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2008 Baylor Preview - Offense
Baylor WR Thomas White
Baylor WR Thomas White
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 18, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Baylor Bears Offense

Baylor Bears

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Baylor Preview | 2008 Baylor Offense
- 2008 Baylor Defense | 2008 Baylor Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Baylor Preview | 2006 CFN Baylor Preview 

What you need to know:
Baylor will still throw the ball, but the coaching staff, and co-coordinators Phillip Montgomery and Randy Clements, will add more rushing wrinkles to the equation. Step one is to settle on a quarterback with Blake Szymanski the veteran starter, Miami transfer Kirby Freeman looking for redemption and lightning-fast true freshman Robert Griffin battling it out. The receiving corps is experienced, but outside of the tight ends and touchdown-machine Thomas White, the wideouts haven't produced like they should have. That should change. Jay Finley and Jacoby Jones are tough runners who'll get more chances to work behind a fantastic line led by future NFL tackles Jason Smith and Dan Gay.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Blake Szymanski
264-461, 2,844 yds, 22 TD, 18 INT
Rushing: Jay Finley
55 carries, 207 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Justin Akers
43 catches, 426 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Senior OT Jason Smith
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR David Gettis
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman QB Robert Griffin
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) The starting quarterback, 3) OT Dan Gay
Strength of the offense: Pass protection, the passing game
Weakness of the offense:
Running game, quarterback

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter
:
Junior Blake Szymanski started last year third on the depth chart, but he quickly became the only option as the season went on finishing with 2,844 yards with 22 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. While he has the experience, the 6-4, 205-pound size, and the arm, the interceptions were a constant issue. While he's not necessarily a runner, he's mobile enough add a few yards to the mix here and there. He was sharp throughout the spring, but he didn't grasp the job in the four-man race and will have to battle to earn back his spot later this summer.

Projected Top Reserves: Miami transfer Kirby Freeman was given the start in the spring game, but that didn't mean much. After a disappointing Hurricane career completing fewer than half his passes for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns with 16 interceptions, he got progressively worse completing just 31% of his throws last year. At 6-3 and 210 pounds with good mobility, he has to be accurate. Having graduated from Miami, he's eligible for one more season.

Easily the most interesting of the quarterback options is true freshman Robert Griffin, and all-state sprinter who graduated from high school early to be a part of the derby. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he's tall, has a decent arm, and has the lightning speed to add a different element than the Baylor offense has ever had. He ran the nation's fifth fastest time in the 400 meter hurdles as part of the Baylor track team, and is a good enough passer to grow into the job.

While sophomore Tyler Beatty is the fourth man in the mix, he has a little bit of experience, completing five of 18 passes for 33 yards with two interceptions, and is being given a slight shot at winning the starting job. He's 6-3 and 202 pounds with great running skills, but he's not the passer the other options are.
 
Watch Out For ... Griffin. Szymanski is the safe choice, but Griffin is the shot for the stars. Art Briles isn't afraid to start a true freshman having put Kevin Kolb out there for Houston five years ago.
Strength: Accuracy. This is a very, very big deal considering the Baylor passers combined to throw 27 interceptions and completed 55% of their throws last season. Szymanski and Griffin were accurate on their short to midrange throws throughout spring ball. BU won't have the Big 12's least efficient passing game again this year.
Weakness: When you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have any. At least that's sort of how the old adage goes, and Baylor has three, possibly four. It'll be next to impossible for the opening day starter to not look over his shoulder after every bad throw.
Outlook: The Bears need to find one quarterback and stick with him. Beatty has the look of a career backup and is realistically out of the picture. Freeman hasn't done anything to show that he can be the guy, and with only one season of eligibility left, he needs to be out of this world to win the job. Szymanski has two years remaining and might be the safety choice, but he has to prove he can be far more efficient and more productive than he was last season. Griffin is the wild card. He's not the win-now pick, but with his collection of skills, he's the upside prospect. It'll be a fun fall.
Rating: 6.5


Running Backs

Projected Starter
:
The running game won't be an afterthought if sophomore Jay Finley is as good as he was throughout the off-season. The 5-11, 202-pounder is a strong runner inside and out with good toughness and a burst to make things happen when he gets into the open field. Out of the rushing mix for stretches last year, he still finished second on the team with 207 yards and two touchdowns averaging 3.8 yards per carry as he failed to show off much of his pizzazz. He also caught 18 passes for 152 yards and a score.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jacoby Jones finished third on the team with 192 yards while catching 12 passes for 63 yards and a score. At 5-11 and 227 pounds, he's more of a banger than Finley and he could be strong around the goal line. He didn't score any touchdowns on the ground, but he could quickly turn into a specialist of sorts.

Senior Ray Sims came over from the JUCO ranks last year and made four tackles as a safety and a key special teamer. Now he'll move back to his high school position, running back, where he'll use his 6-0, 210-pound body to bang away as the third option in the mix. He's being given chances to win the starting job, but he's not Finley or Jones.
 
Watch Out For ... more production. After finishing dead last in the nation in rushing two years ago and 113th last year, Baylor will start to run more effectively. Finley is too good to not hover around 750 yards in this offense.
Strength: Size. There are three thick, strong backs to get the ground game going with Finley, Jones and Sims all able to run between the tackles. They can all catch, too.
Weakness: The ability to carry the load. The offense is asking the backs to start shouldering their share of the load, and they haven't had to for a few years. Not only was there a mere 934 yards of rushing production last season, but there were only five touchdowns and almost no big bursts. In an offense like this one, there are always holes to run through.
Outlook: Briles is going to change up the ground game in a big hurry. Finley ran this off-season like a back ready to be a breakthrough cog, and he'll certainly get more than 55 carries he handled last year. Jones and Sims will be serviceable, but Finley will have to be the one to make the machine work.
Rating:
5.5

Receivers

Projected Starters
:
Is this the year David Gettis lives up to his prep hype? The one-time super-recruit who was supposed to be the centerpiece of the passing game, the 6-4, 206-pound junior has struggled to break through with just 31 catches for 407 yards last year and just one career touchdown. He has the size and the track star speed to be a top return man, but he has to put all his tools together and play up to his potential. This should be the offense that suits turns him into a major factor.

Looking to play a bigger role is 6-3, 187-pound junior Ernest Smith after making 21 catches for 247 yards and a touchdown. He wasn't able to breakout this off-season as he struggled with mono throughout the spring, but with his size and smooth quickness, he has the talent and the look of a steady target who could burst out under the new coaching staff.

Senior Thomas White is a former walk-on who busted his tail to become a steady producer finishing fourth on the team with 34 catches for 475 yards and a team-leading eight scores despite seeing time mostly as a reserve. Able to play inside or out, the 6-3, 204-pounder will start out the year on the inside where he'll uses his phenomenal speed and athleticism as a go-to target. He needs to get the ball on the move.

Junior Justin Akers is the team's leading returning receiver catching 43 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-5 and 231 pounds, he's built more like a huge wide receiver than a big blocker, but he's not afraid to hit a little bit. He's a good athlete who can stretch the field, and he'll quickly become the starting quarterback's best friend and safety valve.

Projected Top Reserves: Moving over from quarterback to receiver is 6-5, 223-pound senior John David Weed, a one-time huge JUCO recruit for the program, he got a little bit of playing time throwing for 53 yards and an interception. Even though he hurt his hand this off-season, he should grow into a clutch inside target in the Big Slot position.

6-3, 233-pound sophomore Brad Taylor started off his career as a quarterback but was quickly moved to the receiving corps where he became a valuable tight end starting in six games and finishing third on the team with 35 catches for 465 yards and two touchdowns. A field stretcher averaging 13.3 yards per grab, he's a smart, tough player who'll only get better with a little more work.

Working in four-wide sets will be 6-0, 195-pound junior Mikail Baker after returning from a broken collarbone that sidelined him for most of last year. He made six catches for 87 yards as a promising inside target before getting hurt against Rice, and now he'll bring his good wheels and decent potential back into the mix. He hasn't broken out yet with just 22 career catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns, but he's been around long enough to be effective.

Working along with White on the inside will be 5-10, 178-pound junior Justin Fenty after an 18-catch, 154-yard season. Consistency has always been a problem, but quickness isn't. A good, shifty target who has the potential to make defenders miss, he should be good when he gets the ball on the move.

 
Watch Out For ... more from the receivers. The three leading receivers last year were a running back and two tight ends. That'll change in a big hurry with the new coaching staff ready to make better use of all the targets.
Strength: Speed. Give the old coaching staff credit for bringing in a slew of really fast, really athletic targets who were a little raw and just needed a bit of work. Now there's plenty of speed to push things deep at all the positions.
Weakness: Sure-thing wide receivers. Gettis is out of central casting, Baker also looks the part and Smith has had his moments, but it's not like the corps has kept defensive coordinators up and night. Until this group, outside of White, starts producing, the offense will still have to rely on the short to midrange dinks and dunks.
Outlook: There's experience, several options, and lots and lots of speed. Briles and his coaching staff can get a passing game moving, and if they can find a steady quarterback to push the ball deep, players like Gettis, Smith and Baker could finally grow into the playmakers they appeared to be when they first came to Waco. White is a major threat who has grown into his role, while the tight ends are dependable.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
:
Baylor might have problems matching up talent-for-talent with the top Big 12 teams at many positions, but offensive tackle isn't one of them. The combination of seniors Jason Smith on the left side and Dan Gay on the right could be the best in the conference if it wasn't for the pair of NFL first rounders at Oklahoma.

The 6-5, 298-pound Smith will be a top 100 pick next season with the athleticism and toughness to be one of the nation's top pass protectors. The former tight end was banged up throughout last year with a knee problem that kept him under wraps for almost half the season, but he played through it and was night-and-day better than he was as a sophomore. When he first made the move to tackle, he was a turnstile for every halfway decent Big 12 pass rusher. Not anymore.

The 6-5, 288-pound Gay isn't Smith, but he'll be drafted next year. The former defensive tackle needed some time to learn the ropes, but he became a solid starters and grew into an outstanding pass protector. He slimmed down, got quicker, and became a top tackle after seeing time as a guard his sophomore years. He's one of the team's most reliable players.

Also returning is 6-4, 286-pound junior James Barnard at right guard after starting all 12 games. The former JUCO transfer is a pounder on the inside who did a good job in pass protection. While he's a bit undersized by Big 12 standards, he's a tough run blocker when he gets the chance.

Junior J.D. Walton started every game at center and showed excellent potential. The former Arizona State Sun Devil is one of the team's biggest linemen at 6-3 and 302 pounds, and is one of the team's top iron men. He led the offense in time on the field and is just now growing into his potential. He could be a fringe all-star candidate this season.

The one new starters to the mix is the undersized 6-6, 268-pound junior Chris Griesenbeck. While he's built like a tackle, which he was for part of last season filling in at times when Smith was hurt, the former walk-on will work at guard where he'll be a part of a rotation. Athletic, he has to prove he can maul.

Projected Top Reserves: It would be plus of redshirt freshman Courtney Green became a factor in the left guard rotation along with Griesenbeck. At 6-5 and 287 pounds, he's a bigger option with tremendous upside having been wooed by places like LSU and Oklahoma State out of high school. He'll be starting sooner than later.

Getting some good work in when Smith was injured was junior Jordan Hearvey, a 6-4, 281-pound athlete who started in six games and on the right side and played well. He's in a battle with 6-5, 274-pound redshirt freshman Joe Korbel to be the main understudy on the left side for next year's starting job.
 
Watch Out For ... this to be the strength of the team by a wide, wide margin. The line is full of pass protectors who allowed just 21 sacks in 561 pass attempts.
Strength: Smith and Gay. Gay will have to work a lot harder than Smith to catch the eye of the NFL scouts, but both starting tackles will be getting paid to play next year. These two are still growing into their jobs and they're still improving.
Weakness: Run blocking, and it's not their fault. The linemen haven't had too many opportunities to get all lathered up in the pass-happy attack. Can they actually move around a Big 12 line when push literally comes to shove? That remains to be seen.
Outlook: A major problem two years ago, the team took its lumps as Smith and Gay figured out what they were doing, and now the front five should be fantastic as long as everyone stays healthy. Unlike past seasons, there's decent depth and a few good options to work with for next year, but if the starting five remains intact, it'll be tough for defenses to get to the quarterback.
Rating: 7.5