Spring look around the Big 12
With spring practices winding down, our Big 12 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Can a freshman win the Kansas State QB job? Who will win the tailback job at Nebraska? Will the Texas Tech defense step up in 2006? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
How committed is Baylor coach Guy Morriss to his new duties as the Bears' offensive line coach? Morriss sold all of his cattle on his ranch near Waco so he could devote more time to work with the Bears' young offensive front. "I don't fool with them anymore and it's created a lot more time," Morriss said. "I was doing it at 5 a.m. in the dark, so it's freed more time for me to be a position coach again. I really missed it." Morriss said Baylor officials are negotiating to move their Sept. 2 opener against TCU to the following night -- a Sunday -- for a national television broadcast. "They are bantering it around a lot," Morriss said. "We might as well play then. That's how you get exposure and I don't think it would be a problem. There's too much to gain." Heralded WR prospect David Gettis, the Bears' first U.S. Army All-American recruit, qualified for Baylor last week after failing to gain admission last season. Morriss expects Gettis to arrive for the first summer session in early June. "It will be tremendous," Morriss said. "Right now, we're kind of short-handed at the position and we're kind of scrambling for bodies. We were after anybody who could walk, creep or crawl to play there." TB Brandon Whitaker appears to be ideally suited for the new spread offense. Morriss said the Bears will play with two running backs about 40 percent of the time in the new offense Sophomore LB Ben Hixson and redshirt freshmen Antonio Jones appear to be ahead at one of the two vacant spots at linebacker, with junior Nick Moore emerging for the other position. Senior DT Quincy Jenkins emerged as a prime playmaker, notching three sacks in the spring game played before about 3,500 at Floyd Casey Stadium The Baylor offense sputtered early in the situational scrimmage, producing only one net yard and no first downs in the first six series in the red zone. The defense notched seven sacks, limited the running game to 43 yards on 30 carries and also produced two interceptions and blocked a field goal. QB Shawn Bell completed 24-of-34 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colorado defense dominated the offense in the Buffaloes' spring game, allowing only two touchdowns in 21 drives. Both of those scores came after the ball was placed on the defense's 25-yard line. The CU defense produced nine three-and-outs in the offense's first 12 drives of the scrimmage. Touchdowns were scored by WR Stephone Robinson on a 6-yard reverse and on a 5-yard scoring pass from QB Bernard Jackson to FB Samson Jagoras. Jackson also produced a game-high 60 rushing yards while completing 4-of-8 passes for 28 yards. Brian White completed 10-of-24 passes for 102 yards, despite sustaining a slight concussion late in the scrimmage. "I thought it was very clean," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said. "Offensively, we didn't turn the ball over and that's a big deal. But I'm used to scoring a lot of points, so when you don't see the ball in the end zone I kind of start ticking a little bit. Fundamentally, we did some good things. We've got something to build on going into the summer. We'll continue to get a lot better." Senior DE Walter Boye-Doe was a dominant player during the scrimmage with seven tackles, four quarterback sacks, five tackles for losses and two third-down stops. "The defense likes to move around a lot, so I was able to get in a lot of different positions and make some plays," Boye-Doe said. "Everybody was out there making some great plays." QB James Cox was the favorite to claim the starting job before spring practice, but has fallen behind after suffering a slight fracture and tendon damage to his right index finger. "He's got enough experience under his belt, it's not like he's totally coming out of the blue," Hawkins told the Rocky Mountain News. "You'd hope he'd be able to get back in the hunt; we need him to." Cox's injury has opened the door for juniors Jackson and White, who have received most of the playing time in the practice since Cox's injury and are listed as co-No. 1 players at the position. Former Notre Dame transfer Brandon Nicolas has emerged as a key contributor at defensive tackle, where the Buffaloes lose both starters and return only senior Marcus Jones and sophomore George Hypolite from last year's roster. Defensive end has become a concern as senior Alex Ligon (torn pectoral muscle), sophomore Alonzo Barrett (dislocated elbow) and redshirt freshman Sam Zimmerer (illness) all have missed spring practice time with injuries. All-American K Mason Crosby has been the Buffaloes' most consistent punter as Hawkins looks to replace John Torp. Crosby averaged 50.3 yards per punt during the scrimmage, including a 65-yarder and another kick that went out of bounds at the 2-yard-line. New Colorado defensive backs coach Greg Brown's roots run deep with the Buffaloes, even though he didn't attend school there. The former Texas-El Paso product's father, Irv, was a former Colorado assistant coach, serving on Eddie Crowder's staff in 1972. The elder Brown also was Colorado's baseball coach for 10 seasons before the sport was disbanded at the school in 1980.
The Cardinal beat the White 42-28 before about 5,000 fans at Jack Trice Stadium in the spring game. The Cardinal team was made up of starters and the White team was spotted a 21-0 lead before the game started. LB Adam Carper has been a key player in the spring, producing an interception and fumble in the spring game that led to Cardinal touchdowns. QB Bret Meyer completed 20-of-25 passes for 249 yards and two TDs to key the Cardinal team's offense. "He did today what he's been doing all spring long," McCarney told reporters. "He's accurate, he's smart and has got a good delivery." Despite early concerns about the defense, the unit has emerged with the playmaking knack of some of defensive coordinator John Skladany's earlier units. The defense produced five turnovers in a recent scrimmage, including interceptions by three different defensive backs. Some of the offense's struggles were attributable to the absence of guard Seth Zehr (broken hand), center Scott Stephenson (shoulder) and WR Todd Blythe (pulled leg muscle). Freshman Jason Harris has emerged to challenge Stevie Hicks for playing time at tailback. Harris, ISU's fastest back, has significantly improved in his ball security, McCarney said. Kyle Van Winkle has secured the No. 2 position at quarterback behind Bret Meyer. Although 2006 QB recruit Austen Arnaud hasn't joined the Cyclone program yet, McCarney is very enthusiastic about his new arrival. "I have just as much confidence in Austen coming out of high school as I did in Bret Meyer when he came out of high school," McCarney said. "I've seen the growth, the maturity and the improvement first-hand in our summer camps with Austen over the last three summers. If he continues to improve, I don't think there's any doubt that he ought to be in the mix." McCarney said if Arnaud is not among the top three players at the position, he will be redshirted in the fall.
Redshirt freshman QB Kerry Meier had a hand in all four touchdowns to lead the White to a 28-7 victory over the Blue in Kansas' annual spring game. Meier completed 16-of-28 passes for 184 yards and no interceptions, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another score. "I'm really pleased with Kerry," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "I'm sure you could sense the poise he has. The ability he has is hard to overlook." Meier appeared to nail down the No. 1 job with the strong performance. "It's good to go out there," Meier said. "I had some good plays, I had some bad plays, but I think I had more good than bad. As long as I improve and keep playing, it will be just fine." Freshman LB Jake Schermer led the scrimmage with seven tackles. Mangino has been pleased with his quick development at linebacker, where standouts like Nick Reid, Banks Floodman and Kevin Kane are gone from last season. Eric Washington, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen all have emerged as potential starters during the spring. "To be honest, I thought those guys would be rough around the edges in spring ball and that they wouldn't polish up until August," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "But those kids are really ahead of schedule in terms of fundamentals and recognizing things." DE John McCoy has returned to the team after missing last season with his military unit in Iraq. Jon Cornish has emerged as the starter at tailback. Mangino told reporters that FS Rodney Harris' career is over after undergoing neck surgery earlier this spring. Harris, an honorable-mention 2004 All-Big 12 pick, will serve as a student coach as he works towards his degree. Junior Sadiq Muhammed and redshirt freshmen Darrell Stuckey are the prime contenders to fill Harris' spot in the lineup. Meier's late charge at quarterback appears to have pave the way for the occasional use of Adam Barmann at tight end. "We're between a rock and a hard place," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "Adam can help us at tight end. But if we have injuries at quarterback, he's got to play there. We'd hate to send him out for a pass and have him get injured. Then, we'd be with a freshman kid right out of high school [at No. 2 quarterback]. According to the Wichita Eagle, Mangino's $600,000 yearly salary ranks fifth among coaches in the state behind Kansas basketball coach Bill Self ($1 million per year), Kansas State basketball coach Bob Huggins ($750,000), Wichita State basketball coach Mark Turgeon ($750,000) and Kansas State football coach Ron Prince ($750,000).
True freshman QB Josh Freeman left high school early to begin his college career. He has no second thoughts about leaving Kansas City Grandview High School early. "I definitely did the right thing coming here," Freeman told the Kansas City Star. "If I haven't said it before, I'm saying it now. I'm here to compete and to play. There's no depth chart right now, so yeah, I've got a chance." Counting the number of snaps in recent open practices, Freeman appears to be running second behind Allan Evridge, who was the starter for most of last season for the Wildcats. QB Dylan Meier finally is healthy for the first time in nearly two years. He's learned a new throwing motion by starting with ping-pong balls and working up to bigger objects as he progressed. Much has been made of Ron Prince's open media policy for practice. Visitors are greeted with a long list of rules upon arrival at Bill Snyder Family Field. And they must surrender their driver's license in order to receive a pass that will permit field access for that day's practice. But considering the lockdown during Snyder's lengthy tenure, the visibility still is a marked change. MLB Zach Diles, who struggled because he didn't watch enough game tape last season, has emerged as a prime early playmaker. Sophomore TB Parrish Fisher was idled with an apparent knee injury, although Prince declined to make any comments about the injury. "I don't even talk about those kinds of things," Prince told reporters. Greg Wafford and Derek Meyer have been among the top early producers on the offensive line, much to Prince's delight. Prince formerly was the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at Virginia.
QB Chase Daniel took a step to claiming the starting position, completing 11-of-12 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Gold to a 60-43 victory over the Black in Missouri's spring scrimmage. Sophomore tight end Chase Coffman produced six receptions for 66 yards in the non-traditional scrimmage. Points were awarded for first downs, tackles for losses, turnovers and a variety of situational plays. Redshirt freshman TB Connell Davis produced a game-high 44 yards rushing, including a 7-yard TD run that was the only rushing score in the scrimmage. But he was plagued by fumbles that marked his spring. Daniel, Brandon Coleman and Chase Patton all got snaps in the final scrimmage. Coleman was 10-for-17 for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Patton was 13-of-19 for 123 yards with no TDs and an interception "I think they're very competitive, I think it's going good," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel told reporters. "They're competing hard. Chase Daniel has the edge still, but without question, it's not a done deal." Daniel saw action in 10 of 12 games last season in relief of Brad Smith -- by far more experience than any of the other contenders. TB Marcus Woods, who received many of the carries this spring after Tony Temple's shoulder surgery, missed the last several spring practices after sustaining an ankle sprain. Woods, who rushed for 435 yards last season to rank second among Missouri running backs, also missed the Independence Bowl with a strained groin Former walk-on WR Tommy Saunders is poised to earn the starting position formerly held by Sean Coffey. Xzavie Jackson and Stryker Sulak are hooked up in a tight battle at defensive end. Both had sacks in the scrimmage and Sulak added an interception.
Cody Glenn and Marlon Lucky both had strong performances in the Cornhuskers' annual Red and White Game. Glenn rushed for a game-high 98 yards and Lucky added 84 yards and two touchdowns to key the Red team's 35-7 victory. "They both did a good job," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "We emphasized the running quite a bit. We still wanted to get our throws in and work on our protection game, but we really wanted to test our young backs to see how they held up." Glenn, who has earned comparisons to former Texas running back Earl Campbell because of his squat size and tough inside running ability, was a big surprise despite suffering a high-ankle sprain late in practice. Lucky, one of the most heralded recruits of the 2005 class, is considering more of a breakaway threat. QB Zac Taylor's assured status helped him to a much easier game in this year's spring game that last year. Taylor threw for a record 357 yards in last year's game. In this year's game, he passed for 184 yards and three TDs. "I was relaxed," Taylor said. "It's just a game and I didn't have any nerves. I was just excited to go out there and have a good time." One of the biggest concerns during the work with the offensive line this spring has been the center-quarterback exchange. But that figures to improve immediately with the return of starting C Kurt Mann, who should be recovered and ready to go by the fall. Nebraska coaches have been impressed with the development of the line this spring, now feeling they have 10 players who can contribute. When spring practice started, Nebraska coaches said they had six contributors. Nebraska's spring game attracted a Big 12-best attendance of 57,415 at Memorial Stadium last week. That number is down from 63,000 that came last year, mainly because there were only about 57,000 seats were available because of ongoing construction at the stadium. "There is no place in major college football where you can manufacture a home sellout for spring football," Callahan said. "It just speaks volumes for our program, for the fans, for the following and the passion for the state of Nebraska." As excited as coaches and Nebraska fans were about playing the game, LB Steve Octavien told the Lincoln Journal-Star he could do without the game. "If it were up to me, we wouldn't even play it," Octavien said. "I really don't care for the spring game. I'm looking forward to the fans coming out. Besides that, I could really care less. It really means nothing. It's just another scrimmage. There's no winner or loser because we're playing each other." Starting linebackers Stewart Bradley and Bo Ruud missed the spring game with injuries. Former walk-on offensive lineman Matt Slauson has been christened as "The Pain Train" or "Slausburger" by his teammates because of his physical play and 6-foot-5, 340-pound size. About 80 high-school and junior college prospects attended the spring game.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops elected not to have his team scrimmage in its last work before the end of spring practice. "I kind of chickened out on it," Stoops said. "I felt fortunate we didn't have any injuries. We didn't get any and I didn't want to take a chance of anything happening." Stoops' hesitancy is understandable, considering some of the Sooners' luck in late spring practices. Over the last several seasons, former DT Dusty Dvoracek, LB Rufus Alexander and former QB Brent Rawls all suffered injuries that required surgery after being hurt in late-spring scrimmages. New QB coach Josh Heupel was pleased with the work shown by projected starter Rhett Bomar and backup Joey Halzle throughout practice. "These guys really grasped a lot," Heupel said. "We put a lot on the table and they took it all in." The Sooners' biggest question entering the spring was an inexperienced offensive line that loses four starters from last year. "The offensive line has made good progress, but there's still more to go," Stoops said. "They've made it, hung together the whole time and showed a lot of toughness without having much in their rotation. They've competed well. There's good ability there and they've gained a lot of good experience." Although DE Larry Williams was limited in spring practice during the spring as he recovers from a knee injury, the Sooners' depth at the position appears to be the biggest strength on the team. Larry Birdine (ruptured bicep) missed the entire season and Williams was injured in OU's season-opening loss to TCU last year. Their departure pave the way for the forced feeding of C.J. Ah You and Calvin Thibodeaux for most of the defensive snaps last season. "It's incredibly noticeable having all the defensive ends back," Stoops said. "They make a huge difference in there." WR Paul Thompson was one of the team's biggest producers during the spring, notching a game-high four catches for 82 yards in the Red-White scrimmage. "That's come with reps and getting more comfortable at the position," said Thompson, who was beaten out by Bomar in last year's quarterback battle. "I've watched a lot of film with [receivers coach Kevin] Sumlin. It's helped me a lot with my technique, my timing and getting off on the ball. And I think that's showed during the last couple of weeks."
Heading into Oklahoma State's April 22 spring-ending scrimmage, QB Bobby Reid is receiving about 75 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense, while Zac Robinson has worked the other 25 percent. Robinson has shown enough flashes of athleticism to keep the race close. The redshirt freshman scored on a 75-yard run in the Cowboys' most recent scrimmage. Calvin Mickens, a starter for nine games last season at cornerback, has moved to safety this spring after Clint Coe's knee injury earlier in the spring. Coach Mike Gundy is working on how his team will be divvied up for the final scrimmage, but is considering a "fantasy style" draft among his coaches. Gundy expects the scrimmage to last about 60-70 plays. Early-arriving freshman guard Jacob Secrest has been one of the biggest surprises of the spring. Secrest, who will attend the prom at Stillwater High School later this spring, received some snaps with the Cowboys' No. 1 offensive unit. Filling two vacancies at guard is the biggest offensive aim this spring for OSU. Sophomore Steve Denning, redshirt freshman Andrew Lawrence and Kurt Seifried have earned the most work with the No. 1 unit, easing past redshirt freshman Noah Franklin. Redshirt freshman CB Lance Limbrick, a converted running back, has been a strong producer throughout the spring. Junior DE Marque Fountain has produced four sacks at the Cowboys' last two scrimmages. Fountain was a starter during his sophomore season in 2004, but redshirted last season after missing most of last season with a medical redshirt after he was injured before conference play began.
With spring practice finishing on April 1 -- earliest in the conference -- several Longhorns are participating in track over the next several weeks. DE Brian Robison finished fourth in the shot put in the Texas Relays with a toss of 60 feet, 3¼ inches and fifth in the discus with a 188-5 effort. A week earlier, he was named the Big 12's weekly track and field athlete of the week. RB Jamaal Charles made his collegiate track debut in the men's 100-meter dash, qualifying for the NCAA regional meet with a time of 10.18 seconds as he finished third in the collegiate division. But Charles failed to make a clean handoff in the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay, costing the Longhorns a chance to win the race. Texas already has received commitments from 19 players for 2007, far more than any other Big 12 school. The Longhorns received their national championship rings the day before the spring game. Wearing the diamond-encrusted jewelry finally capped off the Longhorns' championship season. "That was really the last thing we were looking forward to as far as the Rose Bowl and the national championship go," LB Robert Killebrew told reporters. "It's kind of heavy, so I'll probably just wear it once in a while." QB Colt McCoy is hooked up in a close battle with Jevan Snead for the vacant starting position created when Vince Young declared for the NFL draft. McCoy said that Young has helped him learn about the pressures of playing at Texas. "He's been such a great leader and role model for me," McCoy said. "He's taught me so much." Texas coach Mack Brown has taken advantage of a couple of weeks off after the end of practice to appear at various events across the state. He dropped the green flag last week as the grand marshal for the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, a week after throwing out the first pitch at opening day for the Texas Rangers. The Texas coach told reporters he enjoyed stock car racing and Winnebagos. He even joked that he once considering purchasing an RV. "I did," Brown told the Dallas Morning News. "After we lost to OU a couple of times, I thought I'd have one to drive around the country in. I was going to take the license plates off."
Coach Dennis Franchione was pleased with the development during the spring by QB Stephen McGee, who cemented his hold on the starting position during the spring. McGee completed all four of his passes and engineered touchdown drives on his only two scrimmages in A&M's spring game. "Stephen had an outstanding spring," Franchione told reporters after the scrimmage. "He took that game and a half at the end of the season and used it to create a springboard into this year." A&M's new 4-2-5 defense struggled at times in the final scrimmage, allowing six offensive touchdowns to be scored between the two team. Richie Bean's 39-yard game-winning field goal with six seconds left enabled the White team to beat the Maroon, 27-24. OL Lee Grimes hurt his knee in spring drills and likely won't be ready for summer practice in early August, Franchione said. A&M's future series with Michigan State (2010 and 2011) and Air Force (2008 and 2009) have been canceled. Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said both opponents have pulled out of agreements to play the games. Franchione said the team's kicking game struggles in the spring game were attributable to using 12th-man coverage teams made up of walk-ons during all kickoff and punts. "And 15 days in the spring is not enough to install the whole kicking game and get a good evaluation of special teams," Franchione said. Several running backs, most notably Jorvorskie Lane, Samson Taylor and Keondra Smith looked sharp in the spring game. But Franchione said that the players needed to be judged by looking at factors other than their ball-carrying ability. "You have to understand that we're looking at much more than how they run the ball, and even in that some of them could have made even better runs. We're studying what they do when they don't have the ball. Did they block the right man, or at all? Did they carry out their fakes? Did they run tight pass routes? Did they protect the ball?" TE Martellus Bennett returned to play in the spring game, producing four receptions for 22 yards, after missing most of spring practice playing with A&M's basketball team. Franchione watched the spring game from the press box, serving as a guest analyst with A&M play-by-play broadcasters Dave South and Dave Elmendorf.
Texas Tech's defense sometimes gets lost in the shuffle around the Red Raiders' program. But its performance in the Red and Black spring scrimmage was impressive, notching six sacks and limiting the offense to three points in the first three quarters of the situational scrimmage. "Defensively, I think this is the most impressive group of guys able to respond to play after play," Tech coach Mike Leach said. "Overall, they did a great job making big plays and working well together." Tech's offense produced 438 yards and two late touchdowns, including a late score when the third-team offense competed against the third-team defense. "We came out and competed really well," Tech senior NT Chris Hudler said. "We kept them out of the end zone as much as possible. The defense came out excited today and our young guys made some great plays." Sophomore QB Graham Harrell completed 27-of-38 passes for 227 yards and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Todd completed 15-of-23 passes for 119 yards. Freshman RB Kobey Lewis, who led all rushers with 33 yards, produced one of the TDs on a 6-yard run. Sophomore walk-on quarterback Ryan Rowland contributed the other TD on a 3-yard pass to Kelly Hildebrandt. Todd has emerged to give Harrell a closer-than-expected challenge at quarterback. Harrell passed for 422 yards and three touchdowns last season as Cody Hodges' backup. But Todd, who threw for 10,768 yards and 120 touchdown passes during his high school career at Elizabethtown, Ky., said he is expecting a close battle through the summer. "I just want to be the most prepared player I can possibly be," Todd said. "I've picked up on a lot of things and I'm getting more comfortable going out there." Coaches say that Todd has a better deep arm, while Harrell has more confidence running Leach's offense. "We're a lot different," Harrell said. "My major strength is in making decisions and running the offense." Harrell also discounted any edge Todd might have because of a stronger arm. "You rarely throw it as far as you can in this offense," Harrell said. "If you can throw it 35 yards in the air, that's all that you need. Sometimes, Coach Leach will get on us if we throw it too deep. I don't think arm strength is that big of a deal." Tech defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich has been sorting through various combinations as he attempts to find replacements for SS Vincent Meeks and FS Dwayne Slay. Tech has only four scholarship players on the roster at the positions and all of them are in contention for the openings -- sophomores Lance Fuller and Darcel McBath at free safety and sophomore Anthony Hines and junior Joe Garcia at strong safety.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.