WACO, Texas -- Baylor hasn’t had a difficult decision at quarterback in a long time. Doesn’t seem like there’s one now, either.
The defending back-to-back Big 12 champs took the field for their first spring practice Tuesday with junior Seth Russell taking the majority of the first-string snaps as expected. The returning leaders of the nation’s top offense made it clear they’re rallying around him.
“He’s shown us that he is the leader of this team,” tackle Spencer Drango said. “As far as who has the position, I still think it’s up in the air and for the coaches to decide. But Seth has stepped up to fill that leadership role that’s been vacated by other guys.”
The fourth-year passer is drawing rave reviews from his peers for his “freaky” athleticism, and the Bears think they’ve developed a gem who’s ready to roll after two years as Bryce Petty’s understudy. Sophomore Chris Johnson and touted freshman Jarrett Stidham have some catching up to do if they intend to make this a battle.
“Right now, Seth is going to have to get beat out,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “He’s the guy that’s been here, knows the system and we’ll see how those other guys develop.”
There’s nothing controversial about that plan in the eyes of his players. Just ask receiver Corey Coleman, who arrived at Baylor in the same class as Russell and might be his biggest advocate.
“I see the fire in the kid’s face when he has a football in his hands,” Coleman said. “Throwing ability, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. And that’s not a lie. That’s the truth. That kid has a bright future.”
The transitions Baylor made from Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence to Petty could not have been any smoother. The next guy in line recognizes how important his duty is to ensure there’s zero drop-off.
“It’s a huge responsibility, being able to go out there with the guys you love and being able to continue the legacy set here already,” Russell said. “I’m following in some big, big shoes with the past quarterbacks and being able to step into them is going to be fun.”
Russell’s lone career start at Baylor merited Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, a six-TD performance in one half against Northwestern State in place of an injured Petty. He’s played in 14 other games, yet remains a relative unknown on the national radar.
His fellow Bears say that’ll soon change. Their pickup hoops games last summer offered the first hint of Russell’s freak gifts.
Coleman goes so far as to say the 6-foot-3, 222-pound quarterback would be his first selection in any pickup game. Which begs the question: What, what? He’s going with Russell over Shawn Oakman, Baylor’s 6-foot-9, 280-pound monstrosity at defensive end?
“Uh ... yeah,” Coleman says. “We’d throw each other some oops, have some fun. I don’t know if Oak can do all that. I know he can bring it down, though.”
Russell can run, too. The last 40 time he clocked was 4.49. Briles calls his ability to scramble when plays break down an X factor, though the staff is staying away from designed run calls for now to protect Russell’s health.
As for leadership, Baylor players admire the example Russell has continued to set. Coleman guessed his quarterback goes to bed around 8:40 every night. He’s never looking for off-field trouble. He’s dependable. That’s a trait Briles -- forever hunting for what he calls “predictable outcomes” -- greatly values.
But before Russell is anointed anything, he must first play up to that level of predictability Art and Kendal Briles demand in spring practice. The job must still be won.
“He hasn’t said anything’s set in stone yet,” Russell said, “so I have to go out and prove myself.”
If his teammates’ bold boasts prove true, that should be no problem.
“They gonna know real fast,” Coleman said. “They gonna know real fast. That’s all I really have to say."