1) Art Briles has the Bears fighting like they're a top-half of the Big 12 team, but after two league games, Baylor sits at 0-2 in the league and is coming off a rough home loss. What's this team's mindset right now?
Watkins — The team's mindset is bordering on desperation. They know that with 2 league losses behind them and two tough road games ahead of them (Texas and Iowa State) that they need to start playing much better to avoid a disappointing season. The loss to West Virginia was hard, but honestly, it was a good loss. They went on the road to a Top 5 (at the time) team and lost by 1 touchdown. The TCU loss though was a bit more difficult for the fans, and I imagine the team to swallow. A wounded animal is very dangerous, and that is the mindset many on the Bears have right now.
2) So much talk about Baylor focuses on the comparison between RG3 and Nick Florence. But what about Baylor's wide receivers? This is a unit that lost a first-round pick in Kendall Wright, and is still producing at such a high level. Is this group better than last year's unit? And what makes them so difficult to defend?
Watkins — I would still take last year's unit, simply because you don't lose your all-time leading receiver and a first round NFL draft talent and get better without adding anyone of significance. The Baylor receivers simply just moved up a spot on the food chain. Terrance Williams moved from complementary player to all out stud, while Tevin Reese elevated his game by adding more underneath routes to his explosive deep threat ability. I do think the Bears have taken a step back on that third option, right now Lanear Sampson who has struggled a bit this year.
I give credit for their performance primarily to their skills fitting perfectly in the Art Briles offense. Out of the four starters, Reese was a 3-star recruit, Williams was a low 2-star recruit, Sampson was a 3-star recruit and Levi Norwood was a 3-star recruit. Not a four or five star among them, but each of them fit what Art Briles wants in his receivers, each has either good size or speed, and all of them can run a variety of routes. The route combinations that Art Briles and his staff have drawn up get guys the ball in open space and let them do what they do best.
3) Some Bears fans were excited to see what Phil Bennett could do in his second year as the Bears' defensive coordinator. How have they looked compared to last year, and has Bennett changed anything?
Watkins — This year's defense has been rather disappointing to outright dreadful. The Bears have struggled to generate any pass rush or really stop any offense not led by Garrett Gilbert (sorry, I couldn't resist). The Bears lost quite a bit of depth on the defensive line, to graduation, injury and suspension and they have not been able to overcome that. The Bears lost two starters from the spring in Kaeron Johnson to injury and Tevin Elliot to suspension, plus they did not get two impact transfers eligible like they thought they would in Shawn Oakman and Jason Osei. Those four losses have put some players not quite ready for prime-time in big spots, and they have not risen up to those moments. The defensive tackle performance has been so bad that 5th year senior defensive end Gary Mason Jr. is now starting at defensive tackle, after playing there quite well last week against TCU.
In regards to changes, the Bears experimented with a 3-man front quite a bit in the spring and fall, and even played it in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but West Virginia tore it up, and the Bears did not show it much if at all against TCU. Bennett has stated several times that he wants to get more aggressive, but game after game, he does very little additional blitzing.
4) Baylor has recruited some talented young defenders in recent classes. How many young guys are seeing the field on a regular basis for the Bears defensively?
Watkins — The Bears are playing just two true freshman, at least so far this year. Javonte Magee and Terrell Burt have both received playing time at defensive end and safety respectably. Another true freshman has entered the two-deep this week though, in defensive end Jamal Palmer. In fact, all four of the backups on the defensive line are either redshirt freshman or freshman. No other 1st or second year players are on the 2-deep, despite a general lack of talent and an increase in recruiting rankings. Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett has said repeatedly that he really likes the talent that younger guys are showing, but they have not shown enough to get on the two-deep depth chart … yet.
5) Name one off-the-radar offensive and defensive player to watch for Baylor on Saturday.
Watkins — I want to say Lache Seastrunk on offense, but it is hard to say a former 5-star and Oregon transfer is under or off any type of radar. So I will go with Darryl Stonum, another transfer from a big-time program in Michigan. Stonum is the primary backup for the receivers, and is usually the 5th one to appear. He is also a special kick and punt returner, something that he has not showcased yet at Baylor. I think this is the game he makes an impact, either with a big return or with a few big receptions.
Defensively, pretty much the whole defense, except Ahmad Dixon is under the radar. I will go with Eddie Lackey, the Bears starting weak-side linebacker. He is 3rd on the team in tackles, but has played pretty well for an undersized speed linebacker. The Bears will need him to play well against a big and physical running attack.