Spring look around the Big 12

With the spring season over, our Big 12 notebook takes one last look at the conference.

Originally Published: May 2, 2007
By Tim Griffin | Special to ESPN.com

Will Baylor punt next season? Which defensive player emerged for Nebraska this spring? What Texas A&M QB is drawing comparisons to Vince Young? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions and much more.

Baylor Bears
The loss of All-American punter Daniel Sepulveda potentially could be a huge loss for the Bears. Surprisingly, the Bears didn't include punting in their spring game.

"We're not going to punt," Baylor coach Guy Morriss told reporters at the spring game. "We're going for it on fourth down every time."

We can only hope that Morriss was joking.

• Morriss has repeatedly said he regretted not giving QB Blake Szymanski more reps earlier in his career. It's why he wants to give some of his younger players enough practice snaps this spring to be effective.

• Even with the loss of defensive coordinator Bill Bradley to the NFL, Morriss has been pleased with the way his defense has emerged under new coordinator Larry Hoefer. The Bears produced four interceptions and six sacks in the spring game.

Colorado Buffaloes
The biggest question facing Colorado coach Dan Hawkins as he leaves spring practice remains deciding on a starting quarterback. The decision is even more ticklish considering his son, Cody Hawkins, a redshirt freshman, appears to be the leader heading into the summer.

Hawkins and junior college transfer Nick Nelson are in a tight battle for the job. Hawkins took the majority of snaps in the spring game, passing for 119 yards in live passing drills in the spring game. Colorado ranked 116th nationally in passing last season, and Dan Hawkins believes that either quarterback will provide an upgrade at the position.

The emergence of both players leaves 2006 starting QB Bernard Jackson in limbo. Jackson played a variety of positions in the spring, earning the nickname of "Slash" from his teammates. During the spring game, Jackson produced 178 all-purpose yards, including a 37-yard run that was Colorado's longest rushing play.

• Hawkins won't be facing any situations more difficult in the fall than he did working this spring with an injury-depleted offensive line. Those struggles were evident when the Buffaloes rushed for only 32 yards in the spring game. With six healthy offensive linemen, Hawkins wasn't even able to conduct a true 11-on-11 scrimmage for much of the spring game. The Buffs resorted to some skeleton work in seven-on-seven passing drills because of the lack of depth on the offensive line.

• Among the Colorado players who did not participate in the spring game were DE Drew Hudgins (knee), G Erick Faatagi (knee), WR Chase McBride (shoulder) and WR Scotty McKnight (ankle). All should be ready to return for fall practice.

Iowa State Cyclones
The Des Moines Register recently determined that Iowa State is among the Big 12 leaders in causing pain for its fan.

The newspaper's major factor was that the Cyclones have notched three wins in eight conference games decided by six or fewer points since 2001, and lost all four overtime games during that stretch. Two of the losses -- to Missouri at home in 2004 and Kansas in 2004 -- cost the Cyclones a shot at what would have been their first conference titles since sharing Missouri Valley Conference titles in 1911 and 1912.

"You don't want to talk to anybody about it," Jay Chapman, president of the Greater Des Moines Cyclone Club, told the newspaper. "You just want to go back to your tailgate, open up a couple of beers and just drink it away."

• Reserve running back Josh Johnson has been dismissed from the team and three other ISU players have been suspended from the team. A university news release said Johnson, a sophomore who rushed for 60 yards last season, had violated multiple rules. OL Jose Vargas, WR Derron Montgomery and DB Devin McDowell were cited for fifth-degree theft after allegedly taking items from a purse that was left unattended on a public bus in Ames, according to the Register. All of the players face misdemeanor charges stemming from the April 2 incident. McDowell, who was listed as a co-starter at the end of spring practice, was the only one of the players listed on ISU's two-deep roster.

• Coach Gene Chizik is giving starting QB Bret Meyer little wiggle room as he takes over his new job. Meyer already ranks as ISU's career leader with 7,979 total yards and 41 career touchdown passes. But it still hasn't cemented his starting job in the viewpoint of the new coach. "We have to get much more consistent at quarterback," Chizik told reporters after the ISU spring game. One key will be Meyer implementing quicker reads. The Cyclones have struggled in pass blocking and will be breaking in four new starters along the offensive line this season.

Kansas Jayhawks
One of the more interesting position battles during the spring was at middle linebacker, where Joe Mortensen moved ahead of Mike Rivera, the team's leader in tackles last season, in the post-spring depth chart. "They are going to play that position by committee," Kansas defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "Joe Mortensen has come on at the end of spring practice and has done a nice job for us."

• Wide receiver Marcus Henry was one of the biggest producers in the spring, notching six catches and three touchdown receptions in the spring game. "He's done it for us for quite a while now," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "He's been a sure receiver and he runs good routes. He's a guy we're counting on to make big plays for us this year."

• The Jayhawks are hoping to juice production on their pass rush after producing 31 sacks last season, including 25½ from the defensive line. DE Russell Brorsen, a converted tight end, had a big spring as the Jayhawks made growth along the defensive front a big spring aim. "Russell looks quicker and stronger than he's ever been and has really done a good job," Mangino said. "We like his progress. We feel like we're improving putting pressure on the quarterback. We'll do it with our front four but also in some different packages. I think that area will be much improved for us."

Kansas State Wildcats
Most observers presumed that QB Josh Freeman's job was secure coming into spring practice after a strong freshman season. But Freeman struggled in the spring game, passing for only 44 yards as his team netted zero yards of total offense as the White claimed a 19-0 victory over the Purple before 16,723 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

"I felt good coming into this game," Freeman said. "We just couldn't get anything going and I'll put that on myself because I'm one of the leaders on the offense. The guys looked to me and I had nothing for them."

Backup Carson Coffman, a redshirt freshman who directed Raymore-Peculiar High School to 25 straight victories to conclude his high-school career, had more impressive statistics in the spring game with two touchdown passes.

While KSU coach Ron Prince isn't saying if Coffman could challenge Freeman, the backup quarterback was pleased with his spring performance.

"If I did anything less, I would be cheating myself," said Coffman, the son of former Green Bay Packers TE Paul Coffman and younger brother of Missouri TE Chase Coffman. "I have to give it my best all the time."

• The Wildcats' spring game was played after coaches drafted rosters. That might help explain Freeman's struggles as top pass rusher Rob Jackson constantly pursued him. "I think they just had a bad day," Jackson said, explaining the Purple team's offensive struggles. "The mixture of guys they had that were working with each other just didn't click." Jackson's game looked like a personal highlights tape as he repeatedly harassed Freeman. "I had a few of them -- all of the turnovers that the white team got," Jackson said. "All of them were real good moments for me. Everyone was swarming to the ball. We shut them down pretty good."

• Prince came away excited about his team's defensive development in the spring. The offenses produced only four plays of 10 yards or more in the spring game. "I'm really excited about the play of the defense," Prince said. "If we came out here and lit up the scoreboard and it was 45-42 or 52-50, I wouldn't be feeling very good right now. Defenses are always ahead of offense, but in light of that Carson and the group on the White team managed the game and did a really good job."

Missouri Tigers
QB Chase Patton cemented his grip on the backup position behind Chase Daniel with a strong performance in the Black and Gold Game to wrap up spring practice. Patton threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns as the Black (offense) notched a 72-27 victory over the Gold (defense) before nearly 10,000 at Faurot Field.

Patton finished by completing 15 of 24 passes with one interception. Daniel finished 8-of-11 for 95 yards and a TD in limited playing time in the spring game.

"When you come into a game like this, you look at your defense and your offense, and you look at your continuity and how you did," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Then, it's just mixing and matching teams."

• One of Missouri's biggest positions of strength is at wide receiver, where Will Franklin, Danario Alexander and Tommy Saunders emerged as starters during spring practice. The Tigers also have a pair of All-Big 12 quality players at tight end in Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. "It's a good problem to have, but when you have all of the receivers coming up to you saying 'throw me the ball,' it's hard because you can't," Daniel said. "But at the same time, it's a good thing to have."

• The Tigers are not backing away from early projections that have pegged them as the top contender to challenge Nebraska for the North title. Such expectations are particularly bold because the Tigers haven't won a championship since claiming the Big Eight in 1969. "I'm pretty excited, but I think we could have done it the last couple of years," Coffman said. "We've just got to go out there and do it on the field, now."

• Missouri coaches awarded most improved award at each position after spring practices concluded. Among the winners were T Dain Wise, DE Tommy Chavis, Alexander, LB Steve Redmond, Patton, CB Castine Bridges and S Cornelius "Pig" Brown.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Starting NT Ndamukong Suh emerged as one of the Cornhuskers' biggest spring surprises. His development is particularly important as coaches look for four new starters on the defensive line, which is considered the team's biggest weakness heading into the summer.

Suh's improvement has come after weighing 305 pounds -- about 25 pounds less than he started last spring.

"I didn't like it at all," Suh told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "I hated being that heavy, so one of my main goals was losing weight. When I'm at a lighter weight, in the low 300s, I feel I'm a lot faster and quicker."

Suh produced four tackles and two sacks in the spring game as his Red defensive unit limited the White to nine yards of total offense.

• Nebraska fans have gone to great lengths in the past to travel with the Cornhuskers to road games. An estimated 30,000 Nebraska fans followed them to South Bend, Ind. in the celebrated "Sea of Red Game" at Notre Dame in 2000. But Wake Forest has instituted a sales drive designed in part to keep Nebraska fans away from the Cornhuskers' Sept. 8 game against the Demon Deacons at Winston-Salem, N.C. The Cornhuskers are expected to have access to about 4,500 seats for that game.

• The Cornhuskers' 2008 nonconference schedule is nearly complete. Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson is awaiting a signed contract from Western Michigan to conclude its scheduling for next season, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported. Nebraska will open the season with five straight home games, with contests set against San Jose State, New Mexico State, Virginia Tech and Western Michigan and a Big 12 opener against Missouri. Among the highlights of future Nebraska schedules include home-and-home series against Washington (2010 and 2011), UCLA (2012 and 2013) and Tennessee (2016-17).

Oklahoma Sooners
Quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle are hooked up in a tight battle for the Sooners' starting job. All of them showed they were capable of moving the OU offense as well as 2006 starter Paul Thompson, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.

"A lot of guys made a big deal about the quarterback situation and we need to continue to let it play out," Wilson told Soonersports.com. "But as we said before the spring, all of them are skilled enough to play as good or better than Paul."

Coach Bob Stoops noted the improvement to Wilson at a late spring practice.

"In the next to last practice in our pass drills, Coach Stoops walked by and said he thought all of the guys were throwing better than we did last year," Wilson said. "We're not where we want to be, but we're pleased with what's going on."

• The new contract with Texas keeping the annual Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl could lead to each school earning more than $7 million per game by the final year of the contract, when 8,000 more tickets per school and the premium donations for the access to those tickets are factored, State Fair of Texas president Errol McKoy said. Both schools were interested in keeping the annual game in Dallas. But if the Texas-Oklahoma game had moved away, Sooner officials informally had discussed moving their game with Texas A&M to Dallas, the Austin American-Statesman reported. OU officials wanted to keep a presence in the Dallas area for recruiting purposes.

• LB Mike Reed was counted to become a quick producer and a potential starter after arriving this spring from Yuba Community College in Marysville, Calif. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables saw some flashes in Reed's performance during the spring game after some earlier growing pains picking up OU's defense. "That's the guy we recruited," Venables told reporters after the spring game. "You can build on that and he's getting more comfortable. He's knocked the snot out of a bunch of guys since he's been here. Now, we think he's ready and we can move on."

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was not concerned after his defense was blistered for combined totals of 62 points, 33 first downs on 126 snaps, 428 passing yards and 257 rushing yards in the Cowboys' spring game.

"I'm proud of the way the team competed," Gundy said. "Just sitting there watching it, I was thinking to myself about how two years ago, we couldn't hardly get a play off on offense. [Now] we had two groups out there that were functioning and looked like they knew what they were doing."

• Among the most impressive producers in the spring were WR Jeremy Broadway and Artrell Woods. "Those receivers are our complement to Adarius Bowman," OSU associate head coach Joe DeForest said. "He's our star in the making, but those guys both are a great complement so [opponents] can't just double-team him."

• One of the biggest surprises during the spring was former quarterback Donovan Woods, who became a quick producer at linebacker after playing most of the last two seasons at safety. "He really loves it," DeForest said about Woods' position change. "He is more physical and plays faster at linebacker than he did at safety. I think he feels more confident about himself playing there."

Texas Longhorns
Texas coach Mack Brown said he could never have imagined how good QB Colt McCoy would become after one season as a starter. "We felt like over time it was possible because he was so successful in high school," Brown said. "He was good in four sports, leading his teams to basketball and football state championships. He was a great student. He was a great athlete. He works hard and has a lot of character. We just didn't realize how quickly he would become one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

•Brown counts himself as lucky that McCoy is entrenched as the Longhorns' starter this spring. Because after sorting through several celebrated quarterback battles during previous springs, Brown has detected a difference in having a settled situation in his team's leadership from the first day of practice.

"The old adage for coaches is that if you have two quarterbacks who are playing, then you really don't have a starter," Brown said. "You've got two backups."

• Brown remains concerned about the development of his linebackers and offensive line after the completion of the Longhorns' spring practice. There are still question marks about the secondary and the offensive line," Brown said. "We think we made progress, but they are still question marks."

• The Longhorns had multiple first-round selections in S Michael Griffin (Titans) and CB Aaron Ross (Giants). It marked the fourth-straight season and fifth time in the last six drafts that two Texas players were picked in the first round. No other schools has multiple first-round picks in each of the last four drafts and only LSU, Miami, Oklahoma and Texas have had at least one first-round draft pick during those four drafts. The Longhorns have had eight first-round selections since 2004, trailing only Miami (Fla.) with 11 and Ohio State with 10. The rest of the Big 12 has had eight first-round selections (five for Oklahoma, two for Nebraska and one from Oklahoma State) during that period.

Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M's defensive growth under coordinator Gary Darnell was one of the biggest stories for the Aggies last season. Coach Dennis Franchione is excited to see additional development in Darnell's second season.

"This spring, we built on it a lot more," Franchione said. "I think experience has helped us do that. We've been able to do some things that we didn't last fall that fit our personnel better. It will be interesting to see how much we can build on this and how efficient and good we can be as we go into the season."

• Franchione said he expects TB Mike Goodson to develop into a "bigger cog" in the Aggies' offense during his second season -- particularly in the passing game. "He can grow as a pass protector and grow in catching the ball out of the backfield and in his route running and things like that," Franchione said. "Instinctively, he's awfully good as a runner. But there are a lot of other things a back does -- in faking, in blocking and picking up the blitz -- that Mike has room for growth in."

• Franchione was very careful not to compare redshirt freshman QB Jerrod Johnson to any other player, but his teammates didn't hesitate to put him in some elite company. "After watching Jerrod at practicing and seeing him go through his drills, you kind of want to say Vince Young because he's so tall and he has the speed and the arm," Goodson said about the 6-foot-6, 223-pound Johnson. "I think he did a great job." Franchione said Johnson made some strong improvement this spring after redshirting last season. "He's certainly not game-ready to win a football game, but he does some really, really good things," Franchione said. "He made some mistakes. But the good thing with Jerrod is that he's in the part of his development where if he makes a mistake one day, he makes steps towards correcting it. That's kind of a landmark you are trying to get with a young quarterback, so they don't make the same mistakes over and over."

• The Aggies failed to have a player picked in the weekend's NFL draft, marking the first time since 1974 that no A&M player was drafted.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was scrambling to fill an unexpected vacancy in his coaching staff after offensive line coach and former Louisiana Tech head coach Jack Bicknell Jr. accepted a chance to return to his alma mater at Boston College as the Eagles' assistant head coach and offensive line coach.

"It has to be addressed, but it's not a concern," Leach told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "Everybody's heading somewhere. Stuff happens all the time."

Tech's offensive line already was in flux before Bicknell's departure with four new starters. Leach told the newspaper he wants to hire a replacement by the program's football camps in early June.

• Leach was pleased with his defense's development during the spring, singling out several players for strong play. "[Sophomore defensive tackle] Rajon Henley has been impressive," Leach said. "[Senior safety] Joe Garcia has put a roof over things and leads our defense well. The most impressive unit was our secondary. We are faster on defense and some young, emerging guys that I'm impressed with."

• The Tech staff will provide a unique glimpse of their program for those fans who are well-heeled enough to afford the $1,350 cost of the second Mike Leach Fantasy Camp in early August. Those who attended will get a glimpse of a little bit of everything -- from the team's offensive and defensive philosophies to how to break down opponents. The cost of the sessions includes all meals, a welcoming gift, two nights of hotel accommodations in Lubbock and a chance to interact socially with the Tech coach.

• The recent NFL draft continued an interesting trend for Tech's program under Leach. In the seven drafts since Leach took over the Red Raiders in 2000, the Red Raiders have never had a player selected in the first day of the draft.

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.

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