NCAA Football

Texas Football: Meet the Longhorns' Linebackers of the Future

Texas linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary inherited one of the most experienced position groups when he was hired, but the experience has been somewhat overshadowed by adversity. The Longhorns return all of the starters from 2013, however, the history of injury from the position should not be overlooked.

Last season, six linebackers either nursed injuries from the previous season or suffered injuries during the year that forced them to miss playing time. Jordan Hicks and Tevin Jackson have also missed spring practice because of last year's injuries.

Hicks has flashed signs of how good he could be, but has missed the majority of the last two years due to somewhat freak injuries and is still recuperating a torn Achilles tendon. Unfortunately for Hicks, and for Texas fans, his injured past makes it difficult to expect much of anything from him in 2014.

"It's the older group, so you expect guys to come out and make more plays with Hicks being down right now. But we have enough there in the backup position where we can rotate guys," head coach Charlie Strong said of the linebackers.

Here are a few of the younger guys to keep an eye on in 2014.

 

Tim Cole

Tim Cole was a reliable backup for Texas when Hicks and countless other linebackers suffered injuries in 2013. The 6'2", 232-pound sophomore saw playing time in 11 games at last season, including one start against Iowa State.

Cole earned All-American, all-state, all-area and three-time first-team all-district honors during his time at Brenham High School, which shows he has a lot of potential for the Longhorns at linebacker.

 

Deoundrei Davis

Redshirt freshman Deoundrei Davis spent the 2013 season sidelined with a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school, but Davis is now healthy and has the opportunity to show Strong and his staff what he brings to the table. The 6'3", 228-pound linebacker earned All-American accolades during his time at Cypress Woods High School.

Rivals.com ranked Davis as the No. 5 outside linebacker in the 2013 recruiting class due to his ability to make plays in space. If he can stay healthy, Davis has the chance to be the type of linebacker that can help Texas against the uptempo offenses in the Big 12.

 

Andrew Beck

Early enrollee Andrew Beck has been turning heads in spring practice, mainly because of his measurables. The 6'3", 233-pounder was rated the No. 23 inside linebacker by Rivals.com, No. 46 outside linebacker by ESPN.com and No. 36 middle linebacker by Scout.com.

In other words, Beck appears to be a versatile, talented linebacker. Strong said Beck's decision to enroll early has helped him in learning the Longhorns' new system and has helped him become a backup option early in spring practice.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

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USC Football: Steve Sarkisian's Offense Quickly Erasing Memories of Lane Kiffin

This time last year, spring ball went a little something like this: The Trojans would run a play, then former head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff would take several minutes to break it down. Then they would run another play, wash, rinse and repeat. The beloved Pete Carroll coached in a similar manner, as did the coaches before him. This had been the norm at USC for year, and to a large degree, it worked out just fine.

Then Steve Sarkisian became the head coach, and the whole game changed. 

The uptempo offense Sarkisian is installing at USC has dominated storylines since his introductory press conference back in December...and for good reason. The Trojans are one of the few Pac-12 schools to still run a pro-style offense, and many feared that too much change would be disastrous for a program known for its aggressive, bruising power offense. 

By this point, it's become pretty clear that USC will still utilize its traditional scheme and that the uptempo elements will just rejuvenate the offense, making it more competitive. 

It's hard to really conceptualize how much faster the new offense is than the one we're used to seeing. The Los Angeles Daily News' Scott Wolf puts things in perspective:

That breaks down to roughly 111 plays per 90-minute scrimmage, and 1.23 plays per minute. That's similar to the break-neck pace established by the Oregon Ducks, who ran 2.83 plays per minute in 2012, according to SB Nation's Football Study Hall

While USC is not looking to install its own version of "The Blur," the increased pace is pretty remarkable. Previously, the Trojans might run one play every five minutes during practices.  

The Trojans have never moved so quickly on the field, and with speedy playmakers like Buck Allen, Nelson Agholor, Tre Madden and Darreus Rogers in the ranks, the heightened pace stands to make USC's offense even more threatening.

For the quarterbacks, the new attack really enhances the nature of the position battle. The signal-caller who picks up his responsibilities and carries them out with the most efficiency and fewest hiccups will be crowned QB No. 1, and through three weeks, Cody Kessler commands the advantage over Max Browne. 

Last season, Kessler blossomed from a timid presence in the pocket to a playmaker, and the flexibility of the new scheme enhances his abilities to do just that. "Sark" has already noted how quickly Kessler is releasing the football and hitting his hot route, an improvement from last season, where he would sometimes hang on to the ball for too long.

Things are still coming together, but it appears the uptempo scheme is bringing out the best in both Kessler and Browne.

And it's not just the quarterbacks who are benefiting from the change of pace. 

Sarkisian spoke with the media after Saturday's scrimmage, and highlighted a trio of athletes who stand to be especially lethal in the new scheme:

Additionally, offensive coordinator Clay Helton spoke about the tight ends, saying there's "no question" that they will have a more prominent role in the new offense. 

The transition the Trojans are going through is unfolding as smoothly as any new coach could hope for, especially one dealing with the injury woes and depth limitations that Sarkisian has inherited.

That said, the quickened pace is certainly having an impact on the team.

"They're really winded [afterwards], but they're having fun with it," senior tight end Randall Telfer said. He's sitting out spring ball while nursing a knee injury, but he's out there every day, learning through observation.

"We run five or six plays in the time it took to run three or four. There's a big emphasis on 'next play' mentality'," he said.

It's a good thing for the offensive players, because it means they can showcase their talents more frequently.

"More plays equals more yards," Telfer said.

On defense, things are coming along well for coordinator Justin Wilcox and his players, though there is still a lot of work to be done. Wilcox told Garry Paskwietz of ESPN that right now the defense starts scrimmages strong, but there's a tendency for them to fade as the session wears on:

That’s where we have to continue to emphasize finishing strong because the end of the game is when you get up there in play count. When you get to plays 100 to 120, that’s when you really need to sustain things mentally and that’s something we’ve got to work on. The effort has been good, we just have to get better. I would have thought through nine days that we would have it down pat and look great, but I don’t know if that’s reality.

Some of the defensive hangups can be attributed to the absence of veterans who are being held out to preserve them for the fall. Furthermore, the Trojans aren't tackling much, something that has been common in Troy throughout the sanction era.

Wilcox touched on how the Trojans are dealing with that this season:

You would love to practice [live tackling] all the time, but you have to be smart about the way you do it. You work on tackling in controlled environments where you limit the number of bodies potentially going to the ground, you work that way in one-on-one drills, you work it on bags. But when you get to go live, you have to go. There’s nothing like live tackling.

More physical practices are on the horizon for USC, but for right now, getting the scheme installedand making sure the team can keep up with itis the priority. 

Next week the Trojans take to the Coliseum for the annual spring game, and when they do, we will get our first true glimpse of what the new-look offense can do. 

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USC Football: Steve Sarkisian's Offense Quickly Erasing Memories of Lane Kiffin

This time last year, spring ball went a little something like this: The Trojans would run a play, then former head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff would take several minutes to break it down...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oklahoma State Football: Early Analysis of the Quarterback Battle

The Oklahoma State Cowboys entered their spring practice with major question marks across the roster because of the vast number of starters and key role players graduating after the 2013 season.

However, no position battle is more important than the one taking place at the quarterback position.

Oklahoma State has entered into the last few springs with a major battle taking place amongst the team's signal-callers, and this year is no different.

Obviously, J.W. Walsh is the favorite given his starting experience over the last two seasons. That said, Mason Rudolph is a blue chip prospect with a cannon for an arm and experience in the Air Raid system from high school. And the story doesn't end there, as Daxx Garman has emerged as a surprising contender with a head-turning spring performance.

Where does the position battle stand after last weekend's Orange Blitz event? Read on to find out.

J.W. Walsh, the Incumbent

If you're looking for the definition of even stock, Walsh is your guy.

Lost in the hype generated by Rudolph's arrival and Garman's progression is what Walsh has been doing on the practice field. He has stayed steady and remained a game-changing presence with his ability to run and pass.

If the real games started today, Walsh would probably be the starter. He's a proven commodity the coaches know can run the offense and make plays. 

However, the same knocks on his game are still there, though they've certainly lessened this spring. His arm is probably average at best and he still seems inconsistent with his accuracy.

If Walsh's arm strength isn't as improved as it looked at the Orange Blitz, it might be enough to open the door for Rudolph or Garman. The Pokes have a plethora of receivers (namely Jhajuan Seales and Blake Webb) who can get open deep and Walsh has shown in the past that he can't always take advantage of that.

If Rudolph or Garman can prove they have the subtleties of the offense down, they could make a convincing case for being the Day 1 starter.

Mason Rudolph, the Star Freshman

Mason Rudolph came into Stillwater with the kind of hype that met Wes Lunt a few years ago. Both looked like the prototype you would build for the Air Raid offense and both had a chance to start as true freshmen.

That said, every time Mike Gundy has been asked about Rudolph this spring, he's talked about how young Rudolph is. Often referring to him as a high school kid (Rudolph was an early enrollee this spring). 

That might not be the glowing praise fans might've expected given Rudolph's hype; however, it's a smart tactic from Gundy.

It's likely that Oklahoma State's head coach simply doesn't want anything to get to his young quarterback's head and is being very metered in his praise. He can't go touting Rudolph as the best thing since sliced bread from Day 1 and expect him to keep working hard.

Regardless of how well Rudolph is actually playing, these are the kind of comments you should expect from Gundy during this entire process.

Additionally, Rudolph's mostly playing behind a makeshift offensive line this spring, making it even harder to gauge his performance during his first action as a Cowboy.

However, I still think Rudolph is below Walsh (and maybe Garman) on the totem pole right now. Gundy doesn't want another Wes Lunt on his hands and will likely let Rudolph sit and learn for a season before handing him the reins in 2015.

Daxx Garman, the Big Surprise

Of all the news coming out of Oklahoma State's spring practice, the progression of Garman has to be the most surprising.

Garman spent his spring being praised by the coaching staff and former players alike. When former Cowboy great Brandon Weeden stopped by, he said that Garman could "flat-out spin it" and talked about how good the young man looked in the pocket.

Weeden's right.

Even though Garman hasn't played organized football in a few years, you wouldn't know it from watching him throw darts all over the field.

Unfortunately, in the practice before the Orange Blitz, Garman hurt his knee on a non-contact play and had to be carted off the field. It's a very unfortunate setback for a guy who was playing so well prior to that practice.

However, we still have five months until the season starts, meaning Garman could come back and make a play for the starting spot.

At the end of the day, Walsh is still the likely starter, but don't be surprised if Garman or Rudolph makes a big push and uses their superior arm to take over.

Let's just hope we don't get a repeat of 2013 and see Walsh struggle early before getting replaced by a better arm. This is a decision Gundy has to get right from Day 1 if the Pokes want to compete in 2014.

 

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South Carolina Football: 5 Players to Watch in Spring Game

What: South Carolina spring game

When: Noon ET, April 12.

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina's spring game is Saturday, and although a lot of the established starters will take most of the day off, it's a great time for younger players to make an impression on the coaching staff.

Invariably, there will be a few "spring game heroes" who are never heard from again, but it's also not uncommon for a previously unknown talent to use the game as his personal coming-out party.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is guaranteed to infuse some fun with a trick play or two.

Last season, that included a long pass to Jadeveon Clowney, who stepped illegally off the sideline to catch it, stumbled and fell, and got up illegally to score a "touchdown."

Here are a few individuals worth keeping an eye on in the spring game.

 

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