Baylor’s offense wasn’t humming along at its usual NCAA-leading pace, but there were enough glimpses of its explosive power for the overflow crowd of more than 3,700 to be anxious for fall to arrive.
Bryce Petty hit 10 of 15 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears completed spring drills with a scrimmage Saturday at the Highers Athletics Complex practice field.
Coming off a Big 12 championship season, the excitement surrounding the scrimmage was high. Across the Brazos River, Baylor fans could see $260 million McLane Stadium moving closer to completion for the Aug. 31 season opener between the Bears and SMU.
“We talk all the time with our players that we have a responsibility to keep the level where it’s at, and to keep finding ways to get better,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “And that’s what we’re doing. What we wanted to do was have kind of an accelerated practice and try to keep our guys healthy, which we did. So from that standpoint, it’s definitely a success.”
After leading the nation with 52.4 points per game last season, the Bears expect to continue to score at a furious pace once the real games begin. Petty certainly had his moments in the scrimmage, but he expects to be more accurate and productive in the fall.
Petty was named the Big 12 offensive player of the year as a junior last season when he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
“I missed a few throws here and there, but it’s kind of hard when you’re going against the same people every day,” Petty said. “I expect to make throws and hit big plays. If we don’t get those all the time it’s kind of frustrating. We’ve got to stay patient with it and be consistent.”
Petty fired a 40-yard touchdown pass to Jay Lee and found Robbie Rhodes uncovered for a 38-yard touchdown. However, Petty’s top target was Corey Coleman, who made five catches for 47 yards.
“Bryce is a great leader, both vocally and on the field,” Coleman said. “He’s going to help us out a lot because we have a lot of young receivers. He knows where we’re going to be. We’ve just got to keep getting better. We did pretty good, but there’s always room for improvement.”
After redshirting last season, former Killeen Shoemaker star Johnny Jefferson was Baylor’s leading rusher with 30 yards on five carries. Jefferson hopes to make a big impact this season as he joins Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin in the backfield.
“I was very frustrated at first last year because I wanted to come in and play,” Jefferson said. “But taking a year off and watching (seniors) Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk really helped me because I can see the hole now and be patient. Taking a year off was the best decision I made in my life.”
A fan in the Middle East
During the game, Jefferson’s father was tweeting from Iraq where he’s stationed with the Army.
“My dad hasn’t really seen me play a lot of football,” Jefferson said. “But he picks me up when I’m feeling down and tells me to keep trying. When I had to sit out, he encouraged me and told me God has everything happen for a reason.”
Baylor’s defense was a big reason for last year’s championship, but lost seven senior starters. The Bears are rebuilding with talented players like 6-9, 275-pound defensive end Shawn Oakman, who collected a pair of sacks in the scrimmage and was in the backfield much of the day.
“Same thing I’ve thought all spring, we can’t block him,” Briles said. “And I don’t think anyone else will, either. I think our D-line is as good as anybody in America, and he’s just one out of about six or seven in there that are going to be dominant, dynamic players for us in the fall, no doubt.”
Defensive tackle Terell Brooks and ends K.J. Smith and Brian Nance each collected a sack while defensive backs Xavien Howard, Terrence Singleton and Tyler Stephenson made pass deflections.
Baylor’s secondary suffered bigger losses than any area of the team as senior safety Ahmad Dixon and senior cornerbacks K.J. Morton, Demetri Goodson and Joe Williams are all gone. Sophomore cornerbacks Ryan Reid and Howard and sophomore safety Orion Stewart will play major roles.
“We’re missing out on a lot of leadership,” Stewart said. “But the young guys who played last year like me, Jamal Palmer and Shawn Oakman have to step up. We have to be those leaders. They (the young players) are looking toward us and we’ve got to show it every day in practice and communicate with them.”
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett likes the progress his unit has made this spring, and is looking for more improvement in the fall.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got some depth and have a potentially very good front four,” Bennett said. “If you can get to where you can defend our offense reasonably well, then you’re going to do some great things.”