Shawn Oakman helping to change perception of Baylor defense

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DALLAS -- The list of misconceptions about Baylor football is longer than one would think but shrinking quickly.

Yes, Baylor likes to throw the ball and has sent a host of wide receivers to the NFL the past few seasons. But they like to run the ball in a "smash-mouth" way, according to head coach Art Briles, and led the Big 12 in rushing last season.

Yes, the Bears are known mostly for their offense and have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. But their defense isn't as shabby as most think and should continue to improve in 2014 despite replacing a number of starters from last year.

Baylor wasn't picked by the media as preseason Big 12 champions despite winning the league last year. But if you ask them, even being in the conversation speaks to the changing perception of the program.

"The image of Baylor football, it's a little different than what it has been in the past thanks to our players," Briles said. "We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted as opposed to the hunter. We've always been the hunter. And I don't want to lose that edge and that attitude and that's something that we're working hard to maintain."

Nowhere is that changing attitude more evident on the team than the defense. Despite facing excess pressure on the field due to the quick-scoring nature of the Bears' offense, the front seven might be one of the strengths of the team this season. When it was time for Baylor to take the podium at Media Day, the defensive players were among the most popular in the room. The boys on the Brazos might not be the best in the country like peers at Alabama and Florida State, but they're light years ahead of where they were.

They also have a quality that sets them apart from a few of their units around the conference, too.

"Our speed, just like the offense. Baylor is all about speed," linebacker Bryce Hager said. "We go against our offense everyday and when we stop them, we're stopping the best offense in the country. If we can stop them, we can stop anybody."

Opponents are bound to notice a large increase in snaps for defensive end Shawn Oakman and direct extra resources into stopping him off the edge. NFL scouts are already intrigued by the 6-foot-9, 275 pounder's size -- and he's every bit of it in person -- and 12.5 tackles for loss he was able to rack up as a backup.

Years ago a player of that caliber wouldn't have wound up in Waco, much less have been a second-string player due to depth. Now Oakman is representing the defense in the Media Day spotlight and talking a big game about what the defense can do this year.

"We've been striding for respect," said Oakman. "We can be real good. With focus and preparation, we have all the potential in the world."

In the past, potential was all that was discussed when talking about Baylor. Now Oakman and others will play a key part in the Bears defending a Big 12 title for the first time in school history.

Things are changing in the state of Texas, and so are a few misconceptions about the team in the middle of all the action.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter *@BryanDFischer.*

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