the shots for Baylor this season. Beyond that, however, it seems to be anybody's game.
This year, like last year, Baylor has five QBs on its roster. Four of the names should be recognizable from last year's Position Preview at this position. The fifth, that of Mr. Dunn, is new, as he takes over the freshman QB spot and #19 jersey from the departed walkon Cole Edmiston. Baylor did not take a scholarship QB in the 2014 recruiting class, so Dunn is the only true freshman QB on the roster. Starting with the starter, Mr. Bryce Petty:
QB Bryce Petty -- SR -- #14 -- 6-3, 230 pounds
A year ago, in the midst of his ascendancy to the starter's role, I chronicled how Bryce Petty initially came to Baylor in January of 2010. Five springs later (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014), he's now the undisputed starter for Art Briles and master of the Baylor offensive domain. Faced with what some might call ridiculous expectations last fall -- Briles famously stated that he expected Petty to "break every Baylor record there is offensively" -- Petty threw down a season for the ages, amassing over 4400 total yards and a combined 46 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. His overall passer rating came in at 174.3, good enough for second in all of CFB behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston and just ahead of Aggie savior Johnny Manziel. Along the way, he also won 11 games and brought home Baylor's first Big 12 Championship in football.
Even in the face of all that, it still seemed like, when the season ended, Petty had left something on the table. Amidst unconfirmed reports that Petty played through persistent ankle issues from an injury suffered against Oklahoma and definitely feeling the combined effects of injuries to LT Spencer Drango and WR Tevin Reese, the offense as a whole suffered, especially in games in Stillwater against Oklahoma State and Fort Worth against TCU. Whether it was due to the aforementioned injuries, the defenses faced simply getting better, or some combination of the two, something happened in and after the Oklahoma game. Per Sports-Reference, Bryce's monthly splits:
As you can see, Bryce simply wasn't the same QB in November, December, and the Fiesta Bowl (a period that encompassed wins against OU, Tech, TCU, and Texas and losses against OSU and UCF) that he was previously. Most of his troubles, it appears, came from a vast dropoff in completion percentage. Where before the OU game he completed 69.3% of his passes, during and after that game against the Sooners, he completed just 56.4%.
Depending on your preferences, you can view this a couple of different ways. You could, on the one hand, argue that without Drango to protect his blind side and Reese to run down his bombs, Petty was somewhat exposed in Big 12 play as a first-year starter. On the other, he was, in fact, a first-year starter, and still managed to put up numbers for which just about any team in the country save Florida State would probably trade. To those preaching doom and gloom based on the above, I'd respond that where they see a player struggling (relative to his own earlier performance) against better defenses, I see tremendous room for improvement. That's why, when people ask me how Petty could possibly better his 2013 performance, I find it easy to say that not only he can, I expect that he will. Replicating a historically low INT% might be difficult, but Petty could easily throw for more yardage and TDs and complete a higher percentage of his passes, especially if his work this offseason with George Whitfield pays off. Last season, Petty (and the offense through him) became over-reliant on the long ball as a way to gain yards. That's probably why, when Reese went down, so did his completion percentages. Without those long hits down the field, a critical element of our offense, OSU and TCU were able to lock down the running game, preventing us from gaining momentum. If Petty's focus this offseason on pocket presence and intermediate routes shows dividends on what I'd call more difficult passes, even adding a handful of interceptions to his total from last year, Petty could emerge a stronger, more efficient QB overall and the Baylor offense even more potent.
Andrew Frerking -- JR -- #6 -- 6-4, 200 pounds
Unfortunately, despite getting to rush the ball twice for three yards, we didn't get a chance to see Frerking's arm in his sophomore year-- a measure of mercy, I'm sure, from a man in Art Briles that we've come to know as a ruthless hoarder of points. This year, it seems Frerking is destined to run the third team offense behind whichever of the next two players doesn't win the backup spot. Still a heck of a lot closer than I ever got to the field for Baylor, to be sure.
Seth Russell -- SO -- #17 -- 6-3, 215 pounds
I'm going to level with you for a second: I don't know which of Seth Russell or Chris Johnson is going to be Petty's primary backup this season. It may be neither. I put Russell first between the two because of seniority, as well as the fact that he did the job last year while Johnson redshirted. My guess, and it is purely a guess, is that Russell will do so again this season due to familiarity with the system and his athletic gifts. If it helps, he was listed as the backup in the post-spring depth charts.
Speaking of last year, in his first post-redshirt season, the freshman from Garland appeared in 7 games for the Bears, all in so-called garbage time at the helm of the second team offense. In those games, he threw for 427 yards, 3 TDs, and 3 INTs on 26/43 passing. He also had a couple of rather ignominious fumbles resulting from carelessness in tucking the ball away, but we don't need to talk about that.
With Seth, the key to his development will likely always be decision-making. In his limited action last season, we saw both incredible arm strength (just one example) and the kind of athleticism that makes you stop in your tracks, especially if you play defense for Iowa State. We knew from the fact that Briles recruited him to play QB that he had all the tools needed to run this offense, the question is whether he will develop enough to hold off Johnson in the future and seize the reins in 2015 after Petty graduates. Should be quite a battle between those two in practice this fall and next spring. We haven't had one of those in a while.
Chris Johnson -- RS-FR -- #13 -- 6-5, 220 pounds
Unless you've been to the spring game each of the last two years or attended practice somewhere along the line, chances are you haven't gotten to see much of the other half of Baylor's potential backup QB race. As I mentioned last year, Johnson is an intriguing QB prospect for a number of reasons, not least of which is that, though he's just now entering his second season on the team, he's already been through 2 spring practices. Johnson, Robert Griffin III before him and Chad President after, enrolled at Baylor in January of what should have been his senior year in high school, giving him the opportunity to practice with the team a semester early. It's the new trend for top-flight QB recruits that want to play early, and it may end up paying off for Johnson if he can grab the backup spot this year.
As far as how he might fare in that competition, I don't know much. When I saw him in this year's spring game, he was every bit the extremely lanky freshman with the cannon arm that he had been billed to be. He didn't get to do a lot at the helm of the third offense, going just 3-6 for 21 yards according to the scrimmage notes, but he didn't look all that ready to do a lot, either. It's possible that he's developed enough in the last four months physically and as a passer to challenge for the backup spot behind Petty, but my guess is still that Russell gets the lion's share of reps there and the real competition takes place next spring. I don't mean that to downplay his skills at all or suggest that he won't be a player at some point, it's just that with Petty (definitely) and Russell (presumably) above him right now, he probably won't get the chance to show what he can do in real games. Unless he does and makes me look like a fool. That's happened before with others, to be sure.
Devon Dunn -- FR -- #19 -- 5-10, 195 pounds
I'm going to disappoint at least a couple of folks around these parts by saying that I don't know much about our newest freshman walkon QB. I honestly don't even know if he's redshirted previously or not -- the official roster from BaylorBears.com lists him as a true freshman, but I've seen at least one other elsewhere that says he was here last season.* Regardless, before he came to Baylor, he apparently went to Bishop Alemany HS in Santa Clarita, California and played quite well, but did not receive any scholarship offers coming out of high school (that I can find).
*This is, apparently, because he greyshirted. That would make sense considering he graduated high school in 2013, not 2014.
This is probably one of those situations where people will wonder about a player that, without any offense intended to him, probably doesn't matter in the greater scheme of things. Though he seems like a decent approximation of a scout team Manziel, should you need one, there are at least 3 guys ahead of him at this point and probably more in the future. Still, take a look at his Youtube highlights and let me know what you think in the comments.
Another Worth Mentioning:
This past spring, we noted a track signee from Eureka, California named Alexis Robinson that planned, as of that time, to walk on to the football team. I have no new information on that front other than to say he follows ODB on twitter. I assume he still plans on joining the football team at some point, but he's not on the roster as of this moment. We'll keep an eye out for him, and in the meantime, you can view his HUDL videos at the link above.
As I mentioned above, Baylor is in an extremely fortunate position to have a clear-cut starting QB of Heisman caliber returning for his fifth year in the program. That's about as good as it gets, QB-wise, in college football. A year after taking over in a period of uncertainty, Petty is now the anointed one upon whom all rests, and there is no question that Baylor will go as far as his development takes us. Behind him, the situation is a bit murkier, and we may have a real battle on our hands to see who gets to be the next man up.