TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Today is the day, you see.
University of Alabama football fans are used to having things to look forward to during the offseason, including days that are the equivalent to unofficial holiday—and celebrating them as much or more than the real ones.
Recent Januarys have featured some national championship celebrations. National signing day can be like Christmas all over again for recruitniks and eerily similar in the early-morning hours. Last month, 73,506 people still showed up for A-Day even though for many there was the huge scheduling conflict of it being held on Easter weekend.
Nevertheless, today, Friday, May 2, is the day that many Crimson Tide fans have been looking forward to the most this offseason. It’s the last day of finals/classes for the spring semester, followed by graduation ceremonies.
But it’s not the commencement exercises on the Capstone that’s been their focus, but rather those that’ll be held 300 miles to the southeast at Florida State, where quarterback Jacob Coker will subsequently no longer be enrolled.
Assuming that he did enough to fulfill his final academic obligations, Coker will have his degree, which means per NCAA rules that when he arrives in Tuscaloosa over the weekend and completes his transfer, the former three-star prospect out of St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, Alabama, will be eligible to play in the fall.
Thus, the competition to replace three-year starter AJ McCarron begins in earnest on Monday.
"Basically, we’re talking about learning a system so that he has a chance to be able to, when the opportunity comes in August, have a better chance of going out and feeling comfortable and playing with confidence and developing the physical skills to implement the things that we want to do, which probably aren’t as different as people would like to make them from what he has done,” said Nick Saban on the SEC coaches spring teleconference with reporters Wednesday morning.
“But it’s just the idea of terminology and understanding and feeling comfortable in the system that we have. The learning curve is going to be steep, but he’s a bright young guy. He’s got experience and knowledge in a similar system, so we’re hoping we can make it a smooth transition for him."
Coker is switching schools so he doesn’t potentially spend the rest of his collegiate career behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and his soon-to-be-former team is coached by a former Saban assistant coach, Jimbo Fisher, who does many of the same things as his mentor.
He’ll have a month of simply getting acclimated. Then he'll jump into summer workouts in June. The Crimson Tide have nearly 100 days until fall camp opens, followed by the neutral-site game in Atlanta against West Virginia on Aug. 30.
Considering what happened in 2011 between McCarron and Phillip Sims, a competition that wasn’t resolved until Week 2 against Penn State, it wouldn’t be surprising if no one is declared the starter until after the regular season begins so coaches can fully gauge how Coker and senior Blake Sims handle running the offense.
About the only thing they have in common is that neither has a whole lot of experience as they’ve combined to attempt 80 passes at the collegiate level, and neither has made a start.
The 6’0” Sims is a fifth-year senior who has played in 23 games and has made it clear that he’s up for the challenge. The converted running back put in the time during the offseason, and during spring break he worked with a private quarterbacks coach, Ken Mastrole.
“Blake has made a big step up from last year to right now, especially with taking on the role of starting quarterback,” wide receiver Chris Black said near the end of spring practices. “I’m proud of him with that.”
However, during the only time he performed in front of fans as the starter Sims was pressing and got off to a rocky start on A-Day. With a scaled-down playbook against the first-unit defense, he completed 13-of-30 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman was 11-of-24 for 156 yards, one touchdown and zero picks versus the reserves.
Afterward Saban said: “We did make some plays, but there wasn’t the consistency that you would like to see in the offense.”
Coker was watching on the sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium that day after spending his spring break in Tuscaloosa to get a jump on things. Coming off knee surgery for a torn meniscus in November, he too has been working with a quarterbacks coach, David Morris, and recently told Mike Herndon of AL.com that he’s "pumped" to get started with Lane Kiffin.
Alabama’s new offensive coordinator could work in Coker’s favor because he’s simplified the offense, making it easier for everyone to learn.
“Lane did a fantastic job with our staff and our players,” Saban said. “Both parties have a lot of respect for his knowledge and enthusiasm, experience. I think they respect him as a teacher.
“Any time you make a change you have to make little adjustments, and we tried to keep some of the things that we’re doing and allow Lane the freedom to do some of the things that he wants to do. I think everyone’s bought into that and it’s worked out really, really well.”
At 6’5” with a strong arm and good mobility Coker is physically impressive, but he still has to get the offense down, gain the confidence of his teammates and beat out Sims, who isn’t about to concede anything.
So it's Jacob Coker Day in Alabama. Let the real quarterback competition begin...
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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In what is quickly becoming an annual tradition, several schools unveiled new logos, uniforms and helmets this past month or so. Most of it is an effort to lure in potential recruits with something shiny and new, but not every uniform combo works and not every redesign is a good idea.
More often than not, the changes work, especially those that have been thought through and look towards tradition and history for inspiration.
However, we've all seen some major duds, and even those that haven't changed in decades or a century are just plain awful.
So, let us take a look at the 10 uniforms that are in need of an overhaul (in no particular order).
The Texas Longhorns are done with spring practice, and first-year head coach Charlie Strong is putting together the two-deep depth chart. Although it is unlikely Strong will publicly release any depth chart, he said he planned on telling the players where they stand following spring practice.
"They are going to have the chance to just sit one-on-one and have the coaches tell them exactly where they are," Strong said. "I want the coaches to let them know 'If you are a starter, then you are a starter, and if you are a backup, you are a backup.' Each player will understand the role he has on this football team."
Here's a look at the projected two-deep for the Texas Longhorns heading into summer workouts.
There was hardly a peep made at the time, but according to Powell Latimer of Warchant.com, Florida State renegotiated its apparel contract with Nike in June 2013, likely locking it in with the sporting magnate until 2022-23.
Warchant.com obtained the quiet contract—which can be seen in full here—through an open records request. But if legal jargon isn't your thing, Latimer expounded on the specifics of the deal:
The extension, signed June 27 of last year, stipulates that NIKE will provide FSU an average of 1.45 million in cash each year and 2.9 million in supplied product each year for five years, with a potential extension through 2022-2023. It also came with a hefty $3 million signing bonus. As a total, FSU's apparel contract is valued at roughly $24.5 million over the first five years, with a slight increase to $25 million in the next five years if the extension is signed.
That contract puts FSU shy of the largest national apparel deals but still among the most well-compensated universities in college sports.
FSU's contract with NIKE has been renegotiated in 1998, 2005 and 2011 before the 2013 amendment. The past two amendments have both extended the term of the contract through 2022-2023 and significantly increased FSU's compensation from NIKE, from an original base compensation of $1 million per year to the current $1.45 million average.
According to Latimer, Nike played a big part in the logo and uniform redesign that was debuted during the Florida State spring game.
The logo was met with fervent backlash, but the unveiling of the new uniforms was a positive step for the Seminoles.
Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com says they "aren't terrible, and that's the only thing I ask for these days." Amen to that:
According to Latimer, associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte said the new Nike contract was at first negotiated by former Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman but signed soon after he was removed from his position.
"The initial conversations were between Randy and Nike, and then everyone gets involved in it from the CFO, to the president, but most of that is internally within athletics," Bonasorte elaborated. "You're letting lawyers and president know so they're not surprised."
While not the most splashy apparel contract in the country—Latimer notes that Nike doesn't shell out the same lucrative compensation as Adidas and Under Armour have—this is a stable move for the FSU program and something it won't have to worry about for another near-decade.
What do you think of the extension?
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With the South Carolina Gamecocks' spring football season in the books, it's time to reflect on what we learned about this team.
Spring ball is about answering team questions and finding players who elevate their level of play to move up the depth charts.
We all knew Mike Davis, the offensive line and the linebackers would be excellent, but we still learned a good amount about the rest of the offense and defense.
The Gamecocks need to replace Connor Shaw and key parts of the defensive line and made a lot of progress this spring toward those goals.
Here are the four things we learned about the South Carolina Gamecocks this spring.
It's hard to pick a favorite between Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller—two Heisman candidates and two of the best quarterbacks in college football. Both are capable of making a run at the Heisman Trophy this season—as I outlined yesterday—and neither would shock anyone by winning the national title.
If forced to choose, however, it would be hard not to skew toward Mariota, who seems a more balanced mix of throwing and passing than Miller, who still has some work left to do.
Even after injuring his medial collateral ligament (MCL) down the stretch last season—an injury that more or less cost him a Heisman nomination—Mariota finished first in ESPN's Total QBR metric. He did so with a top-15 score in rushing and passing (which is more than Miller can say):
Miller's passing EPA—expected points added—puts him behind names such as Derek Thompson (North Texas), Adam Kennedy (Arkansas State), Sean Schroeder (Hawaii), P.J. Walker (Temple) and, perhaps most damning of all, Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech).
In an opponent-adjusted metric such as Total QBR, that is pretty bad.
Meanwhile, the worst quarterback Mariota trails in passing EPA is probably Bowling Green's Matt Johnson—and he's pretty good. He led the upset of Northern Illinois last season and was listed as a Heisman candidate by Bovada in early February.
Both Mariota and Miller are great at keeping the chains moving, which is a product of their duality. On offenses like that, which put pressure on the defense to make a stop and get off the field, the worst thing a quarterback can do is turn the ball over.
And though Miller has been good in this respect, Mariota has been flat-out ridiculous.
One could argue that Mariota is a product of his system.
He played his first season with Chip Kelly, who is by all accounts an offensive genius, and his second season with Mark Helfrich, who was one of Kelly's most trusted assistants.
That argument, while fair, falls short because Miller plays with Urban Meyer. Both have played in systems that are famous for making quarterbacks succeed, and only Meyer from that group has coached a Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow).
These are two of the five best quarterbacks in the country; each has put up big numbers, and should continue to put up big numbers, in a scheme they fit like a glove.
Each will win a lot of games—as they have their whole career—and are likely to contend for a conference championship and spot in the College Football Playoff. When they do, their teams will have them to thank in large part for getting them there.
They are the faces of this upcoming season, and you certainly can't go wrong picking either one.
But, me? I'll take Mariota by a nose. At least if he's healthy—and it sounds like he is.
"He's moving faster than I've ever seen him move," said starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone, according to Gary Horowitz of USA Today. "He's doing all the things that Marcus Mariota always does. I'm real excited to see him this season."
That makes two of us, Tyler. And I reckon we aren't alone.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT
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Everything's bigger now for the Auburn defense.
When veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson brought his 4-2-5 scheme to Auburn last season, he also brought a new mentality for a unit that was average at best during former head coach Gene Chizik's tenure.
While Auburn did not show much change in basic statistical areas like total yards and points allowed in Johnson's first season, there were other spots where the Tigers showed tremendous improvement:
The Tigers defense made a name for itself last season on the big play—interceptions, sacks and red-zone stops.
This season, the defense is focused on getting rid of the opposition's big plays.
The first-team defense showed that mentality at the annual A-Day game, where the opposing second-team offense averaged 2.2 yards per play. The second team's biggest offensive play of the day was an 18-yard pass from backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson to Melvin Ray.
"If you look at our first-team defense, they didn’t give up many plays period, much less deep balls," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said after the first team's 58-3 rout of the second team. "That has been an emphasis trying to keep away from the big play. I think our first-team defense has improved greatly this spring from last fall."
The improvement in deep-ball coverage during spring practices was a turnaround from how the defending SEC champions finished the season in Pasadena.
Even with the tremendous leap in the interception count last season, the Tigers finished second to last in the SEC in pass defense, and Johnson wants to see immediate change in the fall. Johnson told the team's official website:
When you are No. 1 in the SEC in third-down defense, you ought to be good in pass defense. But we were terrible. It would be one of these stupid first-down plays a lot of times, turning a guy loose in man coverage, somebody running out of a zone, run-fit on a one-back zone play. We’d do stuff like that and give up a 25-yard play and somehow hang on and make a stop.
Johnson's system of using five defensive backs in the standard set—two cornerbacks, two safeties and one hybrid linebacker/safety known as the "Star"—is both fluid and physical.
In order to prevent opposing offenses from making the big play, Johnson is gradually making a shift toward a bigger secondary.
While Chizik's 4-3 defense usually featured smaller, speed-first defensive backs, Auburn's current staff is recruiting bigger players who can play a more physical game against tall receivers like Florida State title-game hero Kelvin Benjamin and former Missouri standout Dorial Green-Beckham.
"Being stronger and faster in this league, it definitely helps," cornerback Jonathan Jones told AL.com's Joel Erickson last month. "The bigger you can get, the faster you are, flexibility, that all helps. It adds up."
A perfect example of Auburn's new commitment to bigger and more physical defensive backs is newcomer Derrick Moncrief.
Standing at 6'2" and 218 pounds, Moncrief's size would have made him a prototypical linebacker during Chizik's tenure. But now, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is already the first-team boundary safety under Johnson.
"[Moncrief] is high energy, flies around to the ball a lot," safety Jermaine Whitehead. "He’s a big dude. He’s going to help us a lot."
Coaches and teammates have also pointed out the physical nature of more newcomers in the secondary.
Wide receiver-turned-cornerback Trovon Reed and Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, who has moved from running back to cornerback to safety in less than a year at Auburn, stood out with their aggressiveness in what is now a deeper secondary.
“Rudy’s a physical player, one that's got a passion for the game," Whitehead told the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington. "[He] wants to lineup every play and knock someone out."
But Auburn's emphasis on being bigger and more physical goes beyond the secondary.
When an injury crisis struck at defensive end earlier in the spring, Johnson and defensive line coach Rodney Garner created the "Rhino package," a front four made up entirely of Auburn's larger defensive tackles.
The package, which featured 300-pounder Montravius Adams and Ben Bradley, made enough of an impact in practice that the coaching staff wants to implement it in the fall.
"In looking toward next fall, we'll have a big package that we can play four bigger linemen in certain situations," Johnson said. "They've gotten a lot of work at that, and I think that will be something we will utilize."
At the linebacker position, Auburn is looking for another big thing—big hits.
The Tigers coaching staff went into Auburn's depth chart at safety and brought another big body to join the sure-tackling Cassanova McKinzy and agile Kris Frost.
The hard-hitting Khari Harding became a bit of a sensation in his high school days for laying the lumber on wide receivers, and now he will have a chance to make that big impression at linebacker.
"We expect the same things from [Harding] as a linebacker," Frost said of Harding, who disappointingly ended his solid spring with a foot injury. "He's got good body size to play linebacker. He’s fast. He moves well from playing safety."
Big size, big plays, big hits and big potential—exactly what Auburn wants to see out of its entire defense in 2014.
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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The Virginia Tech football team hardly had the most productive showing in its annual spring game, but the overall result of the Hokies’ work this spring did answer a lot of questions about the team's depth chart.
The starting quarterback job remains a mystery—a disconcerting fact given the position’s importance—but the rest of Tech’s depth chart is starting to take shape.
Even though the offense lacks a leader, the spring sessions made it clear that the skill positions have real depth to go along with some veteran leadership, which should be huge for whichever player wins the starting quarterback spot.
Similarly, on defense, the spring proved that some positions may be a little thin, but the team has plenty of star power in its starters.
Read on for a full evaluation of each of Tech’s position groups now that spring practice has concluded.
LSU's spring practice had no shortage of headlines, the biggest of which were on offense.
The Tigers lost quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, right guard Trai Turner and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. To make matters worse, only Mettenberger was a senior.
But LSU had question marks defensively as well. The Tigers lost key components in their run defense in Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Lamin Barrow.
Performing well in spring practice does not mean a player will play during the season. But there is no doubt it helps the coaches know if a player has the talent to play in games.
Here are a few of LSU's performers who rose to the occasion, and a few who didn't.
In the wake of Michigan’s 7-6 season Brady Hoke made critical changes, firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and reorganizing his defensive staff. Hoke admitted that last season’s disappointment resulted from a failure of leadership on his part and made the necessary moves to correct things heading into this season.
While the dismissal of Borges was welcomed by Michigan fans, many questioned if the changes were too little, too late. Borges was an easy target, paying the price for the failure of an offensive line and a running game that struggled except for quarterback Devin Gardner.
But criticism of Borges had been growing since the previous season. His transformation of quarterback Denard Robinson from Heisman hopeful to offensive afterthought had raised eyebrows.
The year before Hoke and Borges came to Ann Arbor, Robinson set a team record with 502 yards of total offense (258 rushing yards and 244 passing yards) in a 28-24 win over Notre Dame.
By his senior season, Robinson managed a paltry 228 yards (90 rushing yards and 138 passing yards) in a 13-6 loss to the Irish. Robinson threw four first-half interceptions, passing up opportunities to run the ball while attempting to implement Borges’ offense. Borges’ insistence at moving Robinson up under center and passing the ball more didn’t play to his strengths.
Borges continued to work his offensive magic last season as the Michigan surged and wheezed from one week to the next—performances that ran the gamut from blowing out Central Michigan 59-9, to barely besting Connecticut 24-21 and completely disappearing versus Michigan State (29-6 loss).
Finally, Hoke decided he had seen enough and replaced Borges with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to bring stability and direction to the Michigan offense.
Nussmeier faces a daunting challenge. He needs to shore up an offensive line that has lost two of it best players, sort out a quandary at quarterback (teach Devin Gardner his third new offense or start fresh) while scoring enough points to keep the heat off of Brady Hoke.
Athletic director David Brandon has dismissed speculation about Hoke’s status, but the seat in Ann Arbor is hot before a head coach even starts—add a 7-6 season and you have the makings of an inferno.
Gardner put together some impressive statistics last season, but 7-6 doesn’t equal job security for any quarterback. Nussmeier absolutely needs to look closely at the quarterback position and decide if Gardner is the best choice.
The offensive line is harder to fix.
Offensive line coaches rarely get singled out for criticism, but Michigan struggled mightily up front last season and coach Darrell Funk’s return this season was something of a surprise.
Offensive linemen usually take a season or two to acclimate to the college game—Hoke must be confident that last season’s epic failure on the offensive line was an aberration. Funk absolutely needs to have a better starting group ready this season or risk another offensive meltdown.
It’s telling that early enrollee Mason Cole has made such a big impression on Hoke. It’s troubling that a true freshman can show up on campus a few months removed from playing high school football and be working with the first group at offensive tackle.
It’s easy to second-guess Hoke’s decision to keep Borges for last season. But right now, with an unsettled quarterback position and an offensive line where every position is up for grabs, even Hoke has to wonder if maybe he waited too long to dismiss Borges.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
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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Since 2010, Penn State has earned a bit of a reputation by sending several defensive tackles to the NFL. In fact, if DaQuan Jones is drafted in the first three rounds of next week's NFL draft, he'll be the fourth Nittany Lion tackle to do so in the last five years.
Anthony Zettel might be next in line.
After spending his first two seasons in the rotation at defensive end, Zettel has added significant weight and is projected to be a starter at tackle in 2014. After playing at 258 pounds in 2013, Zettel weighed in at 274 during spring camp, but he isn't done yet, saying he "wants to put on about seven or eight more pounds of muscle before the season."
As a defensive end, Zettel was what you would call a high-motor player, being constantly disruptive behind the line of scrimmage.
In limited action as a true freshman, Zettel recorded 10 tackles, four of which were sacks.
He became a fan favorite last season by recording six tackles for loss, four sacks and a key interception against Michigan while backing up Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan.
The upfield aggression he plays with will be welcomed at defensive tackle, and having him on the field at the same time as Barnes and Olaniyan will create havoc on passing downs. The three of them have recorded 22 sacks over the last two seasons while rotating with each other.
The move inside came naturally for Zettel and conveniently fit what the coaches had in mind for the Michigan native. New head coach James Franklin was prepared to persuade him to make the move during the winter before learning that Zettel was already working on the switch.
“He’s excited about doing it; he wants to do it,” Franklin said, according to Josh Moyer of ESPN, adding, “I learned a long time ago, once it’s been sold, stop selling.”
Zettel saw this move coming from afar, but the depth chart may have sped up the process ever so slightly.
"When I first got to Penn State, they recruited me as a D-End, but they knew in the future that I'd be a 3-tech [tackle]—that's just the way my body is. I knew that, and gaining the extra weight just helped solidify that."
The move couldn't have come at a more ideal time.
Penn State will have several experienced players in the rotation at end this year, and high school All-American Garrett Sickels will push everyone for snaps. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions lost their top two tackles from 2013 in DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz and were in need of bodies.
The path Zettel is taking has been walked before in Happy Valley.
Like Zettel, Devon Still was recruited out of high school as a 4-star defensive end, according to Rivals. He also started his Penn State career there before adding weight to his 6'5" frame and going on to be named an All-American as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year—an award previously won by Jared Odrick.
Zettel's aggressive style mirrors both Still and Odrick, who were disruptive interior linemen capable of taking over the line of scrimmage.
Built tall and lean, similar to Odrick, Zettel looks to be in great shape and didn't show any signs of slowing down in the spring game while recording two tackles for loss with a bare midriff that drew laughs among the crowd.
His versatility and explosiveness could mean the world to a defensive front that is used to operating around a dominant tackle.
If this spring was any indication, Zettel will be that dominant tackle.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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It goes without saying that spring practice for the Florida Gators was a success. However, like everything in life, there were a handful of winners and losers during the first month of practices.
The winners likely overachieved or simply fulfilled expectations and were the stars for much of the event. The losers fell short in certain areas and will have their work cut out for them once fall camp begins in a couple of months.
There were certainly more positives than negatives, but everybody can’t be a winner at the end of the day.
Here are your winners and losers from the Gators spring practice.