Baylor University’s football program is coming off of arguably its best year in history.
Posting only its second 10-win season, an Alamo Bowl championship, third place in the Big 12 and a Heisman trophy winner, the Bears defied all expectations with their play this season.
The only question that remains is, will they be able to sustain this success?
The following is a brief overview of Baylor’s needs by position that could be filled through recruiting.
Note: The list of potential commits will be confirmed and analyzed deeper after National Signing Day on Wednesday, February 1.
Key Losses: Tracy Robertson, Defense Tackle
Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Nose Tackle
Needs: Baylor has to work on multiple aspects of its defense, the line not withstanding.
The Bears already ranked 97th in the NCAA for rush defense and with the loss of powerful nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and perimeter threat Tracy Robertson, there is going to be a huge void to fill on the line to just keep pace with last year’s performance.
Baylor is looking to not only fill the run gap, but increase speed on overall defense as well.
Potential Commits: Jamal Palmer, Defense End
Palmer shows the explosive ability and thick frame that could be put to great use stopping the run and rushing the quarterback.
Javonte Magee, Defensive Tackle
Magee also possesses the ability to jump off the ball, but brings with that a good set of hands to cause some much-needed turnovers.
Key Loss: Elliot Coffey
Needs: Whether they promote from within or start a freshman, whoever comes in to replace Elliot Coffey at starting linebacker is going to have big shoes to fill. He is the Bears’ leading tackler, ties second for most turnovers combined and is one of the most talented players on the defensive side of the ball.
What Baylor needs to focus on for this position is finding an explosive, fearsome linebacker; a player that can break off the snap count and be in the quarterback’s face before he can even line up the laces. The Bears also need to find someone who can drop back into coverage, tackle effectively and cover the lower-middle part of the field, where multiple teams have exploited their coverage.
Look for Baylor to find a player with leadership potential as well, as Coffey was one of the most looked-up-to players on this squad.
Potential Commits: Kendall Ehrlich
Ehrlich has the potential to fill every need that Baylor has at the linebacker position. He can stop the run up the gut, swing to the outside, provide zone coverage, tackle well and pressure the quarterback.
One of Baylor’s most talked-about recruits, Nance would provide the most depth at the coverage position. He also possesses some lightning quick speed that can be utilized in blitzing schemes.
Key Loss: N/A
Needs: Behind Robert Griffin III, the next most talked-about aspect of this Baylor football team is the poor performance of the secondary.
Just watch the Alamo Bowl and one can see why the Bears rank 110th in pass defense.
Far too often, Baylor fans had to watch while receivers blew past their coverage and caught balls across the middle and deep down the field for huge gains and touchdowns.
This Baylor secondary was also partially responsible for giving up multiple second-half leads and if the offense next year cannot be as productive as this year, the Bears will lose most of those games next year.
Potential Commits: Terrell Burt, Cornerback
Burt is a highly lauded player with great instincts and the ability to make up for blown coverage with his speed. He can also provide depth to blitz packages.
Ryan Reid, Cornerback
Reid will probably be making the transition from safety to corner while playing at Baylor. His best attribute is his quickness, which allows him to close on the ball.
Key Losses: Robert T. Griffin, offensive lineman
Phillip Blake, center
Needs: Baylor boasts one of the better offensive lines in the game. They created enough space for running backs Terrance Ganaway and Jared Salubi to rush to a ranking of 10th place in the nation.
On the other hand, they could work on quarterback protection a little more, giving up the fourth most sacks in the Big 12.
Losing All-Big 12 center honorable mention Phillip Blake, Baylor will find it difficult to fill that middle role in the line with a player that has the instincts like Blake.
Building a strong offensive line is a key to victory, especially for Baylor next season, who could be starting a true freshman quarterback.
Potential Commits: Timothy Hines
Hines is a perfect candidate to fill the role of run blocker for this team. Yet, he does need to work on his pass protection before he can be a true star at the position.
Fuller’s strengths lie in quarterback protection, rather than run blocking. He could put on some more weight in order to fill out his position better.
Key Loss: N/A
Needs: It is no secret that Baylor is not a tight end-based team. The pass offense is designed more around screens, deep balls, sideline routes and play-action passes.
The two tight ends for Baylor only caught a little under 30 passes this season, another clear indicator that the tight end position is used primarily for blocking and second-look purposes.
It is difficult to judge this position when it is so under-used for the Bears.
Potential Commits: Walker Ryan
If Ryan signs, he will most likely sit behind the two tight ends already adapted to Baylor’s offense. He could use that bench time to increase his size and become a better prospect at the position.
Key Loss: Kendall Wright
Needs: The loss of Kendall Wright, the Big 12’s leading receiver in total yards, is certainly going to be hard for Baylor. However, what most people do not realize is that the Bears are very deep at the receiver position.
Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese can be found on the stat boards for Baylor as well.
What the Bears need to look for most is another receiver with Wright’s explosiveness and pure athleticism. His 20-yard tip-toe down the sidelines against Kansas State has become a staple in highlight reels, and Baylor Nation has grown so used to seeing a wide-open man streak down the field that it is not going to be happy with anyone less than great.
Potential Commits: Corey Coleman
Coleman will most likely fill the hole that Wright leaves behind. He is just as fast and explosive, but still lacks height, just like his predecessor.
Griffin will most likely become a big receiver who muscles his way into the open area for the grab. He can pair this trait with his great hands and straight-line speed.
Key Loss: Terrance Ganaway
Needs: For a second year in row, Baylor will be losing a great running back. This time, Terrance Ganaway, the Big 12 leading rusher, will turn his talents toward the pros.
Sort of along the same lines as the receiver position, Baylor coaches have set themselves up nicely at the running back position.
Jared Salubi has already proven that he can be the speedy runner, and with the pickup of Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, the Bears are fairly set on the ground.
If Baylor does go for a new back, it will be someone they see as full of potential that could become great after a couple years on the bench.
Potential Commits: No current recruits stand out as potential starters.
Key Loss: Robert Griffin III
Needs: As though this was not obvious enough, losing Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III is by far the biggest blow to the Bears’ 2012 campaign.
Most pundits already have Baylor written off because of RG3’s NFL bid.
Current backup Nick Florence has shown glimpses of talent in his short playing time at Baylor, but he burned his redshirt against Texas Tech after Griffin left the game with concussion-like symptoms. He now has only one year of eligibility left.
The success of Baylor next year and in the future, just as with any team, will lie in signing a good freshman quarterback and helping him to develop into the next big-time quarterback.
Potential Commits: Jeremiah Briscoe
A probable starter for any team, Briscoe has a great sense of athleticism, but could use some polish on his complete game. He would fit well with this Baylor offense, but could work on improving his speed.
Another good fit for this Baylor offense is Russell, who plays mostly out of shotgun formation. He has the ability to break away with his speed, but also stays poised in the pocket to show off his arm.