Baylor freshman cornerback Byron Hanspard Jr. is a student of the Bible, but he was blown away when he got his first look at the size of defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s playbook.
It’s Old and New Testament thick.
“I thought the Bible was a very difficult book at first,” Hanspard said. “But when I saw that playbook and saw how thick it was and how many pages it was, I was like, ‘My Lord.’ Then I tried not to just freak out.”
The Baylor freshmen have been cramming to learn Matt Rhule and his staff’s offensive and defensive systems since arriving on campus this summer. But Rhule is trying to make the transition easier for them by separating the younger players and the veteran players during the first few practices of preseason camp.
The veteran players on Baylor’s two-deep roster are practicing against each other during the first part of drills. Then the freshmen and less experienced veterans practice against each other in the second half of drills. Rhule has split the practices because he wants to make sure everybody is getting his share of reps.
“I want to make sure the young players get an opportunity to get coached, to get developed, to get pushed along at the same time to get to show what they can do,” said Rhule who opened practice Friday. “So split practices the first three days. This is hard on the coaches, but it’s a test to make sure we’re ready.”
Rhule signed 21 freshmen last December, including six who enrolled at Baylor early to join the team in spring drills. The incoming freshmen who enrolled at Baylor this summer are excited to get as many reps as they can as they plunge into their first practices.
“It’s helping a ton because we can all get the same amount of reps as the older guys and learn as much,” said freshman receiver Jackson Gleeson from Mansfield. “When you’re not getting as many reps you’re trying to fight for reps. It’s been a pretty hard adjustment coming from a school that doesn’t really run a lot of things on offense. We’re learning all different concepts and different plays. But I think I’ve handled it pretty well and I think everyone has handled it pretty well, all the freshmen. So we’re moving in the right direction.”
Gleeson joins a room of receivers that’s arguably the most talented position group on the team. Denzel Mims is coming off a 1,000-yard sophomore receiving season while Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd is a physical specimen who is anticipating a big senior year.
Senior Chris Platt has recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him most of last season while Tony Nicholson and Pooh Stricklin are juniors with considerable experience. Gleeson is trying to soak in everything he can from the veterans in hopes of getting on the field this season.
“Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd and Gavin Holmes have all done a pretty good job telling me what to do and if I’m doing something wrong,” Gleeson said. “They’ve all taken me under their wing and have helped me out whenever I need it.”
After starring at DeSoto, Hanspard is trying to learn everything he can from veteran cornerbacks like junior Grayland Arnold.
“Grayland Arnold has been a phenomenal help,” Hanspard said. “Coming out here being a freshman, he’s always been by our sides, teaching us the little things, details we need to know. That’s one great thing about Grayland is that he isn’t a selfish person. He’s willing to go out and help others and teach others to help them be even better than they are. So I’m very grateful to him.”
Like Gleeson, Hanspard knows the learning curve for incoming freshmen is steep and they must grasp concepts fast since the Bears have just four weeks before opening the season against Abilene Christian at 7 p.m. Sept. 1 at McLane Stadium.
Hanspard, the son of former Texas Tech star running back Byron Hanspard, has enjoyed the split practices because the freshmen can get more quality time.
“It helps us a lot because not only does it focus on the people that just got here, it focuses on the guys that don’t know the process yet,” Hanspard said. “To be able to come in and learn the process and have a little bit more time and a little bit more focus on the people that don’t know the process, it helps us to be able to gain the knowledge and the wisdom that we need to know. So when we’re able to step on the field we’re able to produce and show the great things we need to show.”
Most of the freshmen will likely play, but not because the Bears are desperate to find players to plug into positions like last year. This year, the NCAA will allow players to participate in up to four games at any time during the season without losing their redshirt status.
The new rule has given the freshmen a greater sense of urgency because they know they could play at any time.
“Regardless of if you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, when you come in and you’re giving the will and the want and you’re working each and every day and you’re grinding and you’re busting your behind, whoever is the best player is going to be the one that’s out on the field,” Hanspard said. “So I’m definitely grateful that they have changed that rule and they’re looking at all of us and giving us a great shot to be able to play.”
Hanspard has been impressed by the young group of receivers he’s covered in practice and is looking forward to facing the veterans as preseason drills continue.
“We have an amazing, fast group of receivers — Jackson Gleeson, Kalon Barnes, Joshua Fleeks, Bralen Taylor — all guys that run literally under a 4.4, no lie,” Hanspard said. “Being able to go against those guys each and every day just helps me as a cornerback even more so, because I know in the Big 12 we’re going to continue to go after fast receivers, shifty receivers.”
Though they’ve just started playing college football, Baylor defensive backs coach Fran Brown likes what he’s seen from Hanspard and fellow freshman cornerback Mark Milton from Clear Brook High School.
“They’re young, competitive guys, just like little young puppies, just thirsty,” Brown said. “I like how they’re competing. I’m excited about both of them. I told them that they’re twins. If one doesn’t know it, it’s the other one’s fault. I’m messing with them about everything. But they’re doing a good job.”
Brown is looking forward to seeing how the four-game redshirt rule will work as the Bears delve into the season. He believes a lot of freshmen will see action at some point and is glad they’re getting a lot of reps in the split practices.
“No doubt this will really help because they can play four games regardless no matter what,” Brown said. “Giving them a chance to be out there and get quality reps day in and day out really gives them the opportunity. I think this really helps them getting the same amount of reps as the older guys, going to meetings, and teaching those guys the same way with the same film and same sets.”
Though it will take time and patience, Hanspard believes he will eventually grasp Snow’s huge playbook. But it might take awhile to learn every detail in a playbook of Biblical proportions.
“I try to just take it a day at a time because I realize that each game the playbook is going to change,” Hanspard said. “Each game, we’re going to have a different portion of the playbook. I definitely pushed that to the side like, ‘All right, Lord, let me just focus on the portion I need to focus on and not getting too freaked out.’ Coach Snow is definitely a wonderful coach and he does have complicated methods, but I know that as we continue to spend time and continue to grind, it will become simple.”
BEAR FACTS – Redshirt freshman defensive end Justin Harris announced on Twitter that he is transferring out of Baylor. Rhule announced before the start of spring drills that Harris had been suspended from the team due to undisclosed disciplinary reasons and his status hadn’t changed as the Bears opened preseason camp Friday.