WACO, Texas - Baylor opened spring football drills Tuesday with the first of 15 practice sessions, going through a two-hour workout at the Highers Complex practice fields and the Jay and Jenny Allison Indoor Practice Facility.
"You can only recruit for so long," said fifth-year head coach Art Briles, who returns 16 starters (eight offense, six defense, two specialists) from a 10-3 team that won the Valero Alamo Bowl. "We've got to get back on the field and get going. I'm really excited about today. And the greatest thing is it doesn't feel like we've missed that much, playing into late December and getting back at the start of March. We're pumped, our players are pumped, and we feel like we've got a lot to prove."
The Bears are trying to replace three record-setting playmakers on offense, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. Rising senior Nick Florence and sophomore Bryce Petty are expected to battle this spring for the starting quarterback job.
"I have not been handed the keys, and I don't want it that way," said Florence, who started seven games as a true freshman in 2009 before burning a possible redshirt when he played in the second half of last year's 66-42 win over Texas Tech. "I want to go out and compete for the job and make us both better, because we're on the same team. And that's what we can't forget is that we're in this together. We have one goal in mind, and that's the Big 12 championship."
Briles said the things he's looking for out of the quarterbacks are "production, ball-security, awareness and all the traits that go into being a great leader."
"We've got some big shoes to fill, and we understand that," Briles said. "That's why these guys are out here, that's why they're working hard and that's why they have a lot of momentum and motivation to prove themselves."
Among the position changes this spring are receiver Darius Jones moving to cornerback and linebacker Matt Ritchey switching to tight end to give the Bears some depth behind Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk. In the offensive line, right tackle Ivory Wade and rising sophomore Tim Smith are the leading candidates to replace Philip Blake at center.
"He's smart, he's fast, he's experienced, he's got good hand-eye coordination, and he's skilled," Briles said of Wade, who has started the last two seasons at tackle. "He fits everything we're looking for. And to us, that's one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball. He's a guy that's been in the grind a little bit."
Players who will miss all or part of the spring training with injuries are defensive ends Gary Mason Jr. and Tevin Elliott, offensive guard Cameron Kaufhold and cornerbacks Chance Casey and Tuswani Copeland.
"That just allows us to look at other guys that haven't had as much of a chance to play in game-like situations," Briles said. "So we look at it as a positive for the younger guys."
After working out Thursday, the Bears will be off for the next 10 days for spring break before returning the week of March 19. The other practice days are March 21, 23, 27, 29, 30-31 and April 3, 5, 10, 12-13 and a final spring scrimmage on April 14.
Baylor opens its 2012 season Sept. 1 with a home game against former Southwest Conference rival SMU at Floyd Casey Stadium.
| SPRING DRILL QUOTES
|Head Coach Art Briles|
On starting spring drills:
"You can only recruit for so long. We've got to get back on the field and get going. I'm really excited about today. And the greatest thing is it doesn't feel like we've missed that much, playing in late December and getting back at the start of March. We're pumped, our players are pumped, and we feel like we've got a lot to prove.
On enjoying spring ball:
"More so than ever, because it really gives you a chance to be relaxed as far as from the mental standpoint and have a chance to interact with the players a lot more. When you're in-season, you're always preparing for the opponent, then the next opponent. Now it's just us, and we're getting to hang out with each other and see what everybody can do."
On how important spring practices are to help fill position needs:
"They're always key. Of course, we've got some big shoes to fill, and we understand that. That's why these guys are out here, that's why they're working hard and that's why they have a lot of momentum and motivation to prove themselves."
On what he looks for in his quarterback:
"Production, ball-security and awareness and all the traits that go into being a great leader. We feel like we have a lot of confidence in Nick (Florence), without question, and know that Bryce (Petty) is going to be extremely talented, also. Those guys can do the job. That's not a problem. We're just going to have to do it in a different way."
On moving Ivory Wade from tackle to center:
"He's smart, he's fast, he's experienced, he's got good hand-eye coordination, and he's skilled. He fits everything we're looking for, and to us that's one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball. He's a guy that's been in the grind a little bit, he understands the game and we'll see what he can do. We're excited about looking at him. It allows us to get some other people on the field in the offensive line."
On improving defensively:
"We feel like we have a lot of areas to improve on. And that's the great thing about this game, that's the great thing about this sport, is that you have an opportunity to get on the field and to correct the wrongs and to prove yourself. We really feel like defensively, we'll be much improved this year; second year in (defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's) system. We only lost three starters off the defensive side of the ball this year, so we have eight returning starters, and those guys are going to have to fight hard for their position.