With veteran coach George DeLeone nursing a hip injury, Shawn Bell is relishing the opportunity to coach Baylor’s offensive line during spring drills.
This is Bell’s first chance for on-field coaching since he joined Matt Rhule’s staff as an offensive analyst in December 2016. And he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“For me, obviously, it’s a tremendous joy to be a position coach at my alma mater,” Bell said. “That’s why I came here, I came here for this opportunity. At the same time, a little bit of sadness because of how much respect and how much admiration I have for Coach DeLeone. He has been awesome. But I think he and I have really embraced it and taken advantage of the opportunity.”
Bell, a former quarterback at China Spring and Baylor, has considerable experience as a high school head coach, beginning with Clifton in 2009 just two years after he graduated from Baylor.
That led to a six-year stint at Magnolia West followed by one season at Round Rock Cedar Ridge, where he went 11-1 to win the school’s first-ever district championship.
But coaching at the college level is a whole different animal, and Bell has soaked in everything he can learn from Rhule, DeLeone and veteran defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
“Every little thing that came out of every coach’s mouth, from Coach DeLeone to Coach Rhule to Coach Snow, I just tried to soak it in and be a sponge,” Bell said. “I wanted this opportunity and I want that pressure of this group that is under my name. I want my group, my offensive line group, to be the best in the Big 12, the best in the country. So that pride is something I take a lot of joy in.”
DeLeone, who will turn 70 on May 9, has been coaching since 1970 after he graduated from Connecticut. He’s coached at the college and NFL levels with stints with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns.
Bell understands that DeLeone has a wealth of knowledge and has tried to glean everything bit of information that he can from him.
“I think first, just as a coach, how to handle yourself as a coach, how to be a leader, how to work, how to do those things,” Bell said. “And then from offensive line play, that just every inch counts. From what step you take, to your hat placement, to the physicality, every little thing you do is so important. And I think nobody drives that home like Coach DeLeone did, so that’s something I try to carry on.”
Last year, DeLeone described his thin, inexperienced offensive line as a work in progress — like the construction on I-35. The Bears had major offensive line issues throughout last season as they failed to move the ball consistently.
Though seniors Blake Blackmar and Josh Malin are out with injuries this spring, Bell has a lot more offensive linemen on board now.
After sitting out last year under NCAA transfer rules, junior Jake Fruhmorgen is expected to make a major impact at left tackle.
The 6-5, 293-pound Fruhmorgen started eight games for Clemson’s 2016 national championship team before going out with an injury. He transferred to Florida briefly before deciding to transfer to Baylor.
“I kind of chose Florida out of a knee-jerk reaction,” Fruhmorgen said. “It was my second choice out of high school and it was easy from home (Tampa, Fla.). It made sense but I didn’t feel comfortable with the situation. I chose to leave before it was too late. Obviously when I saw Baylor’s coaching staff, I knew Coach Rhule’s previous reputation at Temple and how the toughness was built there.”
Fruhmorgen believes the redshirt year helped his development and improved his strength. But it was difficult for him to watch the Bears go 1-11 when he knew he could help the team along with Tennessee transfer wide receiver Jalen Hurd and Texas A&M transfer defensive end James Lockhart, who also had to redshirt.
“It was hard, really hard, especially for me and Lockhart and Hurd being on the sidelines kind of seeing a lot of good players not being able to play,” Fruhmorgen said. “Seeing how close we were, that was tough, because these guys really wanted it. You see them in the locker room after the game, it was really tough on us.”
Baylor’s offensive line was so thin last year that Sam Tecklenburg moved from tight end to center. It was a big learning curve to play such a demanding position, and he also had to refashion his body as he jumped from 265 to 305 pounds.
“I’ve always felt that I was just a good football player, it didn’t matter what position I played,” Tecklenburg said. “But center was a tough position to learn. There’s a big responsibility on me to make sure I get things identified right and get the right calls for the line. And you have to be a technician playing offensive line. I think I’m getting it, I think I’m getting a lot better.”
While Baylor was able to redshirt some of its freshmen offensive linemen, Xavier Newman started eight games at left guard as a true freshman. He thinks that experience will pay off this year.
“Being a freshman playing at such a high level is pretty good experience for me,” Newman said. “At first I was thinking about it more because I didn’t have that exposure to it, but now I’m just reacting to it. I’ve been improving my strength in the weight room and that’s really helped me a lot.”
Fruhmorgen, Newman and Tecklenburg are potential starters along with Blackmar at right guard and senior Patrick Lawrence at right tackle. But former Midway and Central Florida offensive lineman Christian Beard has a shot to see considerable playing time along with Malin, redshirt freshman Henry Klinge and sophomore Ryan Miller.
“Right now, you count in the room, we have 16 O-linemen, 12 that are going through spring right now,” Bell said. “And we hope to have 22 in the fall. Whereas last year, those numbers were way low. So that’s the best thing you see. But you see quality depth.”
Tyrone Brown, a safety and outside linebacker from Humble Atascocita High School, made a verbal commitment to Baylor on Tuesday. The 6-3, 205-pound Brown chose Baylor over Texas A&M, and is the fourth commitment in the Bears’ 2019 class.