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.
We're starting things off, as we normally do, with the quarterbacks, those all-important maestros of the offensive machine that is Baylor Football. We have four on the roster at this point, sorted below by their classifications:
As always, all heights/weights are taken from the official roster on BaylorBears.com.
Gone after two years at the helm of the #1 offense in all the land are QB Bryce Petty, his 8,000 career passing yards, and over 60 passing TDs against just 10 interceptions. Gone, as well, is the certainty that comes from having an established starter that everyone knows is The Guy. In his place stands the Heir Presumptive, Seth Russell, who is entering his junior year at Baylor and who may be The Next Guy, but we just don't know it yet.
Seth Russell -- JR -- #17 -- 6-3, 220 pounds
Compared to where Petty was in 2013 before starting his first game since leaving Midlothian, Russell, who came to Baylor in 2012 after being basically cut loose by Kansas when Turner Gill got fired, is an old hand at this QB thing. In fact, with nearly 1,600 total yards (1,231 passing, 332 rushing) and 17 TDs (11 passing, 6 rushing) to his name already, Russell will enter 2015 with the most experience of any first-time starter for Briles save Nick Florence, who really shouldn't count since he started all those games when RGIII went down in 2009.
In Seth, should he win the starting job as so many expect at this point, Baylor will have, for the first time since RGIII, a true athletic freak (with a 40" vertical jump, he's supposedly the best dunker on the team) at QB capable of challenging defenses with both his arms and legs. Over the last two seasons as Petty's backup, Russell, who has reportedly been timed at 4.49 in the 40 but probably runs in the 4.5s or 4.6s, has demonstrated tremendous raw playmaking ability in 14 games of mostly mop-up duty and one notable start in which he set Baylor records for passing yards and touchdowns in a single half. Now he'll be called upon to harness that ability in games that actually matter at the helm of an offense that will surround him with tools and experience.
No, the questions Seth will have to answer this season won't relate to talent or athletic ability; he has as much of that as any that has come before him. They will relate to decision-making. Over those mop-up games I mentioned, Seth has demonstrated an approach that would render him a gunslinger in the eyes of an optimist, careless in the eyes of a pessimist. Though he's credited officially with just 4 interceptions, there were at least a couple of other passes that probably should have been, and we've seen enough that if you were really concerned about it, I wouldn't blame you. We've also seen a few (I don't know how many) fumbles or near-fumbles.
How Seth handles his new role as the #1 QB is obviously the storyline to watch for Baylor. Already, we've seen middling reports of his performance in an extremely small sample of 3 practices that have caused many to worry about whether we'll take a step back at the position. I would remind those people, particularly those with questions about his accuracy, that we're talking about the same guy who won the Manning Passing Academy's Air-It-Out competition over 30+ other D1 QBs less than a month ago, threw for 345 yards and 4 TDs in the Friday Night Lights scrimmage this past fall, and had a 164.6 QB rating when he played last season (which would have been good for sixth in the entire country had he qualified). Petty had a 157.8, for reference.
Perhaps most importantly, he also has the confidence of one of the finest QB coaches the college game has ever seen. Don't let recency bias cloud your judgment; Seth will be fine.
For me, I'm mostly excited about the potential effect on our offense that having the QB run as a viable threat again will have and confident that no matter how he might look now, Briles and company will have him ready to get the ball to Corey Coleman, K.D. Cannon, Jay Lee, and our other standout wide receivers when the games get real. We have a little over 3 weeks before we play our first game against SMU on Friday, September 4, and I'm sure the staff and Russell will put those weeks to good use.
Should you wish to watch every play in which Seth Russell was involved from 2014, please do so here. I'll share my personal favorite:
Oh, and if you're concerned about Russell handling the high-flying Baylor offense, he apparently spent the summer getting ready for that task in a somewhat unconventional way.
Chris Johnson -- SO -- #13 -- 6-5, 235 pounds
One of the most interesting players on the roster if only because of uncertainty surrounding his future, mostly due to the presence of the next guy on this list, is Bryan's Chris Johnson. Johnson is entering his third season at Baylor having spent last year as the third-string QB tasked with handing the ball to Silas Nacita in blowouts. Now he'll try to make his mark in the same way as Russell and Petty before him, as the backup.
The problem for Johnson is that though he's got all the physical traits you look for in a QB, he may never get the chance, barring injury, to truly show what he can do. Rather than compete with Russell for meaningful playing time as the starter, it appears Johnson will have his hands full convincing the coaching staff to redshirt the highest-ranked QB recruit in our history, true freshman Jarrett Stidham. Johnson's experience in the system gives him an undeniable edge, as does the probable desire to redshirt Stidham, but how the battle for the backup spot shakes out will be something to watch. It's also something we may not see resolved for quite some time.
For Johnson, the best-case scenario has him succeeding in convincing the coaches they can afford to redshirt Stidham, earning Johnson the opportunity to get reps in non-conference games and blowouts like Russell has the last two years. But, unfortunately for him, there's two sides to that equation...
Jarrett Stidham -- FR -- #3 -- 6-3, 195 pounds
And on the other side stands, as I mentioned, the highest-rated QB recruit we've ever gotten. All of you probably know the story of how Stidham flipped to Baylor after being committed to Texas Tech for the better part of a year, but for those that don't, there's probably still a half-dozen threads on every Red Raider message board where people would love to fill you in.
Spurious accusations involving gold bullion aside, Stidham's past is just that-- the past. I'm more concerned about his immediate future and where he fits in now. Having enrolled at Baylor in January, Stidham (like Johnson, Petty, Florence, and RGIII before him) has the benefit of 7 full months in the system before his true freshman campaign even really begins. And in those 7 months, including spring practice, we've all seen enough of the same tantalizing potential that earned him his 5* ranking as a recruit to wonder whether he's going to redshirt this season or compete for playing time as Russell's backup. Those lauding him cite his mobility, pocket presence, and raw arm strength while also noticing that he needs to gain weight and core strength to withstand the rigors of Big 12 play.
Based on Briles' past statements and personnel decisions, I'm fairly confident saying that if the team can possibly afford to redshirt Stidham this season to preserve his eligibility, they will. That would be the difference between Stidham possibly succeeding Russell with 2 years to play or 3, and an additional year of eligibility for a guy like that is very important. With that in mind, it seems likely to suggest that barring significant injury to Russell or a situation where we need him to win a game (a la Nick Florence vs. Texas Tech in 2011), we probably won't see Stidham this year. Instead, Johnson will serve as the backup once again, buying us that precious extra year of eligibility for Stidham and giving him (Johnson) the opportunity I spoke of above.
Of course, it's also possible that the staff may think so highly of Stidham as to see the fifth year as basically irrelevant and play him immediately; it's what they did with Rhodes and Cannon at WR and Billings at DT. That's probably the only real possibility for a quick resolution to this intriguing battle, and something we could know as early as the second half against SMU, should that game go as we expect.
Zach Bennema -- FR -- #18 -- 6-3, 205 pounds
Every year, the coaching staff brings in a relatively unknown walk-on QB from God-knows-where to fill out the roster and (probably) run the scout team in practice. This year's is Zack Bennema, who hales from Aurora, Illinois, where he played for Waubonsie Valley High School, and came to Baylor as a preferred walk-on after not receiving any D1 offers before signing day.
In that short paragraph, I have now given you virtually everything that I know about Zach Bennema except for the fact that he follows the blog on Twitter, where his name is @zbennema18. If you click on his profile, there's actually a really great picture of our four QBs that belongs in this thread:
As I said above, my guess is that things shake out for this season with Russell starting, Johnson backing him up, and Stidham redshirting unless something terrible happens and we have to burn his shirt to win a game. If I'm right, that gives Baylor a clear-cut starter with a relatively significant amount of experience, a backup with something to prove, and a talented redshirt breathing down both of their necks.