During the Big 12 spring teleconference this week, Baylor coach Art Briles was not bashful about touting his defensive line, which is loaded with potential if somewhat short on experience.
“I’ve been saying it for four months,” Briles said, “I would put our D-line up against any D-line in the United States of America, when you’re looking at six- or seven-deep personnel and say, hey, let’s roll the ball out there and let’s play, let’s see who’s better.
“I think our guys are really good up there.”
The Big 12 could be chock-full of talented defensive lines this season.
Oklahoma basically returns the entire unit -- led by ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper -- that overwhelmed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners will also be getting back tackle Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level last season before undergoing season-ending back surgery in early October. Tackle Charles Walker, who redshirted as a freshman last fall, has been turning heads, and reportedly ran the fastest defensive tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) since Bob Stoops became coach.
TCU could be formidable up front, too, especially if end Devonte Fields returns to his 2012 Big 12 Defensive-Freshman-of-the-Year-form, as Horned Frogs defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas suggested he had this week.
Baylor, however, has a chance to field a defensive line as good as any in the league.
Billings, a four-star signee last year who chose the Bears over Texas, instantly became a key rotation player inside as a true freshman. Blackshear started last season but is getting pushed for that starting spot by Magee, who shined in the spring after sitting out last season due to a personal issue. Like Billings, Magee was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Oregon.
The Bears are talented on the outside, as well.
Shawn Oakman, who was sixth in the Big 12 with 12.5 tackles-for-loss last season, will take over a full-time starting spot. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, Oakman has the size to be a dominant player. He showed that during the spring.
“I think the same thing I’ve thought all spring -- we can’t block him,” Briles said after the Bears’ spring game. “And I don’t think anybody else will either.”
Opposite Oakman will be returning starter Jamal Palmer as well as Sam Ukwuachu, who will be eligible this season after transferring in from Boise State last year. Ukwuachu was a starter for the Broncos in 2012 as a redshirt freshman and was second on the team in sacks.
The Bears have questions elsewhere defensively. At linebacker, only Bryce Hager returns, and he was out this spring recovering from a groin injury. In the secondary, only safety Terrell Burt comes back, and he also missed spring ball recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
But Baylor could overcome those questions in its back seven with a dominating defensive line -- something Briles firmly believes he’ll have in 2014.
“These guys can play, and they’re good,” he said. “I really think these guys are that special up front.”