I sat down with Mark Rogers to discuss what’s ahead for Baylor football this season. Here’s how the team is looking so far after a rainy spring scrimmage last Friday.
There’s no question, Baylor is still salty from their College Football Playoff snub after being ranked No. 5 in the nation. But their loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl proved the Bears are still a few pieces away from making an unwavering case as an elite program. Of course, they’re losing a key piece in QB Bryce Petty to the draft, but things are looking like they’re coming along just fine.
After a second spring training scrimmage, junior Seth Russell is looking to be everything his backers from last year claimed him to be. Petty was a quick pocket-passer, but Russell brings a dimension to Waco not seen since Robert Griffin III. He’s a great dual-threat quarterback, and has a more consistent arm than Petty. There were some errant throws down field, but he completed three 50+ yard touchdowns and could have had more if not for the rainy atmosphere.
I was very impressed by Russell’s play, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is happy. Art Briles commented after: “We expect a whole lot and he expects a whole lot, but he still has to go through a lot to get there[…] I would classify [his performance] as productive with a lot of room for improvement.” Good to hear so much negative comments about what seemed to be a great performance to most everyone else — a testament to Baylor’s “Be the Standard” motto.
But the job seems to be secured for Russell, as five-star dual-threat freshman Jarrett Stidham looks to be in development. In eighteen attempts, he completed only seven for 52 yards. Something should be said of the backup offensive line group not working fluidly, causing seventeen sacks (though that’s inflated because of the touch rule for QBs being enforced.) But it’s clear there’s work left to do regrading Russell, making reads and creating room outside of the pocket need to be addressed. Briles loves him, though, and you can expect he’ll find some playing time much like he did with Russell, pulling Petty in clear wins.
Baylor’s not losing too much else on either side of the ball, most notably WR Antwan Goodley and LB Bryce Hager. But both could be replaced easily, as Taylor Young looks to be the next defensive captain after a stellar freshman season (but was not suited up for the showcase), and Baylor has become known as Wide Receiver U recently after attracting top prospects such as KD Cannon and Corey Coleman. Both Cannon and Coleman seem like they haven’t missed a step since the fall, and they’re being challenged beyond expectations by junior Lynx Hawthrone (who will likely be a slot player) and freshmen Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt. Much like Cannon last season, Zamora could take the conference by storm as a speed burning deep-threat.
But the headliner of Baylor’s practice thus far (aside from Silas Nacita’s dismissal) is LaQuan McGowan, who has dropped the “offensive lineman” tag, settling in as the biggest TE ever recorded. He’s an enormous man, weighing at 410-pounds according to Baylor’s official profile. I’ve wrote what his position change could mean for the Bears, and it appears to be working already — hauling in one reception for 21 yards. Put this man on a slant route, tuck the shoulder, and it’s going to be tough to bring him down. It seems to be a publicity stunt, but Briles has been quick to affirm “it’s for the benefits to our football team,” also teasing us with the possibility of him lining up in the slot. And he’s already breaking the internet.
Baylor brought on former All-Pro safety Chris Dishman as the safeties coach, and it’s paying dividends. All last season, fans were frustrated with defensive back’s lack of ball awareness. That seems to be a working improvement, as they collectively defended twelve passes including two interceptions. Junior safety Xavien Howard left with an Achilles tear but will not require surgery. But if he is to miss time, sophomore Chance Waz looks to be in the mix for playing time, picking off one ball and another that was whistled dead. Remember his name.
The team’s performance may not be to Baylor standards quite yet, but they have until April 2nd to work out some problems before returning for summer practices.