Spring look around the Big 12
As spring practices start, our Big 12 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Why was Falcons coach Jim Mora looking at Missouri's offensive scheme? Which Lucky player has been impressive for Nebraska? How have Texas QBs looked this spring? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
QB Shawn Bell is glad he prepared for extensive work in Lee Hays' new spread offense. "As soon as I heard he was coming, I was out here throwing," Bell told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "I threw about three or four times a week just to get ready for spring, and I'm going to have to do that all year to be ready for the fall." Bell is so active because he and redshirt freshman Blake Szymanski are the only two scholarship quarterbacks in camp. Bell, who passed for 144 yards and two touchdowns during Baylor's most recent scrimmage, also has repeatedly said how much fun he is having in the offense. Defensive tackle M.T. Robinson will miss the rest of spring practice after straining his knee in practice last week. Nick Moore, a transfer from Georgia Tech, has emerged as a likely starter at one linebacker position with his strong recent play. Defensive coordinator Bill Bradley is scrambling to replace Willie Andrews at rover. Junior S Brandon Stiggers and Marlon Price are in close competition to take Andrews' spot. Fifth-year senior guard Yancy Boatner has moved to center and fifth-year senior Will Blaylock, the Bears' 2005 starter at center, moved to Boatner's open guard position. Redshirt freshman Jason Lamb has moved from tight end to defensive end. The first quarter of the Bears' annual spring game on April 8 will feature an alumni flag football game; the final three quarters will be a straight scrimmage with a running clock.
Change has been noticeable in early practice work with new coach Dan Hawkins. Four different quarterbacks have taken snaps with the first unit, and Hawkins has made a one-back formation his primary set. It should be a huge transformation from Gary Barnett's ball-control running game that usually featured two backs and often two tight ends. Hawkins took advantage of spring break by making his first sky diving mission during a brief family reunion in California. He's also spending the spring alone in Boulder while his family finishes school at his old home in Boise, Idaho. Hawkins is pleased with the early efforts of his team, although it's a learning process. "I think the tempo is good," Hawkins said. "It's hard because when they just about have it, we put a couple of new plays and blitzes in, so it's like spy vs. spy and each side is getting confused." Some of the fallout from the $4 million contract buyout for Barnett and his staff will cause Colorado to drop its men's tennis team. The Buffaloes now sponsor the NCAA minimum of 16 sports. CB Terrence Wheatley produced two interceptions in Colorado's first scrimmage. Hawkins said there was no significance to Bernard Jackson getting the first work at quarterback in the scrimmage. Jackson was followed by Brian White. James Cox's playing time has been curtailed because of an injured thumb. Cornerback Gerett Burl is expected to return to practice after missing the first several sessions for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Kicker Mason Crosby, a returning consensus All-American, looks to be in midseason form after nailing a 67-yard kick during spring practice. "That guy is unbelievable, he really is," Hawkins said. "He stands there and he's a little bit short and you go, 'Oh, 69 [yards]. I told our quarterbacks the other day that they have to understand when we get inside the 50, we cannot afford to take a sack, because we have points right there." Senior wide receiver Martane Freeman, who flirted with making a jump from basketball to football, will not join the football team.
About 3,000 season tickets in the end zone bleachers at Jack Trice Stadium have been released for the upcoming season. The Cyclones are aiming to sell a record 30,000 season tickets with an attractive home schedule featuring bowl teams Kansas, Texas Tech and Nebraska and Division I-AA national runner-up Northern Iowa. With the retirement of former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder after last season, ISU coach Dan McCarney now has the longest tenure of any Big 12 head coach. McCarney is the only coach remaining from the conference's first Big 12 season in 1996. McCarney isn't sure who will emerge as the Cyclones' punter but is assured that whoever wins the job will be a walk-on. The Cyclones have no scholarship punters currently on their roster. Center Scott Stephenson will miss all of spring practice as he rehabilitates his shoulder injury. Senior WR Jon Davis snapped his Achilles' tendon in a non-contact drill and has undergone surgery. McCarney said team doctors have told him he could return to action by the fall. Freshman James Smith has emerged at strong safety ahead of Caleb Berg in one of the closest position battles. The Des Moines Register reported that former ISU DE Jason Berryman must stay out of bars for the next eight months and perform 10 hours of community service as a result of violating his probation on Jan. 29. Berryman, who was on probation following his guilty plea to theft and assault charges in 2004, was ticketed by Ames police for being in a bar while underage.
Kansas safety Rodney Harris is out indefinitely after sustaining a neck injury that required surgery. Coach Mark Mangino declined to give specifics to reporters but didn't rule out the possibility that Harris wouldn't be able to play during his senior season this fall. Harris did not play last season, but he was counted on to bolster a young secondary this year. Mangino hopes to settle on his No. 1 quarterback by the end of spring practice. Senior Adam Barmann is hooked in a tight battle with redshirt freshman Kerry Meier for the starting job. "We want to have the No. 1 guy, and that's it," Mangino told the Wichita Eagle. "We think we're going to be able to get one, two and three pretty quickly. Hopefully, at least one for sure." Running back Gary Green II, son of former NFL standout Gary Green, is not expected to practice during the rest of the spring as he rehabs from an undisclosed offseason surgery. Russell Brorsen, who played tight end as a freshman last season, has returned to his natural position of defensive end. Brorsen was recruited to play defense, but he was forced to play on offense last season due to a rash of injuries.
New Kansas State coach Ron Prince came into spring football with some definite plans. "It's very important for us to understand clearly what we're here to do -- which is to evaluate our systems, install them and figure out where the right people go in the right spots. How much we run and how much we pass and how much we blitz and how much we cover, all those things we'll know more about after April 22." Although the Wildcats return 41 lettermen and a Big 12-best 20 starters from last year, Prince is not ready to create a depth chart. "One of the biggest things we want to try to accomplish is to create some competitive tension," Prince said. "We'll ask our players to compete for playing time, which is why we really haven't made up our mind about any of the depth chart issues yet. I'm really excited to see which kids have competitive toughness and want to perform when something is on the line." Dinner after the Wildcats' first practice was special for those players who did not miss a team meeting over the spring. Those with perfect attendance feasted on prime rib and lobster, while those who had missed meetings had bologna. Prince praised junior CB Justin McKinney for his development over winter conditioning drills. "He's really jumped out as a leader," Prince said. "His lateral quickness, athleticism, balance, speed and awareness has really jumped out at all of us in the first phase of the winter program. I'm really excited about watching him here in this phase." Installation of a new artificial playing surface for the Wildcats' indoor practice facility should be completed by early April. KSU's current playing surface in the facility is 14 years old.
Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Missouri was one of three college squads his team studied as a means to better utilize Michael Vick as a running threat. The Falcons also looked at Texas and West Virginia. Redshirt freshman WR Brandon Rooks has emerged as a playmaker during early practices. Wide receiver should be one of the deepest positions on the staff with Tommy Saunders, Brad Ekwerekwu and William Franklin leading at the position. Coach Gary Pinkel isn't hamstrung by the new "loyalty oath" that is a part of basketball coach Mike Anderson's contract. Anderson will be required to make 30 appearances for the university, as well as "maintaining a mature and rational attitude, keeping emotions in control and downplaying defeats" and "keeping public statements complimentary to the athletic program and the university," according to terms of the contract. Pinkel has taken the Tigers to two bowl games in the last three seasons after Missouri went to two bowl games in the previous 19 seasons.
The Cornhuskers emphasized inside running and short-yardage drills in their first scrimmage of the spring. QB Zac Taylor saw limited action before giving way to Harrison Beck for most of the scrimmage. Nebraska coach Bill Callahan was impressed by the running of Marlon Lucky, who got 11 of the first 14 carries and scored the scrimmage's only touchdown. Lucky also broke a 55-yard run against the No. 1 Nebraska defense. Cody Glenn, a 230-pound I-back, also was impressive, particularly in his yardage after contact. Glenn has been compared to former Texas Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell because of his running style and squat frame. "Coach Callahan really wants to run the ball a lot this year," Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I think he wants to run the ball 40 times a game." With C Kurt Mann missing the spring because of a shoulder injury, senior Greg Austin has taken over at the position. After Mann returns in the fall, Austin is expected to join the mix at guard. Beck has become a member of a hard-core metal band popular in the Lincoln area. Former LB/S Jeff Souder has transferred to Nebraska-Omaha. Because the Mavs are a Division II program, Souder will be immediately eligible in the fall. TE Josh Mueller has taken over as the No. 1 player at his position for Matt Herian, who's nursing a hamstring injury and recovering from a broken leg. Coaches rave about the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Mueller's blocking ability, although Herian's raw athleticism would make him an ideal target in Callahan's pass-heavy offense -- if he ever gets healthy.
Oklahoma's defense appears far ahead of its offense -- at least if the results of the team's latest scrimmage are any indication. The defense produced five sacks and five interceptions, permitting only one touchdown late in the 65-play scrimmage. Reggie Smith made the most of his move from safety to cornerback. Smith had a 31-yard interception for a touchdown and nearly picked off two more passes, while adding five tackles. LB Curtis Lofton had seven tackles and Keenan Clayton and converted WR Lendy Holmes produced interceptions. Holmes has been one of the Sooners' biggest surprises with his strong play on defense. Rhett Bomar completed 8 of 14 passes for 86 yards and one interception. Backup Joey Halzle completed 6 of 17 for 58 yards and was intercepted four times. Halzle's 11-yard TD pass to Joe Jon Finley was the only touchdown scored by the OU offense. "The offense has a little ways to go, but I think they've got a chance to be pretty good when it's all said and done." OU coach Bob Stoops said. True freshman C Chad Roark has looked good in early practice and is in the mix for playing time. P Cody Freeby has been dismissed from the team. "He has not live up to his responsibilities or expectations with the team or academically," Stoops said. "He also hasn't followed through on the disciplinary measures that resulted in those areas." Freeby will be replaced by the inconsistent Mike Knall. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson would like to see Adrian Peterson match Reggie Bush's development as he progresses through his career. "I think Adrian is a very talented player, but I don't necessarily know if he's a great running back," Wilson said. "He missed his first preseason last year because of shoulder surgery. He can be better with his pace and setting up his blockers. He needs to trust the scheme. He can be better without the football. I thought Reggie Bush continued to improve while he was at Southern California and he must have had a great spring and summer last year to be the complete player he was. Adrian is a great talent and our goal is to get him to make those steps, too." Paul Thompson, who started last season at quarterback, remains in the mix at wide receiver. Lewis Baker, who was an occasional starter at safety last season, has moved to linebacker. Baker has added 12 pounds and plans to play at about 215 during the season. The Sooners' April 8 scrimmage will be televised by ESPN. Stoops is intrigued by the national publicity his program will receive with the broadcast. "It's exciting and will give great exposure to us," Stoops said. "It will be exciting for our fans and we're excited because it will showcase what we are doing."
The Oklahoma State offense sputtered at its most recent scrimmage, producing 11 turnovers in a 103-play effort. The ugly effort included seven dropped passes and at least a dozen penalties. Neither Bobby Reid nor redshirt freshman Zac Robinson made a significant leap forward in their work. Reid completed 8 of 9 passes for 113 yards, but struggled with an interception and a fumble. Robinson was 6 of 15 for 54 yards and also had an interception and a fumble. Clint Coe, a transfer from Troy State who was challenging for the Cowboys' starting free safety position, will undergo knee surgery next month after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago. Coe will miss the rest of spring practice. His status for the upcoming season is undetermined. Converted CB Calvin Mickens has been moved to safety with Coe's injury. Andre Sexton also is in the mix at the position. Transfer WR Adarius Bowman said offensive coordinator Larry Fedora's no-huddle scheme comes with a transition. "The No. 1 thing with a no-huddle offense is that you have to pay attention," Bowman told the (Oklahoma City) Daily Oklahoman. "You get the calls from the sidelines so that can be difficult at times. You have to be alert and ready. But the more repetitions I get, the better I'll get at it." The Cowboys will continue working out three times a week until the final week when they will stage their spring game on April 22. Freshman LB Chris Collins, a former top Texas recruit who has been embroiled in legal troubles in his hometown of Texarkana, Texas, has looked strong in recent practices. Collins and a former high school teammate were indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault in 2004 in Texarkana. The case is still pending. Collins has not played in two years.
The Longhorns received their national championship rings before the Orange and White scrimmage, but most of the estimated crowd of 41,200 was more interested in seeing the battle between Jevan Snead and Colt McCoy, who are hoping to replace Vince Young at quarterback. McCoy had four drives, leading his team to a field goal against the first team and two other drives that were halted on turnovers. He finished by completing 7 of 11 passes for 75 yards and an interception. Snead started four drives and finished three, scoring on two drives against the second team and having his other drive halted by an interception. Snead completed 9 of 13 passes for 97 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception. Coach Mack Brown said there was no separation between the two quarterbacks in the battle he expects will stretch into summer camp. "We'll need both of them and both will play in the fall," Brown said. "[Texas offensive coordinator] Greg Davis and I will have a to do a super job of determining who has the hot hand when the season starts." Brown was particularly impressed by the leadership abilities of both quarterback contenders. "I think the most impressive thing to me was their poise," Brown said. "They walked out there and just played. I stood outside there behind them and tried to see if they are nervous when the play comes in or when people are around them and I didn't see that at all. Neither has lost many games and they expect to win when they walk out on the field." TE Jermichael Finley was one of the standouts of the scrimmage, producing four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. TB Selvin Young was sidelined and WR Limas Sweed saw his work curtailed because of muscle pulls. Heralded freshman LB Sergio Kindle missed the scrimmage after inadvertently dropping a class earlier in the week that pushed him below the minimum number of hours for eligibility. Kimble had emerged as the backup to Robert Killebrew at weakside linebacker.
Coach Dennis Franchione was pleased with the work of his first-team offense in the Aggies' most recent scrimmage. QB Stephen McGee capped scoring drives with touchdown runs of 20 and 15 yards. "Our defense started out slow and the offense fast," Franchione told reporters after the scrimmage. "The defense got stronger as the workout continued. We missed a few assignments, more than I like, but we are still moving people around and trying to find the right mix." McGee, defensive end Red Bryant and LB Mark Dodge all had strong performances. Redshirt freshman OL Lee Grimes suffered a knee injury and his work during the rest of spring is undetermined. Former A&M coach Jackie Sherrill has watched Aggies' practice this spring in his role as a journalist. Sherrill hosts a radio talk show that originates from Nashville, Tenn., and was in College Station for intensive study of Franchione's program. The Aggies have scrambled at several practices as they look for a deep snapper to replace Boone Stutz. Among the candidates are Sam Giesselman, Corey Davis, Chris Smith and Stephen Blazek. "Even one [bad snap] is too many," Franchione told the Bryan Eagle. "We're trying to replace a great deep snapper in Boone, and we haven't decided on who it's going to be yet. They all don't have to be high velocity, but they do have to be accurate." Franchione has asked Texas A&M fans to help him name team awards after great Aggie players of the past. Franchione and his assistant coaches will have lunch with A&M students this week. "I thought about it this spring and decided that we don't have enough opportunities to have a closer, more personal way of thanking you for standing down in front of 20,000 at midnight," Franchione said. "So a lunch with your students now and then makes sense to meet them up close."
QB Graham Harrell is hooked up in a tight battle with redshirt freshman QB Chris Todd for the starting position. Whoever wins the job will have the luxury of throwing to one of college football's best receiving groups, keyed by Jarrett Hicks, Robert Johnson and Joel Filani. All ranked among the top 44 receivers nationally in average receptions in 2005. "It will make it a lot easier for us," Harrell said. "With the players I have around me, you just have to get them the ball. It's a great situation." In Tech's first scrimmage, the Red Raiders' defense showed surprising strength. Nose tackle Chris Hudler produced three sacks and DT Jake Ratliff added two more sacks. The Red Raiders were last in the Big 12 in 2005 with only 17 sacks. Both quarterbacks posted strong numbers -- Harrell completed 26 of 28 for 224 yards and Todd was 18 of 22 for 166 yards. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has been impressed by the early work of tailback Shannon Woods, who is in line to replace Taurean Henderson as the Red Raiders' top running threat. "He has a lot of raw ability, but he needs to continue to improve," Leach said. "The most important thing that Shannon needs to do that will make him more significant is to become a better blocker. That's the biggest thing he needs to change. And it was one of Taurean's biggest strengths." With starting safeties Dwayne Slay and Vincent Meeks gone from last season, defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich is scrambling for replacements at both positions. Lance Fuller, Anthony Hines, Joe Garcia and converted CB Darcel McBath all are getting work at the position this spring.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.
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