March 6, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Baylor's defensive line was good last year. This one should be better.
"Last year set the standard," said rising sophomore tackle Byron Bonds, who had 21 tackles last season, including 3.5 for losses. "But coaches teach you that you don't want to get complacent. You've got to get better every year. It's a whole new year, a whole new team, a whole new Baylor defense."
But for the most part, as the Bears go through their second week of spring practice, it's the same guys in that defensive front.
Sophomore end Javonte Magee (6-4, 275), who sat out last semester, rejoins a talented group that includes juniors Shawn Oakman (6-9, 275) and Jamal Palmer (6-3, 245) and Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu (6-4, 230) at the ends; and Bonds, fellow sophomore Andrew Billings (6-1, 310) and juniors Beau Blackshear (6-4, 300), Trevor Clemons-Valdez (6-3, 300) and Suleiman Masumbuko (6-2, 290) at the inside tackle spots.
"We've got seven or eight that we feel really, really good about," said Baylor head coach Art Briles.
At 6-foot-9, Oakman is the one that stands out above the rest - both physically and ability-wise. He's that rare breed of player that Briles calls a "freak." Despite playing behind senior ends Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd last season, Oakman led the down linemen with 12 ½ tackles for losses, including a pair of sacks, to go with two QB hurries, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick.
Briles said the next step for the former Penn State transfer is to "just be dominant every down."
"You don't want to play every down and not be dominant every down," he said. "That's the whole key with maturity, experience and willpower. When you're on the field, every play is the play that matters. That's the thing, as guys mature and gain experience, they understand. It's hard a lot of times for young guys to be every-down players. But he's to the point now to where that's the way he needs to be, because he can be dominant. You walk into any locker room in America, and you won't find anybody that looks any better than Shawn Oakman, or any more intimidating, physically."
Bonds played alongside Oakman in the fall, but he's even "excited to see what that man can do."
"He's one of those dudes you see him on the field and say, `I'm glad he's on my team. When you get to him, he will fight for you harder than anyone else. When I know this man will fight for me, I'm going to fight for him, also."
Coming off a 52-42 loss to UCF, when the defense gave up 556 yards, Oakman said the Bears are "hungry, for sure."
"You are going to see in these (spring) practices how we get after the offense," he said. "This defense, I have the feeling, is going to be a different kind of defense. We're going to bring the mentality that we are the best and we're going to bite your head off."
Not even senior quarterback Bryce Petty, the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, is off-limits.
"No, he's going to get smacked a little bit," Oakman said with a smile. "We'll make sure he knows I'm there."
Back in the fold, Magee will make an "immediate" impact, Briles said.
"Slow guys don't get fast, and fast guys don't get slow," he said. "Good football players and great athletes are great athletes and good football players. He's a great athlete who's come back with a great dedication, and it's really heartwarming to see somebody have vision, have focus, have dreams, and then have the opportunity to fulfill them. And that's what he's got."
Oakman, who know a freak when he sees one, calls Magee "a freak, a freakish kid."
"He's just a baby, but his ability on the field and his knowledge on the field is so superior, he could be a great player."
Billings and Bonds stepped in as true freshmen last season, combing for 51 tackles and 7 ½ stops behind the line.
"I don't know if the guys are ready or not, but they've got to be," Billings said. "I think we can be better than last year (defensively). With the d-line stepping it up, it's going to be better."
With more depth up front, Billings said the Bears will have "good rotations and we'll rest a lot and we'll play better."
"I've been working on my technique," he said. "The older guys told us what to do and what you're messing up on. They talk to you more on the field than the coaches do."
It's clear that the season-ending loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl serves as motivation for the defensive line and the team as a whole.
"It's a pretty bitter aftertaste, but it's something that's needed," Bonds said. "A little embarrassment doesn't hurt anybody. It keeps you alive and knowing you're mortal and not invincible. . . . It was tough, but if you lose, you have to learn from it."
The Bears will go through their fifth workout on Thursday before taking off for Spring Break. Their next practices will be March 18, 20 and 22, with the spring drills concluding on April 5 with the Spring Game.
For exact practice times, and whether they're open or closed, please contact the football office at 254-710-3058.