By Tyler Alley
Following a season filled with injuries and disappointment, Art Briles and the Bears returned for the 2010 season and hoisted Baylor football to a place it had not been in over a decade.
Led by quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Jay Finley, both coming off season-ending injuries, the Bears won seven of their first nine games and became bowl-eligible for the first time in 14 years. The offense finished the season ranked 13th in the NCAA in yards per game, and ranked third in rushing in the Big 12.
Although the offense lost some key seniors, Briles has high hopes for improving on Baylor’s 7-6 record.
“We just got to continue to climb,” Briles said. “We feel like we jumped out there and did pretty well last year. We just got to show that we’re a program on the upswing. We know every day, every game is a challenge and an opportunity and a journey, and we’re going to make the best of all of them.”
Griffin returns for his junior year, now juggling graduate school with his increased stardom on the field.
“It’s difficult, just like balancing undergrad was,” Griffin said. “Class times are usually during practice so I’m going to have to work around that schedule with my teachers and everything. But that’s part of it and it’s worth it. You get this free education; you might as well take advantage of it because they’re going to work us out here.”
Griffin finished the 2010 season ranked sixth in total offense, ahead of Heisman winner Cam Newton. The Copperas Cove native totaled 3,195 passing yards, 591 rushing yards, and 29 total touchdowns. He averaged more passing yards per game than 10th overall NFL Draft pick Blaine Gabbert, and he ranked 3rd in the Big 12 in passing efficiency.
Griffin starts his junior year garnering national attention. His accomplishments earned him a spot on the preseason watch list of three prestigious awards: the Walter Camp Award for the nation’s most outstanding player, the Maxwell Award for college player of the year, and the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s best quarterback. But for Griffin, it’s all about the team.
“To me, it’s big for this team,” Griffin said. “It brings more attention to the team. All those awards are team awards. You’re not going to win those unless your team is doing great things and you along with it.”
Junior Nick Florence returns as Griffin’s backup for the quarterback position. Redshirt freshman Bryce Petty is the third-string quarterback.
Baylor finished the 2010 season ranked 24th in the NCAA in rushing. Finley totaled 1,155 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, earning him fourth in rushing among Big 12 running backs. Unfortunately, Finley graduated and went to the NFL.
Now the running game falls to junior Jarred Salubi and senior Terrence Ganaway. Together, they totaled 510 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2010. Briles has yet to choose a starter, though Salubi works with the first team in practice.
“We just need to make sure we’ve got the right personnel in the right places with the right schemes,” Briles said. “Starting’s not good enough; it’s not good enough for any of us. If you’re happy being a starter at Baylor, you shouldn’t be happy. You better be thinking you can be better than anyone in the United States of America, because that’s who we’re playing against.”
At the No. 3 slot is the sophomore Glasco Martin, who last year gained 21 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown. Freshman B.J. Allen has also been getting some carries in scrimmages. Sophomore Erik Wolfe will be starting fullback this season.
The Bears’ receiving corps took a hit this summer with the loss of junior Josh Gordon, who was officially dismissed from the team Aug. 16 for unspecified team violations. Gordon caught the longest pass of the year with a 94 touchdown reception during the win against Kansas. The team will miss Gordon, but is ready to move on.
“Most all of our receivers are deep threats,” Griffin said. “Coach Briles doesn’t recruit slow guys. He likes speed. People may be sad about Josh leaving, me being one of those, but Terrance Williams is a hell of a receiver, and he’s every bit of a deep threat that Josh was.”
Senior Kendall Wright ranked fifth in receiving yards per game in the Big 12 and finished with 952 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He starts this season on the preseason watch list of the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s most outstanding receiver, though Wright doesn’t really take notice of that.
“I don’t really pay attention to [the individual achievements] until reporters bring it up,” Wright said. “I guess it’s good. I just try to go out here and get better everyday.”
The receiving corps, including Wright, is roughly the same, minus Gordon. Junior Terrance Williams, sophomore Tevin Reese, and junior Lanear Sampson are all poised to take over in his absence. Williams totaled 484 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season despite an injury.
“Terrance Williams is stepping up to fill his role,” Wright said. “What most people don’t know is they were splitting time the whole season until Terrance broke his hand. It’s like we’re not losing anyone, but we will miss [Gordon].”
Reese had 401 receiving yards and Sampson had 390.
Sophomore Darius Jones will see time in five-wide sets with the shifts at the receiver position. Jones made two catches for 26 yards and returned four kickoffs for 73 yard.
Redshirt freshmen Antwan Goodley and currently hold second-string to Reese.
Sophomore Jordan Najvar, who sat out last season due the NCAA’s transfer policy, earned the no. 1 slot at tight end following spring football.
Junior Jerod Monk currently is the back up for Najvar. Monk is a former high school quarterback turned tight end and multi-purpose back. Last season he caught eight passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
Danny Watkins left for the NFL, so now the Bears turn to senior Philip Blake for leadership on the offensive line. Philip Blake has the most consecutive starts for current Baylor players with 25, and he returns this year as the starting center. Blake also starts the year on the preseason watch list of the Rimington Award for the nation’s most outstanding center.
“It’s a great honor, great acknowledgment,” Blake said. “I’m not really too worried about it. [I’m more] worried about the season.”
Taking over for Danny Watkins at left tackle is sophomore Cyril Richardson, who makes the switch from guard, where he made four starts last year. He also earned Big 12 All-Freshman honors.
“[Cyril’s] looking pretty good,” Blake said. “We’re comfortable with him at that position and we’re confident he can play left tackle.”
Ivory Wade, who is second to Blake with 20 consecutive starts, retains his position at right tackle. At the guard positions are senior Robert T. Griffin and junior Cameron Kaufhold, who both keep their starting positions at right and left guard, respectively.
Sophomore Kevin Palmer and redshirt freshman Troy Baker are currently second-string at the tackle positions.
Junior Jack Jackson and senior John Jones are backups at the guard position, and sophomore Stefan Huber will backup for Blake at center.