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Baylor Football

Dave Aranda on the Wide Receiver Room, Defensive Leaders and Staying Focused

August 22, 2023

At the conclusion of Friday’s football practice — the final open practice of Fall Camp — head coach Dave Aranda spoke with the media.

As opposed to this time last year when Dave Aranda was giving subtle hints, largely to deaf ears, about his concerns over the lack of maturity of the team, the fourth-year head coach seems to be singing a different tune about this year’s squad heading into the fall.

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The Bears will open the season at home against Texas State on Sept. 2.

“Way intentional and focused,” Aranda said after Friday’s practice. “We’re at the point in camp where we’re focusing on a lot of situations. A lot of two-minute situations today, the last plays of a game, goal-line, short-yardage … Guys have been taking to that really good.”

When asked if he had any questions that still needed to be answered about this year’s team, Aranda mentioned that despite often having “unbelievable and strong” practices, it hasn’t necessarily translated to the scrimmages at McLane Stadium.

“For us to play our best under bright lights in big stadiums in big moments, those things still have to happen,” Aranda said. “I think there’s a cohesion that the guy to the left and to the right of them has their back. I think there’s a trust level among the coaches. I think all of that has been growing, and I’m happy with how that’s going, but we have to get that translated to playing our best in McLane, and we haven’t done that yet.”

One of the keys to the Bears playing at their best is getting consistent high-level play from the team leaders, starting with redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen.

“Blake has continued to play really, really well,” Aranda said. “He keeps upping his best effort. I’m impressed with that, and Ketron [Jackson] is a big part of that.”

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Aranda called Baylor’s backfield duo of Reese and Richardson a “tandem.”

In the backfield with Shapen will be reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, Richard Reese, and Oklahoma State transfer Dominic Richardson.

“They both want to be the starter, but I think they are both so talented,” Aranda said. “Our ability to maximize that particular talent has really grown throughout the spring, the summer and up to now so that we can use them in similar and different ways that can benefit them individually. There are going to be lots of opportunities for touches, carries and catches. I look at that as a tandem.”

At wide receiver, there’s no denying that last season was a disappointment. Inexperience at the position left a lot to be desired, but Aranda seems excited for those outside of the program to see what the group can do.

“[The receivers] are a key component to our success this year,” Aranda said. “All the talent in the world with a coach that truly cares and kids that truly care … It's almost not worth it like you almost shouldn’t say anything, because it’s not until we do it at a bigger stage that it really matters. I think that’s where it’s at, and I think [the players] are a big part of that, and I have full faith they are going to do it … It’s going to be a cool story when it’s all said and done with that group.”

Defensively, Aranda continues to praise transfer linebacker Mike Smith and fifth-year senior defensive lineman TJ Franklin.

“Mike Smith continues to make plays,” Aranda said. “Gabe Hall has really shown up these last couple of days and has taken a big step forward, and I think TJ Franklin and his leadership have been a big part of that.”

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Safety Corey Gordon (RS-Fr.) has been praised throughout fall camp by Aranda.

As for the underclassmen, there were a few younger guys on defense that Aranda noted were making a big impact in particular.

“The emergence of Carl Willaims for example, and Corey Gordon, has been really cool to see,” Aranda said. “Those guys are playing with confidence and a swagger, which as a defense, we need.”

With school starting on Aug. 21, Aranda went philosophical when discussing the importance of life away from football, attending class and focusing on each individual’s studies.

“If there is any part of you that’s not fully aligned, that’s not right, that’s not in a good place, and you try to hide that part, I think it affects the other parts of you,” Aranda said. “I think it brings down the plane. It brings down the team. I think if you’re not right internally, it gets exposed. So the school part is a way important thing.”

The Bears are wrapping up Fall Camp this week and will open the season at home against Texas State on Sept. 2.

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Dave Aranda on the Wide Receiver Room, Defensive Leaders and Staying Focused

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