We are less than six months away from the start of the 2018 season and football teams all across the Big 12 are going back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills are the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear and go through practices.
It’s time for us to turn our attention to what those practices might mean. We’re giving a preview of each team in the conference and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in the coming weeks.
Next, we turn our attention to head coach Matt Rhule and the progress he’s making in his second season with the Baylor Bears. His inaugural year at the helm of the football program didn’t exactly go as the head coach expected.
Still, despite a 1-11 record last season, Baylor was competitive in games against Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State. How much progress can the Bears expect to make in Rhule’s second year?
The answers to many of those questions will begin to come in spring. Baylor settles on trying to solidify its two deep after multiple players return from a 2017 that was cut short by injuries. Across the roster are players who got starting experience because of those injuries, but one could argue that consistency is crucial for the Bears.
As Baylor hits the practice field on Thursday, they’ll begin to develop just that.
PRACTICE BEGINS: THUR, March 15
SPRING GAME DATE: SAT, April 21
LOCATION: McLane Stadium (Waco, TX)
On offense, establishing positions along the depth chart begins with naming a quarterback.
One transfer and a withdrawal have left Baylor noticeably young there. True sophomore Charlie Brewer appears to be the incumbent after playing in eight games and managing an eye-catching 68.1 completion percentage in 2017.
Still, Brewer could be challenged by Gerry Bohanon, a two time all-state player out of Arkansas who enrolled in January. Bohanon, considered a dual threat player, will need improve as a passer over the course of the spring, but if he can do that he might set up an interesting competition come August.
Four starters return along the offensive line, but the unit nonetheless has big questions. Injuries and a lack of proven depth forced the Bears to experiment with the offensive line last season, so exactly who will start where needs to be sorted out.
The Bears also added some transfers to bolster their depth. Clemson transfer Jake Fruhmorgen is the most likely one of them to make an immediate impact by filling in a spot at left tackle.
Another transfer, Jalen Hurd from Tennessee, will look to crack the starting lineup at wide receiver. With veterans like Chris Platt and Denzel Mims coming back, however, this will actual be a position group with some depth.
Tight end, a position highly valued in the pro-style offense the Rhule ran previously, should be a position of interest. Transfer Jayson Clements saw playing time last season. Tyler Henderson and Rob Saulin, both of whom signed in 2017 with Baylor, could also grab the starting spot.
Plenty of talent also returns at running back, with JaMycal Hasty, John Lovett and Trestan Ebner all having gotten carries last season.
After finishing ninth in total defense last season, Baylor certainly has room for improvement on that side of the ball. The combination of a lack of depth and a slate of injuries kept the Bears from being able to create any kind of consistency, but a lot of players who logged minutes on the field will return.
The defensive line has experience coming back, although there will probably be competition at rush end. Xavier Jones is a senior and probably has the inside track there.
The back seven is where things begin to get interesting. Because of injuries, a lot of players in that area saw some starting time last year, but none were consistently healthy or good enough to say they’ve secured the position.
At linebacker, the loss of veteran Taylor Young leaves a vacancy for someone to step up. Jordan Williams, who rotated last season, probably will succeed Young.
The secondary might be hardest hit by attrition. Cornerback probably has answers at both spots, but safety is a bit of a mystery. Blake Lynch was converted from wideout to provide depth and Chris Miller has some experience on the back end.
With all of the injuries last season, there is starting experience coming back across the board. Will that translate into improvement? Spring should give Rhule the first indication of what dividends might be paying off from last year. Developing continuity and depth right now might just be the key to whether Baylor can take another step forward in the fall.