It is an annual tradition. You first look at the mangled depth chart, left in ruins after graduation, early draft entrees, and transfers. You then start trying to figure out how to fill all of those holes, and build a team again. For a lot of teams, it is replacing bad with not as bad and hoping that you can just improve on the previous year. This was the Bears for a long time in the early 2000s. Less an act of planning than a ceremony of prayer and hope. With the Baylor Bears climbing that mountain the past two years on their way to back-to-back Big 12 championships, the prayers are less wishful thinking and more stretching beliefs.
The past few years, the Bears have knocked off one "impossibility" after another. Win a Heisman. Beat Texas (again, and again and again), win at Oklahoma, win the Big 12, and then win it again. All off the bucket list. The next impossibility begins and probably ends with "National Champion" at the end of it. With several key players gone from the back-to=back champion Bears, who are 5 key players that are positioned to take on much larger roles in 2015, and be a large part of the next bucket list item to be crossed off?
Linebacker Aiavion Edwards - Junior
- 6-foot-1, 225 pounds
- 55 Career tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks
- Former 4-star Recruit (Safety - Scout300 Recruit)
Edwards came to Baylor as one the top recruits in the 2012 class, a 6-foot-1, 200 pound safety who was also a star running back his senior year at Stephenville High School. He redshirted his first season in Waco, and then transitioned to linebacker going into his second. As a freshman, he appeared in 12 games as a reserve. He was put into a larger role when Bryce Hager was lost for the last part of the season, though he was not put into the starting lineup. With the weak-side linebacker spot vacated by Eddie Lackey, the 2014 season started with Edwards next to Hager. However, injuries put Edwards on the bench, and then the strong play of redshirt freshman Taylor Young kept him there.
With Hager graduated, the middle linebacker spot is once again open. Grant Campbell was listed as the primary backup last year, but it is Edwards who has the higher upside. With great speed for a linebacker, Edwards brings an attacking and aggressive style to the position. He is above average in coverage and is a good tackler.
Wide Receiver Chris Platt - Redshirt Freshman
- 5-foot-11, 165 pounds
- Former 3-star Recruit (Wide Receiver -106th best in US)
The quickest comparison to Platt that anyone can think of is former Baylor receiver Tevin Reese, himself a low rated 3-star receiver. All Reese did was catch 187 balls in four season and finish with over 3100 receiving yards. Not bad for the 109th receiver in the 2009 recruiting class. Platt shares Reese's pure speed and acceleration, as well as his lack of bulk. Platt is a burner, and even with the speed provided by Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, the Bears at times lacked that true blazer in 2014. Platt has a very unique skill set that Briles and company have proven very capable of exploiting.
Running Back Devin Chafin - Junior
- 6-foot-0, 225 pounds
- 678 career rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns
- Former 3-star Recruit (Running Back - 83rd best in US )
Injuries derailed a promising 2014 campaign quickly for Chafin, who was limited to just 9 games. The Bears "thunder" back was missed at times, especially in short-yardage. With tremendous strength and the ability to run low and through his pads, Chafin at times was the best running back for the Bears. Shock Linwood is back for another go, along with Johnny Jefferson and redshirt freshman Terence Williams. However, it is Chafin that could take a larger role as he has the ability to be a true every down back in the Bears offense. With a healthy spring, watch for Chafin to take on more and more carries in this offense.
Nickel Back Travon Blanchard - Sophomore
- 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
- 31 career tackles, 1 interception
- Former 3-star Recruit (Safety - 37th best in US )
With the loss of Collin Brence, the Bears will again be starting the spring with a new nickel back. This is the 3rd year in a row as Sam Holl and Brence were one-year starters at the position. With the former walk-on Brence coming out of nowhere to win the spot last Spring, the playing field is wide open for this spot on the defense. The top backup last year, Blanchard is the likely favorite (along with Patrick Fields) to secure this starting spot.
Blanchard is an intriguing option due to his size and athleticism. He is more of a linebacker than a safety, but the Bears have used both types of players in this role. Brence was more of a linebacker, while Sam Holl was a strong safety before coming down to the NB position. He has the athleticism to be a big part of the Bears defense going forward, and to give them better coverage options underneath than they had last year.
Cornerback Jourdan Blake - Redshirt Freshman
- 6-foot-0, 200 pounds
- Former 2-star Recruit (Safety - 107th best in US)
The Bears secondary was a weak point at times in 2014. With everyone coming back from last year, there will be a cut-throat competition for playing time at all four of the secondary positions. With Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett looking at taller corners in recruiting, the shift from the quicker yet smaller player to the taller and stronger player might be making its way on the field. Blake, a former quarterback in high school is a very good athlete, and has the tools to turn into a legitimate Big 12 cornerback. He impressed at times on the practice squad, even in his first real action as a corner. Look for him to move up the depth chart sooner rather than later.