NCAA Football

10 College Football Players Who Dazzled in Early Spring Game Action

Spring football games have technically been going on since February, but only in the past week have they really started to pick up.

For anyone craving a football fix, this is the best—and last—opportunity for several months. And because optimism is at an all-time high in spring, there are always breakout performances that have fans filled with excitement for the future.

These are the football players who dazzled in the early weeks of spring practices.  

The only thing that matters here is that the player saw the field. Stats, while helpful, don't always tell the full story. What matters just as much is context. What does the depth at a certain position look like? How productive was this player (or position) last year? Remember, these are glorified scrimmages that focus more on situations than on box scores. 

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4-Star LB Curtis Robinson Commits to Stanford, Says It 'Just Felt Like Home'

Academics mean the world to Curtis Robinson. It so happens that he's just as good a football player as he is a student.

When discussing college football recruiting, the 4-star linebacker from renowned Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, always put academics and athletics on an equal playing scale. Monday morning, Robinson ended his recruiting process by verbally committing to Stanford via social media.

Choosing to announce on Twitter, Robinson picked the Cardinal over offers from UCLA and Notre Dame. He became Stanford's fourth overall pledge and second in roughly 48 hours. Another 4-star talent—Texas tight end Kaden Smith, the nation's No. 2 tight end—committed to Stanford Saturday.

For Robinson, Stanford was the school he's always wanted to go to.

"[Stanford] just felt like home," Robinson said. "After visiting, I realized that there wasn't another place that could give me the same opportunity academically or athletically. Also, this school was my dream ever since I was a child."

It was only last week when Robinson tweeted a top seven of Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Duke, Ohio State and Washington. Per his 247Sports timeline, he took an unofficial visit to Stanford the weekend of April 4. He was recruited by assistant coaches Lance Anderson (director of defense) and Mike Bloomgren (associate head coach/director of offense).

At 6'3", 205 pounds, Robinson has great size and solid speed. As the nation's No. 10 outside linebacker, he's a playmaker at the position.

Perhaps more importantly, Robinson is the kind of athlete who will be a great student-athlete ambassador at Stanford. At Mater Dei, he maintains a 4.1 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale with the help of AP courses.

Robinson's looking to obtain a business degree upon finishing his undergraduate studies. If the NFL calls, as well, then so be it.

Robinson is excited about suiting up for coach David Shaw next season. He's also excited to say his process is now a part of his past.

"The process was fun, but it's a relief," he said. "It's good to know where I'm going and [to] be able to focus on spring ball and my senior year."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rating. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Insider Buzz: USC Sleeper Who Will Have Breakout Season for Trojans

USC is looking to have one of the most potent offenses in the country next season, led by Heisman hopeful Cody Kessler at quarterback. 

Adam Lefkoe is joined by Los Angeles Times USC beat writer Lindsey Thiry to discuss USC's potential sleeper on offense. 

How good can the Trojans offense be next season? Watch the video and let us know!

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Insider Buzz: USC Sleeper Who Will Have Breakout Season for Trojans

USC is looking to have one of the most potent offenses in the country next season, led by Heisman hopeful Cody Kessler at quarterback...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

4-Star J.P. Urquidez Commits to Baylor: 'I'm Ready to Recruit State of Texas'

Sometimes, being first means something to a college football recruit.

Texas offensive lineman J.P. Urquidez claimed Baylor as his first offer on March 22, 2014. Nearly 13 months and 25 offers later, Baylor still is No. 1 to land Urquidez, as the 4-star offensive tackle verbally committed to the Bears during a ceremony Monday morning at Copperas Cove High School.

Urquidez became Baylor's seventh commitment of the 2016 class. Ranked as the nation's No. 20 offensive tackle, Urquidez chose Baylor over Texas, Oklahoma and Miami.

"I feel great, completely relieved," Urquidez said. "It's been a crazy journey with recruiting and seeing each side of the programs, but I was ready to shut it down.

"It started early with Baylor being my first offer. I looked at each school and thought about which one I saw myself fitting the best at. I asked for 365 [days], can I live there?"

Urquidez's commitment is huge for Baylor, as the 2016 class now has Urquidez and 5-star Patrick Hudson spearheading the offensive line. Hudson is the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle and the No. 12 overall player.

Many believed Urquidez's decision came down to Baylor and Texas, as the 6'5.5", 300-pounder from Copperas Cove, Texas, visited both schools multiple times during his recruiting process. Urquidez has built great relationships with coaches from both schools, but he said he likes where Baylor's been in recent years. More importantly, he chose Baylor because of where he feels the program can be in the immediate future.

"Baylor's the new kid on the block; they're here, and they're now," Urquidez said. "They are back-to-back Big 12 champs and one of the best teams in the country. I have great relationships with the coaches there. I just like the feel of it all."

Urquidez has made unofficial visits all over the country, and since mid-February, he's made stops to all four of his finalists. He took in junior days at Oklahoma (Feb. 15) and Texas (Feb. 28), and he spent part of his spring break in Miami (March 16-18).

Most recently, he visited Baylor for its Friday Night Lights spring scrimmage on March 20. Urquidez has been recruited by assistant coaches Randy Clements, Kendal Briles and Jeff Lebby, and all three have sold the program and the school to him.

"To me, it's not just about winning national championships," he said. "I can't predict the future, but I want to know what I'll be doing when I get there."

Urquidez is committed to play tackle, but he said he is open to playing guard in the system. Urquidez's first mission is to see playing time as early as possible.

"If the coaches came to me and said I could play guard and start right now, I guess I'd get used to playing guard," he said.

Baylor won a recruiting battle against a school that’s been a childhood favorite of Urquidez's in Texas. He said he likes how head coach Charlie Strong runs the program and how offensive line coach Joe Wickline has sent multiple lineman to the NFL.

For his future, however, Baylor proved to be the best fit. And now, Urquidez said, it's time to find additional players to help boost the class.

"Now that my decision is made, it's final," he said. "I'm ready to recruit the state of Texas to bring powerhouses to the school."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Ryan Buchanan May Lead, but Chad Kelly Will Be Ole Miss' Starting QB

Chad Kelly was the sizzle this spring in Oxford, but apparently Ryan Buchanan is the steak.

Buchanan, a 6'3", 208-pound redshirt sophomore from Jackson, Mississippi, exited spring practice with a slight lead over Kelly, the 6'3", 220-pound dual-threat junior college transfer, and redshirt sophomore DeVante Kincade.

"In the totality of spring, going back before today, I would say that Ryan Buchanan had a lead in my mind," head coach Hugh Freeze said in quotes released by Ole Miss following the spring game on Saturday. "That certainly doesn't mean that he is going to be the starter."

If Buchanan was the leader going into the Grove Bowl on Saturday, Kelly did all he could to close the gap.

Buchanan completed five of his 16 passes for 49 yards, zero touchdowns and one pick on Saturday, while Kelly completed nine of his 19 for 104 yards, one touchdown and one pick, according to stats released by the school.

The highlight for Kelly was a 43-yard touchdown strike to Taz Zettergren to get the scoring started.

As Brad Logan of Rebel Nation and 96.3 The Ticket in Tupelo, Mississippi, points out, Kelly looked sharp in Freeze's offense:

So why is Buchanan in the lead?

Experience, plain and simple.

This is Buchanan's third season under Freeze at Ole Miss, and he not only knows what Freeze expects, but also what many of his teammates are thinking. He has the luxury of being on the same page with pretty much everybody in the program, while Kelly has had to pick that up on the fly.

While Kelly ran virtually the same offense at East Mississippi Community College last season, won a national title, threw for 3,906 yards and rushed for 446, he has been forced to play catch-up this offseason due in part to a re-dedication to tempo by Freeze and his staff.

The Rebels ran 69.6 plays per game last year after running 78.3 plays per game in 2013 and 74 plays per game in Freeze's first season in Oxford in 2012.

"We have gone back to my Arkansas State days," Freeze said. "What I found out last year is that you cannot go from slow to fast, but you can go fast to slow. We have definitely made an emphasis on getting our tempo back. I think our kids handled it well. I think that it helped make us more effective and efficient."

If Ole Miss is going to play faster, of course that favors the quarterbacks who have been there longer and are more comfortable with the scheme and personnel.

In the end, though, Kelly will be the man in Oxford.

He showed on Saturday that he has a big arm, is consistent on the timing routes underneath and has the dynamic running ability that Buchanan simply doesn't have. That's important, because Ole Miss not only needs to find another weapon on the ground opposite edge threat Jaylen Walton, but Kelly can add an even bigger wrinkle off the read-option with Jordan Wilkins, Eugene Brazley or Akeem Judd providing the threat between the tackles.

Kelly may not have the lead, but he's in a heated race and has far more upside. That should earn him the starting nod when toe meets leather in Ole Miss' season opener versus UT-Martin on Sept. 5.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Ohio State Football: How High Is Michael Thomas' Ceiling as Buckeyes No. 1 WR?

On the road in a prime-time game against Michigan State last year, Ohio State was on the ropes and in need of a big play when Michael Thomas stepped up.

The Spartans had just blown an opportunity to take a two-score lead late in the second quarter, setting the Buckeyes up at their own 21-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Thomas faked an outside go-route before darting inside for a quick slant. J.T. Barrett hit him with a perfectly placed pass, and Thomas shrugged off a would-be tackler and raced 79 yards for the game-tying score.

That was the kind of play Thomas made as the Buckeyes' No. 2 option at wide receiver last year, serving as an excellent counterpunch to the quick-striking Devin Smith.

This fall, though, the rising redshirt junior is primed to not only become the Buckeyes' top pass-catcher, but also emerge as one of the nation's best wideouts. 

Thomas had an outstanding sophomore campaign—catching 54 passes for 799 yards and nine touchdowns. But as the nephew of legendary receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the expectations for greatness are there.

"I think Mike's doing well," Johnson told Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer last October. "He's just scratching the surface. He has to keep doing everything the coaches are asking him to do, continue to keep getting better each week. I think eventually, at some point in time, he'll come into his own, but Mike's still learning how to play."

It took a while for Thomas to get there.

After a surprising performance in the 2012 spring game when he caught 12 passes for 131 yards, many thought he would contribute as a freshman in Urban Meyer's wide-open system. But that fall, he only caught a meager three passes for 22 yards. A year later, he hadn't earned the right to see the field and was eventually redshirted. 

"He was the mistake guy," Meyer said of Thomas leading up the '13 season, according to Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "Every third play he would go the wrong way or make a mistake and come up with some excuse."

But Thomas showed what he was made of during his year off—taking it as an opportunity to grow.

"It was a tough season redshirting because I knew I probably wasn't going to play, but I'm all about looking forward at my opportunities for this year," Thomas said, via Wasserman. "I just took last season as like a developmental year. That motivates me."

Something clicked as he stood on the sideline. 

In a receiving corps loaded with options like Smith, Evan Spencer, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, Thomas rose up as Ohio State's most consistent pass-catcher, leading the team with 54 receptions last season.

But now, he won't be looked at as a complement to someone else in the passing game—by the Buckeyes coaching staff or opposing defenses this fall. He'll be Ohio State's go-to guy, and to his credit, he's up for the challenge. 

"I feel like the whole time I was getting ready for this type of moment, this situation," Thomas said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "Over the years, watching, sitting down, I just had to stay patient and keep working."

So how good can Thomas be this year? Will he be able to thrive while every defense keys in on him? 

He's expecting that, and even still, he's setting lofty goals this fall. 

Like becoming the first Buckeye receiver to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 2002.

"Yeah, I think about it all the time," Thomas said, via Seger. "It's definitely what I want, but I wouldn't say a 1,000—a 1,000-plus."

The coaching staff certainly believes in him. Even though Thomas has been held out for most spring practice as he recovers from a sports hernia, wide receivers coach Zach Smith thinks the sky's the limit.

“His ceiling is where he sets it,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said, via Patrick Murphy of The Ozone. “It's really limitless. He's a very talented guy.”

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

When news broke last week that 4-star defensive tackle Jordan Elliott had decommitted from Baylor, it almost seemed like a forgone conclusion that the interest in him would swell.

The first school to tender him afterward was the Miami Hurricanes, as noted by Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles.

Al Golden and his staff have jumped out to a fast start, having landed 20 verbal commitments—all of which are homegrown products in Florida.

Included in that group are a trio of defensive ends, but the ‘Canes have yet to land a commitment from a defensive tackle.

The 6’4”, 305-pound Houston standout rates as the nation’s No. 12 defensive tackle and the No. 93 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

Given that Miami has the luxury of having most of its class already filled, Golden and his staff can afford to go all in and swing for the fences with elite talents such as Elliott.

Elliott—who also picked up an offer from Arkansas last week—has schools such as Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, TCU, Texas and Texas A&M among the group of programs he is considering.

While it will be a battle to get him to leave the Lone Star State, Miami presents Elliott with an intriguing option given the ‘Canes need for playmakers along the interior of their defensive line.

 

Florida After Texas A&M Commit

Elliott’s teammate at Westfield High School in Houston is 4-star receiver and current Texas A&M pledge Tyrie Cleveland.

While the ‘Canes came after Elliott, another Sunshine State powerhouse threw its hat in the ring for Cleveland: the Florida Gators.

Jim McElwain’s club has a big need at the receiver position in the 2016 cycle, despite already having a pair of commitments at that position. 

Getting Cleveland to back off his pledge to the home state Aggies will be tough, but similar to Miami’s pursuit of Elliott, the Gators have little to lose in offering one of the most explosive talents in the Lone Star State.

 

Michigan, Notre Dame Offer Florida WR

The state of Florida is loaded with stud recruits, but it’s also a haven for schools outside of the Southeast who are looking to poach talented prospects that have flown under the radar. 

Both Notre Dame and Michigan jumped into the race for Jacksonville (Florida) First Coast pass-catcher Kevin Stepherson.

The 6’2”, 180-pounder also has offers from LSU, North Carolina and West Virginia, among others.

Given the wave of interest from powers such as the Irish and the Wolverines, expect Stepherson’s profile to continue to grow in the coming months.

 

Nebraska Offers Stud 2017 QB

The last stud passer to emerge from St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, was Marcus Mariota.

However, the Crusaders' current trigger man, 2017 quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, is poised to become a national recruit.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Nebraska tendered the 6’1”, 190-pounder last week.

The ‘Huskers join the likes of Ole Miss, Texas Tech, UCLA and USC as early offers for Tagovailoa.

 

Best of the Rest

  • Pryor’s teammate at Lawrenceville (Georgia) Archer High School, 2017 4-star athlete Jamyest Williams, picked up offers from Stanford and Miami.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Georgia Football: Mark Richt's 4 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

The G-Day Game was played on Saturday, and the Georgia Bulldogs were able to give the fans a show before the team gears up for fall camp and the 2015 season.

Head coach Mark Richt should be pleased with a lot of things he saw during the spring game. A.J. Turman ran the ball well, the linebackers were making plays and quarterback Faton Bauta made strides from the start of spring practice to G-Day.

With that said, there are still some concerns for Richt and his coaching staff, and those things will be addressed when the Bulldogs return to work in the summer.

So here are Richt’s biggest concerns as the team ends spring practice.

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College Football Players with Most Pressure Riding on Their Shoulders

In college football, pressure is a relative term. When your sport is the biggest moneymaker on campus, the engine that fuels athletic department coffers across the nation, you’re going to feel pressure to consistently perform and win.

With only 12 regular-season games each season, every game matters, whether it’s the opener or a random midseason, nonconference road game. Any slip-up will dearly hurt a team’s quest for a coveted College Football Playoff berth. But some players will be feeling the pressure a bit more than most this fall.

These are players who’ll be depended upon heavily for a variety of reasons this fall, be it the crucial position they occupy, the key player they’re replacing or a lack of a supporting cast around them. Here are 10 players who’ll be feeling the most pressure in 2015.

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Why Ohio State Students Should Beware of Joey Bosa

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even with his new haircut, it's not hard to spot Joey Bosa on Ohio State's campus.

At 6'6" and 275 pounds, the Buckeyes star defensive end is much larger than most college students. But it's not just Bosa's size and celebrity status that has gotten him recognized around campus lately, as classmates have been treated to a firsthand look at some of his newest pass-rushing moves for the 2015 season.

"It will be random, out at night, and there will be two people walking in a row and I'll flip on one and flip on the other," Bosa said as he mimicked the motion of a defensive lineman's swim move. "[They're] probably a little scared or shocked."

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native said he's constantly been working on his repertoire of moves since the 2014 season came to a close, whether it's been refining old ones or thinking of new ones. "It's pretty much in your mind, 24/7, so you're pretty much always working on it," Bosa said.

It's hard to imagine Bosa would even have much to work on after a 2014 campaign that saw him named a unanimous All-American in what was just his sophomore season. In 15 games, the Sunshine State product tallied 55 tackles, 21 of which came for a loss, and 13.5 sacks, and he was responsible for perhaps the most memorable play during Ohio State's run to the national title.

Yet despite his ability to control a game from the defensive end position in just the second year of his college career, Bosa insists that he has plenty of improving to do.

So much so, in fact, that when asked what he's been working on this spring, Bosa declined to name a single element of his game. Rather, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year said that he's been working to improve on everything in his skill set, despite seeing just limited reps for precautionary purposes this spring.

"I can't really pick one spot in my game that I can get better at because I think I can improve at every part of my game," he said. "That's the plan—not just getting better at one thing but improving in every aspect of my game."

And while Bosa may be right, it's hard to imagine a player getting much better when he would likely be a high first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft if he were draft eligible. Instead, Bosa will have to wait until next year's annual selection show, where he's already in the running to be the first player selected.

WalterFootball.com currently projects Bosa to be the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, while CBSSports.com lists him as the No. 1 overall defensive end in the 2017 class. That's because as a junior, he could always opt to return to Ohio State for a fourth and final season in 2016, although with the hype he's already receiving, that's highly unlikely.

Bosa's even admitted that he's aware of the draft-related expectations that are following him into the upcoming season. But rather than letting them become a distraction like Jadeveon Clowney did in 2013, he's attempting to use it as motivation to live up to the hype.

"I'm not really thinking about it much," Bosa insisted. "I have my goals set just to get better."

Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson concurred.

"It will not happen," Johnson said of the possibility of Bosa taking plays off to guard against injury and protect his draft stock. "Because he wants to be great. Great players do not shut down. Great players go forward and that's what we hope Joey will do."

Judging by his impromptu on-campus pass-rush practice, that's the path Bosa appears to have chosen. Johnson said he's even been used as a prop by his star player in such drills around the halls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as Bosa prepares for his highly touted junior season.

"We can't write the story now. We'll write the story at the end of the season," Johnson said. "He has a chance to be a really special player."

With all he's already accomplished in the first two years of his college career, one could argue he already is.

But the idea of Bosa being even better than he was a year ago? That might be even scarier than being the target of one of his random pass-rush sessions.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Not every spring practice is perfect, and that certainly extends to a Tennessee football team that has had a near-month of praise-filled drills despite being extremely short-handed thanks to injuries.

But a week after the refrain was refreshing around the Vols' progress, Saturday brought a particularly perturbed coach Butch Jones after a subpar practice.

Though much of spring has centered around the emergence of some fresh faces (such as Alvin Kamara and Shy Tuttle) and the development of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, some little-used contributors have begun to take serious strides toward helping the Vols in 2015.

Last week, Jones praised defensive backs Rashaan Gaulden and Evan Berry. This week, two more had done enough to get public recognition.

All that and more will be discussed in this week's stock report.

 

Saturday's Malaise 

All the hurt players have seriously hindered UT's ability to participate in game-like situations this spring, but that hadn't damped the team's ability to install much of the concepts from new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord or turn up the tempo.

"We're pushing tempo, and people know the plays like the back of their hand and more than they did last year, so we're able to go faster and do things on offense," Dobbs told B/R last week. "We're installing various concepts and stuff, so we're definitely growing as an offense and growing the arsenal we have.

"Tempo, that's something that's always been a part of our offense. We're picking that even more this offseason."

What a difference in tone a week makes.

With Kamara missing his third consecutive practice with a thigh bruise and other offensive weapons missing, the Vols failed to please their coach on Saturday.

In situational work and under difficult circumstances that any team will face during the course of its season, they struggled to perform.

"I did not like our offense's approach," Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press' Patrick Brown. "I thought we were stale. I thought we had no mental effort. I thought we had no intensity about ourselves, and I think it showed.

"We started off putting them in some demanding situations."

UT didn't fare very well in those, reportedly. But the injuries can't be discounted. With Jalen Hurd limited this spring, Kamara and Dobbs generated the most positive publicity among offensive players. With Kamara out, the offense sputtered.

The Vols miss the running backs a lot when they aren't out there, but Jones indicated Kamara's injury isn't anything to worry about.

Despite his general unhappiness with the way the Vols handled every situation, Jones noted the practice was productive because of the varying situations in which his team gained experience.

Even so, Dobbs wasn't real chipper when asked about the general sloppiness of the passing game or about drops, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker. It has been a long spring with injuries and trying to push through short-handed, and maybe it got to him a little after a less-than-stellar day.

 

Defensive Duo Making a Move

Injuries have equaled opportunities this spring, and it isn't just newcomers taking advantage.

Most of the excitement entering the spring centered around redshirt freshman Dillon Bates moving to middle linebacker to perhaps seize a wide-open spot and solidify that position for the next few years. 

Gavin Bryant was another redshirt freshman everybody wanted to see, and while true freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. is out with an injury, he is expected to have a say-so in that race before the season starts.

Bates isn't yet healthy, however, and he has yet to wrestle the job away from redshirt junior Kenny Bynum, who started in the place of Jakob Johnson in the TaxSlayer Bowl and hasn't relinquished the job yet.

The 6'1", 243-pound linebacker isn't anywhere near the most athletic of the bunch, but Jones said, via Volquest's Twitter account, that his knowledge of the defense and ability to get everybody lined up are major assets in his attempt to win the job.

Another player who's a bit of a forgotten man in the defensive tackle battle is Kendal Vickers.

The 6'3", 288-pound former defensive end has worked on his body all offseason to take advantage of a wide-open opportunity to help inside, and he continues to make good on a storybook career.

Vickers was an extremely late addition to Jones' first recruiting class at Tennessee as a lightly recruited defensive end out of Havelock, North Carolina.

Though UT wound up getting a higher-ranked prospect from the same school in Derrell Scott last year, the running back already has transferred while Vickers stuck around.

He may be rewarded with playing time. 

With Danny O'Brien missing the spring, Vickers has joined Tuttle as players who are turning heads on the interior. Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that Vickers' success stems from a technical improvement— he's using his hands more:

And he's starting to really use his athletic ability, and he's very explosive. That shows in the weight room. But now it's transferring the weight room onto the football field, and he's been able to do that. Now you're starting to see the volume of repetitions really starting to improve his play.

He's very prideful, but I can see his first step off the football. He's playing with much more explosiveness. He's playing with much more confidence, and he’s using his hands and his technique better.

Shoring up the middle of its defense is the biggest question mark on that side of the ball for Tennessee. Everybody may be talking about elite recruits such as Kirkland and Kahlil McKenzie, but it never hurts to have players improving who have been in the defense for a number of years.

Bynum is going into his fourth season at UT, and Vickers is entering his third. Getting them to consistently play well is huge for coordinator John Jancek's defense.

 

Mixed Bag for Blair

One of the brightest spotlights the past two seasons on any player has stayed firmly on former 4-star JUCO offensive tackle Dontavius Blair.

At 6'8", 300 pounds, he certainly looks the part. But after a redshirt season a year ago, he still hasn't cracked the starting rotation. Knoxville native Brett Kendrick has enjoyed a stout spring at right tackle, and when Coleman Thomas returns from his suspension, he should be in the mix for snaps, too.

Then this summer, instate recruiting star Drew Richmond gets to campus, and he will battle for the job, too.

But everybody's wondering about Blair, and whether he'll ever really be able to help the Vols.

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney told GoVols247's Callahan this week that Blair must be more consistent:

I told him the thing he needs to focus on is just working to get better each and every day, and he's got to be a guy that is providing us valuable play. He's more focused right now than he's been because of the hype and all that, that came into this thing.

Now it’s just a matter of staying focused. Eliminate the clutter and focus on what you need to. He's not as consistent as he needs to (be). That's the thing that's frustrating both he and I right now that has got to improve. 

He's one that he's got to be technically and fundamentally (sound) and fanatical with the way he plays, and it's not as consistent as it needs to be right now, so that’s what we’re working toward.

 

Rocky Top Roundup

  • One of the biggest objects of obsession for UT fans is Hurd, so when it was reported that the rising sophomore running back who's been limited this spring is between 235-240 pounds and hasn't lost a step, it was big news. 
  • Spring practice is serious business, but that doesn't mean there can't be a little good-natured ribbing, especially between coaches. So, it was an extremely popular retweet this week when UT tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder tweeted a video that showed offensive line coach Mahoney falling to the ground with an apparent calf cramp.
  • After missing all of last season, UT receiver Cody Blanc suffered another setback this spring. He will miss the remainder of drills after breaking ribs, according to Jones.
  • Former Vols coach Johnny Majors offered a couple of hilarious soundbites on Saturday directed at the media.

 

All statistics gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Oregon Tackle Jake Fisher Has the Athleticism NFL Teams Covet

Finding top-tier players amongst the thousands of quality athletes who play competitive football is an extremely difficult task. One method NFL front offices and talent evaluators use to filter through the clutter to find standouts is athletic testing. Oregon offensive tackle Jake Fisher firmly established himself as an athletic freak after he turned in an extremely impressive NFL combine performance.

Offensive tackle is one of the four premier positions in football. On offense, it’s not a stretch to say it is the second-most crucial investment a team could make behind the quarterback. Creating offensive production is much easier in the NFL with a solid pair of tackles.

Finding elite athletes at tackle is something teams put an emphasis on because recovery speed and agility are critical. According to Mockdraftable, here are the average combine weigh-ins by offensive tackles since 1999. Notice the size and short-area burst numbers.

Now that you’ve seen that, let’s look at what offensive tackles must face every down. Below are the average numbers by defensive ends since 1999. This time, the speed and lower-body explosion numbers should pop out.

Just by going off the numbers, tackles are at a great athletic disadvantage to start. Even the best athletes must possess strong technique or else the speedier edge defenders in the NFL will school them. But the top athletes have that extra leeway to help overcome mistakes.

There have been a handful of truly great athletes at tackle to be drafted highly since 2004. Although not all have turned out to be elite players, most have worked their way into a starting position. More importantly, their athleticism is far from the reason they’ve failed. With the exception of New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead, all of the players listed below were taken in the first round of their respective drafts.

The importance of the NFL combine can be debated to an extent, but teams clearly have shown that better athletes have high value because of their ability to “win” in multiple ways. Technique can be learned, but size, speed and bend cannot be significantly improved without major alterations to the body.

Fisher’s case to be a day one starter in the NFL is very strong. He is a former tight end who has terrific movement skills. He started 35 games in college, including 13 at left tackle in 2014.

Yet he was omitted from CBS Sports' Dane Brugler’s latest mock draft. Now, a mock is simply what someone is hearing and is in no way an iron-clad statement on what will happen. But Fisher is very comparable to former first-rounders, and if he doesn’t go in the first, he could be a huge steal.

Fisher’s combine was terrific. Take a look at his raw numbers, as well as where he ranked in percentiles. His short-area and explosion numbers were off the charts.

Fisher’s athleticism easily translates to the field, as well. He’s not just some workout warrior who blew up. Armstead was that guy, but Fisher was an accomplished three-year starter at Oregon, so they’re not as similar as Fisher and the rest of the examples used earlier.

Above is a great example of how Fisher can use his athleticism to protect his quarterback. It is just one play, but this was routine throughout his film, so I feel comfortable showing this as a snapshot of who Fisher is. Notice how smoothly Fisher gets back, stays engaged and neutralizes the inside move by the rusher.

Being able to handle countermoves inside and out is more important than ever for left and right tackles. Passing rates are at an incredible high right now, and things may not start trending downward for a few years, if ever. Quality tackles are absolutely a must.

A smart team will select Jake Fisher at the end of the first round or early second. Considering the premium cost of his comparisons, Fisher will be a bargain. He’s more of a technician than Armstead, Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Taylor Lewan. Combining his athletic prowess and NFL-ready skill set, he should be getting more buzz.

Fisher isn’t the perfect tackle prospect, though. He could use more functional strength on his body, and he has some injury concerns. His ability to play either tackle spot or guard shouldn’t be questioned, though. A year from now, he will very likely be “that guy” teams wish they didn’t pass up.

 

Ian Wharton is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Tackle Jake Fisher Has the Athleticism NFL Teams Covet

Finding top-tier players amongst the thousands of quality athletes who play competitive football is an extremely difficult task. One method NFL front offices and talent evaluators use to filter through the clutter to find standouts is athletic testing..

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After a slower week for offers two weeks ago, Alabama was much more aggressive doling them out last week and laid a lot of groundwork for the 2017 class in the process.

With less than a week until the A-Day spring game, the Crimson Tide offered nine targets last week, including several big names who just finished up their sophomore seasons.

Let’s take a look at who Alabama added to their list:

 

Darnay Holmes, 2017 5-star athlete from Newbury Park, California

Holmes came out from the West Coast to Tuscaloosa for an unofficial visit and left with an offer after meeting with Nick Saban.

Saban emphasized discipline to Holmes, after a stretch that has seen three Crimson Tide players arrested in a short span.

“It went great,” Holmes said, according to 247Sports’ Hank South. “I had a deep talk with Coach Saban, he talked a lot about how he looks for guys that are disciplined, how if we see something that’s wrong we’re going to do something to make it right.

“He’s the type of coach that’s going to set you up for success, he’s not going to put you in harms way. He emphasized life after football, and how it’s important to get your degree, so you can succeed in life and not just football.”

Per South, Holmes caught 89 passes for 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore at Newbury Park High School, but he met with Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker when he came to campus, indicating that the Crimson Tide may project the 5’11”, 180-pound as a safety or corner in college.

He got an up-close view of Alabama, attending a practice.

“They just get after it," Holmes said. “There were no sluggish guys out there. They were all out there competing and playing SEC football.

“It’s definitely a pretty place. The facilities are really nice. You can look outside the weight room and see the fields, and the indoor field with the coaches’ offices right above it. They definitely had a nice layout when they put the place together.”

 

Shawn Robinson, 2017 5-star dual-threat quarterback from Denton, Texas

Alabama got in on one of the top players of 2017, offering 247Sports’ No. 1 player in the state of Texas and No. 1 dual threat quarterback.

Robinson already holds offers from an impressive list of schools like USC, Oklahoma, Baylor and, of course, Texas.

"It kind of surprised me because I haven't heard anything from Alabama before,” Robinson told TideSports.com’s Andrew Bone. "And Alabama recruits nothing but big time players and they've never come to me," Robinson said. "Then they just offered me. I don't know it was just crazy talking to Nick Saban. It was just crazy."

Robinson told Bone that the Alabama offer is going to make him consider a Tuscaloosa visit this summer.

“Nothing is 100 percent but I have a pretty good gauge," Robinson said. "Probably Ole Miss, LSU, most likely Alabama, USC, and there's some more but I'm not remembering. I have it like on a calendar."

Alabama’s trend of offering dual-threat quarterbacks continues, this time with the Crimson Tide going after a top name in the 2017 class. Per 247Sports, Robinson is Alabama’s third quarterback offer of the 2017 cycle, two of whom are dual-threats.

If he does come to Tuscaloosa, though, he shouldn’t have to worry about being confused with A’Shawn Robinson, who should be in the NFL by then.

 

Leonard Warner, 2017 4-star outside linebacker from Snellville, Georgia

Another visit from a 2017 prospect ended with an offer this week, with Warner grabbing one on Wednesday.

"I got a chance to speak with Coach Saban," he told TideSports.com’s Andrew Bone. "He wanted me to know he has an offer for me. He wanted me to know what they are all about. He told me football is a small part of life. He can help you get to the League, but getting your degree is important. He wants to help players be better people and be more successful."

Warner is listed by 247Sports as 6’4”, 209 pounds and someone who could play wide receiver, tight end or outside linebacker.

He already holds offers from most of the SEC powers, such as Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

"The visit was nice," Warner told Bone of Tuscaloosa. "It was fun. It was my first time going there. I went with my dad, sister, coach and a few guys I train with.

"I was really impressed with the weight room. It was cool to see how much they care about developing their players. I talked to the strength coach (Scott Cochran). He definitely is something else."

 

Other offers from the week:

Josh Brown, 2016 4-star outside linebacker from Charlotte, North Carolina (Florida State commit)

Brandon Burton, 2016 4-star safety from Gardena, California

Jay Jay McCargo, 2016 3-star offensive tackle from Arlington, Virginia

Jamal Pettigrew, 2016 4-star tight end from New Orleans, Louisiana (LSU commit)

Chauncey Gardner II, 2016 4-star cornerback from Cocoa, Florida (Florida commit)

Tony Gray, 2017 offensive tackle from Lawrenceville, Georgia

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Notre Dame Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football’s spring game is around the corner, and the Irish have been equally busy the last few weeks on the recruiting trail.

Each week, we’ll be keeping tabs on the new scholarship offers sent out by the Notre Dame coaches, tracking the recruiting process as the Irish focus their attention toward the classes of 2016, 2017 and maybe even 2018.

Notre Dame wasn’t as active with its offers this week, but there’s still plenty of action in the recruiting world.

 

Kevin Stepherson

Class of 2016 wide receiver Kevin Stepherson added an offer from Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Michigan extended an offer to the 6’2” 180-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, a day later. Stepherson also boasts offers from LSU, Indiana and West Virginia, among others.

“It means so much to have an offer from Notre Dame,” Stepherson told Irish247’s Tom Loy on Wednesday. “That offer and the one from LSU mean a lot. Those are the two schools really standing out to me right now. Both of them are big offers for me.”

 

Recruiting Notebook

The offers were few and far between this week, but Notre Dame’s spring recruiting efforts continued.

Class of 2016 outside linebacker Curtis Robinson, the No. 10 player at his position and No. 110 in the country, announced his top seven schools Monday.

Robinson then declared he will announce his commitment Monday.

The Santa Ana, California, product took an unofficial visit to South Bend in mid-March and stopped by Stanford earlier this month. The Irish will soon have clarity on one of their top linebacker targets.

A decision date has also been set for class of 2016 defensive end Julian Okwara, the brother of Irish senior defensive end Romeo Okwara.

The No. 11 weak-side defensive end and No. 185 overall player announced his top five Friday and said Saturday he will announce his commitment April 30.

The 4-star from Charlotte, North Carolina, stopped by for an unofficial visit at the end of March.

Class of 2016 offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg visited South Bend over the weekend and took in Saturday’s full practice.

A top target along the line for this cycle, Eichenberg is the No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 83 overall player in the nation. Following Friday’s portion of his weekend visit, Eichenberg recapped his visit with Loy.

“It was great. I had a good time,” Eichenberg said. “I spent a lot of time with [offensive linemen] Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars. Those are some great dudes. They were telling me that going to Notre Dame was the best decision they ever made, and they have never regretted it.”

The 6’6” 290-pounder from Cleveland is scheduled for a visit to Ohio State on Friday.

One of Notre Dame’s other high-end class of 2016 targets along the offensive line, Ben Bredeson, also visited campus this weekend. Bredeson ranks as the No. 6 tackle and No. 34 player in the class. The Wisconsin native is considering Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Stanford in addition to Notre Dame, per 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings. 

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

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Big Ten Football: Which Teams Will Overachieve and Underachieve in 2015?

The 2015 college football season is a few months away, and with spring practices receding into memories for most Big Ten programs, eyes are turning toward the fall. The name of the game is expectations and whether "Dear Old U" can live up to them. In that vein, we're going to lay out some predictions based on those early forecasts—will these teams fail to live up to the hype, or exceed expectations?

College football is a notoriously difficult sport to make accurate predictions in. There's so much that changes from year to year, and it seems as if no two seasons are ever the same for any program. A few short seasons ago, we were all hearing about the demise of the Big Ten and how college football had passed the conference by. The Michigan State Spartans' flash-in-the-pan status seemed to be confirmed after a 7-6 season in 2012.

Over the following two seasons, Michigan State won the Rose Bowl and the CFP Committee-selected Cotton Bowl, while the Ohio State Buckeyes won the first-ever College Football Playoff.

So which Big Ten teams will be next to defy expectations? Which Big Ten programs will fall flat in 2015? Here are our picks for the five teams that will overachieve and underachieve in 2015.

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Lou Holtz and ESPN Part Ways: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

"Dr. Lou" has diagnosed his last patient.

According to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, Lou Holtz will no longer work as an ESPN college football analyst. Both parties reportedly agreed Holtz would step away from his roles on College Football Final, in addition to any guest appearances on other ESPN programs.

ESPN's College GameDay tweeted out a final farewell to Holtz:

"There are plenty in Bristol who knew the Holtz-Mark May shtick was long past its shelf life, and this is a good time to change things up," Deitsch wrote. "No doubt part of the thinking on Holtz’s part was to move on without (Rece) Davis in the host chair."

The news doesn't come as a big surprise. Holtz said last May that he intended to retire after the season, per Dan Murphy of Irish247:

I'd like to leave when people say, "Why are you leaving?" not "When are you leaving?" This is my fifth last year. They usually talk me into it. ESPN is a great organization to work for. We've been together nine years now. That's unusual. They're like my family. I love them. We enjoy it. There comes a time where you need to step aside and let the younger people do it.

There will certainly be quite a bit of turnover on ESPN's Saturday night college football program. Along with Holtz departing, Davis left to take over for Chris Fowler on College GameDay.

May is now the only holdover, and with his and Holtz's banter constituting so much of the show, it will be interesting to see how ESPN tweaks the show going forward.

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Michigan Football: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Wolverines' 2015 Season

Jim Harbaugh is the reason for the season at Michigan, so it’s probably unnecessary to tab him as one of the five reasons why Wolverines fans should be optimistic this fall.

His presence trumps all.

So with that said, this slideshow will feature the other top five reasons to expect something much more than what’s been offered during the previous three years—much, much more, actually.

While wins typically are the best measure of progress, they’re not the end-all metric. For roughly a decade, Michigan football has been devoid of a certain something, something that only a coach of Harbaugh’s ilk can provide.

With that influence in place, Michigan can finally take the steps necessary to dust itself off and reclaim its place within the world of college football.

That rebirth can happen. Oh, it’s very possible—and here are the five reasons why dreams could become reality for the Wolverines starting Sept. 3 at Utah.

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Derrick Tindal Injury: Updates on Wisconsin CB's Status and Recovery

Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Derrick Tindal was injured in spring practice on Sunday and left the field in an ambulance.   

Continue for updates.    

Tindal Suffers Scary Injury in Spring PracticeSunday, April 12

Scout.com's Benjamin Worgull and Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided the initial details on Tindal's status:

Tindal is a sophomore who saw action in 2014 as a true freshman, recording 10 solo tackles, one sack and one pass defended, per Sports-Reference.com.    

The early playing time suggests Tindal will be a big part of the Badgers program, but Sunday's scare in practice puts his well-being as the chief concern above any potential role on the team.

Although the exact nature of Tindal's injury isn't yet known, it was an ominous scene by all accounts.    

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