Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Notes and developments around the Big 12

As nice as it is to keep tabs on spring practice, where many starting jobs are won or lost, fall two-a-days are where teams really hammer home their identity and depth chart after offseason drills and a chance for freshman to prove themselves.

I'm going to collect some notes and thoughts on stuff that's been floating around on different Big 12 teams. If you're looking for Texas coverage, I'm doing lots of that over at Inside Texas with a column coming out in the morning on how Texas can use Daje Johnson to replace their departing tight end Geoff Swaim.


If you want to stay abreast with inside info on what's going on at Oklahoma, you can actually do it for free courtesy of the Football Brainiacs. Here are some of my thoughts on stuff they've reported.

They don't seem to have QB settled at all, which is surely concerning for them because their skill talent is absurdly loaded for 2015. Dede Westbrook could be a dominant slot receiver, Sterling Shephard is back, Samaje Perine is back, and practice reports make Joe Mixon sound like the 2nd coming of Barry Sanders.

This is why so many people have Oklahoma 3rd on their preseason Big 12 ballots or as a "darkhorse" (LOL, how can this ever apply to Oklahoma?) Big 12 contender.

There doesn't seem to be anything unexpected brewing in Norman for this coming year, the big thing to watch for will be whether their QBs can avoid turnovers (not a strong suit of Mayfield or Knight in the past) and whether they can get the kind of coverage they need at corner to aggressively deploy their big, physical safeties.

Actually, we still don't know if their DL will be good sans Jordan Phillips, whether they can protect Striker in the run game with a great 3-tech, or whether years of coaching from Tim Kish will actually make their experienced LBs any good this coming year.

For all their talent, I'm thinking Bob Stoops' culture has stagnated and will underachieve again. Perhaps Lincoln Riley buys him more time, like Harsin did for Mack Brown, perhaps not. It's defense that will drag them down, a Stoops team that can't win with defense doesn't have long term sustainability.

Kansas State

As noted in this practice report, the Wildcats seem to be figuring out their depth chart in multiple spots. Jesse Ertz is leading the pack at QB, and given that he's actually a really quick runner in addition to being a solid passer that's probably a good thing for Snyder's bunch.

They seem to be very fond of their WR corps even though they just lost two 1k yard receivers in Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Kyle Klein and DeAntre Burton seem to be the focal points but the fact that they brought former walk on Stanton Weber to Big 12 media days tells me he might figure in prominently as a slot receiver.

Apparently Dominique Heath got 1st team reps at receiver in that practice, and the 5'9" 175 pound speedster is probably their next Tyler Lockett if he can learn to run routes with similar precision. When Lockett was just a young lad they'd go five-wide, send most everyone deep, and then let Lockett find open space underneath where Klein could hit him on a slant or out route. You'd guess Ertz or whomever and Heath could also find success with that play.

On defense they seem to be leaning towards Donnie Starks at nickel and Sean Newlan at free safety, which is interesting since Nate Jackson and Kaleb Prewett were thought to have the inside tracks on those jobs in the spring. K-State fans have been buzzing about Newlan for some time, a former track star who's been learning to play safety after serving as a QB in high school.

Another Kansas HS star, Tanner Wood, has ballooned to 263 pounds (played at 235 in high school) and is probably going to feature prominently at DE this year. This dude set a HS record with 659 rushing yards in a single game...greatness seems inevitable for him.

If someone underachieves in 2015 K-State is, like always, probably a good bet to be one of the teams that benefits and does better than expected. Their defense looks like it could be quite good and if they have a credible passing game they'll be much more dangerous than expected.

Oklahoma State

Victor Salako seems to have locked down the left tackle position, as expected, and allowed Michael Wilson to move to guard. That this actually worked out is a big deal and will have a major impact on whether they can build a good offense around their skill talent.

The other incoming transfers seem to be getting well reviewed as well, which is important because they need DT Motekiai Maile and RB Chris Carson to fill holes in their team left by departing seniors. The fact that Indiana transfer CB Michael Hunter seems to be doing well just seems unfair given how much depth they already had at corner.

Oklahoma State is a pretty good looking football team and my own preferred darkhorse candidate rather than the Sooners.

Texas Tech

Still no word on whether star freshman Pat Mahomes will win the starting QB job from Davis Webb but you figure he will, even as good as Webb was last year.

Word from their summer workouts seems to be that Keenon Ward is one of the guys at safety with Justis Nelson also drawing positive attention at corner. They've moved Gaines to corner, which probably makes Nigel Bethel the odd man out, while Tevin Madison is locking down the nickel spot.

In Gibbs' 46-inspired system the goal is to feature coverage at the nickel and corner spots since they don't have to be as active in run support. Thus, it's not a big deal to have a little guy like 5'10" 166 pound Madison at the nickel whereas in a scheme like Oklahoma State's they want a bigger, space-backer type there. They still need Ward to prove he can erase things in run-support but if they have three ball-hawking DBs in Madison, Nelson, and Gaines that's a promising start. The number one thing Gibbs is going to want to achieve is to leverage Robertson's ability to bring pressure into interceptions on the back end.

A really big info bomb is that Mike Mitchell has moved from weakside linebacker to Pete Robertson's rush-end position. That's big both because it might open the door for D'Vonta Hinton to start at linebacker and because it might indicate that Tech's ability to bring pressure won't fall off a cliff when Robertson takes his face paint to the NFL.

Rika Levi is working to get into the NFL and has received positive reviews. He's a massive dude that can move pretty well, the issue for him has always been getting his weight down and conditioning up so that he can perform multiple explosive movements in a game rather than just a few snaps worth. A big year from him would have a major impact for their run D, which is usually crappy. Everything I read about him makes me think David Gibbs is going to turn out to have been a fantastic hire for Kingsbury.

We all know the offense will score points.


The main stories coming out of Waco seem to revolve around Seth Russell lighting things up in a scrimmage, which is par for the course for a Bear QB, and various 61-58 trolling by their team.

The big issue for them is simply if Russell can take care of the ball and if they get better corner play. Russell takes up the torch and Xavien Howard becomes a lockdown corner? They're probably going to win the league. If not, well...


The Frogs seem to be counting on freshman LB Mike Freeze coming through for them in a big way, which I would find concerning as a TCU fan, especially given that the DBs flanking him at strong and weak safety will also be new starters. I'm just not sure how good this interior will be but I will say this, Denzel Johnson (strong safety) and Mike Freeze are athletic talents that will probably be really freaking good before all is said and done.

Obviously the big thing is that there keep emerging new stories of how Kolby Listenbee has stepped up at WR and Boykin knows the offense like the back of his hand now. This group is going to score a lot of points and the defense is at least going to be solid...that's been a Big 12-winning recipe in Waco a couple of times.


I refuse to pay attention to this Kansas team until they win a game or they are about to play Texas.

Iowa State

Marco Rubio probably isn't going to push Sam Richardson at QB for the Cyclones. They're hoping South Carolina transfer Jhaustin Thomas, a 6-5 265 pound end, can help them replace Cory Morrissey at right end. As I've noted many times, the Cyclone defense really needs some pass rush at end to make their system work as intended.

Another worry for the Cyclones is that they'll have to heavily involve Sam Richardson in order to have a good running game and it seems clear at this point that he can't really take the punishment to carry a run game over the course of a season.

West Virginia

One thing I love about Holgorsen and West Virginia is that they don't mind telling the media what they are going to do. Not an overly secretive bunch, they're more worried about executing their system than whether or not opposing coaches can find out from the local media that they're back in the 3-3-5 defense. Anyways, they've released a depth chart.

They've listed Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood at different positions, so you can probably expect them to play a lot of 20 and 21 personnel with Smallwood moving all over the place and serving as a featured weapon in their offense. Kevin White's brother Ka'Raun is already listed as the starter at X receiver so that should be interesting. It's not yet clear, evidently, if Cajuste will allow Pankey to play inside at guard or not. That's pretty crucial as they need to be good at guard and running the football to get the most out of Smallwood.

JUCO DE Larry Jefferson doesn't seem to be the answer to a weak pass rush since he's currently 3rd team, it'll probably have to be Nwachukwu. The secondary still looks good but you wonder if the LBs and DL can get a pass-rush or not.

There's a lot of "wait and see" for me with this team but it's possible to see things breaking pretty positively for them.

When does the season start again?

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