Unless your name is Robert Griffin III, securing immediate playing time in Baylor coach Art Briles’ offense just doesn’t happen for most quarterbacks.
Nick Florence had to wait his turn. So did Bryce Petty.
Grasping the nuances of Briles’ offense is a painstaking process that takes a lot of patience and a great deal of study and repetition.
While redshirt freshman Seth Russell and true freshman Chris Johnson are preparing for this season, the bulk of their playing time will likely arrive in the future. They’re both getting in as much preseason work as they can behind Petty with hopes of being ready when their names are called.
“I’ve been getting a lot of reps and I’ve been out there and playing,” Russell said. “That gives me an advantage. Once you’re out there reacting and going fast and being decisive, it’s going to help out.”
Briles has been pleased with the progress of both Russell and Johnson. He likes how their passing accuracy has progressed and the way they’re learning the tempo and demands of his offense.
“Chris has made leaps and bounds since the spring,” Briles said. “He’s settled down and is making plays and understands our offense. Seth is the same way. He’s a real solid football player and has some qualities to be exceptional, and that’s a good thing.”
Russell signed with Baylor in 2012 after an outstanding career at Garland High School where he passed for 1,502 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 471 yards and seven scores as a senior.
With Florence starting at quarterback and Petty playing a reserve role, the 6-3, 200-pound Russell redshirted last year as he began to adjust to the college game. His biggest challenge has been getting accustomed to the speed of Baylor’s no-huddle attack.
Keeping up with BU’s pace
“I don’t think anyone’s going to match this tempo,” Russell said. “It’s fun and I’ve got great teammates and coaches, and I feel I fit in really well with the offense. Things are starting to flow. I’ve been working on my footwork. That’s always huge for a quarterback along with putting the ball in there on time and having a quick release.”
Russell is excited to have so many talented receivers surrounding him like senior Tevin Reese, junior Antwan Goodley and freshman Robbie Rhodes. Russell hooked up with Rhodes on a 78-yard touchdown pass in Baylor’s second preseason scrimmage Saturday.
“Our receivers are ridiculous,” Russell said. “To have that many receivers is a blessing. They are all going to catch the ball. When you throw it out there you know good things are going to happen.”
After hitting four of 11 passes for 62 yards in the Aug. 10 Meet the Bears scrimmage, Russell was much more accurate in the second scrimmage as he hit 10 of 14 for 162 yards and the touchdown pass to Rhodes.
“Accuracy is something I’m always working on,” Russell said. “I’m feeling a lot better with it.”
Johnson graduated from Bryan High School last December to enroll at Baylor in the spring, and has already shown great progress. He wanted to improve his accuracy after hitting 112 of 235 passes for 1,724 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior last fall.
“During my first three years of high school, we ran a lot of triple-option reads until we went to a spread for my senior year,” Johnson said. “I’m working on seeing things happen a little faster. After you get in some reps, you learn to play faster and move the ball down the field. I’ve learned a lot from watching and being in the film room. Our quarterbacks give me pointers and help me out.”
Like Russell, the 6-4, 220-pound Johnson has a good arm and enough speed to be a running threat. He’s getting accustomed to the speed of Briles’ offense and is learning how to spread the ball around to Baylor’s gifted receivers.
“These guys are great and each brings something a little different to the table, so the defenses never know what’s coming,” Johnson said. “Having so much versatility out there and spreading the ball around makes the offense very effective.”
Not an overnight fix
Both Russell and Johnson realize it’s a long process to master Briles’ offense. They understand that it takes patience, quick thinking and hard work to make the Bears’ attack work at its best. Now in his fourth year in Briles’ system, Petty is glad to have the younger quarterbacks pushing him.
“There’s competition every day,” Petty said. “I want those guys to make me better.”
BEAR FACTS: Baylor coach Art Briles hopes running back Glasco Martin, who has been rehabbing a broken ankle suffered in the spring, will be ready to go through drills later this week with the Aug. 31 season opener against Wofford approaching. “The good thing is that he’s played a bunch the last two years and doesn’t need a lot of time. But it’s good to get him into some live action.” . . . Briles will continue to monitor receivers Antwan Goodley (strained groin) and Clay Fuller (ankle injury) after he held them out of Saturday’s scrimmage. Goodley worked out in shoulder pads Monday while Fuller began practice by running pass patterns without shoulder pads. Senior Darius Jones moved from cornerback to receiver before Saturday’s scrimmage to give the Bears more depth since redshirt freshman Kaleb Moore is out indefinitely with a knee injury . . . Defensive end Shawn Oakman returned to practice Monday after missing Saturday’s scrimmage with a hamstring injury, while defensive tackle Andrew Billings isn’t expected to return until later in the week after sustaining a broken nose last week.