Watching KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora burning it up for NFL scouts at Pro Day last week, Baylor coach Matt Rhule could have easily gotten depressed about the receivers he won’t have in his first season.
But Rhule’s not complaining a bit. He realizes there’s still a lot of talent on board.
On a team that lacks depth at several positions, there’s no shortage of jaw dropping receivers.
“You sit out here the other day and you see the receivers running at Pro Day and they’re unbelievably talented,” Rhule said. “And you go out there and you watch these kids, and they’re really talented. I think it will be one of the deeper groups on the team. I wish one of them could go block on the offensive line.”
Cannon and Zamora combined for 150 catches and 21 touchdowns last season, so they’ll be missed. But the receiving corps is still considerably deep with players like Chris Platt, Blake Lynch, Pooh Stricklin, Jared Atkinson and Denzel Mims returning and freshman R.J. Sneed making an impression in his first semester on campus.
After going without a playbook during the Art Briles’ era, Rhule’s thick playbook is a bit of a shock. But receivers coach Bob Bicknell likes the way they’re adapting to the new system.
“It’s tough when you put in a new offense and ask them to do a lot of different things and some of the things they’ve done here in the past,” Bicknell said. “Sometimes we’re taking a little bit away with what we’re asking them to do mentally. Then we get into what they know and they start to learn it. But I think they’ve done a really good job and are coming along.”
Rhule and his offensive staff are combining elements of a pro-style offense with the spread. The players have had to learn a whole new system and a new language during spring drills.
“There’s a lot of similarities (to the past system) but there’s different verbiage,” Bicknell said. “Sometimes it’s the same thing they were doing but it’s a different way of talking and communicating. There’s a lot of thinking that goes along.”
Coming into his fourth-year junior season, Platt should have a big year after making 35 catches for 567 yards and four touchdowns last season. He’s one of the fastest receivers in the Big 12 but needs to cut down on dropped passes.
Blake Lynch came on as redshirt freshman last season, making 34 catches for 404 yards and three touchdowns and showing his versatility by rushing for 80 yards on 12 carries. He’s got a lot of savvy and showed signs of becoming a go-to receiver.
“Blake is doing good,” Bicknell said. “He’s just a little banged up right now. He was progressing when you watch the weight room and all the things he was doing physically.”
Stricklin showed some good signs by making 13 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Atkinson and Mims should also play important roles in the fall. They’re both physically impressive with Atkinson standing 6-2 and 210 pounds while Mims is 6-3 and 200 pounds.
“Mims has great size and speed,” Bicknell said. “At first I was saying, he’s got to run but I’m watching him and he’s downfield running by people. He’s smooth. He’s a really good looking athlete.”
Sophomore Tony Nicholson came to Baylor as a defensive back but Rhule honored his request to play receiver.
“I don’t ever tell anyone where they have to move,” Rhule said. ‘I’ll give my opinion, I’ll say I think it would be good for you to move to get on the field. And I’ll give my opinion and say I think this is your best chance to play at the next level. Everyone wants to move to receiver.”
Though he’s only been at Baylor since January, former Cypress Ranch High School star R.J. Sneed has already made some inroads at receiver. His instincts and willingness to soak up everything the coaches say have worked in his favor.
“R.J. has brought professionalism and attention to detail that’s rare for a young person his age,” Rhule said.
After seeing limited time in Briles’ spread offense, Baylor’s tight ends are excited to become a bigger part of the game plan.
Senior Jordan Feuerbacher is the most experienced player in the group while Sam Tecklenburg and Josh Malin are versatile enough to play both tight end and offensive tackle.
“We’re looking for a guy that can really stretch the field vertically but they also have to be able to block,” said Baylor tight ends coach Joey McGuire. “I think they love it (the pro-style offense). Now they’re lining up as a true tight end. Their biggest deal is they’ve found a position where they’re going to be more of a part of the game plan every down.”
Often overshadowed at wide receiver, Quan Jones could make a bigger impact at tight end as a senior. At 6-5 and 215 pounds, he’ll likely need to put on some weight to handle the physicality of the position.
“The one thing I love about Quan is that he’s been very eager to jump in there,” McGuire said. “That’s hard to do when you’ve been out at the receiver position and some of the things you’re asked to do on the perimeter in the blocking game versus that inline tight end having to block. He’s done a good job.”
BEAR FACTS – Though sophomore Zach Smith has received the majority of the first-team snaps during spring drills, Baylor coach Matt Rhule said he isn’t near a final decision on the starting quarterback. Smith is competing against graduate transfer Anu Solomon from Arizona and freshman Charlie Brewer from Lake Travis High School. “I don’t think we’ll have any idea where guys are going to be in this offense until the middle of (August) camp. When you get into camp you really get to see a guy who understands the offense.”