Preview 2008 - Offense
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2008 Baylor Offense
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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.
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
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
Weakness of the offense:
Running game, quarterback
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.