- By Suzanne Halliburton American-Statesman Staff
Energywise, Baylor’s Matt Rhule was practically gutted as he stood against a wall in the Bears indoor practice complex.
Rhule had paced the sidelines in the sun Friday for probably twice as long as most other head coaches in the country as his Bears kicked off preseason training camp.
“I’m only good to stand for another minute before I pass out, just so everybody knows,” Rhule told reporters, probably only half kidding.
He’d decided to divvy up practices differently this August, making the first three days of workouts in Waco a specific mini camp. Rhule presided over one practice Friday that was veteran-centric. Then he told those guys to hit the showers. He and his assistants convened another workout for the freshmen and less experienced players. No one was overlooked. He’ll do the same Saturday and Sunday. Then full squad workouts will begin.
Rhule conceded his practice choices were difficult for the coaches, joking that it “was a test to see if we’re ready.” They were out in the heat for three hours and 20 minutes, Rhule said.
But Rhule believes this sort of focus will help a growing team that’s desperate to put last year’s 1-11 record behind them. With the new redshirt rule, every healthy player likely will see action this fall.
“It’s really important that we work with the veterans on the level that they need to work at,” Rhule said. “Those guys have worked hard all summer and they’ve been in the system for a year, they can take the next step.
“For the young guys, there’s not many places in the country freshmen got coached (on the first day of preseason camp). So many times they hold a bag.
“We have a lot of players who are going to play. For the first time in college football history everyone’s going to play here or there because of the redshirt rule. I want to make sure the young players get an opportunity to get coached, to get developed, to get pushed along and at the same time get to show what they can do.”
Every player on the roster practiced Friday, although receiver Gavin Holmes and cornerback Harrison Hand were limited in what they could do. It’s the healthiest the team has been since Rhule has been in Waco.
A year ago, Baylor lost 20 starters for a significant amount of games. The injury bug so enveloped the team that even the team’s punter suffered a season-ending ligament tear in his knee when he kicked off against Kansas State.
The Bears were forced to use 19 freshmen. The injuries and inexperience all contributed to the woes of an 11-loss season.
However, Rhule started promising fans and his team the Bears would play in a bowl to end this fall. He saw nothing Friday that made him doubt his off-season promises. The season starts, Sept. 1 at McLane Stadium against Abilene Christian.
“They’ve come so far,” Rhule said of his team. “We probably had more in (Friday) in one day than we had in probably all of last training camp on both sides of the ball. We’re not having to start over.
“The younger guys are swimming a little bit,” Rhule said. “The older guys, I really think they’ve done a great job over the summer on their own, of working together. I think that shows.”