Spring games are always a strange beast to analyze. Any positive outcome can be negated by a failure on the other side of the ball. Contributors that don't have much to prove often sit out with minor injuries. The playbook is typically minimized and the defense will almost always be ahead of the offense due to the complexity of implementing offensive schemes.
I've always thought the real value of spring games is not in making snap judgments of a program as a whole but instead to place a microscope under individual athletes to see their progression over the off season. Here are a few guys that caught my eye on Saturday after flying under the radar before.
Baylen Baker - Redshirt Freshman Defensive Tackle
Those that follow me on Twitter are well aware of my Baylen Baker fandom and this year's spring game brought Baker's name to the spotlight. The UTSA roster lists Baker at 6'5", 260 pounds but his actual weight is closer to 300 pounds. Baker puts that size to use in the trenches where he's quickly established himself as a second team defensive tackle. Baker had two tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass break up. His dominance in the Bird Cage drill also got me a little bit obnoxious in the stands, as shown in the video below. What can I say? I'm a sucker for pad leverage and hand placement.
Stood him straight up. @JaredUTSA was hype. #BirdCage Drill, #BirdsUp #UTSA Spring Game pic.twitter.com/c8FiXBGDRT— Adrian B. (@bermudezmedia) April 24, 2016
N'Keal Bailey - Redshirt Junior Cornerback
UTSA has two huge holes to fill in the secondary this season following the graduations of cornerbacks Bennett Okotcha and Trevor Baker. Following a strong performance in the spring game, N'Keal Bailey looks to be a corner (get it?) of the 1,000 piece puzzle that is the 2016 UTSA secondary. Bailey totaled six tackles (five solo), one pass break up, and a blocked point-after attempt. I liked Bailey's physical style of coverage and his ability to come down hill and combat the run game.
Gabriel Casillas - Senior Offensive Tackle
Casillas' solid performance was the biggest surprise of the day in my book. I have to admit, I had to double check the roster to make sure the maligned junior college transfer was still wearing #72 and holding down the right side of the offensive line for the first team offense. It's still too early to pencil in Casillas as a starter in the fall but knowing there's a solid chance that he can provide quality depth is extremely good news for this offense.
Brett Winnegan - Sophomore Running Back
We got a little bit of a look at Winnegan in his freshman season where he was mostly used as a return specialist. Winnegan showed that he's more than just a burst of speed as he navigated between the tackles with good vision and quick cuts. Winnegan likely won't be stealing carries from Jarveon Williams or Jalen Rhodes just yet but the position will still be in good hands once Jarveon graduates.
Josiah Tauaefa - Redshirt Freshman Linebacker
I knew Tauaefa would become a fan favorite after watching his high school film but I never thought it would happen this quickly. Powered by his flowing hair, the freshman made a huge impression in his first few weeks as a linebacker, earning "Most Productive Defensive Player of the Spring" honors from head coach Frank Wilson. The former defensive end has a natural knack for the ball which he showed on his eight yard fumble recovery. It's going to be hard for the freshman to beat out LSU transfer Ronnie Feist at middle linebacker but "Psycho T" is going to play a ton of snaps and be a feared name in Conference USA for years.
Jaylon Henderson - Redshirt Freshman Quarterback
Henderson got his chance to shine in this year's spring game with Manny Harris nursing an ankle injury. The talented young quarterback bounced back from a shaky first half to lead the Blue squad to victory. Henderson threw the pass of the day on a beautiful 48 yard touchdown strike to Aron Taylor. Given his inconsistency on shorter routes Henderson isn't quite ready to start but his progression should assuage long term concern at the quarterback position for UTSA. The Roadrunners will have legitimate Division I depth under center for the first time... ever?
- Stefan Beard - The JUCO transfer offensive guard dominated. I'm willing to lock him in as a starter.
- Shaq Williams - Another JUCO guy, Shaq Williams redshirted last season but looks to be a big contributor this season as a tight end and H Back.
- Dannon Cavil - It says a lot about UTSA's wide receivers that this Oklahoma transfer isn't starting. Cavil had some extremely nice catches and used his body to create separation.