As the Baylor Bears gear up to defend their Big 12 title in 2014, there’s little question that the Art Briles will bring the heat with a high-powered offense once again next season. The potential stumbling block between the Bears and another conference championship this fall will be on the defensive side of the ball, and in the secondary in particular. Can rising-sophomore Orion Stewart step up and keep the pass defense strong?
Baylor faced a lot of turnover in the back end of their defense this offseason with four key contributors graduating. Last season, their secondary was one of the best in the Big 12 with opposing quarterback completing just 48 percent of their passes. But with All-American Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, K.J. Morton, and Demetri Goodson graduating, the Bears needed some fresh faces to step up to join safety Terrell Burt, the only returning starter for 2014.
During the spring, Stewart stepped up with one of the best practice sessions of anyone on the team and separated himself from the group of young defensive backs in Waco. After playing as a backup in 2013, recording 39 tackles on the season and a game-clinching pick six against the TCU Horned Frogs, Stewart should slide right into the other safety spot vacated by Dixon this fall.
With Stewart joining Burt as the deep covermen for the defense, the rest of the young secondary can sort themselves out while relying on support deep. Juco transfer Chris Sanders has the talent to be a difference maker at cornerback but has a history of off-the-field issues that could be a problem. He will have to beat out second-year player Xavien Howard if he hopes to crack the starting lineup. Sophomore Terrence Singleton appears locked into the other corner position after a strong spring.
There will undoubtedly be some growing pains for this secondary which makes the rise of Orion Stewart all the more important to the team’s success in 2014. Baylor is going to score plenty of points but for them to defend their conference title, their defense must stand tall. Is Stewart ready to lock down the Bears’ opponents next season?