The Baylor Bears had a successful first week of practice, culminating in their annual Meet the Bears day. Over 3,000 fans came to McLane Stadium to meet the team after a closed practice. It was a chance for the Bears to see the public for the first time after a very tumultuous summer that saw the firing of head coach Art Briles due to a campus wide sexual assault scandal. This week is the first time for the team to come together and act as one. Junior Linebacker Trevon Blanchard put it best saying "This year is not about proving anyone wrong. It's proving our supporters, our families, everyone that loves us...it's just about proving them right."
Down to just 70 scholarship players, the Bears will have questions about depth all season, especially on the offensive lines. New Acting Head Coach Jim Grobe has said that the Bears have 7 offensive linemen that they feel good to go with, and will need to develop more just to get a full 2-deep roster. The defensive line has better numbers, but lacks much experience and production. In total, the Bears lost 8 starting linemen, returning only center Kyle Fuller on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
Baylor hopes to have the addition of Tyrae Simmons shortly, as the junior college transfer is going through Baylor's admission and compliance process. Simmons could be an option at either guard spot along with Tanner Thrift, Mo Porter and Ishmael Wilson. The new offensive line will be tasked with the important job of protecting Seth Russell, who is fully cleared from a neck injury that ended his 2015 season early. Russell will have plenty of weapons around him, led by Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson out of the back field and All-American candidate K.D. Cannon at wide receiver. Cannon is currently not cleared for practice as he had minor knee surgery a few weeks ago, but the Bears still expect him to be ready for the opener September 2nd against Northwestern State.
Iowa State opened its first camp under new head coach Matt Campbell with a great deal of enthusiasm, as is usually the case when a new regime arrives. Campbell is revamping the program from top to bottom as he attempts to change the attitude and environment around a team that has had very limited success over the past few years.
Campbell brings a high energy, intense approach to the Cyclones, and he isn't afraid to shake things up. He's right in the thick of the action, participating in some drills and demonstrating proper techniques to players at different positions. He also encourages his assistants to do the same, and the result has been a different feel in the first week of his tenure on the field in Ames. In early practices, he has also split the squad, working with one half in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. This allows each Cyclone to get more reps and more individualized instruction, and it's an approach that will continue through the first part of the preseason camp.
Part of the rebuilding process will be looking at freshmen and how they can help build Campbell's vision, and he said that while he's not ready to identify anyone that might be in the mix for playing time this year, he certainly isn't ruling anyone out.
"I think it's a group across the board that can compete, especially with the situation in our program where the depth has to get better." Campbell said after an early practice. "I'm not afraid to play the best players, whether they are seniors or freshmen."
The Wildcats started late in the week with report day on Wednesday and the first practice in the heat and held on the floor of Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Thursday. Head coach Bill Snyder maintains guarded and closed practices with the only glimpse being the cinematic videos produced by the athletic department. Snyder and staff will squeeze 20 practices into 17 days leading up to the start of classes on Aug. 22. K-State opens the season on Friday, Sept. 2 at Stanford.
One of the more interesting new players in camp is a senior graduate transfer as Snyder looks to take advantage of adding Cal-Berkley cornerback Cedric Dozier. Dozier, who played in 34 games and started 16 for the Golden Bears brings in knowledge of the opening opponent 7th-ranked (USA Today poll) Cardinal on the road in Paolo Alto and the 5-10, 180 pound Dozier is expected to start at corner in that game opposite returning starter Duke Shelley. Dozier had his best season in 2014 with 52 tackles and a team high eight stops against Arizona. His lack of activity since then led to the transfer.
Kansas State is famous for their version of the “Wildcat” formation and sometimes that has been more staple than compliment to the K-State offense. So who runs it this year. Beat writer Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle wrote the other day that in spring it was junior college wide receiver addition Byron Pringle that ran it. The 6-2,205 pound Pringle was the receiving star in spring football and is projected as a major weapon for the Wildcats, but looking back to his high school days at Tampa Robinson High School, he played receiver, running back, defensive back and returned punts and kicks. The throwing part was confirmed with a reported touchdown pass in spring scrimmage to quarterback Joe Hubener.
Snyder is famous for his letter writing. He writes opponents congratulating them on effort, people he reads about complimenting them on achievements or encouraging them through adversity, and now he writes on Twitter. The 76-year-old coach added a Twitter account in April and recently he sent out official scholarship letters to committed and uncommitted recruits alike. The letter is a form letter, but well composed starting with the sentences “You are special. At least, I certainly think so.” It goes on to explain they have been offered a full scholarship to Kansas State. Committed players Ben Adler (guard from Wichita Trinity in Kansas), Anthony Payne (defensive end from Raymore-Peculiar in Missouri), and tackle Harrison Creed (Ulysses, Kansas) and uncommitted prospect cornerback Trey Creamer (Cartersville, Ga.) showed their letters off by re-tweeting.
Expectations are high once again in Norman as Oklahoma began its practices Thursday. There aren’t as many questions surrounding this team, especially at quarterback with Baker Mayfield ready to duplicate or exceed what he did in 2015.
After being in the unusual role of underdog in 2015, this year is back to what OU fans have come to know and sort of come to dread.
OU was ranked No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll Thursday. The last two times OU was ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll? OU went 8-5 (2009, 2014).
For OU it’s all about being ready from the jump with non-conference battles against Houston and Ohio State in the first three weeks. The Cougars were ranked No. 13 with Ohio State at No. 5.
The biggest story remains the unknown status of defensive back Jordan Thomas. Arguably the best cornerback in the conference, nothing was revealed by head coach Bob Stoops on Saturday at media day. Thomas had another off the field incident in the summer, but Stoops said he will let the legal process play out before making a decision. If Thomas were to be suspended for a half/game, it would obviously be a huge blow going against such a high-powered offense of Greg Ward and the Cougars. OU is already having to replace one cornerback with Zack Sanchez currently with the Carolina Panthers, and as of now? Dakota Austin seems to have the edge in that other battle.
Oklahoma State is out in front of the rest of the Big 12 as head coach Mike Gundy welcomed back his squad on Monday, just three days after summer school finals. The Cowboys quickly got in the two “pajama” practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and then put on shoulder pads on Thursday and Friday before a break for Fan Appreciation Day and Media Day on Saturday. The Cowboys start classes earlier than most with the first day on Monday, Aug. 15, and the opener for the season is Saturday, Sept. 3 in Boone Pickens Stadium against Southeastern Louisiana.
With four practices under the belt there is a little more to draw from in trying to size up Oklahoma State’s major issues going into the season. Running the football is the most major and the answer to that question may have to wait until seeing an opposing defense. You know how defenses know their offense so well and the Cowboys return a lot of starters and back-ups on defense. The excitement is there for the arrival of senior graduate transfer Barry J. Sanders from Stanford. The name itself has fans seeing long scoring runs and Houdini-type escapes on the field, but the younger Sanders is not his father. He has some similar qualities but he is also in transition from a pro-style offense at Stanford to the Cowboys spread and no huddle. He is thinking instead of reacting. However, his abilities match-up to the offense, which is similar to the one he was in at Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City in earning U.S. Army All-American honors. Sanders has company as former Butler C.C. standout Chris Carson looks really good and more comfortable than a year ago. Rennie Childs is back and pint size speedster Jeff Carr isn’t as pint size anymore with 13 pounds of muscle added.
Mason Rudolph is the quarterback and is one of the best in a quarterback-rich Big 12, but the back-up role is a battle with walk-on Taylor Cornelius the favorite, John Kolar, and incoming freshman Keondre Wudtee also in the mix. Wudtee is 6-4, 185 pounds and is a really athletic, big-armed, prospect for the future. A red-shirt might be the smartest thing for him and the Cowboys.
The defense has looked good and may be a real foundation for this team as they have at least 6-7 really solid defensive tackles including the really quick 315 pounder inside in former Baylor signee D.Q. Osborne. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, linebackers Chad Whitener and Jordan Burton and safety Jordan Sterns are the knowns, but names keep coming up out of practice on the defensive side.
Recruiting is going well. No 5-star All-Americans but earlier this week wide receiver Shamond Greenwood (6-3, 206, 4.51 speed) out of Garland (Lakeview Centennial), Texas became the 18th commitment in the 2017 class. Oklahoma State has never been parked on 18 pledges prior to the start of a season. Greenwood had offers from Iowa, Mississippi State, Utah, and Wisconsin among others and he was sensational in the Cowboys final mini-camp of the summer.
The Texas Longhorns started fall camp on Saturday.
Kent Perkins, who started at right tackle on offense last season, has moved to right guard.
"I like playing inside," said Perkins, the strongest player on the Texas team (he recently did 39 bench reps of 225). I feel I'm a better player on the inside."
That shift has caused preseason All-Big 12 media selection Patrick Vahe to move from right guard to left guard, alongside preseason All-Big 12 media selection LT Connor Williams as Texas builds its left side of the future on the O-line (or for at least two more seasons).
This shuffling does two things:
1) It helps fortify the all-important "blind side" of the QB on offensive line, and
2) It helps put two experienced and talented guards on either side of true freshman starting center Zach Shackleford who are more than capable of helping Shackleford.
Look for JUCO transfer Tristan Nickelson, a junior, as well as freshmen Patrick Hudson and Denzel Okafor to all battle it out to be the starter at RT against Notre Dame on Sept. 4.
Charlie Strong said he expects to name a starting QB soon so the team can get used to it and so the QB can get used to the players he'll be working with the most. Everyone expects that to be early enrollee freshman Shane Buechele.
The Horned Frogs, ranked second among all Big 12 schools at 14th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, reported on Wednesday and started practice on Thursday, so head coach Gary Patterson and his team were just donning the shoulder pads over the weekend. However, there have already been moves as Patterson said defensive tackle Casey McDermott Vai has been moved to the other side of the ball to offensive guard. The 6-4, 282 pound Vai out of Raytown, Mo., may have been the Frogs best bull rusher, but Patterson feels that will make him a good offensive guard and that is an area where TCU is scrambling a little.
“He is really physical,” Patterson said of Vai. “That is what makes him a great option at guard. He will be knocking people off the ball.”
The major position battle that Horned Frog fans have their eyes on is quarterback where most outsiders think Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill will be the starter named soon. Hill played in 12 games at A&M, started eight, and threw 24 touchdown passes. The competition is hometown quarterback Foster Sawyer, a red-shirt sophomore out of nearby All-Saints Episcopal Academy. I remember when Sawyer was going into his senior season I felt he and current Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were the two best prep quarterbacks that I had seen. Both big, good arms, and good decision makers and students of the game. Sawyer only has played in four games, started one, and thrown just one touchdown pass.
"He's got to roll his sleeves up and not worry about it," Patterson said to the media when the Frogs reported on Wednesday. "He has all the throws, he's a lot more athletic than people give him credit for. But to be a leader and be in that position, you've got to roll your sleeves up, you've got to get ready to get hit in the mouth and get back up and come out swinging."
Several players back from injury have bolstered TCU on the defensive side of the ball including cornerback Ranthony Texada, coming off a knee injury; defensive end James McFarland, who missed last season with a broken toe; another knee victim in linebacker Sammy Douglas; and safety Kenny Iloka is back from a knee injury and Patterson said he is about 90 percent.
Another big change and concern is special teams where kicker Jonathan Song takes over for All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom and Adam Nunez is the leader to replace Ethan Perry at punter.
Texas Tech's annual local media day took place Sunday, a day ahead of the Red Raiders opening fall camp. Two position battles in the trenches emerged from spring and summer ball and could get nasty in camp. At noseguard Ondre Pipkins, a former four-star recruit who transferred in from Michigan before the 2015 season, is battling redshirt freshman Broderick Washington. Word is Pipkins has been a pleasant surprise after losing a lot of weight and proving he is healthy. Washington is ahead of schedule and one of the strongest guys on the roster. No matter who starts, both will play a lot.
On the other side of the ball, four of the five starting offensive line positions appear to be locked up with Madison Akamnonu and Paul Stawarz duking it out at guard for the final spot. Akamnonu, a redshirt freshman, is a former four-star recruit with freakish measurables. He's also packed on over 30 pounds of muscle since hitting campus and is up to 315. Stawarz, a junior college transfer who redshirted at Tech last season, immediately impressed last fall camp and was in line for playing time before an injury ended his camp and eventually shut down his season.
The Mountaineers opened camp on Tuesday, Aug. 2 with an established offense but lots of holes to fill on defense. Gone to NFL camps are the entire starting linebacking corps and four of the five secondary starters, leaving a massive rebuilding job on that side of the ball. During the first week, the WVU coaching staff has been rolling a number of players in and out in the back end of the defense to get a level set on the abilities of those vying for jobs.
At linebacker, veterans Justin Arndt and Sean Walters have the early edge at the two outside spots, bracketing Al-Rasheed Benton in the middle. There are promising, and perhaps more athletic, contenders behind them in the form of Xavier Preston and David Long, the latter of whom has been singled out by many for his play in the spring. Both need to show more consistency and a better grasp of the defense if they are to make strong pushes for a starting slot. Top recruit Brendan Ferns is also getting a long look early on to see if he can make the leap from high school star to Division I contributor in just a few months.
Nana Kyeremeh and Rasul Douglas head a big group of cornerbacks who have little playing time between them, and which undoubtedly will be targeted early on by the large group of returning Big 12 quarterbacks. WVU brought in several junior college players to try to fill that void, including Elijah Battle and Mike Daniels, and also welcomed Iowa graduate transfer Maurice Fleming and Antonio Crawford, who sat out last season as a transfer from Miami. The competition at cornerback is just getting underway, and it won't be a surprise to see a lot of jockeying for position over the next couple of weeks.