As the successor to the Heisman Trophy winner, Nick Florence is in a situation no one has ever experienced at Baylor.
Florence knows he can’t be the next Robert Griffin, but he believes Baylor’s offense can still be highly productive with him at quarterback.
“I’m not going to go out and try to be RG3,” Florence said. “But I’m going to do what I can for the team and we’re going to go out there and win. I’ve got to be who I am and play to my abilities, and the coaching staff knows my abilities. There are some things we’ll do differently, but they’ll put us in places where we can succeed.”
As spring football drills opened Tuesday, Florence felt confident that he could help the Bears build on one of their most successful seasons in school history. It was barely more than two months ago when the Bears capped a 10-3 season with a 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
That was Griffin’s last college game as he decided to forgo his senior year to enter the NFL draft. It was also the final night for all-American receiver Kendall Wright and all-Big 12 running back Terrance Ganaway, who produced school record-setting senior seasons.
But even with that trio gone, the Bears still have plenty of offensive weapons returning. Florence is surrounded by veteran receivers like Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson, and promising young guys like Jay Lee and Antwan Goodley. The Bears have a talented trio of running backs in Jarred Salubi, Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk.
“I can’t try to do things I can’t do,” Florence said. “I can’t run a 4.4, everybody knows that. But I’ve got to get the ball to playmakers. We’ve got so many playmakers on this offense, and I have to get the ball to them to get first downs and touchdowns to win the game.”
Now in his fourth year in Baylor coach Art Briles’ system, Florence feels much more confident entering his senior season than he did as a freshman in 2009 when he passed for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns after Griffin went down with a knee injury in the third game of the season.
“I know the offense a lot better because I’ve done it for four years and physically I’ve matured,” Florence said. “As a quarterback, you run the offense and take care of the ball and put it where it needs to go. It’s an opportunity, and I’m going to take hold of it.”
Florence planned to redshirt last year until Griffin went out with a concussion at halftime of the 11th game of the season against Texas Tech. Florence played brilliantly in the second half as he hit nine of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns to help the Bears pull off a 66-42 win.
“Nick has come a long way, and I feel real good about him,” Sampson said. “He’ll have more power now and people will listen to him because he’s a (starting) quarterback. People will think we can’t do it without Robert (Griffin), and that will be motivation.”
Briles is confident that Florence can do the job after seeing him progress in his offensive system for the last four years. Briles is also impressed by sophomore quarterback Bryce Petty’s development.
“Nick is a fearless competitor, and that’s a great attribute to have,” Briles said. “We have a lot of confidence in Nick without question, and Bryce is also extremely talented. Those guys can do the job, that’s not a problem. We’re just going to have to do it a different way.”
Florence feels he has to compete with Petty for the starting job, and is taking nothing for granted.
“I have not been handed the keys, and I don’t want it that way,” Florence said. “I want to go out and compete for the job, and that will make us both better. We’re on the same team, and that’s one thing we can’t forget. We have one goal in mind, and that’s the Big 12 championship, and we’re going to do whatever we can to get there together.”
Briles said his team was excited to get back on the field Tuesday for the first of 15 spring practices that will end April 14 with the annual intrasquad scrimmage. With two straight bowl appearances under their belts, they want to keep raising the program’s standards.
“We’re pumped and our players are ready to get back in the groove,” Briles said. “Our guys feel a responsibility to carry on, and that’s a good thing. They want to prove to themselves and everybody that we’re always going to be a formidable opponent.”
BEAR FACT: Sophomore linebacker Matt Ritchey has switched to tight end to give the Bears more depth behind Jerod Monk and Jordan Najvar.
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