College basketball is heading down the home stretch, college baseball has started, but let’s not forget (I know many of you aren’t) that spring practice is already getting underway across the country. We will handle spring previews for every Big 12 football team and roll them out based on when their respective spring practices begin. Next up is the Baylor Bears who will start up spring practice on Tuesday, March 5th.
Most Exciting Returnee: DT James Lynch
Maybe this is a little outside-the-box for some of you, who expected my obvious answer to be Charlie Brewer. But let’s not forget about Lynch, who was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection in 2018, starting all 13 games and leading the team with 5.5 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss. He finished 10th in the Big 12 in sacks, but five of the top nine in the conference have graduated, while juniors David Long and Jordan Brailford, decided to go to the NFL Draft. So Lynch has a chance to be one of the most feared pass rushers in the Big 12 next season, and he’s only going to be a junior. The Round Rock, Texas native has improved each of his first two seasons in Waco, and there’s no reason to not expect that trend to continue. Let’s see how he looks this spring.
Most Exciting Newcomer: DE Niadre Zouzoua
Speaking of the pass rush, Zouzoua is one of the top JUCO defensive ends (No. 5 per 247Sports) in the Class of 2019 and he’s on campus in Waco ready to make an immediate impact. He was ranked No. 45 in the nation for JUCO players and chose the Bears over offers from Tennessee, Nebraska and TCU. As a team, Baylor only had 25 sacks in 13 games, which ranked eighth in the Big 12 Conference, so the more pass rushers the merrier for Matt Rhule & Co.
Offensive Storyline to Watch
This unit was decimated in the wake of the Art Briles’ scandal. It’s taken a couple seasons to get the line back to respectability. Baylor ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 155 rushing yards per game in 2018, but no doubt Rhule wants to do better, and that starts up front. As a former offensive line coach with the New York Giants, this is a unit that Rhule should be able to personally help continue to improve.
In a recent story on BaylorBears.com, Rhule even noted that his team won’t be able to win at a high level until they can, “win up front.”
The good news is that Baylor returns all five players who have all at least started games on the offensive line in Sam Tecklenburg, Xavier Newman, Johncarlo Valentin, Jake Fruhmorgen and Connor Galvin. Valentin and Galvin were true freshmen getting starts last year, which is huge for a program. If this group can make big strides this season then Charlie Brewer and the offense can take that next step. Also note, two early enrollees on the offensive line in tackle Blake Beider, who is the 10th-ranked OT in the country and a three-star prospect from Utah, along with Davis DiVall, a three-star guard from Maine.
Defensive Storyline to Watch
Shoring up the secondary
We’ve already discussed some of the issues rushing the passer, so let’s turn our attention to another place of need on the Baylor defense, and that would be getting better against the pass, especially in the Big 12 Conference. While the Bears ranked third in Big 12 action in passing yards allowed, they were actually much worse, ranking eighth in the conference in pass defense efficiency. Also, they had seven interceptions on the season, which ranked eight in the Big 12, only edging out Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
It can be good or bad news when a team returns most of its players from a unit, and that’s the case for Baylor. The growth of Raleigh Texada and Chris Miller will be a story to watch, as both were Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selections, while Grayland Arnold may have the most untapped potential and will look to bounce back from an injury that cut his 2018 campaign short.
Baylor also has a couple of early enrollees to watch out for in the secondary in safties Hakeem Vance (Hattiesburg, MS) and Solomon Turner (Plano, TX).
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