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Rhule Looking for Offensive Leaders to Emerge

Aug. 8, 2017

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation

Through the first 12 days of fall camp, the Baylor football team gave Matt Rhule everything he wanted.

It was Day 13 that didn't sit too well with the Bears' first-year head coach.

"Practice was not very good today. It was a soft team out there," Rhule said after Tuesday's workout. "Camp has been hard, and today was the last day of classes. There were a bunch of guys feeling sorry for themselves."

Particularly disappointing, Rhule said, was the lack of leadership on offense.

"You're saying, `Who is going to be the leader on offense when things go bad?''' Rhule said. "Everyone can lead when things are going well. Who is going to lead when things are going poorly? . . . You have a bunch of guys on offense who haven't played. They're all trying to worry about themselves right now and figure out what they're doing. But, we need someone to step up and, when things are going hard, rally the guys one way or another."

That could be an offensive lineman -- "sort of a voice of reason," Rhule said -- or "an offensive skill person who plays with such amazing effort that everyone wants to be like him."

Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd has been that at receiver, but he has to sit out this year because of NCAA transfer rules. "He's the guy that makes everyone around him better with his effort, the way he practices. We need someone else to do that, and the guys have done it. It just didn't really happen (today), so we'll continue to expose it and be honest about it and move forward."

The starting quarterback is another obvious choice as a leader, but sophomore Zach Smith and Arizona transfer Anu Solomon are "both learning, so it might take them a couple more weeks to really see that come out."

"Like my college coach said, `You'd like to see the moxie they have when they're out there," Rhule said.

The No. 1 offensive line is still playing musical chairs, but it seems to be developing and improving with freshman Ryan Miller now at center, Blake Blackmar and converted tight end Sam Tecklenburg at the guards and Mo Porter and Patrick Lawrence at tackle.

"Ryan Miller as a freshman is a guy that's stepped up," Rhule said of the true freshman from Southlake Carroll. "He ran with the (starters) all day today, which lets us play Tecklenburg at guard. Tecklenburg has naturally become a very good offensive lineman very quickly. Mo, Blackmar and Lawrence are consistent guys. And some of the other young kids have done a really nice job coming in. They have a long way to go, but they're getting better."

On Monday, one of the biggest emphases was special teams play, with Rhule right in the middle of everything. A year ago, Baylor ranked 95th nationally in kickoff returns (19.1-yard average), 35th in kickoff return defense (19.2), 37th in punt returns (9.7) and 26th in net punting (38.7), missed six of 16 field goal attempts and was one of just a handful of teams that didn't block a kick all year.

"We were one of the worst in the country (last season) on kickoff returns, so we have to get that corrected," Rhule said. "I just think with Tony Nicholson and some of the other guys that we have, we should be a leader in that. And I think with the brand of football we want to play, we should be a team that can block punts and block kicks. We did it at a high level at (Temple), and we expect that with the athletes we have here, that we should be able to do it. It's just a matter of, are they going to buy into that? It's not an easy thing to do, it's a tough thing, but I think guys have done that so far. I've been pleased with their attention to detail on special teams."

The biggest concern at the moment is kicking field goals and extra points, with sophomores Connor Martin and Peter Webster handling most of those duties. Punter Drew Galitz, who kicked a 71-yarder in practice at Rowlett High School, is also an option at kicker.

"You don't always love to have one guy be the kickoff, punt, field goal guy," Rhule said. "I've had it. (Denver Broncos kicker) Brandon McManus did all three. It's just different swings. But, at the end of the day, we've got to do what we have to do. Connor's been good, it's just not at the consistent level we need right now."

With summer classes ending Tuesday, the Bears will go with 8:30 a.m. workouts the rest of camp. Practices are closed to the public.

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