Spring Primer: Big 12 Pt 2

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Replacing Von Miller is just one of many big questions in the Big 12 this spring.

Replacing Von Miller is just one of many big questions in the Big 12 this spring.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Baylor Bears

2010 Record: 7-6, 4-4
Spring practice: Feb 28 - Apr 2
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 5
 
Spring storylines facing the Bears:

1. This offense has a chance to be special if two things can happen in 2011. The Bears can find a replacement for Jay Finley and Art Briles can keep Robert Griffin healthy. Finley's skill will be missed, but there are some talented options returning in the form of Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi. With a solid offensive line and loads of talent ready to catch passes, keeping Griffin out of the infirmary might be the biggest concern on offense. Briles better have a large stack of red No. 10's ready to go. Filling Danny Watkins' shoes on Griffin's blindside will be imperative to keeping RGIII upright.
 
2. The Bears made a bowl game for the first time in nearly two decades, but they proceeded to allow 291 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground to Illinois. Replacing more than one key all-conference player up the middle — tackle Phil Taylor, two linebackers and both safeties — doesn't do anything to help the 104th rated defense either. Veteran coordinator Phil Bennett's first order of buisness is to find a way to improve his defense — especially if Baylor wants to continue its slow rise up the Big 12 food chain. Watch out for AC100 sophomore safety Ahmad Dixon — it is his time to shine.
 
Redshirts to watch: OL Troy Baker, RB Jacob Bennett, DB Tuswani Copeland, DE Kedrick Dial, DT Sean Watson
 
Fantasy tip: With a star at quarterback, deciphering the Bears' receiving corps could provide huge dividends. Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon, Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams each caught at least 40 passes last season.
 
Early Enrollees: DB Jay Johnson, DL Trevor Clemons-Valdez, DL Nick Johnson (JC), DB Josh Wilson (JC)
 
Iowa State Cyclones
 
2010 Record: 5-7, 3-5
Spring practice: Mar 22 - Apr 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 7
 
Spring storylines facing the Cyclones:

1. Paul Rhoads was one overtime point against Nebraska away from two straight bowl games at Iowa State. Once, he did it with loads of senior leadership on defense, and then he almost did it again with senior explosiveness on offense. Filling massive voids at quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver and a couple of offensive line spots will be tough to do. The signal caller will be the key. Jerome Tiller and incoming junior college trasnfer Steele Jantz look to be the favorites early on. Sophomore tailback Shontrelle Robinson will look to build on his 6.2 yards-per-carry average from a year ago.

2. Tight ends do not technically count towards offensive line "returning starters" but losing Collin Franklin, as well as blockers Alex Alvarez and Ben Lamaak, means the front line needs to be addressed. It won't matter how talented the Robinsons and Tillers of the world are if there are no running lanes or time to throw. Rhoads does have three solid players returning on the line, so finding a threat at the tight end position would help the development of all of the offensive skill players.
 
3. The front line of the Cyclone defense returns almost completely intact. As do the linebackers. And the collection of corners is deep and experienced. But Rhoads lost not two, but three contributing safeties. Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield — who combined for 20 tackles a season ago — will need to step into much bigger roles this season. Finding leadership at the back end of what could be a very strong unit will be the key on that side of the ball.
 
Redshirts to watch: DB Adrian Bennett, OL Shaban Dika, DL Brandon Jensen
 
Fantasy tip: With the loss of the only three fantasy options on this team, someone will have to step up. Is Johnson ready to carry the load? Can Tiller improve his efficiency?
 
Early Enrollees: LB Jevohn Miller, QB Steele Jantz (JC), WR Aaron Horne (JC)
 
Texas Longhorns
 
2010 Record: 5-7, 2-6
Spring practice: Feb 24 - Apr 3
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Longhorns:
 
1. Texas has the best built-in advantages of any school in America, a national championship head coach in Senator Mack Brown and the prettiest roster in the conference. So it really all comes down to the quarterback, right? Texas went from the winnginest signal caller in history to under .500. Garrett Gilbert played in every game last season and looks to have plenty of ability but Connor Wood is making a huge push. No announcement on the starting job will come until deep into the heat of a Lone Star August, so is Brown (or one of his new aids) leaking information to motivate Gilbert? Or does he think Wood has passed the local product on the depth chart? This could be one of the most intriguing position battles to watch during the spring — and summer.

2. A really easy way to help whoever plays quarterback will be finding a consistent running game. Jamaal Charles, who isn't the typical between-the-tackles back, has been the only productive running back to wear Burnt Orange since Cedric Benson. There are loads of names on the roster, but Brown has to find a consistent performer. However, names like Shead, Johnson, Whittaker and Monroe could all be simply keeping the seat warm until freshman star Malcolm Brown shows up this summer. Of course, running the football is much easier when the offensive line is actually blocking defenders. Finding suitable replacement for Michael Huey, Kyle Hix and Britt Mitchell (and their combined 30-plus starts from a year ago) will be extremely important. Luckily for Horns fans, they got some good players down on the 40 Acres.
 
3. The defensive front for Texas, despite losing Sam Acho, should be loaded with rising stars. But the secondary has to replace three cornerbacks — two of whom earned all-conference recognition. Names like Kenny Vaccaro, Carrington Byndom and early enrollee Quandre Diggs have tons of ability but big shoes to fill. Vaccaro, with help from veteran safety Blake Gideon, needs to step into a leadership role this spring.
 
Redshirts to watch: DT Taylor Bible, LB Tevin Jackson, DT Greg Daniels, OL Dominic Espinosa, WR John Harris, DB Bryant Jackson, WR Chris Jones, RB Traylon Shead and QB Connor Wood.
 
Fantasy tip: Keep an eye on sophomore-to-be wideout Mike Davis. He had an excellent first year in Austin and could blossom into the star Texas needs on the outside.
 
Early Enrollees: QB David Ash, DB Qaundre Diggs, TE M.J. McFarland, LB Chris Moss
 
Texas A&M Aggies
 
2010 Record: 9-4, 6-2
Spring practice: Mar 22 - Apr 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 9
 
Spring storylines facing the Aggies:
 
1. Can the Aggies handle the pressure? This team will return more starters than anyone in the Big 12 and will have a litany of NFL talent dotting the offensive depth chart. Yet, there are still plenty of crimson and burnt orange names above TAMU in the Big 12 hierarchy, so there would be no reason to be complacent. However, the inability to handle preseason expectations has ended many a would-be good season before it ever got started. Staying focused on the hard work at hand is first and foremost for Mike Sherman's staff.
 
2. Replacing all-everything sack master Von Miller will be the biggest issue this defense faces. Combined with the loss of all-Big 12 honorable mention linebacker Michael Hodges, Sherman has to address the middle level of his defense this spring. Garrick Williams will be the leader of this group as names like Kyle Mangan, Charlie Thomas and Sean Porter will work to replace the huge void left by Miller. Finding that edge rusher to match Miller's production will be the toughest task. Departed defensive end Lucas Patterson, along with Miller and Hodges, accounted for 18 of the team's 29 total sacks in 2011. Hybrid Damontre Moore will do his best to pick up the slack as he is poised for a much bigger role this fall.
 
3. Along the same lines as handling expectations, there has been a strange case of senioritis that has affected Aggie quarterbacks. Reggie McNeal, Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson all underachieved in their final campaigns. Can Ryan Tannehill maintain his high level of play from a year ago?
 
Redshirts to watch: OL Shep Klinke, DT Ivan Robinson, DL Gavin Stansbury
 
Fantasy tip: With the amount of talent returning to the Aggie offense, make sure you get in on some of the high-scoring action from College Station. The quarterback, two running backs and three receivers could all justify a roster spot. (Just make sure to pick the right one!)
 
Early Enrollees: LB Donnie Baggs, OL Joseph Cheek, DB Johntel Franklin (JC), LB Steven Jenkins (JC), QB Johnny Manziel
 
Texas Tech Red Raiders
 
2010 Record: 8-5, 3-5
Spring practice: Fri 18 - Mar 26
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
 
Spring storylines facing the Red Raiders:
 
1. A team that has had 11 straight 3,000-yard passers wouldn't normally have any issues finding a quaterback. But the biggest question for this spring, Tommy Tuberville's second as head coach, is settling on a signal caller early. Last year's Texas Tech two-step hurt this team, so Tuberville has made it clear that Seth Doege will be the starter. Doege has taken most of the spring reps with the first unit and appears to have the job in hand. This is a huge step in the right direction for the Red Raiders. Talented backups Jacob Karam and Scotty Young stand waiting should Doege stumble at any point before Week One.

2. Dramatic shift in offensive scheme or not, running the football has always been a big part of Tuberville's coaching strategy. Tech was ninth in the Big 12 and 75th nationally — which was actually a dramatic improvement over the 115's and 94's of the Leach era, but probably not where Tuberville wants it. Additionally, gone is leading rusher Baron Batch. Eric Stephens and Aaron Crawford lead a deep running back corps that will play behind an offensive line that returns largely intact. Keep an eye on true freshman Ronnie Daniels, whose big frame offers a different style to the backfield — at both running back and wildcat QB. A great ground attack would make breaking in a new man under center much easier.
 
3. With new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow comes a third new scheme in as many years. The shift from a 4-3 under Ruffin McNeill to 3-4 under James Willis didn't go as planned — try 114th in the nation in total defense. Glasgow has switched back to a four-man front with his 4-2-5 arrangement, and the players have responded thus far in spring. The issues at quarterback, or a productive running game for that matter, won't mean much if the Raiders cannot improve on the defensive side of the ball. Much is being asked of the new coordinator.
 
Redshirts to watch: QB Jacob Karam, S Desmond Martin, QB Scotty Young, DE Jackson Richards
 
Fantasy tip: Will this be the year that Tech returns to Tuberville's roots and looks to run first? Eric Stephens leads a deep group of tailbacks who could be sneaky late-round picks.
 
Early Enrollees: QB Michael Brewer, ATH (RB) Ronnie Daniels, LB Blake Dees, WR Derek Edwards, WR Marcus Kennard (JC), DB Jeremy Reynolds
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the Big 12 this spring.</p>