NCAA Football

Ole Miss Football: Running Game Still a Work-in-Progress

What if I told you that Ole Miss' biggest spring question was still a work-in-progress, and that head coach Hugh Freeze is happy with where the players battling for that position are but that there's still a long way to go?

You'd probably assume that the next sentence would have something to do with the three-way quarterback battle raging in Oxford that includes junior college transfer Chad Kelly and redshirt sophomores DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan.

You'd be wrong.

The most important position battle in Oxford is the one to be the "thunder" to running back Jaylen Walton's "lightning" in the Rebel backfield.

The Rebels have finished 10th or worse in the SEC in yards per carry in each of Freeze's three seasons as head coach. They finished 11th last season with 4.25 yards per carry and 10th in yards per game at 155.46. Against Arkansas in late November, they netted just 63 rushing yards on 33 carries and gained just nine rushing yards on 37 carries against TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. 

Eugene Brazley, Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins are all competing to earn bruiser carries for the 2015 Rebels. Of that trio, Wilkins—a 6'1", 209-pound sophomore who finished second on the team in rushing last year with just 361 yards and one touchdown—was the most impressive this spring.

"Wilkins is going to be a solid player for us," Freeze said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "He is a good pass protector and a hard runner. He can get the football out of the backfield. I think he sees that now is his time to start getting more reps and more opportunities to help this football team. He has been good this spring."

Only with the first team, though. 

Injuries decimated Ole Miss' offensive line this spring. Star tackle Laremy Tunsil broke his leg in the loss to TCU and missed all 15 practices. According to Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, starting guard Aaron Morris, center/tackle Robert Conyers, tackle Daronte Bouldin, tackle Davion Johnson, center Sean Rawlings and tackle Talbot Buys all missed practice time this spring as well.

On top of that, sophomore Christian Morris was just back off battling the injury bug, and Jeremy Liggins—the massive former tight end/Wildcat quarterback—was playing as an offensive lineman for the first time as a Rebel.

The injuries prevented Freeze from getting a good gauge on his running backs.

"It was a bit unfair not only for them, but for the quarterback who had that rotation of playing with the second and third units," Freeze said on Tuesday's coaches teleconference. "We got those kids better up front, but our defensive line is really talented and deep, so that makes it very difficult for us to evaluate how those guys did. When they drew the straws to go with the first guys, I saw good signs from all of them."

Judd is a 6'0", 222-pounder from Durham, North Carolina, who redshirted last year after moving over from Georgia Military College. At 5'9", 189 pounds, Brazley is more of the happy medium between a bruiser and an edge threat.

Freeze was impressed with the straight-line speed that Brazley showed this spring, and that could be a huge asset for the 2015 Rebels.

"We are excited about Eugene's progression," Freeze said. "[He] ran one of our fastest 40-yard dash times when we tested right before we broke for May."

The injury issues up front and inability of the staff to get a really good gauge on where they stand with the running back position could be a blessing in disguise, though. Those backup offensive linemen got plenty of work this spring with both the first and second teams, and that experience will be invaluable to them as backups once the starters get back to full strength.

That will help the running backs continue to develop during fall camp. In an ideal world for Freeze, it will also provide the balance that Ole Miss desperately needs to become a legitimate SEC West title contender.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

One Week Away from Decision, Kenney Lyke Breaks Down Top Schools

Around this time next week, at about 2 p.m. CT, Palatine, Illinois, defensive back Kenney Lyke will announce his college plans. He also will give his parents one of the best belated birthday presents money can't buy.

On May 22, the Fremd High School 3-star prospect will verbally commit to one of four schools—either Notre Dame, Michigan State, Baylor or Oregon. He also will put a huge smile on the face of his mother and father, Latoya Williams and Kenneth Lyke, who will celebrate birthdays before the announcement.

Lyke's mother is celebrating her birthday today. His father will celebrate his birthday on Monday.

"I'm excited about [May 22]; I think they are, too," Lyke said.

"We're definitely very, very proud of him and all of his accolades," Williams said of her son, the No. 13 player from the state of Illinois and a top-40 safety nationally. "He has worked really hard to get to this point. To see that he was so talented to peak so many schools around the nation, it's amazing."

Lyke announced his top four on Tuesday and officially announced his decision day on Thursday via social media.

Lyke said the past couple of days have been exciting for him and his family, and he's using the next few days to not only weigh his options but reflect on the process. He said he has enjoyed his process, but he's ready for everything to slow down.

"I think it's been a pretty positive experience so far. It's always good to go out and meet other people and coaches on visits and see how the coaches come at you," he said. "It's always good to see where you fit in at a new place."

Lyke said he has "a pretty clear understanding of where I'd like to play college football." Of the three schools, Oregon has yet to offer. Lyke, however, put Oregon in his top four because of the strong relationship he's built with the staff. He believes an offer will come soon.

For the time being, Notre Dame and Michigan State appear to be the front-runners. Notre Dame has a slight proximity advantage, but both schools are less than a three-hour drive away from Palatine.

"Michigan State was the first [Power Five] school to recruit me and offer me," Lyke said. "Everybody in East Lansing are real cool. The recruits they have right now are doing a good job of recruiting prospects. Plus, the coaches keep it real. I like [recruiting coordinator] Coach [Brad] Salem and [head] Coach D [Mark Dantonio].

"With Notre Dame, when I took my first my visit there, I wasn't offered. I was a little discouraged, but they told me they'd offer down the line, and they kept their word. Coach [Brian] VanGorder is a good defensive coordinator to play underneath. They run a lot of NFL defenses and work a lot with the secondary."

Baylor is the wild card of the three schools that have offered. While it is far away from home, Baylor's coaching staff has won Lyke and his family over with its sincerity. Williams likes that it's a private school built on religious morals.

"I love the way [defensive coordinator] Coach [Phil] Bennett and [safeties] Coach [Cris] Dishman are coaching the defensive backs," Lyke said. "They run the same defense as I run in high school, so that'll be a plus going in knowing the defense. My defensive coordinator is really good friends with Coach Bennett, and I've had extensive conversations with both Coach Bennett and Coach Dishman."

If Oregon offers between now and next Friday, credit secondary coach John Neal for keeping Lyke interested. Lyke has been paying attention to Oregon's defensive backs, and he likes what the coaching staff is doing to produce quality, Pac-12 athletes.

Lyke is being recruiting to all four schools as a safety, but he added that he may get opportunities to play on special teams and possibly kick returner. As a defensive back, Lyke had 81 tackles and two interceptions last season for Fremd.

Lyke said the "feeling of being at home" is the main factor in his decision. He also wants the chance to compete early. Williams said she's looking for a quality education for her son.

"At the end of the day, he can't go wrong with anywhere he chooses," Williams said. "We've been excited throughout the whole process. I think I was probably more stressed than he was, but I know that wherever he goes, he'll be at a great school. It'll make for a great belated birthday present."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star DT Kendell Jones Jr. Opens Up on Top 5: 'I Want a Family Environment'

When Thursday came to a conclusion, Kendell Jones Jr. was able to describe it with one word.

"Relieving," he said.

For Jones (first name pronounced ken-DELL), it wasn't an average Thursday. The massive 4-star Killeen, Texas, prospect—all 6'4 ½" and 361 pounds of him—and the nation's No. 11 defensive tackle, per 247Sports' composite, went from being "committed" to being "uncommitted" to announcing a top five in a matter of roughly seven hours.

Late Thursday, Jones took to social media and said that he would take his talents to either the Big 12 or the SEC.

The Shoemaker High School star, nicknamed "The Hulk" because of his massive frame, saw Thursday take a weird turn of events when he saw reports that he committed to Alabama. His father, Kendell Jones Sr., went to social media following the report and quickly denied everything.

"I found out about [the commitment] on Twitter and then later on my phone," Jones Sr. said. "Then a few minutes later, my phone starting blowing up. I wanted to talk to him at school first. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know if he told somebody something or what.

"It's funny how after something like this, people get your number who you've never talked to a day in your life. The popularity of it all is crazy. I mean, the Internet blew up. It's humbling and shocking, all glory to God."

Jones Jr. added: "I was like...'Oh, man. Who said this? Where did it come from?' I know it was blowing up at school, but I'm just glad we got it resolved."

The backlash from social media is warranted, as Jones is one of the most-wanted defensive linemen in the country. He showed insane power, deceptive elusiveness and agility at The Opening Dallas regional in March, walking away from the event not only with the defensive MVP award, but also an invitation to The Opening finals in July in Oregon.

Narrowing his top five from a reported list of 10, Jones said, was the toughest part. In the end, Alabama, Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M and LSU all had the same things in common.

"To me, it was all about who wanted me there the most," Jones said. "I wanted to know who wanted me no matter what. It wasn't really tough for me because I had my mom and my dad on my side."

A decision is scheduled to come next Friday, as May 22 is the date of Shoemaker's spring game. Originally, Jones Sr. said he wanted his son to make a choice in early 2016, but the family opted to a verbal commitment this month to help his son focus on academics and not have recruiting become a burden.

Jones Sr., however, did say that despite the upcoming commitment, he and his son will still take both unofficial and official visits. Jones is expected to balance trips with summer-school courses, as he's looking to get ahead in order to have a relaxing senior season.

While there is a top five, there's a chance for some other schools to still slide in and make a play for the defensive tackle.

"After summer school, I want him to still have a process," Jones said. "I want him to see Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and some of the other schools we haven't been to yet."

Jones, who told Bleacher Report in March that he wanted to go to college to study psychology, said he has a solid relationship with the head coaches, defensive coordinators and defensive line coaches from all five schools. Comfort won't be a problem with wherever he plays.

For now, it's all about finding the best overall fit, and Jones said he will weigh all five of his options from now until May 22. The next seven days will be difficult, but he knows what he wants in a winning program.

"I'm looking for a team that will put God first in everything I do," he said. "I want a family environment, good academics and a place where I can learn a lot and have fun."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star OLB Michael Divinity Tweets Top 15 Schools

Almost every team in the SEC and Big 12—and a few wild cards from other conferences—are in the hunt for 4-star outside linebacker Michael Divinity.

On Thursday night, the Marrero, Louisiana, native tweeted out his top-15 list, which includes 247Sports' Crystal Ball favorites LSU and Texas A&M, plus a few important hashtags and emojis.

Standing at 6'2" and 218 pounds and boasting a time of 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Divinity has good speed and athleticism for his position. If he continues to gain weight and strength, he could become the prototypical defender that all big-time programs covet.

Divinity is currently rated as the No. 53 overall player and the No. 6 outside linebacker in the class of 2016.

According to NOLA.com's Christopher Dabe, Divinity recorded 74 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries last season at John Ehret High School.

Divinity is cousins and teammates with 3-star linebacker De'jon Harris, and the two have discussed being a package deal for one lucky school. The two SEC West favorites for Divinity are in the mix, along with the No. 2 team on his unordered list from Thursday night.

"We talked about Oregon, LSU and Texas A&M," Harris told the Oregonian's Andrew Nemec. "Those are the three we talked about."

A move to Oregon would have Divinity following in the footsteps of 2014 athlete Kirk Merritt, the 2014 SPARQ champion from Louisiana who joins the Ducks this season.

Still, LSU remains a commanding favorite for Divinity on 247Sports' Crystal Ball, with 13 of the site's 14 predictions in favor of the Bayou Bengals.

Only time will tell if Oregon, Texas A&M or even one of the 12 other schools on Divinity's list can overtake LSU's reported lead for this prized Louisiana talent.

One thing is for sure—this looks like a recruiting saga to watch this year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Brian Schottenheimer Creating an NFL Atmosphere

It was only a matter of time before Georgia head coach Mark Richt was forced to replace former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

The Bulldogs had finished no worse than fifth in the SEC in yards per play in every season since 2010, and they led the conference in the category twice (2014 and 2012). When Bobo got the head coaching job at Colorado State, Richt looked to the NFL ranks to find the next leader of his offense.

He found Brian Schottenheimer, who spent the last three seasons in the same role with the St. Louis Rams, and the six prior to that with the New York Jets.

It should come as no surprise that Schottenheimer is bringing an NFL mentality to the Bulldogs offense since making the jump to Athens.

"Coach Bobo had been a college coach for so long, and coach 'Schotty' is just getting back into that flow," wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said after Georgia's spring game. "When he's teaching, he's rolling through. He's not taking five minutes to teach one play. It's like 10 seconds, and you better know it by tomorrow.

"He's brought that in. Every time we install, it's quick. A 30-play install might take five minutes."

For a team that is replacing its top two wide receivers, has a three-headed quarterback battle on its hand (and possibly a fourth if Everett Golson joins the Bulldogs) and is installing a new scheme, that may seem like it's "too much, too soon."

It isn't for Mitchell, because he knows what it could lead to down the road.

"We love it," he said. "Everybody in the room wants to go to the NFL, and that's where he came from. If he's doing that, he's showing us how to prepare at the next level."

After 15 practices, the transition from Bobo to Schottenheimer has gone as smoothly as anticipated.

"I was in almost every offensive planning meeting and most every quarterback meeting throughout the spring, and I can assure you that coach Schottenheimer is a great teacher," Richt said on Wednesday's teleconference. "He knows what he's doing and has a great process of going about his business, and [I'm] really comfortable with what he's bringing to the table."

The quarterback battle is the most notable issue Schottenheimer has to resolve during his first season in Athens.

Junior Faton Bauta, sophomore Brice Ramsey and freshman Jacob Park are all vying for the top spot on the depth chart in 2015. Not only do they have the pressure of a position battle to deal with, but they have to adjust to the faster pace in which Schottenheimer operates his practices.

Mitchell admitted following the spring game that the offense isn't where it needs to be, but that's more due to the instability created by three quarterbacks rotating with the first team rather than the transition from Bobo to Schottenheimer.

"We need a lot more chemistry," he said. "That's not bashing the chemistry we have now because we do have flow and you saw a little bit of that [in the spring game]. But we have a long way to go and everybody needs to be on the same page. That will be straightened out when we get that quarterback position solidified."

The absence of flow in the spring could pay off for the Georgia Bulldogs in the fall and each player once they exhaust their eligibility or decide to move on to the next level.

Georgia had two players—running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Chris Conley—drafted in the first three rounds of the 2015 NFL draft. Quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Arthur Lynch drafted in the fifth round a year ago.

If all goes according to plan, there will be more Bulldogs offensive players going to the next level in the draft in the near future. When they do, they'll be better-prepared to handle the fast-paced nature of NFL coaching thanks to Schottenheiemer.

"[The transition] has gone very well," Mitchell said. "His coaching style is different, but they're different people, though."

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages