Penn State's offense will look very different come August.
Not only schematically, as the team adjusts to a new playbook, but from a personnel standpoint. The Nittany Lions will have to replace star receiver Allen Robinson, who accounted for roughly 46 percent of the passing game last year.
Penn State did bring in four highly touted wideouts by way of its 2014 recruiting class, but keep in mind that guys like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall are still freshmen. This isn't saying they won't offer up valuable contributions, but there will still be a learning curve to an extent.
While question marks surround this group, another one is locked and loaded for 2014. The tight ends—arguably the deepest and most talented position group on the team—could help Franklin coach around the loss of Allen Robinson.
Christina Hackenberg will have some very talented tight ends to throw to come summer camp. Kyle Carter, Jesse James, Adam Breneman and incoming freshman Mike Gesicki are players who Franklin can use to set up mismatches with the opposition.
Gesicki is an intriguing prospect. As Bleacher Report's own Adam Kramer pointed out while analyzing Penn State's 2014 recruiting class, Gesicki lined up as a wide receiver quite frequently in high school. This type of experience could give him the chance to see time in the slot next year at Penn State. This versatility makes him an unlikely redshirt candidate.
This type of potential from the tight end spot doesn't appear to be something that Franklin is familiar with. Last year at Vanderbilt, his top two tight ends combined for only 19 catches 223 yards.
Yet for a group so highly praised, it statistically regressed last year from what it was during Bill O'Brien's first season in 2012. Here's how the two years stack up against each other:
It's hard to suggest why these numbers decreased so much. Dustin Hockensmith of PennLive suggests that the reason is because Bill O'Brien wanted to keep things simple during Hackenberg's first year.
Now that the young quarterback has a year under his belt, Penn State will look for 2012-like production out of its tight ends next season if it wants to take the pressure off the wideouts. For this reason, I expect many multiple-tight-end sets to be used.
At it's core, this type of offense can do two things. First, it creates mismatches in the passing game—any particular tight end could be too fast for a linebacker to cover or too big for a defensive back to cover.
It also helps in protecting the quarterback. An additional tight end—likely lined up next to either tackle—adds more protection along the offensive line. The player could hold a block for some time before breaking off into a route. Consider it a checkdown of sorts for the quarterback.
Teams could also be forced to bring down a safety to cover the surplus of tight ends on the field. When this happens, the opportunity presents itself for Penn State's wide receivers to have one-on-one battles on the outside.
While a multiple-tight-end set creates mismatches in the passing game, it can also inadvertently help the run game. As Bucky Brooks of NFL.com writes, running this offense helps combat a defense keying in on a run play:
Defenses routinely drop an extra defender into the box to fill the eight gaps along the front line (each area between two offensive linemen/tight end is considered a gap and defenders are assigned a gap responsibility in a one-gap scheme). Against two-back formations, the addition of an extra defender gives the defense a numerical advantage at the point of attack, ensuring a free defender to the ball.
However, the deployment of multiple tight ends along the line of scrimmage nullifies that advantage and creates big-play opportunities in the run game.
In the end, it's basically a numbers game. With more tight ends on the field, the advantage can shift in Penn State's favor in a variety of ways.
Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan won't have a shortage of weapons during their first year in Happy Valley. But while the offensive depth is young and promising, they should look toward their strength at tight end to maximize the efficiency of the unit.
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After last season’s tailspin, it’s understandable that Michigan coach Brady Hoke would be eager to get back on the field and start working to prevent a repeat.
Hoke had Michigan begin spring practice earlier than in past seasons, starting prior to spring break. He hopes that the down time will give new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new offense a chance to sink in, and his team will return refreshed and ready to work.
“We have so much new stuff,” said Hoke in a press conference, as noted on mgoblue.com. “New offense, when you look at terminology and all those things that are important. We thought these first two days—non-padded—we could get a lot taught, a lot of the base things that are in the offense…When they come back hopefully they’ll be in a groove with what they’ve done so far.”
The week that the team takes away from the practice field will also allow the coaching staff to evaluate the position changes previously announced by Hoke. After the team’s 7-6 record last season, he has little margin for error this season. With numerous questions on offense and the shuffling of his defensive staff, every move is critical if Michigan hopes to compete for the Big Ten title this season.
Charlie Strong's first spring practice with the Texas Longhorns begins on March 18. Which unknowns will make an impression on their new head coach?
Every spring begins with expectations for the returning starters as well as the rotational players that saw regular action. This is the time for them to show that they are ready for extra reps and to seize their roles for next season.
It is also the time for the relative unknowns to burst on to the scene, especially in front of their new coaching staff. Whether they are redshirts or simply looking to find a spot before it's too late, these guys have as much to gain (or lose) as any of the returning regulars.
Aside from Hassan Ridgeway, a little-used but immensely talented tackle, this list is all about the Longhorns that can go from occupying a roster spot to a budding star with a big showing.
All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
All stats and information on the Texas Longhorns courtesy of TexasSports.com.
Many players enter the NFL draft season with ongoing injury concerns, but it's former University of Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis' medical history that could draw the attention of teams in May.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted the concern of at least a few NFL officials last month:
Executives in personnel for four NFL teams expressed concern in the last week about what they described as Abbrederis' history of concussions.
It was the understanding of two scouts that Abbrederis suffered "three or four" concussions during his four-year career for the Badgers.
"I've heard it's three or four," a personnel director for an NFL team said. "I've got to find out the depth of it. I love him, but it makes me nervous."
McGinn also writes that Abbrederis said he only suffered one concussion.
Discrepancy aside, the precise number of injuries matters.
While concussion science is evolving every day, many physicians and athletic trainers believe that repeated concussions may lead to more severe or longer-lasting symptoms. Additionally, multiple concussions might lower an athlete's "concussion threshold"—or the magnitude of force required to cause another injury.
In other words, with each concussion, an athlete's symptoms may come on more easily and be more stubborn to resolve. In the worst-case scenario, they persist for weeks or months—or, very rarely, even longer.
Sometimes, symptoms can be downright debilitating. Other times, they may set in only during maximal physical activity. Either way, the mere existence of concussion symptoms—such as headache, balance problems or cognitive slowing and confusion—appropriately prevents a player from taking the field in the NFL.
Unfortunately, a few heartbreaking examples of career-defining injury histories already exist.
Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Ryan Swope retired before his first NFL season even began due to lingering post-concussive symptoms stemming from multiple injuries.
Somewhat similarly, the Buffalo Bills placed quarterback Kevin Kolb on injured reserve after a 2013 concussion. Kolb also carries a significant concussion history.
Elsewhere, doctors refused to clear former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best following multiple injuries, presumably worried that the next one could bring with it devastating consequences.
All of that said, no athlete nor concussion is alike, and all 32 NFL medical teams will come to their own conclusions. Dr. Matt Matava—president of the NFL Physicians Society—explained to this author that medical opinions can differ:
Each team has their own grading scale for players, and each medical team shares their grades with their general managers and coaches. [...] At the end of the day, the coaches know that this is not a hard science and more of a subjective assessment based on imperfect information.
Then again, absolute contraindications to football do exist, and the degree to which an athlete's concussion history can, should and will factor into his football future is still a dynamic conversation. Nevertheless, in recent years, it seems the pendulum is swinging more and more in one direction—and rightfully so.
Fortunately, Abbrederis appears healthy at the present time. He participated in the NFL Scouting Combine, posting a 4.50-second 40-yard dash, according to CBSSports.com.
No medical red flags surfaced out of Indianapolis, either—such as ongoing headaches, balance issues or vision problems. However, the medical risk-versus-reward scenario—one focusing on possible future injuries that could cost weeks, months, entire seasons or more—still comes into play.
As of now, Matt Miller—Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer—grades Abbrederis as a mid-round talent.
"In a talented group of wide receivers, Abbrederis doesn't jump off the screen as a top-tier talent. But he does have talent and is pro-ready," Miller explained. "Watch him work against Bradley Roby and you see where teams can use him. He's a possession-style WR with post-catch speed. I have him as a mid-round talent."
Yet even his football appeal—similar to his medicals—may be fluid.
"His stock will depend on if there is a run on wide receivers at any point," Miller added.
One can only wonder if his injury background will make some teams skip over him if such a run should happen.
Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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The Arkansas Razorbacks have plenty to work on in the offseason. While there are a lot of positions head coach Bret Bielema and his staff have to focus on, the running back spot is not one of them.
With Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams carrying the ball, the Hogs have one of the best tandems in the entire country. However, Korliss Marshall, a converted safety, showed big-time potential in a limited role in 2013.
Despite showing that potential, Bielema is still considering moving Marshall back to safety, per Otis Kirk of 247 Sports (subscription required). Bielema may be thinking about moving him back to the defensive backfield, but he should keep him right where he is.
Those who watched Marshall when he did get the ball last year saw a guy who could be a huge part of the Razorbacks' backfield in the future. He had just 17 carries as a freshman, but on those limited touches, he displayed the ability to be an impact player.
On 17 attempts, Marshall manged to gain 146 yards for an eyebrow-raising 8.6 yards-per-carry average. If you can get anything out of that, it's that Marshall has speed and elusiveness. When he did get the ball, he showed a quick burst and the ability to make defenders miss.
Marshall's burst is something that really stands out about him as a ball-carrier. It seems like by the time defenders are able to get first contact, he's already five yards downfield. Backs that can pick up that kind of yardage on average are invaluable, and Marshall did that when he got the ball.
He had a long run last year of 32 yards, and even if you took that away, Marshall still averaged 7.1 YPC on his 16 other attempts. At times, his burst looked even better than Collins' and Williams'.
That's really saying something.
An adjective that describes his running style is electric. He has the speed to take it the distance whenever he touches the ball. Marshall also displayed his game-breaking speed as a kickoff returner, where he had a long of 87 yards.
Though there aren't any longer clips of him in 2013 due to his limited role, you can see his speed and ability to impact games with big plays in highlights of his at Osceola:
Another big reason why Bielema should keep him in the backfield is his versatility, which can be seen in his highlight video. Marshall has good hands, and can run out of the backfield and do damage catching the ball.
He didn't catch any balls in his first year, but expect that to change if he stays at running back. He's also versatile as a ball-carrier, having the ability to get the tough yards up the middle or bounce it outside and do damage in space.
However, as big of a factor as his ball-carrying skills are, a huge reason why Bielema should keep him put is because of the depth at running back.
Williams will be a junior in 2014, and with him having a lot of talent, there's a chance he could leave after next year. If that happens, the Hogs could rotate Marshall in behind Collins, making for a very electric duo.
He still has a lot of fine-tuning to do to his game. This offseason will provide him with time to better learn the offense and work on his ball-carrying skills, because though he has a lot of talent, he can stand to improve upon his vision and getting yards after contact.
Marshall is a diamond in the rough. Bielema and his staff discovered that diamond, and it would be a shame to see it wasted by making the wrong decision. They always say when you're taking tests to stick with your first instinct.
Don't second-guess yourself, Bret. You were right the first time.
Bryan Heater is the Arkansas Razorbacks featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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The Texas A&M football coaches did not properly use their running backs during the 2013 season. Unless the Aggie football coaches change the way they utilize junior running back Brandon Williams, he is in danger of becoming a very talented footnote to the Kevin Sumlin era in Aggieland.
Williams was one of the top running backs in the country when he came out of high school and signed with Oklahoma. He rushed for 219 yards as a freshman at OU, then transferred to A&M in order to be closer to his daughter.
Williams participated in spring practice at A&M in 2012 and wowed fans and coaches alike with his speed and game-breaking ability. He was forced to sit out the 2012 season because of NCAA transfer rules.
A Lost Season
Aggie fans expected 2013 to be the breakout year for Williams. With Aggie running backs coach Clarence McKinney calling the plays and four talented backs on the roster, the running game figured to be a featured part of the offense.
Unfortunately, McKinney went away from the running game and at times ignored it altogether in a frustrating season for Aggie fans. It is ironic that a position coach would not want to give his players the ball, but that was the case with McKinney. Williams was the fourth-string running back and rarely got on the field.
When he did get the ball, Williams appeared tentative and unable to get through the hole quick enough. It became readily apparent that Williams was a better runner and receiver in space than between the tackles. He only ran for 269 yards in 12 games in 2013.
Williams is more fast than quick and needs to get the ball out in space. Asking him to take a handoff seven yards deep and to make a cut is not playing to his strengths.
McKinney was replaced as the play-caller before the Aggies' bowl game. Aggie quarterback coach Jake Spavital was given the play-calling duties by head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Spavital appears more willing to spread the ball around than to put the weight of the entire offense on the shoulders of the quarterback. Aggie fans should expect Spavital to play to Williams' strengths.
Let Your Thoroughbred Run
Williams has great long speed, which means that the coaches need to get him outside the tackle box and matched up with safeties and linebackers. Spavital needs to put Williams in a position to succeed.
He may not be as good of a pure running back as Tra Carson or Trey Williams, but Brandon Williams can be an effective weapon in this offense. Spavital needs to throw him the ball out of the backfield and use him on sweeps to get him on the edge.
Brandon Williams has legitimate 4.4 speed. He will be a tremendous mismatch for a linebacker or safety in space. The coaches need to plan to get him at least five touches per game in space where he is matched up one-on-one with a defender.
The fundamental concept of the spread offense is to spread a defense out in order to create one-on-one matchups between the offense's skill player and a defender. Spavital needs to do this with Brandon Williams in 2014 instead of slamming him into the line a few times per game.
Part of coaching is identifying the strengths of your players and then putting them in a position to be successful. McKinney did not do that much in 2013. Aggie fans need Spavital to focus on that aspect of the game in 2014.
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Ohio State's 2013 season came to a crashing end with an Orange Bowl loss to Clemson two months ago, but a new season officially kicked off this week as the Buckeyes took the field for the start of spring practice.
After saying goodbye to departing players, adding seven new freshmen as early enrollees and going through winter conditioning, this was the first opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate its roster.
Here's a breakdown of the biggest storylines, most heated position battles and early stars from the first week of spring practice.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the biggest storylines from the first week of spring practice are injury/health-related.
Bad news struck for the Buckeyes before they even hit the field. The day before spring practice started, it was announced that Urban Meyer recently underwent minor brain surgery to alleviate recurring headaches caused by a cyst that needed to be drained.
That didn't keep Meyer off the field, though. Ohio State's head man prowled the practice field Tuesday, sporting a white Buckeyes hat as the team went through drills. Meyer won't miss any time as he recovers.
Like his coach, Braxton Miller is also recovering from minor surgery. Unlike Meyer, Ohio State's star quarterback will not be able to take part in spring drills.
Miller's shoulder surgery won't knock him completely out of the picture. The Buckeyes plan to strap a video camera onto his hat and force him to narrate each offensive play as it evolves.
According to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, Meyer expects this to improve Miller's communication skills and enhance his ability to diagnose the defense.
His issues now are verbal communication and keeping his eyes on the secondary. So every play we’re having him say what he sees. It will be a productive spring. He’s into it right now.
While Miller's injury prevents him from getting familiar with his new offensive weapons, he'll certainly benefit from these mental reps.
But the Buckeyes couldn't escape their first practice without suffering another huge loss.
Starting safety Vonn Bell sprained his MCL during practice on Tuesday, which required surgery, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. The sophomore will miss all of spring practice, but he is expected to recover fast enough to participate in summer drills.
The Buckeyes are replacing three starters in the secondary, including both safeties, so losing Bell for the spring is a tough blow.
Ohio State needs to replace four senior starters along its offensive line, but the unit is already starting to take shape.
Taylor Decker, who started all of last season at right tackle, has moved over to left tackle. Darryl Baldwin, a redshirt senior, will be replacing him on the right side. On the interior, Jacoby Boren has taken over at center, Antonio Underwood is manning the left guard position and Pat Elflein—who filled in admirably for the suspended Marcus Hall late last year—has been plugged in at right guard.
That group will be paving the way for a new running back this season. Carlos Hyde's departure has put a number of inexperienced (but talented) players in the spotlight, and sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is leading the way.
But one of the biggest position battles this spring isn't for a starting role. The Buckeyes need to identify a suitable backup quarterback to replace Kenny Guiton, who bailed Ohio State out of a number of tough situations over the years when Miller went down.
Competing for that role are redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Jones showcased some terrific accuracy and arm strength on his deep throws, and Barrett showed leadership and maturity beyond his years on Tuesday, but Meyer wasn't particularly impressed with either.
On defense, the Buckeyes need to find a new linebacker, a new cornerback and two safeties.
In a surprising development, Darron Lee kicked off the spring as the third starting linebacker alongside Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry. Lee—who came out of high school as a safety/quarterback prospect—added weight and began to impress the coaching staff late last season, which led to his early momentum this spring.
According to Todd Porter of The Canton Rep, Armani Reeves took over the vacant cornerback spot. Bell and Tyvis Powell were running as the first-team safeties, but with Bell's injury, Meyer will likely turn to fellow sophomore Cam Burrows.
Needing to replace its leading rusher and receiver, Ohio State needs playmakers to step up this spring. According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer, Dontre Wilson was a guy who really stood out on Tuesday.
Beau Bishop of WBNS-10TV came away with a similar impression.
Decker, who finished last season as Ohio State's best offensive lineman, according to his position coach, has also looked good early.
But one player who earned high praise from Meyer after Tuesday's practice—a player the Buckeyes could desperately use—was Raekwon McMillan.
That maturity apparently extends to the field.
“I was really impressed with Raekwon today, did a really good job. Moved around, very mature,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Lantern. “For a shorts practice, he did enough where I was … very positive of what I saw.”
The Buckeyes' linebacker needs a boost after the loss of All-American Ryan Shazier. If McMillan grasps the playbook and masters the mental aspect of the defense, he could see a lot of playing time this season.
All recruit rankings via 247Sports.com.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Spring practice begins on March 27 for Virginia Tech, and just like every year there will be a number of position battles that will determine what happens on the field next fall.
Quarterback, of course, is the biggest position the Hokies must fill. Logan Thomas departs after three record-breaking, albeit, frustrating years.
The Hokies must replace as many as seven starters on defense. Fortunately, cornerbacks Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller, both rising sophomores who played extensively last season, will step right in and not miss a beat with Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum heading to the NFL.
But the transition won't be quite as seamless at other positions. James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards leave Blacksburg with big shoes to fill.
Who's ready to fill those shoes?
Here's a look at the three biggest position battles to keep an eye on next month at spring practice.
South Carolina's spring practice got off to an uneven start this week because of cold and rainy conditions.
The Gamecocks had to cancel Tuesday's practice and went indoors for Thursday's practice.
Now they're scheduled to take next week off for spring break. Even so, the coaches were glad to get things started.
"It was good to get a good day in," said co-offensive coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. "Just to line up, run plays and snap the ball and go through the cadence. We had a good day. You have two days in just helmets, so you kind of want to get them out of the way. You can’t do a whole lot. You can’t run into each other. You can’t hit anybody. Quarterbacks and receivers can get a lot done."
No Cutting Corners for the Gamecocks
The real battle for the starting cornerback positions at South Carolina won’t begin until the fall when the freshman class arrives with four talented signees, but defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward isn't the type to sit back and wait for August to get here.
"We’ll be fine," Ward said. "We can put a lot of bodies out there. Whether they will be good enough to win in the SEC remains to be seen."
After losing their top three cornerbacks, the Gamecocks begin the spring with sophomore Rico McWilliams, a lightly used backup, as a starter at one corner and Ali Groves, a redshirt freshman coming off shoulder surgery, as the other starting corner.
Groves will participate in spring practice, but won’t be allowed to have contact.
Jamari Smith, a sophomore who was switched from cornerback to tailback, now finds himself back at corner and No. 2 on the depth chart behind Groves.
Senior Sidney Rhodes, a former walk-on best known for his special teams play, is listed as the backup to McWilliams.
"Hopefully, we can get Rico ready to play and Sidney Rhodes and Jamari and see how well they can do in the spring and whether they can help us in the fall," Ward said. "But those freshmen are going to be on the depth chart somewhere."
The freshman corners arriving in the fall are Al Harris, Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith and Wesley Green.
"I can wait until August, because I’m excited about getting those guys better," Ward said. "If we can get them better, we know we’ve signed some talented guys, so that will just add more to the mix."
More Bodies on Defensive Line
While South Carolina also has to replace both starting defensive ends, including All-American Jadeveon Clowney, and starting tackle Kelcy Quarles, another All-American, the Gamecocks' numbers are considerably better up front than in the secondary.
"We’ve got to get those ready who are here and we'll try to develop as much depth as we can on the defensive line," Ward said. "We also want to get those young linebackers better. They played pretty good last season, but they can get better. That’s what this spring is going to be dedicated to is to try to get those corners ready, try to develop some depth on the line and get those linebackers better."
Because of the depth at linebacker and the lack of depth on the defensive line, Ward says the Gamecocks will experiment with running some 3-4 in addition to their base 4-3 defense.
"We’ll definitely be doing some new things where we can hopefully beef up our depth," he said. "Especially from a defensive front standpoint by playing with three down linemen and putting four linebackers on the field."
Cooper Sitting on Big Season
After shifting from cornerback to wide receiver last season, freshman Pharoh Cooper went on to have a big season for the Gamecocks, not only as a receiver, but as a kick returner and a quarterback out of the Wildcat formation.
Cooper enters his sophomore season with huge expectations.
"He’s been pretty good when he's been on the field," said Spurrier Jr. "For him to develop from wanting to be a lock down corner when he got here to playing receiver, returning kicks and playing quarterback at a high level, he has certain;y proved that he can play. We’re going to try to get him on the field and get the ball in his hands as much as we can."
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For Nebraska football alumni who are looking to play in the NFL, pro day is one of the most important days of their careers. NFL scouts descended on the Hawks Championship Center to see former Nebraska players work out.
Here’s a snapshot of at least some of their performances. Participating in the pro day were Jason Ankrah, Quincy Enunwa, Ciante Evans, Andrew Green, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Spencer Long, Taylor Martinez, Cole Pensick, Brent Qvale, Thad Randle, Andrew Rodriguez, Mohammed Seisay, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed and Baker Steinkuhler, according to Grant Muessel of Hail Varsity.
Alabama and Auburn are bitter rivals who fight on the field once a year in the Iron Bowl. However, the Crimson Tide and Tigers fight everyday on the recruiting trail because they go after many of the same prospects.
This year will be no different, as several top-level recruits have strong interest in both schools. A 5-star defensive tackle's recruitment will come down to playing in Tuscaloosa or on The Plains, while the rivals also both like a 5-star linebacker.
Plus, there's a 5-star defensive tackle in Georgia who has caught the eye of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.com, Rivals and 247Sports.
In recent years, Notre Dame has added some unfamiliar opponents to its football schedule. Western Michigan, USF and Temple all have met the Irish for the first time during Brian Kelly’s tenure. 2014 will feature only one first-time opponent (Louisville), but the Irish’s season opener against Rice will be just the fifth meeting between the two academically prestigious universities.
The Owls surprised many by winning a watered-down Conference USA title last season dropping just one league game and hammering Marshall 41-24 in the Conference USA Championship Game. A third-year starting quarterback and a senior-laden defense propelled the Owls to their second double-digit win season in six years.
Losses are significant for the 2014 Owls, but Conference USA bids farewell to three of its better programs (East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa) while adding Western Kentucky from the Sun Belt and Old Dominion from the FCS. Can a school with fewer than 4,000 students repeat as conference champions?
Rice begins spring practice March 11 and will hold its spring game April 11. Let’s take an early look at the 2014 Owls.
For previous Notre Dame opponent previews, click on the links below:
This will be an important period for Mora's squad. Expectations have been ramped up to high levels. Not only has the team been mentioned as a potential Top 10 team in 2014, but quarterback Brett Hundley will likely be a Heisman candidate as well.
Multiple positional battles will elicit excitement and intrigue. UCLA has the unenviable task of replacing All-Conference players in Xavier Su'a-Filo and Anthony Barr.
We will take a look at the five most important spring-practice position battles. This list will include players who are currently on the roster. Incoming recruits will be mentioned only if they have enrolled in time to participate in the spring.
Head coaches have an incredible amount of daily responsibilities, and while recruiting is among the important things a head coach has to monitor, he can't do it all the time.
That's why many head coaches designate one of their trusted assistants as the program's "recruiting coordinator." Recruiting coordinators spearhead a team's recruiting efforts, run the recruiting board, screen prospect's highlight tapes, communicate with recruiting services and formulate relationships with high school coaches, among a ton of other duties. Plus, they still have to coach a position.
It's a big job that is among the most important hires a head coach makes when assembling his staff. It's time look at who are the best in the business.
All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports.
The first week of spring ball for the Miami Hurricanes has concluded, and there is no shortage of news emerging from the Greentree Practice Fields.
Miami has six weeks of practices scheduled, and the opening stretch provided an early look into some things to expect as the team works toward the 2014 spring game.
From player development to injury updates to scheme details, the four workouts provided plenty of goings-on at "The U."
And of course, the South Florida weather wasn't awful, either.
Note: The next scheduled workout is on Tuesday, March 18, due to the university being on spring break.
News and Notes
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said the Hurricanes will not completely move away from the 4-3 defense. Miami prefers a 3-4 set, but it typically used the 4-3 formation on third-down situations last year.
The general buzz from Miami fans is a collective disdain for D'Onofrio, so he will be scrutinized heavily for anything he says—or for as long as the 'Canes defense fails to stop opposing offenses.
Head coach Al Golden noted running backs Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby are healing well from their respective injuries, and the fourth-year coach is ready to get the 180-pound Yearby "caught up."
Johnson has added 10 more pounds since the 2013 season and 20 pounds since his breakout true freshman campaign. Yearby will need the additional size to combat the heightened level of contact at the collegiate level.
Defensive lineman David Perry, a relatively unknown player who was lost on the depth chart, quit the team this week.
Perry accumulated 15 appearances and two tackles during his Miami career.
This spring, the quarterback competition is Miami's most important position battle.
Senior Ryan Williams is the frontrunner for the job, but redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen will push Williams during every practice.
Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald notes the battle between the gunslingers is heating up. But as seen in the accompanying video, it's a friendly competition, too.
While Williams appears to be the safer pick, Olsen has the potential to be a four-year starter. Golden and offensive coordinator James Coley will be closely monitoring the situation throughout the practices and scrimmages.
At right tackle, redshirt sophomore Taylor Gadbois is "being given every chance to win the starting right tackle job," according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.
Golden said of Gadbois: "He's punching probably better than anyone on the O-line right now. For Taylor, it's time. He was patient, got strong. We have to keep working on his conditioning. But I'm excited about Taylor."
Gadbois, redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu and true freshman Kc McDermott are worth monitoring at the position throughout the workouts.
Record-setting specialist Pat O'Donnell has moved on to pursuing the NFL, leaving a massive hole at punter. O'Donnell had a fantastic season, smashing Matt Bosher's school-best mark of yards per punt, and Miami will struggle to replace his production.
Currently, redshirt senior Ricky Carroll and redshirt junior Matt Goudis are dueling for the starting job, but walk-ons are expected to join the hunt.
Presumably, Goudis will retain his job as place-kicker, at least until walk-on Jonathan Semerene arrives this summer and battles the incumbent starter.
Players to Watch
Following Dallas Crawford's switch to safety, Gus Edwards is the clear No. 1 running back right now. Edwards has added weight to his massive frame, and he is impressing media and coaches alike.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes that Golden said, "[Edwards] doesn't lose his explosion, he has a good lateral cut. We have to keep working on his stiff arm. He really showed patience today. That was the biggest thing I saw."
Working toward solidifying the second-string running back job during the regular season, Edwards has a few advantages over Yearby: He is one year older, immersed in the playbook and, most importantly, on the field.
Early enrollees and offensive linemen Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling are considered bookends of the future, but the duo has already grabbed offensive line coach Art Kehoe's attention.
It would not be shocking to eventually see McDermott earn the starting right tackle job while Darling works his way toward being a key reserve.
Per Jackson, Golden says linebacker Juwon Young "has to spend more time studying football. He's not trusting his key right now. So he's peeking and reacting. We have to get him to read his keys."
The early enrollee's situation is reminiscent of what Golden said about now-junior linebacker Raphael Kirby last year. Kirby was thinking too much and needed to get to a point where his reads became "second nature," according to Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald.
Chirinos writes the Miami linebackers want to key defensive improvement, and Young has an opportunity to contribute, even in a limited role.
And that was just the first week.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.
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It's always nice to have a big, durable quarterback—one who can take a bone-jarring sack and pop right back up, or maybe even shrug it off altogether.
However, Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels might be taking that to the next level.
Joe Student of Busted Coverage spotted Jeremy Liggins, a junior college transfer quarterback for the Rebels, who began spring practice this week right around 300 pounds. His official Ole Miss bio lists him as a 6'3", 296-pound athlete.
While that might sound a bit heavy for a typical quarterback, Freeze is going to give him a shot at the sport's most important position.
As reported by CBS Sports' Jerry Hinnen, Freeze lauded the arm strength of Liggins while speaking with CBS Sports' Signing Day Live, but he admitted that his weight has become an issue. According to the report from Feb. 5, Liggins once weighed in at 303 pounds:
Freeze also discussed new JUCO signee Jeremy Liggins, a one-time LSU quarterback commit who Freeze says currently weighs in at 303 pounds -- and will still get a shot at playing quarterback for the Rebels.
"We're going to find out this spring," Freeze said of Liggins' chances at remaining at quarterback. "He's a tremendous athlete ... can throw the ball 70, 75 yards.
"He's gotten a bit out of shape ... but he's fighting to get himself down and has already lost 12 pounds. We're real anxious to get to spring and try him out at both at the tight end spot and at quarterback."
A bit out of shape is certainly an understatement. Liggins was listed at 270 pounds by 247Sports as a 3-star recruit out of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
The Oxford, Miss., native was a 4-star dual-threat quarterback LSU signee from the class of 2012. However, after attending junior college, he switched his commitment to the hometown Rebels.
If his arm strength is as advertised, he'll have an incredible ceiling as a quarterback if he can shed some excess weight. With is size, he wouldn't have any trouble facing the rigors of the SEC.
However, if the weight doesn't come down, a position change would likely be in order. He was also recruited as a defensive end.
At his current size, he outweighs every one of Ole Miss' defensive ends and is 81 pounds heavier than its largest listed quarterback, freshman early enrollee Kendrick Doss.
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Tennessee has been here before. Six times in the BCS era the Volunteers have signed a class that promised to return sound and fury to Neyland Stadium only to fall short of expectations.
But fear not, Vols fans, the 2014 class is the real deal.
Not only has head coach Butch Jones signed the quality of players needed to compete in the rugged SEC, experts also point to the depth of talent in UT's huge class that finished ranked seventh by 247Sports as a reason for excitement.
Throw in the facts that the Vols met major needs, already have 14 newcomers on campus and landed quality players on the lines of scrimmage, and there is little not to love about the transfusion of 32 players into a program desperately needing new blood.
"I've got no doubt that this is the kind of class that can be a springboard for Tennessee," 247Sports national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said in an interview.
The Vols signed eight of the state's top 10 players and 16 4-star players, according to the 247Sports Composite. From top to bottom, it's perhaps the best class UT has signed since Phillip Fulmer's halcyon days.
But it's just a first step.
A class like this one is an absolute necessity to get a dormant program on track, but Jones' ability to sustain this recruiting momentum will be the biggest difference between a brief uptick of improvement and turning around the program.
"The key perspective to keep in mind with this 2014 Tennessee class is that it's just the beginning," Simmons said. "Expectations that this class, even with 32 signees, can turn this program around in one season are unrealistic. Just look at the past few years at Tennessee as an example. They've had plenty of elite talents come through at a number of positions, but it hasn't all clicked at the right time.
"Tennessee has got to continue to recruit at a high level over a three- or four-year period before they'll be comfortable again from a talent standpoint. But I don't think there's any question that this is about as good of a start as you can ask for out of Butch Jones in getting the ship turned around."
Simmons isn't throwing a wet blanket on the buzz; he's wisely attempting to bring soaring expectations back down to Earth.
Jones himself tried to temper expectations on national signing day, even in the midst of reporters from Sports Illustrated and ESPN's Grantland in the "war room" providing the country-wide attention the Vols have lacked in recent years.
Luckily for UT fans, the things Simmons said need to happen are happening. The Vols already have seven commitments in a 2015 class that Jones said recently would feature between 18 and 22 players, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel's Evan Woodbery.
The excitement surrounding the program remains, and Tennessee is still on the tip of prospects' tongues.
A large part of that sustained momentum is because of the star power present in the '14 class, and many of those premier players are already on campus.
Fourteen new players will go through spring practice, which begins Friday, and that is a luxury that cannot be undersold when it comes to rebuilding a football team.
Guys like running back Jalen Hurd, receivers Josh Malone and Von Pearson, tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm and offensive linemen Dontavius Blair and Coleman Thomas could star immediately.
Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown recently that the group already has done a good job of "elevating our overall competitive spirit and our overall athleticism."
Considering the athletic deficiencies on the 2013 Vols, the influx of talent is refreshing. Tennessee's need for speed was glaring, and this class already will turn the program around from that standpoint.
During the recently completed cycle, Jones signed a deep group of talented players nearly the size of two recruiting classes, which will only speed up the rebuilding process and turn the program around quicker.
247Sports national recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) after national signing day that even with the "bust" factor figured into the equation, he feels comfortable anointing UT's class the start of something big.
Taking advantage of a good in-state class, landing out-of-state players with connections to the staff and/or program and then landing select junior college players gives this roster an immediate upgrade.
Even if three-fourths of these guys hit, this class will impact the Tennessee program greatly in the coming years. There is too much potential top-to-bottom for it not to, with it being such a large class.
It doesn't appear that recruiting will slow down anytime soon, either.
With Jones at the helm and athletic director Dave Hart bought-in, there is a renewed commitment within the current administration to keep momentum surging.
They're proving that by keeping ace recruiter Tommy Thigpen amid a storm of interest, reportedly in negotiations to give him a raise after his banner season on the recruiting trail.
It's foresight like paying top recruiters that somehow got lost during the past decade, and it's a major reason why UT fell so far.
Jones is working to restore the traditions, and this class is a major move in that direction.
Nobody in the country believed Jones could do what he did without producing a bunch of wins on the football field. The needs he met were staggering.
- The Vols have lacked an elite running back on the roster for so long, so Jones went out and got two—in-state stud Hurd and shifty North Carolina runner Derrell Scott.
- They needed replenishing in the trenches, so they went out and signed 10 offensive and defensive linemen.
- After teams like Auburn and Missouri torched their slow linebackers and defensive backs, Jones signs six 'backers and six on the back level.
- Needing play-making pass catchers, the Vols inked three receivers and two tight ends who could see immediate action.
The list goes on and on.
But signing such a stellar class doesn't mean a roster so depleted will all of a sudden be one of the best in the league. They've got to develop, they've got to pan out and some even have to play above their star rankings.
Another infusion of talent is needed this year, and the year after that.
Then, there's that nagging question Simmons dragged up that is the orange-painted elephant in the corner: Does UT have a quarterback on campus good enough to be "The Man?"
They'd better, considering the failure to sign a signal-caller was the one deficiency in the '14 class.
"I expect Tennessee to be better than last year, but the biggest question mark to me is the position that Tennessee didn't even sign: quarterback," Simmons said. "I think all this talk is moot if you don't get sound quarterback play."
Jones believes he will, or he'd have signed another one to go with the four already on campus.
Because Jones believes it, many Tennessee fans believe it, too. Even though he hasn't won much yet in Knoxville, he has won a fractured fan base's trust with the way he has sold them the program.
It's much the same way he's pitched the resurgence to top prospects and former players.
Even the national folks believe that Jones is the man to turn around the program, and the 2014 class was the first step in that process.
"I think Butch Jones gets it," Simmons said. "He gets recruiting, and he understands Tennessee. He's not selling smoke and mirrors, and he's not reinventing the wheel. He's got a powerful brand at Tennessee, and he clearly understands how to tap into that and ride that wave.
"When you talk to kids and high school coaches, it's clear that he's got all the tools as a recruiter to be successful at Tennessee, but ultimately, it doesn't matter if you don't win. So, as long as that piece falls into place, Butch Jones looks like a safe bet."
Quotes for this story obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise noted.
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After consecutive season-ending losses to Auburn and Oklahoma, Alabama enters the 2014 season in a transition period similar to the early stages of Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
With the Tigers and the Sooners gashing the Tide’s defense using tempo-based offenses, Saban and his staff are going back to the drawing board in hopes of making adjustments to slow those attacks this fall.
In the midst of making his annual rounds at the Senior Bowl in January, Saban spoke to Sirius/XM NFL Radio’s Movin’ the Chains about how spread offenses are forcing the Tide to adapt defensively.
“It’s been a little more difficult for us playing against some of the spread teams because we built our team at Alabama to beat power teams like LSU and Georgia,” Saban said. “Now, our league has changed dramatically, so we are going to have to change a little bit in terms of the kind of fast-twitch guys we recruit to play against the kind of offenses we see. “
So what are the key areas in which he will look to adjust his defense in preparation to face these styles of offenses in 2014?
Redefine the Scheme
While offensive and defensive schemes can vary in complexity, in the end, simple concepts win out.
The comparison Saban mentioned to MTC hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan was something that’s commonplace in the NBA. The player who ultimately gets the ball to take the shot is decided after the matchups are set once the ball crosses the midcourt line. His conclusion was that the same principle applies in football.
A player such as former Tide All-American and current Bucs safety Mark Barron—a big and physical safety who has the range and cover skills to match up on bigger tight ends and receivers flexed out in a formation as well as be a box player that is stout against the run—was a rare talent who helped counter offensive adjustments without requiring a substitution.
“Those guys (Barron) are hard to find, though,” Saban said. “I think that’s why we see more scoring on offense, especially in college, than ever before, because of pace of play and the kind of mismatch players that offensive coordinators are making it difficult for defensive coordinators to match up with.”
Moving forward, expect Saban to employ schemes that hinge on athleticism and versatility, even if those traits sometimes come at the expense of the type of size that has defined his units during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
Get More Athletic on the Defensive Line
The pace of the offenses such as those employed by SEC West foes Texas A&M and Auburn are tough to stop, but the issues they posed were exacerbated because of dual-threat passers such as Johnny Manziel and Nick Marshall.
Alabama’s use of the 3-4 scheme has typically relied on bigger linemen up front whose main job was to hold the point of attack, take on blocks and maintain their gaps. When it came to applying pressure and getting sacks, those responsibilities were usually delegated to outside linebackers and blitzing defensive backs.
However, with quarterbacks becoming threats in the run game and reversing the numbers game in the box in favor of offenses, having athletic defensive ends has become a priority.
“You have to have guys playing on the edges that actually can get the guy (quarterback) on the ground,” Saban said.
Getting 5-star talents at defensive end such as Jonathan Allen and Da’Shawn Hand, per 247 Sports, in the last two recruiting classes is a step toward redefining what the Tide is looking for on the edges of their defensive line.
Expand Versatility at Every Level
The defensive line isn’t the only position that will require players who can be effective in multiple roles and schemes.
Saban will demand that type of versatility at all three levels of his defense. With linebackers and defensive backs, finding players who can remain physical in run support and be adept in pass coverage is critical.
“I think the offensive guys have made you go look for and find guys that can play like that (hybrid roles),” Saban said. “I think a guy like our guy, C.J. Mosley, who can actually play in the box but can go walk out there and cover a guy like that, that’s why those guys are at a premium now.”
Alabama has benefited from being able to find role players who specialize in one particular area, but pace has helped offenses negate those type of players to a degree. Finding versatile pieces—such as Barron, Mosley and Vinnie Sunseri—who can line up at different positions is more of a premium moving forward.
“The diversity of what you have to play against in college, whether it’s a power-running team versus a spread team, you have to have the kind of players on your team with which you can defeat both,” Saban said. “If you are not ready to do that, you are going to have problems winning certain kinds of games.”
Simplify the Playbook
Saban has long been lauded for his NFL-style schemes and his reputation as a master of making in-game adjustments. However, another issue posed by tempo offenses is that they force defenses to show their cards quicker instead of being able to disguise pre-snap looks.
Instead of trying to match schemes and run complex defenses, the opposite approach may be the best option against hurry-up attacks.
“I think relative to whatever circumstance you are in, you are going to win or lose the game on execution,” Saban said. “So if you try to do too much, and your players can’t execute it, you better get ready to pare down and make sure you are repping what you are going to play so they will have the best opportunity to execute in the game.”
One of the most important principles of Saban’s process revolves around the ability of his players to maintain their focus on their individual responsibility on every single play.
That type of discipline has to extend to the coaches and how they prepare to scheme and match up against hurry-up, no-huddle offenses.
“So how you prepare and practice, those things are really important,” Saban said. “Those decisions to me are just as important as what you do, is how much do you do and how much can you practice so your players are ready to go out there and execute it in a game?”
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