March 18, 2017
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
After a couple months of offseason workouts, where "guys made huge, huge gains in a lot of areas," Saturday's first spring practice gave the Baylor football players a chance to "go out and show what you've done."
First-year head coach Matt Rhule said he loves practice. "It's the single-most important thing we do, football-wise."
"It's where you learn how to compete," Rhule said Saturday morning. "People say, `Do your job.' You have to learn how to do your job. So, you have to do it under stress. Practice is where we learn how to do our job under stress. Those techniques, those details we teach them in the meetings, we perfect them on the practice field. I love the process."
Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon says spring football is a good evaluation time to "see what our players can do."
"We think we have a lot of talent here at Baylor University on the offensive side of the ball," Nixon said. "There's going to be a lot of competition at every position -- offensive line, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends. So, it's just going to be good to get them out there, evaluate them, have them compete. Everyone's jockeying for a starting position or backup position. And like I said, it's just going to be great to finally get them out there and see what they can do."
Nixon explained that the new Baylor offense will be blend of what the Bears have done in the past, what co-offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas ran at Temple University and what Nixon was a part of with Chip Kelly and the San Francisco 49ers.
"Quite frankly, it was fun," Nixon said of the process. "It was great getting us all in a room, putting our minds together. And I think we're putting together a really solid offensive system."
Rhule, who has taken on more of a CEO role and lets his coaches coach, said the blended offensive system won't be that hard for the players to pick up.
"It's whether you run a certain play from the gun or I (formation). It's still the same play for the offensive line," he said. "We have a bunch of good players, we're going to try to utilize multiple people and try to give defenses a different look."
The Bears have seven offensive and six defensive starters returning from a team that capped off a 7-6 season with a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow said he plans to base out of a 4-3 formation, but "we're pretty multiple on defense."
As far as evaluation, "I've told them we're judging them on what they're doing now. So, we're going to give everybody reps in spring. We play 18 to 25 every game, which is not typical of what they've done here. . . . The reason we do that is because you can't play all the plays we play on defense now with one group. Hopefully, we have two, two and half groups that can play, and we keep them fresh."
The Bears will go through three non-contact workouts in shorts, jerseys and helmets before getting into the first pad practices next Saturday, March 25.
"When we put on the pads a week from today, that's real football," Snow said. "But, we can do a lot of things over the next three practices as far as alignment and communication, then some skill stuff and individual."
Baylor will practice three times a week before wrapping up with the spring game at noon Saturday, April 22, at McLane Stadium. All other practices are closed to the public.
Matt Rhule, Head Coach
"Everyone had a great attitude. Everyone is not where we want them to be mentally, even at this point, but they're working toward getting there. So, I was excited about that. But, I want to see some crispness. The one thing we haven't seen is our guys throw and catch the ball. So, it will be nice to see our guys throw and catch. It will be the first time I've seen Zach Smith or Anu (Solomon) or Preston (Heard) or any of those guys throw a football. So, it will be a welcome change."
On whether he starts evaluating players with a blank slate...
"I think we have a lot of evaluation out of the way, in terms of the way they work. But, it's a process. Everyone gets better every single day. Even today, I'll make some judgments today, and then I'll change my mind a week from now. We all get better. I'm really just worried about the work ethic and the mentality of the team right now. I'll let the coaches worry about the technique, knowing that eventually all that comes together."
On the difference between practice and games...
"I love practice. It's the single-most important thing we do, football-wise. It's where you learn to compete. People say, `Do your job.' You have to learn how to do your job. So, you have to do it under stress. Practice is where we learn how to do our job under stress. Those techniques, those details we teach them in meetings, we perfect them on the practice field."
JEFF NIXON, Co-Offensive Coordinator
On being excited about the first day of spring practice...
"Without question. We've been doing stuff during the offseason without footballs, and guys have been running around. It will be refreshing to get the guys out there running and catching balls, and you can really get a good evaluation and see what our players can do. But, we're excited about that first day of spring practice."
On evaluating the players...
"We feel good that we have a lot of talent here at Baylor University on the offensive side of the ball. There's going to be a lot of competition at every position -- offensive line, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends. It's just going to be good to get them out there, evaluate them, have them compete. Everyone's jockeying for a starting position or a backup position. And like I said, it's just going to be great to finally get them out there and see what they can do."
On blending three different offensive systems...
"We try to simplify it. The game of football, no matter what you run, it's still coming down to the fundamentals. That's what we're really stressing to our players. It's still about catching the football, holding onto the football, quarterbacks making the right decisions. So for me, it doesn't matter what offensive system you run, we have to be fundamentally sound and guys have to be able to go out and perform fundamentally first before anything else, scheme-wise."
PHIL SNOW, Defensive Coordinator
On the expectations for the opening day of spring practice...
"I tell them, `We're still in PE, right?' This isn't football today, it's more assignments. There's some technique. But, when you put on the pads a week from today, that's real football. We can do a lot of things over the next three practices, as far as alignment and communication, then some skill stuff and individual."
On the importance of spring football...
"It's really important, because we're doing different stuff and asking them to do different things. Like I told them, the first eight to 10 practices are going to be hard on them. They're going to question the things they're doing, because it's not going to work right away because of how they're doing. But, just stay with it and the things will work. Spring football is critical, along with going through the summer and fall camps. So, this is really an important time for us."