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Golden: Post-Brewer Baylor is in the market for a starting quarterback

Baylor opens the 2021 season at Texas State

Baylor coach Dave Aranda yells to his team from the sideline during last year's game at West Virginia. The Bears' coach has a big decision to make: Who will replace Charlie Brewer, who has transferred to Utah, as the starting quarterback?
  • Baylor is coming off a 2-7 mark in Dave Aranda's first season.
  • Gerry Bohanon, Jacob Zeno and Blake Shapen are battling for the starting job.
  • The Bears missed 15 spring practices in 2020 due to COVID-19 issues.
  • Jeff Grimes has joined the staff as the offensive coordinator . He worked with Aranda at LSU before going to BYU.

ARLINGTON  — When Baylor was at its best, an alpha dog held the position of quarterback.

Robert Griffin III and coach Art Briles were transformative figures in the rise of the program and the Bears became a real problem for league powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma as the first decade of the 2000s came to an end.

A decade later, the Bears have gone from the tumultuous end of the Briles era to redemption under Matt Rhule to a 2-7 finish under first-year boss Dave Aranda in a pandemic-plagued 2020.

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The man behind center won’t be Charlie Brewer, a four-year starter who has transferred to Utah. Gerry Bohanon, Jacob Zeno or Blake Shapen. One of those names will be a key component in Aranda’s rebuild.

None are on the level of Griffin, but that quarterback's level of importance will be just as important as the former Bear who soared to a Heisman Trophy in 2011.

Don’t expect miracles after Baylor’s season from hell. COVID-19 blew through campus and the team missed 15 spring practices, workouts that would have been vital for Aranda, then in his first year, to establish some on-field rapport with Brewer while grooming his replacement.

Coach Art Briles, left, and quarterback Robert Griffin III helped transform Baylor into a national contender. Griffin won the Heisman Trophy in 2011 and Briles was regarded as one of the game's top offensive minds before a national scandal led to his firing.

Brewer will be a difficult act to follow. He went 20-19 and appeared in 44 games with a mental and physical toughness that shined through big time after he led the Bears from the rubble of a 1-11 season in Rhule’s first year to an 18-9 turnaround with appearances in the 2019 Big 12 title game and Sugar Bowl. That 11-3 season led to Rhule leaving for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

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Brewer, no stranger to taking on bigger tacklers, paid for his physical, take-no-prisoners style of play with assorted head, neck and shoulder injuries, but earned the unyielding respect of his locker room because he left it on the field.

The numbers — the 9,700 career passing yards ranked second to Griffin in the school record books, the quality 63.5 completion percentage, the 1,039 rushing yards and the 77 total touchdowns — illustrate good success, but his impact off the field was immeasurable, considering how bad things got after Rhule left.

Charlie Brewer was a four-year starter who in 2019 led Baylor to an 11-3 finish and a Sugar Bowl. But Brewer transferred to Utah, and Baylor's starting quarterback's job is being hotly contested between Gerry Bohanon and Jacob Zeno.

Now the big fix begins.

Aranda described the Big 12 as a defensive conference at Thursday’s media days and that may have just been the musings of a man who's been the defensive coordinator for four teams that finished in the top-10 nationally in defense along with piloting the 2019 LSU defense to a national championship. But let’s be clear here: This is where big-time offense resides.

Back in 2019, the last time college football teams played a full regular season, only two Big 12 schools — TCU and Iowa State — finished in the top-50 nationally in total defense. Not to mention that the league has produced five Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks since 2008 and that doesn’t even include all-time college greats Vince Young and Colt McCoy at Texas.

So what is Aranda looking for in a quarterback and do any of these three have the goods for success moving forward?

“As a quarterback, you look for a leader,” he said. “Someone that can motivate ... inspire. Someone, when things go bad, has already planned positive ahead of it and can rally the troops. All three of our guys have shown that. I think they’re working on getting the best thing we can out of each of them and we’ll see where that lands.”

The description points toward Bohanon being the guy. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-3, 221-pound junior and has the most experience, having played in 15 career games. Zeno, a sophomore, has a bigger arm, but Bohanon has more notches in his belt, has shown more maturity in the heat of battle and has been around longer. It feels like it's his job to lose. Shapen, a freshman from Shreveport Evangel, has a bright future, but he’s the third Musketeer in this conversation.

It will all come under the direction of Jeff Grimes, who enjoyed some nice success with the Zach Wilson-led offense at BYU. He worked with Aranda in Baton Rouge and the days of their units going against one another helped forge a lasting respect.

“Jeff is a great person,” Aranda said. “He’s a family guy. He’s got a great heart and I think he’s a great fit for Baylor. I think our offensive guys and our team are going to see how authentic he is and how much he cares for them as people. And I think when the success comes on offense, he will have an opportunity to do whatever he wants to do. I feel like Jeff will be good for Baylor.”

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So there are happy thoughts in the coaching room and among the players about the new direction, particularly up front where the offensive line has been immersed in BYU blocking tape.

“He does a good job of coaching the offensive line,” tackle Connor Galvin said. “He does a good job making it really simple but efficient. It’s about really trusting what they’re teaching. I’ve said it a lot, but it’s staying open-minded and really buying in and attacking what we’re doing.”

Expect the wide zone running attack to take early precedence while Grimes and quarterbacks coach Shawn Bell help the starter become accustomed to being the man. Senior Trestan Ebner has gotten more acclaim as a return man than he has as a running back, but he should get lots of totes in nonconference play because the head coach wants to establish the run early.

That’s fine and all, but the quarterback will eventually have to become a focal point if Baylor is going anywhere. Whoever gets the job, it will be a tough undertaking for a team not expected to make a whole lot of noise in 2021.

RG3 doesn’t live here anymore.