March 14, 2010

Baylor hopes this is the year drought ends

This time last year, there was more optimism in Waco than at any time since the inception of the Big 12.

With dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin leading the way, Baylor figured to end a 15-year postseason absence. Then, Griffin endured a season-ending torn right ACL in the third game and it was obvious the drought would extend to 16 years.

But Griffin is recovering, and if he shows signs of his pre-injury form, the postseason optimism will spike again. If the Bears can make significant progress in the offensive line and secondary, the optimism level may go off the chart.

Here's a look at the Bears as they prepare to open spring practice.

BAYLOR AT-A-GLANCE
Quarterback Robert Griffin returns after missing most of last season.
THE BASICS
COACH: Art Briles
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 1-7 in the Big 12.
SPRING DATES: March 15-April 10
RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (7): T Philip Blake, QB Nick Florence, G John Jones, WR Lanear Sampson, G Ivory Wade, T Danny Watkins, WR Kendall Wright.
DEFENSE (6): CB Tim Atchison, CB Chance Casey, LB Antonio Johnson, E Tracy Robertson, E Zac Scotton, T Phil Taylor.
SPECIAL TEAMS (1): P Derek Epperson.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Baylor may be better and deeper at quarterback than any other team in the quarterback-rich Big 12. Robert Griffin, as physically gifted as any quarterback in the nation, is returning from an injury that sidelined him most of last season. While he was out, then-freshman Nick Florence stepped in and passed for more than 200 yards in six of eight games. And although star LB Joe Pawelek completed his eligibility, the Bears feel they're sound there with returning starter Antonio Jones joined by senior Chris Francis and sophomores Chris McAllister and LeQuince McCall.

HELP IS NEEDED

Although four starters return on the offensive line, no job is safe. That's because the Bears endured the double whammy of allowing 31 sacks and struggling to run last season. Some players may change positions and incoming prospects will challenge for starting jobs. The secondary also needs some serious work with both of last season's starting safeties, particularly All-Big 12 selection Jordan Lake, gone.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

WR Josh Gordon: With WR David Gettis completing his eligibility, a starting job is up for grabs. Gordon has the speed and size (6 feet 4, 211 pounds). He only had one catch as a freshman, but will get many opportunities this spring to show that he can be a starter.

OT Robert T. Griffin: No, not that Robert Griffin. This one is a 6-6, 345-pound junior college transfer from Navarro (Texas) College who could immediately take over a starting job. He could team with Danny Watkins to give the Bears a solid set of tackles and perhaps allow '09 starting RT Philip Blake to move inside.

S Prince Kent: A four-star prep school prospect, Kent has excellent size (6-3/200). He'll contend for a starting job right away.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DT Phil Taylor: Much was expected last season from Taylor, a highly touted transfer from Penn State. But Taylor managed just 25 tackles and even lost his starting job on a few occasions. Unless he raises his level of play this season as a senior, he could have the stigma of being a disappointment for two programs.

THE BUZZ

Robert Griffin is a key for the Bears. Both of them. Although he may see limited action, Griffin the quarterback needs a solid spring to shows he's progressing from a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Griffin the offensive tackle needs to show he can help upgrade the offensive line. If those things happen, the Bears could be dangerous offensively this fall. Fingers also are crossed that the defense will be bolstered by some youngsters. Baylor hasn't appeared in a bowl since 1994, but a good spring would bring hope that that dubious streak would end.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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