Big 12 Football: 10 Players to Watch in Spring Practice

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2014

Big 12 Football: 10 Players to Watch in Spring Practice

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    We are inching closer to the start of spring practice in Big 12 country. The spring-game schedule starts on April 5 with Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU and ends on April 26 with Kansas State

    Throughout the league, some marquee players are worth keeping an eye on this spring. Plenty of quarterback battles, such as at West Virginia and Texas, need to be decided. Players like Robbie Rhodes of Baylor and Dante Barnett of K-State are also looking to establish themselves. 

    With that, check out the 10 Big 12 players you need to be watching this spring. 

Devonte Fields

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    TCU star defensive end Devonte Fields had a rough 2013. After being suspended for the season opener against LSU, he appeared in just three games before missing the rest of the season due to injury. 

    The rising junior was then attacked at gunpoint in January in an altercation where shots were fired, according to Sophie Turner of TCU360. 

    Now as he looks to turn the corner as a rising junior in what could be his last season in Fort Worth, he'll have to prove himself this spring yet again. 

    Fields was the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but a tumultuous 2013 has since derailed his career to some extent. If he wants to regain the reputation as one of the league's most feared defenders, his quest will start in the spring. 

David Ash

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    David Ash missed most of last season with a concussion. The last game he appeared in was at home against Kansas State. 

    Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports reported in late January that Ash was cleared to return to workouts, so this spring will be the first real chance for fans to see how he will play after missing nearly an entire year. 

    He was the starter for Texas in the early going in 2013, but he struggled at times, going just 2-2 in his starts. Now with a new head coach in Charlie Strong, the Longhorns have a quarterback race between Ash and Tyrone Swoopes. 

    Swoopes saw some action late in the season, while Case McCoy will graduate by the fall. This spring will be a great opportunity to see the Texas quarterback race live and will give the UT coaching staff a read of where Ash's mental and physical status. 

Jake Waters

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    About halfway through last season, quarterback Jake Waters grasped the reins of the starting job at K-State over sophomore Daniel Sams. He led the Wildcats to a strong finish in a season that started shaky but was capped off with a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl win over Michigan. 

    Now that he has a year under his belt as the signal-caller under Bill Snyder, this spring should see him become the chiseled leader of the Wildcats. 

    He has tremendous potential, but a good leader doesn't allow teams like North Dakota State to upend you in Week 1. So if K-State wants to take a step in the right direction in 2014, it'll come down to Waters' leadership. 

Robbie Rhodes

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    Coming out of high school last year, Baylor wide receiver Robbie Rhodes was rated by 247Sports as the No. 3 wide receiver in the nation. 

    But injuries forced him to take a backseat in Baylor's high-flying offense last year. Now with a year of experience under his belt, he could become one of the Bears' most valued offensive weapons this spring. 

    With offers from Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M, Rhodes has the talent necessary to be a quality receiver in a spread-style offense. 

    Spring practice is always the perfect opportunity for guys like him to shine. If he can show his stuff this spring, expect to be hearing his name a lot on Saturdays this fall. 

Shock Linwood

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    Lache Seastrunk is gone. 

    So is Glasco Martin. 

    Shock Linwood? He's still in Waco and ready to take the Big 12 by storm next season. 

    In 2013, Linwood looked like the best back for the Bears at times, averaging nearly seven yards per carry and rushing for eight touchdowns. 

    But being the complement to Seastrunk and Martin is far easier than being the go-to guy. However, that's what the Bears will ask him to do in 2014. 

    The spring time will give Linwood plenty of time to adjust to his role as the primary starting back for Art Briles. If he has a good spring game, that could be the sign of big things to come in the fall. 

Paul Millard

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    There is no clear-cut starting quarterback in West Virginia as both Clint Trickett and Paul Millard split time last year. 

    But this race could be Millard's to lose. Trickett got the majority of snaps last year, and the Mountaineers struggled. So Dana Holgorsen and Co. may be looking for Millard to take control this spring. 

    He completed just 55 percent of his passes for 1,119 yards last season on 167 passing attempts. So it'll be a challenge to prove to fans in Morgantown that he deserves a shot. 

    But a strong showing this spring from Millard could be what WVU needs to bounce back from a rough 2013 season. 

Davis Webb

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    With Baker Mayfield's transfer to Oklahoma, the Texas Tech quarterback job is now Davis Webb's. 

    Last season, most assumed that Michael Brewer was the presumed starter. But as the fall came and the season dragged on, Webb slowly grasped the starting job. He finished the 2013 season with 2,718 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. 

    He also was the starter in Texas Tech's 37-23 Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. 

    The Red Raiders have put all their eggs into Webb's basket as Mayfield is no longer in Texas. So to ease any qualms that fans in Lubbock may have, Webb will have to have a strong showing in Texas Tech's spring game. 

Baker Mayfield

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    While Texas Tech's quarterback job will be left to Davis Webb, Baker Mayfield is looking to make an immediate splash at his new home in Norman, Oklahoma. 

    Obviously, he will need to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. But that won't prevent him from participating in spring workouts. 

    It'll be interesting to see how he fits in at Oklahoma, which has more depth and talent than Texas Tech. 

J.W. Walsh

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    With how good Oklahoma State was last year, it's surprising how unstable its quarterback system was. Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh both struggled, leaving it up to the defense and spotty run game to carry the team on plenty of occasions. 

    With Chelf gone from Stillwater, the job is now Walsh's to take. 

    Fans of the Cowboys are ruthless and expect their quarterback to be of the highest caliber. Walsh showed flashes of greatness last season but could never consistently hold onto the job. 

    A quality spring could do wonders for him. But a bad one could put the entire season in jeopardy for the Pokes. 

Dante Barnett

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    Ty Zimmerman has been one of the staples for the K-State defense over the past few seasons. 

    But now the star safety has graduated from the Wildcats. So in 2014, Dante Barnett will have to be one of the leaders of the group. 

    He has proved to be a solid player for the Wildcats, but having Zimmerman as the main guy was a big part of that. 

    This spring will give Barnett time to develop as a solid leader for a team that needs leadership on the defensive side of the ball. If he can fill Zimmerman's shoes as one of the more talented safeties in the Big 12, K-State could be on track for a run at the conference title.