Spring practices are beginning to wind down across the Big 12 and teams are sending their squads into summer workouts. As they move forward, we’ll provide some thoughts and observations on things we’ve learned after the past few weeks.
Baylor began their spring practices in mid-March and wrapped everything up with their spring game on April 21st. After a disappointing 1-11 season in head coach Matt Rhule’s first year, Baylor fans are eager for tangible signs of improvement.
Specifically, Rhule needs to add more wins in his second year. It’s widely understood that Rhule has a rebuilding project on his hands, but the closer he can get to six victories in 2018, the better.
Below are some thoughts on the state of Baylor football following the end of spring practices.
1. THE PASSING GAME COULD BE ONE OF THE BEST IN THE BIG 12
There’s a good argument going into 2018 for Charlie Brewer as the second-best quarterback in the Big 12, if for no other reason that the rest of the conference is such an unknown.
At any rate, he figures to be one of the best in the conference next season. Baylor also return Denzel Mims, who also is one of the best in the conference.
Chris Platt will be coming back off injury and with the addition of Tennesee transfer Jalen Hurd, moreover, Baylor could then have one of the top wide receiving corps in the Big 12. Even if the offensive line doesn’t make a ton of progress from last season to this one, all of the ingredients are there for the Bears to be able to sling it around.
2. THE BEARS NEED TO DEVELOP DEPTH AT QUARTERBACK SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
It’s no secret that the Bears had one of the worst offensive lines in the Big 12 last season. They ranked dead last in sacks allowed, giving up 37 in 2017. That statistic undoubtedly contributed to Rhule having to start three different signal callers.
With four starters back and a Clemson graduate transfer coming in, the line could be improved, but how much better will they be at keeping Brewer upright? The quarterback had the best adjusted completion percentage of any in the conference last season, but will that translate into more points and, more importantly, wins?
Indeed, the most valuable commodity for head coach Matt Rhule right now is probably Brewer’s health. After recovering from injury throughout the spring, the sophomore quarterback appears to be health again.
Should Brewer have to miss time again in 2018, there are a few options.
Gerry Bohanon has potential, but he is also a very raw player who could use a year to develop. Graduate transfer Jalan McClendon will arrive in the fall from North Carolina State to help shore up depth, but he’ll have to get up to speed quickly.
Person Heard is a redshirt sophomore walk-on who had a solid performance in the spring game, but it’s hard to know what to take away from that. Finding the next guy up and getting him reps will be a high priority for Rhule when fall begins in three months.
3. HOW MUCH BETTER WILL THE DEFENSE BE IN 2018?
At the end of last season, Rhule said Baylor was “absolutely” going to a bowl game in 2018, something that many Bears fans have taken to heart. Baylor would need, at minimum, to win three conference games to get there. After a season in which they gave up 35.9 points per game, they’re not likely to get bowl eligible without some improvements on defense.
At Temple, Phil Snow’s defense took a big leap in his second year there, so Baylor fans will be hoping that the same happens next season.
It’ll have to start with the run defense. Baylor hired former Texas defensive lineman Frank Okam to coach their own front four. Ira Lewis and Tyrone Hunt project as solid interior linemen that he can work with, but at 330 pounds junior Bravvion Roy might make a name for himself this season.
For Bears fans, it’s also good news that the Baylor secondary feels more confident in Snow’s second year. Last season, the Baylor pass defense came in at about the middle of the conference, so it would be a boon for the secondary to be an above average unit.
Of course, a lot will depend upon the play of the linebackers. Clay Johnston could be good when he’s healthy, but Baylor needs players around him to excel.
4. THE PROGRESS OF THE RUNNING GAME IS UNCERTAIN
Players like Trestan Ebner and JaMycal Hasty are two of the better running backs in the Big 12, but will the offensive line be able to pave the way for them to make plays? Because the Bears managed just 3.4 yards per carry last season, they often found themselves in third and long situations.
Perhaps that’s why Baylor attempted more fourth down conversions – 33 of them in fact – than any other team in the Big 12. Making sure that the offensive line can open up more holes for the Ebner and Hasty to run through could enable Rhule to take fewer gambles.
Did the spring provide assurances that the Bears will do that? Not exactly. It’s hard to tell much from a spring game, but no running back had a particularly good performance.
Next season will be a pivotal one for how we measure Baylor’s success in the next few seasons. If the Bears don’t improve noticeably in 2018, what hope should we have that they take steps forward in 2019?
Admittedly, Rhule’s job won’t be in jeopardy if Baylor fails to make a bowl game for consecutive years.
Yet the problem lies in the fact that winning less than six games two years in a row makes it a trend in the Matt Rhule era. Rhule wasn’t hired from Jersey to just fight for bowl eligibility every season.
Because of the offensive talent available, there’s reason to think the Bears could go bowling. It remains a mystery, though, whether Rhule has the right combination of players and coaches to get there.