During the Big 12 spring teleconference this week, Baylor coach Art Briles was not bashful about touting his defensive line, which is loaded with potential if somewhat short on experience.

“I’ve been saying it for four months,” Briles said, “I would put our D-line up against any D-line in the United States of America, when you’re looking at six- or seven-deep personnel and say, hey, let’s roll the ball out there and let’s play, let’s see who’s better.

“I think our guys are really good up there.”

The Big 12 could be chock-full of talented defensive lines this season.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman has been nearly unblockable this spring.
Oklahoma basically returns the entire unit -- led by ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper -- that overwhelmed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners will also be getting back tackle Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level last season before undergoing season-ending back surgery in early October. Tackle Charles Walker, who redshirted as a freshman last fall, has been turning heads, and reportedly ran the fastest defensive tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) since Bob Stoops became coach.

TCU could be formidable up front, too, especially if end Devonte Fields returns to his 2012 Big 12 Defensive-Freshman-of-the-Year-form, as Horned Frogs defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas suggested he had this week.

Texas and Kansas State should be stout along the line as well, spearheaded by the returns of all-conference ends Cedric Reed and Ryan Mueller, who combined for 22.5 sacks last season.

Baylor, however, has a chance to field a defensive line as good as any in the league.

The defensive tackle trio of Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear and Javonte Magee could be especially menacing.

Billings, a four-star signee last year who chose the Bears over Texas, instantly became a key rotation player inside as a true freshman. Blackshear started last season but is getting pushed for that starting spot by Magee, who shined in the spring after sitting out last season due to a personal issue. Like Billings, Magee was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Oregon.

The Bears are talented on the outside, as well.

Shawn Oakman, who was sixth in the Big 12 with 12.5 tackles-for-loss last season, will take over a full-time starting spot. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, Oakman has the size to be a dominant player. He showed that during the spring.

“I think the same thing I’ve thought all spring -- we can’t block him,” Briles said after the Bears’ spring game. “And I don’t think anybody else will either.”

Opposite Oakman will be returning starter Jamal Palmer as well as Sam Ukwuachu, who will be eligible this season after transferring in from Boise State last year. Ukwuachu was a starter for the Broncos in 2012 as a redshirt freshman and was second on the team in sacks.

The Bears have questions elsewhere defensively. At linebacker, only Bryce Hager returns, and he was out this spring recovering from a groin injury. In the secondary, only safety Terrell Burt comes back, and he also missed spring ball recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

But Baylor could overcome those questions in its back seven with a dominating defensive line -- something Briles firmly believes he’ll have in 2014.

“These guys can play, and they’re good,” he said. “I really think these guys are that special up front.”
The Iowa State football program already is feeling the impact of new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.

[+] EnlargePaul Rhoads
David Purdy/Getty ImagesHead coach Paul Rhoads thinks new OC Mark Mangino will have Iowa State pointed in the right direction.
After being hired in January, the former Kansas head coach just completed his first spring at the helm of the Cyclones’ offense and has amped up the atmosphere in Ames, Iowa.

“Change in itself sometimes creates energy,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “I think it’s created energy with our guys, a real excitement about the offense.”

Change was need for a team that finished among the nation’s worst offenses in several categories, including points per game (24.8, 89th nationally), yards per play (4.82, 107th nationally) and third-down conversion percentage (34.5 percent, 100th nationally) in 2013.

Not only has Mangino infused energy into the offense, he’s engaging the players as well.

“Mark [doesn’t] hide the fact that ball-distribution is important to him and the offense,” Rhoads said. “We’ve had a lot of people get touches. The more people we have involved, the more excitement and energy you get out of practices and preparation.”

Mangino’s distribution plan was on display in the Cyclones' spring game as six receivers caught at least four passes. Rhoads understands his offense still has a long way to go.

And that journey will start with naming a quarterback.

“I would anticipate having him [a starter] named by the middle of August,” Rhoads said of the competition between Grant Rohach, Sam Richardson and Joel Lanning. “I think we still have work to do.”

Rhoads pointed to Mangino’s arrival and having a new quarterbacks coach in Todd Sturdy, who is sliding over after coaching the Cyclones receivers during the past two seasons, as reasons his team hasn’t seen a quarterback take the job and run.

“There was a lot of growth that took place through 15 practices and a lot more that has to take place,” Rhoads said.

TCU DE Fields healthy, hungry again

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The highs of 2012 were as good as it gets. The lows of 2013 were a frustrating test. And now, finally, Devonte Fields is back.

TCU coaches aren't ready to say the former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is playing his best football just yet, but there's little rust on a pass rusher who conquered the conference as a freshman in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsNow healthy, Devonte Fields is working to returning to his All-Big 12 form of 2012.
"We’re cautiously optimistic about him,” TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said Tuesday on the Big 12 teleconference.

After racking up 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in his debut season, Fields' follow-up was no doubt frustrating. He was suspended for the opener against LSU and was held out for most of the following game. He suffered a foot injury in the third game against Texas Tech, tried to give it a go against Oklahoma State, and then he was done.

He'll receive a medical redshirt for the time missed in 2013 after electing to have foot surgery, but what can Fields make of his second chance as a sophomore season?

"We’ll have to see. He had a good spring, really came on at the end of spring," TCU coach Gary Patterson said to ESPN.com this month. "School-wise and everything, he’s just understanding when much is given, much is asked. Now he needs to finish the semester and needs to have a great summer."

What Bumpas finds encouraging is the fact that TCU's strength and conditioning coach says Fields is indeed stronger today than before the injury.

"He's not only back to where he was, he's past where he was," Bumpas said. "He's getting his strength back, his foot feels good and he's starting to show up and make plays again."

Patterson is excited about pairing Fields with junior Terrell Lathan and redshirt sophomore Josh Carraway, giving the Frogs an experienced trio at end to go along with one of the league's best defensive tackle combos of Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson.

Following up what he did as a freshman put serious pressure on Fields, and Patterson could see that in his play.

"Last year I think he was trying to do too much," Patterson said. "For him, staying below the water with nothing going on, going to school and also becoming a pass rusher, all that stuff will come together. But he needs to do the things that are important."

Right now, that's staying healthy, taking care of his business off the field and, in time, getting even better than the lineman who tore up the Big 12 two years ago.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
It's almost time for the Houston Rockets to break out those fishing poles.
  • TCU wideout Brandon Carter was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Deanna Boyd has the details.
  • Clint Trickett is still West Virginia's No. 1 QB despite not taking part in spring ball; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt explains. West Virginia MetroNews's Allan Taylor breaks down the Mountaineer running backs.
  • Kansas State defensive end Laton Dowling is pushing for playing time, reports the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tim Bisel. K-State coach Bill Snyder says Saturday's spring game is for the fans in this article from the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder.
  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was in Kentucky and donning blue to support his brother. The Oklahoman's Don Gammill looks back at legendary Sooner coach Bud Wilkinson.
  • A refreshing wave of honesty is blowing through Austin, Texas, the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger writes.
  • A Texas commitment called rival Texas A&M "a circus."
  • Iowa State released its post-spring depth chart, and the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse analyzes what's different. La Gesse also got a spring recap from Cyclones offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.
  • Retiring Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance was candid about the firing of former coach Mike Leach, according to this report by the Amarillo Globe-News' Jon Mark Beilue.
  • Former Oklahoma State kicker Dan Bailey of the Dallas Cowboys flew with the Blue Angels.
Programs across the Big 12 weren’t shy about making aggressive assistant coaching hires during the offseason to improve their teams.

And nobody was more aggressive than Gary Patterson. The TCU head coach brought in Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, then plucked Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie away from his alma mater. Together Meacham and Cumbie, who were both part of successful offenses last season, have been charged with installing a no-huddle, up-tempo attack at TCU, which has ranked eighth in scoring offense its first two seasons in the Big 12.


Who made the best Big 12 assistant coaching hire(s) of the offseason?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,561)

The Horned Frogs, however, aren’t the only ones that will be relying heavily on new assistants to make a significant and immediate impact.

Paul Rhoads tabbed Mark Mangino to run the Iowa State offense after the Cyclones finished 90th nationally in scoring last season. Mangino had been away from coaching in the FBS for four years. But he also took Kansas to the Orange Bowl, coordinated a national championship offense at Oklahoma, and was an assistant during the Manhattan Miracle years at Kansas State.

Kansas, the only Big 12 team the Cyclones outscored last season, also made a coordinator change offensively. After serving on Mangino's staff at Kansas, John Reagan spent the past four seasons at Rice -- the past three as offensive coordinator. Under his guidance, the Owls averaged more than 420 yards and 30 points last season and boasted one of the top rushing offenses in the nation as the Owls captured the Conference USA championship.

Like Patterson did with Cumbie, first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong dipped in conference to boost his offensive staff, swiping offensive line coach Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State. Under Wickline, the Cowboys annually featured one of the most effective offensive lines in college football, ranking in the top 15 nationally in scoring the last four seasons despite starting four different quarterbacks.

Dana Holgorsen coordinated the 2010 Oklahoma State offense before taking the head job at West Virginia. But under Holgorsen, the Mountaineers have struggled defensively, and he’s hoping the addition of Tom Bradley to his defensive staff will help remedy that. Bradley was a Joe Paterno assistant for more than three decades at Penn State and coached in 26 bowl games and on two national championship teams. As defensive coordinator from 2004-09, Bradley led the Nittany Lions to six straight top-15 finishes nationally in total and scoring defense.

The fans bases of West Virginia, Texas, Kansas, Iowa State and TCU have good reason to be excited about the assistant hires their programs made.

Now, we put it to you via our weekly Big 12 poll -- which hire was best?

Big 12 spring stars, Part 1

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
Spring football is coming to a close in the Big 12, with several players making a move in their respective programs and securing or bettering their role on the team. During the next two days, we’ll review the Big 12’s stars of the spring by taking a closer look at their pre-spring roles, spring performance and potential roles this fall.

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Pre-spring role: Oakman looked like he could be a breakout star on Baylor’s defense after recording 12.5 tackles for loss in a backup role.

What he did this spring: Oakman cemented his spot in the starting lineup and boosted the belief that he could be one of the Big 12’s top defensive linemen this fall.

What his role could be this fall: A freakish athlete at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, Oakman has NFL ability and could show it as the key piece in Baylor’s stellar defensive line.

Quotable: “We can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will, either. It's what I've been saying all along: Our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall.” - Baylor coach Art Briles.

Receiver Brett Medders, Iowa State

Pre-spring role: The redshirt junior hadn’t really made an impact during his first three seasons, so not much was expected from him.

What he did this spring: Medders emerged as a legitimate option at receiver for a Cyclones offense searching for additional playmakers this spring. He had six receptions for 48 yards in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads praised Medders' performance during ISU’s spring practices.

What his role could be this fall: Even though ISU has several potential options at receiver, including true freshman Allen Lazard, Medders could have carved himself a role in Mark Mangino’s offense. He’s not a game-changing target, but could help force defenses to account for receiving threats other than Quenton Bundrage.

Receiver Nick Harwell, Kansas

Pre-spring role: The Jayhawks knew they had someone who could help them in Harwell, who was forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring from Miami (Ohio).

What he did this spring: Harwell emerged as arguably the Jayhawks’ go-to playmaker. He’s a shifty receiver who can excel in the open field. KU repeatedly tried to put the ball in his hands during its spring game, so expect that to continue this fall. The Jayhawks wanted to identify playmakers during the spring and Harwell stepped up to fill that void.

What his role could be this fall: Harwell will be Montell Cozart’s main target and should join running back Tony Pierson as KU’s top playmakers in John Reagan’s new offense.

Quotable: “You try not to get too excited because he is so competitive and he runs good routes and he catches the ball. He doesn't like getting beat in drills. He wants to go against the best guy every single time. He is the type of competitor I am used to playing with. If he comes even close to the expectation I have for him, then I think we will be pretty happy.” - KU coach Charlie Weis

Cornerback Morgan Burns, Kansas State

Pre-spring role: Burns was poised to battle for a spot in the secondary after two seasons in a backup role.

What he did this spring: While the Wildcats' spring is not over yet, Burns has worked himself into a key role while separating himself among the Wildcats’ cornerbacks, who are competing for two starting positions.

What his role could be this fall: He appears poised to be KSU’s No. 1 option at cornerback unless he takes a step backward during the four months before the season kicks off.

Safety Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma

Pre-spring role: He was very solid as a freshman, playing a role on special teams while getting spot duty on defense. Thomas was expected to battle fellow sophomore Hatari Byrd to replace Gabe Lynn at safety.

What he did this spring: Thomas showed he’s going to be on the field one way or the other with a strong spring, which he capped with several plays in the spring game. He showed the ability to line up at multiple positions in the Sooners defense, allowing OU to use him in several roles.

What his role could be this fall: Byrd had a solid spring as well, so Thomas didn’t run away with the job at safety. But it would be a surprise if Thomas is not a key contributor on OU’s defense in 2014.
Immediately following Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” open practice on April 5, coach Mike Gundy agreed that J.W. Walsh had seized control of the quarterback competition.

But Tuesday during the Big 12 coaches spring teleconference, Gundy held off on naming Walsh his starter for the Cowboys’ opener against Florida State -- despite how inevitable it seems.

“We had a really good competition throughout the spring,” he said. “It’ll continue on.”

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Richard CarsonJ.W. Walsh seems to be a shoo-in to be Oklahoma State's starting quarterback, but there have been no proclamations from head coach Mike Gundy.
The Cowboys have two challengers to Walsh in walk-on Daxx Garman and freshman Mason Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball.

Garman, who might have the strongest arm of the bunch, progressed rapidly during the spring, but he injured his knee and missed the last week of spring ball.

Rudolph was rated as the nation’s No. 8 pocket-passing quarterback, making him one of the most highly touted quarterbacks ever to sign with Oklahoma State. Rudolph had his moments this spring, including a long touchdown pass in the Orange Blitz.

But Rudolph didn’t make the same splash that Wes Lunt did in 2012. Lunt beat out Walsh and Clint Chelf that year to win the starting job coming out of spring ball as a true freshman.

Still, because Garman and Rudolph were getting significant reps this spring for the first time in their college careers, the possibility for growth is there. That might be one reason why Gundy held off on naming Walsh the starter.

“Daxx Garman, who’s been in our program, had a really good spring,” Gundy said. “Then we obviously we had the freshman, Mason Rudolph, that was here that was learning and getting better each day.”

Walsh remains the overwhelming favorite to lead the Cowboys offense against the Seminoles. That became evident during the spring, even to the players.

“J-Dub has been the most consistent,” running back Desmond Roland told ESPN.com earlier this month. “He’s the first one in the weight room, the last one to leave. First one to watch film, first one out before practice, last one to leave.

“So, I believe he’s going to be one."

But Walsh isn’t the one just yet. At least not according to Gundy.

“Those three guys need to compete,” Gundy said. “They need to put their time and effort in the summer and the offseason and develop their leadership skills during the conditioning with the team.

“And then we’ll let 'em go at it for the first 15 days or so of fall camp.”
Turnovers have been a major issue in Lubbock, Texas, for the past five seasons.

Texas Tech has committed 133 turnovers in 64 games during that span, worst in the Big 12 and 115th in the bowl subdivision. When Kliff Kingsbury took over the program before the 2013 season, he knew it was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Yet not much changed last season as the Red Raiders finished with 33 turnovers, which again was worst in the Big 12 and 119th among FBS teams.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury, Davis Webb
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and Davis Webb are focused on ball security these days.
After looking at those numbers, Kingsbury’s response to a question about what pleased him most about the Red Raiders’ spring practice is no surprise.

“Ball security on offense was a big emphasis, and it has been the past two years. Last year we weren’t very good at it,” Kingsbury said. “I thought they did a good job protecting it this spring.”

The tangible result of Texas Tech's ball-security struggles was a minus-51 points-off-turnovers margin in 2013. The Red Raiders’ 15 fumbles and 18 interceptions made life much more difficult for Kingsbury during his first season, as turnovers are directly tied to Texas Tech's five losses in 2013. A turnover margin of minus-9 in those games, including a minus-4 turnover margin in the fourth quarter alone, underscores the importance of Kingsbury changing the turnover trend in Lubbock.

Adding to the misery was Texas Tech's penalty troubles. It had the fourth-most penalties in the nation in Kingsbury’s first season with 103 total penalties and an average of 75.2 penalty yards per game. Penalties aren’t as big an issue as the turnovers, as the three teams with more penalties than the Red Raiders -- Baylor, UCLA and Oregon -- combined to win 32 games last season.

Kingsbury knows his team will have to be better in both respects if they hope to insert themselves into the Big 12 championship chase this fall.

“I think when you’re playing the alpha-level teams in this conference, you can’t have those penalties, you can’t have those turnovers,” Kingsbury said. “So we have to find a way to minimize those. As many plays as we [run], you’re going to have penalties but you can’t be at the bottom of the country. That’s unacceptable.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
Played pick-up basketball last night... and lost all six games.
  • Texas coach Charlie Strong is a little too honest for his fanbase, in the opinion of the Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington. The paper's Chuck Carlton got a one-on-one video interview with Strong.
  • The naming of Montell Cozart as Kansas' starting QB was all about timing, writes the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait.
  • Baylor is relishing its role as the defending Big 12 champs.
  • TCU defensive end Devonte Fields has returned better than ever, writes Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Lindy Berry, a former TCU All-American QB, passed away at 86.
  • Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads wants a starting quarterback named by mid-August, reports the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
  • The Kansas State running back competition continues, according to the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder. The Wildcats are looking for more out of linebacker Charmeachealle Moore, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Ken Corbitt.
  • Oklahoma lost another commitment, its second in the last week. The Sooners are hoping to land this blue-chip kicker. An Alabama transfer offensive lineman chose Ohio State over Oklahoma. Bob Stoops weighs in on whether transfer QB Baker Mayfield will be on scholarship.
  • West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is a fan of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, but wonders if it's going to be reformed, reports Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette. Allan Taylor of the West Virginia MetroNews Network addresses whether the Mountaineers receiving corps can regain its swagger.
  • Coach Kliff Kingsbury said incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes is likely to be Texas Tech's No. 2 QB behind starter Davis Webb.
  • Big 12 coaches don't see players as employees, The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy sees the College Football Playoff eventually going to eight teams, according to the Austin American-Statesman's Kevin Lyttle. Gundy also thinks college football is becoming more time consuming for players, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
  • The Dallas Morning News wraps up spring ball for Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech.
B.J. Finney epitomizes the Kansas State era under coach Bill Snyder.

Finney arrived in Manhattan, Kan., as a walk-on, earned a scholarship, then started 39 games at center for the Wildcats while becoming a first-team All-Big 12 performer. Finney, who will anchor the K-State offensive line next season as a senior, talked with ESPN.com on a range of topics as the Wildcats prepare for this weekend's spring game:

What is the confidence level of this team after the way you finished last season?

BF: I would say our confidence is high in the fact we know we can be a great team. It’s about how hard we’re willing to work to be that great team. We have that athletic ability to make great plays. It’s about playing consistent and working to be that great team.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Finney
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesB.J. Finney will again anchor Kansas State's offensive line in 2014.
What was the difference between the first half of the season and the second when you played so well?

BF: I think the main thing was we took our performance for granted as a team. There wasn’t a whole lot of change from the coaches standpoint, the routine was the same as far as practices, meetings; we had the same game plan. We just didn’t play well enough. We felt like we would play well, but we weren’t doing the things necessary during the week to play well.

How would you compare this team right now to the one that eventually captured the Big 12 title in 2012?

BF: There’s a lot of the same characteristics. Just different personnel. We have the guys that can make the big plays. It all boils down to working hard, staying focused and not taking anything for granted. That team was the hardest working team I’d been around as a whole. In terms of staying focused, developing, improving. We had the belief we could be great, and the only thing standing in the way was ourselves and how bad wanted it. Everything was in place for that season to take place. It just took the hard work to make it happen.

What have you seen from Jake Waters over the last year?

BF: Jake has grown into his own. He’s more comfortable, more confident. He’s stepped into a leadership role. The guys look to him. He fits in with the team very well, the brotherhood. All he wants to do is win, which makes him a perfect fit here.

Who has impressed you this spring?

BF: I would say team has as a whole. We’ve gone back and forth in the scrimmages. The offense wins one day, the defense the next.

Has anyone specific caught your eye?

BF: Honestly, I can’t answer that. Coach (Snyder) says to refrain from answering those kind of questions.

What are your thoughts on the Auburn game? I know you guys have a couple tough games before that, but that would seem to be a springboard opportunity for this team going up against the defending national runner-up?

BF: It’s a great opportunity that sits in front of us. We have a tough schedule, the game before that we’re playing Iowa State at Iowa State, and that early on in the season, that’s going to be a tough game, too.

What was it like growing up in Andale, Kan., which has a population under 1,000?

BF: I actually grew up in Clearwater (Kan.) and moved to Andale the summer before high school. Clearwater is 30 minutes outside of Wichita. But both were small-town farming communities. It was awesome. Everyone knew everybody. All your friends were in town. When people think of small-town America, those are the towns they think of. Everyone was always willing to help out. It was a blessing to have a community like that growing up.

Did you grow up on a farm?

BF: I actually didn’t, but I grew up working on a family friend’s farm. We did it all. We moved cattle from pasture to pen. We worked the harvest, worked the garden. We bottle-fed the calves.

What was your favorite thing to do on the farm?

BF: Probably bottle-feeding the calves. Getting out and making sure the calves were doing all right. Bottle-feeding was always the last chore of the evening. It took almost an hour-and-half to do all the calves. Doing that with my best friend and his brothers, it was a fun time.

I read you’re a history major. What history is your focus?

BF: I mainly focus on history of the United States. I want to be a high school history teacher and a football coach.

I’ve studied everything, Imperial Germany to the Aztecs and Mayans to China in 1,200 B.C.

What is your favorite subject?

BF: I would say anything war-related. The Civil War, the First World War, World War II, Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Seven Years War. Anything war related. I like learning how tactics, weaponry, technology changed how everything was won. What caused victories and defeat in battle.

When you become a football coach and history teacher, will you farm again, too?

BF: I would say more of those days in front of me.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Calling Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ performance in the Orange-White spring game “inconsistent” or “up-and-down” doesn’t suffice. It’s too simplistic a summation of what was really a tale of two performances.

So we reviewed the film. Here’s a closer look at the plays that stood out from the second-year QB’s critical day.

The bad

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Michael ThomasQB Tyrone Swoopes showed flashes of his incredible talent, but was inconsistent in the Orange-White game.
We have to start off here only because of Swoopes’ rocky start. Facing a second-team defense, his first four drives as Texas’ QB went like this: Interception, punt, three-and-out and a missed field goal after three plays netted zero yards.

His only first-quarter completion was a screen pass. So was his second completion of the day. When Shawn Watson appeared for a quick in-game interview on Longhorn Network, he admitted Swoopes had “a little deer-in-the-headlights look” early on.

In fairness, his offensive line should take some of the blame for his early mistakes. Desmond Harrison ignored defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway on Swoopes’ first dropback, leading to an 11-yard sack. In a real game, Swoopes would’ve been flattened on that one.

On the next snap, right tackle Kennedy Estelle didn’t slow down a blitz from the slot by Naashon Hughes, who got good pressure. Dalton Santos did an impressive job of dropping back deep into coverage, leading Swoopes to try throwing the pass high. It sailed past his receiver and into walk-on Dylan Haines' arms.

Swoopes got oh-so-close on two potential touchdown balls to Jaxon Shipley. On the first, Shipley beat Chevoski Collins for an easy third-down TD over the middle if the pass was even chest-high. Instead, another overthrow that seemed more a product of Swoopes’ footwork.

He had a heck of a throw later when Shipley was fading to the right corner of the end zone. Swoopes put it in the perfect spot, right where Bryson Echols and Adrian Colbert had no chance to make a play, but just one yard too far from Shipley’s outstretched hands.

One more play to note, because it came right before Swoopes started to get rolling: The ugly conversion on fourth and 4 in the second quarter. Texas lined up in a power set with two tight ends and a fullback and went with a play-action pass that was well-protected.

But Swoopes looked right and didn’t find what he wanted. So he rolled left and fired a pass off his back foot. He was fortunate Shipley broke off his comeback route toward the sideline. The sophomore QB fit the pass into traffic for a difficult but important completion.

The response from Watson? Screaming. He threw down his headset and ripped into Swoopes, presumably for making the wrong look off the run fake and turning a tricky play into a much more difficult one.

The good

From there, Swoopes got better. Texas found the end zone three plays after the fourth-down pass to Shipley. Then, after a quick takeaway from the No. 1 defense, came the play that turned the tide for Swoopes.

He rolled to the right and all the way to the sideline on the final play of the first half. With Caleb Bluiett in close pursuit, Swoopes loaded up and fired a pass off his back foot that traveled at least 50 yards. The diminutive Daje Johnson pulled it down in a crowd of three defenders.

That, in one shiny nutshell, is what you can get when Swoopes’ raw tools are put to good use. A lucky completion, obviously, but one that still requires a cannon.

The Texas coaches were wise to simplify from there. Swoopes got in a zone by hitting some easy stuff, comebacks and passes over the middle and two bootleg passes to tight end Geoff Swaim. It’s also good vanilla ball for a spring game on TV.

Swoopes ended his day with a magnificent throw. Clean drop, looked off a safety, made the right read and threw a perfect ball that fluttered nearly 45 yards to Shipley. He pulled it down in between Collins and Colbert and finished for the score.

That gave Swoopes reason to celebrate. He watched, waited, even leaned in as he watched the ball. When he knew it was good, he threw up his hands and let out a shout. Plays like that build confidence, no matter the setting.

The unknown

There’s a lot more work to be done here. Watson will work with Swoopes on his mechanics this summer, though he says those fixes won’t need to be significant. He’ll get stronger -- though the physical tools are all there -- and he’ll spend a lot of time studying the scheme the summer.

But how far Swoopes advances by the end of summer and into fall camp will depend on what he puts in. With Jerrod Heard and, potentially, Max Wittek arriving in the summer, and David Ash returning from his foot fracture, reps with the No. 1 offense won’t be handed to Swoopes by default like they were over the final week of spring ball.

This isn’t to say Swoopes will be some forgotten man. Not at all. But if he wants to seriously contend for the job this fall, he’s going to have to master this offense and outwork everyone else.

If his rally on Saturday means anything, perhaps it’s this: Don’t count him out just yet.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' words are a small glimpse into the Sooners’ approach on the recruiting trail, which has helped land them several players who outperformed expectations during his tenure in Norman, Okla.

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, top-five NFL draft pick Lane Johnson and FBS all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles are just a few players who exceeded the production of other highly regarded recruits in their class.

“We’re very aware when we see very good football players, and they may not have all the stars or may not fit any one particular position,” Stoops said during Tuesday’s Big 12 teleconference. “But we love the way they play, they’re smart, they have size, they can play multiple positions.”

OU may have found another one in its 2014 class. Fullback Dimitri Flowers, who enrolled early and participated in spring drills, has already started carving a role in the Sooners’ plans for 2014. Flowers could help fill the void left by Trey Millard, a four-year starter and critical contributor.

“This is the first guy in three years that we felt reminded us of Trey Millard because they aren’t easy to find,” Stoops said. “We get him on campus and he’s everything and more than we thought he would be. We’re elated with all the things he can do and how similar he is to Trey Millard and all the versatility Trey gave to us.”

Flowers spent a lot of time with the first-team offense during OU’s spring game before a injury knocked him out of the scrimmage. The hyper-extended knee is not expected to keep Flowers from participating in summer workouts or preseason camp.

If Flowers is as good as advertised he could team with returning fullback Aaron Ripkowski to give the Sooners a pair of quality blockers as they try to match their 223.9 rushing yards per game average from 2013.
Baylor coach Art Briles finally got his chance Tuesday to respond to Texas linebacker Steve Edmond's rantings against Baylor.

Three days after Edmond told reporters after the Orange-White spring game that, among other things, "I really don't like Baylor. I still think they're trash," Baylor's head coach offered a response that was predictably diplomatic.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroCoach Art Briles and Baylor have won three out of four games against the Longhorns.
"I’m not aware of anything he had to say," Briles said in his Big 12 teleconference appearance. "Hard for me to comment on something I’m not aware of."

When a reporter further clarified that Edmond said he considers Baylor "trash," Briles didn't bite.

“Well that’s all right," he said. "Shoot, everybody's entitled to their opinion."

The senior linebacker's post-spring game comments evoked a big response from Baylor players and fans on social media, and no doubt gave Briles and his coaching staff perfect bulletin board material for when BU takes on Texas in Austin on Oct. 4.

Briles didn't think much of Edmond's complaint about how much the Bears celebrated their 30-10 victory over Texas last December. He has been in those shoes before.

"I wasn't particularly pleased at some of the places we weren't victorious, either," Briles said. "Our cause for celebration that game was for two reasons: winning the Big 12 and closing down Floyd Casey Stadium. I'm not going to spend a lot of time being protective of somebody's comments about our program when they don't understand it."

Edmond wasn't reprimanded by Texas for his largely unprovoked comments about Baylor, at least not publicly, but first-year coach Charlie Strong was disappointed by Edmond's comments.

"You know how kids are, they get so emotional and wrapped up in the game," Strong said on the teleconference. "But he's got to be smarter than that. I have a lot of respect for Coach Briles. He's done an unbelievable job at Baylor. Right now, that's the way it is. We haven't beaten Baylor."

Briles does have the scoreboard on his side. Baylor was won three of its last four against Texas, with two of those victories coming by 20-plus point margins. Sure seems like he has won the war of words with Edmond, too.
The Jayhawks went into spring ball with three quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job.

They came out with one.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerSophomore Montell Cozart beat out senior Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard to start at quarterback for the Jayhawks.
After the conclusion of spring ball last week, Kansas named sophomore Montell Cozart its starter. Cozart was in a battle with senior and 2013 starter Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.

During the Big 12 spring teleconference on Tuesday, coach Charlie Weis explained why his staff elected to make the call posthaste in a quarterback competition that seemed to be wide open going into spring ball.

“What we didn’t want to do was go into the summertime misleading our players about who the starting quarterback was,” Weis said. “After the spring game, which was really practice 15, we did post-spring evaluations with the whole team; I think in the eyes of the coaching staff, Montell had clearly played better than the other quarterbacks on our team.”

Cozart appeared in seven games last season after his redshirt was pulled as a freshman. He never got on track with his arm, and completed only 37 percent of his passes. But Cozart sparked the offense with his legs, rushing for 193 yards during a four-game stretch in November.

Weis indicated that if Cozart hadn’t emerged as the obvious starter, the competition could have lingered into the preseason.

But Cozart clearly was the most effective quarterback in Kansas’ spring game, rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. And according to Weis, he was also clearly the most effective quarterback throughout the spring.

As a result, Weis saw no benefit in concealing from his players who the starter would ultimately be.

“We just thought it was in the best interest of our quarterbacks and our team to name him,” Weis said. “What would have happened was Jake would have been the leader in the summertime, then we would have come back [and] Montell would have gotten the first reps. We thought we would have mislead our team while they went through a tough, grueling summer. I think that it’s important for the players to know exactly where they stand.”

The Jayhawks know where they stand at quarterback. And now they can move forward around Cozart.

“I think it’s important if a guy has won a job, he should be put as the leader,” Weis said. “And based on 15 practices, not just the spring game, Montell had clearly won the job.”

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April, 22, 2014
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The Grizzlies eventually won, but this shot was insane.