Coaching a veteran crew led by all-Big 12 middle linebacker Clay Johnston, Mike Siravo doesn’t have to bring his linebacker corps along with baby steps.
They know the Big 12, they know Baylor’s defensive playbook, and they know what Siravo wants out of them every day at practice.
What Siravo wants most is for the linebackers not to get complacent. He wants the younger players to push the veterans every day and for everybody to play at a higher level than they’re accustomed.
“There’s a lot of guys, but there’s got to be competition,” Siravo said. “The young guys have to step up and try to become a starter, try to take someone out of the two-deep, or else no one’s getting better. So there can’t be complacency. It’s good that they kind of know the package and what we’re doing. But they can’t get comfortable in any way, or we’re not going to be a great team.”
Siravo believes his linebacking corps could learn a lesson from Baylor coach Kim Mulkey’s national championship winning women’s basketball team. Even when the Lady Bears were blowing out teams, Mulkey didn’t let her players get complacent.
“You just saw our women’s basketball team,” Siravo said. “There’s a reason she does that. Because it’s never good enough. That’s what I just told my players. A couple guys got better today and started feeling themselves. Well, it’s not good enough. That’s what the coach over at the Ferrell Center does. That’s why she’s got three national titles. Until we get that mentality, we’ll be a good team, but we’ve got to become a great team.”
As good as Johnston was last year, Siravo wants him to raise his level of play as he enters his senior year. With his hyperactive, instinctive style of play, Johnston led the Bears with 99 tackles, including 5½ for loss.
“He needs to mature mentally in a lot of ways about the game,” Siravo said. “To be a guy that leads this team where we want to go, to be a guy who has the career he wants to have, the year he wants to have, he’s got to keep maturing as a player. He’s really bright, he plays hard, but there’s a lot there, a lot of meat on the bone for him to get better at.”
Outside linebacker Jordan Williams also brings a ton of experience into his senior year, and is coming off a solid season in which he made 52 tackles with four for loss and three pass breakups.
After playing wide receiver, running back and safety, Blake Lynch appears to have finally found a home at linebacker as he enters his senior year. Last year, he showed his versatility by recording 47 tackles with four for loss and an interception.
“He’s got a ton in him, and we’ve got to keep getting it out of him,” Siravo said. “He’s got to work on just playing hard. That’s his check list, playing hard and being a physical player. You’ve just got to keep pushing them. I don’t want to give too many compliments out here. I’m not comfortable giving them compliments.”
Those three returning starters are being pushed by senior Lenoy Jones, junior Jalen Pitre, and sophomores Terrel Bernard and Ashton Logan. Newly arrived freshman Solomon Turner from Prestonwood Christian has already made his presence felt.
“The Turner kid out of Dallas had a few picks early on, so he’s got some ball skills,” Siravo said. “We’ve got to get him to like contact, he likes the ball. But he’s going to be a good player. He’s fast, he’s got instincts. We’ve just got to get him comfortable using his hands and putting his face on other people.”
Like all the Baylor defensive coaches, Siravo has emphasized the need to force more turnovers after the Bears finished last in the Big 12 by forcing just 10 last season.
“Coach (Phil) Snow preaches turnovers, and we know it can change the game,” Bernard said. “So this spring that’s basically all we’ve been trying to do, get the ball out, make big plays, give the ball back to our offense to score.”
Siravo doesn’t expect to get everything he wants done this spring, but he’s tried to establish a culture that thrives on playing physical, tough and smart. He wants his linebackers to strive to get better regardless of how well they know the playbook or how many games they’ve played.
“You’ve got to play through pain, you’ve got to not be afraid to go strike somebody who’s big,” Siravo said. “You’ve got to be able to go tackle and keep them up. The whole thing, it’s just a violent game, and you’ve got to get their mindset to be violent and attacking. And that’s what we’re working on.”