When I originally decided how I wanted to do this year's Position Preview series, I intended to break all the big boys up. Unfortunately, unforeseen delays mean that if I want to get through this series before we start previewing SMU a week from now, I have to get moving.
|15||Gus Penning||SR||6-6/250||Tight End|
Rather than go through each player individually, I'm going to hit the high points here before we get to the OL. I think just about everyone knows the story for Baylor at TE, anyway.
Internet Sensation LaQuan McGowan
In case you've been living under a rock, however, and aren't aware of the biggest on-field story of the offseason for Baylor Football (emphasis on big), I'll take you back to the third quarter of Baylor's Cotton Bowl game against Michigan State:
Yeah, that happened. A 400+ pound dude caught a touchdown pass, and it was amazing. Let's see it from a different angle:
From this play spawned the Legend of LaQuan McGowan, Destroyer of Defenses.
To say people loved this play is to delight in understatement. People adored this play. CFB fans everywhere found themselves mesmerized by an 18-yard TD like never before. Overnight, McGowan went from little-used reserve tackle to CFB sensation.
In the offseason, Baylor decided to double-down on McGowan's newfound offensive potential, switching him to TE full-time in spring practice and (supposedly) building a package for him to play 15-20 plays a game. What that might mean has been covered ad nauseam as one observer after another has tried to predict how Baylor might use such a singular weapon to enhance an already potent offense.
For me, the answer seems pretty simple. Though we've obviously already seen McGowan catch footballs one-handed and rip out the pull-ups, he's probably not going to be a dynamic receiving threat. Instead, he'll be an absolute nightmare of a blocker setting the edge, an occasional threat when defenses get sleepy or stop paying attention, and, because nobody will want to be the next team watching a big man dance in the endzone, one heck of a diversion. Each and every DC we play will be on the lookout for #80 (as if they could miss him) such that when he's on the field, they'll have to change their plan to account for him. When he's not, they'll change to account for his absence. Basically, just having him as a threat affects things; but we just don't know how much.
The Real Threat, Tre'Von Armstead
McGowan may grab the headlines and the clicks, but in all honesty, if Baylor is going to get big production this year out of a TE, it's going to come from Tre'Von Armstead. Getting the 6-6, 270-pound junior has apparently been a huge point of emphasis for Baylor's offense this offseason from all reports and scrimmages, and he has the unique combination of size and quickness to be a legitimate receiving threat. If that's real, and not another offseason mirage, it could give Baylor the intermediate threat in the middle of the field we've been missing. For us, that's exciting because it makes our offense even more multi-faceted and dangerous. For others, that has to be terrifying.
Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Baylor loves to line Armstead up in the backfield and use him as a lead-blocking H back, where his previous life as an offensive lineman pays huge dividends.
Improving Depth at the TE Position
Beyond McGowan and Armstead, Baylor also has seniors Gus Penning and Lee Bristow, the latter of whom is apparently a TE now, sophomore Jordan Feuerbacher, who burned his shirt last season but only saw limited action, and newcomer Sam Tecklenburg, who will redshirt this season to preserve eligibility. As a result, though we lose McGowan and Penning this year, Baylor will bring back Armstead, Feuerbacher, Tecklenburg, and whoever else we recruit in the 2016 class for next season. That's a solid core to build on.
Last year, I organized things into units rather than position-by-position, and I think I'm going to do the same this year. Thankfully, these charts are pretty easy because we brought back 4 of 5 starters from the beginning of last season, and 5 of 5 from the end.
Get ready to hear a lot about how Baylor loses everyone on the offensive line after 2015 ... because it's very nearly true. But for 2015, Baylor has possibly its best offensive line of the Art Briles era, led by NFL-caliber LT Spencer Drango, who decided to forgo the draft last year to come back and protect our QB's blind side for the 4th year in a row.
Next to Drango will probably be Blake Muir, the former Hawaii transfer that has also been seen playing RT this fall. I anticipate that he'll remain in his position from last year, where he performed well in pass protection (as befitting his background as a tackle), but struggled a bit in the running game.
At center, Baylor brings back Kyle Fuller, last year's starter that improved as the year wore on. Snaps weren't really that big of an issue, but Fuller did have difficulty with being out-muscled by head-up nose guards. I'll be watching to see if that's less of an issue after a year of gaining strength and familiarity with the position.
Right guard could be an absolute war someone has yet to win, or it could be already decided and I just don't know about it. The combatants: a healthy Desmine Hilliard, last year's starter to begin the season, and Jarell Broxton, who took over for Hilliard when he went down. Both guys are absolute road-graders.
Right tackle is the only place where Baylor doesn't bring back its starter from 2015, and you can say we do if you want to get really technical about it. Gone is Troy Baker, who suffered a career-ending injury and then graduated. In his stead stands Pat Colbert, an experienced yet inconsistent player now in his senior year. Considering how strong the rest of the line looks, this appears to be the biggest question mark Baylor has on the offensive line. Considering that Colbert is actually pretty talented, that's a good thing.
*Porter supposedly can be redshirted this season, giving him two additional years of eligibility. I don't know if: a) that's true, or b) they'll take advantage of that opportunity.
I'm including a bunch of guys here because I seriously doubt we have a set second-team unit. Hammad and Wilson seem like locks in here given what we've heard, as is Blackmar because we don't have that many centers. Thrift and Porter have been getting time at LT in practice so far (and abused by Shawn Oakman, as a result). The only place I really struggled was in whether to add Dominic Desouza, the JUCO mid-term enrollee. If I'm wrong by leaving him out, I'll correct it.
Also, whoever doesn't win the battle at RG probably fits into this unit. In fact, Hilliard was actually listed on the post-spring depth chart as the backup LG.
Get to know these names; they'll be very important this time next year.
In addition to Desouza, who I mentioned might belong in the chart above, there's a whole mess of sophomores here and a couple of redshirt freshmen. With the summer injury to Riley Daniel, our only tackle from the 2015 recruiting class, there's no true freshmen, and that's an issue. Baylor should hit the OL hard in the 2016 class, where we already have 5* Patrick Hudson and 4* J.P. Urquidez committed.
A year from now, we'll be talking about an offensive line rife with question marks. Right now, we're talking about one stacked with experience and talent. We already know that Drango is as good as it gets at left tackle, the premier OL position at any level of football. Along with him, we've brought back 4/5s of our offensive line to start last year, and 5/5s to end it. That's as good as it gets in the Big 12 Conference and, possibly, the nation.