Spring look around the Big 12
With spring practices getting started, our Big 12 notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Has Mike Leach stirred up a quarterback controversy at Texas Tech? What's Mark Mangino's biggest goal for Kansas this spring? Which quarterback is poised to win the starting job at Oklahoma? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.
New running backs coach Cornell Jackson has vowed not to watch any previous game tape as he sorts through contenders for playing time during the spring. Juicing production is one of coach Guy Morriss' most immediate spring goals, considering the Bears ranked last in the nation with an average of only 40.2 rushing yards per game last season. Redshirt freshman Jay Finley is making a strong move to unseat senior Brandon Whitaker as the starting tailback. Senior transfer Mike Machen and sophomore Ryan Roberts are running 1-2 at quarterback, nosing past Blake Syzmanski for playing time. New secondary coach Clay Jennings is looking at close competition at cornerback. The Bears lost prime playmakers Anthony Arline, C.J. Wilson and James Todd from last season's team. Josh Bell, Alton Widemon and freshman Dominique Criss have gotten most of the snaps there as senior Braelon Davis will miss the spring regaining his academic eligibility and freshman Antareis Bryan has been hobbled with a dislocated knee cap. Baylor's coaching staff was together after linebackers coach Gary Kinne returned to practice last week. Kinne underwent surgery to repair an abnormal bulging of his internal organs and help his liver recover. Kinne was shot by an irate father while coaching high school football in Canton, Texas in 2005. He returned to college coaching last season with the Bears. "I don't know if he can go 100 percent for 2½ hours every day," Morriss told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "But it's good to see him walking the field. The kids were excited about having him back." Thomas White has moved to an outside receiver, meaning he could emerge as the Bears' featured receiver to replace Trent Shelton and Dominique Ziegler. Baylor coaches have been disappointed that heralded WR David Gettis, idled with mononucleosis and track practice, hasn't made more of a move for playing time this spring.
LB Jordon Dizon has been named to the watch list for the Lott Award. Dizon finished last season with 137 tackles and four sacks and should be poised to become a rare four-year defensive starter. "I'm expecting his best season yet," Colorado linebackers coach Brian Cabral said. "He's played in a lot of big games and has made a lot of plays for us." Coach Dan Hawkins was so eager for the Buffaloes to return from spring break that he sent text messages to several players mentioning his excitement about finishing strongly. During spring break, Hawkins visited national champion Florida for three days as Urban Meyer was conducting his spring practice. "I think it's really good to just to get out, compare notes and see how other people do things," Hawkins said. "Sometimes in your profession, you end up gravitating to guys that march to the same drummer. I think he's solid -- he's a good guy and a good coach." Hawkins also took time during spring break to meet with new Colorado basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik when Bzdelik was considering whether to accept the Buffaloes' offer. Colorado coaches are considering moving QB Bernard Jackson to wide receiver. But TE Patrick Devenny, who was pressed into emergency duty as a backup quarterback last season because of injuries and transfers, is receiving most of his work at tight end. He is being joined at the position by converted LB Joe Sanders.
Iowa State Cyclones
LB Alvin Bowen led the nation in tackles last season, producing 155 stops. Even after that stellar season, new coach Gene Chizik is expecting even more out of Bowen this season. "He's gotta get more tackles," Chizik told the Iowa State Daily. "With Alvin, it's a matter of him playing physical football. He's gotta play like an All-American. Stats don't always tell the tale. You can play and have a lot of stats and not play within the defense and get your defense killed. What we're working on with Alvin is him playing within the defense, playing physical and still making plays like he did last year." Iowa State will be counting on Bowen after LB Tyrone McKenzie transferred to South Florida. McKenzie followed former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney, who now is the Bulls' defensive coordinator. WR Milan Moses has been sidelined during spring practice with an undisclosed injury that shouldn't keep him out of action this fall, Chizik told the Des Moines Register. Chizik's earliest aim is developing depth in his defensive line, where he is looking for three new starters. Freshman WR Jacob Williams has been charged with public intoxication after an incident last month in Ames. Chizik told the Register that the incident is being dealt with "in a manner consistent with team rules."
Coach Mark Mangino's biggest goal this spring has been developing depth and production from his defensive line. The Jayhawks yielded more passing yards per game than any Division I team last season, allowing 269.1 yards per game. "We've had some quarterbacks back there who could have read the newspaper and had a cup of coffee and then thrown the ball," Mangino told reporters after a recent practice. "I think we need to improve in the secondary, but your best pass defense is a pass rush. That is a high priority for us this spring." Among the standouts in early spring work are junior college transfers CB Kendrick Harper and S Patrick Resby. Undersized 5-10, 190-pound TB Jake Sharp has emerged as a prime contender to replace Big 12 rushing leader Jon Cornish. Despite his lack of size, Sharp has impressed Mangino. "He's a hard-charger," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "He hits the hole. He's tough. He's durable. He can take a lot of shots for a guy his size. He looks good -- he's gotten thicker and heavier and he hasn't lost a step." The quarterback battle between incumbent Kerry Meier and Todd Reesing remains close with Mangino in no hurry to determine the starter. All-Big 12 CB Aqib Talib and S Justin Thornton both are receiving some work as a wide receiver during the spring. Kansas athletic officials are hoping to boost attendance at the April 15 spring game by giving the first 5,000 fans entering Memorial Stadium a free t-shirt.
Kansas State Wildcats
After the first week of practice, coach Ron Prince has been pleased with his team's early work. "Our conditioning has held up, we've been able to get a lot more plays in and at a higher tempo than we have up to this point last season," Prince said. "I'm very encouraged by that." K Brooks Rossman has emerged to claim a "slight edge" over Tim Schwerdt in the battle to replace K Jeff Snodgrass, Prince said. QB Josh Freeman had his moments in the Wildcats' first work in end-of-game situations in the two-minute offense. "From a coverage standpoint, as well as a passing and protection standpoint, it was very challenging for both groups, which is a positive for me," Prince said. "Neither of the coordinators were very happy, so that's probably a good thing." Prince doesn't hesitate to bring up his team's ultimate goal throughout spring practice. "We've got terrific chemistry on this team," Prince said. "I really like how we're working toward the real objective, which is to find ourselves in San Antonio for the championship game." WR Jordy Nelson credited some of that unity from the team's intensive offseason workouts. "I think we had a great showing," Nelson said. "The quarterbacks and receivers stayed after a lot and threw a lot of balls. I think that really helped out a lot going into the spring." Prince has been intrigued by the early battle for the starting quarterback job between Freeman and incoming sophomore Carson Coffman. "I think from a technical standpoint, as far as knowing the plays and understanding coverages that Josh clearly has a leg up on Carson because of being here last spring," Prince said. "But from a confidence standpoint, it's very hard to shake either one of them." Former KSU offensive lineman John Hafferty had an interesting quote after quitting the team last week. "I consider it to have been a great privilege and an honor to have played for coach [Bill] Snyder and Kansas State, and I will always be grateful to him, his former staff and the university for giving me that opportunity," Hafferty said in a prepared release. Hafferty played as a true freshman in 2004, but saw his playing time diminish last season. He made two starts at right guard, but was off the team's two-deep roster by the time the season concluded.
Chase Patton emerged as the likely backup quarterback behind starter Chase Daniel after strong work at the Tigers' second spring scrimmage. Patton completed 11-of-19 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Daniel was 11-of-14 for 187 yards and two touchdown passes. "He did some really good things," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel told the Columbia Daily Tribune about Patton's work. "He looked a little more poised out there. He got bounced around a little bit, and that's good to see." The scrimmage was cut back by frigid temperatures and was marred by an injury to Missouri TE Chase Coffman, who missed several series late in the scrimmage with a hip pointer that is not believed to be serious. Heralded TB Connell Davis, once compared by former teammate Xzavie Jackson to Adrian Peterson, has switched to LB after the Tigers returned from spring break. "It'd be hard to switch from the offensive side of the ball, but I like the contact," Davis told the Columbia Daily Tribune. "And, I have a greater chance of getting out on the field." DE John Stull returned to practice after missing the first two weeks. DT Lorenzo Williams has returned to spring practice after being out because of compartment syndrome in his left leg.
The Cornhuskers have announced a $4 per game hike in season tickets, which will mean a per game average of $52 per home game this season. Part of the reason is an increased guarantee to nonconference opponents. "We've got to pay what we've got to pay," Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson told the Omaha World-Herald. "It wasn't too many years ago we were talking about $250,000, sometimes $300,000 [per game]. Now, we're getting up to $750,000 per game." Andre Jones has emerged as the likely replacement for injured CB Zack Bowman. But Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove is insisting that Bowman will be back before the Cornhuskers' Sept. 1 opener against Nevada. LB Bo Ruud is thriving after moving from the weakside to strongside starting position. The move has opened starting positions for Ruud and Steve Octavien and also heightened Ruud's playmaking abilities. "It's a different thing schematically, but it's given me a chance to show my versatility. I'll do a wide variety of things and it's exciting to have that opportunity." Octavien is receiving some work at rush end in some formations this spring. QB Sam Keller said that whoever emerges as the Cornhuskers' starting quarterback will benefit from the Cornhuskers' talented group of wide receivers, including Todd Peterson, Frantz Hardy, Terrence Nunn, Maurice Purify and Nate Swift. "You've got some guys who can really make plays," Keller said. "We've got five guys who can really produce. They all have their own strengths and it's going to be interesting to see how they are used." Ndamukong Suh has switched from nose tackle to the Cornhuskers' other starting defensive tackle slot for some snaps. "It gives you an overall view of what the front has to do as a whole," Suh told the Lincoln Journal-Star about the experiment. "That's an excellent thing to have multiple players on your front to play different positions." I-back Cody Glenn has been hampered after aggravating his injured right ankle. K Jordan Congdon has left the Nebraska program for family reasons, returning to his home in San Diego. He is expected to transfer to Southern California, but must redshirt next season. His departure has opened the door for replacements Alex Henery and Jake Wesch, who are getting most of the work. Scholarship recruit Adi Kunalic will arrive in August.
Redshirt freshman RB DeMarco Murray emerged as the star of the Sooners Red-White spring game, continuing his torrid pace throughout spring practice. Murray rushed four times for 103 yards and a touchdown to spark the offense to a 53-30 victory over the defense in a scoring system devised by OU coaches. Murray produced an 18-yard TD run, giving him 327 yards on 29 carries (11.3 yards per attempt) in the Sooners' three spring scrimmages. "It was a good day for us," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "DeMarco has been special all spring and he was good again today. There were some big plays and I think the fans probably enjoyed that." Despite no real assurances from OU coaches, redshirt freshman Sam Bradford appears poised to win the Sooners' starting quarterback position. Bradford was 9-for-14 passing in the spring game for 110 yards and a touchdown. Joey Halzle completed 7-of-18 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Freshman Keith Nichol was 3-for-7 for 25 yards. "I'm real pleased with all those guys," Stoops said. "They took better care of the ball today and that's important for us. We didn't ask Paul [Thompson] to win games for us last year and we won't ask any of these guys to that for us either. We just want them to play consistently and keep their mistakes to a minimum. If they can do that we'll be fine. Bradford and Halzle have one advantage over Nichol, who has had some of the plays simplified and his calls scaled back because of his inexperience with Oklahoma's offense. Former offensive lineman J.D. Quinn said that his dismissal from the team with Rhett Bomar before last season was unfair. Quinn and Bomar were kicked off the team for taking money for hours they did not work at a Norman auto dealership. "All I did was take cash," Quinn told the Tulsa World. "I didn't break any laws and I get kicked off the team, but there's people on the team that are breaking laws and failing drug tests and stuff like that, and there's nobody getting kicked off the team for that type of stuff." Stoops has declined comment about Quinn's charges. One of the biggest questions before spring practice was at linebacker. Curtis Lofton and Ryan Reynolds have emerged as the likely starters at inside linebacker and Lewis Baker and Demarrio Pleasant have been the strongest outside linebackers. D.J. Wolfe has been switched to free safety -- his third positional change in four seasons with the Sooners. Wolfe started as a running back before moving to cornerback as a sophomore. Former Sooner All-American Joe Washington has joined the Sooners athletic department as a special assistant to OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. Washington's position is newly created and is part of a restructuring effort by the school to place additional emphasis on outreach to the school's former student-athletes.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
DB Ricky Price, a converted wide receiver, produced three interceptions in the Cowboys' final scrimmage before their April 14 spring game. Despite the big performance, he still has not won one of the coveted black jerseys that new defensive coordinator Tim Beckman is presenting this spring for consistent play. The scrimmage was also highlighted by WR Anthony Parks, who snagged a pair of touchdown receptions. Massive 235-pound RB Julius Crosslin also had a big effort in his new position at tailback. The Cowboys' work through the spring has impressed coach Mike Gundy. "As a team, we are further ahead than I thought we would be this spring," Gundy said. "Defensively, we still have a ways to go. We have to learn some terminology and how to play the system. Our effort and attitude are much further along. And obviously, offensively, we are much further along." The Cowboys continue to experiment with a series of plays that includes quarterbacks Bobby Reid and Zac Robinson in the game at the same time. Beckman's new defensive philosophy has led to Donovan Woods evolving into a hybrid linebacker. The move will take him out of the secondary and move him closer to the line of scrimmage. WR Artrell Woods has been one of the biggest surprises of the spring, snagging TD receptions of 46 and 37 yards during a recent scrimmage. "He is one of the young receivers who is really stepping up," Gundy said. "The advantage he has is great speed. I don't use that term a lot, but he is extremely fast. He will give us that threat like we had a few years ago with John Lewis played with Rashaun Woods. I see Artrell as that kind of guy." Oklahoma State sports marketers have coined the term "most powerful offense in the world" to describe the Cowboys' attack keyed by Reid. The Cowboys return eight offensive starters and along with Boise State were the only offense in the country last season to average 200 yards rushing and passing.
QB Colt McCoy is entrenched as the Longhorns' starting quarterback. But backups Sherrod Harris and John Chiles both showed skills with highlight-reel touchdown runs during the Longhorns Spring Jamboree, which was played before an estimated crowd of 42,500 at Royal Memorial Stadium. Harris accounted for 93 yards on two runs, including a 75-yard TD jaunt. And Chiles produced 34 yards on four carries, including a 28-yard run. McCoy picked up where he left off last season in the spring game, completing 7-of-11 passes for 136 yards. "Colt looked as good as I've ever seen him," coach Mack Brown said. "He's even more accurate of a passer, if that's possible. He has a chance to be very special." RB Jamaal Charles plans to return to work with the Longhorns' track team after skipping the indoor season to concentrate on football. Charles finished fourth in the NCAA outdoors last season in the 100 meters. One item of concern for a rebuilding offensive line in the spring game was back-to-back false start penalties on the first drive and four penalties overall. The Longhorns return tackles Adam Ulatoski and Tony Hills but are looking for two new starting guards and a new center. "The young offensive line is better, but we've still got some work to do with these guys," Brown said. Brown said the spring has convinced him to employ more gadget plays next season. Among the more notable surprises were sophomore CB Deon Beasley and redshirt freshman CB Chykie Brown, who are expected to seriously challenge veterans Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster for starting positions in fall camp. Longhorn coaches have been impressed with the talent and depth of a receiving corps headed by Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman and Quan Cosby. Brown considers it the best receiving unit in his coaching tenure with the Longhorns.
Texas A&M Aggies
Quarterbacks Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson struggled at the beginning of their first scrimmage, combining to misfire on their seven pass attempts. McGee rebounded to complete 12-of-16 passes for 123 yards and four TDs. Johnson finished 10-for-15 for 102 yards and four scores. Those statistics were skewed because most of the possessions took place inside the opposing defense's 20-yard-line. Coach Dennis Franchione was happy with his team's early work. "Probably for a first scrimmage, I was reasonably pleased with how it went," Franchione told the Bryan-College Station Eagle. "I may watch the video and change my opinion, but for the most part, I thought we played fast. If we made mistakes, it was still with great effort. There was pretty good contact out there." TE Joey Thomas led the team with four receptions for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the scrimmage. Sixteen different receivers combined to produce at least one reception. A&M coaches are experimenting with a goal-line defense where starting DE Michael Bennett moves to middle linebacker to boost run-stuffing capabilities. DE Chris Harrington, who is not taking part in contact drills this spring, has been named to the watch list for the Lott Trophy. Aggie coaches have been impressed with the spring work of TE Martellus Bennett, who gave up his basketball career to concentrate on football. Franchione has been impressed with the emergence of his top linebackers -- Anthony Lewis, Mark Dodge, Misi Tupe and Nick LaMantia -- but would like more depth at the position. Among the more impressive player moves in the Aggies' early practice has been Jordan Pugh from cornerback to safety, Lucas Patterson from offensive lineman to defensive line and Johnathan Batson from safety to cornerback.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Despite incumbent Graham Harrell's impressive season last year, which included 4,555 yards and 38 touchdown passes and a record-breaking comeback victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl, Tech coach Mike Leach stirred up what he called a quarterback controversy after strong work this spring by backup Taylor Potts. "Taylor Potts has outperformed Graham Harrell in the last two practices, so the quarterback situation is wide open," Leach told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "If Taylor Potts is able to continue to outperform Graham the rest of the spring and through the spring and some things like that, he's got a shot to be the starting quarterback here." Leach said that Potts has particularly improved in his focus on the field. In Tech's second spring, Potts completed 20-of-24 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns. Harrell was 19-of-30 for 165 yards and three touchdowns, but six of his passes were dropped. The two quarterbacks split reps with the first-team offense in the scrimmage. "Between Graham and Taylor, I think they're dead even," Leach told the Avalanche-Journal. "For the rest of the spring, we'll split their reps down the middle." Leach has said that Kobey Lewis has been the most impressive running back in spring. Returning starter Shannon Woods and Lewis are expected to alternate playing time during the fall. One of the Red Raiders' immediate goals is to build continuity in an offensive line that features only seven scholarship players. "We're a small group," T Marlon Winn told the Avalanche-Journal. "But everybody's excited to go out there and do their job. We'll give 100 percent and just try to fill in those spots that we've got empty now." Eleven of the 21 offensive linemen that Tech signed to scholarship offers between 2003 and 2006 are no longer on the team, including G Ofa Mohetau who was recently dropped from the team's roster. The Tech football department has cleared more than 37 students to try out and fielded calls from 80 prospective punters after Leach placed a help-wanted advertisement in the student newspaper. Another potential option is freshman TE Adam James, who punted in high school and has averaged more than 40 yards per kick in his spring work. James' father, Craig, was a former punter and running back at SMU and in the NFL with the New England Patriots. QB Ryan Rowland has elected to quit the team to concentrate on finishing school. His departure leaves Tech with only one quarterback above the freshman class. DT Richard Jones was out with shoulder surgery, leaving the Red Raiders with only two scholarship players at the position during the rest of spring practice. Other starting defensive players who are missing from spring practice are CB Chris Parker (undisclosed injury) and LB Chad Hill (hip).
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.
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