After a week of preseason practice, Baylor coach Matt Rhule can already see how much progress his team has made since last season.
No longer do the Baylor coaches have to explain every detail of every play to the veterans. The coaches can install plays and teach concepts quickly which makes practices much more efficient and the learning curve faster.
“I just know we’re light years ahead of where we were,” Rhule said. “Even the players with the way they work, their development, their bodies are so much different. At the same time, they know what to expect so they’re able to attack it a lot more. I think overall depth, numbers, strength, I think we’re way further ahead of where we were.”
The Bears are three weeks away from opening the season against Abilene Christian at 7 p.m. Sept. 1 at McLane Stadium.
Much of Baylor’s roster will likely see action due to the emergence of the NCAA’s new rule in which players can play up to four games at any point in the season and still be eligible to redshirt.
Rhule and his staff will have the option of using some players – especially freshmen — at different points in the season depending on the team’s needs.
“It’s going to be more like the NFL, you’re going to have to put them in groups,” Rhule said. “This guy is going to play the whole year, this guy is going to play early in the year and redshirt, this guy we’re going to try to get him ready for the end of the year where he can help us.”
The Baylor coaching staff has tried to get the freshmen and other less experienced players ready to play by practicing them against each other in the first few workouts after their Aug. 3 start.
Rhule’s goal was for the younger players to get practice time under their belts before they joined the veterans in practice early this week.
“I don’t know if there’s any other team in the country, their third or fourth-team guys, their freshmen and redshirt freshmen, who have gotten more work,” Rhule said. “It started with the split practices. Even now when we’re doing team periods we’re doing two drills, so all those guys are getting a lot of opportunities. When guys get dinged and have hamstring pulls and that, now the younger players are ready for their opportunity.”
Several cornerbacks have been limited in practice due to minor injuries, including Grayland Arnold, Harrison Hand, Jameson Houston and Derrek Thomas.
Rhule said Clemson transfer offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen is expected to be out two weeks of preseason drills with a knee injury after a teammate fell on him.
But instead of seeing injuries as a setback, the coaching staff sees it as an opportunity for other players to get more reps in practice. Rhule has been impressed with the performance of junior college transfer offensive tackle Johncarlo Valetin in Fruhmorgen’s absence.
“I’d love Jake to be out there but now Johncarlo is getting the reps at left tackle,” Rhule said. “He was in with the ones yesterday. You talk about a 343-pound man at left tackle who can move. He was running with the threes a couple days ago getting minimal reps and now he’s with the ones as a result of trying to keep (Josh) Malin fresh and also dealing with Jake. We try to find a positive side and move forward.”
Even with Fruhmorgen missing some practice time, the Bears have much more offensive line depth than last season.
Four starters are back, including guards Xavier Newman and Blake Blackmar, center Sam Tecklenburg and right tackle Patrick Lawrence. Besides the redshirt freshmen, the Bears have four true freshmen scholarship offensive linemen on their roster, including Jackson Kimble, Prince Pines, Connor Galvin and Casey Phillips.
“The nice thing is we have so many guys that we can continue to run three groups,” Rhule said. “We do a nice job of moving guys around, guys playing different positions.”
Baylor’s tight ends are a work in progress with several battling for playing time. It’s an inexperienced group with redshirt freshman Tyler Henderson and true freshmen Bralen Taylor, Ben Sims and Christoph Henle. Senior Jamie Jacobs moved to tight end in the spring after playing defensive end throughout his Baylor career.
“I like our tight ends,” Rhule said. “I think Tyler Henderson just has to get tougher, not in a bad way but he just needs more time. Jamie (Jacobs) is making the transition and I like some of the things he’s done. Then we have the young kids, Christoph (Henle), Ben (Sims) and Bralen (Taylor). I think it’s a good group. In the next two weeks we’ll see how good they can be and what level they can get to.”
Rhule is glad to have punter Drew Galitz back after a knee injury ended his junior season in the fifth game last season. Galitz was averaging 45.2 yards per punt before the injury, and kicker Connor Martin took over punting duties for the rest of last season.
“I think the biggest thing Galitz is back and he’s really kicking the ball well,” Rhule said. “He was really flipping the field for us last year, and losing him was hard. Credit to him how hard he’s worked to come back, and he’s come back better.”
Baylor has seen several young players leave the program in recent weeks for various reasons, including sophomore cornerback Timarcus Davis, redshirt freshman safety Tre’von Lewis, freshman offensive lineman Ylijaah Hall and redshirt freshman defensive end Justin Harris.
“I think each one is an individual case,” Rhule said. “Some aren’t going to play and some aren’t just naturally happy and have personal things that they have to go back home and deal with. At the same time that opens the door for other players, for us to recruit more guys and hopefully give us an opportunity to give a walk-on a scholarship now and then.”
Both Lewis and Harris had been suspended from the team last spring for undisclosed reasons.
“Some guys were asked to leave,” Rhule said. “Some guys had certain situations that were outside of my control, that were university based things, and they either made the decision to leave or left. Any situation is a little bit different. I think we’ll see that every year when you’re in a good program, a competitive program, some guys are going to wake up and say ‘Hey, I’m not going to play.’ If they really want to play they should go somewhere else.”
BEAR FACTS -- Baylor football players and coaches will be available for autographs at the annual “Meet the Bears” fan appreciation event Aug. 18 from 3 to 5 p.m. at McLane Stadium.
Baylor athletes from winter and spring sports along with the Baylor Spirit squads will also be in attendance to interact with fans and sign autographs. Fans will receive exclusive “Meet the Bears” posters for autographs.