By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Matt Rhule has made one thing clear.
No matter the age, the class, or whether they’re scholarship players or walk-ons, “I’ll always play the best player, no matter who they are or what age,” he said.
Putting his words into action, the first-year Baylor head coach has a freshman starting at center (Ryan Miller), at least two others competing for starting positions (wide receiver R.J. Sneed and cornerback Harrison Hand) and about a dozen true freshmen who could play this season.
That includes quarterback Charlie Brewer, who is “tremendously accurate and has a knack for making plays.” The Lake Travis product will likely redshirt if grad transfer Anu Solomon or sophomore Zach Smith wins the job, but “all three of them can do it and do it at a high level, which is a great thing to have. So, we’ll compete it out and see.”
With returning starter Terence Williams expected to miss at least the first three games with a shoulder injury, sophomore JaMycal Hasty “was way ahead” at the running back position. But at Saturday’s scrimmage, “he was limited a little bit, and some of those other guys really took advantage of it,” Rhule said.
“He’s a big, physical Mike Alstott type of guy who can play fullback or tailback,” Rhule said, comparing the 6-1, 230-pound Dixon to Alstott, a six-time Pro Bowl pick in a 12-year pro career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Every time we give him an opportunity, he makes something happen. We put him in with the 3’s, he runs somebody over. Put him in with the 2’s, he runs somebody over. Put him in with the 1’s, he runs somebody over. To me, it’s all production-based, it’s all what you see on tape. He’s done it on tape, and I’m excited about it.”
Rhule also singled out a number of other freshmen, including Sneed and Gavin Holmes at receiver, Miller and Xavier Newman in the offensive line, linebackers Terrel Bernard and Jalen Pitre, Hand in the secondary and defensive ends DJ Artis, Justin Harris and Cole Maxwell.
“We’re pushing a lot of competition,” Rhule said. “We’ll see in the next week who is ready to go.”
With the Sept. 2 season opener versus Liberty now just nine days away, one of the biggest concerns is the lack of depth in the secondary. The numbers are there, but cornerbacks Raleigh Texada, Jordan Tolbert and Timarcus Davis and safeties Davion Hall, Henry Black, Rajah Preciado and Tre’von Lewis have all been sidelined with injuries throughout the preseason.
“Just a ton of guys,” Rhule said. “We’re counting on some guys in the two-deep who are non-scholarship players. We’re counting on some kids who haven’t played a lot. . . . A lot of those things were offseason surgeries, they’re not really things that have happened in camp. We came out of camp mainly healthy. But, if you’re looking at an issue, it’s that.”
Two newcomers, who cannot play this season, are offensive linemen Khalil Keith and Jake Fruhmorgen. The 6-5, 320-pound Keith is a true freshman from Alpine, Ala., who cannot practice or play this fall until he fulfills an academic requirement for the NCAA, while Fruhmorgen (6-5, 290) is a junior transfer who started the first eight games last season for national champion Clemson.
Fruhmorgen, who has to sit out this season as a Division I transfer, is out with an illness and hasn’t been cleared to practice yet by the doctors.
“For him, the opportunity to take a year and really get strong and healthy and study under (offensive line coach George DeLeone) will do great things for him,” Rhule said, “and he can move forward when those guys leave after next year.”
Despite the banged-up secondary and lack of depth in the offensive line, Rhule said he won’t back off his usual practice routine before the season opener.
“I don’t believe in keeping anyone fresh. There’s a process for that,” he said. “I believe in keeping people healthy, but all our injuries have been before we really started. We haven’t had hardly anything happen during camp. They’re acclimated, these are tough kids.
“Every NFL team that has come through tell the kids that they’re practicing at an elite level. And that’s what we want to see, that develops you. How do you get true freshmen ready to play? How do you turn walk-ons into NFL players? You practice. So, we’re going to practice. Not everyone does it that way, but we do it that way. Guys get banged-up and guys have to get ready to go. We’re building depth and believing in competition.”
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