Baylor coach Matt Rhule saw a lot of highlights in last Saturday’s closed scrimmage at McLane Stadium, but watching the offense make too many turnovers wasn’t one of them.
The Bears weren’t exactly a turnover machine last year with 19. But Rhule would like to see that number reduced to less than 15 this season.
“The offense put the ball on the ground too many times,” Rhule said. “The defense was really hitting, so they knocked some fumbles out. We had some fumbles again today. We’ve talked a lot about taking the ball away. The other part of that plus-minus ratio is protecting the football.”
But Rhule has been impressed with the physicality and effort his team has put into its first two weeks or practice. The Bears are now past the midway point of preseason drills for the Aug. 31 season opener against SFA at McLane Stadium.
“I thought it was a great day,” Rhule said of Saturday’s scrimmage. “I thought we had a lot of great work. We’ve got a lot of competition at a lot of spots, so I thought we saw a lot of guys with live reps really play well. Both sides of the ball were on top of each other. We gave them some different situations. It was very clean, not a lot of penalties. It was a great thermometer of where we’re at.”
The Baylor coaching staff played crowd noise over the stadium speakers to make the atmosphere of the scrimmage as game-like as possible.
“I put crowd noise on the whole time, and it was deafening,” Rhule said. “It was a chance for us to look at everyone and see where they’re at. We played with ones, twos and threes, and we had some positions that had fours, so everyone got in.”
Rhule is still trying to determine who will kick for the Bears as redshirt freshman John Mayers and true freshman Noah Rauschenberg have shown good signs throughout camp. Rhule said redshirt freshman Isaac Power would be the starting punter if the season opened today.
“We have great competition going on,” Rhule said. “Rauschenberg has a huge leg. I think he kicked a 54-yarder the other day in a two-minute situation. Mayers has a really accurate leg.”
While Baylor’s kickers and punters have performed well, Rhule would like to see overall improvement from the special teams.
“We’ve got a lot of guys giving great effort on special teams, but a lot of guys get out there sometimes and don’t do exactly what they’re trained to do,” Rhule said. “We tell them decisions lead to disaster. A lot of guys were under the pressure of the moment. Even walking into the locker room before the scrimmage, there were guys in there tight like in a game. So we need to clean all that up.”
With the season opener just 11 days away, this week’s workout schedule will be similar to game week during the season.
“We’re going hard Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday we’ll walk through and Friday we’ll do a morning routine,” Rhule said. “Then we’ll play a miniature mock game, not a scrimmage, on Saturday before ‘Meet the Bears.’ We’re still meeting until 9 at night and still doing a ton of things, and trying to mix some team bonding things in, like we went to Six Flags last week. We’re still trying to build the brotherhood of the team as well.”
Rhule announced that four players have been awarded single-digit jerseys for exemplary work as determined by a vote by the team. Defensive back Grayland Arnold will wear No. 1, linebacker Clay Johnston No. 4, running back JaMycal Hasty No. 6, and safety Henry Black No. 8.
More players are expected to receive single-digit jerseys as preseason camp progresses.
“We legitimately have 14, 15 guys that deserve to put on single digits,” Rhule said. “So it will be interesting to see how the voting goes as we continue to move forward.”
Rhule believes it’s important to reward players for great effort like the single-digit jerseys. Offensive players receive a gold shirt and defensive players receive a black shirt to signify that they’ve earned a spot in the starting lineup. The gold and black jerseys are always changing, so the players know they have to keep grinding to keep their spots.
“That’s why we do things like single digits and we do things like black shirts and all those things, because what it does is it says ‘Hey, he does extra,’” Rhule said. “So if you’re on this team, no one is not working hard. Everything that we do is difficult, everything that we do is challenging. But there are certain guys that go above and beyond.”
BEAR FACTS — Rhule sent his condolences to the family of former Texas Longhorns running back Cedric Benson, who died in a motorcycle accident Saturday night in Austin. “Obviously he was a teammate of (Baylor defensive line coach) Frank Okam, so I know Frank is beaten up inside. Just sad news, and I wanted to make sure we extended our condolences to his family.”