Football finds success in free agent signing

In this Lariat file photo, senior running back Shock Linwood is tackled by an SMU defender during a game on Sept. 10, 2016. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

The 2017 NFL Draft didn’t exactly play out the way Baylor fans had in mind.

Fans, students and supporters of the Bears had to wait until the seventh and final round of the draft on Saturday before the Houston Texans drafted senior center Kyle Fuller.

The Wylie native was pick No. 243 and marked the ninth consecutive year that a Baylor football player has been drafted.

Fuller played in 52 games over four years, starting 39 games and anchoring the offensive line for the Bears.

Baylor senior quarterback Seth Russell, who took snaps from Fuller the last two seasons, believes it is Fuller’s toughness and consistency that makes him such a great player.

“One thing he has is consistency. He brings a mental toughness to the offensive side of the ball. He has a lot of experience, which helps with our tempo,” Russell said before the Bears Oct. 15 matchup against Kansas. “He helps the other guys up front. If they have a question he’s able to relay to them pretty quick, which allows our tempo to stay pretty fast.”

John Harris, a football analyst for the Houston Texans Radio/TV ,said that Fuller’s athleticism that makes him a valuable pick.

“He’s a center with athletic traits, size and length,” Harris said on Twitter. “Unusual to see a center with his physical attributes.”

While Fuller will remain in the state of Texas, wide receivers KD Cannon, Ishmael Zamora, defensive back Orion Stewart and Russell will be heading West as they continue to pursue making NFL roster.

Both Zamora and Russell will be heading to Oakland to attend rookie minicamp with the Raiders while Cannon will be across the bay in San Francisco with the 49ers. Stewart will attend camp with the Denver Broncos.

Russell was an extremely efficient passer for the Bears in his last two seasons. He went 14-3 as a starter, and helped lead Baylor to the No. 2 ranking in the country in 2015. He threw for 4, 230 yards, 49 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Russell also had very capable legs, scrambling from the pocket, picking up first touchdowns and rushing for six touchdowns in 2015.

However, his physical style of running was his most concerning quality because it opened him up to taking more punishment from opposing defenses. Russell missed the final seven games of the season in 2015 after breaking a bone in his neck against Iowa State.

Russell broke his foot on Nov. 12 in a 45-24 loss to Oklahoma, forcing him to miss the final four games of his senior season.

Russell said he was disappointed that he didn’t hear his name called during the draft but his faith and confidence keep him motivated moving forward as he heads to rookie minicamp in Oakland.

“Of course I wanted to be drafted. Who doesn’t want to be drafted?” Russell told the Waco Tribune Herald. “My agent was telling me the word around the league was they weren’t going to take a risk because of my injury for whatever reason. You just trust the process and trust what God has. I have a lot of confidence in myself and I feel I’m going to have a great career in the league.”

Canon and Zamora were the top wide receiver targets for Russell and freshman quarterback Zach Smith. Cannon led the team with 87 catches for 1,215 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Cannon plans to use the fact that he wasn’t drafted as motivation as he heads to San Francisco.

“Thankful for not being drafted cause now imam make y’all feel my pain,” Cannon wrote in a Twitter post on Saturday evening.

Zamora had 63 catches for 809 yards and eight touchdowns. Zamora’s production would have been higher but he was suspended the first three games of the season due to a video that surfaced showing Zamora whipping and kicking his dog.

Zamora vowed that this type of incident would never occur again. He was not available to the media during the season but did not receive any further punishment or make headlines due to off the field issues.

Stewart was the anchor in the secondary for acting head coach Jim Grobe’s defensive scheme. He led the defensive backs with 76 total tackles, including 51 solo tackles and one sack. He led the team with six interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

One other notable name missing from the draft and recent free agent signings is senior running back Shock Linwood.

Linwood became Baylor’s all-time leading rusher earlier in the season but saw his workload decrease, partially because of the emergence of sophomore Terrence Williams and redshirt freshman JaMychal Hasty, but also because consistently found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

He was suspended prior to the Oklahoma game for what Grobe described as “attitude issues.” He also decided in December to not participate in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl against Boise State in favor of preparing his body for the upcoming draft. Linwood was later not invited to participate in the NFL combine and told that he would most likely not be drafted.

Linwood rushed for 4,213 yards and scored 36 touchdowns in four seasons for the Bears and was a pivotal piece to the upswing of Baylor football over the past few years. However, his failure to be drafted or signed appears to be the result of a tumultuous final season in Waco.

The process to replace these significant pieces of the football puzzle is already well under way for head coach Matt Rhule. The former Temple head coach recently finished up his first spring season at Baylor, culminating in a 65-39 victory for the Gold in the Baylor’s annual spring game.

Baylor’s 2017 campaign will begin Sept. 2 when the Bears host Liberty University at McLane Stadium. Times have yet to be announced.