NCAA Football

Rebuilding a Powerhouse: How James Franklin Is Leading Penn State Back to Glory

Brick by brick. This is how one of the nation’s premier college football powers will be resurrected. It won’t happen today, or tomorrow or even next year, but it will happen. It’s only a matter of time before a small, power-packed foundation grows into something more.

Before you can truly understand how James Franklin and his staff plan to revive Penn State, however, you must first recognize how it all came together. Not the part you already know—the heartbreak, the scandal and the sanctions—but the master plan to leave everything behind and jump headfirst into the opportunity that couldn’t be refused.

It wasn’t pretty or easy to leave Vanderbilt. These goodbyes are never kind. But when Franklin and his staff decided on Happy Valley, they walked out the front door in the middle of the night, hand in hand, and didn’t bother locking it as they departed.

“Within 48 hours everyone was gone,” Franklin said. “And you don’t go back.”

You don’t go back because you can’t go back. You’re no longer welcome. And even if you were, there’s no time to go back. Only forward. It’s the brutal nature of the business; an extravagant, internal tug of war that plays out right before our eyes.

Before the rebuilding of Penn State could begin, demolition had to be accomplished. Feelings had to be crushed. Tears had to be shed. Difficult decisions had to be made, and they were.

“It went back and forth, and I was very close to not doing it,” Franklin said on taking the Penn State job. “When you invest so much into something, into the community and with those kids, walking away from something you believe in and something that you’re building is difficult. You second-guess yourself. You question it.”

His departure from Vanderbilt wasn’t clean. In fact, some would say it was quite the opposite. But as you see the blueprint laid out on the table—the edges still crisp, the pages still brilliant blue and the vision clear as day—you start to understand why he had no choice but to say goodbye.

You see a family, 16 grown men functioning as a unit. And it’s not just these men. It’s the wives and children that have celebrated the highs and lows in football and in life, at schools and at barbecues.

You see this same family expanding, embracing open wounds with open arms; listening to those that have endured unspeakable change before worrying about more pressing football matters.

You see a staff that was crafted to work in this very location. It’s as if this group was constructed for this purpose and this purpose alone, and the geographic familiarity is already paying dividends.

You see a quarterback with a golden arm; an enormous Band-Aid at a time when it’s needed most.

And you see why, eventually, this will all be so much bigger than it is now. You can’t help but admire the bricks being laid, one strategically placed block at a time.

 

Just the Right Amount of Change: Mixing History With 'Swagger'

There’s no reason to tear the whole thing down. That, first and foremost, is the most glaring miscalculation when it comes to rebuilding anything: a house, an antique car or a football program.

It’s assumed that it has to be completely leveled; that flat ground will be the only suitable starting point. Part of this is the pressure of living up to the term—a rebuild—but when a strong, original foundation is still intact, it comes down to finding the builder willing to shape his vision around what’s already in place.

For James Franklin, this is a balance he’s still balancing. Before he can begin heavy construction, however, he must figure out what materials he has to work with.

“I’m still trying to figure out Penn State,” Franklin said. “I’m trying to figure out the campus and the community and how to get things done. All these places are sophisticated and unique.”

It’s an honest conversation that has made its way out into the open. But Franklin, who has ties to the area, is well aware of everything else that comes with this job despite never attending a Penn State football game or coaching in the building.

He understands the rituals. He knows the sounds. He knows the traditions and the expectations that come with it, even if those are somewhat jaded at the present time. He also understands what it takes to build a major program as seen over the past few seasons. But he refuses to simply lean on acquired knowledge.

“You have your core values that aren’t going to change, but you better have flexibility within your system,” Franklin said. “To think that you’re going to bring a model and plan that worked at one school to another school, it’s just not like that.”

Franklin’s mentality, however, is the constant. The smile and his overall upbeat nature—the personality that propelled him from the Division II ranks to Penn State in relatively short order— made the trip. His philosophy with players going forward is simple and, somehow, perfect.

“If someone does something good, you scream, you go crazy, and you hug them up,” Franklin said. If someone does something wrong, you scream, you go crazy, and you hug them up. That’s just who we are.”

Incredible group of people who define #PSUnrivaled by working everyday to be the best we can be. #WeAreFamilypic.twitter.com/d8btTf5UqP

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) August 13, 2014

Helping the head coach shape a new era at Penn State will be offensive line coach Herb Hand, who, for lack of a better term, has quickly become Franklin’s right-hand man.

Hand, who earned his way into Franklin’s inner circle by sleeping on a couch in the Vanderbilt locker room, has become one of the nation’s most coveted and charismatic assistant coaches. He freestyle raps, he cooks on national television and, yes, he does the whole football thing quite well.

This individuality and personality is Penn State’s edge. It’s exactly what the coaches are trying to infuse into the program, all while embracing the many historic positives.

“We have a solid fundamental idea of what Penn State football is, what it was and what it can be. And we’re respectful of that,” Hand said. “But we also bring a little bit of a swagger and a little youthful edge because of the way we do things.”

What the staff has to adjust to, however, is a sudden flux of resources. It may seem like a strange thing to cope with—like struggling to find footing on the Brazilian hardwood on your new 200-foot yacht—but it’s still an adjustment. And with crippling NCAA sanctions still hovering, there are many moving parts.

“This is a proud program, and it’s not so much rebuilding,” Hand said. “It’s about getting everybody pointed in the same direction. From Day 1, we’ve tried to bring everybody back together.”

  

Let the Healing Begin (Again)

James Franklin remembers being “stiff-armed” by Bill Belton long before the running back broke his first collegiate tackle. It was the terminology the coach used the moment the two reunited in Happy Valley, a long, strange voyage that led them to the same sideline after all.

Belton, a senior, remembers being courted by Franklin and Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan, who worked with Franklin at Vanderbilt. While the offer to play running back in the SEC was enticing, Belton chose Penn State instead. Neither forgot about the encounter.

“They’re exactly the same,” Belton said of Franklin. “They’re just a little bit older now.”

It’s only been four years, but it feels longer. For Belton and other seniors at Penn State, the past four years have been an eternity.

This is where the rebuild truly begins. It starts with those that have played for three head coaches, learned three new playbooks and whose only constant has been constant change.

“We’ve come out and worked each day, it didn’t matter who was the head coach,” Belton said.  “We worked and got better as a team, and I feel like the team we have now is tougher because of what we went through.”

Belton’s teammate, senior linebacker Mike Hull, has been on the same roller coaster. Like Belton, Hull believes the experiences have only brought this group closer. 

“Our team is probably the most tight-knit team I’ve ever seen, especially after the sanctions,” Hull said. “We really took an ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality. We decided we were going to play for each other for the next three years.”

For a new coaching staff still learning its players, this can be a difficult position. The upperclassmen in Penn State rallied together—around each other—to get to where they are. Through various moments in their collegiate tenure, it was all they had.

Over time, they lost trust in the process. Given everything they’ve been through, how could they not?

For the coaches, one of the first orders of business at Penn State wasn’t to figure out a depth chart. It was simply to talk and listen.

“These guys were guarded when we first got here, which was completely understandable,” Hand said. “There were some walls we had to work our way through. But all that stuff is gone, and these guys have embraced us as a staff.”

'Yes we're the five best friends that anyone could ever have and we'll never ever ever ever ever leave each other.' pic.twitter.com/2ffdoegLXV

— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) August 6, 2014

Instead of focusing on group outings—and there were still plenty of these sessions, many of which took place around food—Hand met with his players one-on-one and listened. He was respectful of what they’ve been through, particularly the upperclassmen, and simply wanted to hear their stories. Vulnerability was key.

“This was a lot different situation than any transition I’ve ever been through,” Hand said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of change in a place that isn’t used to it.”

Although the rebuilding of Penn State will require years to complete—long after players like Bill Belton and Mike Hull have left—the search for lost stability began with the current fixtures of the program.

They, in many ways, are the symbol of resiliency. They are the past and present; they are the bridge to the future. They are the first bricks, which oftentimes are the most important.

“When you get a new coach, it can be hard to break those walls down,” Hull said. “But [Franklin] has done a good job building relationships and getting the best out of us. I feel our program is going in the right direction.”

For a head coach that thrives on interactions and relationships, this was integral. It wasn’t optional; it’s how he operates and the program required it.

“Everything we do is about relationships. That’s how we lead, that’s how we organize,” Franklin said. “Once you have that relationship and you have that trust, you can be unbelievably demanding and challenging on people if you love them hard as well.”

 

Mastering the Map: How Geographic Dominance Will Pave the Way 

“He’s like an energy battery. He just never stops. He hasn’t stopped recruiting me even though I’m committed.”

Brandon Wimbush is one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2015. The No. 4 dual-threat QB, according to 247Sports, is also a Penn State commit and priority No. 1 for a school trying to line up its next great quarterback.

That hasn’t stopped Franklin from recruiting him, relentlessly, in an effort to keep it that way.

Wimbush, who plays for St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, has been recruited by Franklin since his days at Vanderbilt. When Franklin moved north, to a place he knows better than any other, the fit and interest increased on both sides.

“He’s home. He feels real comfortable with the atmosphere,” Wimbush said. “I feel like Coach Franklin is the guy to turn it all around.

“The 2015 class is definitely going to be a big part of that.”

If you were to list out, in importance, the “How to Rebuild a Program” power rankings, it would probably look something like this:

1. Recruiting

2. Recruiting

3. Recruiting

4. Recruiting

5. Everything else

Penn State in 2014 is unique. It demands something more as it navigates unexplored depths, which is why the coaching staff focused a great deal on the things directly in front of them. There’s still healing to be done.

At this same time, however, the path to the promised land is abundantly clear. As much as philosophy and attitude can influence a program in flux, the infusion of young talent is unmatched in importance. To grow, you must grow.

This is where the plan sprouts tentacles, a reach that extends well beyond never-ending Pennsylvania highways, curling back through sparse Midwest cornfields and stretching all the way to upstate New York.

It’s not magic, but rather a group of coaches who can navigate a land they already know. This sentiment begins at the top with Franklin, who now gets to operate on the other side of the equation.

“Not only did I grow up in this part of the country, but professionally I kind of grew up in this part of the country,” Franklin said. “And Penn State was always difficult to deal with. They just had so many built in advantages. You’d be recruiting against them and you’d do everything right on a kid. Then he’d come up to Penn State’s spring game with 75,000 people and it’d be over.”

Franklin was born in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, which is a three-hour-or-so drive from State College. He played quarterback at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, setting multiple school records. When his playing days were done, he landed his first coaching job at Kutztown University, a Pennsylvania-based Division II school.

From there, he bounced around a bit. He made two stops at Maryland, the second serving as his final catapult to a head-coaching job at Vanderbilt. The rest, as they say, is history.

For Franklin and his staff, this new city isn’t exactly new. Neither are the cities and states around them. Neither are the navigators, which made the transition even easier.

“We brought 16 people with us to Penn State,” Franklin said on the migration north. “I don’t know how often that happens.”

Bob Shoop, the team’s defensive coordinator, is from Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator John Donovan is from New Jersey. Charles Huff, the special teams coordinator and running backs coach, is from Maryland.

“I could go on and on,” Franklin said while describing his staff. So we will.

The team’s assistant head coach, Brent Pry, grew up 45 minutes from campus. Terry Smith, the team’s cornerbacks coach, attended Penn State and grew up not far from State College. Herb Hand is from upstate New York.

“For the most part, we’ve all been together through James’ entire coaching career,” Hand said. “Most of us have been together that whole time. We’ve grown with him.”

Love coming to work w/these guys everyday for THE greatest players/fans/community in college football-via @JoeHermittpic.twitter.com/oWrsxMasih

— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) August 11, 2014

The plan isn’t to compete with the SEC. The plan is to be so dominant in one region that you won’t have to.

While it’s early in Penn State’s first recruiting cycle and national signing day is still an eternity away, the staff has hit the recruiting road running.

The Nittany Lions currently have the No. 6 recruiting class in 2015, according to 247Sports. Of the 19 verbal commitments—12 of which are rated as 4-star talents—16 are from Pennsylvania, Maryland or New Jersey.

This should come as no surprise. After all, this is what the coaches were built—and assembled—to do. The only difference is that they weren’t plucked from various east-located programs to form a superpower. The superpower simply changed area codes.

“It was about fit, not just fit for me, but for the whole staff. This was a group decision,” Franklin said. “I think there are some real advantages at Penn State just because of where we’re located.”

Now this geographically dominant staff has ammunition. It has a powerful brand and playing time to sell, an odd but obvious positive that is a product of the sanctions passed down by the NCAA.

There are roster openings and a passionate fanbase waiting for the next batch of young stars. This combination has worked wonders early on.

“When you walk into a high school across the country and you have that Penn State logo on, people know who you are. And they’re excited about the future,” Hand said on his new recruiting life. “There are a lot of positives here in Happy Valley. So we’re just going out here and selling what we got.”

 

From Dublin to Dominance: Playing Now For Later

The vision and blueprint into the future has hit a sudden impasse. The conversation comes to a screeching halt.

When pressed about his plan and what this all might look three years from now, James Franklin can only offer up two words. He stresses each for seconds, highlighting the importance.

 “Central Florida.”

This, of course, is Penn State’s first opponent this season. The Nittany Lions will travel to Dublin to take on George O’Leary’s team fresh off a BCS win. Franklin’s first game as coach will mark the beginning of your college football Saturday, right about the time you sit down for breakfast.

Despite coping with enormous depth issues due to scholarship limitations, the expectations are that this team should win that game and many of the other games to follow.

There are concerns specifically when it comes to depth and inexperience along both lines. Herb Hand, the man tasked with protecting the team’s most prized asset, refuses to use recent history as an excuse.

“There are going to be some growing pains, but at the end of the day, no one cares about the growing pains,” Hand said on the offensive line. “No one wants to know about your issues or your problems, so we don’t look at them that way. If you resign yourself to the fact that you can’t be successful, you won’t be. You look at the positives.”

The positive—and you can write that in all-caps with size 72-font equipped—is quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He is one of the sport’s most gifted young players; he’s also incredibly raw, unseasoned and undoubtedly due to experience some growing pains of his own as a true sophomore.

Hackenberg, however, symbolizes much more than star power at the most important position. He will grab the baton from Bill Belton and Mike Hull following this season, carrying it until he has to hand it off, perhaps to Brandon Wimbush or a player that is months (or years) away.

It was be a new era; it will be the old era. Along the way, history will be rewritten but tradition will not be lost.

It seems counterintuitive to dwell on the past as you build for the future, but the past is an integral part of the situation. The sanctions won’t all of a sudden disappear. They might be reduced after this season, or perhaps the postseason ban will complete its four-year sentence. Regardless, it won’t impact the plan.

“They are what they are,” Franklin said on the sanctions. “We spend very little time thinking about things that are outside of our control.”

The only thing Penn State can truly control is what’s directly in front of it—Central Florida—and, if all goes to plan, the neighboring cities and states. Brick by brick, it will continue to build until the structure is so mighty and powerful it will be impossible to ignore.

The hard part is over. The work is only just beginning.

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Hits and Misses of the 2014 Preseason All-America Teams

We're officially less than two weeks away from college football season, so close to opening kickoff that we can count the days on two hands and one foot.

Which means, of course, that we have reached the point of the preseason where media All-America teams start rolling in. Bleacher Report's own won't come out until next week, but outlets such as USA TodayandSports Illustrated have already gotten in on the fun.

With only three of 22 position players returning from last year's Associated Press All-America first team—quarterback Jameis Winston, defensive end Vic Beasley and safety Cody Prewitt—there was plenty of room for new faces to move up the ranks. That holds doubly true since two of those three returning first-teamers from 2013 were not consensus first-teamers this preseason.

So let's take a thorough look at the early All-America releases, adding Phil Steele's roster from June to the two sources mentioned above.

What did and didn't make the most sense?

Begin Slideshow

Oregon Ducks Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Two weeks of fall camp are nearly in the books for the Oregon Ducks, and preparation for the 2014 season is heating up—quite literally. 

August is the hottest month on average in Eugene, Oregon, per Weather.com. With practices in the heat of the summer day, including two-a-day sessions, the Oregon coaching staff has a serious point of emphasis. 

"Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate," offensive coordinator Scott Frost implores of his team in GoDucks.com editor Rob Moseley's interesting look at the Ducks' efforts to beat the heat during fall camp.  

 

Praise for Mariota 

As the mercury rises, so too does anticipation for the Ducks season. 

Buzz for quarterback Marcus Mariota reached a fever pitch this week, as the redshirt junior earned a couple of endorsements from national media outlets.

An ESPN The Magazine poll of 95 players found the majority wanted to play for Mariota more than any other quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision, as tweeted by the official College GameDay account:  

Mariota was also selected as quarterback of the USA Today Preseason All-America First Team, ahead of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, via Paul Myerberg of USA Today.  

The boldest proclamation comes from Josh Planos of the Washington Postwhose column Thursday is entitled: "Oregon's Marcus Mariota will win the 2014 Heisman." 

The bar is indeed set high for a quarterback who was among the nation's best each of the last two years. Improving upon two straight seasons of more than 30 passing touchdowns and 700 yards rushing is no easy feat. 

But head coach Mark Helfrich said at last month's Pac-12 media days that if one trait defines Mariota, it's his commitment to improvement. 

"He cares more about practice rep 13 in period 12 of 7-on-7 than anybody I've ever been around," Helfrich said. The coach added it's a boon to the entire Oregon roster, saying: "That carries over to every single guy in our program."

 

Familiar Faces in New Roles 

The loss of Tyler Johnstone to an ACL tear Monday dealt the Ducks a major blow, but Steve Mims of The Register-Guard writes Johnstone remains upbeat in his efforts to help new starting tackle Andre Yruretagoyena acclimate. 

And Yruretagoyena told Mims he appreciates his teammate's encouragement: "On the field, he's always encouraging me. It's a lot to take on, it's Marcus, and he's a great quarterback. There's pressure on me, but I'm excited, and Tyler helps me every day on the field, pushing me."

In addition to the change on the offensive line, Mariota is passing to an almost entirely new and youthful wide receiving corps—albeit one not bereft of Pac-12 championship-winning experience. 

After all, Johnathan Loyd led the Ducks basketball team to the 2013 Pac-12 tournament championship. 

The former point guard joined the Oregon football team in the spring once his basketball eligibility expired, and Loyd is developing into a potential difference maker on the football field. 

Loyd explained his desire to pursue football to Anne M. Peterson of The Associated Press: "I'd been curious to see if I could play at this level. I love the University of Oregon, and I love to see the Ducks win. So if I can't do it in basketball anymore, I wanted to try another sport, to see if I could contribute."

 

Loyd's hardwood experience has plenty to offer the Ducks on the gridiron. He has proven championship mettle, speed to spare and, if the situation dictates, Loyd has demonstrated he's unafraid to stand toe-to-toe with bigger opponents. 

Much bigger opponents. 

 

In The Details 

At media days, Helfrich said there was no single cure-all for remedying what ailed the Ducks in their two losses a season ago. 

"For some guy, it's [that] he didn't hear the [play] call," he said. "For another guy, it's confidence. There are so many things and so many variables." 

A single missed detail can have a domino effect, which nose tackle Alex Balducci told Moseley is something he's taking to heart in preparation for the season: "If I don’t do my job correctly, I’ve got offensive linemen on linebackers, and that screws up the whole defense. I’ve got to do that, and make plays behind the line of scrimmage as often as possible."

The past two as well as the upcoming weeks are the cornerstones for Oregon's 2014 season. If every little detail is ironed out by kickoff, the coming campaign should be one for the Ducks to remember. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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Oregon Ducks Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Two weeks of fall camp are nearly in the books for the Oregon Ducks, and preparation for the 2014 season is heating up—quite literally. August is the hottest month on average in Eugene, Oregon, per Weather...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Florida State Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

The push for starting jobs is under way, that much is clear from the second week of FSU's preseason camp.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has praised the competitiveness of practices, and the Seminoles' depth at every position is what makes the team a preseason No. 1.

E.J. Levenberry has been "playing the best" of the candidates at middle linebacker, Fisher said. Derrick Nnadi has only been on campus a few weeks and has already given an indication that he will see playing time at defensive tackle. And John Franklin III hasn't completely given up playing quarterback but has spent a considerable amount of time at receiver.

Let's take a look at five storylines from the second week of FSU's preseason camp:

 

Levenberry Likely Wins Starting LB Job

Levenberry has emerged as the front-runner to claim the starting job at middle linebacker. The 6'3", 245-pound Levenberry had 39 tackles and an interception last season as a backup. He is competing for playing time along with Reggie Northrup and Matthew Thomas.

"Playing more consistent in alignments and assignments, making plays, calls and checks," Fisher said of Levenberry.

After losing Telvin Smith and Christian Jones to graduation, the linebacker position is an area where FSU needs to establish who can start, who can be a capable backup and who can be used in a variety of situations based on the down and distance.

Levenberry has the size, speed and athleticism to play linebacker in FSU's 4-3 defense but is versatile enough to stay on the field when the Seminoles employ their nickel package. FSU frequently utilizes five defensive backs, and Levenberry would be used alongside Terrance Smith at linebacker.

 

Nnadi in Line for Playing Time

Fisher has frequently made a fishing reference when talking about members of the 2014 signing class, smiling and saying, "I wouldn't throw any of them back." It's clear that group is already impressing Fisher and could see significant playing time.

One spot where FSU needs to find production is at Timmy Jernigan's old defensive tackle spot. Jernigan's energy and leadership will be missed as the junior entered the NFL draft early and was a second-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens.

While FSU was expected to take a long look at juniors Nile Lawrence-Stample and Giorgio Newberry and sophomores Justin Shanks and Keith Bryant, the coaches are willing to give a true freshman the opportunity to start.

Derrick Nnadi, a 4-star defensive tackle, has put himself in position to start alongside junior Eddie Goldman.

"He's very natural, very strong, very athletic," Fisher said of Nnadi.

And Mario Edwards Jr., who is known for his strength, quickness and athleticism, has been impressed with Nnadi.

"He is really, really strong," Edwards Jr. said. "He can come in and definitely play for us with the ones. He's been showing up a lot on film."

 

Franklin Transitioning to WR

The move perhaps isn't official yet, but it's clear that reserve quarterback John Franklin III is focusing on playing wide receiver. Fisher said that Sean Maguire is the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback and that true freshman J.J. Cosentino is the No. 3.

Franklin's speed, no doubt, is one of the reasons for the trial period at receiver. He helped FSU's 4x100 relay team win the ACC outdoor title this spring. While Franklin likely would have found success playing quarterback at another Football Bowl Subdivision program, he opted for FSU and made progress during his redshirt freshman season.

But Franklin isn't likely to see the field anytime soon as a quarterback. He's firmly behind Jameis Winston and Maguire. And Franklin's talents are too significant to leave on the sideline.

Receiver makes sense, as Franklin can use his speed and elusiveness to frustrate defenses.

Franklin's move also gives Fisher another option at receiver. FSU could be without sophomore Isaiah Jones, who Fisher said is dealing with academic concerns, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.

Jones, however, has not been declared academically ineligible, but Fisher is preparing for that possibility.

Fisher has also not announced a punishment for sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson, who reached a plea deal after initially facing a felony charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle after he allegedly stole a scooter on campus in June.

Wilson could be facing a suspension. And Jones could be gone academically. Fisher is making sure that FSU isn't down two receivers by transitioning Franklin to receiver.

 

The Injuries Haven't Been Significant

Fisher said that linebacker Ukeme Eligwe will likely miss the first two games (Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State and Sept. 6 at home against The Citadel) as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery on his foot. But Fisher said Eligwe's recovery is going well and that he could return for the Clemson game on Sept. 20.

FSU lost cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams due to minor hamstring injuries on Monday, and they will miss between four days and a week, Fisher said. Coaches are keeping both out as a precaution, and it's given more playing time to senior Nick Waisome, sophomore Marquez White and early enrollee Trey Marshall.

Travis Rudolph, a 5-star receiver who had surgery on his left foot early in the summer, missed a practice Tuesday. After the team took Wednesday off, he returned to practice Thursday morning. Fisher said Rudolph's foot is still irritated but is improving.

While Eligwe will be missed at the start of the year, FSU has been able to escape any major injuries and should be healthy when the season starts in two weeks.

 

So Far, Beatty Winning Punting Battle

FSU's Cason Beatty had an up and down 2013 season, averaging 41.1 yards per punt but struggling with his consistency and hang time. Fisher has been taking a long look at walk-on Jonathan Hernandez this preseason.

"He's not kicking better than Beatty right now," Fisher said. "[Hernandez] hits long, but he's not consistent enough. But he's got talent, and he's getting better each day. Beatty has had a good camp."

While FSU had the luxury of dominating teams in 2013, winning 12 of 14 games by 30 or more points, that may not be the case again in 2014.

Fisher is adamant about winning the field position battle, and he places a high priority on hang time for punters and kickers. If Beatty has improved, he will retain the punting job. But this will be an ongoing storyline as Hernandez will push Beatty throughout 2014.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Bob on Twitter

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College Football 2014: Who Is the No. 1 RB Heading into the Season?

The college football season is fast approaching, and there are a number of stud running backs across the country, but one stands out among them. 

Which monster RB is Michael FelderBarrett Sallee and Adam Kramer's unanimous favorite heading into the 2014 season?

Check out the video and find out. 

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Nike Unveils New 'Lunar TR1' Shoes Featuring College Football Teams

With the 2014-15 college football season right around the corner, Nike has come up with a shoe that many fans will want in order to show support for their team.

Last year, Nike designed Free Trainer 5.0 shoes for a select group of schools. Those were apparently a success because the company has decided to expand the concept this year.

Nike recently unveiled its Lunar TR1 Week Zero collection. The collection includes several high-profile teams from around the country, so this should be a big hit with even more fans.

The shoes will be sold starting on Aug. 27 and will cost $120. 

 

Oregon Ducks

 

Texas Longhorns

 

Ohio State Buckeyes

 

Florida State Seminoles

 

Oklahoma Sooners

 

Alabama Crimson Tide

 

Michigan State Spartans

 

Georgia Bulldogs

[Nike]

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Ohio State Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

It's two weeks down, two to go in Columbus, where Ohio State officially finds itself at the halfway point in its fall camp session. Unlike the first week of camp when they were still getting their feet wet, the Buckeyes' second week on the field has provided a closer look at what we can expect from them when they take the field on Aug. 30.

That could be perceived as both good and bad for Ohio State, which has seen development on one of its most questioned units but has also been without its star player for large portions of practice. Add in a few freshmen making names for themselves, and there's been no shortage of storylines in Columbus as the Buckeyes move toward their season opener against Navy.

 

More on Miller

After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Braxton Miller was expected to make a full recovery in time for the start of his senior season. And while he may still do just that, the Heisman hopeful isn't there quite yet, with the clock ticking toward Aug. 30.

Miller has been severely limited in the first two weeks of fall camp, with Urban Meyer monitoring his throwing reps and sitting his star player out of Ohio State's team scrimmage last weekend. Perhaps more worrisome, Meyer admitted that if the Buckeyes' season started sooner than it did, their plan for the Midshipmen would need to be altered.

"If the game was tomorrow, because of where he's at, we would be very cautious with Braxton," Meyer said when asked if Ohio State would need to rely on a run-heavy approach. "But we have three weeks."

While the Buckeyes staff has maintained that Miller's progress remains on track, the fact remains that he's simply not fully recovered—at least not yet. Whether Miller will be able to make up for his missed reps in time for the season opener remains to be seen, as the status of his progress remains worth monitoring for the remainder of fall camp.

 

Barrett Blossoming

While Miller has watched from the sideline, his understudies have managed to make the most of the reps that he's left on the table with Ohio State's first team. In particular, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has stood out through the first two weeks of fall camp, as he pushes redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones for the Buckeyes' backup job.

Entering camp, it was assumed that Jones would be Miller's top understudy after he got the best of Barrett in a de facto quarterback competition in the spring. That no longer appears to be the case, however, with Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman stating that Barrett is still in the hunt to be the Buckeyes' No. 2 quarterback.

"They're battling," Herman said of Barrett and Jones. "When Braxton's out, they both get equal numbers of reps with the 1s and the 2s. When Braxton's in, they split the reps with the 2s. They're both growing, they've both had their ups and downs."

Described as a mixture between Miller and former OSU backup Kenny Guiton, Barrett is admittedly less physically talented than both Miller and Jones. But what he lacks in arm strength he makes up for with leadership, which has some pegging him the future of the Buckeyes' quarterback position.

"He gets the ball out quickly, very efficient, smooth release, very accurate, extremely cerebral," Herman said of Barrett. "A very magnetic leader. I think the kids gravitate towards him."

Given Miller's current status and injury history—he missed the better part of three games a season ago—those traits could be benefitting the Buckeyes sooner rather than later.

 

Buckeye Battles

Another week of fall camp in the books means more development in Ohio State's numerous position battles, where there's been significant movement on the depth chart in the past week.

Deemed the Buckeyes' most important competition prior to camp, there's been a change of pace at left guard, where Joel Hale has superseded Antonio Underwood with Ohio State's starters. Hale has made noticeable strides since the spring when he first moved to the offensive side of the ball, but will now have to fend off another converted defensive lineman in redshirt freshman Billy Price.

On the other side of the ball, sophomore Vonn Bell appears to have jumped classmate Cameron Burrows as Ohio State's top free safety after Burrows seemed to have the better of Bell in the first week of camp. A former 5-star prospect, Bell was the presumed starter heading into fall camp, but he is just now beginning to show the confidence of a future star in college football.

As for other notable position battles, Darryl Baldwin has solidified himself as Ohio State's starting right tackle, Chad Lindsay is beginning to make a push but is still behind Jacoby Boren at center and Ezekiel Elliott is currently the Buckeyes' starting running back but is not currently practicing after undergoing wrist surgery a week ago.

The upcoming week will provide players with their last opportunities to state their cases for starting spots before Ohio State puts out its depth chart for the first week of the season.

 

Fast Freshmen

Since taking over the Ohio State program in 2012, Meyer has instituted a tradition that dates back to his days at Bowling Green of making freshmen practice with a black stripe atop their helmets. Only once a first-year player has proved his worth to the team is he allowed to remove his black stripe, signaling that he has "officially" become a Buckeye.

Through the first two weeks of fall camp, four Ohio State freshmen have earned the right to remove their black stripes, with Meyer announcing each on his official Twitter account. Unsurprisingly, the first two Buckeyes to lose their black stripes this preseason were linebacker Raekwon McMillan and running back Curtis Samuel, each of whom Meyer has raved about on a consistent basis since spring.

Joining McMillan and Samuel in losing their respective black stripes have been defensive lineman Darius Slade and cornerback Damon Webb. A 3-star prospect who switched his pledge from Michigan State to Ohio State on national signing day, Slade has been considered by many to be a redshirt candidate for the upcoming season, while Meyer has singled out Webb—a 4-star prospect—as a player he expects to play immediately in his college career.

With Meyer having promised that a significant portion of his freshman class will contribute this season, expect for more black stripes to fall by the wayside in the coming week. Johnnie Dixon, Marshon Lattimore, Sam Hubbard, Erick Smith and Jalyn Holmes are all names to keep an eye on as Ohio State's first game week of the season approaches.

 

Battling the Bug

It took a week, but the injury bug has finally arrived in Columbus, with two freshmen suffering what will likely be season-ending injuries.

Linebacker Kyle Berger came to Ohio State as a 4-star prospect but also somewhat of a question mark after sitting out his senior season at Cleveland's St. Ignatius with a torn ACL. In his first week of fall camp, he had already been praised by Meyer for his performance, but his freshman season came to an end before it truly started when he re-tore the same ACL that brought a premature end to his high school career.

Berger will now likely redshirt his freshman campaign, as will classmate and defensive lineman Dylan Thompson, who suffered a fractured knee cap in the second week of camp. A former 3-star prospect, Thompson was already a likely redshirt candidate for the upcoming season, although his injury remains a setback in his development nonetheless.

The Buckeyes lost a third player for the 2014 campaign this past week when redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Epitropoulos chose to bring an end to his college career. In a statement released through Ohio State, Epitropoulos explained that he has decided to focus on pursuing his dream of attending medical school instead of playing football.

“I love being an Ohio State Buckeye,” Epitropoulos said. “But I am also competing to get into medical school, and that is very important to me and to my family. I am already in my third year at Ohio State and the process to begin applying to medical schools is not far off. After consulting with my family, I have therefore decided to end my athletic career so I can focus solely on academics."

In one season of action, Epitropoulos caught one ball for six yards. He was not expected to compete for significant playing time outside of special teams entering his sophomore season.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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What's Stopping Jameis Winston from Winning a Second Heisman?

Florida State's Jameis Winston is an early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this season, which would make him just the second player to win it twice. With many other great players challenging for the trophy and some off-the-field issues following him, what will be Winston's biggest obstacle in the way of a repeat?

Watch as Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down what stands in the way of Winston's quest for history. 

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Auburn Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn returns a lot of talent across the board this season, but there are still plenty of questions on the depth chart with two weeks left before the 2014 campaign kicks off.

This second week of fall camp was focused on finding answers to those questions.

Over the last week of practice, Auburn had a scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium and an off day to evaluate the depth chart. Most starting jobs have already been locked down, but the coaching staff is looking for who will step up and take over several important roles, from third-down pass-rusher to top backups at key positions.

"There are a few more guys that will have a few more looks," head coach Gus Malzahn said earlier in the week. "Before you get into the season you just want to make sure you're right. The good thing is we have some very talented young guys and newcomers that could have a chance who can definitely help."

The Tigers will wrap up regular preseason practice this weekend and start preparing for the season opener against Arkansas on Tuesday.

Here is a look back at the biggest news and notes—mostly from the defensive side of the ball—from the second full week of fall camp:

 

Defensive depth continuing to take hits

After Tuesday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Malzahn said he and his staff would take the Wednesday off day to get closer to a two-deep depth chart.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson isn't at that point yet.

"The scrimmage was mainly what we call Blues, it was some guys who are competing for starting jobs," Johnson said Thursday. "I didn't think we made a lot of progress in that area. We've got a lot of information on some individuals, it did help us clear up a little bit, but I think our two-deep is still a little bit murky now."

Johnson said the murkiness has a lot to do with continuing health issues behind his first team, which he called his biggest frustration so far in fall camp.

Just like he did in his press conference last week, the defensive coordinator gave an expansive injury report for his defense:

"The nagging injuries kind of have us two steps forward, one step back," Johnson said. "There are some guys who've got the chance and the skill set to get right into the middle of things, but the limitations in practice have just been holding them back in fundamentals and understanding what we're doing in the scheme."

For a defense that struggled with depth last season, another rash of injuries during practice is definitely a problem. Auburn needed to see development at several positions this offseason, so the pressure is on for players to stay healthy and give clarity to the two-deep with two weeks left before the Arkansas game.

 

Therezie "may not play early" this season

One more major note from Johnson's time with the media Thursday was the status of senior Robenson Therezie, Auburn's returning starter at the Star position and a second-team preseason All-SEC pick.

"We're a little nervous about our depth behind Justin [Garrett]," Johnson said. "Therezie right now, we're not sure he's going to be able to play early, and the rest of them are freshmen. But a game like Arkansas, that guy is going to end up on the box a lot, so I'll have a linebacker that can play that spot also to back up Justin."

When asked for clarification on why Therezie would not be able to play early, Johnson said Therezie "just hasn't had a lot of practice reps."

"We're getting Justin ready, and right now, we've got to get some depth out there," Johnson said.

Rumors on Therezie's status have flown around message boards and social media for most of the week, but Auburn has not officially confirmed any suspension or injury for the senior. Malzahn is scheduled to meet with the media after Saturday's practice.

Losing a returning starter like Therezie, who emerged as one of the Tigers' top defensive players last season, is never good, no matter the length of time. But the staff sounds confident in Garrett at the position—after all, he was the breakout star of the defense last spring before recurring foot injuries caused him to miss most of the 2013 season.

 

Shakeup in the secondary

Through all of the injury and possible suspension updates, Ellis Johnson also announced there has been a shift among the Auburn defensive backs.

With the staff limiting Josh Holsey's reps, Jonathan Jones has moved ahead as a first-choice cornerback for the Tigers. The speedy junior is at the top of the chart at the field corner, and returning starter Jonathon Mincy is moving back to his old position at boundary corner.

"Holsey missed a whole half of a year last year, and, of course, Jonathan did, too," Johnson said on the shakeup. "The one thing we do know is that Mincy can play either."

Senior Trovon Reed, who has impressed coaches and teammates since his switch from wide receiver, is now behind Jones at field cornerback.

Another player who once roamed the field on offense is high up on the depth chart on defense—sophomore Johnathan "Rudy" Ford. The former running back is ahead of junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief, who missed a few practices with dehydration and a virus, for the time being at boundary safety. 

"I feel comfortable at either [safety position]," Ford said. "Both of the safeties, I’ve been very ready and open to both of the safety positions and all of the safety positions, and I’ve just been focusing, staying in the meetings and listening to everything Coach and Whitehead has to say to help me go along."

These new defensive back starters aren't set in stone at this point—Holsey and Moncrief could move back up the depth chart with consistent practice time. But the Auburn coaching staff should feel confident in having at least three strong options at both cornerback and safety this season.

 

Johnson stepping up as season opener looms

Numerous Auburn coaches and players have said second-string quarterback Jeremy Johnson would be a starter at any other school in the country.

And since he will get his first chance to start in an SEC game in two weeks, the highly touted quarterback is leading the offense like a full-time first-stringer.

"We're getting better throwing and catching the ball just because of repetition, timing and continuity," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "It's been really good the last couple of days. I'll say this: Just from a leadership standpoint, I've seen a little bit of a change, that he's more confident stepping up and it doesn't matter if it's a guy older than him or not—and taking charge of his group when he's out there."

Senior quarterback Nick Marshall will not start the season opener against Arkansas because of his July marijuana citation. He spoke to the media for the first time since the incident Sunday, and he took an opportunity to praise his backup.

"I see Jeremy coming out there and practicing [well] every day," Marshall said. "He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter, and I'm just behind him 100 percent."

Although the coaching staff hasn't officially named Johnson the starter for Aug. 30 against the Razorbacks, it's a foregone conclusion at this point. Johnson struggled at the annual A-Day Game, but his teammates have full confidence in him heading into preparations for Arkansas.

 

Quick hits

- True freshman linebacker Tre' Williams could crack the two-deep in his first season at Auburn. Johnson, who is Williams' position coach, said the Mobile native has impressed in the team's search for depth at the position, and Johnson has made it clear that he is "not big on redshirting" as a SEC coordinator.

- Two more young players, running backs Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber, stood out in Tuesday's scrimmage. Wide receiver Tony Stevens said Thomas had a touchdown run and both backs are "hitting the hole pretty fast, and they’re breaking it."

- Redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson has solidified himself as the first-team kicker as he continues to battle for the starting punter job. Third-string quarterback Jonathan Wallace is getting most of the snaps at holder and "Batman" conversion specialist.

- Malzahn confirmed earlier in the week that Gage Batten, a former walk-on linebacker and current backup H-back, had suffered an injury. The head coach did not disclose the severity.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Will Malik Zaire Challenge Everett Golson for Notre Dame's Starting QB Spot?

Head coach Brian Kellyannounced that Everett Golson will be the Fighting Irish's starting quarterback for the opener against Rice. Golson was competing with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire for the starting job and will return to the position he last held in the 2013 BCS National Championship game. 

Can Zaire continue to challenge for the starting job? Just how short is Golson's leash as the starter?

Watch as Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold breaks down the latest with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

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Texas A&M Players Freak out After Practice Is Cancelled for Trip to the Movies

Either Texas A&M players really hate practice or they really like going to the movies.

When Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin cancelled practice for the surprise trip, his players freaked out. Most followed orders and took off running, while one player took time to perform a happy dance.

It's easy to see that the players were pretty psyched about going to the movies.

[AggieFBLife, Twitter; h/t The Dallas Morning News

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Alabama Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Week 2 of Alabama's fall camp represents the halfway point of preseason training for the Crimson Tide. Two-a-days ended on Wednesday, and classes start next week, so this is the last week of uninterrupted practice the team has.

There's one more week of camp before game-week preparations begin for West Virginia next Monday.

But first, let's recap the goings on of Week 2. Here's the stock report.

 

Dog days of camp

Alabama coach Nick Saban and his players talked about how this was the worst week of camp.

"This is always a tough week," Saban said on Tuesday. "First week, people are always excited to start football, first scrimmage and all that. Then you kind of have this week, which is really kind of hump week, have another scrimmage, get a couple of days off, then you start school, and then we're practicing once a day."

Saban stressed the importance of focus and motivation during that time, dropping phrases like, "Content people are not really the kind of people that we would like to have on our team or in our organization" and, "One year from now, you wish you started today. Seventeen days from now, you're going to wish you started today."

The Crimson Tide practiced twice on both Monday and Tuesday, taking the field at 9:30 a.m. for two-and-a-half hours and then returning at 7:30 p.m.

Guard Arie Kouandjio said that "there's a lot of sleeping involved in between the two practices. A lot of eating. And we have meetings. Making sure you are ready for the next practice."

There was a bit of a break to the monotony, though: Alabama had visitors from a Japanese football team in town on Wednesday.

 

Returning players get acclimated; a competing starter goes out

Alabama saw the return of a few guys out with injuries or suspensions. But the Crimson Tide lost a guy competing for a starting role, too.

Most notably, defensive linemen Brandon Ivory and Jarran Reed returned from their suspensions and, after an NCAA-mandated five-day acclimation period, are back working full speed in practice.

That doesn't mean, though, that the two A-Day starters will pick right back up where they left off.

"Well, you know, they're on the third team, so they've got to work their way up," Saban said. "I don't think it's real fair to the guys that have been out there for 14 days practicing on the first and second team.

"They've got to beat them out. They're not entitled to anything. They're working hard. They're doing a good job. They're getting plenty of work, so they certainly have to improve as football players. But from a behavioral standpoint, they have done a really good job, and I'm pleased with them."

Saban also gave an update on an offensive and defensive lineman returning to practice:

The biggest blow, though, came during last Saturday's scrimmage. Saban said that offensive lineman Dominick Jackson, the top JUCO player in the class of 2014, has an ankle sprain that "might keep him out for a couple of weeks."

Jackson was expected to compete for a spot on the offensive line right away, likely at right guard. That competition now likely comes down to either Leon Brown or Alphonse Taylor.

 

Saban still not interested in talking quarterbacks

Alabama will hold its second and final scrimmage of the fall on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but don't expect much to change in the way of the quarterback competition between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims.

Saban told reporters at Thursday's press conference, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com:

Nothing (different). Nothing. I mean, I don't know. What do you want me to say? They're both going to take an equal number of snaps, just like they did last week. And if you keep asking questions about it, we probably won't give you their stats again.

Alabama didn't release quarterback stats after last week's rain-slogged scrimmage. Just like in 2011, don't expect Saban to release any stats this week, either.

Saban did, though, offer a little bit of insight into the quarterbacks in a more controlled environment in an interview during the opening minutes of the SEC Network's debut.

"We are really encouraged by both players," Saban told analyst Marcus Spears. "Blake has really played well and probably developed into a more consistent player at that position than maybe I thought he could at some point in time.

"Jake has also come in and—a really talented guy, he's a big guy, he's got a good arm. And as he sort of gets more familiar with the system and gets more confidence in what he's doing, he's starting to show that he's a talented guy that could make a great contribution to our team as well."

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Michigan Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

The biggest news out of Michigan football this week came when Brady Hoke confirmed that fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner would be the starter for the team’s first game.

“I’d would expect him to start on the 30th,” said Hoke while detailing how Gardner has separated himself from his competition during fall camp. “His communication skills throughout, how the offense is run, his identification of the different reads that he has either in the run or the pass game has grown a ton.”

Earlier in the week offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier also praised Gardner’s dedication to learning the new offense.

“[Devin] understands…the plays we’re calling—was it built to be an explosive or efficient play,” said Nussmeier. “He’s really done a good job of spending extra time getting to know those types of things.”

Gardner provides Michigan its best chance to win this season. His return to the top of depth chart after recovering from last season’s leg injury locks down a critical question for the offense.


Running Back

Although Hoke announced that De’Veon Smith had seized the top position on the depth chart, the competition is still extremely tight.

“We’d love to get to one guy for sure, but right now we’re just not there yet,” said Hoke. “All four, five if you want to count Ty [Isaac], have done some really good things and they’ve all made bonehead mistakes.”

The surprising news was that Drake Johnson had surpassed Derrick Green for second position on the depth chart. Hoke was effusive in his praise for Johnson, who missed last season with an ACL injury

“Drake is a guy who really works diligently about everything…you know you’re going to get execution from him,” said Hoke. “As a running back he picked up things very well within the offense, he catches the ball in the backfield [and] has very good acceleration, he’s got a chance to take it all the way because of his speed…He’s really just done a tremendous job.”

The tight competition plays into offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s expectations for the position.

“We’re gonna play a number of guys,“ said Nussmeier. “We’re not gonna be a one-back team.”


Jabrill Peppers Watch

Hoke announced that top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers had started taking reps at cornerback this week.

“Jabrill at the nickel has done a nice job,” said Hoke. “Jabrill moved out to some corner today, he’s kind of got his feet wet and knows what’s going on at nickel.”

In addition to playing cornerback Peppers has been practicing returning kicks on special teams. 


Offensive Line

Two weeks out from the season opener, Hoke reluctantly revealed the leaders to start on the offensive line.

For now it’s Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson at the guards, Mason Cole and Kyle Kalis at the tackles and Jack Miller at center. Kyle Bosch (sore back) and Graham Glasgow (suspended for the first game) are also in the running for reps.

Hoke continues to praise the progress made by true freshman Mason Cole.

“He’s smart, [and] he works really hard,” said Hoke. “He doesn’t back down from anything or anybody.”

Doug Nussmeier acknowledged the possibility that Cole might crack the starting lineup, saying,  “Performance has no age tied to it.”


Offensive Scouting Report

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison offered his assessment of Michigan’s new offensive under Nussmeier.

“They’re going to come out every day and knock you off the ball,” said Mattison. “We have great competition in practice.”

Nussmeier refused to share his statistical goals for the offense but declared, “We want to be physical, we want to be explosive.”


Suspension Update

Brady Hoke is standing by his player.

Despite the release of a video showing Csont’e York allegedly assaulting another man and breaking his jaw, Hoke insists that “York is still part of the program.”

"He's a guy who has been a part of this team, and we're going to go through the process."


Injury Update

Tight end Jake Butt (ACL) has not been cleared to return to practice yet. Hoke dismissed conjecture that Butt might return by the Notre Dame game.

Delano Hill (no contact) is still recovering from a broken jaw but is expected to be back before the team starts Big Ten play.

Offensive lineman Kyle Kalis (sore back) and wide receiver Devin Funchess were held out of the team’s Wednesday scrimmage as a precaution but are expected to be available for the team’s Saturday night scrimmage

Wide receiver Drake Harris is currently out due to a hamstring injury.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

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@PSCallihan

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Texas Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Charlie Strong seemed disappointed during the second week of the Texas Longhorns' fall camp, and from the sound of it, he had every right to feel that way.

"During preseason camp, there are going to be days where you hit a wall, and you're just going to have to push through it. Just mentally, you have to have some toughness to you. Today we hit that wall and we weren't able to push through it," Strong said following practice. "When there are bad days, there are bad days from the coaching staff. We, ourselves, did not do a good job of pushing the guys and getting them prepared."

Strong's disappointment from practice was evident during his press conference. He was to the point and very clear that this team is not good enough to not be pushing it every practice.

"We're not a good enough football team to waste days. We only have so many opportunities, and we have to take full advantage of the opportunities," Strong said. "The first week was good because everybody was fresh and new. But here comes the second week and the battles begin. The mental battle, the physical battle, they're still trying to finish up school. But it's all about them, and putting in a good day's work."

With the poor practice behind them, the Longhorns are wrapping up Week 2 of fall camp. Unfortunately for Texas fans, Week 2 had some bad news on the injury front.

 

Injured Longhorns

Quarterback Miles Onyegbule suffered a torn ACL injury and will miss the 2014 season. Tight end Greg Daniels will get a knee scope and will miss the first game of the season, but Strong said he is hopeful of getting Daniels back at some point.

Tight end has been a somewhat non-existent position for the Longhorns for many years. But Strong has made it clear that will not be the case moving forward.

"The tight end position is a very critical position in our team and within our offense because there are different sets and different formations that we use," Strong said. "A tight end is a very valuable player. We're just going to have to sit down and see what candidates we have to move there."

Without Daniels, the Longhorns still have M.J. McFarland, Geoff Swaim and Blake Whiteley as tight end options.

McFarland is the most experienced of the group, and has played in a career-total 23 games, with four starts, and he registered eight receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown in 2012. He did not catch any passes in 2013 and was mainly involved in special teams because Swaim took over a lot of the starting role.

Swaim played in all 13 games in 2013, with nine starts, and caught three passes for 14 yards. Whiteley, meanwhile, was the first signee of the Strong era. He transferred from Arizona Western Community College, where he caught eight passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley is still not practicing after he suffered a hamstring injury during the first fall practice of the season. There is no timetable set for his return, but the Longhorns desperately need him back in the mix to lead the receiving core.

Wide receivers coach Les Koenning has options if Shipley cannot return in time for the season opener. Junior Marcus Johnson, sophomore Jacorey Warrick, junior Daje Johnson and senior John Harris have been mentioned as valuable options for the Longhorns. And Texas has five true freshmen with the opportunity to get playing time early in the season.

And true freshman running back Donald Catalon is also dealing with a hamstring injury. Strong did not clarify when Catalon would return to the team; he just said he would be back "at some point."

Catalon was a Rivals.com 4-star prospect and has the talent to turn heads at the college position, but at this point, he is somewhat buried in the depth chart behind senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray.

 

Position Moves

Not a lot of news has been made public on any position moves or depth chart moves, but an area that seems to be settled is with the kicker and punter. Strong said Tuesday that junior Nick Rose is the kicker for the Longhorns and senior William Russ will be the punter.

Rose has played in 26 career games and was the No. 1 guy who handled kickoffs in 2012 and 2013. Russ has not seen much game-time action as a punter.

Strong made it seem like the defense is shaping out well following the second week of fall camp, but there are still a few position battles that remain open on defense.

"Defensively, we have three or four returning starters on the defensive front. Shiro (Davis) and (Caleb) Bluiett are still battling at the one end position. At linebacker, you have (Peter) Jinkens and (Steve) Edmond who are solidifying the linebacker position with (Jordan) Hicks. Then you look at the secondary, you have (Quandre) Diggs, (Mykkele) Thompson and Duke (Thomas). Then you have Dylan Haines running with the safety position."

Strong is a defensive-minded coach and has often been regarded as one of the best defensive minds in college football. He has a long track record of building stout defenses, most recently at Louisville, where he helped lead the Cardinals to the No. 1 defense nationally in 2013.

The offense may be another story. 

The running back and quarterback positions are settled, but the remaining offensive positions are still up in the air.

The Texas offense will be a storyline to follow this season, but one of the bigger positions will be the offensive line. The offensive line is looking to replace four veteran starters with a lot of young, inexperienced players. 

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline is moving and shaking up the offensive line, which is something he is known for doing. But he has a limited amount of time to find the right mix to protect the quarterback this season.

"There's going to be a lot of shuffling in camp, especially if you're trying to develop a new offense and trying to put in new schemes, new techniques and fundamentals, and you're trying to figure out what you have on hand," Wickline said. "We're going to move guys pretty often until we find the right combination."

Another position to watch will be the wide receivers. Koenning knows he has two starters in Marcus Johnson and Shipley, but with Shipley sidelined, he is looking at some of the young players to step up their game.

"We have got to get the number of reps for those kids so they can be successful," Koenning said of the young receivers. "It's not really a first- or second-team thing. We know Marcus is first. We know Shipley's first. We know that. But we're going to move those kids around so they can get an ample amount of reps, so they can be successful."

Koenning has also mentioned some of the young players by name who may have the opportunity to get on the field early this season.

"Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard, Garrett Gray, Roderick Bernard and Armanti Foreman are all of those guys who are doing really good. All of them have done a really good job," Koenning said of the young wide receivers. "Right now we are going through the learning phase with them. Some of them are picking it up a little faster than others, but it's going really good."

 

Strong Takes the Stage for Annual Texas Football Kickoff Luncheon

When Strong was coaching at Louisville, he was the second priority of coaches. Louisville's basketball program has been the leader of the sports department, and football was second to it.

But that is nowhere near the case at Texas. Since taking over the Longhorns, Strong has had to get used to the amount of visibility that comes with the position. He told Hannah Storm how he was blown away by the number of media who attended his introductory press conference.

"I walked in the door and I was like, 'Oh my God. Where did all of these people come from?'" Strong told Storm. "I was walking with my oldest daughter Hayley, and she said, 'Oh my God, Dad.' And I just said, 'Keep walking. Everything will be fine.'"

Although transitioning into the public spotlight has not been an overnight deal for Strong, he has become exponentially better when dealing with the media. And that was clear at the annual Texas Football Kickoff Luncheon.

Strong discussed a multitude of topics at the luncheon, but none more important than his vision of Texas football's future.

The fans seemed excited about the speech. Some went to Twitter to discuss their feelings, while others used their applause as a way to support the first-year head coach.

Strong has yet to coach a football game for the Longhorns, but if his coaching ability is even a little similar to his ability to learn the public aspect of the job on the run, then the future could be bright for the Longhorns.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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USC Trojans Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

USC opens the 2014 season in just over two weeks against Fresno State, and there is one priority for head coach Steve Sarkisian in that time: keep his team healthy. 

The Trojans' second week of fall camp started with the loss of linebacker Jabari Ruffin to a season-ending knee injury, and assorted other players sat out this week to heal minor maladies. 

But with some Trojans sidelined, others capitalized in the spotlight. One such opportunist is sophomore running back Justin Davis. 

 

Justin Davis, RB, Sophomore

Last season's leading rusher, Javorius "Buck" Allen, was held out Wednesday with a shoulder injury. His absence gave Davis additional carries, and he made the most of them.  

"I thought Justin played really well," Sarkisian said Wednesday, per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com. "We've been challenging Justin. He's coming off the foot injury and we're really just trying to get his confidence back. I thought he competed at a very high level."

Davis was promising in 2013, putting together games of 74 yards rushing against Hawaii, 96 yards against Boston College and 122 yards against Arizona State. However, a foot injury midway through his freshman campaign brought it to a premature end.  

A healthy Davis factors into a three-man backfield with Allen and Tre Madden. All that talent might translate into too few carries to go around, but Madden sees the rotation elevating the entire trio. 

"We just all work. We have our own talents and we push each other," Madden told Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register. "We always say that it’s steel sharpening steel. There’s a lot of good players making each other better every day."

Giving players with minor injuries time to recover is crucial. But even with the inherent risk, Sarkisian and his staff must keep repetitions high in order to ready the team for the nation's No. 17 most difficult schedule per Phil Steele, via FBSchedules.com

Such is the tightrope USC will walk all season, playing with fewer than 70 scholarship players on the roster. The limitations in numbers necessitate newcomers and reserves being ready to contribute, and the second week of fall camp offered promising signs to that end.

 

Defensive Backs

John Plattenburg and Jonathan Lockett are two such Trojans vying for a prominent role in the defense. 

Redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Hawkins continues to draw rave reviews. Hawkins had an opportunity to take on first-team repetitions in Week 1, with starting cornerback Kevon Seymour recovering from illness. 

Hawkins continues to establish himself as a potential difference-maker in a Trojans secondary seeking depth. 

Redshirt senior Gerald Bowman is also looking to make himself a prominent part of the Trojans defense. The nation's No. 3 overall junior-college recruit in 2012 per 247Sports, injuries stunted Bowman's progression last season. 

"To have another opportunity, I'm hungry man. I'm just trying to get better every day, get my unit better every day," Bowman told Evan Budrovich of ConquestChronicles.com

 

Quarterbacks

Cody Kessler is USC's Week 1 starting quarterback barring a drastic change. Sarkisian was complimentary of Kessler's grasp of the uptempo offense at last month's Pac-12 media days. 

"He won a lot of games and I think that shows in his play," Sarkisian said. "He's ultra-competitive."  

The redshirt junior took a tumble Wednesday that could have dramatically altered the complexion of the USC offense. After his spill, Sarkisian offered his diagnosis to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times

"Bruised pride, bruised ego," Sarkisian said. 

Kessler regrouped, as Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News noted in his unofficial score sheet of Wednesday's scrimmage.   

Former 5-star recruit and redshirt freshman Max Browne also had an opportunity to show off his arm Wednesday.

 

Offensive Line

Sarkisian said at media days that all positions are fluid, but the quarterback competition has been more or less set since April. The Trojans' offensive line is only now beginning to take shape after two weeks of camp.

The biggest piece of the puzzle—literally—came into place this week. Zach Banner, the 6'9", 350-pound redshirt sophomore, is on track to start Week 1 at right tackle per Klein.  

Offensive line coach Tim Drevno must hope Banner is a chip off the old block; he's the son of former Washington All-American and NFL All-Pro Lincoln Kennedy. 

One Trojan Drevno will not have in his lineup is freshman Jordan Austin. 

A 3-star signee in February's recruiting class, Austin enrolled early and participated in spring practices. The other tackle prospect from the new class, Chris Brown, moves closer to a contributing role as a result. 

With the team's depth concerns, Sarkisian isn't bashful about giving youngsters opportunities. 

"We're going to need some...of these guys to be real contributors,” Sarkisian told Klein. "And the only way that's going to happen is by throwing them in there.”  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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USC Trojans Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

USC opens the 2014 season in just over two weeks against Fresno State, and there is one priority for head coach Steve Sarkisian in that time: keep his team healthy...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ohio State Football: Evaluating Braxton Miller's Over/Under Stat Projections

Las Vegas isn't expecting a lot of growth from Braxton Miller this year.

That much became clear when Bovada released its over/under stat projections for a number of collegiate football players this week. Even though Ohio State's star signal-caller has increased his game-to-game output in his three seasons with the Buckeyes, the online sportsbook has predicted modest numbers for Miller.

Here's a look at his forecasted stats for the 2014 season.

 

Is Braxton Miller Headed for a Letdown?

Bovada set Miller's over/unders surprisingly low, projecting 2,095.5 passing yards, 850.5 rushing yards and 32.5 total touchdowns. Comparing those numbers to previous seasons indicates Vegas is expecting Miller to flatline in his final year at Ohio State.

If these numbers hold up, that would actually mean Miller took a statistical step back in 2014.

The passing yards from 2013 and his projection for 2014 are nearly identical, but Miller missed most of three games last year after suffering a sprained MCL in his knee against San Diego State. 

During that three-game stretch, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton threw for 643 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

While Miller wasn't the polished passer Guiton was in 2013, those three opponents (San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M) fielded three of the worst pass defenses Ohio State faced. The Aztecs ranked No. 98 in total pass defense, Cal ranked dead last among FBS teams and Florida A&M gave up six touchdown passes to Guiton—a new Ohio State record.

Essentially, Miller missed the three biggest opportunities to pad his passing stats.

Bovada also anticipates Miller's rushing yards and total touchdowns to dip as well. The rushing stats are particularly surprising because Miller has proven to be a lethal runner in Urban Meyer's offense. Miller has eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in each of his two seasons under Meyer.

For Miller, the biggest threat to a career year is injury.

 

Staying Healthy Is the Key

Miller has been plagued by injury throughout his otherwise illustrious career at Ohio State.

In fact, lingering soreness from a shoulder surgery in February is putting the start of Miller's 2014 season in question. The coaching staff has been easing Miller into full swing during fall camp, but if he's still battling his shoulder when the Buckeyes open the season, that would seriously impact his ability to produce.

Matt Brown of Sports On Earth wrote about the balancing act Meyer has ahead of him.

Ohio State's top priority is preventing [a serious injury] from happening again, through a combination of protecting Miller in the pocket and successfully managing the number of run plays specifically designed for him.

That starts with a change in offensive philosophy. The Buckeyes, who are working to replace Carlos Hyde and four senior starters along the offensive line, are aiming to attack the perimeter in 2014.

The result of that could be a drop in Miller's overall rushing stats, as Bovada projected, but it's safe to assume his passing numbers would spike. The Buckeyes have a host of offensive weapons with the likes of Dontre Wilson, Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman and Ezekiel Elliott in the fold, but it all falls back on Miller.

If he can stay healthy, Ohio State's offense will be lethal and he will put up big numbers. If he battles injuries in 2014, he could fall short of Bovada's meager projections.

 

Unless otherwise noted, stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

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Tennessee Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

With only snippets of Tennessee football practices open to the media, fans are left to interpret coach Butch Jones' coachspeak and alternating mood swings.

Throughout week two of fall drills, his interviews have seemed a shade less surly than they were a week ago as he has been quicker to hand out praise to his players. Then, he'll throw out a downer like his post-scrimmage thoughts Wednesday night.

According to UTSports.com's official transcript, Jones said:

As a whole, I didn't like our approach, I thought we lacked intensity, gave up way too many big plays defensively; I didn't think we came to play defensively. [Also] too many pre-snap penalties on offense. ... Some individuals now are starting to distance themselves from the pack, so we will go back tonight, we will grade the film and we will start to define people's roles on this football team in moving forward.

With just a bit more than two weeks left until UT kicks off against Utah State, the Vols have a long way to go. But they've seemingly made strides in solidifying roles and identifying a handful of youngsters who can help right away.

Now that they've named a starting quarterback in Justin Worley (per GoVols247's Wes Rucker), the team can get acclimated to him, and the offense can develop a comfort level before the Aggies roll into town.

Even though that's a big question mark out of the way, numerous others remain. Let's take a look at the biggest news from the past week on the Vols' practice field.

 

Wolfing Down the Reps

Anybody wondering aloud about the importance of quality tight end play in Jones' offense need not look any further than his final season at Cincinnati.

Travis Kelce led the Big East co-champion Bearcats with 45 catches for 722 yards and eight touchdowns.

So when the Vols experienced atrocious play from the position a season ago, it had a direct effect on the offense. Tight end is one of those areas where quality is crucial in Jones' power-spread scheme, so UT went out and recruited two potential immediate-impact players in Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm.

Thus far, former 247 composite 3-star Wolf looks like one of the biggest surprises of the class. The 6'5", 240-pound tight end has earned some first-team reps along with Alex Ellis and continued to draw praise from Jones.

"Been really, really pleased with Ethan Wolf," Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required). "I think Ethan Wolf continues to get better and better and better."

That's not just lip service from the top man either. Most of the folks who've witnessed practices have seen the immense all-around ability Wolf has shown. Not only can he be a force in the run game because of his size and blocking ability, but he also has used his athleticism to add a wrinkle to the passing game.

Volquest.com owner Brent Hubbs (subscription required) noted Wolf as his mid-camp surprise, stating:

I liked Wolf in the spring, but in my mind, he's really taken off this summer and is having a fabulous camp. I honestly expected his role this season to be more of just an in-line blocker in two tight end sets, but he has flashed the ability to get open in the pass game. The athleticism and agility he's shown in fall camp have been really impressive. And to go with that, he's been extremely consistent on the practice field every day. … He's making the tight end position dramatically different than it was a year ago.

Even Helm, who was the higher-rated of the two tight ends, conceded Wolf is farther along in his development. Both will be huge parts of the future, but Wolf will thrive right now.

Whether or not Wolf starts won't have any bearing on his impact to the offense. He is one of the two freshmen (along with right tackle Coleman Thomas) who don't necessarily get lumped in with all the excitement and anticipation surrounding guys like Jalen Hurd or Josh Malone.

But they'll be just as important to the success of the 2014 Vols as anybody.

 

Malone Snaps Out of Funk

Malone answers the phone when the lights come on.

If that's how things are going to be this season for the Vols' elite 6'3", 204-pound freshman receiver, it's better than the alternative.

The first couple weeks of practice haven't been kind to the Gallatin, Tennessee, native as he struggled to take another step forward following an electrifying Orange and White Game this past spring that saw him score three touchdowns.

But in the midst of a game environment during the Vols' second full scrimmage Thursday night, Malone woke up. Statistics were not released for the practice, but he reportedly flashed some of the skills that made him one of the most hotly recruited prospects in the Southeast a season ago.

It's going to be extremely difficult for Malone to win a starting job with Marquez North entrenched at one outside spot, sophomore Josh Smith playing so well and Von Pearson, Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson battling for reps in the slot.

But there is plenty of playing time to be had. The Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown reported the Vols "will rotate heavily at receiver, and wideouts coach Zach Azzanni likes to play a handful of guys."

Malone is certain to be one of those guys. He's too talented to keep off the field. But his performance in practice will have a direct effect on the confidence coaches have in his ability to play at a high level, even if he does play his best on the big stage.

 

 While Curt Is Hurt, Barnett Reaps Rewards 

Tennessee defensive end and team leader Curt Maggitt is currently hobbled by a "minor, lower-leg injury," according to Rucker, that could keep him out for a few practices.

That's bad news for the Vols, but a silver lining is freshman Derek Barnett getting repetitions with the first-team defense.

The 6'3", 267-pound defensive end trotted out as a starter with Maggitt sidelined, according to Volquest.com's Brent Hubbs and Grant Ramey (subscription required). Though the Vols want to get their star junior back as soon as possible, they're developing some much-needed depth along the front.

Barnett continues a torrid camp that will wind up with him firmly entrenched in the defensive line rotation. While he'll surely take some lumps in his first year, he'll be an anchor in the trenches throughout his UT career.

As for Maggitt, nobody believes the injury is serious. He told Volquest.com's Hubbs and Lewis Thursday night, "I'm good. I appreciate it. I'm all good," before saying he was taking things "one day at a time."

 

Updates on Tennessee's Top Position Battles

Jones knows everybody wanted to know who was going to be the Vols quarterback prior to Thursday's naming of Worley as the starter.

But UT's coach is equally concerned about another position—kicker.

Last season, Michael Palardy held all three kicking responsibilities for the Vols and was arguably the team's MVP. This fall, there have been flashes from all three kicking candidates, but nobody has taken the job.

Jones told Callahan that sophomore George Bullock leads true freshman Aaron Medley in the race right now.

At outside linebacker, everybody is talking about UT legacy and true freshman Dillon Bates, but it's going to be extremely difficult for him to unseat Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

 In GoVols247 writer Rucker's "Five on the Rise" article, he notes of JRM:

The former safety from Clarksville, Tenn., has beefed up to 230 pounds and has taken great strides as a player and leader, according to his coaches and teammates. Tennessee's special-teams dynamo of 2013 looks like a potentially dynamic component of Tennessee’s 2014 defense.

The Vols needed a quarterback to step up and take control of the starting job. Once Worley finally did, naming him the starter was a no-brainer.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian told Volquest.com assistant editor John Brice (subscription required) just how well Worley had been playing recently: "The body of work over the long-term is important, but we want to know who is playing his best football right now. Justin is hitting on all cylinders right now. So we're excited about that."

 

Roundup from Rocky Top (News and Notes)

The Vols are holding their only open practice Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, and the coaching staff wants to eclipse the 39,000 or so fans they had for last year's event.

UT football's official Twitter account has been tweeting out reminders all week.

**

Under Jones, it's a tradition that the newcomers all have a black stripe on their helmets that is removed once they earn that privilege with their play.

This week, the older Vols removed stripes from the helmets of Barnett, Wolf, running back Jalen Hurd and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, according to The Daily Times' Grant Ramey. All are expected to start or at least be major contributors this season.

**

A freshman who isn't talked about much but is quietly having a strong camp is Jashon Robertson. The Nashville native and long-time Vanderbilt commit flipped to UT after James Franklin left for Penn State, and he has taken his new position by storm.

Less than a week into practice, the Vols coaches moved Robertson from defensive tackle to offensive guard, and he has excelled thus far. Offensive line coach Don Mahoney told GoVols247's Callahan: "I’m really, really excited about his future. I mean, he’s a lot more mature than his classification is. We’re going to keep pushing and demanding, and he keeps accepting the challenges."

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.

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

 

@Brad_Shepard

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Nebraska Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

The second week of fall camp has brought two-a-day practices for the Huskers. After the first week brought too many injuries and even a suspension, this week has been much more calm.

Position battles are really heating up now. That doesn't mean Bo Pelini and staff didn't find some time for a little fun this week. And with media once again being allowed at practice, the media really showed up.

 

News from the Week

Another injury for Nebraska kicked off the second week of practice. On Monday, Pelini confirmed tailback Adam Taylor has suffered a broken ankle during the Aug. 9 practice, per Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com. While the news was disappointing, the Huskers still have Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby healthy.

In fact, Abdullah had something to say about all the talent that surrounds him, per Hail Varsity's Grant Muessel.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck feels good about where the offense is right now. He said during the Aug. 11 practices that he believes roughly 80 to 85 percent of the playbook is installed, per Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald. “Our guys started reviewing more than learning," he said. "And it showed on the field.”

It's not major news, but it still got plenty of attention during the Aug. 13 practice. Husker coaches faced off in a little dance competition. The photos truly are worth a thousand words.

 

Important Position Battles

The quarterback competition continues. While it's hard to see Tommy Armstrong losing the No. 1 spot by the first game, it's clearer than ever that it's not a cake walk for him, Ryker Fyfe or Johnny Stanton.

During the Aug. 13 practice, Pelini said who falls where. "Right now, obviously the top three are Tommy, Ryker and Johnny (Stanton). Probably in that order," Pelini said, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald.

In the absence of Charles Jackson, Pelini expects Byerson Cockrell to now start at nickelback this season. That doesn't mean Cockrell won't have some competition, though. As the Lincoln Journal Star's Brian Rosenthal reported, Pelini believes that true freshman Josh Kalu “has made a big jump” at nickelback.

“I feel good about our nickel position right now,” Pelini said, per Rosenthal. “Those guys have really learned a lot, and we’re throwing a lot at them, so it’s good.”

 

Biggest Storylines

After the Aug. 9 practice, Armstrong was seen sporting the green non-contact jersey, according to Greg Smith of Black Sports Online. With the quarterback competition heating up, it was a bit of concern to fans as to how long he'd have to wear it. By Aug. 13, Nyatawa reported that Armstrong was no longer wearing it.

The defense definitely took a big hit during the first week of fall camp with injuries and a suspension. As a result, Pelini spent some extra time working with both the defensive backs and linebackers this week. Nyatawa noted that there was some good competition between the two units and quality reps as well.

As for special teams, there's a well-known player interested in helping out. That guy is Abdullah. He was seen taking punt return reps alongside Jordan Westerkamp, De'Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Nelson, per Muessel. Abdullah explained:

I consider myself one of the better players on this team, so I want the best players out there at all times...Just because you play a pivotal role on the offense doesn’t mean you can’t contribute on special teams, because you want the best 11 out there at every phase of the game.

It should be interesting how it all shapes up in the next couple of weeks.

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