Bears

Tight end Ben Sims is one of several experienced pass catchers for Baylor. He had three TD receptions and averaged 11.7 yards per catch in just six games last season.

WACO — Baylor players were on a knee in the middle of the practice field a couple of weeks ago as athletic director Mack Rhoades and coach Dave Aranda addressed them about the NCAA ruling in a case for things that happened before any of them arrived on campus.

“I could feel them attentively listening to Mack. You could feel his energy. I thought it was very focused and very on point. That was a strong moment,” Aranda said. “But once Mack said what he said, and I commented at the end, it was, ‘How much time is it before lunch is over?’ So, we were able to get right to it.”

The Bears first had to get through Aranda’s debut season, shortened and altered last year by the pandemic after keeping them from spring drills with their new coaches. Now gone is that lingering shadow of an NCAA investigation of the school’s sprawling sexual assault scandal dating back as long as a decade. No major penalties were handed down.

Senior receiver R.J. Sneed said there is a different feel with team chemistry going into 2021, nearly 20 months after Aranda was hired.

“COVID didn’t help out, especially with getting a new coach and you couldn’t talk to guys and we couldn’t really hang out with people,” Sneed said. “But after the season, in the spring and the summer, every Monday we’ve had like a gathering and we get to know a new group and have personal talks with them. I sense a change in that, and I get to know my teammates better.”

Even after only limited on-field work to install his system before playing games, the Baylor defense was actually solid under Aranda, who got to Baylor fresh off a national title as LSU’s defensive coordinator.

But the Bears never developed an identity on offense while going 2-7, and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora is gone after the Bears ranked 118th nationally by averaging 310 yards and fewer than 24 points a game in his only season in Waco. New coordinator Jeff Grimes was in that role at BYU the past three seasons after overlapping with Aranda on LSU’s staff.

Aranda said going through last season and knowing the history of productive Baylor offenses in the past provided insight into what he really wanted.

“The wide zone offense, the play-action pass, I think those are all things that allow our guys to take great ownership, play fast, be aggressive,” he said. “Those are things that we are in need of.”

Bernard’s back

Terrel Bernard had 55 tackles in five games and was the Big 12’s leading tackler last year before a torn labrum and shoulder fracture ended his season. The senior linebacker is back and now really knows Aranda’s scheme.

“As negative as (the injury) was to have him off of the field, he really hunkered down and got in the film room and really mastered our playbook,” fellow linebacker Dillon Doyle said. “He really solidified his leadership. He already was a leader, but he is the guy that everybody looks at to see what the standard is.”

Throwing and catching

Charlie Brewer started 39 games at quarterback and threw for 9,700 yards while leading the Bears in passing each of the past four seasons. He could have come back for yet another season but instead transferred to Utah.

Junior Gerry Bohanon and sophomore Jacob Zeno got only limited snaps when Brewer was around, but they are now competing along with redshirt freshman Blake Shapen to be the starter.

While the Bears will have a relatively inexperienced quarterback, they return their top five receivers and tight end Ben Sims. Sneed caught 39 passes for 497 yards and three touchdowns in the nine-game season last year.

Adding Apu

Baylor returns 10 starters on defense and added transfer nose tackle Siaki “Apu” Ika, a 6-foot-4, 350-pounder who as a freshman was part of Aranda’s defense for LSU’s championship two seasons ago.

“I expect him to have the biggest impact on the defense,” defensive tackle and Temple product TJ Franklin said.

Schedule

Baylor opens Sept. 4 at Texas State, becoming only the second Big 12 team to visit San Marcos. The Bears play five of their nine Big 12 games at home, with all of the league’s top-25 teams set to visit Waco — No. 7 Iowa State (Sept. 25), No. 21 Texas (Oct. 30) and No. 2 Oklahoma (Nov. 30).