|O-Line Taking Shape With Bookend Canadians
10:07 A.M. FRIDAY, August 28, 2009
Robert Griffin should at least be breathing a little easier these days.
It's not that the sophomore quarterback won't have a little anxiety and even nervousness going into the Sept. 5 season opener at Wake Forest. But at least he knows what five guys will be lining up in front of him.
Throughout most of the fall camp, the offensive line has played a game of musical chairs that never seems to end.
The only "locks" have been third-year starter J.D. Walton at center and junior college transfer Danny Watkins at left tackle. Other than that, it's been a line in flux. Until now.
Just in the last few days, the coaches have settled on a starting line that has Watkins at left tackle, James Barnard switching from right to left guard, Walton at center, redshirt freshman Cameron Kaufhold at right guard and junior college transfer Philip Blake at right tackle.
"We'll play seven, but we've got five that are going to jog out there first," head coach Art Briles said after Thursday's scrimmage. The others in the rotation are sophomore guard John Jones and senior tackle Chris Griesenbeck, who can play any of four spots in the line.
True freshman guard Ivory Wade will also travel, and "we feel like before the year's out, he'll be ready to play," Briles said.
With Watkins and Blake at tackle, the Bears will start a pair of 24-year-old Canadians as the line's bookends. That's got to make Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw and Bear Foundation executive director Doug Smith - both native Canadians - happy, eh?
A Little More Love for 'Cousin Phil'
11:35 A.M. THURSDAY, August 27, 2009
Even when they're on the same team, it's sometimes difficult to get an offensive player to say something complimentary about a guy on the defensive side of the ball. It's like pulling teeth with a rubber band.
But sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin's not shy about praising 6-foot-4, 355-pound defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a junior transfer from Penn State who head coach Art Briles refers to as "Cousin Phil."
"I've never seen anyone that big in my life," Griffin said. "And then when he got on the field and he was moving so quick, it was impressive."
During team drills, when the No. 1 offense faces the first-team defense, Taylor gently reminds Griffin, "I would have had you that time." Quarterbacks (and especially Griffin) are off-limits for any contact during practice and even scrimmages.
"It's one of those things where if he's coming at me right down the middle and I don't have anywhere to go, then I know that would have been a sack right there," Griffin said. "But if he gives me any kind of space, he knows that I'll evade him. He's definitely going to give some quarterbacks fits."
Offensive linemen, too. Co-offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, speaking at a Waco Lions Club luncheon on Wednesday, said that Taylor simply cannot be single-blocked.
"He's a guy that they're going to have to double-team," Montgomery said. "If he decides he wants to come straight up the field, you better just hold on. Because you're not pulling the reins back, you're not stopping him, you're not cutting him. His legs are the size of this pulpit. If you hit him, you get a concussion. I'm just glad he's on our team, because we're having to block him every day, and it's not going real well."
Guys like center J.D. Walton and guards James Barnard and Cameron Kaufhold might not agree, but Griffin sees the benefit of his offensive linemen going against "Cousin Phil" every day in practice.
"You feel bad for them, but it makes them better having a guy that talented, that big, 6-5, 350, 360, that can move," Griffin said. "It's not like he's just a big sloppy son-of-a-gun in there. He's an athlete. And when they go against some of the talent that we have in the Big 12 and even in non-conference, it will help them know what they have to do or how to block that guy, because they went against Phil Taylor every day in practice. It might give us fits in practice, but I think it will be good in the end."
Dave Campbell Gives Coach Briles His Due
4:15 P.M. TUESDAY, August 25, 2009
Dave Campbell wasn't ready to put Art Briles ahead of legendary coaches Tom Landry, Darrell Royal and Gordon Wood - indisputably the top coaches in Texas football history at the pro, college and high school level, respectively.
But the creator and longtime editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football Magazine did have the second-year Baylor head coach ranked in the top 10 on his ballot for the 50 greatest coaches of the last 50 years . . . on any level.
"I'm not going to tell you where, but I did have Coach Briles ranked between 4 and 10," Campbell said at Tuesday's Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce Kickoff Luncheon, which attracted a record crowd of 1,165 at the Ferrell Center. "Not just for the hope that he's given us here at Baylor, but for what he had done before he got here."
Briles, of course, led Stephenville High School to four state championships in the 1990s and then made four bowl appearances in five seasons at the University of Houston. But the humble coach wasn't ready to put himself in the same category with coaching legends like Landry, Royal and Wood.
"Boy, I tell you what, $20 will still go a long way, won't it Dave?" quipped Briles, hinting that he slipped Campbell a bribe for the compliment. "I certainly don't consider myself near in that category, because to me we're just getting started with what we've got going on here at Baylor."
Briles said the players and coaches are excited about the Sept. 5 season opener at Wake Forest.
"We have a lot of things out there that we feel like we need to do, we can do, we will do," he said. "There are a lot of wrongs that need to be righted. We have an opportunity to right a bunch of those wrongs this year. Because Baylor, in my opinion . . . has been on the wrong side too long. It's time to get it right. It's our job to get it right, and we're in the process of doing that."
When Did Silver Become a Bad Thing?
5:20 P.M. FRIDAY, August 21, 2009
What does it say about our seemingly out-of-whack expectations when a silver medal at the World Track and Field Championships is considered a disappointment?
Former Baylor All-American and 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner came into Friday's 400-meter final in Berlin, Germany, as the two-time defending world champion. But in a race somewhat reminiscent of their 2008 Olympic duel in Beijing, fellow American LaShawn Merritt out-kicked Wariner in the last 80 meters and won in a world-leading time of 44.06 seconds.
Wariner, who said he came out of the final curve "in good position," just didn't have enough on that last stretch and finished second in a season-best time of 44.60.
"When we run against each other, we always compete to the best of our ability," said Wariner, who won in a career-best time of 43.45 at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan. "Today, I came off the turn in good position, and he just out-kicked me. He's a great competitor.
"That's one thing about us, we don't back down from each other. We know we're going to run fast when we're on the same track. I wouldn't mind running against him every meet, but that's not going to happen."
On Sunday, the two will put their rivalry aside and try to repeat the gold-medal performance they had in the 4x400-meter relay at last year's Olympics.
And right or wrong, we don't expect and won't accept anything less. Like Ricky Bobby once said, "If you ain't first, you're last."
Dotson Gives Bears A-Plus Scores Across the Board
11:00 P.M. TUESDAY, August 18, 2009
Playing his last six seasons in the NFL on the frozen tundra at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, former Baylor All-America defensive lineman Santana Dotson learned to appreciate the beauty of an indoor football practice facility.
On Tuesday, Dotson got to take in Baylor's $11 million Jay and Jenny Allison Indoor Football Practice Facility for the first time as he watched the Bears go through the second of two workouts.
"This was my first time down to check out the team and also the new facilities," said Dotson, a 2004 Baylor Hall of Fame inductee who retired from the NFL after the '01 season, "and I give them an A-plus across the board. They're really looking good, and the facility is outstanding."
Dotson said the Bears' new indoor facility is "toe-to-toe right there with the facility that I practiced and played in with the Packers. And although it doesn't hit sub-zero or below 30 in Waco, it does get extreme on the other end."
"Our coaches in Green Bay were great as far as getting us to go inside and focus on football," Dotson said. "Knowing that on game day it was going to be hot or cold or what-not, and getting us to focus on the game of football - catching, throwing, position-specific stuff. Which I really felt like gave us the edge on game day. So I'm hoping it will do much of the same here in Waco."
After taking in both practices on Tuesday, Dotson said the two things that stood out were the players' enthusiasm and the fact that they "look like a Division I team."
"From the bodies, their composition, the way they're practicing, the way they're playing the game," Dotson said, "they really look like they've spent some time in the off-season focusing on football."
Dotson was just one of many luminaries that made appearances on Tuesday. NFL Hall of Famer and current Pittsburgh Steelers scout Mean Joe Greene was in town for the morning workout to take a look at senior linebacker Joe Pawelek, while the afternoon visitors included former Baylor head coach Grant Teaff and former Texas A&M and Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill.
Willie Jefferson's Definitely One to Watch
6:35 P.M. MONDAY, August 17, 2009
Let me start by saying that I'm not ready to crown Willie Jefferson as the king after one scrimmage during fall camp.
Do it in a game that really counts, and then we can talk. That being said, it's real easy to get excited about this guy.
A 6-foot-6, 210-pound freshman receiver out of Beaumont Ozen High School, Jefferson was committed to the University of Houston before switching to Baylor just before signing day in February. And even though he flew a little under the radar in Big 12 circles, he held scholarship offers from the likes of Iowa, Kentucky and Purdue.
"We wanted a big receiver that could help us with some mismatches," head coach Art Briles said on signing day, "and we got him. We got on Willie late. If we had been on him earlier, we wouldn't have looked anywhere else. He's a big guy that's very athletic."
Jefferson definitely showed that in Saturday's scrimmage, hauling in five catches for 63 yards and touchdown grabs of five and 17 yards. At that size, with an incredible leaping ability to boot, there are times when it just doesn't seem fair.
Overall, he's still a little on the raw side in terms of running precise routes and doing the other things that make up a complete receiver. But I could definitely see him being one of quarterback Robert Griffin's favorite targets down on the goal line.
"We've got some guys on our team that can sky rocket," Griffin said. "But Willie, just being 6-5, 6-6 . . . he can not jump and still catch it over somebody. But by him jumping, it makes him 7-3, 7-4. It's just a nice advantage to have a big guy out there like that."
For now anyway, I'll slow down on the coronation process. But Willie's definitely in line. Call him the Prince of Potential.
Christianity Doesn't Have to Equal Timidity
12:15 P.M. THURSDAY, August 13, 2009
There's a perception out there that says Christians are supposed to be timid or passive. Not true.
In 2 Timothy 1:7, it says, "God did NOT give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
And in Romans 8:37-39, the author writes: "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord."
In other words, I'm not afraid of anything, not even the University of Texas.
That's the kind of attitude that soccer coach Marci Jobson is trying to instill in her players. And it showed in Wednesday's scrimmage against TCU, when the Lady Bears were called for 12 fouls.
"We've got to get a little more timely on our tackles, but it shows that they are tackling," Jobson said. "I said today we're not going to be soft little Christian girls anymore. I want to be Christians, but I want to be tough Christians. They've got to walk the walk and say, `Hey, we're going to be tough, we're going to be hard. We're not going to be a bunch of girls that say we're Christians and then lay down for other teams.' That's what Baylor soccer needs to become."
I think that goes for every sport, across the board. Yes, you can show Christian compassion and love. But when you're in the arena of competition, you don't have to be a passive, timid pushover.
Former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Reggie White was as strong a professed Christian man as you'd ever find, and no one would ever accuse of him being timid or passive.
So just know that when freshman forward Dana Larsen happens to push someone and knock them over, she's just showing a little "tough" Christian love.
So What's In a Number? Apparently Not Much
1:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY, August 12, 2009
Phil Taylor calls it part of his "new swag."
When the 6-4, 355-pound defensive tackle was asked why he had switched from No. 98 to 11, he replied, "New place. New number. I just wanted to change up my whole style. It's my new swag."
So new truth to the rumor that jersey No. 11, like vertical stripes, is thinning?
It seems that this year, more than ever, players traded jerseys like kids swapping baseball cards. Equipment manager Jeff Barlow has been one of the busiest men on the football team's support staff.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Gary Mason couldn't even buy No. 9 from junior Jameon Hardeman, so he settled for No. 10. Other notable changes include wide receivers Terrance Williams (from 80 to 2) and Lanear Sampson (20 to 18), linebacker Earl Patin (33 to 1), defensive tackles Courtney Green (79 to 95) and Kaeron Johnson (92 to 49), defensive end Tracy Robertson (57 to 13) and tight end Brad Taylor (18 to 9).
Sam Sledge changed from No. 60 to 19 after switching from defensive tackle to big slot. But he'll have to don another jersey if he subs in for center J.D. Walton. The offensive line, it seems, is the only place in college football where your jersey number is governed. It's got to be somewhere between 50 and 79.
Even backup deep snapper Casey Cooper switched from 59 to 99.
So will this madness ever end?
From head coach Art Briles' perspective, the number on the outside of the jersey doesn't matter as long as the man inside of it is producing.
"If Phil says I want 11, Phil's getting 11," Briles said. "At the end of the game, they don't say, `Boy, he might could have played better if he hadn't been in No. 11.' I don't think that's going to make any difference."
Hey, That Guy Looks a Lot Like Jeremy Wariner
11:45 P.M. MONDAY, August 10, 2009
In Europe, there are places where Jeremy Wariner can't go without being mobbed by autograph seekers and fans of the 2004 Olympic champion. Especially if he's donning his trademark sunglasses.
But in Waco, the former Baylor All-American and NCAA champion can work out in total anonymity at the Hart/Patterson Track and Field Complex.
On Monday morning, when I met coach Clyde Hart at the track to talk about the upcoming World Track and Field Championships in Berlin, Germany, there was Wariner all by himself going through another practice routine.
Just another day at the track. But it's a glimpse at what life's like on this campus.
Head to the Ferrell Center last year, and you would have found 14-year NBA veteran guard David Wesley. The former standout with the Boston Celtics and Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets was back in town to complete his degree and worked with the men's basketball team as an unpaid student manager.
The Los Angeles Clippers' Brian Skinner was also back last in town last year, working out at the Ferrell Center before heading off for his 11th NBA season. Three-time WNBA all-star Sophia Young also made a Ferrell Center visit, while Texas Rangers pitcher Jason Jennings was a featured guest at baseball's "Meet the Team" dinner, and San Antonio Spurs vice president Dennis Lindsey spoke to the Leadership Academy.
And then this spring, junior left tackle Danny Watkins was tutored by the St. Louis Rams' Jason Smith, an All-American and the No. 2 pick overall in the NFL Draft.
"When I first got here and saw Jeremy Wariner, I was like, `Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!''' said sophomore quarter-miler Diamond Richardson, who won a gold medal in the 4x400-meter relay at the Pan American Junior Championships. "And everyone else was like, `Diamond, they're here every day. It's not that big of a deal.' Now I'm used to it. But back then, when I saw (two-time Olympic gold medalist) Sanya Richards, I almost passed out."
Richards was an All-American at the University of Texas, but has trained under Hart in Waco since graduating from college in '06. And like Wariner, she just blends in with the rest of the athletes.
"I don't know if I take it for granted," Richardson said, "but it's just kind of natural."
Whether it's a blessing or curse, Wariner and Richards can work out at the Baylor track or walk down the streets of Waco without a second glance. At least until a star-struck freshman turns into a kid again and says, "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!"
Not Everybody Can Pull off the Mohawk
9:35 A.M. FRIDAY, August 7, 2009
While safety Jordan Lake's decided to take some time off from his Mohawk haircut, it's suddenly become the coiffure of choice for the Baylor offensive line.
As a sign of unity, all but one of the linemen are sporting the new do. Freshman Stefan Huber is the best man at his brother's wedding, so he's put off getting the Mohawk for now.
But let's face it, not everybody can pull off this look.
"As evidenced today . . . at least three-quarters of the o-line should not get a Mohawk," Lake said. "J.D. (Walton) can pull it off. Barnyard's (offensive guard James Barnard's) looks pretty good. Cameron Kaufhold? Ridiculous. Absolutely not. It just takes a certain type of person."
Besides, Kaufhold didn't take the full plunge. While Walton was committed and fully shaved the sides, "you've got people like Cameron Kaufhold that got like a five (level of haircut) on the side," Lake said.
"You can't even hardly see the Mohawk. So it's a waste of time."
Junior linebacker Antonio Johnson said it's a good show of team unity. But he's not ready to follow the trend.
"I'm working on the (dreadlocks) right now," he said, "so I'm not in any rush to get it."
As for Lake, since his personal barber and former teammate, Jake LaMar, has graduated, he's going to let his hair grow out all year. "And then when we get in the bowl game, I'll shave it into a Mohawk."
It's Time For Gettis to Step Up and Produce
9:00 A.M. THURSDAY, August 6, 2009
At virtually every stop he's made this summer, Art Briles has made a point of challenging senior wide receiver David Gettis.
"David's a guy that's at this stage of his career where we don't need to do any talking," Briles said of the 6-4, 215-pound receiver from Los Angeles. "We've done enough talking. We've done enough hyping. Let's produce. And he knows that. We're not talking about a 19-year-old. We're talking about a 22-year-old that understands the situation."
You've got to remember that Gettis is one of the highest-rated recruits Baylor's ever signed. A prep All-American in track, he won three consecutive California state titles in the 400 meters and was clocked in 45.84 seconds as a senior. He also was the Bears' first recruit to play in the prestigious All-American Bowl, announcing his commitment during the 2005 televised game.
Other than maybe Robert Strait and Odell James, few players have come to Baylor with more hype, promise and expectations. Not even Robert Griffin. And through his first three seasons, Gettis' numbers have fallen far short of the hype - 64 catches, 880 yards and one touchdown.
To put it in perspective, Gettis has scored one more touchdown than me. And he's tied with Jason Smith, who was the second pick overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Smith caught a TD pass (and a two-point conversion) as a freshman tight end in 2005 before becoming a three-year starter at offensive tackle, earning All-America honors last year.
It's not so much that Gettis has tooted his own horn. He's had plenty of others to do that for him. But as Briles so carefully hinted, it's time to shut up and put up.
"I'll be patient to a certain extent, which means about the first half of the Wake Forest game," said Briles, referring to the Bears' Sept. 5 season opener. "And I'm not telling you anything I haven't told David. You can go only so long on potential and good looks. At some point in time, you've got to cross the goal line with the football. I love David, I really do. I love his mentality. He's a good kid. But it's a tough game, and hopefully he'll come and answer the bell."
And hopefully he answers the bell on Sept. 5 at Wake Forest. No better time to turn hype into results.
You May Not Know Them . . . But Briles Does
3:35 P.M. WEDNESDAY, August 5, 2009
With football camp starting on Thursday, this seems like as good a time as any to heap some praise on a group of guys who are rarely even noticed.
Football graduate assistants do the work of full-time coaches and get little or no pay for the effort. But whether it's breaking down film, dissecting an opponent or compiling a detailed report on the backup left tackle, the work they do can be the difference between winning and losing.
So here's a salute to defensive grad assistant Reid Heim, offensive GA Jeff Lebby and quality control assistants Casey Horny and Rafe Mata.
"The thing that I respect about these guys at those positions is they don't make anything, honest to goodness," head coach Art Briles said at Monday's Waco Rotary Club luncheon. "And I'm not saying that to embarrass Reid. I'm saying it to say that he's dedicated to the profession. He's really dedicated to football and what he can bring and what he can do and the excitement and the level of enthusiasm and knowledge that you can gain from it."
Heim got his 15 minutes of fame at the Rotary luncheon when Briles introduced him. But usually, you wouldn't recognize these guys if they walked up to your front door and rang the bell.
"We appreciate what these guys do for us on a daily basis," Briles said. "You ask (Reid) anything about Wake Forest from an offensive standpoint, and he can tell you. If he can't, he wouldn't be standing there right now, I promise you that. If we need to know who the left tackle is, how much he weighs, where he's from, how many games he stated last year, what his weaknesses and his strengths are, then he can tell you right now."
So when the Bears open with a win on Sept. 5 at Wake Forest, don't forget to thank the graduate and quality control assistants. I can promise you that Briles will.