Offense, defense tune up for regular season’s rigors

No. 8 sophomore running back Glasco Martin dives for a touchdown against the Bears’ defense during the spring scrimmage on April 2.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer

By Chris Derrett
Sports Editor

After Baylor football’s spring scrimmage, head 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 this fall 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.

The offense, returning with junior quarterback Robert Griffin III and his entire receiving corps from last year, looked as synchronized as ever. The new-look defense, now under the direction of defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, showed its progress to the estimated 3,500 Baylor fans in attendance.

Going forward, the Bears hope this means continued success after a Texas Bowl appearance last year.

Most of the fans in attendance knew what to expect from an experienced offense, so across the line of scrimmage was where the attention went.

That was where the defense continued working to learn Bennett’s schemes that widely depart from the Bears’ 2010 defensive playbook.

Playing against Bennett’s 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 in the scrimmage, 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 the words he has shared with 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 senior Terrance Ganaway and junior Jarred 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.

While the Bears are free to hone their skills with their own workouts this summer, official team practice will not begin again until August. From there they’ll prepare for a Sept. 2 game against TCU in Waco, which will be televised on ESPN.