Can Iowa State find a way to improve its running game? Will Texas' quarterbacks adapt to a new system? Who will win Oklahoma State's position battle? Our Big 12 notebook addresses those questions -- and Kansas State coach Ron Prince's growing legend -- and much more.
Shawn Bell has taken quickly to new offensive coordinator Lee Hays' spread passing offense. His assimilation has been aided by his strength in the short timing routes that the new offense emphasizes. Hays' younger brother, Todd, was a silver medalist in the 2002 Winter Olympics in the four-man bobsled. Sophomore LB Marcus Mead is expected to miss most of the spring after offseason hand surgery. ... Hays and defensive coordinator Bill Bradley have "roving" duties as coaches and are not coaching specific positions on their units. Wide receivers Carl Sims (basketball) and Queito Teasley (track) and LB Joe Pawelek (baseball) all have had their spring workouts curtailed because of their participation in other sports.
Former Colorado QB Darian Hagan has been moved to coaching running backs after directing wide receivers last year. "Now, it's my show, my opportunity to get into the meeting room and express myself," Hagan told the Rocky Mountain News. Among the additions to the Colorado roster include transfer RB Mell Holliday, who formerly walked on at Nebraska but never played for the Cornhuskers. Coach Dan Hawkins is excited about the return of junior CB Terrence Wheatley, who missed last season with a wrist injury, and senior WR Blake Mackey, who was kept out last season with a knee injury. Hawkins has said there are "no locked positions on the team, with the possible exception of Mason Crosby [the Buffaloes' returning All-America kicker]." DE Alex Ligon will miss spring practice with a torn pectoral muscle.
Among the Cyclones who will miss spring practice are starting C Scott Stephenson, redshirt freshman TE Eric Schultz and freshman DB Joe Conklin. With DE Jason Berryman dismissed from the team, sophomore DE Travis Ferguson and Nick Frere will battle to replace the Cyclones' leading sack producer and tackler on the defensive line. ISU coach Dan McCarney earnestly believes in the importance of spring practice. "I would fight for spring ball with every ounce of my body, because I think it's a great time to develop your program, to develop your team," McCarney said. One particular spring aim for the Cyclones will be to boost production in their running game. ISU ranked only 96th nationally last season. "One of the goals this year is to be more physical and more effective running the football," McCarney said. "We've done it before and we can do it again. For various reasons, we were not as effective as we needed to be last year." As recently as 1999-2001, ISU ranked 17th, 17th and 34th nationally in rushing, but has been 61st, 91st, 73rd and 96th in the last four seasons, bottoming out at 110.6 rushing yards per game last season. With TB Stevie Hicks returning to health, look for the Cyclones to run the ball better during the spring and next season.
Starting C David Ochoa has moved to guard with Ryan Cantrell receiving work at center. "This is probably the most comfortable I've felt as a unit all the way across," Ochoa told the Lawrence Journal-World. "I know a lot of people say that because it's the p.c. thing to say, but I honestly feel that. The communication is better, and the thing is, we generally have a concern about what the other person is doing next to us and their well-being." ... Senior defensive lineman Eric Butler has returned to practice, although his eligibility in the fall remains in question. Butler originally enrolled in 2001 at DeVry University and later transferred at Avila College, where he played football for one season. Kansas coach Mark Mangino has been determined to build a more physical offensive line. With nine of 10 top players returning from last season, it might be the deepest position on the Jayhawks' roster. "We're pretty athletic, but we need to be more physical," Mangino told the Wichita Eagle. "A lot of that has to do with the weight room. I think those kids have really dedicated themselves to getting bigger and strong. I really like the way they look."
New coach Ron Prince will allow a little more exposure during the spring than his predecessor Bill Snyder ever considered. Most practices will be closed, although Friday workouts during the spring will be open to all KSU students, faculty and staff with a valid school ID. Saturday practices will be open to all fans and the media. "I want to know if our players can perform and catch the ball in front of people," Prince said. "So we will have some open practices to help determine that. I'm really excited to see which [players] have competitive toughness and want to perform when something is on the line." ... The Manhattan Mercury has begun publishing claims of Prince's toughness, along the lines of the "Saturday Night Live" character Bill Brasky. Among the humorous claims the newspaper has made about Prince include that they once tried to make a Clue game starring the KSU coach, but it didn't go over well because the answer was always the same -- Ron Prince, in the library, with a pancake block.
TB Connell Davis has been one of the biggest surprises during spring work for the Tigers. Davis is receiving extended playing time as Tony Temple recovers from shoulder surgery. The Tigers picked up some much-needed depth at linebacker with the late addition of junior college LB Quran Barge from College of the Sequoias (Calif.). Barge plans to join the team in time for fall practice. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel hopes to tweak the pace of his spread offense, perhaps making the Tigers even faster between plays than they were last season, which was the first season of the new spread offense. The Tigers averaged more plays per game than any Division I-A team with 81.75 offensive snaps per game last year. Biggest task for Missouri this spring will be finding three new starters to join FS David Overstreet in the secondary. Missouri's early depth chart has Brandon Massey ahead at strong safety and freshman Domonique Johnson and sophomore Darnell Terrell at cornerback.
DE Adam Carriker has added 15 pounds over the winter and plans to play at 295 pounds this fall. Carriker, who led Nebraska with 9 ½ sacks last season, should be even more dominant with the added weight. "He's about as physically impressive an end as I've been around," Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "He's done a great job working out, getting bigger and getting stronger. He's really changed his body around in a short period of time." Nebraska coach Bill Callahan has hinted that inside running will play a big role in determining who emerges at I-back. The Cornhuskers have been running some drills against stacked numbers of defenders to test the contenders." In close quarters, it's imperative that you create an attitude about yourself when you run the football, to get downhill and to puncture and push the pile 4 or 5 yards and create that extra yard for your average," Callahan told the Omaha World-Herald. "So we want to look at those guys in a very isolated drill where we can heat them up, lather them up and watch them compete." Season ticket prices for Nebraska home games will increase by an average of $3 per ticket for this season. Season-ticket holders will pay an average of $48 per game, with Nebraska faculty and staff paying $45. Student tickets remain unchanged at $21 per game.
WR Lendy Holmes, who produced two receptions in limited playing time last season, has moved to cornerback. One of the major reasons for the switch was a knee injury to CB Brian Jackson, who redshirted last season. Other position changes include DE Brody Eldridge to tight end, S Reggie Smith to cornerback and DB Lewis Baker to linebacker. Coach Bob Stoops expects a recovery by TB Jacob Gutierrez, who will miss spring practice while recovering from knee surgery after an injury that occurred covering a kickoff in the Holiday Bowl. "I don't think there's any question he'll back for fall camp," Stoops said. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson wasn't satisfied with last season, despite the Sooners' fast finish that culminated with a victory over Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. "We're used to being better than 8-4," Wilson said. "As a team, we didn't have the success that we have expected around here in the past." DE Larry Birdine, a standout in 2004 who missed last season with a ruptured bicep, has returned to provide depth at one of the Sooners' strongest positions. "Larry is a spark plug, and in the previous years, had some great years for us," Stoops said. "We expect him to come back and be that kind of player again." RB Allen Patrick produced 28 yards and scored a touchdown in OU's first spring scrimmage. Stoops was pleased with his defense's performance. "We're much farther along than a year ago," Stoops said. "There are just a lot fewer mistakes."
Three transfers have been impressive at the Cowboys' early practice and could contend for a starting position in the fall. S Clint Coe (Troy State), WR Adarius Bowman (North Carolina) and LBs Marcus Brown (Air Force) all have shown strong work so far this spring While the battle between Bobby Reid, Al Pena, Zac Robinson and Alex Cate at quarterback is getting most of the attention, coach Mike Gundy also is looking for two new starters on the offensive line. Freshman Noah Franklin, Andrew Lewis and Andrew Lawrence all are in the hunt at vacancies at both guard positions. Jason Ricks and Bruce "Sunshine" Redden will contest the kicking position throughout the spring. Ricks, a scholarship player, provided 11-of-14 field goals in 2004 before missing last season. Redden, a walk-on, converted 11-of-16 field goals last season in his place Converted S Jeremy Nethon, who missed last season, has been an early producer at linebacker.
How hot is the buzz around the defending national champions? NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip's No. 99 "Aaron's Dream Machine" will be adorned with a large commemorative national championship decal on the hood in the Busch Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway on April 8. After the first part of spring practice has been completed, coach Mack Brown is hopeful that his team will realize the importance of the last few days of spring work. "We told them today, 'You better have some urgency,' because there are a lot of positions that are up for grabs and we'll be making decisions by the day now," Brown said. "Obviously, the way they play in the scrimmages and the way they play in the spring game will have a big impact not only where they leave spring, but also on where they start in the fall." Texas coaches are making a concerted effort to make Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead both work under center. Both freshmen quarterbacks both worked almost exclusively in shotgun offenses while in high school. "This is something new for them, but it's healthy," Brown said. "We're working both Colt and Jevan with the first team now so that they both worked with that huddle and they both worked with that [first-team] center so they are not uncomfortable with sitting in that setting." CB Tarell Brown worked briefly at the start of spring practice, but will miss the rest of the spring after breaking his arm in the Rose Bowl. His absence will give backup Erick Jackson a chance for more playing time during the spring.
The Aggies returned to practice last week after taking a week off for spring break. Coach Dennis Franchione said he could tell a difference in his defense after the break. "This was the first day I thought they played with less tentativeness," Franchione told the Bryan-College Station Eagle on his team's first day back at practice. "The first five days, they were still mentally unsure of themselves, so they weren't as quick on the first step or as confident, which is understandable. But today, I thought they played a little more aggressive, physical and a little quicker." S Stephen Hodge returned to practice after the break after missing the first five practices with a strained quad. And TB Courtney Lewis will miss the rest of spring practice to concentrate on his academics. "We know what Courtney is capable of on the football field, and he's totally familiar with our offense after having been a key player in it the last three seasons," Franchione said.
With the addition of new field turf at Jones SBC Stadium, the Red Raiders have moved their spring practices about a mile away from the team's old practice facility, which has served as a haven for jackrabbits. "I think there was more rabbit poop than anything else out there," Tech QB Graham Harrell told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "It's what the fields were made of, seemed like. There had to be hundreds [of rabbits] out behind those trees, just waiting to get back on our field." The construction work at the stadium will force Tech to play its spring game at Lowery Field, a Lubbock high school stadium, on April 15. Sophomore DE McKinner Dixon, whose development allowed Keyunta Dawson to move to linebacker earlier in the spring, will have his practices curtailed because of academic concerns. Dixon will miss Tech's Monday and Wednesday practices during the spring -- a similar schedule that Tech coach Mike Leach used to ensure that Taurean Henderson kept his eligibility last season. Sophomore CB Daniel Charbonnet, a transfer from Duke, has moved back to his original position with the Red Raiders after working at safety during his redshirt season. Leach's wife, Sharon, gave him a TiVo over the offseason. "It's the greatest thing," Leach said. "You can really maximize your television watching. I like it a lot." Leach also said he makes time to watch "Desperate Housewives" each week, thanks to his TiVo.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.