May 14, 2007

Big 12 Breakdown: Baylor

Baylor captured three wins in the Big 12, the most by the Bears in the league's history, but even that wasn't enough to keep them out of the South cellar in 2006. Guy Morriss enters his fifth season at the helm knowing his team needs to make a move and the Bears hope to start by improving upon the nation's worst rushing game and the league's worst defense.

BRIEFLY: Bears must address issues for 2007

Once again, it won't be an easy road for the Bears. They faced seven bowl teams a year ago. This season, eight of their 12 opponents return from a postseason appearance in '06 and Baylor starts off at Poinsettia champion TCU on Sept. 1. While the Bears return 11 starters, just four return on offense. But Morriss sees promise in particular in one important new face. Morriss exited the spring with a favorite to replace Shawn Bell at quarterback in 25-year-old former minor-league pitcher Michael Machen, who threw for 2,078 yards two years ago as a sophomore at Kent State. Morriss also addressed his dreadful running game by tossing more running plays into the spread offense in hopes of opening things up. Equally important, teammates must be able to help take pressure off of their new passer for the Bears to find success during a difficult Big 12 stretch.

"There are some new things we are doing this spring that has (players) thinking a little bit, but we'd like to see them be a little more crisp and sharp," Morriss said. "We've still got some time to work on all of that."

Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Larry Hoefer, who masterminded the 4-2-5 package at Texas Tech years ago, has become a favorite among his players. It culminated in a solid spring ("They were gassed up every day," says Morriss), which ended with a six-sack, four-interception effort by the rejuvenated defense in the spring game.

Morriss said, "They put some pressure on us."

For the second straight season, players had to adjust to several new faces among the staff. After replacing four assistants a year ago, Morriss engineered another extreme staff makeover in hiring five assistants and promoting Hoefer to coach the defense. Morriss will coach the offensive line again, this time with help from new tight ends coach Eric Schnupp.

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