With temperatures in Central Texas over 100 degrees seemingly every day, most people are running for the nearest source of air conditioning. But on the campus of Baylor University, the Baylor Bear football team was busy earlier today checking in for Fall football camp with only one thing on their mind. Determination.
There's really no need for the players to talk about it anymore. Coach Art Briles doesn't have to mention it. Everyone knows. Time is running short. Baylor needs to start winning. And they need to start now.
Of course, anyone that follows college football knows the formula for winning doesn't only start with Fall camp. Whether it's the coaches bringing in new recruits, to players getting healthy, to summer conditioning, creating a winning program is a continuous, year-round endeavor. But it all culminates with Fall camp. Recruits who haven't made it to campus yet are here now if they are going to play. Players like Robert Griffin and Jay Finley are trying to show they are healthy enough to lead the team. And guys with something to prove like Phil Taylor are showing off their refined physique, Taylor checking in 25 pounds lighter.
So as Fall camp starts on the Brazos River at the Bears beautiful new practice facility, let's take a look at just a few of the stories Art Briles will want answered.
Does Robert Griffin look like...Robert Griffin?
Like it or not, much of the success of the Bears season and whether or not they make a bowl will lie on the back of Robert Griffin, III. If you've seen pictures or listened to Coach Briles, you know Griffin is stronger. That is a good thing as fans and teammates alike didn't like holding their breath every time the superstar athlete was hit. But what makes Robert Griffin himself is his unbridled athleticism and keen instincts to make the big play. Although Baylor fans may not get definitive answers (no hitting of the QB allowed in Fall camp) in the next few weeks, they will at least get a sense if the quarterback's reworked knee is holding up. This will be the #1 thing on the minds of Baylor fans and Baylor opponents as they monitor camp this year.
Which newcomers will make an impact right away?
The first place you have to look is in the defensive backfield, where Prince Kent, Ahmad Dixon, and Tyler Stephenson are all poised to challenge for playing time. Dixon's story has been well documented, former 5 star recruit here on Scout.com, and a local player from Waco that all Bear fans will watch closely. While he may not start from day 1 at the safety position, look for Dixon to provide an immediate impact in the Bears defensive backfield. Also at the safety position, albeit on the other side, Prince Kent has been solidfying playing time since the early Spring. And on the outside, it seems every year the Bears need at least one true freshman corner to step up. Stephenson figures to get a long look for that spot this camp.
Outside of the defensive backfield, it's not clear that many other freshman are expected to play right away. But newcomers Isaac Williams and big Robert Griffin (offensive line) will get plenty of reps. Both played this Spring and both came from the Juco ranks, and as soon as Griffin is fully healed, expect him to be part of the rotation on the offensive line.
Will the special teams unit be shored up?
Special teams is often overlooked in all the offseason drama that can surround college football. But once the season is rolling and something goes wrong, special teams has no problem being the center of attention. The Bears seemingly have made a change at the kicker position, where Aaron Jones figures to be replacing Ben Parks at least as far as field goals are concerned. In a position where extra points have even become an adventure at times, the Bears need to solidfy this most important position.
In a different area of special teams, it seems like it's been a while since the Bears had a big impact kick returner. Players like David Gettis and Mikail Baker in recent years have provided a spark at times. And returning players Terrance Williams (kick returns) and Krys Buerck (punt returns) figure to be in the mix. The question will be will a new name pop up and give Baylor an x-factor that could help them get back to a bowl game.
Will the defensive line be improved?
Departing senior Jason Lamb had a solid season last year for the Bears. But when looking around the conference at impact players from schools like Nebraska or Texas, it's clear the Bears have room for improvement. There are lots of names - Phil Taylor, Tracy Robertson, Zac Scotten, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Tevin Elliot, Terrance Lloyd, and others - but most of these players had a chance last year to improve Baylor's line and even the players would admit they did not cause enough disruption. It all starts with Taylor, who could be a true game changer if he can get his stamina right. After Taylor, Coach Briles will be looking for which player has improved the most in the off-season as he knows his defensive line has to cause offenses more problems.
Will the Bears come together enough to be ready to get back to a bowl game?
Conference realignment. On-campus stadium. Attendance. TV audience. All relevant discussions in the Baylor family this offseason. But while Baylor donors continue to do the right thing behind the scenes and push for the new stadium, the thing on the mind of most fans in the next few weeks will be a simple item - will the Bears win? Will they get back to a bowl game.
They have talent. Griffin. Danny Watkins, a future NFL talent on the offensive line. Jay Finley. Kendall Wright - perhaps the most explosive player on the team. Antonio Johnson and underrated Chris Francis at linebacker. But can these players, many of whom have been together for 3 or 4 years - find the right formula to get back to a bowl? Hard to say, but it has to start in Fall camp. Coach Briles will be looking for leaders to step up, and these players have the best shot at doing it.
Be sure to join our premium forum right here at BearsIllustrated.com to learn more about our coverage of Fall camp. We'll have you covered.
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