In this week’s Big 12 roundtable, we’re offering some early impressions on spring practices around the conference.
What’s been the most interesting spring development in the Big 12 thus far?
Mitch Sherman: The Joel Lanning experiment. Iowa State’s senior quarterback traded a green jersey, which protects him from contact, for a white shirt in the midst of the Cyclones’ first spring practice on Feb. 28. He’s trying out linebacker this spring, and Lanning looks the part at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds. Still, this is a guy who started 14 games at QB over the past two seasons and has thrown for 2,537 yards. When transfer Jacob Park won the job late last season, Lanning didn’t pout. He likely could have competed elsewhere in 2017 as a graduate transfer. But he kept faith in Iowa State and hopes to show his versatility with work at multiple offensive positions -- and possibly on defense too -- in hopes of getting a shot at the NFL next year.
Jake Trotter: I was very intrigued by Oklahoma State’s decision to slide Ramon Richards from corner to safety. Not only was he OSU’s only experienced corner, Richards at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds doesn’t have traditional safety size. Now the Cowboys are banking on finding reliable corners from a pool of unproven players in a league where covering the pass is paramount. If they stick with the experiment, they’re gambling that Richards can hold up in his new position. This is a gamble that could pay off, as Richards could prove to be a terrific cover safety in the mold of West Virginia’s Dravon Askew-Henry. But given the uncertainty at corner, the Pokes are making a considerable gamble here.
Max Olson: Tom Herman starting the spring by saying he won’t pick a quarterback until August was interesting to me for a few reasons. It means he’s serious about holding a wide-open competition between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger throughout the spring and summer. It also puts some serious pressure on Buechele to take a big step forward going into his sophomore year. Can Ehlinger win over teammates the way Buechele did last year?
Who is a key player to watch this spring?
Sherman: I’m intrigued by Will Grier. Considering West Virginia’s depth behind him, his continued development looms larger than large for the Mountaineers. And the addition of Jake Spavital as offensive coordinator adds further urgency for Grier to get on track this spring and stay on track. The margin for error at West Virginia always is a bit smaller than for power programs in Texas and Oklahoma, requiring times of major change in personnel to go smoothly.
Trotter: At Oklahoma’s pro day, there was a significant buzz about the resurgence of running back Rodney Anderson, who apparently has been turning heads over winter workouts. With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who both tested for scouts at pro day, gone, the Sooners have a huge hold in their backfield alongside quarterback Baker Mayfield. Much of the hype, including from us, has centered on newcomers Trey Sermon and Marcelias Sutton, who both have the chance to be terrific additions next season and beyond. But we shouldn’t forget about Anderson, who is easy to overlook coming off a pair of season-ending injuries. Anderson had been generating quite a bit of noise before those injuries. It sounds like that buzz is back.
Olson: The early buzz I’ve heard on Texas Tech cornerback Octavious Morgan has been strong, and that’s a big deal for the Red Raiders. He’s one of three touted junior college transfers who arrived this winter to bolster Texas Tech’s struggling secondary, and those guys need to live up to the hype if this defense is going to get back on track and help Tech get back to a bowl game this fall. They need more physical playmakers like him on the back end as soon as possible.
What’s a key position battle to watch this spring?
Sherman: Sticking with my quarterback theme, I’m looking forward to the competition between Baylor quarterbacks Zach Smith and Anu Solomon when spring practice opens for the Bears on March 18. Solomon, the graduate transfer from Arizona, took on a huge academic load in December so he could enroll at Baylor in time for spring ball. Coming off a big bowl performance, Smith is bigger than Solomon and more connected to their offensive teammates. But don’t discount Solomon’s savvy and experience in the Pac-12.
Trotter: The most important position battle in the Big 12 is happening in Austin, where, for almost a decade, Texas has tried to adequately find a successor to Colt McCoy. Buechele had the look of finally giving the Horns their QB of the future early on last season, but faded down the stretch. Now, with a new coaching staff and the arrival of Ehlinger, Texas is staging another full-blown QB competition. The only way Texas takes a major step forward again is if one of those two becomes an elite Big 12 quarterback.
Olson: We mentioned it in Tuesday’s mailbag, but I’ll bring it up again: The backup quarterback battle at Oklahoma State might not seem like a big deal today, but it will be a year from now. I’m excited to see how Taylor Cornelius, John Kolar, Keondre Wudtee and Jelani Woods respond to their opportunity this spring because somebody has to replace Mason Rudolph in 2018. Whoever wins the No. 2 job will have an intriguing edge going into a big transition.