It’s that time of year again already – Baylor football begins spring practice on Thursday. The Bears will come into 2016 once again as contenders for the Big 12 and, eventually, a national championship as well. That path starts in camp.
Here are five of the top storylines headed into spring ball.
1. New playmakers. With Corey Coleman and Jay Lee gone to the NFL, Baylor must replace over 2,000 receiving yards and nearly 30 touchdowns from last season. The Bears have recruited the wide receiver position as well as any team in the country, and KD Cannon is sure to step in as one of the featured players next season. However, Art Briles and his staff will need to work through the talent and figure out who the featured players will be. Redshirt sophomores Chris Platt and Ishmael Zamora should be among the next in line, but freshmen Blake Lynch and Devin Duvernay could both push for playing time as well.
2. Integrating new players. Baylor has four players who enrolled during the spring semester, and several have potential to see the field sooner rather than later. Offensive guard B.J Autry and defensive tackle Jeremy Faulk will both be heavily expected to compete for starting jobs after starring at JUCOs. Faulk was named NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year for his performance on the interior. Wide receiver Tren’Davian Dickson will also have a chance to improve his body and compete for one of the vacant wide receiver spots. The one player who will certainly redshirt is former Grandview quarterback Zach Smith, who threw for 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in high school. That’s not a bad player to have waiting in the wings.
3. Cornerback battle. Baylor expected to have the cornerback pair of Ryan Reid and Xavien Howard back in the lineup next season, but Howard then declared for the 2016 NFL draft. Reid should still easily hold onto his position, but there will be a competition for the other cornerback position. Former JUCO transfer Tion Wright would seem to have a leg-up, considering he has the most experience. However, don’t count out a couple of young player. New recruit Parrish Cobb was an elite prospect and has great size and athleticism for the position. The Bears also have a couple of other young corners competing for time on the roster, including Verkedric Vaughns, Jordan Tolbert and Henry Black. We will see if any set themselves apart.
4. Replacing linemen. Baylor lost eight of its nine starting linemen on both sides of the ball after last season, bringing back only starting center Kyle Fuller. The Bears have plenty of talent waiting in the wings, but very little experience. Defensive end K.J Smith did get an opportunity to start during a Freshman All-American season in 2014 and should take one of the spots. However, both defensive tackle spots could potentially get snatched up by JUCO transfers without FBS experience. The same could be true on offense, with former JUCO tackles Mo Porter and Dom Desouza favorites to start at the bookends; neither has played in a Baylor game. The spring will be vital to develop some of these players and sift through the talent.
5. Quarterback health. Russell looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the nation during his seven games as a starter last season. However, when he went down with a fractured vertebra against Iowa State, the high-powered offense took a definitive step backwards. Freshman Jarrett Stidham did an admirable job stepping into the role, but did not have the kind of success Russell did before going out with a season-ending leg injury of his own. We will have to watch and see how involved both players are during practice.