Spring look around the Big 12
As spring practices start, our Big 12 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
How will coach Dan Hawkins handle the pressure at Colorado? Will Iowa State be more competitive in 2006? Who will win the battle for Kansas' starting quarterback job? Can young coaches hang with legends? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
The Bears took this week off for spring break before returning on Monday for their final 12 practices, culminating with the April 8 Green and Gold game. The early work in the new pass-heavy spread offense of offensive coordinator Lee Hays has been strong. With former QB Terrance Parks moving to tight end, QB Shawn Bell has emerged as the leader at the position. Coach Guy Morriss has been pleased with his team's attitude coming into spring work. "Since the end of last season, the whole team has really started to buy into the whole message of doing things the right way," Morriss said. "I haven't had any off-the-field problems. I haven't had to check rooms at night. They've been doing conditioning workouts at 6 a.m., four days a week. You can tell they've been investing some time in the weight room. We are starting to look like a football team is supposed to." Among Baylor's new coaches is quarterbacks coach Wes Phillips, grandson of former NFL coach Bum Phillips.
Bernard Jackson has been switched back to quarterback for spring practice after playing a hybrid running back/returner/receiver role for two seasons; he was recruited out of high school as a quarterback. Jackson is one of five quarterbacks on the roster, joining senior James Cox, junior Brian White, and redshirt freshmen Mack Brown and Patrick Devenny. New coach Dan Hawkins has no plans to create a depth chart after several practices. Credit Hawkins for honesty, as he surveys his roster in the early stages of spring practice. "Our biggest goal right now is wanting to find out who we are. The other one is getting these guys to do things how we like to do them," Hawkins told the Associated Press. "But there are so many questions. I've already been asked who the breakout player of the spring is going to be, and I said why? I don't know who all the players are. How am I going to name the breakout player?" Hawkins has made time to meet with each of his players since he took the job. "I've been very impressed with the depth and the breadth of the humanity of these guys," Hawkins told the Denver Post. "I think they are all very excited. They've taken a mature approach to everything that's gone on. They loved [former Colorado coach] Gary [Barnett]. They loved the other staff. But I think they understand the nature of life and college football and how things go, and I think they are all fired up to get it going."
Sophomore RB Greg Coleman has been reinstated to the team after charges stemming from a January fight at an Ames nightclub were dropped. Freshman DB Durrell Williams still faces charges in connection with the incident. One big matter during the spring will be honing the Cyclones' competitiveness. ISU was 1-4 in games last year decided by seven points or less and lost five games by a total of 26 points. Their conference schedule will be much tougher in 2006, with games against Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma replacing Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State on the South Division part of the Cyclones' schedule. The Cyclones must rebuild the left side of their offensive line after the eligibility expired for starting LT Johannes Egbers and LG Kory Pence. Paul Fisher is expected to challenge Reggie Stephens for the guard slot, and Scott Fisher is the projected leader at tackle after starting the final six games of the season. Defensive coordinator John Skladany has major work facing him in the spring, rebuilding the core of a defense that ranked 12th nationally in rush defense, 20th in scoring defense and 35th in total defense. The Cyclones lose seven defensive starters, including key producers in the middle of the unit like NG Nick Leaders, MLB Tim Dobbins and starting safeties Nik Moser and Steve Paris, along with playmaking CB LaMarcus Hicks.
The Jayhawks will move one of their 15 spring workouts to Topeka -- 24 miles away from Lawrence -- to help build awareness of the program. The Jayhawks will scrimmage April 1 in Topeka. One priority during the spring will be finding some defensive playmakers, given the loss of standouts like DE Charlton Keith, LB Nick Reid and CB/KR/WR Charles Gordon. The Jayhawks allowed only 83.3 yards rushing per game (lowest in the past 50 seasons) and 2.4 yards rushing last season, their best showing in school history. QB Todd Reesing, who graduated a semester early from Lake Travis (Texas) High School, is expected to immediately challenge for playing time during the spring. With Brian Luke and Jason Swanson both lost to graduation, senior QB Adam Barmann is the only Kansas quarterback to ever have taken a college snap. Redshirt freshman QB Kerry Meier is expected to have the best chance to start in Kansas' opener Sept. 2 against Northwestern State. Whoever emerges at quarterback should have a level of comfort with four returning starting offensive linemen, starting TE Derek Fine and starting FB Brandon McAnderson back from last season's team.
At 36, Ron Prince will be one of the two youngest head coaches in Division I college football, along with new Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, a former KSU assistant under former coach Bill Snyder. Among the members of the official KSU party at the Big 12 men's and women's basketball tournament last week in Dallas was Snyder, who suddenly has a little free time on his hands. Snyder hasn't lost touch with his old school, wearing a purple sports jacket that he frequently wore when coaching the Wildcats. The most interesting positional battle during the spring might be at quarterback, as Dylan Meier returns after missing most of last season with an injury, though he directed a comeback victory over Missouri in the 2005 season finale. He will challenge Allan Evridge, who started the final six games last year. Incoming 6-foot-6, 231-pound freshman QB Josh Freeman also is expected to get a long look but could end up redshirting.
With TB Tony Temple missing all of spring practice after surgery on his left shoulder, several other running backs are receiving a big chance at additional playing time this spring. TB Connell Davis has been one of the most impressive players in early spring work. Davis struggled with injuries throughout his high school career at Gregory-Portland (Texas) High School, although he rushed for 1,500 yards as a senior. Temple, who led Missouri running backs with 437 yards rushing last season, is expected to be healthy by the fall. The Tigers are working outdoors more this spring, despite inclement weather. The Dan Devine Pavilion currently houses the team's strength and conditioning equipment while the Tom Taylor Complex is being renovated. "When I was in Seattle, in our 15 spring practices I coached at Washington, it seemed like 13 practices were like this," Pinkel told reporters after a recent rainy practice. "So I just felt like I was back home." The Tigers' biggest early area of concern on defense is at cornerback, where the Tigers lost their top three players from last season. Junior Darnell Terrell, sophomore Trenile Washington, sophomore Dominique Johnson and redshirt freshman Hardy Ricks are fighting for playing time this spring.
Nebraska coach Bill Callahan apparently hasn't forgiven Kansas State recruit Josh Freeman for reneging on his commitment to the Cornhuskers at the 11th hour before signing day. "We want players who want us because we feel that Nebraska is a special, special situation," Callahan told the Lincoln Journal-Star "If you're a prima donna, if you're a drama queen, there's no room for you at Nebraska. You can go to K-State." Callahan has said that the NCAA's limit of 15 practices during the spring isn't enough. "You just get going and then you have to put your pads away. It's kind of like playing nine holes of golf," he said. New tight ends coach Shawn Watson, who most recently coached at Colorado, will be the Cornhuskers' recruiting coordinator. Watson was hired in January to replace Scott Downing, who left for the head coaching job at Northern Colorado. LB/DE Dontrell Moore, who missed the Alamo Bowl after being ruled academically ineligible, has returned to the team and will participate in spring practice.
Spring practice starts March 20 for the Sooners, who hope to build on momentum from last season's 8-4 season, capped by a Holiday Bowl victory over Oregon. The Daily Oklahoman reported that coach Bob Stoops was among 11 families who have sued Texas-based developer William Dow Hamm III to make good on the development of an exclusive gated community on the west side of Norman. The lawsuit alleges Hamm assessed more than $400,000 in homeowner association fees, using much of it to pay for expenses he was responsible for as the community's developer The Sooners will return most of their offensive firepower from last season, including 82 percent of their rushing yards, 100 percent of passing yards and 61.1 percent of receiving yards from last season. The Sooners have held a double-digit lead in 75 of the 91 games coached by Stoops.
Coach Mike Gundy received a contract extension that will his stretch his contract through 2010. Oklahoma State assistants also received extensions through 2008 earlier this year. Those votes of confidence for the OSU coaching staff will come with a rub, however, as OSU heads into a new era of big-money athletics for its football program. Booster Boone Pickens has donated $165 million for a series of new athletic facilities, including an indoor practice facility. A ticket-price hike was also announced that is aimed at generating an additional $3 million in revenue. "Coaching football in the Big 12, pressure is a way of life," OSU athletic director Mike Holder told the (Oklahoma City) Daily Oklahoman newspaper. "They don't care what your budget is. They don't care what size stadium you play in. They don't care about all the disadvantages you've got. They just expect you to win on Saturday." One of the more intriguing positional battles once spring practice starts will be at free safety. Former QB Donovan Woods started the last four games there and will be pushed by Clint Coe, a transfer from Troy who is the younger brother of former OSU DT Clay Coe.
Texas coach Mack Brown knows where his talent comes from, and it's why he's traditionally made a big deal out of his annual coaching clinic. It was more of the same last week when the defending national champions welcomed 1,060 Texas high school coaches to Austin earlier this month One of the biggest tasks for the Longhorns this spring will be to find leaders who will replace players like Vince Young, Michael Huff and David Thomas. "We had a lot of great leaders last year," Brown said. "What you do when the season's over is you have to rebuild chemistry and find new leadership. That's one of the fun things about college coaching. We're not ready to start the season today, but we've got good players and everybody's trying, so they're finding out who the leaders are." Brown praised the work of four incoming freshmen -- QB Jevan Snead, LB Sergio Kindle, OL Buck Burnette and TE Greg Smith -- who arrived at school early to get a head start on playing time in the fall. "I'm really pleased with all four of the freshmen," Brown said. "All four of them have shown the ability to play, so they are not mistakes. They will play here and play good." Snead and redshirt freshman QB Colt McCoy are expected to carry their battle for the starting position to the Orange and White game that will be played at Royal-Memorial Stadium on April 2. The quarterbacks will play on opposite teams as Brown tries to provide a feel for game-time preparation. "We'd love to see those two compete in the spring game in front of a full house," Brown said. "It will be the first time either of them have competed in that kind of a setting. We'd like to build it up until the spring game. And then let everybody watch them like it's a game." General Mills has reported that more than 500,000 boxes of Wheaties celebrating the Longhorns' national championship have been sold. Preorders made by grocery stores across the country were similar in number to those that were ordered after the Boston Red Sox's World Series win in 2004.
Several interesting positional battles are looming after the release of coach Dennis Franchione's first spring depth chart last week. Redshirt freshman Stephen McGee is ahead at quarterback, with Ty Branyon and Jamie McCoy listed jointly as second-teamers. Other close battles with no defined starter include DE Michael Bennett and Cyril Obiozor, Chevar Bryson and Brock Newton at one safety, Alton Dixon and Devin Gregg at the other safety, Arkeith Brown and Jordan Peterson at one corner, and Marquis Carpenter and Danny Gorrer at the other cornerback The Aggies will break this week from spring practice, with work continuing next week. "Probably the biggest advantage to the prebreak session is that you get back on the field quicker after the season," Franchione said. "There's better retention. And it breaks up the long stretch between seasons by using a month and a half for the allowed 15 practices." WR Pierre Brown is among the most improved players in the Aggies' spring camp, Franchione said. Brown struggled last season with eight receptions but has shone in the Aggies' early work. "He played receiver some last year, but not with a lot of confidence that first year," Franchione said. "Now, he looks like a totally different player -- knows what he's doing, he's more mature, playing confidently and catching passes very well. It's amazing how he's changed in three months." Hopeful of getting more playmakers on his defense, Bryson and Newton have moved from cornerback to free safety, with Melvin Bullitt moving to strong safety. As expected because of its returning experience, the A&M offense has looked more advanced at the early spring practices than the Aggies' defense. "On the defensive side, there's a lot of teaching and familiarization taking place," Franchione said.
DE Keyunta Dawson, one of the team's top pass-rushers the last two seasons, will move to outside linebacker this spring in a move to bolster the Red Raiders' run defense. Dawson led the team in sacks in 2004 and finished second last season, but the move is being considered because of the Red Raiders' strength at the position with the emergence of players like McKinner Dixon, Seth Nitschmann, Tyler Yenzer, Rashad Hunt and Phillip Jones. The Red Raiders finished 30th in total defense, 18th in scoring defense, 15th in pass defense, but only 67th in run defense. Tech was one of only two teams (along with Tulsa) with nine or more wins to rank in the bottom 50 nationally in run defense After complaints last season about the Red Raiders' weak nonconference schedule, they will face a significantly more ambitious challenge this season. The Red Raiders and Oklahoma State are the only Big 12 teams with two bowl opponents in road games in 2006. The Red Raiders travel to Texas-El Paso on Sept. 9 and visit TCU on Sept. 16 A $45 million expansion plan has been announced for Jones Stadium, with the addition of a parking garage, 19 additional luxury suites and about 10,000 more seats in an upper deck, boosting the stadium's capacity to 63,000. The project is contingent on the athletic department securing about $20 million in gifts to help fund the project.