NCAA Football

USC Football: Players to Watch for in Trojans' 2016 Spring Game

Though Max Browne, Sam Darnold and the quarterback competition will garner most of the attention during USC's spring game, a handful of other Trojans deserve their moment in the spotlight—or at least the recognition that a standout performance is possible.

None of the following players were on the national radar last year, but they may eventually secure significant roles on the 2016 team.

Nobody will lock up a starting spot just by putting up big numbers in a scrimmage. Still, a strong outing could be an encouraging step forward for reserves looking to rise up the depth chart.

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USC Football: Players to Watch for in Trojans' 2016 Spring Game

Though Max Browne, Sam Darnold and the quarterback competition will garner most of the attention during USC's spring game, a handful of other Trojans deserve their moment in the spotlight—or ...

Begin Slideshow

Meet Nick Brahms, the Nation's Most Underrated High School Recruit

NEW ORLEANS — To most observers at the New Orleans Nike Opening Regional, Nick Brahms came out of nowhere to punch his ticket to The Opening—which is the premier summer camp showcase held at Nike’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters for the nation’s elite recruits in July.

After all, as Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles noted, Brahms entered the event without a star rating attached to his name.

However, after a spree of offers from colleges around the country and a dominant performance at the New Orleans regional, the secret is officially out about the 6’4”, 285-pound mauler from Florida's Navarre High School.

“It’s a blessing. I’ve been working hard since I got into high school and before then,” Brahms told Bleacher Report. “I’ve just been working on my technique prior to these camps. This was the big camp that I really wanted to excel at. I think I did. I’m very excited about it. I’m ready to go to work in Oregon.”

Todd Huber, the director of football at Student Sports, also coaches the offensive and defensive linemen at the regional camps.

The rapid rise of Brahms hasn’t surprised him.

“Nick was here last year. Nick was a top-five guy here last year, and he was probably underdeveloped then,” Huber said. “When we go back and check tape before we get here, Nick was the No. 1 guy here in terms of tape, at least I thought so. I think that shows since he’s kind of blown up in the last few weeks. He’s gone from, like, two offers to, like, 30 offers in a short time period. I don’t think the media has caught up in terms of what type of player he is.”

To his credit, Brahms has let his film and his play on the camp circuit do the talking for him. Still, he admits that he’s aware of the fact he’s yet to be rated by more than one scouting service.

“[Recruiting sites] haven’t rated me yet. I don’t really pay much attention to that,” Brahms said. “But at the same time, it’s a little fuel to the fire. At the end of the day, it’s all about what goes on when you’re on the field. That’s all I pay attention to. I just keep working on my craft, and it’s paid off for me.”

Against a crop of defensive linemen in the New Orleans regional that included prospects such as 5-star defensive tackle and current LSU pledge Tyler Shelvin, Brahms—along with his good friend, 4-star offensive lineman and fellow Florida native Alex Leatherwood—was dominant all afternoon.

When it comes to Brahms’ package of size and athleticism, he has proved himself to be one of the elite prospects at his position in the 2017 cycle—something he will look to cement later this summer in Oregon.

“Nick is a guy that is really good with his hands, and he has the feet to match it. Once he’s locked in, he’s hard to get around because he’s got great athleticism to match his frame,” Huber said. “He showed that this morning in the testing. He checks every box with tape, testing and to the drills and taking coaching and wanting to get better. Those are the types of kids we want at The Opening. He’s a no-doubt kid for us. He pushed some really good players off the board with how he performed today.”

As Huber detailed, college coaches have certainly taken notice in recent weeks.

Less than two months ago, Florida Atlantic was his only offer. Since then, he’s added more than 30 offers, with schools such as Louisville, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee and Vanderbilt offering the Sunshine State standout.

His hot streak has coincided with a busy offseason workout program that has seen him add nearly 20 pounds of muscle since last season ended.

In-state ACC power Miami is the last school to host Brahms on a visit, but he plans on hitting up a few more schools in the coming weeks and months.

“I really like Miami. It’s like a paradise down there. [Offensive Line] Coach [Stacy] Searels is a great man. I feel like I can learn a lot from him. I enjoyed it down there,” Brahms said. “I’m also going to go to Oregon, Mississippi State again, Tennessee again and Vanderbilt. I want to go to Miami again and also Louisville.”

As impressive as his feats on the field are, Brahms is also getting it done in the classroom.

Brahms reports a 4.5 GPA with tentative plans to major in either business or engineering. He also noted that it is possible that he could arrive at the school of his choice in January as an early enrollee. 

While he doesn’t have a concrete timeline on announcing his commitment, it’s a safe bet that the interest in his recruitment and decision will continue to swell in the near future.

The attention is already surging, and his status as being an unrated recruit is almost certain to change in a hurry.

“We don’t do stars, but in my opinion, he’s a top-20 offensive linemen,” Huber confidently stated. “We don’t quantify between those top 20. If you’re a top-20 offensive lineman, you’ve checked tape, testing and football drills. Those guys have done all those things that make them a candidate to succeed at the next level. We feel he’s a top-20 guy, and we don’t pay a ton of attention to the ratings. The guys that do it are smart guys, but I think you will see that [his] rating will catch up to reflect how good of a player he is.”

 

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

 

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Nick Saban Says Rivals Are Using His Age to Recruit Against Him

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is attempting to combat efforts by other coaches to use his age against him by making it clear he has no plans to leave the Crimson Tide.

Chris Low of ESPN.com passed along comments Tuesday from the 64-year-old coach, who stated he's hearing that recruits are being told he won't make it through their full college careers. He doesn't plan to quit coaching anytime soon, however:

I'm not looking to get out. I'm really not, even though I know that's going to start being talked about more now. What I have noticed is that it's the first time people are starting to say to recruits, "He won't be there the whole time you're there," because of my age. Does that really impact your ability to stay good? I don't know. But if it did, it would make you say, "Well, what's up with this?" My philosophy is that I'm going to be here for as long as I feel like I can be effective, impact the players, help them be more successful in life and continue to have a successful program.

In January, a fresh batch of rumors suggested Saban could leave the college ranks for a second head coaching stint in the NFL with either the Indianapolis Colts or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network and Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, respectively.

Saban downplayed that talk to ESPN.com: "I think you get to a station in your life, whether it's family or relationships, a combination of all the above, that you just feel like you're entrenched. You can't even visualize being somewhere else, and that's where I am right now."

It's hard to imagine Saban could find more success elsewhere than he's enjoyed at Alabama. Last season's triumph over Clemson in the title game marked his fourth national championship since taking over the Tide in 2007, bringing his overall total to five, and the program has finished in the Associated Press Top 10 eight straight times.

Furthermore, he's been involved in coaching for the majority of his life. It's a journey that started in 1973 as a graduate assistant at Kent State, where he played college football, and it has proceeded to span more than four decades with a multitude of stops. Going into retirement would be quite a transition in its own right.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi talked about Saban's passion for the game on a recent 30 with Murti podcast, as relayed by Glenn McGraw of Campus Insiders:

I love to watch how he goes about his business, his passion for the sport. I've been to a couple of games down there (Tuscaloosa). I took my son to see them (Alabama) play LSU. The amount of work he puts in in one day is incredible. He has to deal with recruits and not only the game plan, but the shows he has to do. I was just watching how his time schedule was so organized and how he went about his business.

When you add all of the factors together, it seems unlikely Saban would walk away from Alabama in the near future. His comments merely confirm that notion.

Of course, other coaches must attempt to take advantage of any perceived weakness in the Alabama brand, even if it means bringing Saban's age into the discussion. Beating the Crimson Tide on the recruiting trail is the first step toward beating them on Saturdays.

It doesn't appear the efforts have worked, though. Alabama still finished with the top-ranked recruiting class for 2016, according to 247Sports' rankings.

As long as Saban is leading the charge, Bama's status as the preeminent college football program in the nation will likely remain in place.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Which Junior College Transfer Will Shine Brightest in 2016?

Spring practice is winding down around the South, with several spring games already in the books and even more coming this weekend, including at Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.

What impact players have emerged? Just how good can Auburn, which held its spring game on Saturday, be up front? Which defensive ends could become stars in 2016?

Those questions and more are answered in this week's edition of SEC Q&A.

 

The obvious answer would be Auburn quarterback John Franklin III since he's the only pure dual-threat option for head coach Gus Malzahn and plays the most critical position on the offensive side of the ball. 

He might make an impact, and I do think that he will win the job during fall camp, but that's not a certainty at this point.

It's more of a certainty that Florida running back Mark Thompson becomes the man in the Gator backfield.

Thompson, a 6'2", 242-pounder from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College, had five carries for 46 yards and a nice touchdown run in the Orange & Blue Debut on Friday in which he made a nice cut in the hole, cut right and took it to the house.

"It felt great," Thompson said of the crowd reaction to this touchdown in the postgame press conference. "The crowd roared. That's something that I'm definitely not used to, but I want to get used to that. I plan to when the season comes around. There's still a lot of hard work that has to be done."

He's going to hear it a lot.

Because of his size, Thompson will be compared to former Alabama running back and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. But that's not the kind of runner he is.

Henry is more of a pure bruiser, while Thompson carries and runs more like an all-purpose back who can lower his shoulder when needed but also do different things like catch passes out of the backfield and make defenders look silly in space.

He will be the feature tailback in Gainesville, a 1,000-yard rusher and a big reason that Florida contends for its second straight SEC East title.

 

Both of those players that you mentioned, for sure.

Arden Key got progressively better for LSU as the year went on and should be a monster as a pure pass-rusher for Dave Aranda's defense in 2016. He's incredibly quick, plays bigger than his 231-pound frame and could rival Texas A&M's Myles Garrett as the most disruptive defensive end in the SEC.

Da'Shawn Hand is a bit different since he's in head coach Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, but he can blow up double-teams, move side to side and be a difference-maker in a slightly different role.

I'm going to go a bit off the radar and pick Tennessee defensive end Corey Vereen.

Yes, he's a senior, so "breaking out" is probably something he should have considered prior to 2016. He has six career sacks—including 3.5 a year ago—but hasn't become the pass-rushing force that many thought he could become.

He has been banged up at times this spring but recorded two sacks in an early April scrimmage, according to Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

He should get plenty of one-on-one matchups to exploit thanks to Derek Barnett's presence on the other side of the line and plays on a defensive line that should roll about 10 players into the mix, which will allow new coordinator Bob Shoop to put Vereen in specific situations for success.

Is he going overshadow Barnett? Probably not. But expect "the other defensive end" in Knoxville to put eclipse his career sack total during his final season on Rocky Top.

 

Yeah, for sure.

Fans love to rip on Auburn's defense because it's easy and historically deserves it. After all, the last time the Tigers—who were once known for stellar defense—finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense was 2007.

That defensive line in 2016, though, is going to be something fierce.

We all know about Carl Lawson outside and Montravius Adams inside. That duo, when healthy, creates way too much disruption. Over the last five games of last season—when Lawson was close to full speed—Auburn's defense gave up 339 yards per game and looked vastly different than the punchline that people want to remember.

Marlon Davidson enrolled early, already has risen to the first team and looked like a monster on Saturday in Auburn's A-Day game when he recorded four tackles.

New coordinator Kevin Steele also has tackles Dontavius Russell, early enrollee Antwuan Jackson and Devaroe Lawrence inside, Byron Cowart, Jeff Holland and junior college transfer Paul James outside, and more help coming in the form of 5-star tackle signee Derrick Brown.

People are sleeping on Auburn's defense, and that's fine.

That will change in the fall because it boasts one of the best defensive fronts in the SEC.

 

Not seriously at all.

At times, it feels like quarterbacks in closed scrimmages complete more passes than they attempt, which we all know is impossible.

This time around, Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough has become the spring star, posting ridiculous stats seemingly every Saturday in closed practices.

Take those stats with a grain of salt because if a practice is closed, you don't know what specific situations teams are working on. Some scrimmages are geared more toward third downs, others to goal-line and short-yardage situations, and others have limitations on what coverages and blitzes defenses can employ.

Spring games are a bit different, since fans and media actually get a chance to see what's happening. But coaches know that too and don't want to put a lot on tape for opposing coaches to look at leading up to the season.

Don't pay attention to closed spring scrimmage stats at all. Judge spring games more by depth chart than statistics and place way more emphasis on fall camp than both.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Dabo Swinney, Clemson Agree on New Contract: Latest Comments and Reaction

Clemson and head football coach Dabo Swinney reached an agreement Tuesday on a six-year contract extension that links him to the school through 2021.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press passed along word of the deal from the school. Dal Kalsi of Fox Carolina noted the new deal includes a base salary of $4.5 million for the 2016 season, which will rise to $5.6 million by 2021, and also features performance-based incentives for ACC and College Football Playoff success.

The long-term extension comes after one of the best seasons in program history. The Tigers reached the national championship game with a 14-0 record, including a blowout victory over Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals, before falling to Alabama 45-40 in a thrilling title clash.

Swinney joined the Clemson program in 2003. He filled various roles, including recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach, before taking over as interim head coach following the resignation of Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 campaign.

He's proceeded to turn the Tigers into a national powerhouse. They have finished the season in the Top 15 of the AP Poll in four straight seasons. The last time they had reached that level before his arrival was all the way back in 1990.

After the season, Tony Crumpton of TigerNet.com noted Swinney felt the program is in position to maintain that high standard of success for the foreseeable future:

But there's no doubt that we will be back [in the title game]. It won't be 34 years before we're going to be back, I promise you that.

Our team is built to sustain success. We've got the right ingredients from a toughness standpoint, talent standpoint, and then just, again, the will to win and the culture that we have in our program.

That will be the expectation because he's now being paid like a top-tier coach. Based on the most recent figures from USA Today, his $4.5 million salary would move him into the top 10 without taking into account potential bonuses. He ranked 26th on the list for 2015.

Along with the on-field success, he's also putting players in position to succeed as they make the transition to the NFL level. DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony have all been drafted in the first round over the past three years.

All told, locking Swinney up with a long-term deal was a no-brainer given the program's rise and now its all-around success with him leading the charge.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Urban Meyer Is Now Jim Harbaugh's Greatest Ally in Fight for Satellite Camps

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Jim Harbaugh's theatrics since arriving in Ann Arbor have turned the college football world into something that resembles professional wrestling, then the past 15 months must have felt like a gauntlet match for the Michigan head coach.

There Harbaugh has stood in the center of the squared circle, taking on each consecutive challenger—most of which have hailed from the SEC—without any help in his corner.

Georgia's Kirby Smart? Bring him on.

Tennessee's Butch Jones? Who's next?

Ohio State AD Gene Smith? Sure, why not?

On Friday, however, the second-year Wolverines headman appeared to finally have been defeated when the NCAA ruled that satellite camps—which served as the root of Harbaugh's spats with the SEC—are no longer legal. With that, there will be no sequel to last year's "Summer Swarm Tour," where Harbaugh headed to SEC country and served as a guest counselor in states such as Florida, Alabama and Texas.

But just like pro wrestling, college football is often full of twists and turns.

And if WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross was on the call, Monday's emergence of an unlikely ally on Harbaugh's side may have sounded something like this:

"Bah gawd, that's Urban Meyer's music!"

OK, so maybe that's a bit dramatic. It's also worth noting that while Meyer was speaking on the matter on Monday, Harbaugh's name wasn't mentioned once.

But when asked about his thoughts on the recent satellite camp ban, Meyer didn't shy away from speaking his mind. And intentional or not, that led to the most impassioned defense of satellite camps seen from anyone in the Big Ten—including perhaps Harbaugh—in the past year.

"The biggest thing that I didn't realize that was part of it is that now the MAC schools can't come here [for Ohio State's summer camps]," Meyer said. "Probably hundreds of scholarships have come out of here to those young players and I know my son is getting recruited a little bit, and it's like, what camps do you send them to? Not many kids can play at Ohio State, so don't send them—or send them, but now Bowling Green didn't get a chance to watch him play. When I was [the head coach] at Bowling Green, I'd come to Ohio State's camp because you get to see all these great players. I didn't realize that was part of the conversation."

On the surface, that might not sound like much of a defense of Harbaugh, who's been more blunt about using satellite camps as a recruiting tool—one that happened to help him land the nation's fifth-ranked class in 2016. Although Meyer insisted he wasn't trying to side with whether the NCAA's decision was "right or wrong," he sure sounded like a coach in favor of lifting the ban.

"Sometimes I think there's knee-jerk reaction because people complain and I get it," Meyer said. "That's a slippery slope. I'm not worried about the high, high-level players because they're going to find a way to get where they need to get. I'm talking about the big chunk of players out there that deserve to play major college football. I hope they revisit it."

If Meyer's actually being altruistic, there's certainly a middle ground that can be reached. Instead of restricting schools to their own campuses for offseason camps, perhaps programs could be allotted a certain number of miles to travel each year, as opposed to the unlimited amount of travel Harbaugh took advantage of last offseason.

At the same time, there's no reason to pretend the Buckeyes don't have something to gain from the ban on satellite camps being lifted as well.

After all, Ohio State held a satellite camp of its own in Florida a year ago and had planned on participating in another one in Georgia this offseason before Friday's ruling.

At last year's camp on the campus of Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, the Ohio State staff was able to secure face time with some of the Sunshine State's top prospects, including 2017 5-star wideout Trevon Grimes.

At Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett High School, where the Buckeyes planned on holding this year's camp, the OSU staff likely would've been afforded similar opportunity. 2017 4-star offensive tackle Tony Gray and 3-star defensive tackle Emmanuel McNeil each call Gwinnett home, as does 2018 quarterback Jarren Williams.

Thus, it's not a stretch to say the Buckeyes would benefit from the satellite camp ban being lifted, even if Meyer had initially stated last year he wasn't a fan of the practice. Holding its own "Summer Swarm Tour" may have never been in the cards for Ohio State, but if the Buckeyes can help secure a commitment or make some inroads at even just one satellite camp each offseason, that alone would be worth Meyer fighting for.

And that's what he may very well do.

A three-time national champion and one of college football's most prominent coaches, Meyer knows his voice matters when it comes to NCAA-related issues. In 2014, he led the charge for having the College Football Playoff pay for the travel of families to the event—a practice the NCAA not only passed, but eventually expanded.

Whether Meyer—who also called the newly passed deregulation of recruit text messaging "the most ignorant thing I've ever heard in my life" on Monday—will push as hard for reform this time around remains to be seen. But he certainly sounded like a coach interested in making sure his voice is heard.

"Once we get through spring football then we might decide," Meyer said. "I hope they reconsider. I hope after an article one of you guys does maybe they'll call and ask our opinion."

As for Harbaugh, the Michigan head coach has yet to speak publicly on the ban that's eliminated one of his strongest recruiting tools—not even via his notoriously outspoken Twitter account. But for now, he finds himself with an unlikely ally in Meyer, even if the two Big Ten rivals have different reasons for seeking reform to the NCAA's latest restriction.

Meyer and Harbaugh teaming up? Perhaps the theory that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is in play.

It's certainly common in the world of professional wrestling, which college football has found itself having plenty in common with since Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor 15 months ago.

 

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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Chad Clay, Julian Rochester Arrested: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Georgia Bulldogs freshman football players Chad Clay and Julian Rochester were both arrested early Tuesday morning and charged with two felonies apiece. 

According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, each player was charged with having a weapon in a school zone and second-degree criminal damage. They were being held at Clarke County Jail in Georgia without bond on the weapons charge and on $5,000 bond on the criminal damage charge.

Per Seth Emerson of DawgNation, the players are accused to possessing and firing a BB gun. Following the arrests, Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart released the following statement: "I'm disappointed with the poor judgment of Julian and Chad. We expect full compliance with the policies of the university and of our football program from all our student-athletes. Information is still being gathered, but they will be disciplined in an appropriate manner."

According to 247Sports, Clay is a 3-star cornerback from Suwanee, Georgia, whileRochester is a 4-star defensive tackle hailing from Powder Springs, Georgia.

Both players are early enrollees who were scheduled to take part in Saturday's G-Day spring game, although their status for that contest is currently unclear.

Neither Clay nor Rochester were expected to make a significant impact as freshmen, but their chances of doing so may have been lessened even further, particularly if they are forced to miss practice and preparation time ahead of the season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Tennessee Football: Players to Watch in Vols' 2016 Spring Game

Tennessee's spring-ending Orange and White Game won't be a full-tilt game environment thanks to all the injuries knocking a dent in the depth chart. There are expected to be several skills competitions and one-on-one battles, along with some scrimmaging in a modified scoring system.

According to UTSports.com, "along with the traditional spring practice format, the Vols are scheduled to compete in the Circle of Life, one-on-one situations and quarterback and kicking challenges."

All that will add their own elements of entertainment to the fans on hand and to a regional audience watching on the SEC Network, but who are the players to focus on?

Why—other than watching the stunning development of longtime archnemesis Steve Spurrier being honored on Shields-Watkins Field—should you watch?

There are several reasons, and most revolve around the development of Tennessee's star-studded 2015 recruiting class consisting of players who are poised to make important steps as sophomores and redshirt freshmen this season.

Guys like Kahlil McKenzie, Preston Williams and Darrin Kirkland Jr. are going to be vital pieces to the '16 Vols, and Saturday is a good opportunity to see just how far they've come with a full year on campus and a bunch of weight-room reps under their belts.

Getting an extended look at a passing game that needs drastic improvement, as well as glimpsing first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's scheme and where UT's players fit—these are other exciting options for your viewing.

So, let's take a look at some Vols you'll want to play close attention to when the pads go on and we get ready for some (sort of) real football Saturday.

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Nick Saban Reveals Current Front-Runner for Alabama's Starting QB Position

Nick Saban is not ready to make a solid decision for his starting quarterback in Tuscaloosa.  

The head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide said Monday if he had to name a starter in mid-April, it would be junior quarterback Cooper Bateman, per ESPN.com's Chris Low, but "the race is far from over."

Bateman split reps with Jake Coker last year before Coker eventually led the Crimson Tide to the national championship. Bateman completed 71 percent of his passes in six appearances and also completed 11 of 17 passes and his lone touchdown on Sept. 12 against Middle Tennessee State.

The reason why Bateman is not the clear favorite for the job is because of Alabama's influx of young talent at the signal-caller position. Class of 2015 5-star quarterback Blake Barnett is in the running, as is 4-star dual-threat freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts.

It's still way too early for Saban to make a permanent decision at quarterback, and even last year showed nothing was certain. Coker had to establish himself as the starter before his national championship run with the Crimson Tide.

Saban could very well take the same approach he did last year with Bateman and have him split reps with Barnett or Hurts. The coach hasn't gone with a young quarterback often in his time at Alabama, but that could change if either one of those two young quarterbacks has a strong fall camp.

 

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com. Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Danny Webster on Twitter.

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Texas A&M Starting QB Trevor Knight Set Up for Stardom with Aggies

If you watched Texas A&M's spring game on Saturday night and, more specifically, how head coach Kevin Sumlin used his quarterbacks, Monday's news was about as shocking as the sun rising every morning.

Trevor Knight is the Aggies' starting quarterback.

The graduate transfer, who played at Oklahoma for the last three years and who originally hails from San Antonio, Texas, completed 25 of his 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and added a score on the ground, according to stats released by Texas A&M. His primary competitor, junior Jake Hubenak, completed five of his 10 passes and took a back seat to the former Sooner. 

"Trevor Knight will be our starter," Sumlin said in a release emailed by Texas A&M. "His on-field performance this spring along with his leadership earned him the starting job."

He's set up for success at a program that, while headlined by offseason turmoil, is made for instant success.

When Knight looks around, he's going to see a bevy of talented receivers. Christian Kirk topped the 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman in 2015, and Josh Reynolds topped the 900-yard mark for an offense that endured its fair share of quarterback turmoil. All told, Texas A&M returns its top eight wide receivers from last year's squad, including Kirk, Reynolds, monster junior Ricky Seals-Jones and versatile speedster Speedy Noil.

That turmoil, specifically shuffle and subsequent departures of former 5-star prospects Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, has many people writing off Texas A&M this season.

Don't fall into that trap.

Knight has shown flashes of brilliance as a starting quarterback on big stages, including his 348-yard, four-touchdown performance against Alabama in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl. He's in an offense that produces results—even in down years. 

Poor performances over the last year-and-a-half in both the starting and reserve roles have led many to believe that Knight peaked too early. The most recent long-term glimpse we got of Knight was when he came in for Baker Mayfield against TCU after Mayfield suffered a concussion, completed five of 16 passes and nearly threw away a big Sooner lead. 

It's nice to assume that backups are always prepared to go in for injured starters in a pinch, but that's not reality.

The new reality for Knight is a loaded wide receiving corps, a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone, who will develop quarterbacks like he did with Josh Rosen at UCLA last year, a running game that should be stable with the duo of James White and Keith Ford and a more physical offensive line led by new offensive line coach Jim Turner. 

He's been a star before, and he has all the pieces to repeat the feat with an offense that's one of the most talented units in the country. As Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle noted on Twitter, that unit can now grow over the summer without the distraction of a quarterback battle making the water murky. 

Plus, for Knight's star to shine as bright as possible, he needs his teammates to help vault the Aggies back into the national conversation for the right reasons.

That's a legitimate possibility, too.

Texas A&M's defense quietly kept the Aggies in every game last year. It improved from last in the SEC in total defense in 2014 (450.8 yards per game) to eighth (380.0), and it returns a fearsome defensive line that includes Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall and Daylon Mack.

More stability in the second year under coordinator John Chavis should complement a talented secondary that includes safety Armani Watts and corner and former UCLA hot-shot recruit Priest Willis. Not to mention that the defense will get several key players back at full speed, including linebacker Otaro Alaka.

Don't sleep on Texas A&M.

That weird feeling in College Station is known as "quarterback stability," which seemed impossible to achieve just five months ago after Murray and Allen bolted. 

One of the most talented rosters in the country and smart coaching changes on the offensive side of the ball should land the Aggies in the conversation for the SEC West title when the calendar hits November. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Trevor Knight Named Texas A&M's Week 1 Starter vs. UCLA: Comments and Reaction

It didn't take long for Kevin Sumlin to name a starting quarterback. The Texas A&M Aggies head coach has named Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight as the starter for Week 1 against the UCLA Bruins.

The Aggies took to Twitter to make it official:

Knight transferred to Texas A&M on Jan. 4 after losing the starting job to Baker Mayfield last year, who led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff and the Big 12 title.

“Trevor Knight will be our starter. His on-field performance this spring along with his leadership earned him the starting job," Sumlin said, per Mark Passwaters of Rivals.com.

Knight was the starting quarterback for the Sooners as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He played only eight games that year, but the biggest was the 45-31 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl while throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops named the San Antonio native the starting quarterback the following year, but he went 6-4 as the Sooners' top signal-caller. That year was capped off with a 40-6 loss to the Clemson Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Despite Knight showing flashes of being a star quarterback, Stoops went with Texas Tech transfer Mayfield during Oklahoma's run to college football's Final Four. Knight's final action in an Oklahoma uniform was in relief of Mayfield during the Nov. 21 game against the TCU Horned Frogs. He completed five of 16 passes for 76 yards and an interception.

After being granted his release from Oklahoma, Knight chose A&M because of its uncertainty at quarterback. Last year's quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, both transferred and left Sumlin thin under center.

Knight's performance in Texas A&M's spring game also had to be a reason Coach Sumlin named him the starter. He threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns along with an interception.

After bursting onto the national scene three years ago, Knight has not lived up to those lofty expectations. He'll get that chance at A&M, and he'll have the weapons to do so. Last year's leading receiver, Christian Kirk, reeled in 1,009 yards on 80 catches as a freshman. Josh Reynolds is also returning for his senior year after hauling in a career-high 907 yards in 2015.

UCLA will be a formidable challenge to see where Knight and the A&M offense is at, but it will also show if Knight is capable of leading the Aggies later in the season.

 

Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb.

Follow Danny Webster on Twitter.

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The 25 Most Loaded College Football Rosters Heading into 2016 Season

Being the best in college football doesn't always mean having the best players, but it sure helps. And the more the merrier.

Though the sport continues to become more and more balanced, with top talent spread throughout the country, some schools always end up having more than others.

These are the ones that, no matter how much they lose each year to graduation or the NFL draft, never seem to be short of great players the following season. Rebuilding? More like reloading, thanks to strong recruiting as well as top-notch development of backups and underclassmen.

We've put together a list of the 25 most loaded rosters in FBS for 2016, using criteria such as the number of starters returning, projected 2017 first-round picks (per WalterFootball.com) in tow, players included in Bleacher Report's lists of the top freshmen and sophomores, and recent recruiting rankings.

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Notre Dame Football: What to Watch For from Irish's QBs in 2016 Spring Game

The much-discussed Notre Dame quarterback battle is approaching a milestone in the competition: the 2016 Blue-Gold Game.

While other storylines are important—like a new crop of wide receivers and a rebuilt defense—most observers will focus on DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire.

Head coach Brian Kelly certainly wants to protect both quarterbacks, but they'll shed the "no contact" label for at least a portion of the scrimmage.

"They run. That's what they do," Kelly said, per Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune. "That's the identity of our offense, that the quarterback is going to be a running threat as well. So you've got to let them run a little bit, too."

No one would fault Kelly for not subjecting the gunslingers to potentially unnecessary hits. Many programs whistle a play dead when the quarterback is about to get sacked or tackled on a scramble.

But the Irish are content to let Kizer and Zaire utilize their entire skill sets, which is good news for the viewers.

Kizer's accuracy—especially on deep passes—is a key potential point of separation. However, Zaire could help negate that difference by consistently hitting shorter routes and wisely using his speed when a play breaks down or a running lane opens.

Command at the line of scrimmage, confidence in the pocket, ability to remain poised while scrambling and overall decision-making are each important factors to watch. Each of those will be on display.

Regardless of each player's performance, however, don't expect a resolution.

"I don't think we'll make a decision after spring," Kelly said, according to Zach Klonsinski of the Observer.

According to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford "said it's too early for any sweeping, big-picture conclusions to be made about either player."

With or without definitive conclusions, though, there will be expectations—and reactions. How well the quarterbacks execute during the spring game will shape the narrative of the competition throughout the coming months and briefly into fall camp.

Right now, the pro-Kizer view notes his experience and production, while the pro-Zaire outlook highlights a player who has already won the competition.

What if Kizer struggles with his accuracy and Zaire shines?

Then the veteran would take an important step toward reclaiming his spot, and the sophomore would have to hold off the junior. After all, Zaire merely surrendered the starting position due to injury. He did that while still recovering, so just imagine Zaire's potential when he's healthy.

Conversely, what if Zaire comparatively trudges through live action?

Well, that would not a surprise, since Kizer entered the starting lineup and immediately excelled, nearly taking Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff as a redshirt freshman. We haven't seen that from Zaire; we're merely opining that he's capable of it.

It seems Kizer has more pressure to excel because Zaire has a built-in excuse—not that he'll point to his recovery from a broken ankle as an issue, but others would (and that's not a bad thing).

Both players will likely put together respectable outings, perhaps reminding viewers that a starting job is never won or lost during the spring game.

Should that not happen, though, this offseason milestone will linger as evidence in a lengthy competition.

 

Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star CB Has Favorites, Secrets

As we prepare for mid-April, more and more athletes are inching closer to announcing their verbal commitments and finalizing their college careers. And while there are uncommitted athletes setting their college plans, there are also committed players putting on their recruiter hats to sway some of the nation's elite targets.

Here are some updates from a few of the nation's highly coveted athletes of the 2017 class:

 

4-star CB Stewart has favorites...and secrets

New Orleans 4-star cornerback Brad Stewart Jr. wants to make it clear: There are schools he likes—and then there are schools he likes that the public doesn't know about.

Stewart on Sunday said that schools like Florida, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are among those that he's publicly admitting to having an admiration for. All four schools, he said, fit him well with what he's looking for in a college program.

But then, there are those schools that he hasn't discussed—and the ones he chose not to address at the present time.

"There are a couple of schools I like, but there are a couple of schools I like behind the scenes," Stewart said. "I think I'm going to put out a top seven before the season starts this summer."

Stewart defined the recruiting process as "crazy" but added that he's enjoying every minute of it. He likes meeting new coaches and learning more about new schools and their football programs.

As a top-20 cornerback and the No. 7 player out of the state of Louisiana, Stewart said he is looking for a place with a great defense and the opportunity to not only get early playing time, but also learn a lot from a quality defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

"A lot of coaches have been getting at me lately. I didn't know it could be like this, but it's fun to me," Stewart said. "It's a blessing to be recruited. You shouldn't say it's stressful; it's only stressful to some because they make it stressful. I'm enjoying it, and I'm just trying to get better."

 

4-star QB Robison wants OU class No. 1

It's been a week since Mesquite, Texas, 4-star quarterback and Oklahoma commit Chris Robison earned his invitation to the Elite 11 finals this summer in Los Angeles. That goal has been obtained.

Now Robison, the nation's No. 8 pro-style quarterback, is focused on another objective: building the Sooners' 2017 class. Oklahoma already has the nation's No. 2 class with 12 commits—with 10 of the 12 listed as 4-star athletes—and has bucked the recent trend of starting recruiting slow but finishing strong late.

For Robison, however, having the nation's top-ranked class is a goal. And he feels he and his future teammates can help get it done through player recruiting. Among the targets Robison wants is Greater Houston 5-star Marvin Wilson, the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle and No. 4 player overall.

"All the OU recruits are trying to recruit as many as we can," Robison said. "We're definitely looking at Marvin. I mean, just look at him. He's a great player, and I know he can help us."

Among the other names targeted are 5-star cornerback Darnay Holmes, 4-star offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga and 4-star linebacker Anthony Hines III. Filiaga recently moved to Texas from California. Hines has 86 offers but is good friends with Oklahoma linebacker commit Levi Draper. Holmes is a Southern California athlete, and the Sooners have been very successful in recent years in landing athletes from the Golden State.

"It's a great feeling, because I know I'll have a lot of guys around me who can play," Robison said. "We're going to get out there in Norman and just work."

 

Bama-bound Leatherwood wants 'toughness, relentlessness'

Pensacola, Florida, 4-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood put on a show at Sunday's The Opening regional, proving why he's a top-60 player and a top-10 offensive tackle nationally with each block.

Leatherwood's been committed to Alabama for a little more than 10 months, and while he said other schools have been trying to sway him, he's still a strong commit to the Crimson Tide.

"It was the coaching staff and the facilities," Leatherwood said of choosing Alabama. "Basically, it was the morale of the team. I liked it all."

Leatherwood said The Opening regional was a good time for him to not only try to earn an invitation to The Opening finals—which he did—but also be on the lookout in scouting for players who could be future teammates. Leatherwood didn't name any players in particular, but he had an idea of the kind of player he was looking for.

"There were a few guys out here. I was out scouting and looking to see who would be a good fit for us," he said. "I'm looking for toughness, relentlessness, a good work ethic and competitiveness."

Some of the Alabama targets in New Orleans on Sunday include 5-star LSU defensive tackle pledge Tyler Shelvin, 4-star running back Cam Akers and 4-star receiver Devonta Smith. Akers and Smith both were invited to The Opening on Sunday.

Another The Opening invitee to watch is offensive tackle Nick Brahms, an unrated athlete with 30-plus reported offers. Alabama has yet to offer, but Brahms was impressive throughout Sunday.

 

3 to watch early for 4-star DB Harris

Measuring in on Sunday a shade under 6'0", 181 pounds, Plaquemine, Louisiana, 4-star defensive back Todd Harris said he has been asked if he, as the nation's No. 4 safety, would be willing to play cornerback at the next level.

Harris showed his coverage skills at The Opening regional, making several plays that earned him an invitation to The Opening finals and would have some believing him to be a lockdown corner in college. His comfort zone, however, is when he's surveying the entire field in order to make a play.

"I think safety will be the best fit for me, but it would be good for me to learn all the positions of the secondary," Harris said. "I'd prefer to play safety in college, but I'm not trying to choose my position. I'll play whatever position the coach needs me to play."

Where he'll play is the more pressing question. Harris said he has a few schools on his radar but mentioned three in particular—LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He added that he isn't counting out other schools because he's still looking to take unofficial visits during the summer.

"At Ole Miss, those guys are aggressive and physical there. They play ball," Harris said. "With Mississippi State, it's Stark Vegas. I like it out there. LSU is in my backyard. There's that home-state love for LSU."

Harris said he's looking to build better relationships with the coaches at all three schools, as well as other programs. He doesn't have a set schedule as of yet, but he's excited about taking a few visits before the start of his senior year.

"My mom's a principal, so we're going to be real big on education," he said. "I want to make sure I get a great education wherever I go. I want to go someplace where I'm comfortable. I don't want to have any regrets about my final decision."

 

Name and game fit well for 3-star OL Humphrey

A candidate for the best name of the 2017: Shawnee, Oklahoma, 3-star offensive lineman Creed Humphrey.

It was fitting on Sunday that one of the most talked-about offensive linemen had the first name of the popular boxing movie that many sports fans still talk about months after its release. And just like the main character in the movie—as well as the main character's father in the Rocky movie series—Humphrey put on a show with his gritty work in the trenches.

Humphrey has nearly a dozen reported offers but said he's taking his recruiting process relatively slow at the current time. A decision, however, could come sooner than expected.

"Right now, I'm just visiting schools and meeting coaches," Humphrey said. "I'll probably make a decision by the middle of the summer."

While Humphrey is big on a winning school that builds player-coach relationships year in and out, he also said he wants to attend a college where he can get a good degree. Currently, Humphrey said he doesn't have a favorite but has offers from Texas A&M, Texas, Tulsa, Memphis, Kansas State and Houston, among others.

And what will the winning program get from Humphrey, outside of a recognizable first name?

"Someone who will work hard every play," Humphrey said. "I have a good first punch, solid footwork and low pad level. I like to compete."

 

3-star LB Clarke nearing 20 offers, eyeing visits

New Orleans 3-star outside linebacker Josh Clarke is nearing 20 reported offers and has made recent unofficial visits to Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU. The summer could be loaded with visits, as well, as Clarke said he's hoping to make a return trip to Arkansas and take in Oregon, Mississippi State and Florida

"The process is going real good. Everything's been picking up since my junior season," Clarke said. "I'm trying to get to a few schools, take some official visits and then make a decision around late January."

Clarke, who measured at The Opening New Orleans regional at 6'2", 216 pounds, said schools like Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU have been showing the most interest. Clarke added that the interest from Louisville and UCLA has been a steady rise.

After a booming junior season, Clarke is hoping to see similar success during the summer with his recruitment. He showed his skills as someone who has good pursuit and coverage skills at the outside linebacker position.

"Really, I'm just looking for a team that has a great connection with the coaches," he said of his recruitment. "That's important to me."

 

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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Cardale Jones Comments on NCAA Rules Regarding Student-Athletes

Former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, known to be candid on social media, took to Twitter on Monday to speak out against the NCAA and "how the athletes are exploited."

"I'm so happy to be done with the [NCAA] and their rules [and] regulation[s]," he said. "They do any [and] everything to exploited collegiate athletes." He then added, "It's deeper than athletes thinking we should get paid. The [NCAA] control our lives with insane and unfair rules."

The strapping signal-caller's biggest point was that student-athletes' likenesses are used for others' gains:

But Jones doesn't see a different arrangement for student-athletes emerging, saying, "That's my 2cent on the [NCAA]. It's not like that's going to change how the athletes are exploited, even tho 98 percent of people feel the same way."

There has been some progress on the prominent issue Jones highlighted. ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reported in March that Electronic Arts reached a $60 million settlement to pay athletes whose likenesses appeared in the company's sports video games from 2003 through 2014.

Whether college athletes deserve to get paid in a more formal, systematic way will continue to be a hot topic for debate, though.

After helping Ohio State win the national championship in 2014, Jones lost the Buckeyes' starting job last season in favor of J.T. Barrett.

But the NFL draft awaits Jones, who appears keen on redeeming an underwhelming finish to his college career by making a splash in the pros.

Jones stands to make a fair amount of money off his own brand at the next level thanks to a cannon for an arm that's earned him the nickname "12 Gauge."

Due to a small college sample size and a candor that sometimes gets him in a bit of trouble, Jones' draft stock is hard to pinpoint. His blend of arm talent, size (6'5", 253 lbs) and athleticism (4.81-second 40-yard dash) make him a most intriguing prospect.

 

Stats via NFL.com.

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Big Ten Football: Which Teams Will Overachieve and Underachieve in 2016?

The college football season is fewer than five months away, but already expectations are building for programs across the country as spring practices come to a close.

That holds especially true in the Big Ten, which saw its fair share of teams exceed—and fail to live up to—expectations in 2015.

But 2016 brings brand-new opportunities for teams to build on the progress made a year ago or redeem disappointing results. Inevitably, last year will play a role in setting the expectations for each program in the coming year and determining the bar they can either reach, surpass or fail to meet.

Which Big Ten teams will be pleasant surprises and which will be considered disappointments in the coming season? That remains to be seen.

But until then, here are some picks for overachievers and underachievers in the Big Ten in 2016.

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Alabama Football: What to Watch for in Crimson Tide's Spring Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s a celebration, a big recruiting tool and essentially the midway point of the college football offseason. But for University of Alabama fans, the annual A-Day game is, above everything else, their first glimpse at next year’s team.

It’s also the only one that they’ll get until the first week of training camp in August, when Alabama will start preparing for the season opener against Southern California at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 3.

Granted, a number of players coming off injuries will be held out of the scrimmage and the play-calling will be vanilla to keep things simple and not give away too much to opposing teams, but those things are easily overlooked.

It’s been more than three months since the reigning national champions have played before fans, who are eager, almost desperate, to see the updated version of the Crimson Tide in action, especially the playmakers.

They can’t wait to see running back Bo Scarbrough with a regular role, the defense that could again be very, very good and the quarterbacks competing for the opportunity to take over for Jake Coker.

They want to see Calvin Ridley make another big reception, and Robert Foster recovered from his shoulder surgery. Remember, Foster and fellow wide receiver ArDarius Stewart were named co-MVPs of last year’s game.

It’s the big names like Reuben Foster and O.J. Howard who will draw the most attention and dominate the headlines, which is all and good, but head coach Nick Saban already knows what they can do. Consequently, his primary focus won’t be on them during Saturday’s exhibition at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

He’s looking for players who not only fit in with the big names—and Alabama has a lot of them—but complement them. He wants to see how someone like Xavian Marks handles playing on a big stage.

If you don’t know who Marks is, you’re not alone. A lot of Alabama fans are just beginning to get used to the name, and few noticed the guy wearing the No. 31 jersey last season.

Listed at 5'8" (which might be generous), he’s known for one thing in particular.

“Speed,” Howard said. “He’s really fast.”

Marks was a late addition last summer along with his brother, Torin. Both players were committed to New Mexico State last year, but did not sign. With Alabama having an opening and looking for a playmaker, Xavian was given a scholarship while Torin walked on.

Xavian briefly played against Charleston Southern. He had one carry for no yards gained and two receptions for 19 yards. During the offseason, the coaching staff moved him to wide receiver.

“He is very quick, very fast, has very good hands,” Saban said. “He's not a big guy but he can overcome all that and he has made a tremendous amount of improvement.

“He's also made a lot of improvement as a returner, and I think the No. 1 thing that if I had to say he has anything to prove is if you're going to be in those positions as a punt returner or kickoff returner or even as a slot receiver your ball security has to be something that everyone can depend on," Saban continued. "And I would say that to anybody that was going to do that on our team.”

The two players who have stood out the most as a returner this spring are Ridley and Marks, and Saban made a point of saying that there were no mishandled balls or turnovers on special teams during the last scrimmage.

“That was a positive,” he said.

While Alabama’s position battles have been few and far between this offseason, with the quarterbacks and offensive line obvious exceptions, among the few remaining questions are how the depth charts will work out at the playmaker positions.

At running back, Scarborough and Damien Harris are expected to be the two main staples, although neither has had that role before. This is the first time since Saban arrived in 2007 that Alabama hasn't had at least one established veteran returning in the backfield.

After them, no one knows how it will work out.

“I think there’s going to be an opportunity for some young players there,” Saban said. “We’ve had freshmen running backs do well for us in the past, so it’s not a position they can’t play and contribute.”

The situation is similar at wide receiver, where Ridley, Foster and Stewart are established, and Cam Sims and Derek Kief are good bets to be part of the rotation. Throw in a guy like Marks, who is also a sprinter on Alabama’s track team, and he could end up earning regular playing time.

“He’s hard to press, the DBs have to get pretty low to jam him,” Howard said. “It’s hard to jam him and in open field it’s hard to catch him. I just think he does a great job of getting open. His size, he uses it to his advantage.”

During A-Day, Saban traditionally splits the team into two sides, with the first-team offense facing the first-team defense, and the second-teamers also squaring off against each other.

In theory, it should give everyone an equal chance of having a standout performance. Just don’t be surprised if one of the players who does isn’t considered to be one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest assets yet.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Georgia Football: What to Watch For in Bulldogs' Spring Game

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's first spring practice session is underway, with the annual G-Day spring game taking place on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.

It will be one of the most intriguing spring games in the SEC in 2016.

The quarterback battle that's currently taking place between senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman early-enrollee Jacob Eason will draw headlines, but Georgia also has questions to answer at wide receiver, along the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker.

What should you keep an eye on this Saturday at G-Day?

 

It's Not What Eason Does, It's What He Tries

Spring game stats—and stats from any spring scrimmage—are incredibly overblown. At different times and in different situations, coaches put their quarterbacks and defenses in the spots they need to properly judge questions that need to be answered. Sometimes that leads to quarterbacks blowing up, and other times it leads to quarterbacks looking like they just don't have it.

Whatever happens with Eason on Saturday, throw the stats out the window.

Judge Eason based on what the coaching staff asks him to do compared to Lambert and Ramsey, not how good he looks doing it.

Lambert doesn't have the arm strength of either of the other two primary competitors, and Ramsey's inability to connect on those deep passes prevented him from seeing the field on a consistent basis in 2015. Eason can push the ball sideline to sideline (as seen in the video above) and stretch it deep, and the coaches should test that on Saturday whether it's with the first-, second- or third-team offense. 

You know what you're getting with Lambert—he can manage a game. He managed Georgia to a 10-2 record as a starter last year, with former Bulldog Faton Bauta getting the start in the loss to Florida. If needed, Lambert can replicate that kind of success.

Ramsey wasn't able to beat him out last year and spent the latter part of the season as Georgia's primary punter. 

If Eason can show that he can handle some of the new things offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will ask him to do—specifically, stretching the field—that will go a long way toward taking pressure off Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the Bulldog running game.

 

Will a Real Playmaker Please Stand Up?

If Eason—or any of the quarterbacks—want to stretch the field consistently, finding somebody on the back end to catch those balls downfield certainly would help.

Malcolm Mitchell had 865 receiving yards in 2015 but finished 14th in the SEC in yards per catch at 14.91. Now that he's gone, somebody has to not only step into that role but be even more of a threat.

Could Terry Godwin be that guy?

The sophomore capped off his freshman campaign with eight catches and 78 yards against Georgia Tech and four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown against Penn State. The 5'11", 174-pounder from Hogansville, Georgia, has been turning heads this spring, according to Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph

Of course, others could help. 

Isaiah McKenzie is a slot weapon who is dangerous in space but needs to make sure he holds on to the football. True freshman Riley Ridley is loaded with talent and could see the field quickly in 2016. Reggie Davis is a burner who can get behind defenses but needs to hang on to the ball when his number is called.

Expect Georgia to take a few shots and see what happens. If the offense looks explosive—even if it's only on a few plays—that would qualify as huge news in the "Classic City."

 

What Will The Defensive Line Look Like?

Georgia has a boatload of talent along the defensive line, but what it has in talent it lacks in experience.

Trent Thompson is a former 5-star prospect who saw time as a true freshman last year and could play either end or nose. The 6'4", 307-pounder has the size to take up space and the quickness of a cat, which makes him a vital piece of the puzzle for Smart and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. True freshman Julian Rochester, a 6'5", 327-pounder, had been repping with the ones for the majority of spring practice but has moved around as the Bulldogs have inched closer to G-Day.

John Atkins is a veteran who can play nose or end in the 3-4 scheme, and Jonathan Ledbetter will likely start at end after serving a one-game suspension in the opener. 

Tackle DaQuan Hawkins and end Michael Barnett have missed time this spring, which has forced Smart to be creative up front.

"With Barnett and Hawkins out, you can see the cupboard is getting bare on the D-line," he said, according to John Durham of the Red & Black"It’s getting tougher and tougher for us out there. We got to do a good job recruiting that position. We got to get more size guys to help us."

Who will be those guys? How will Smart, Tucker and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker mix and match those pieces? Will they be able to replicate the success of last year's defense, which finished third in the conference in total defense last year at 305.9 yards per game?

If the big men up front can get consistent push, that will be tremendous news for a defense that needs an identity up front after some personnel losses from a year ago.

 

The Linebacker Conundrum

Coaches always say that "depth chart isn't worth the paper that it's printed on."

That's fine, but seeing who trots out with the first-teamers at least gives fans and media a glimpse of what the rough draft of the actual depth chart looks like.

For Georgia's linebacking corps, that will be quite intriguing. 

The Bulldogs lost stud outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins from last year's squad, as well as leading tackler and former UAB Blazer Jake Ganus inside.

Tim Kimbrough has seen a lot over his three seasons at Georgia, Reggie Carter has loads of talent when healthy and Natrez Patrick has the most upside of the competitors vying for work at inside linebacker. Lorenzo Carter looked like a superstar outside as a freshman in 2014 but suffered through a sophomore slump in 2015. Junior Davin Bellamy should be able to step in at "Jack" for Jenkins and become an instant star.

But Georgia's linebackers are long on potential and short on proven experience, which makes the depth chart fluid at best. Smart has made a point to call out some of his linebackers—including Patrick, Bellamy and Carter—as players who haven't stepped up off the field.

"I told Lorenzo (Carter), 'You gotta be a leader,"' Smart said after Saturday's scrimmage (10:00 mark). "'Dom (Sanders), you gotta be a leader. Davin Bellamy, you gotta be a leader. Natrez (Patrick), you're a sophomore, you gotta be a leader.' We don't have the leadership out there that we need. Everybody's looking at everybody else."

Who does Smart trust most? Will he send a message by dropping somebody down to the twos in front of the home fans on Saturday? Will leadership emerge under the brightest lights of spring?

These questions could be answered at G-Day.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Michigan Football: Projecting Wolverines' Post-Spring, 2-Deep Depth Chart

Programs typically exit spring practice with a fair bit of uncertainty on the roster, but Michigan football's two-deep depth chart already looks clear.

The Wolverines have a massive advantage in returning 14 starters—most of which were key contributors in 2015—and a handful of top reserves.

Most importantly for Michigan, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff have done a tremendous job developing fringe rotation players into credible backups and borderline starters.

It's fair to call Wilton Speight "1A" and John O'Korn "1B." Though they haven't created much separation between each other, the two have an advantage over Shane Morris.

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive, Harbaugh said on WTKA radio that De'Veon Smith is the No. 1 running back. Ty Isaac looked the part of a capable backup during the spring game, but he needs to overtake Drake Johnson, last year's second-stringer.

Jehu Chesson—barring any severe setbacks in his recovery from a knee injury—and Amara Darboh are the undisputed wideouts. They carried the pass-catching unit in 2015, reeling in 14 of the position's 15 receiving touchdowns.

Grant Perry is slowly emerging as the slot receiver to beat, while Maurice Ways should receive regular reps. Drake Harris might occupy a lesser spot.

No tight end will jump Jake Butt on the depth chart, but Tyrone Wheatley Jr. could be a valuable player if he consistently executes this fall. Ian Bunting will push Wheatley for the important No. 2 role.

From left to right, the offensive line includes first-year starter Grant Newsome followed by 2015 fixtures Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson.

The lineup probably won't change, but the notable possible adjustment is Patrick Kugler entering the starting five as the center, shifting Cole back to left tackle and making Newsome a key rotational player. David Dawson and Juwann Bushell-Beatty will attempt to join the top six.

Per Baumgardner, position coach Greg Mattison's prized recruit, Rashan Gary, is not locked in at defensive tackle but will start his career there. Should Gary be moved inside, Matt Godin could be sent outside behind Chris Wormley.

Or maybe someone else.

Wormley might be a starting defensive tackle, meaning Bryan Mone and Ryan Glasgow would battle for the No. 1 spot at nose.

But would that leave Chase Winovich, Gary or Godin as the opposite starter? Either way, Taco Charlton will be a defensive end, and Maurice Hurst Jr. is a lock to contribute in the rotation at tackle.

Michigan will cycle through a handful of names at linebacker, too. The difference is the defensive line's depth makes that a luxury, while it's more of a need for the linebackers.

Harbaugh previously called Ben Gedeon "a stud," according to Josh Newkirk of Scout. And there's Jabrill Peppers, who will spend a majority of his time with the unit after moving from the secondary.

Mike McCray assembled a strong spring, but his injury history is bothersome. Early enrollee Devin Bush Jr. and summer arrival Elysee Mbem-Bosse figure to contribute along with Noah Furbush.

Like the defensive line, though, the secondary is packed with talent.

Jourdan Lewis is one of the nation's best cornerbacks, and Channing Stribling has emerged as his complement. While appearing on WTKA, Harbaugh heaped praise on Stribling, per Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News.

"He's a starter," Harbaugh said. "It's cold. It's in stone."

Jeremy Clark is the No. 3 (if you don't count Peppers), while Brandon Watson must hold off potential charges from true freshmen David Long and Lavert Hill once they arrive this summer.

Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill are penciled in as starters at free and strong safety, respectively. Tyree Kinnel is currently the backup to both spots because the Wolverines lack depth.

Heading into the offseason, Kenny Allen is on track to handle all three specialist responsibilities—place-kicking, punting and kickoffs—unless Andrew Davis or inbound freshman Quinn Nordin can upstage the senior.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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