Baylor opened spring football practice on Monday and with it, they began the post Robert Griffin era in Waco. From the reports coming out after the first day of practice, it sounds like head coach Art Briles made it through without shedding any tears, publicly at least.
It’s not easy to quantify exactly what RGIII meant to not only the football program, but to the school as a whole, during his four years in Waco.
Heading into 2011 the season, Baylor held a mind numbing record in Big 12 games; 18 wins and 102 losses. They’ve simply been an afterthought during their time in the Big 12 and have usually found themselves as homecoming opponents to the other teams in the league.
Now one football season later, the Bears are owners of a 10 win season, an Alamo Bowl victory, and they have a Heisman trophy to showcase to incoming recruits. All that due largely to one player who almost single-handedly changed the perception of an entire program.
During his career, Griffin threw for 10,366 yard and 78 touchdowns while throwing only 17 interceptions. And then there is the damage he did with his legs, amassing 2,199 rushing yards and another 32 touchdowns.
He took the Bears to back-to-back bowl games during his last two seasons, something that hadn’t happened at Baylor since the 1991 and 1992 season and only two other times in school history. They beat Oklahoma and Texas this past season and their victory over the Longhorns was the second in a row. Any of this would have been laughable only a few seasons ago.
To say RGIII left big shoes to fill is an understatement to say the least. It’s actually more like a gigantic crater left on the football roster that somebody is going to have to try and fill.
That man figures to be senior, Nick Florence. He replaced RGIII during the 2009 season after Griffin tore his ACL three games into his sophomore year but has played sparingly since. He also saw action in one game last year against Texas Tech, burning a redshirt season in the process after Griffin suffered a concussion.
“I have not been handed the keys, and I don’t want it that way,” Florence said after practice number one. “I want to go out and compete for the job and make us both better, because we’re on the same team. And that’s what we can’t forget is that we’re in this together. We have one goal in mind, and that’s the Big 12 championship.”
The “both” Florence is referring to is sophomore, Bryce Petty, who is the other candidate vying for playing time this spring in Griffin’s place. He played in six games last season as a redshirt freshman, completing three of the four passes he attempted.
Griffin isn’t the only star that won’t be around Baylor in 2012. The team’s leading rusher, Terrance Ganaway, and leading receiver, Kendall Wright, both exhausted their eligibility. Replacing those three skill positions players will be atop Briles priority list this spring.
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill, and we understand that,” Briles said. “That’s why these guys are out here, that’s why they’re working hard and that’s why they have a lot of momentum and motivation to prove themselves.”
They will also be trying to improve a defense that gave up over 40 points five different times last season and finished the year ranked 116th in the country in yards given up. “We really feel like defensively, we’ll be much improved this year; second year in (defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s system). We only lost three starters off the defensive side of the ball this year, so we have eight returning starters, and those guys are going to have to fight hard for their position.”
It might only be spring football, but the next month is going to be an important one as Baylor starts prepping for the 2012 season.