In a Baylor secondary crowded with veterans, sophomore Terrell Burt and redshirt freshman Orion Stewart have fought their way on the field.
They’ll both make an impact this year: Burt will start at free safety while Stewart will get considerable playing time when the Bears shift to a nickel package with five defensive backs.
They understand they’re the new kids on the block who can learn a great deal from senior strong safety Ahmad Dixon and senior cornerbacks Joe Williams, K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson.
“I like having the veterans back there because if I mess up they get on me,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to let those guys down. I don’t want to be the weak link out there so I try to step my game up to their level.”
Burt joined defensive linemen Javonte Magee and Jamal Palmer as the only true freshmen to play for the Bears last season.
He was the only one of the three to play in all 13 games with most of his time coming on special teams along with some work at safety.
After an outstanding career at Wylie High School, Burt wanted to play for the Bears immediately. He not only starred at defensive back in high school, he was also a member of Wylie’s 4x100-meter Class 4A state championship relay team as a junior.
“I came in with the mindset that I wanted to play as soon as possible,” Burt said. “I wanted to start as soon as possible and do good things here at Baylor. Playing last year, I learned a lot but I knew I needed to get better.”
Looking for a free safety to replace Mike Hicks, the Baylor coaches like the speed and savvy Burt brings to the table. He moved into the starting lineup in the spring and continues to hold the spot ahead of sophomore Anthony Webb.
Adding skills, muscle
The 5-10, 185-pound Burt hit the weight room hard and has added 10 pounds since last season while continuing to develop his coverage skills and footwork. A summer under the watch of Baylor strength coach Kaz Kazadi has paid off.
“I’ve been working hard with Coach Kaz and doing extra work with my footwork that should help me out,” Burt said. “I feel like I’m way better than my first year here. I feel like I’m bigger, stronger and faster.”
After a tremendous career at Midway High School, Stewart was one of the last additions to Baylor’s 2013 recruiting class. He redshirted last year and made great progress during the spring as a backup behind Dixon at strong safety and as the fifth defensive back in Baylor’s nickel package.
Stewart has found that many of Baylor’s coverage packages are similar to the ones he played at Midway. As a senior safety, Stewart collected 77 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups for the Panthers’ 2011 team that reached the Class 4A Division I state finals.
“It’s kind of crazy because most of the stuff that we do here we did at my high school,” Stewart said. “But some of it is more in-depth and complicated.”
As a young defensive back, Stewart realizes he’s got a tough task in a conference that’s known for explosive passing offenses. He’s soaked up everything he can from Dixon and has learned a lot from facing Baylor’s speedy receivers in practice.
“When I first got here, the offense moved very fast,” Stewart said. “Ahmad moved back to safety and he’s been trying to teach me. But we’ve really got to step up. We’re young and you can really get exposed back there.”
Burt has also done his best to adjust to the speed of the game and is glad he has a year under his belt.
“I had to grow up quick,” Burt said. “It was pretty fast but I’m starting to really get it now. Going against the Baylor offense has helped out big time. Being around a bunch of older guys, they help me out and tell me what I need to do.”
Baylor coach Art Briles likes the progress that both Burt and Stewart have made and believes they have a promising future.
“They’re doing really well and both had good springs,” Briles said. “Both of them are athletic, energetic and football guys. We feel real good about where they’re at.”
BEAR FACTS: Senior cornerback Demetri Goodson has endured his share of bad luck since transferring from Gonzaga to Baylor as he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2011 and a broken arm in the fourth game last season. But Baylor coach Art Briles believes Goodson could have a great year after getting a hardship waiver to play. “He’s been fabulous. He’s mature and athletic and we think he’s set up for a breakout season.”...With the temperature hitting 101 degrees at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Briles brought his team into the indoor practice field for the second half of practice for the first time since camp opened Monday.