After 15 spring workouts ending with an annual scrimmage, Baylor football turns its attention to next year’s 12 regular season games
By Chris Derrett
With Baylor football’s Saturday scrimmage televised in Central Texas, coach Art Briles admitted the play-calling was “vanilla” and not truly indicative of the Bears’ full offensive or defensive arsenal.
The intensity on both sides of the ball, however, was just as present as the threat of players losing their starting positions for unsatisfactory effort.
“The first snap we take in September should be better than the last snap they took in December. So that’s what we have to do. We’re certainly not content, satisfied, patting ourselves on the back, because we haven’t done anything,” Briles said after the scrimmage.
Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III went 21 of 26 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Terrance Ganaway and sophomore Jarred Salubi each picked up a touchdown on the ground. The Bears’ offense threw the ball to 17 different receivers, with junior Terrance Williams hauling in nine passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns and senior Kendall Wright racking up 91 yards and a touchdown on four passes.
But most of the estimated 3,500 Baylor fans in attendance knew what to expect from an offense returning its quarterback and entire receiving corps. Across the line of scrimmage was where the attention went on Saturday.
That was where the defense, now under coordinator Phil Bennett’s direction, continued working to learn Bennett’s schemes that widely depart from the Bears’ 2010 defensive playbook.
Playing against Bennett’s new-look defense, Griffin said he has seen a marked difference from last spring.
“Everybody schemes differently. This team is very aggressive, so you see that. It’s just about getting those guys in the right spot,” Griffin said. “I think they’ve come a long way since the beginning of the spring.”
From his first time speaking with the media at Baylor in January, Bennett has promised a more aggressive defense proving itself with more tackles for loss, third down stops and quarterback pressure. The lack thereof in 2010 prompted Briles to move last year’s defensive coordinator, Brian Norwood, to associate head coach in favor of the more hard-nosed Bennett.
Briles might have put it best after 2010’s spring scrimmage, saying, “In the Big 12 South, if you’re friendly and nice, you’re going to have a long season.”
Bennett said he wants none of that.
“On third-and-7, I don’t want to play 10 yards off,” Bennett said. “As you saw today, I want to force the issue. I thought our [second-string players], in three drives against the [first-string] offense really did a good job of making Robert have to make a decision.”
The defense did not come away with any interceptions Saturday, but it did collect five sacks, two from senior defensive end Zac Scotton. Meanwhile, among the linebackers and secondary, players like senior Elliot Coffey have sensed a change in the way the Bears will approach opposing offenses.
“I feel like we play against so many offenses that love that cushion right there; they’ll hit you for five yards every play,” Coffey said. If we give up five yards on back-to-back plays, that’s a first down. So I definitely see us pressing a lot more than we did last year.”
Bennett is willing to play anybody regardless of previous accolades or seniority, mentioning Saturday his words to prior five-star safety recruit Ahmad Dixon.
“I told [Dixon], you’re no longer a five-star; you’re a sophomore,” Bennett said.
If any question mark exists on the offensive side, it is raised in discussion about Baylor’s running back situation. The graduation of 1,000-yard rusher Jay Finley left large shoes to fill, and Ganaway and Salubi have joined sophomore Glasco Martin and senior Issac Williams in competition for the starting job.
Briles said the spring workout season has not revealed a clear-cut starting running back.
“Nobody’s jumped out. It’s good and bad. They’re all good, but we need somebody to really step forward and make a play every time they get an opportunity to make a play,” Briles said.
Briles added that 75 to 80 percent of the time, the running backs do make a good play, but at other times they are inexcusably brought down by an arm tackle. That can’t happen, Briles said.
Anybody questioning Griffin’s connection with his receivers need only look at the last play before Saturday’s halftime, in which Griffin scrambled to his right and heaved a 50-yard bomb to Wright for Wright’s lone touchdown on the day.
“With him scrambling, you’ve got to always be aware, because he can do stuff that no other quarterback can, and I was just ready to make a play,” Wright said.
Griffin prefers showing more than telling when it comes to describing the offense’s potential.
“I try not to focus so much on saying things and just do it. We’ve got the skill guys, we’ve got the running backs, we’ve got the offensive line. We’ve just got to go play,” Griffin said.