Can Baylor Bears Offense Survive Without Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright?
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Before the start of the 2011 college football season, the Baylor Bears were a team that certainly looked like they had the potential to be a sleeper in the Big 12. However, no one—not even the most diehard fans in Waco—could have predicted that the Bears would win 10 games and knock off the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and TCU.
That’s just what they did, though, as the 2011 season turned out to be one of the best showings in the program’s rather lackluster history.
The team’s success was based mainly off the emergence of the sport’s biggest breakout star, Robert Griffin III, who rose to prominence and delivered one of the most entertaining and exciting seasons that we’ve ever seen from a college quarterback.
The charismatic and supremely gifted signal-caller put up monster numbers last year, completing 72 percent of his passes for over 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns, while adding 699 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground as well.
RG3 helped the Baylor offense rank second in the country in total offense and fourth in scoring offense, as the unit averaged a whopping 45 points and 587 yards per game in 2011.
Even though Griffin was the one who ultimately ended up receiving most of the publicity, praise and postseason honors, it’s clear that he couldn’t have put together a Heisman-worthy campaign without his star receiver Kendall Wright.
Last year, Wright topped off a record-breaking four-year career at Baylor with his best season, as he hauled in 108 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns. It turned out to be a performance that helped him become the 20th overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft.
You can definitely argue that besides Oklahoma State’s deadly passing duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, no other quarterback-receiver tandem in the country provided as many thrills as the Griffin-Wright pairing did in 2011.
The question that now has to be answered in 2012, though, is will the Bears be able to survive without the two most explosive offensive playmakers in school history?
Not only did Baylor lose Griffin and Wright. The team will also have to replace its leading rusher from last season, Terrance Ganaway, who ran for over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns. Same with the leader of the offensive line, center Philip Blake, who was selected in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.
That’s four vital offensive pieces that have departed and four huge holes that will now have to be filled. Thankfully for Bears fans, the good news is Baylor’s offense still has plenty of speed and plenty of talent for the 2012 season.
Taking over for Griffin will be senior Nick Florence, who got the chance to start seven games back in 2009 when his predecessor suffered a torn ACL that sidelined him for more than half the season.
Florence certainly isn’t anywhere near the same class as RG3, but the former 3-star recruit is no slouch, either. Plus, he’s had plenty of time to soak up all of the nuances of Art Briles’ offensive attack during his career.
It also helps that he’ll have some truly dynamic talent at the skill positions to work with this season.
Taking over for Ganaway in the backfield will be senior Jarred Salubi, who averaged 5.7 yards on 58 touches last season, and Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, a former 5-star recruit who is loaded with potential.
Neither Salubi nor Seastrunk can provide the same type of powerful presence that the big, physically intimidating Ganaway did last year. Nevertheless, they should give the Bears a solid one-two rushing punch to help take some of the pressure off of Florence’s shoulders.
While the speedy Wright will obviously be missed on the outside, Baylor’s receiving corps will still be one of the most dangerous units in the country this season.
Terrance Williams, who caught 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, is the undisputed leader of the group. The 6’3’’, 205-pound senior is one of the most skilled pass-catchers in all of college football, and he might just be the best senior receiver prospect available for the 2013 NFL draft.
Joining the future high NFL draft pick will be senior Lanear Sampson, who caught 42 passes for 572 yards in 2011, junior Tevin Reese, who hauled in 51 catches for 877 yards, as well as intriguing junior tight end Jordan Najvar.
Williams, Sampson, Reese and Najvar will give Florence all the help he needs in the passing game in 2012, especially Williams and Reese, who will both join their former teammates Griffin and Wright in the NFL some day soon.
Up front, the Bears may only return two starters from last year’s offensive line, but they happen to be two of the best linemen in the Big 12—Cyril Richardson and Ivory Wade.
Richardson and Wade are two big, solid pieces to build around in the trenches for 2012.
While the Bears offense is clearly going to take a step back this season, the loss of Griffin and Wright may not end up being a death blow after all.
Baylor still has plenty of speedy playmakers such as Seastrunk, Williams, Sampson and Reese, who are capable of putting constant stress on opposing defenses.
The key to the unit’s success will, of course, be the play of Nick Florence, who has big shoes to fill this season. No one will be expecting Florence to play at the same level as RG3 did in 2011, but he’s still going to have to be efficient, consistent and dependable in order for the Bears to stay relevant in the Big 12 this season.
Winning 10 games again may be out of the question. However, if Florence is up to the task of being a full-time starter, and if Seastrunk, Williams and Reese all play up to their potential this season, Baylor has the type of offensive talent it takes to win seven or eight regular-season games in 2012.
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