Football begins spring drills with 10-3 record, Heisman in rearview
By Tyler Alley
Baylor football left the Alamadome field victorious on Dec. 30, 2011. The team returned the field Tuesday for the first time since to begin spring practice.
“It’s just fun to back on the field. 6:30 workouts every morning get kind of old,” senior quarterback Nick Florence said. “Let’s get out on the field and toss the ball around. It’s a game and it’s fun, and that’s why we all do it because we have a blast doing it.”
With Robert Griffin III headed to the NFL, the focus of the Bears for next fall is on the quarterback position. Florence is currently slated to be the starter for the Bears.
“We’re grateful and thankful for everything Robert did for Baylor University and Baylor football in general,” head coach Art Briles said. “We’re happy for his journey, proud of his journey, excited about his journey in the NFL. It’s a process. Your kids grow up and you don’t want to keep them around the house until they’re 28 or  I don’t think. Tap them on the rear end and say, ‘Y’all get out there and see if you can make it on your own.’”
Next season will not be the first time Florence has taken snaps for the Bears. When Griffin went down with his knee injury in 2009, Florence came in and started seven games, passing for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. He also came in for Griffin in the second half against Texas Tech and passed for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s huge. It’s confidence building right there,” he said. “I know I can do it. I’ve done it before. I’ve done it for four years now. Physically I’ve matured from 2009. So I’m excited. All the puzzle pieces are falling into place.”
Briles said Florence and sophomore Bryce Petty both have a shot at starting quarterback; Florence is receiving the edge right now due to his experience.
“Bryce is going to do a great job,” Florence said. “We’re going to compete for it. I’ve not been handed the keys, and I don’t want it to be that way. I want to go out and compete for the job and make us both better.”
The Bears lost another big senior in running back Terrance Ganaway, who set a school record by rushing for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns. Three running backs will look to take his place: senior Jarred Salubi, junior Glasco Martin and sophomore Lache Seastrunk.
Another big hit for Baylor came in the receiving corps with the departure of Kendall Wright. Wright set multiple school records in receiving and was the main target for Griffin.
“I feel like it will be a more spread-the-wealth type thing ,” senior receiver Lanear Sampson said. “You know we had Kendall for four years. He’s kind of been that guy. But now, me and Terrance [Williams] have played. Tevin Reese have played a lot. We need some young guys to come up and take some playing time.”
The offensive line will go through some transition as former center Philip Blake graduated and headed for the NFL. Briles said senior Ivory Wade could take the starting center position.
“He’s smart. He’s fast. He’s experience. Got good hand-eye coordination. And he’s skilled,” Briles said. “He fits everything we’re looking for. And to us that’s one of the more important positions on the offensive side of the ball. He’s a guy that’s been in the grind a little bit. He understands the game and we’ll see what he can do.”
The defense will begin its second season under coordinator Phil Bennett.
“We’ve been more comfortable than we were last year, even at the end of the season,” junior nickelback Ahmad Dixon said. “We feel a whole lot better than we did going into the bowl game. We’re confident and ready to roll.”
The squad remains largely the same, as the only departing seniors were defensive tackles Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson, and linebacker Elliot Coffey.
Seniors Kaeron Johnson and Nick Johnson look to replace the defensive tackles. The middle linebacker position is in flux, as sophomore Bryce Hager and junior LeQuinc McCall could take the spot, as well as junior college transfer Eddie Lackey from Riverside Community College in California.
The Bears are dealing with a number of injuries heading into spring practice. Junior defensive end Tevin Elliott could miss the entire spring with a knee injury, as could fellow defensive end, senior Gary Mason Jr., with a shin injury.
Senior guard Cameron Kaufhold is out with a shoulder injury, and senior cornerback Chance Casey is out following knee surgery.
Spring practice is scheduled for March 6, 8, 19, 21, 23, 27, 29, 30, 31, April 3, 5, 10, 12, 13 and 14.
“The great thing about it is in the spring you can put your practices and have open days in between them,” Briles said.