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Note: The Baylor Lariat Sports Editor Daniel Hill, wrote the following football preview taking a look at the Baylor Bears football team position by position. To review his write up for a particular position, click on the position you are interested in.
Baylor has been blessed with phenomenal play from the quarterback position for the last few years with Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman Memorial Trophy in 2011 and Nick Florence breaking the school record for single season passing yards in 2012 with 4,309.
Now, it’s junior Bryce Petty’s turn to take the helm at quarterback for the Bears. Petty is a 6-foot-3, 230 lb. mobile quarterback that possesses NFL caliber arm strength. He’s also extremely athletic and should add a dynamic presence to the Baylor offense as a running QB. With the plethora of weapons that Petty has to work with at receiver and running back, Petty should have no problems leading the offense and putting points on the scoreboard. Expectations are sky high for every Baylor signal-caller and Bryce Petty should be another superstar type of quarterback for the Bears.
Behind Petty, the Bears are stocked for the future with redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Russell. Coming out of the same hometown of Garland as Nick Florence, Russell was a three-star recruit according to Scout.com. Regarded as a dual-threat quarterback, Russell is presumably the quarterback of the future after Bryce Petty’s junior and senior campaigns.
6-foot-4, 220 lb. freshman Chris Johnson also looks to have a bright future as a Baylor quarterback.
Baylor is becoming known for producing highly talented wide receivers after two straight years of sending a receiver to the NFL in the first three rounds of the draft in Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams.
Baylor could have one of the top receiver groups in the nation this season led by senior inside receiver Tevin Reese. Reese hauled in 53 passes last season for 957 yards and 9 touchdowns. In his career, Reese has stacked up 2,235 receiving yards.
“Tevin is a special guy,” Petty said. “I mean they are all special and they make my job a lot easier and make me look better than I am.
The scary thing is that Reese might not even be the team’s most dangerous receiver this season. Freshman wide receiver Robbie Rhodes is a five-star recruit and was one of the best high school receivers in all of America last year. It’s yet to be determined how Rhodes will adjust to the caliber of Big 12 play, but the talent Rhodes possesses is undeniable and he should be a game changer at receiver for the Bears.
“Robbie’s got a lot of great qualities and football might be on the back end of them,” head coach Art Briles said. “He’s a fun loving young man who has no evil in his heart. He really just is a gracious human being and that’s what gives him the capacity to be exceptional. That’s what he has the advantage of being one day because of his talent.”
Junior wide receiver Antwan Goodley and junior inside receiver Levi Norwood are both exceptional pass catchers and will bring valuable experience and consistency to the receiving corps. For the third straight season, Norwood will also handle punt return duties for the Bears.
Another breakout candidate at wide receiver this season could be sophomore Jay Lee. At 6-foot-2 and with a 215 lb. frame, Lee possesses the size and speed to display a highlight reel on the gridiron this season.
The tight ends have been an overlooked, yet vital part of the Baylor offense for the last few seasons. Fortunately, the Bears are stocked with two experienced senior tight ends in Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk.
Last season, Najvar displayed a plethora of skills to aid the Bears offense. He would lineup as a conventional tight end, as a slot receiver and as a fullback. The jack-of-all-trades 6-foot-6, 265 lb. tight end for the Baylor offense is a punishing blocker at the line of scrimmage and coming out of the backfield.
Monk tore his pectoral muscle last season against West Virginia and missed the rest of the season. Fortunately, Monk received a hardship waiver to be eligible for the 2013 campaign. The 6-foot-4, 285 lb. tight end is the most experienced player on the Baylor roster with 40 games played.
When the Baylor spread offense gets into the red zone, two tight end sets could become a valuable weapon.
Both Najvar and Monk possess reliable hands. Last season, Najvar caught 10 passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
At the linebacker position the Bears have a formidable duo of starters. Last season as a junior, outside linebacker Eddie Lackey stepped in as a transfer and immediately brought intensity and a spark to the defense. Now as a senior, Lackey returns for his final season. Lackey has elite speed as a linebacker with a 4.53 second 40-yard dash and was all over the field with 104 tackles and four interceptions.
Junior All-Big 12 middle linebacker Bryce Hager led the Big 12 in tackles last season with 124. Entering his second season as a starter, Hager should become even more of a playmaker for the Bears. Hager runs a 4.49 second 40-yard dash and has shown an ability to quickly read the defense, dissect the play and get to the football.
Baylor has a legitimate Heisman contender at the running back position in junior Lache Seastrunk. Down the stretch of last season, the 5-foot-10, 210 lb. speedster propelled Baylor’s rushing attack with 637 yards in the final four games of 2012. On the season, Seastrunk rushed for 1,012 yards on only 131 attempts for a 7.7 yards per carry average. If he can stay healthy, Seastrunk will certainly see more than 131 carries throughout the course of this season and it’s certainly not crazy to think he could rush for 1,500 yards.
In addition to Seastrunk, the Baylor backfield will be bolstered by senior running back Glasco Martin, who rushed for 889 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012. Martin is a 6-foot, 220 lb. back with more of a downhill rushing style compared to Seastrunk. Seastrunk will provide the elusiveness and shake, while Martin will deliver a battering rushing style. Between Seastrunk and Martin, the Bears have arguably the best tandem of running backs in the Big 12 and one of the top duos in all of college football.
The left side of the offensive line might be the best left side in all of America between All-American senior left guard Cyril Richardson and 2012 Freshman All-American selection sophomore left tackle Spencer Drango.
Both linemen possess NFL frames and talent. As just a sophomore, Drango has established himself as a highly skilled left tackle. Weighing in at 315 lbs. and standing 6-foot-6, Drango has quick feet and is a first-rate pass protection tackle.
Richardson is a powerful, quick guard who is overpowering with run blocking and an impenetrable pass blocker. It’s not a stretch to say he might be the best offensive lineman in America. In several publications, the 6-foot-5, 340 lb. Richardson has been projected as a future first round NFL draft pick. With a 400 lb. bench press and a 665 lb. squat, the third year starter is the anchor of the offensive line.
“Cyril’s different,” Briles said. “Like I’ve been saying, he’s the best offensive lineman in all of America. If somebody wants to challenge that, come on. We’ve got proof to show that he is. He’s a guy that certainly is at a level that not many people are.”
In the spring, starting junior right tackle Troy Baker tore his ACL in his left knee. The injury caused a ripple effect on the offensive line. Senior Kelvin Palmer moved from center to right tackle and senior Stefan Huber switched from right guard to center. 6-foot-6, 330 lb. Desmine Hilliard took over as the starting right guard. Both Palmer and Huber have extensive playing time under their belts but Hilliard will have to prove himself as the offensive line gels as a unit. If Baker’s rehab goes as planned, he could be back on the field in October. Chemistry can play a vital role in the strength of any offensive line. The concern for Baylor is that the right side of the offensive line might have a steep learning curve with new faces in new places.
“I feel really good about the offensive line,” Briles said. “They’ve done well all through the spring even after Troy [Baker] went down and they haven’t done anything disappointing even until now. They’re a very cohesive unit. Hubert at center has been fabulous, not only because of his snapping ability but also because of his leadership abilities. He’s a gung-ho rally guy you’ve got to have at that position and all of those other guys have done extremely well.
At defensive end, the Bears are well stocked with two seniors in Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister. An impact transfer from Penn State is sophomore Shawn Oakman, who is eligible to play this season after sitting out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The 6-foot-9, 275 lb. Oakman will bring a physical presence to the defensive end rotation. Sophomore defensive end Jamal Palmer will also bring depth to the defensive end position.
If there is a weakness this season in the Bears’ defense, it lies in the defensive tackle position. Sophomore Beau Blackshear is the starter at nose tackle and Trevor Clemons-Valdez is first on the depth chart at defensive tackle. Sophomore Suleiman Masumbuko will back up Clemons-Valdez.
With the speed and tempo of Big 12 offenses, the defensive line will be on a regular rotation to keep fresh players in the game. Highly touted freshman nose tackle Andrew Billings will see immediate playing time and he possesses the size and the ability to become a dominating player at the line of scrimmage.
In Baylor’s 4-2-5 defensive alignment, there is a nickelback position would categorized as a defensive back, but actually plays more like a linebacker inside the box and tends to be closer to the line of scrimmage. Coming into the 2013 season, senior Ahmad Dixon and senior Sam Holl switched positions. In 2012, Dixon played the nickelback role and Holl was a safety. For this season, Holl will come up closer to the line of scrimmage to take over the nickelback role and Dixon will drop back to play safety.
The position change should help bolster the productivity of both players as the move suits their strengths. Holl is a reliable tackler and has excellent range. Moving closer to the line of scrimmage will pay dividends for Holl and the Baylor defense as a whole. For Dixon, who runs a 4.39 second 40-yard dash, dropping back in the secondary will allow him to flash his superior speed on the gridiron. Having Dixon’s speed and aggressive hitting style on the back end of the defense will help fortify the squad against big plays in 2013.
At the cover safety spot, sophomore Terrell Burt, who played in all 13 games last season as a freshman, will be asked to takeover the starting role. Burt was baptized by fire last season when he was forced to replace injured starter Mike Hicks for much of the season. That experience should serve Burt well heading into this season.
At cornerback, senior Demetri Goodson and senior Joe Williams are listed as starters. Senior K.J. Morton will be the third cornerback. The good news for the Bears is that they have plenty of experience at corner but they don’t necessarily have a high consistency or reliability level at the position, mostly due to injuries.
Former Gonzaga point guard Demetri has had an injury riddled Baylor career so far after season ending injuries to his ankle in 2011 and arm in 2012. He could be Baylor’s best cornerback and he has NFL potential if he can only stay healthy.
“I’m liking the way our corners are doing,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “All three of our corners, Joe Williams, Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton, all three of those guys have stepped up big during two-a-days and they’re pretty good.”
The Bears in 2012, ranked 113th in scoring defense by allowing 37.2 points per game. With seven defensive starters returning on defense, the Bears defense must improve in 2013. An improved defense to go along with flashy, potent high-scoring offense could lead to Baylor making a run at the Big 12 championship.