Every day the Baylor Bears are shuffling.
No, it’s not that LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” is providing the background grooves at practice. But lately it just seems as though Baylor is constantly having to shuffle its lineup around, due to a mounting number of injuries to key starters.
One of the latest lineup dances has played out at linebacker. With middle linebacker Bryce Hager sidelined due to a groin injury, Eddie Lackey shifted from the outside to start at the middle last week against Oklahoma State, and Ahmad Dixon stepped up from safety to join Sam Holl on the outside. That sent redshirt freshman Orion Stewart into the lineup to fill in for Dixon at safety.
Baylor’s coaches and players said the transition went smoothly, and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett even used the word “fantastic” to describe how the linebackers played. But that doesn’t mean the tinkering is over. The Bears’ defense still allowed a season-high 594 yards to the Cowboys, as OSU quarterback Clint Chelf connected on a bevy of long passes downfield.
“We’re going to move it back around a little bit,” Bennett said. “We’ve got a few people healthy. We’re going to go from there.”
Baylor coach Art Briles said that Dixon would likely drop back to his normal role at safety for Saturday’s game against TCU. The coaches haven’t revealed the exact plan at linebacker, but since Briles has labeled Hager a “long shot” to play against the Horned Frogs, one option would be to start freshman Aiavion Edwards at middle linebacker. Edwards stepped in off the bench against Texas Tech two weeks ago when Hager suffered his injury, and has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates with his ability to shift from park to drive in a hurry.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Lackey said. “He has a lot of power, a lot of speed. He’s very instinctive. He’s grown in our defense.”
“He’s very athletic, he’s tough,” Bennett said of Edwards. “He’s got exceptional speed, covers a lot of the field. He didn’t play as much (against OSU) because we’d done a good job against the run for most of the game. We sort of liked Eddie and the experience factor.”
For Lackey, shifting over to replace Hager didn’t change an inordinate amount of his responsibilities. He did, however, take over shouting out the defensive calls and assignments.
“I was getting everybody lined up, in their spots and everything,” Lackey said. “That’s probably the biggest adjustment. I was helping Bryce before he’d been gone, but now I’m the person who’s really putting everyone in line. I don’t think we’ve had too much of a problem with it, and I understand the defense.”
As with Tevin Reese, Lache Seastrunk or Spencer Drango on the offensive side of the ball, Hager is not an easy player to replicate. He led the Big 12 in tackles as a sophomore last year, averaging 9.5 per game, and despite missing the OSU game he still ranks second on the Bears this year with 71 tackles to go with a team-high nine quarterback hurries.
“He is (hard to replace). He’s a unique player,” said Holl, who called Hager a good friend. “He’s fast, he’s smart and he’s real physical. He is definitely had to replace, but we’re doing the best that we can right now. We’ve just got to keep doing that.”
When you’re always shuffling, you’re always having to make adjustments. Baylor’s linebackers understand that more changes are imminent. They’re just trying to roll with them.
“We’re not really worried about it. We’re just going to play our game,” Lackey said. “We’re there to make plays, and whether I’m playing Will or I’m playing Mike or I’m playing safety, it doesn’t matter where. We’re all going to be out there wherever we’re put and try to make some plays.”