By Sheehan Jeyarajah
In front of an estimated crowd of 3,750 fans, Baylor football took part in its annual spring scrimmage at the Highers Athletic Complex Saturday to give Baylor fans a preview of Baylor’s 2014 squad.
“I was just tickled to death with the crowd because we didn’t really promote [the game],” head coach Art Briles said. “You look up and there are people everywhere. That’s a great thing. I certainly think it’s evidence of how they respect the direction of Baylor football.”
Unlike some previous seasons where the game was a test of offensive consistency, the Baylor coaching staff put a premium on keeping all of its weapons healthy heading out of the spring.
Returning sophomore running backs Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin combined for three rushing attempts, which opened the door for spring-enrollee Terence Williams and redshirt freshman Johnny Jefferson.
The duo had a combined 10 carries for 43 yards. Jefferson broke away for multiple runs that would have resulted in touchdowns had the coaches not whistled the play dead before completion.
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty went 10-of-15 for 135 yards and two touchdowns in limited opportunities, including a sweet long-ball to sophomore wide receiver Robbie Rhodes for a 38-yard score.
“It was OK, just OK,” Petty said. “It wasn’t as good as I wanted it, but the whole thing about spring is staying healthy. It’s kind of hard when you’re going against the same people every day.”
Last spring, Petty nailed 13-of-15 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns as a potential first-year starting quarterback. This time, Petty talked about the difference between going in as a first-year starter and coming in with expectations.
“I still have to prove,” Petty said. “It’s not just about proving to the team that I can play, but it’s about proving to the nation that I’m the best. That’s why I hold high expectations for myself.”
Sophomore quarterback Seth Russell and freshman Chris Johnson both struggled on the day, combining to go 7-for-15 for 84 yards. Redshirt freshman center Jacob Kyle struggled to deliver both Russell and Johnson the ball.
Rhodes’ touchdown grab was his only catch of the day. Sophomore Corey Coleman led the way with five catches for 47 yards. Junior receiver Jay Lee added two receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore center Kyle Fuller and junior left guard LaQuan McGowan joined returning starters on the offensive line with junior right guard Desmine Hilliard and senior right tackle Troy Baker.
With junior left tackle Spencer Drango out recovering from a back injury, sophomore Jason Osei and junior college transfer Jarrell Broxton each received time at left tackle.
The defense has experienced a great deal of turnover since last season, and injuries have made integrating new players difficult. Returning starters senior linebacker Bryce Hager and junior safety Terrell Burt both did not play with injuries, and potential starting cornerback Chris Sanders did not go through contact practice this spring after surgery on a torn labrum. In all, Baylor lost seven starters on defense.
“I think we’re more talented now,” defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. “There’s experience in the way we’ve developed. With last year’s defense we were two things, mentally and physically tough. That’s what I want us to progress to, and I think, by looking at these guys, that we do have talent.”
Sophomore cornerback Xavien Howard impressed in coverage during the spring game. He recorded a pass breakup and stood out in pass coverage against Baylor’s talented receivers.
Despite losing starting defensive ends Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd, the Bears return nine defensive linemen with at least some starting experience.
Junior defensive end Shawn Oakman, a 6-foot-8, 285-pound athletic phenom, leads a unit that is expected to be one of the best in the Big 12 next season. Oakman recorded two of Baylor’s five sacks in the spring game.
“I think the same thing I’ve thought all spring— we can’t block [Oakman],” Briles said. “And I don’t think anybody else will either. It’s what I’ve been saying all along, our defensive line is as good as anyone’s in America.”
Baylor’s McAllister, Lloyd, junior defensive tackle Beau Blackshear and junior defensive tackle Trevor Clemens-Valdez were all three-star recruits coming out of high school. The Bears spring game rotation of Oakman, junior defensive lineman Javonte Magee, sophomore defensive tackle Andrew Billings and sophomore defensive end Jamal Palmer boasts two four-star recruits and a five-star.
Redshirt freshman kicker Chris Callahan took all three of Baylor’s field goal attempts.
With the scrimmage, Baylor has completed its drills for the spring. Training camp will start in August after a summer of strength and condition drills for the Bears. On Aug. 31, Baylor will debut its new $260 million McLane Stadium against Southern Methodist University.