By Daniel Hill
Fresh off of three straight bowl game appearances and back-to-back bowl wins, Baylor football looks to win the Big 12 Conference this season.
With eight starters returning to the defense, playmakers at the offensive skill positions and a dominating offensive line stocked with future NFL talent, the Bears have immense potential for the 2013 season.
Nick Florence replaced Robert Griffin III by setting a school record with 4,309 passing yards last season. The Bears’ projected starting quarterback next season, junior Bryce Petty, is larger in stature than any of his predecessors.
Petty brings another dimension to the offense. Griffin and Florence were skilled runners, but they didn’t have the ability to run with power and lower their shoulders like Petty will do this fall.
Aside from running, Petty is a gifted passer. At 6-feet-3-inches and 235 pounds, Petty has a rocket arm and superb mobility. He displayed his arm strength with a 55-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jay Lee on Saturday. Petty also displayed his understanding of head coach Art Briles’ offense by completing 13-15 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
“Physically, he has a chance to be a very dominant quarterback, but it’s a very mental game, so what you have to do is match it all together, your physicalness and your intellectualness and creativeness and instinctiveness,” Briles said. “It all has to come together.”
Baylor’s offense didn’t skip a beat when Florence stepped in for RG3, and Petty figures to be the next quarterback in line for Baylor’s stat-happy offense.
The offense also showed balance during the spring game between the aerial attack and the ground game. Talented running backs, senior Glasco Martin and junior Lache Seastrunk are the thunder and lightning combo in Baylor’s backfield.
Behind the physical offensive line, Martin rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries, while Seastrunk added 90 yards off 10 rushes and scored on a 44-yard touchdown run where he went nearly untouched.
“I think we handed the ball off 300 times for 7,000 yards so it made my job easy, makes it fun,” Petty said. “That is our offense. The run sets up the pass so it was fun to see those guys get up and work and do what they do.”
Starting junior right tackle Troy Baker tore his ACL earlier in the offseason, so the offensive line had to shuffle some first-unit players around to fill the gap. Senior Stefan Huber, who had been playing right guard, shifted to center, and senior Kelvin Palmer moved from center to right tackle to replace the injured Baker.
Sophomore Desmine Hilliard started at right guard. Sophomore Spencer Drango was at his usual spot at left tackle and senior Cyril Richardson stayed at left guard to make the left side of the offensive line the strongest area of the unit.
The first-team defense has also made a few changes. Senior Ahmad Dixon, who last year played defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s “Bear position,” which is a defensive back that tends to play closer to the line of scrimmage, has moved back into the secondary to play safety. Senior Sam Holl has moved from safety to the Bear position. The move isn’t set in stone as of yet, but the position changes will bring flexibility to Baylor’s defense.
Holl, a physical player with range, will have the ability to play inside the box and have more opportunities to attack against the run. Dixon will get a chance to match up on defensive backs with his elite speed and bring an intimidating fear factor to the backside of the defense with knockout shots on opposing wide receivers. Moving to safety will also give Dixon a better read of the field and hopefully quicken his reaction time to rally to the ball.
“Everybody has bought in,” Dixon said. “That is not to say that we weren’t bought in last season, but there is a difference between buying into a program that you have been in for two or three years. Now everybody knows what is going on and knows the ins and outs of the defense. We know what can kill us and what can help us.
With spring practice over, the Bears now move into summer conditioning and then begin fall training camp before the season starts on Aug. 31 against Wofford at Floyd Casey Stadium.