Sometimes you watch a three-minute movie trailer and when it’s over you think, “Well, I won’t be going to that movie. I’ve just seen the whole thing.”
You didn’t get that sense watching Saturday’s Baylor spring football game.
If you were curious about how the Bears would look under first-year coach Matt Rhule, you didn’t get anything close to the full picture. This was the Dictionary.com definition of a sneak peek.
Obviously, some persistent questions linger. Will the team’s patchwork offensive line be able to hold up over the course of a Big 12 season? How much of a concern were the busted defensive coverages? And, perhaps most pressing, who’s the No. 1 quarterback? (Anu Solomon looked impressive to me, but of course I don’t get a vote.)
Spring football isn’t exactly “real” football. Sure, you’ve got blocking and tackling, running and throwing. But it also incorporates plenty of twists you’ll never see once the actual season gets cracking. Like, you know, coaches standing on the field of play during the action. Or a fantasy football scoring system, where even a tackle for loss is registered on the scoreboard. Or offensive linemen fielding punts. (“We wanted to bring a little levity,” Rhule explained, when asked about those half-ton specialists.)
Yet the glorified scrimmage wasn’t pointless, either. It resembled a game of peek-a-boo, offering a snap-second glimpse of the future face of Baylor football.
* This offense is different.
Not necessarily better. And it’s far too soon to say it’ll be worse. Just … different.
Strictly from the standpoint of coaching offensive football, Art Briles was a genius. When he arrived in Waco in 2008, the Bears made the jump to warp speed. The play clock was an afterthought. They pushed the pace, and tried to fire the ball out to their fastest players in open space, then let them do their thing.
And it worked. The Bears piled up yardage, touchdowns – and consequently – victories.
But the attack wasn’t without its flaws. The breakneck pace resulted in loads of penalties. Baylor’s final five NCAA rankings in flags with at least one Briles at the helm? Try 128th (of 128), 126th, 127th, 125th (of 125) and 91st. Apparently if you’re always rushed, you’re going to leave a mess. Briles’ attitude when it came to flags was dismissive (and, perhaps, telling).
Rhule, meanwhile, comes from a more traditional place when it comes to penalties. That is, he detests them and wants as few as possible.
The spread formation – still the offense du jour of the majority of Texas high school football programs – hasn’t been scrapped completely. You still saw elements of it Saturday.
But Baylor also lined up in the I-formation. Zach Smith and the quarterbacks moved up to the butt of the center a few times. The Bears tried to exploit the middle of the field more often.
Naturally, just like Briles and every other football coach in America, Rhule hopes to move the ball up and down the field and score boatloads of points. The Bears will simply employ a different method of going about it.
I look at it like a modern-day church worship service. You’ve got the traditional worship, with hymns and handbells and bodies in the choir loft. And you’ve got the contemporary approach – with guitars and amplifiers and praise choruses.
Neither is wrong – it’s all just a matter of preference.
* That Ish Wainright kid has potential.
As projects go, Wainright figured to be a fixer-upper. But not so fast – don’t call Chip and Jo quite yet.
Clearly, Wainright is far from a finished product. The former Baylor basketball forward is still transitioning to a sport he hadn’t played since ninth grade before this spring. Not only that, but at tight end he’ll compete against experienced players like Jordan Feuerbacher and Sam Tecklenburg, who have been at this for a while now.
But, shoot, he’s also a baller, as he showed on a 23-yard touchdown snag from freshman Charlie Brewer in the third quarter.
Rhule said his original plan was to not even play Wainright in the spring game, but Ish convinced him otherwise.
“I meant it when people asked me if he was going to play in the game,” Rhule said “I didn’t want him to play in the game. But he came to me and said, ‘I can play in the game, I know what I’m doing.’ So, just really, really smart. And I didn’t realize how much he knew, and I think it’s because he’s coming in on his own and learning the plays.”
Did Wainright get away with a push-off on his TD catch? Probably. (Just boxing out, right, Ish?) But there’s no question that he boasts an intriguing blend of size, speed and athletic ability.
I’m just disappointed he didn’t dunk over the goalpost after the touchdown.
* Under Rhule, Bears must follow the rules.
Yeah, OK, boo-hiss. Believe it or not, we at the Trib have avoided the Rhule puns more often than not.
As the son of a pastor, Rhule undoubtedly is familiar with the parable of the talents, and the message within: “You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.”
Discipline matters to Rhule, and it starts with the little things.
“I want people to see our kids,” Rhule said. “I want to make sure they saw our kids being physical and to see our kids tackling and protecting the football. Not a ton of penalties, shirts tucked in. I want them to see kids not yelling at the refs, not taunting each other. I want them to see a team that doesn’t beat itself.”
So spring has sprung. We’ve gotten our first glimpse of the Matt Rhule Era – the abbreviated coming attraction.
Bring on the feature presentation.