FROM THE STANDS: Big 12 Spring Practices

It’s finally NFL Draft week. It’s the latest draft there has ever been and you can be sure that teams will get started immediately after this is over. Usually we are already into voluntary mini-camps, quarterback camps, etc. as teams are signing their newly drafted players and filling holes with free agents, but with the draft so late a lot of that is on hold until teams get the players they need. It will go quickly after the draft is over.

Several Texas Longhorns are hoping to hear their names get called, and I think a few will. Expect to see these guys get picked over the weekend: Jackson Jeffcoat, Anthony Fera, Mike Davis, Carrington Byndom, Chris Whaley. That’s it. That’s an appallingly short list. Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins could certainly make it as late round picks, but after the fifth round many times it’s better to be an undrafted free agent and pick the best place and situation rather than be stuck somewhere less desirable. I don’t expect anyone to be taken in the first round, but a run on ends and Jeffcoat could go mid-second. I think Fera goes next because he can do a little bit of everything: punt, kickoff, points, and with a 53-man roster NFL teams love players than can do multiple things. I think Davis and Byndom will follow him, likely in the fourth round, as Byndom blazed a 4.37 40 at the Texas Pro Day and Davis has a proven track record of big catches. But also some drops. Still, I think someone picks him up before round five. Chris Whaley was on his way to mid-level draft pick before that knee injury at West Virginia. He’s battling back and showed good strength at the Texas Pro Day, putting up 22 reps of the 225-pound bench press. He’s likely out this fall, but I think someone will see the value and pick him up. Don’t sleep on Hopkins. He had a terrific pro day, but teams know they can get quality players through free agency, and I expect that’s what they will do with Hopkins.

I want them all to get drafted or sign as a free agent, but it isn’t up to me. Good luck guys!

The thought of Johnny Manziel to the Cowboys literally makes my stomach hurt. I will walk out the door, Cowboys. I mean it. I really enjoyed watching Texas DC Vance Bedford troll the entire online Aggie fan base over the weekend and I am excited for Vince Young to be back in the NFL, but my friend sent me a picture from the Rangers game of a grown man in Cowboys/Manziel jersey. I will not abide.

Texas dropped 2-3 to West Virginia over the weekend, so you can officially kiss the regular season Big 12 Title goodbye. The post-season looms, but what Texas needs is a good old-fashioned Bull Durham-style rainout. A new season one Big 12 series away, so Texas has a week to figure it all out.

An exciting Texas basketball team got even more exciting, and better, with the addition of 5-star big man Myles Turner. The 6-foot-11 inch Turner is considered a game-changer and a top five national player with a game like LaMarcus Aldridge. Texas is going to be MONSTER in the front court next year with him in the middle. Can’t wait to see that.

This week we are going to take a look around the Big 12 and see what’s going on in spring football.

 

Big 12 Spring Practice: Around the League

 

Baylor

The defending Big 12 Champs return quarterback Bryce Petty, running back Shock Linwood, wide out/return man Levi Norwood as well left tackle Spencer Drango, who was out last year with an injury. But that’s not what Coach Art Briles wants to talk about. He says the following “I’ve been saying it for four months… I would put our D-line up against any D-line in the United States of America, when you’re looking at six- or seven-deep personnel and say, hey, let’s roll the ball out there and let’s play, let’s see who’s better.” We already knew Baylor had the best offense in the Big 12 and with their qb returning, even without Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, expect to see the new pieces step in look very similar. The question with Baylor under Briles has always been whether or not they had enough talent and depth on defense to stop anyone. Briles thinks they do, and looking at it he might be right.

Baylor has a 900-pound, 3-man rotation at defensive tackle with Javonte Magee, Beau Blackshear and Andrew Billings that is active, violent and big, but they main attraction is defensive end Shawn Oakman. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound junior was sixth in the conference last year in tackles for loss (12.5) and wasn’t the starter. Now he is the starter and he looks like an NBA power forward in pads. Opposite him is Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu, who was second on the team in sacks for the Broncos in 2012. Now you see why he’s so high on them? With Bryce Hager back in the mike linebacker spot, Baylor’s front seven looks excellent.

Also excellent, a solid offensive line, veteran receivers and, of course, Mr. Petty throwing the ball. But there are issues. Robbie Rhodes was arrested and his status is uncertain (I say that, but I’d be shocked if it’s anything but missed practice time). And gone is big mouth Ahmad Dixon, who was the leader of the defense. And now the Bears have a bulls eye on their back and everyone wants a piece of them (Steve Edmond). How will they react to that? We don’t know yet, do we?

We know they have A LOT of pieces in place in their title defense with a quarterback, running back and wide out that all played very well last year. And that defense could be Bama, but we will see. I think the coach is talking them up to pump them up, which could be troubling if they are not confident in themselves. But what do I know?

 

Iowa State

The big news this spring was the addition of the OL/OC coach. Mark Mangino returns to the Big 12 after a four year absence. If you remember, Mangino was fired from Kansas for being a jerk and sort of fell off the map the last few years. He’s back and, like him or not, he’s a hell of a football coach. He knows how to call plays and coach the offensive line, and the ol was a huge problem for Iowa State last year. They will be better because of him. It seems every year at Iowa State a new, unknown-to-the-world quarterback takes over late in the season after outplaying the starter, and last fall it was Grant Rohach taking over for Sam Richardson. He’s a mobile guy that can use his feet and he has some serious speed and talent outside to throw it to, but he needs some time, and Mangino’s first priority is to get him that time.

He will get him time and I think, with Quentin Bundrage, Jarvis West and incoming freshman Allen Lazard, I see the Clones scoring some points. But I see a defense that struggled with speed last year and I don’t think that gets solved with the addition of Mangino.

This should be an entertaining team to watch and the goal should be a bowl game. DO NOT get Paul Rhoads fired. He is awesome.

 

Kansas

Year three of the Charlie Weiss era and the goal absolutely has to be get to a bowl game. They played ou off their feet and finally got a Big 12 win last year, beating West Virginia … before they lost their last two games a combined 65-10. Still, they are optimistic about this pile of crap that KU has right now.

But a lot of things have to go right. Rumors are the quarterback Jake Heaps, a transfer from BYU, is transferring, again, because freshman Montell Cozart took over the starting job in the last ¼ of the season and separated in the spring, being officially announced the starter for 2014 after the spring game. It doesn’t seem like Weiss and new OC John Reagan are pushing Heaps out, but they have cleared him to transfer to select number of schools (SMU is one) if he chooses to go. Either way, it’s Cozart’s team. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound sophomore-to-be is a true dual threat qb that, according to the staff, has greatly improved on his 36.5% completion rate. They need to find a running back to replace James Sims, but the secondary is solid and they like the athleticism Cozart brings.

They aren’t going to win the Big 12 or anything and they have to stay healthy, but if Cozart improves at all they should be better. Better enough to get to bowl game? I can’t imagine Weiss has an extraordinarily long leash, what with calling his team names and such, so he better get bowling sooner or later. I think it’s later.

 

Kansas State

After an incredibly shaky start, Midwest Purple rallied to finish 2013 bowling. After losing to I-AA North Dakota State in the season opener, they lost two hard-fought games at Texas and Oklahoma State, nearly upset Baylor at home and then won six of their last seven, including a throttling of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Back is quarterback Jake Waters, who got better as the season went on, and back is Tyler Lockett, tormentor of the Texas secondary. They must replace the starting tackles, but they always seem to find junior college players that can step in and keep things moving along. Backup quarterback Daniel Sams, who subbed on running downs for Waters, is moving to wide out and his size, athleticism and running ability should make him a good weapon, but only if it takes. I think the offense is going to be solid…

… But I am not sold on the defense. Defensive end Ryan Mueller is back and, again, the influx of junior college players can turn things quickly, but they just couldn’t get stops when they needed them last year. In 2012 while Collin Klein was getting all the headlines, K-State was leading the Big 12 in defense and turning people over. They have to get back to that form to compete for the Big 12 Title, even in the pass-happy Big 12.

The goal of the summer is get that defense to 2012 levels, otherwise more things like North Dakota State could happen again.

 

oklahoma

Did you know fur seals get miserably sick if taken aboard ships? Yes, seals get sea sick. If you are looking for the ladies, might I suggest a move to Latvia. It’s 54% female, the highest ratio in the world. If that’s your thing, stay away from Kuwait (60% male). DO NOT carry an unwrapped ukulele in Salt Lake City. You will be arrested. It’s physically impossible for a pig to look at the sky. So if you say “When pigs fly..” to a pig, you’d have to explain flying in the sky, and he’d have no idea what the sky was, so you’d be really frustrated. There are 53 lego bricks per human on earth. Did you know the parking meter originated in oklahoma? Another reason to hate them.

 

Oklahoma State

It’s got to gnaw at their soul that they were THIS close to winning the Big 12 Title last year. And they let the backup tight end playing quarterback beat them in their own house, too. They went from the Fiesta Bowl to the Cotton Bowl, where they were beaten by Missouri. While Mike Gundy didn’t get a new Offensive Coordinator, he did lose his long-time assistant and best ol coach in the country in Joe Wickline to Texas. As Gundy was running through OCs like Jennifer Aniston goes through boyfriends, Wickline was the glue that kept it all working. Now he’s gone, but offensively expect little drop off next season. Maybe. The bounty of quarterbacks that OSU once had is gone as steady, consistent starter Clint Chelf has graduated. JW Walsh, who was phenomenal against Texas in 2012, never maintained that level of play, but has won the job this spring. There is no one behind him that has played at this point. Gundy knows how to create offense, but there are so many guys that contributed on both sides of the ball last year that are gone: WR Charlie Moore, WR Josh Stewart, RB Jeremy Smith, WR Blake Jackson, LB’s Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey and the heart of the secondary in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Justin Gilbert. That is A LOT of experience, talent and leadership no longer on the team.

But you move forward and that’s what the plan for spring and summer is: finding replacements for these guys. It’s not happening overnight, but they should be in good shape at the end of year, assuming they can keep Walsh healthy.

Lots of bumps in the road for OSU this fall, I think.

 

Texas Tech

Count me in the group that thinks Kliff Kingsbury is great for Tech, but maybe not a great head coach. At least not yet. I wasn’t completely on board with the hire when they made it, but I see why they did. Mike Leach was a legend in Lubbock and, despite his super annoying quirks and the fact he ignored the two facets of the game not called the offense, it worked. The fans loved him and he seemed like a guy that would be there forever. Then the James family came along and it went sideways and Leach was cut loose. And so began the Tuberville era, which was mess. Watching Washington State in 2012, I’m sure both Leach and Tech wished things had gone differently. Tech caught a break when Tubbs ran away to Cincinnati in the middle of dinner with Tech recruits and they had the opportunity to start over. They went with Kingsbury, a Tech legend and one of the Tortilla Nation. He was with Kevin Sumlin at Houston and at A&M and was Johnny Football’s quarterback coach and everyone in black and red was ecstatic. I thought they rushed it a bit, but they don’t care what I think. He took them bowling and won the Holiday Bowl and now he’s entrenched.

Back is qb Davis Webb, the Holiday Bowl MVP, and he had a terrific spring. The Law Firm of Mayfield & Webb is no longer a thing as Baker Mayfield transferred to ou, but Webb is locked in at quarterback. That’s the good news. The bad news is the two best weapons for Tech, Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, are NFL bound and the defense is just not that good. They are going to have to outscore people to win games, and they might do that a few times, but if Webb goes down there is going to be trouble. Tech needs to find depth at qb and ol this summer after a decent spring.

I don’t think they are title contenders, but they are fun to watch. What other Big 12 coach would do this?

None. Those guys love Kingsbury, as do all of the Tech-affiliated women I know.

 

TCU

I said it when the Mack Brown era ended that if I was someone else in-state, I’d scoop up Major Applewhite before the announcement of the “retirement” hit the papers. And the landing place, I thought, was TCU. The kids TCU recruit know of Applewhite, as do their parents, and the fact he was a somewhat unheralded recruit that made it big means he could not only relate to the blue chips, but also the overlooked that TCU seems to turn into successful players. The sputtering, uneven offense of Southwest Purple had to be frustrating to a defense that seemed like they could keep up with most everyone if given the chance. The very public loss and return of quarterback Casey Pachall and the inconsistent play of backup Trevone Boykin cost the TCU offense more than once, and the defense (without Devonte Fields at times) didn’t have the ability to completely control the game. Head Coach Gary Patterson decided to make a change. Instead of the more conservative Applewhite, though, he took Tech’s Sonny Cumbie (a Kingsbury assistant, former Tech qb and long-time wr coach for Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville) and is installing the Air Raid offense. It’s the same up-tempo, no huddle attack that Houston and Tech run and it’s the sort of offense that gets qb’s, wr’s and rb’s looking at you. It might take some time to install, but there is help coming.

Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at A&M, lost his job this spring and is transferring to TCU. This is an offense he knows well (both Tech and Houston run the offense A&M runs, or similar enough) and he’ll jump in this summer and compete for the starting job with Boykin, who I think he’ll beat out. Also good news is the return to good health and favored status of the Big 12 Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, defensive end Devonte Fields. He’s a BEAST when healthy and not “violating team rules” and so far this spring he’s looked like he did in 2012. TCU has some talent returning and enrolling, and I expect they make a big turnaround.

But you don’t know until it happens. Will Joeckel pick up the offense and terminology? Will Fields be as good as he was in 2012? Who replaces super corner Jason Varrett? Will the spread work? Will the staff trust their new offense to run 80 plays a game? No one knows yet. I think it does.

 

West Virginia

I have to be honest with you; I am not sure how Dana Holgorsen is holding onto his job. After a phenomenal start to the 2012 season, they cratered, losing five straight and needed back-to-back wins over Iowa State and Kansas to make it to the Pinstripe Bowl, where they were poleaxed by Syracuse. That was a 7-6 team with Tavon Austin and Geno Smith. Last year they thought they had their next qb in Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, but the line couldn’t block and they couldn’t stop anyone and they went deeper into that crater, finishing 4-8 with an embarrassing loss to Kansas as the highlight.

The Neers have talent at running back and wide out, but they struggled to protect the quarterback and the quarterbacks struggled to play quarterback. It looks like Trickett is back as the starter, but he was shaky at times last year and you have to assume the leash will be short. I guess. The qb doesn’t really matter if they o-line can’t protect against the big and talented d-lines of the Big 12. The defense has been atrocious since they joined the Big 12, finishing in 9th and 10th (last) in the conference. They are now on their third DC in as many years, and the hope is they get it turned around this spring and summer to compete with the high flying Big 12.

Starting over, again, can’t be good for Holgorsen’s career at Couch Fires. I think it catches up to him this year, but what do I know?

 

So…

There’s the Big 12 this spring. Lots of holes to fill for everyone. Right now it’s the sooners and Bears at the top, but nothing is a lock. What did I miss?

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