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Thoughts on Baylor's Final Spring Scrimmage of 2016

Looking back at another scrimmage dominated by the defense.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

To start things off, I should mention that the Seymour clan barely made it for the scrimmage itself at noon, so I can't tell you about any of the other festivities.  I heard they were impressive, and that people had a good time, but someone else is going to have to chime in for that stuff.

With that out of the way, I thought I'd start with a few general thoughts on the scrimmage before moving to my five biggest takeaways and then finishing with more random things to try to answer any questions people might have.  If there's something I don't address, please ask in the comments and we can take it from there.

General Thoughts:

  • Seth Russell Didn't Play: Presumptive starting QB Seth Russell missed the entirety of yesterday's practice with a minor pectoral issue that is unrelated to his previous neck injury.  There was a point where it looked like he was trying to convince Briles to let him play, but Briles wasn't buying it.  Jarrett Stidham played exclusively with the 1s, Zach Smith with the 2s, and Zack Bennema with the 3s. 
  • The Defense Dominated: Honestly, "dominated" might not even be strong enough a word.  If you just looked at the stats, particularly for Stidham (21/27 for 176 yards), things don't look all that bad for the offense.  Then you see 12 sacks out of 16 tackles for loss, as well as 1 INT (should have been 2), 4 pass breakups, and 5 punts out of about 10 total possessions.  There's a lot of ways to take this news, and we'll talk about as many as I think of.
  • Vanilla Offense: If you were hoping to see a bunch of new plays and/or looks on offense, you were sorely disappointed.  Outside of a handful of downfield passing plays, Baylor ran a ton of bubble screens and short passes, probably to keep the QBs clean.  Baylor didn't want to show any cards on offense, and they didn't, including...
  • No Wildbear: None, not even a little.  I was slightly disappointed, but considering it's something we know they've worked on extensively this spring, it had to be intentional to keep that somewhat under wraps.  I get it.
  • Youth Movement on Defense: Whether it was Jameson Houston running with the 1s opposite Ryan Reid or the quartet of Clay Johnston, Jordan Williams, Eric Ogor, and Lenoy Jones, Jr. working together with the 2s and 3s, Baylor's younger players on defense are going to be critical to our overall performance and depth this year.  With Byron Bonds out for the spring and DeQuinton Osborne not yet on campus, Ira Lewis and Andrew Morris were your 2nd and 3rd NTs, too. I could keep going, but you get the idea.
  • We Had Some Guys Missing: In addition to Seth Russell (pectoral strain), Shock Linwood (out for the spring), Quan Jones (not sure), and Tren'Davian Dickson (family issue) all sat out or missed yesterday's scrimmage.  I didn't notice anyone major missing on defense.

5 Biggest Takeaways:

If you follow me on Twitter and pay attention through all the other stuff I talk about there, you pretty much know what these five will be.  But I'll expand a bit on things here from what I saw/heard:

1. The OL is a Work-in-Progress: We knew going into this spring after losing 4/5 starters from arguably the best offensive line we've ever had that it would take time for this group to gel.  It has.  Baylor rotated constantly throughout yesterday's scrimmage before seeming to settle on a first unit that I'll talk about in a minute.

When the scrimmage started, the offensive line looked like this from where I was sitting:

LT: Ishmael Wilson
LG: Branton Autry
C: Kyle Fuller
RG: Blake Blackmar
RT: Patrick Lawrence

That group had Rami Hammad rotating in at RG, Dominic Desouza working at LT, and Maurice Porter coming in at RT.

By the time the scrimmage was over, things had changed a little, and the best group appeared to be:

LT: Dominic Desouza
LG: Branton Autry
C: Kyle Fuller
RG: Rami Hammad/Blake Blackmar (this one never got settled, but I'd give the nod to Hammad)
RT: Patrick Lawrence

Because Baylor was rotating so much with the 1s and 2s, and I was mostly focused on the defense when the second team offense was on the field, I can't say much for sure about the second unit, so much as one exists.  I can tell you that Tanner Thrift featured prominently there, as did Blackmar when he wasn't playing with the 1s.  I'm betting he's your backup center this year and that he will move into the starting role in 2017.

People will (probably rightfully) focus on the OL's struggles in a scrimmage where the defense racked up the numbers I listed above, and as I said, those numbers don't really tell the whole tale about how dominant the defense performed.  But from what I saw, the problems we have there are almost entirely related to experience, cohesion, and communication, particularly with respect to the 3-4 front that we ran almost exclusively on defense.  Those things will get better, but it will take time.  The good news it that the unit as a whole improved just over the course of this scrimmage and finished much better than they began.

2. The 3-4 is Here to Stay: From looking at the stats, Baylor ran about 100 plays on offense in yesterday's scrimmage.  If that's true, about 90 of them went against a 3-4 defensive front, if not more.  After the scrimmage ended, Briles seemed to put any question about whether this was intentional to rest:

Though I'd argue it fit our personnel last year with Andrew Billings at NT and Shawn Oakman at one DE even better than it does now, Briles is almost certainly right.  With Billings now gone, Baylor lacks both impact talent and depth at DT, while we have a corresponding glut of players at LB.  The purpose of this switch will be to get more and more speed on the field, and that purpose was evident with the group Baylor ran out with the first-team defense, which, unlike the offense, was actually pretty consistent:

LE: K.J. Smith
DT: Jeremy Faulk
RE: Brian Nance

The good news here is that Faulk exceeded every expectation I had for him and may turn out to be the biggest impact from this year's recruiting class (though Autry will argue otherwise).  I just don't know how this front, Nance in particular, is going to stand up to a power running team determined to try to push them around.  Ian Boyd pointed that out repeatedly on Twitter, and though I disregarded it because it wasn't what I wanted to hear, he's right.  Ours is a calculated risk designed to emphasize speed, but we do it at the expense of size.  Against a team like Oklahoma, we'll likely have to rely on run blitzes and stunts, rather than our base front as in years past.  Moving to the LBs:

OLB: Taylor Young
LB: Raaquan Davis
LB: Aiavion Edwards
NB: Travon Blanchard

Simply put, this group looked fantastic.  I hadn't seen a lot of Davis (#19, if you were there) before, but he and Edwards played particularly well on the inside in filling gaps and creating havoc.  The staff seems to have emphasized disguising our blitzes more in years past, and that was a big part of our OL struggles.

One thing worth mentioning is that it seemed like the "base set" for the front seven had the DEs lined up on the tackles, shaded to the strong side, with the weak-side OLB walked up to the line.  When the NB wasn't split out to help cover the slot, that LB was either Blanchard or Patrick Levels.  The idea there is to pinch down as quickly as possible on running plays to the strong side, but they'll have to work hard to keep from getting schooled on the zone read, like Blanchard did on Stidham's rushing TD:

I don't have a lot to say about the secondary other than that they looked miles better than I've ever seen before in a Baylor scrimmage.  I'd caution against taking too much away from that, however, since OL protection was such a major problem.  This one was place, though, where the units were pretty firmly set.  The first team:

CB: Ryan Reid
CS: Chance Waz
DS: Orion Stewart
CB: Jameson Houston

The second:

CB: Henry Black
CS: Jourdan Blake
DS: Davion Hall
CB: Verkedric Vaughns

I'll get more into this in a second.

3. Davion Hall is a Natural at Safety: And I was completely wrong about moving him over going into his junior year.  It was the right move; there's no doubt about it.  Every time I looked for him in coverage, he was exactly where he needed to be.  There's just a fluidity about him that sets him apart; he seems to play on a much more instinctual level than anyone we've had for a long while now.  The big knock at this point is run support, where you start to see the WR in him shine through.  If Baylor puts in any kind of dime package with 3 safeties, expect to see Hall come on to the field.

4. J'Mycal Hasty is a Weapon: Because he was injured in his senior year and people kind of forgot about him in that recruiting class, Hasty had flown somewhat under the radar in a stacked Baylor backfield.  Until yesterday, I mean.  Out of everyone on the offense, Hasty was the most impressive player I saw, both at RB and IR, where he caught a beautiful TD pass from Zach Smith that Baylor went back later and counted.  Speed-wise, Hasty is the closest thing we've had to Lache since Lache left.

5. Stidham Has Improved: Initially, this wasn't among my major thoughts.  But considering that I already covered the secondary above in two different places, I thought I'd throw it in.  As much as I wanted to see Seth play, Stidham more than looked the part as our starting QB.  He seemed slightly faster, maybe by half a step, in the running game, and he didn't get flustered despite the pressure he saw when dropping back to pass.  His throw to Cannon on the sideline that arced over the outside shoulder was just perfect.

One-Offs and Other Things:

  • Terence Williams is the real deal.  The only reason his stats weren't better is that they blew the whistle so quickly. I love that kid.
  • The H-back spot is still completely open, but my guess is that one of the OL who isn't in the running for first-team reps takes it.  Someone like Tanner Thrift or Riley Daniel (if he's healthy).
  • Watch for Baylor to scour the grad transfer ranks for DTs/DEs.  DEs, in particular.  I love Nance as a pass rusher, but I'm not sold as a 3-4, 2-gap DE.
  • Looks like Drew Galitz will handle kickoffs and long FGs.  He missed a 52-yarder early, but it wasn't a bad kick.  He just pushed it wide.
  • Forced to choose someone other than Hall or Hasty as my scrimmage MVP, I'd go with Clay Johnston.  He's a freak.
  • When Blake Lynch and Ishmael Zamora lined up on the same side, they made the DBs look like mice.
  • I tweeted a picture of incoming freshman OT J.P. Urquidez standing on the sideline.  That dude is huge, and he doesn't look like he has any bad weight on him already.

Nearly 2,000 words in, I think that's about it.  If there's anything I didn't cover or you have any questions whatsoever, please put them in the comments!