In the past seven years, few programs have had such a turn around as Baylor has experienced, becoming the nation’s preeminent offense under coach Art Briles. The Bears’ path to success is clear, led by a strong lineage of quarterbacks starting with Robert Griffin III. Since Griffin exploded onto the spotlight — placing Waco on everyone’s radar — Baylor’s strength at quarterback has consistently increased from Nick Florence penciling his name into the record books to Bryce Petty winning two Big 12 titles. Now the torch is passed to redshirt junior Seth Russell. It’s difficult to replace such successful players, but Russell looks to fit the bill.
Most quarterbacks stepping into their first year as the starter are fish out of water, taking their initial 1st team snaps in spring. But Briles has a different philosophy, one that molds his quarterbacks in-waiting. He did it with both Florence and Petty with limited yet invaluable experience before taking the reigns of such a powerful offense. Russell steps into this season with the most experience under his belt, having played in fifteen games with considerable playing time and emerging from the shadows fully ready to take control.
Russell has already shown he can beat defense in a host of ways that parallel Griffin and could be more dangerous considering his size. At 6’3″, one would expect him to be a pocket passer, but he possesses some rare athleticism with reported 4.5 speed that makes him a dangerous dual-threat.
In his fifteen games, averaging just over twelve pass and rush attempts, he has scored seventeen touchdowns or a touchdown every ten tries. Compare that to Petty’s senior campaign of a touchdown every fifteen attempts. The sample sizes are different, yes, as are the levels of competition they have faced, but from his increased playing time last season, Russell seems primed to succeed.
Through two games last season, Russell led the nation in QBR according to ESPN after playing SMU and Northwestern State. The Northwestern State game is especially worthy of note after he torched the Demons for six touchdowns in a single half of play. As an FCS opponent, it allowed him to become more comfortable in the pocket and free to let loose. Russell showed he possesses a canon of an arm but also has a soft-touch to his throws.
Some may be quick to criticize how he often throws to his first read (Petty did this as well.) While that’s a concern, Baylor’s system operates on quick reads to keep up tempo, and the hot route is more than likely open. As great as Baylor’s short lineage of quarterbacks is, half of their success comes from building the nation’s best receiving corps. Russell’s arsenal is a gamut of talent bursting with speed and size.
The Northwestern State game should be a good preview for Baylor fans this season, but it’s his play against Texas Tech that should be looked at with a microscope. Russell entered the game unexpectedly after Petty went down in the third quarter. While his effort stepping up to the plate in one of the nation’s largest stages in AT&T Stadium was gallant, it was against a struggling Red Raider defense that he started to show some weakness.
Primarily, it became clear that he needs a secure pocket to make his reads. This is where the concern about hot reads comes into play. He completed under 50 percent of his passes on the day, forcing some that weren’t there. He showed enough awareness to use his speed on seven rushing attempts but couldn’t always manage to safely escape, totaling just 29 yards. These are things that seem to have been addressed this offseason after showing increased awareness in team scrimmages.
But both he and Briles aren’t quite satisfied with his progress yet. Talking with BaylorBears.com, both Briles and Russell expressed the need to become more consistent, and that will come in due time.
Russell and the rest of the Bears will take on the SMU Mustangs in their first action of the season Friday, September 4th on ESPN.