Baylor kicks off its spring practice later today. Let's take a closer look at what you can expect.
Schedule: The first of Baylor's practices will be today, concluding with a spring game in Waco on April 6. The Bears usually hold a controlled scrimmage at the practice field as part of a day-long festival, rather than a game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
What's new: Not a whole lot beyond the loss of skill position talent, which is welcome news for the Bears. There weren't any staff changes for Baylor this offseason, and we'll talk a bit more later about the factors that could make Baylor a dangerous team carrying the Big 12's longest winning streak (four games) into the 2013 season. No one else in the league has a streak of more than one game.
New faces: Baylor is welcoming four players onto the practice field this spring as early enrollees from its 2013 recruiting class. Junior college transfer Gus Penning brings some size to the tight end spot at 6-foot-5 and 245 yards, and he's joined by quarterback Chris Johnson, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat passer. Receiver Kiante' Griffin and linebacker Brian Nance are also suiting up this spring.
Getting defensive: This is Year 3 under Phil Bennett, but we saw some major, major improvement late in 2012. The Bears had a similar jump in 2011, but it didn't stick through 2012. The pieces are in place with guys like Chris McAllister, Bryce Hager, Eddie Lackey and Ahmad Dixon, but every time I visit Waco in the spring, the defense gets worked over. We may get an idea of their progress this spring in scrimmages and workouts. Progress has to happen now if Baylor's ever going to take the leap to Big 12 title contender.
Question marks: Does Baylor have enough firepower at receiver to keep its offense rolling? We'll talk about quarterbacks later, but the Bears lose Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson, and I don't necessarily buy Tevin Reese as a ton more than a deep threat who stretches the field. Can guys like Levi Norwood or Antwan Goodley become big threats underneath? Look out for tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk to play a bigger role in the offense, too. They've got tons of experience.
Breaking out: LT Spencer Drango. He had a great first season on Baylor's offensive line, but look out for the former blue-chip recruit to start looking like one of the Big 12's best offensive linemen alongside Cyril Richardson. He's already solid, but he may blossom into a star this offseason.
Much to prove: RB Lache Seastrunk. He turned heads and produced headlines when he predicted he'd win the Heisman next season, but Baylor's got a solid group of backs and we'll see how he handles the bulk of the first-team reps and the attention that comes with his bold proclamation. He's got the skills to back it up, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of tone he strikes in interviews this spring.
All eyes on: QB Bryce Petty. If Baylor's going to continue this run, it simply has to be excellent at quarterback. I'm not ready to completely write off Seth Russell, but I love what I've seen from Petty in my visits to practice in Waco the past couple springs. He's got a big, NFL-quarterback body at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, and a big arm, but decision-making and ability to move the offense is something you can't tell until it's time to take over the team. That time is now for Petty.