Asked Tuesday about junior quarterback Blake Bell's biggest improvement in spring football, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops cited his decision making.
Stoops, speaking during the Big 12 spring football teleconference, said in OU's first padded practice of the spring, Bell ran hard to his left and threw a dangerous pass across to the other side of the field where it was intercepted.
“Hopefully he learned a valuable lesson even in that first practice that you can't be careless with the football,” Stoops said. “Since then he hasn't been. Since that day you haven't seen a mistake like that. They've all made them at different times through the spring but that was something that was noticeable, just being smart with the football is such a big deal.”
Bell is considered the favorite to take over for four-year starter Landry Jones, although sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight have pushed Bell through spring workouts.
“The important part for all of them will be the decision making, who can make the correct reads and decisions with taking care of the football and delivering it where it needs to be,” Stoops said.
SPENCER GIVES CREDIT TO SENIOR LEADERSHIP
Oklahoma State spring practice ended with a scrimmage clearly won by the defense, a positive sign for Glenn Spencer as he tries to implement a more aggressive attack in his first season as coordinator.
Some changes in approach were evident in that spring finale, such as defensive backs playing tighter in coverage and a renewed emphasis on the pass rush.
But Spencer gives the credit to veteran leadership, as the Cowboys have seven senior starters on that side of the football in end Tyler Johnson, tackle Calvin Barnett, linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary and cornerback Justin Gilbert.
“They've seen the speed of the game in the conference,” said Spencer, who filled in for an ill Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy on the conference call. “They know how to function. They know how to execute. Typically, guys like that that have played a lot, when something's going wrong, they know how to fix it. They know how to approach game day mentality. They know how to travel.
“A lot of things (are) little things you don't think about, but they make a difference on game day and I've got some guys that have done that. That has nothing to do with me. Come on, now. It has nothing to do with me. I'm just stepping into a good situation with good senior leadership.”
BROWN: LAST THREE YEARS ‘ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE'
In the three seasons since Texas appeared in the 2009-10 national championship game, the Longhorns are 22-17 overall. Coach Mack Brown said Tuesday, though, he's optimistic that 2013 will show marked improvement.
“We've still got some unanswered questions, but we have a chance because we're older at quarterback,” Brown said of veteran signal caller David Ash. “We're two-deep with experience at quarterback. We've got speed at wide receiver, and tailback. We've got an offensive line that's back for a third year in a row. We've got depth in our defensive line and secondary, and we've got five or six linebackers that can play.”
Brown, who led Texas to a national championship in 2005, said last year's Alamo Bowl win and 9-4 record showed progress, but that it still wasn't good enough.
“They understand that the last three years are not acceptable,” Brown said of his players. “They're not the standard that we've set forth for many, many years. They're not who we want to be. We want to go back and win conference championships, we want to get back in the mix for the national championship.”
PATTERSON: TCU QB DERBY ‘VERY CLOSE'
TCU enters 2013 with two quarterbacks with starting experience, as Trevone Boykin stepped in when Casey Pachall left the team to seek treatment for substance abuse.
Coach Gary Patterson said he plans to name a starter sometime during fall camp. But the tight race is quite different from the situation the Horned Frogs had coming out of spring practice last year.
“When we left spring last year, we felt like that we could only play with one quarterback (Pachall),” Patterson said. “And obviously after four games, we couldn't play with him. Trevone grew up a lot during the season. I think he's far surpassed that enough to where that race at quarterback is very close.
“One beats with you with his arm, one beats you with his legs, and then how do both of them get better at the other part of it? Trevone really improved the throwing part of it.”
SNYDER WON'T CHANGE APPROACH
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder loses lots of key players from last season's Big 12 championship team, including quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein.
But Snyder said the team's approach won't change despite its relative inexperience.
“The bottom line is, it's just a matter of doing the best you can every single day, finding ways to get better every day, working diligently on the entirety of our package, being able to combine what your personnel will allow us to do and what it will not allow us to do, and the old adage of being able to circumvent your weaknesses and play to your strengths,” Snyder said. “That hasn't changed in 20-some odd years.”
Sophomore Daniels Sams, Klein's backup last season, and junior-college transfer Jake Waters are competing to replace Klein. Snyder said there's no “clear-cut” first-team quarterback at this point.
HOLGORSEN FINE WITH LESS ATTENTION
West Virginia was a popular pick to win the Big 12 in its debut season, with the Mountaineers coming off a blowout victory in the Orange Bowl and sporting plenty of offensive firepower in quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
But after a disappointing 7-6 record in 2012 — plus those three offensive stars moving on to the NFL — the Mountaineers have far lower expectations and far less attention coming out of spring practice this year.
Coach Dana Holgorsen doesn't mind that. In fact, he said this situation has been much easier for the coaching staff to handle.
But he does trust the program learned from its struggles during its first season in the Big 12.
“From a players' standpoint and an administrative standpoint (and a) fan base standpoint, it was something we had to go through in order to truly understand it,” Holgorsen said. “I'm sure they miss the pats on the back (they got last year).
“But with that said, I think we've got a bunch of guys that like to play football, a bunch of guys that are motivated to get better that are excited about where we're at from a conference standpoint. So we kind of got their attention.”
KINGSBURY STILL ADJUSTING
First-year Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said he's still adapting to leading an entire program.
“I guess fitting in all the responsibilities as well as scheming for spring practices, and doing the scripts and installs, things of that nature,” Kingsbury said when asked what the biggest challenge has been. “Really just time management.”
Kingsbury was a record setting quarterback at Texas Tech from 1998-2002 under then-coach Mike Leach. He spent last season as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, helping mold 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Asked what he's learned about his new team, Kingsbury said, “That we have a long way to go. We have our systems installed, and I think the kids know how we want to practice, the tempo of practice, and the effort that we need to give in practice, but we've just got the base stuff in, so we've definitely got a long way to go.”
BRILES: BAYLOR ‘TRADITION' A STRENGTH
Baylor is coming off three consecutive bowl appearances and back-to-back seasons with one of the nation's most potent offenses.
Those accomplishments, coach Art Briles said, means the program can now boast “tradition” and “believability” as two of its biggest strengths.
“It's a good thing to finally be able to say,” Briles said. “…We can live kind of on what we've done and give us an opportunity to do more.”
Next to step in at quarterback will be junior Bryce Petty, who will aim to follow the massive success of Robert Griffin III, who won the Heisman in 2011, and Nick Florence, who ranked second in the nation in total offense last season.
“He benefitted a lot,” Briles said of Petty's experience learning behind Griffin and Florence. “If he hadn't, that's his fault. You can buy a lot of things, but experience isn't one of them. That's something that you've got to live.
“He had the experience of sitting in the meeting rooms, of watching stuff from the sideline, watching everything (transpire) as far as player-coach development.”
KU HOPES JUCO TRANSFERS PROVIDE IMMEDIATE BOOST
One of Snyder's most famous tactics in building a program is consistently plugging holes with junior college transfers.
Down the road in Lawrence, Charlie Weis and Co. used a similar strategy with Kansas' 2013 recruiting class. Of the 25 players inked, 17 were junior college transfers.
Assistant head coach Dave Campo, who filled in for Weis on the conference call, said that makes him optimistic the Jayhawks can be more competitive in the Big 12 after going winless in conference play for the second consecutive season in 2012.
“I think we're going to be much more representative of a Big 12 football team,” he said. “I didn't feel like that was the case a year ago. I felt that we were playing with a bad hand … I thought we made progress in the attitude of the football team and the way our guys went about their business, but we weren't talented enough as a football team to compete.
“We're still going to be scrapping and fighting, because there's good football teams in this league and very talented football teams. But more than I did a year ago, I feel excited about going on the field.”
IOWA STATE REPLACING STAR LINEBACKERS
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said he misses former linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott “every day,” and that their departures have created a depth issue at the position.
Klein and Knott made up the conference's best linebacking duo the past two seasons. Klein — a 2011 Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year — recorded 117 tackles last season, and Knott made 79 despite missing the last several games of 2012 with a shoulder injury.
“The most noticable thing about the loss of those two linebackers is the depth that we don't have right now,” Rhoads said, add that he's not worried about his first-team linebackers. “It's the guys behind them that you've gotta make sure progress and develop and are in position where if you've gotta put them out there on the field, they can do their job. We're certainly not there yet with that group.”