NCAA Football

USC Spring Game 2014: New-Look Trojans Finally Getting Used to Uptempo Offense

After a month of practicing behind the walls of Howard Jones Practice Field, the USC Trojans showcased the early stages of their new-look, uptempo offense...

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Don't Let Tyrone Swoopes' Spring Game Stats Fool You, Texas Needs David Ash

"I wanted our ones to come out with confidence," Texas head coach Charlie Strong said after the spring game. "When you match up ones versus ones and the offense doesn't score, then they will feel like they're a long ways away."

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes took the first-team reps Saturday against the second-team defense in the annual Orange-White Scrimmage, but his lack of experience was very apparent throughout the entire first half.

Swoopes completed 44 percent of his passes throughout the first half but shook off the slow start and completed nine of 12 passing attempts in the second half. He finished the game with 229 passing yards and three touchdowns. 

Swoopes' second-half performance was a positive step for the young player, but Texas fans should tread carefully before anointing Swoopes as the guy to lead the Longhorns. The reason for that is simple: Swoopes ran the first-team offense against the second-team defense. 

The spring game was the first time many Texas fans were able to witness the changes Strong and his staff have made for the Longhorns. The defense had a nice showing against the Longhorns offense, but that is not the best news for the quarterback position.

When Strong discussed the Longhorns scrimmages during spring practice, he mentioned that the ones went against the ones and twos versus twos, but the coaching staff chose to change it up for the spring game. 

Swoopes is obviously a talented player, but the best bet for the Longhorns at quarterback is David Ash. Before his injury, Strong commended Ash for how well he was practicing and said he had established himself. 

"You would have never known that he had the injury by just how well he has been practicing and the way he has been carrying himself," Strong said. "I wouldn't say that he is the clear No. 1, but he has established himself. He did a great job learning the offense and terminology and wanting to lead the team."

Ash's injury history is not something to overlook. He missed the last game of the 2012 regular season due to a rib injury and was sidelined throughout the majority of the 2013 season with recurring concussion symptoms. His most recent injury, a Jones fracture in his left foot, will require surgery. 

Some fans may be eager for incoming freshman Jerrod Heard to get to Austin; however, expecting Heard to start in 2014 is fairly unrealistic. Heard had a fantastic high school career and is obviously an extremely talented player, but the best-case scenario for Texas fans is for Heard to redshirt his first season and learn the college game with Ash leading the way.

With his injured past and, at times, inconsistent play, Ash is still the best option to lead the Longhorns in 2014.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

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Nick Saban's Epic Spring-Game Recruiting Haul Shows Tide Is Alabama's Top Team

Anybody who followed both Auburn and Alabama's spring games on Saturday probably thought that the Tigers had the better day. The Crimson Tide's offense looked sluggish, while Nick Marshall and Co. picked up right where they left off from last season's SEC Championship. 

But Nick Saban and the Tide won the much bigger battle on Saturday, and that's the recruiting battle. 

The Crimson Tide signed four prospects on Saturday, one 5-star and three 4-stars. Meanwhile, Auburn was relegated to just two commitments, one 4-star and one 3-star. 

Three of the signees for Alabama—Fitzpatrick, Burgess-Becker, and Ridley—are all secondary players. After losing Deion Belue and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Saban was in need of some talent in that area. 

Fitzpatrick is the highest-rated recruit signing of the day for the Tide. A 5-star cornerback out of New Jersey, Fitzpatrick stands at 6'0", 185 pounds and runs a 4.45 40-yard dash, per 247Sports.

Auburn's biggest signing of the day was 4-star safety Ben Edwards out of Florida. Edwards, a 6'0" safety, flipped his commitment from Ohio State to Auburn, per Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com. 

Bone also reported that all four Tide signees were recruited by Mario Cristobal, the offensive line coach at Alabama. So certainly it was not a bad day for Cristobal and one that could set the stage for him to move up in the coaching ranks in the near future. 

Cristobal is in just his second season at Alabama, after joining the team in 2013. He was the head coach at FIU from 2007-2012 before being fired after a 3-9 season in 2012.  

What Saturday's overhaul ultimately proved, though, is that, when rubber hits the road, more kids want to play for Saban and Alabama than they do Malzahn and Auburn, despite the Tigers being just one year removed from an SEC title and a national championship appearance. 

While Auburn is fresh off a 2013 campaign that saw them win the SEC title, it was Alabama that had won three of the last four national championships prior to 2013. And had it not been for that one missed extra point that Chris Davis took back in the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide could've made it four national titles in five years. 

Alabama also sends plenty more players to the NFL. According to ESPN, the Crimson Tide have 37 of their alumni in the NFL, while Auburn has 20. 

The Tide now rank No. 1 in the country for the 2015 class with 14 signees, with 12 being either 4-star- or 5-star-caliber. Meanwhile, Auburn ranks 10th in the nation with just eight total commitments to its 2015 class. That load includes three 3-stars. 

The Crimson Tide also ranked No. 1 in all its recruiting classes dating back to 2011. Auburn's highest ranking in that time frame was fifth in 2011. The Tigers also ranked sixth in 2014 and 2010. 

Fitzpatrick told Rivals (subscription required) that it was the aurora and reputation of Alabama that enticed him to commit. 

I really liked the environment. People say it's an extremely serious environment, but you get to have time to relax and hang out with everybody. The football experience is one of a kind, there's nothing really like it in the country.

It's one of the best universities ever, one of the best coaches ever to coach the game and I feel like I can learn from him and become one of the best players in the country and the best player I can be.

For Alabama to have made such a statement on the recruiting trail Saturday is huge. Auburn walked away with just two commitments, while Alabama got four huge pieces that will set the stage for them for years to come. 

And Saturday proved that, while Auburn had the better year on the field in 2013, the Crimson Tide are still top dog in the Southland. 

 

Note: All recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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USC Spring Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

The Steve Sarkisian era got underway on Saturday afternoon as the Cardinal (offense) and White teams battled to a 15-15 tie in the Coliseum:

After finishing with a 10-win season in 2013, there was no doubt a palpable buzz to see how the squad will look this season under Sarkisian:

If there's one clear takeaway from the spring scrimmage, it's that the defense won't skip a beat next season. Sarkisian put the unit that ranked 16th in scoring defense last season (per CFBstats.com) in a disadvantageous position and they were still highly effective in shutting down the Trojans offense early on:

In fact, it wasn't until the Trojans let a 10-year-old fan throw a pass that the Cardinal side was finally able to find pay dirt:

The touchdown celebration would be short-lived, however. The defense continued to have its way with the offense and sacks from Scott Starr and Charles Burks would advance the defense's lead against the offense:

The scrimmage wasn't all bad for the Trojans offense, though. After all, with all the talent coming back on defense in Los Angeles, it was to be expected that the offense would have a difficult time moving the ball. 

While Cody Kessler and Max Browne made some plays at quarterback, Trojans fans were treated to their first glimpse at quarterback of the future Jalen Greene. The dual-threat freshman showcased his arm strength and accuracy on more than one occasion and impressed analysts, such as former FOX Sports writer Lisa Horne, with his confidence as the third-string freshman:

Even though it wasn't the greatest performance from the Trojans offense, Kessler was pleased with the team's performance. He acknowledged the strong play of the defense while also citing the absence of some important offensive pieces in this post-game interview posted by Inside USC. 

While there are still plenty of question marks surrounding the offense, especially along the offensive line, there's no doubt that the upbeat attitude surrounding the program and suffocating defense are strong positives to take away from the scrimmage. 

Overall, Trojans fans have to like what they've seen from spring practices this season. Not only did the Trojans figure out their starting quarterback (Cody Kessler) but also saw first hand that the defense will return to its 2013 form. 

With an elite defense coming back and the offense presumably getting better with a consistent leader at quarterback like Kessler, there's no reason to believe that the Trojans won't be among the top teams  in the Pac-12 South.

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USC Spring Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

The Steve Sarkisian era got underway on Saturday afternoon as the Cardinal (offense) and White teams battled to a 15-15 tie in the Coliseum: After finishing with a 10-win ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Jovon Durante to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star WR Prospect

The Alabama Crimson Tide may have added yet another big-time prospect in 4-star wide receiver Jovon Durante. 

Andrew Bone of TideSports originally reported that Durante's commitment was official:

However, Bone later corrected the original story and announced that Durante's commitment is not official quite yet. He does consider the news to be inevitable though:

 

As Bone notes, the 6'0" 183-pound receiver was the Tide's fifth commitment of the day. The fact that all of those recruits are rated as either four- or five-star recruits makes it all the more impressive.

One school that isn't having as good a day as Bama is West Virginia. The Mountaineers, who are currently ranked 17th in 247Sports' composite class rankings for 2015, lost their only 4-star recruit in Durante. 

The Tide, however, now sit in the driver's seat of those very rankings. Their class now includes an astounding 11 4-star recruits committed to Tuscaloosa and another 5-star to put the proverbial cherry on the sundae. 

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports chimed in on the impressiveness of the day for the Tide before it even included Durante's new pledge:

While it's usually Nick Saban who gets the credit for being the master recruiter at Alabama, Tide fans can thank assistant and former FIU head coach Mario Cristobal for this catch:

Durante figures to fit right in at Alabama. Boasting a time of 10.8 in the 100-meter dash, a 21.6 time in the 200 and a high jump of 6'3" in track, he's the kind of athlete who should have no problem stretching the field and finding the holes in the zone at the next level. 

With the Tide looking to build a new passing game sans AJ McCarron in 2014 and beyond, Durante could be a name to watch out for as the program moves forward.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Alabama Crimson Tide Land Multiple Blue-Chip 2015 Recruits on Saturday

Most schools are happy to add just one blue-chip recruit during a 24-hour period. On Saturday, Alabama landed five.

Calvin Ridley, a 4-star receiver, and Shawn Burgess-Becker, a 4-star receiver/safety, both tweeted out that they had committed to the Crimson Tide:

Then came 5-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, per Rivals' Adam Friedman:

Four-star linebacker Leo Lewis was No. 4, per Alabama Commit Alert:

Jovon Durante was the fifth recruit and second 4-star wideout to announce that he was headed to Tuscaloosa, per TideSports.com's Andrew Bone:

Bone has since reported that Durante hasn't "officially" committed to Alabama, but his arrival is imminent:

Many will look at Alabama head coach Nick Saban as the biggest reason for so many high-profile signings. However, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, who recruited Burgess-Becker, Fitzpatrick and Ridley, deserves some serious credit:

Fitzpatrick is the cream of the crop. He ranks 30th overall and is the fourth-best cornerback in 247Sports' composite rankings. The product of St. Peter's Prep in New Jersey can be the next great corner at Alabama, following in the footsteps of stars like Dre Kirkpatrick, Javier Arenas and Dee Milliner.

That's to say nothing of his four future teammates, all of whom rank in the top 150 on 247Sports.

It should come as no surprise that on Saturday, Alabama supplanted Penn State atop the Class of 2015 rankings.

The way that the Crimson Tide continue to reload each and every year is astounding. Their success on the recruiting trail is a testament to Saban and his coaching staff's ability.

So many college football fans wonder when the Tide's dominance will cease. Every college football dynasty reaches its end sooner or later.

With Alabama, it's hard to fathom that time will come, as Saban is once again ensuring that his team's future is in good hands.

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USC Spring Game 2014: Live Game Grades and Analysis

USC's offense took on the Trojans defense in Saturday's spring game, and in doing so, we got our first glimpse at how this team looks under head coach Steve Sarkisian.

It was a slightly different spring game than usual in Troy, as injuries and depth concerns limited contact and the amount of plays that the Trojans could run. Still, Sark promised around 100 plays and some live tackling during the scrimmage, and that's what he delivered. 

The Trojans defense (in white) edged out the Trojans offense (in cardinal), 19-15.

It was a significant victory for this unit, as just a few weeks ago, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox mentioned that the defense needed to be more consistent during the tail end of live sessions.

Before we get to grades, here's a look at the point system in place during the spring game:

 

Offense

Field goal: 3 points
Touchdown: 6 points
Extra Point: 1 point
Two-Point Conversion: 2 points

 

Defense

Defensive Stop: 1 point
Three-and-Out: 3 points
Fourth-Down Stop: 3 points
Turnover: 5 points
Touchdown: 7 points

Check out the analysis and final grades here.

 

First-Half Analysis for the USC Trojans

Pass Offense: We got to see a little of Cody Kessler, a little of Max Browne and even a little of Jalen Greene in the spring game. Though Browne undoubtedly has a cannon and will be a stud one day, Kessler showed he is clearly the more comfortable of the two and the more composed while running the offense. 

As far as targets are concerned, offensive coordinator Clay Helton said that the new offense would utilize the tight ends more, and the looks that Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick received backed that up. 

Run Offense: The offensive line showed some improvement from last season, though it did give up a few sacks and leave the quarterbacks high and dry at times. It's worth remembering, however, that this position group is still largely in flux, and key members like Aundrey Walker and Zach Banner haven't gotten into the mix yet. We didn't get to see too much from the running backs, but in the few glimpses we had, Buck Allen clearly retains his spot as the front-runner in the Trojans' stable. 

It was a fairly good day for the running backs, but the Trojans did not get away without injury:

Pass Defense: USC's secondary looks good, with Kevon Seymour flying around to disrupt plays and Chris Hawkins locking down his receiver in coverage. Both had an impressive showing, and that's particularly important for Hawkins, who is fighting for a spot in the starting lineup. Josh Shaw was in attendance and addressed the cornerback battle:

Run Defense: USC's run defense continues to be its strength, as was expected. It dominated the line of scrimmage, stifled the ground attack of Allen and found ways to get a hand on the quarterback. The Trojans offense led early on the back of Andre Heidari field goals, but as the scrimmage wore on, the white jerseys took command in the second and third periods, largely thanks to the efforts of the defensive line. The defense kept the Trojans offense from scoring anything other than field goals on the day, a fairly impressive feat. 

Special Teams: Heidari neither impressed nor disappointed in the spring game, but if the Trojans have another option, they might want to consider it in the fall. Heidari nailed four of five on the day, but the one he missed was a short, 34-yard attempt.

Coaching: Other than lining up in the shotgun formation, we didn't see any particularly new and exciting plays from the Trojans. Sark seems to be keeping his new playbook a secret, at least until the fall when more healthy bodies rejoin the ranks. 

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USC Spring Game 2014: Live Game Grades and Analysis

USC's offense took on the Trojans defense in Saturday's spring game, and in doing so, we got our first glimpse at how this team looks under head coach Steve Sarkisian ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Calvin Ridley to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star WR Prospect

A big day of recruiting for Alabama got even bigger on Saturday afternoon, when Calvin Ridley announced his commitment to head to Tuscaloosa and join the Crimson Tide.

Ridley tweeted a picture of himself in an Alabama jersey to make his announcement:

The 6'2", 170-pound prospect is one of the top wideouts in this year's class. He ranks as the No. 41 prospect in the class nationally, per the 247Sports composite

Those rankings also have him as the third-best receiver in the nation and the 10th-best prospect in Florida.

Ridley joined Monarch High School (Pompano Beach, Fla.) teammate Shawn Burgess-Becker on the Tuscaloosa train Saturday, per AL.com's Wesley Sinor. Both committed within an hour of each other, shortly after Alabama's A-Day concluded. 

Both Alabama and Miami lauded Monarch's duo of stud receivers—Ridley and Burgess-Becker—above anyone else. In fact, the Tide seemed to have ground to make up with the 247Sports Crystal Ball predicting both Ridley and Burgess-Becker to go to Miami with more than 60 percent chances, and each had more than 20 writers chipping in. 

But Alabama was able to make a big statement in the 2015 cycle on Saturday by landing both—even with a geographic disadvantage as compared to Miami.

These two Monarch High School standouts haven't been the only ones being talked about by Crimson Tide fans on Saturday.

At the time of Ridley's announcement, Alabama had already landed five commits on Saturday alone, per Sinor's reporting. Five-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, 4-star linebacker Leo Lewis and 4-star wide receiver Jovon Durante all announced their commitments to the Tide. 

247Sports' Marc Torrence summed it up best:

It's far from surprising at this point, considering Alabama's recent success, that it has been able to maintain such domination over the recruiting cycle. But even as it becomes more and more normal, it's nonetheless impressive. 

The Tide ended the season on a poor note by losing their last two games—the last-second Iron Bowl loss to Auburn and the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

But with every commitment, it becomes more and more apparent that the Tide's days on top are far from over.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Leo Lewis to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Alabama continues to rack up topflight 2015 recruits as 4-star linebacker prospect Leo Lewis has committed to the SEC powerhouse, according to 247 Sports.

Lewis joins a sizable list of top-tier recruits who announced their commitment to Alabama on Saturday, as pointed out by Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel:

The 6'3", 225-pound defender is a junior at Brookhaven High School in Brookhaven, Miss., and he's rated as the third-best 2015 recruit from the state of Mississippi and the fifth-best linebacker in the class, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings

According to his 247Sports profile, Lewis had received a handful of offers from other top programs, including Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia and LSU, among others. 

Lewis paid a visit to Tuscaloosa back in February and had only positive things to say about the trip. Via AL.com's Wesley Sinor, Lewis said, "It was fun. They showed me a great time. I built a great relationship with coach Kirby Smart. The facilities were great. They showed me an all-around great time."

Smart, Alabama's defensive coordinator, will be thrilled with Lewis' announcement. The instinctive defender has very few weaknesses in his game and boasts the physical tools to come in and play right away.

He'll obviously have to adjust to the college game before he can be relied on down after down, but the potential is certainly there, as noted by ESPN Insider (subscription required):

Lewis is a fast pursuing, run and hit linebacker without many physical flaws and we still see upside. Should develop into three-down linebacker early in his college career and add a playmaking dimension. Could get recruited to play inside or out.

Like with the rest of Alabama's coveted 2015 recruits, the Crimson Tide faithful will have to be patient. But there's no doubt the future is bright in Tuscaloosa as one of the sport's most brilliant defensive minds, Nick Saban has ensured the Tide will remain stout on that side of the ball for years to come.

And if Lewis can add to his skill set and make an impact at Alabama, he'll have a great chance to achieve the ultimate dream of competing in the NFL someday.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.

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Alabama Spring Game 2014: Tony Brown Looking Like Savior of the Secondary

With the loss of Deion Belue and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama's secondary last year, Nick Saban was in desperate search of a playmaker for his 2014 secondary. 

In Alabama's A-Day game, he may have found one in freshman cornerback Tony Brown. 

According to 247Sports, the electrifying Brown was a 5-star prospect and the second-best cornerback of the 2014 class.

Last season, although the Crimson Tide ranked 11th in the FBS in pass yards allowed per game, Alabama's secondary still looked like a liability at times. Too often the Crimson Tide gave up big plays, especially after losing top safety Vinnie Sunseri to injury in late October. 

The secondary was particularly exposed in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma. Trevor Knight, the Sooners quarterback, had only reached 100 or more passing yards in a game twice in seven appearances. 

Against Alabama, Knight racked up 348 yards and four touchdowns—he had only thrown five touchdowns all year up to that point—en route to 45-31 victory for the Sooners. 

Brown may be the answer to last year's woes in the secondary. With great speed, Brown has the ability to bait quarterbacks into making bad decisions. In the A-Day game, he blanketed receivers all day and even got himself an interception. 

He also showed in the spring game that he's hard-nosed. Despite wearing a black "no contact" jersey, he recorded four tackles, per Tide 99.1 FM. 

Nobody is surprised by Brown's speed or his freakish athleticism. An Olympic-level hurdler, Brown recently recorded the fourth-fastest 60-meter hurdle time in the university's history, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. 

In the spring, Brown was able to move up the spring depth chart after rising sophomore defensive back Eddie Jackson, who started four games as a true freshman last year, tore his ACL in early April, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com. 

Saban's secondaries are his specialty. According to Team Rankings, the Crimson Tide have been ranked in the top 15 in the FBS in pass defense every year since 2011.

Guys like Mark Barron, Javier Arenas and Dre Kirkpatrick have all gone on to the NFL after going through Saban's tutelage. 

It's now becoming more and more apparent that Brown will soon be added to that list. And since he's just a freshman, it looks like he'll be a playmaker for Saban and Co. for years to come.

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Alabama Edges Auburn in Spring Game Attendance, Draws 73,506 Fans

When it comes to spring football, there's only one phrase that can sum up which school has the most support for its team: 

Roll Tide. 

The Alabama Crimson Tide held its 2014 A-Day game on Saturday and announced an attendance of 73,506 fans to Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

According to Andrew Holleran of College Spun, Alabama's attendance mark is the highest in the nation this spring, with Penn State ranking second at 72,000 and Alabama's archrival Auburn ranking third at 70,645. 

One thing that stood out is that, although the Crimson Tide now lead the nation in spring game attendance this year, the showing was the lowest in Nick Saban's tenure with Alabama, according to Duane Rankin of The Montgomery Advertiser. 

This spring is also the first spring in three years that the Crimson Tide aren't the defending national champions, so that may have played a part in there being a dip in attendance to this year's A-Day game. 

You also can't discount the fact that this weekend is a holiday weekend, and some fans may have elected to stay home and spend Easter with their families. 

However, that still hasn't stopped the fans arriving in droves. According to BamaOnline, since 2007 the Crimson Tide have a higher average attendance at A-Day than the top NFL team during the regular season. 

According to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, crowds at Alabama's A-Day game have steadily dropped since 2010 when a record-setting 92,312 people showed up. 

Nevertheless, Alabama still got more fans than anybody else in the country to show up to its spring game, and the Crimson Tide are bound to be contenders for the College Football Playoff this season. 

 

 

 

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Shawn Burgess-Becker to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Alabama landed yet another big-time prospect in the class of 2015 during Saturday's A-Day spring game when Shawn Burgess-Becker announced his commitment to the Crimson Tide. 

The high school standout, who doubles as a wide receiver and safety, announced the news on Twitter shortly after the spring game concluded:

Burgess-Becker is a 6'1", 185-pound prospect that is a four-star prospect in the 247Sports composite, which also has him as the No. 88 prospect nationally and No. 18 in the great recruiting state of Florida.

He lines up both as a wide receiver and safety for Monarch High School (Pompano Beach, Fla.) and has made waves as one of the most talented and versatile players in the class, with both speed and vision that translate well to the next level. 

The Tide had to hold off Miami more than anyone else to land Burgess-Becker. The nearby Hurricanes had Burgess-Becker visit three times in 2014 alone and were in the thick of things all along—Miami and Alabama were the first two to offer the standout. 

Fox Sports' Amy Campbell reported on what made the difference between Alabama and Miami:

Alabama also had to hold off a late surge from its in-state rivals. Burgess-Becker visited Auburn for the first time just before A-Day, per 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr (subscription required). But it seems as if the Tigers got in the game a bit too late. 

Burgess-Becker became the 12th commit in the Crimson Tide's 2015 class, adding the second of the day after Minkah Fitzpatrick added his name as well on Saturday.

In the midst of the hype and excitement surrounding Alabama's A-Day, it was no surprise that the Tide were able to notch another commit. Events like this tend to pump energy into recruiting and result in successful weekends if a program is able to sell itself enough during the process.

Sure enough, Alabama was able to do this with Burgess-Becker and prove to the ninth-ranked athlete in the nation, according to the 247Sports' composite rankings, that Tuscaloosa was the place for him.

Alabama has loaded up on top recruits enough to where it's hard to put a lot of stock into one commit. But at least on the surface, Burgess-Becker looks to have serious skills.

Plus, his ability to line up on either side of the ball will be lauded for Saban's coaching staff as they will have more flexibility in assembling their rosters moving forward. 

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Minkah Fitzpatrick to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 5-Star CB Prospect

No program in college football retools quite like Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide, who are set to welcome yet another talented face to Tuscaloosa in 2015. 

According to 247 Sports, 5-star cornerback recruit Minkah Fitzpatrick has committed to Alabama.

Fitzpatrick, a junior at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J. is rated as the top class of 2015 prospect from the state of New Jersey and the fourth-best cornerback available in 2015, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings

Fitzpatrick had also received offers from rival Auburn and defending national champion Florida State.

Prior to announcing his decision, Fitzpatrick talked about why Alabama ranked toward the top of his list, via Rivals' Mike Farrell (paid subscription required):

I've got a lot of family in Alabama – my father's side is from there – so that's a big plus...Coach (Nick) Saban is one of the greatest defensive back coaches and one of the greatest coaches of all time. Getting to learn from him for three or four years would be a great experience and I felt like I'd become the best player I could be there.

It's not surprising that Alabama caught Fitzpatrick's eye, but it's also no shock why the Crimson Tide sent the high school star an offer.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Fitzpatrick is an intelligent cornerback with prototypical size, strength and speed who can thrive in either zone or man-to-man coverage schemes. Fitzpatrick is also a natural playmaker in the secondary, as evidenced by his six interceptions over the past two seasons in high school, per 247 Sports.

ESPN Insider (paid subscription required) breaks down Fitzpatrick as he prepares for his senior season at St. Peter's Prep:

"There may be corners a bit faster and more fluid in this class but few who are as well-rounded and technically sound. Fitzpatrick is also scheme versatile as we see the ability to produce in both zone and man coverages at the next level. Very good college prospect with a high probability of success."

Although Crimson Tide fans will have to be patient, it's only a matter of time before Fitzpatrick becomes an impact player at the next level.

He's got all the physical tools to succeed, and if he can continue to improve his footwork and add some muscle in college, he'll have every chance to excel in the SEC.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Alabama Football: Lane Kiffin Has to Be Thinking Jacob Coker After Spring Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The job wasn’t won by anyone, nor was it lost, but Saturday’s low-scoring A-Day game didn’t exactly help Blake Sims in his quest to become the starting quarterback at the University of Alabama.

Playing for the "Crimson" team with the offensive starters, Sims completed 13 of 30 attempts for 178 yards, with a late touchdown and two interceptions. With the defense clearly outshining the inconsistent offense on both sides, the "White" team pulled out a 17-14 victory.

“Nobody ever has a bad spring game, let’s start with that,” Coach Nick Saban said.

“Everybody needs to understand that in games like today we really limit what we do on offense, we really limit what we do on defense, and we really don’t try to feature players. That may be a little bit of a disadvantage to our players. Blake Sims did some things at quarterback that we really don’t feature.”

Until sophomore wide receiver Chris Black notched a last-minute 55-yard touchdown, the only scoring play the senior quarterback was involved with was when defensive lineman D.J. Pettway returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter.

With Jacob Coker, who will transfer after graduating from Florida State next month, looking on, Sims’ longest possession was just five plays, while redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman led drives of 14, 10 and eight plays for the White team against the second-unit defense.

Still, neither side was able to score in the first half when both teams had 116 total yards.

“I think he was pressing a little bit,” Black said about Sims. “Throughout the spring he’s done a pretty good job of blocking all that stuff out, other people’s expectations out. Today was not one of our best days.”

During the first two spring scrimmages, which were closed to reporters, Sims completed 40 of 62 passes (64.5 completion percentage) for 455 yards and five touchdowns, but Alabama didn’t release any interception numbers.

On Saturday, Sims connected on just one of his first six attempts, and he completed 45.8 percent of his passes.

Saban, who reiterated that the quarterback competition will last through the summer and go into the fall, compared his performance to a baseball pitcher trying so hard that he can’t throw a strike.

“Blake had a really good spring, and he did a really good job in the scrimmages,” he said. “I thought he was trying…like the game speeded up a little bit on him and he tried to speed up with it instead of staying in his rhythm.” 

Part of that had to do with Alabama’s defense, which looked like it’s ready to reclaim its spot among the best in college football. With junior Reggie Ragland leading everyone with 10 tackles, and the defensive-line reserves having a distinct advantage over their offensive counterparts, the two sides combined to notch 19 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and four interceptions.

“They’re for real,” senior linebacker Trey DePriest said about the defensive line.

The Crimson team’s first offensive touchdown was set up by a turnover as defensive end Tim Williams recovered a Kenyan Drake fumble, to set up T.J. Yeldon’s one-yard touchdown run.

Although sophomore Adam Griffith missed a 30-yard field goal and had a 47-yard attempt blocked by defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, he made a 41-yard attempt for the White team at the end of the third quarter.

Bateman, who appears to have solidified his spot behind Sims on the depth chart (while Alec Morris mostly filled in at punter with 15 attempts), completed his team’s scoring with 32-yard touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart in the fourth quarter.

“Any time there’s a new guy in there, they bring different things to the table,” junior center Ryan Kelly said. “I think that’s why the spring game is kind of big because we’re rotating quarterbacks, and you have to get used to all of them, because in college football injuries happen. If anyone went down, we’d still have that relationship with each other.”

With 95 rushing yards on 11 carries, Yeldon became the first player in Crimson Tide history to win the Dixie Howell Memorial Award as A-Day MVP for a third time. Pettway and Allen shared the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the Game Award.

But rightly or wrongly, most of the talk afterward was about Sims and not some of the other sidebars like:

—The announced attendance of 73,506 was the smallest since Saban arrived in 2007.

—Yeldon estimated that new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin used only about 10 percent of the playbook, with wide receiver Amari Cooper finishing with only three receptions and sophomore tight end O.J. Howard never having a ball thrown his way.

—Early enrollee Cam Robinson started at left tackle, but Saban called him a work in progress and said that he blocked the wrong man on the intercepted screen pass.

So while it may not have been a stellar game, and Sims didn't do anything to raise the bar any higher before Coker arrives, it concluded a good spring for the Crimson Tide.

“I’m very encouraged by the team that we have, and I’m encouraged by the attitude that we have on the team,” Saban said. “I am certainly looking forward to working with this group and us improving over the summer and getting a great start to the season next year when we start fall camp.”

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Auburn Spring Game 2014: MVP Kenny Flowers Playing Himself into LB Rotation

AUBURN, Ala. — Kenny Flowers did not see it coming.

"I didn't have too great of a spring," Flowers said after Auburn's lopsided A-Day Game. "I did a lot of improving, you know, but I didn't see this coming."

With Auburn's high-powered first-team offense stealing most of the spotlight at Saturday's A-Day Game, the junior linebacker had plenty of opportunities to fly under the radar and make plays for the second-team defense.

Seven tackles and a sack later, Flowers walked off the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium as a surprise Defensive MVP.

After making several impressive tackles as a member of the White (second-team) squad in the first quarter, Flowers switched to a Blue squad jersey in relief of projected starters Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy.

Flowers made an instant impact after the move, getting to second-string quarterback Jeremy Johnson for the game's first sack and later stopping a pair of runs in the backfield.

"We expect that from everybody in this playbook," cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "Coach [Ellis] Johnson is going to put every player in a position to make plays. Today, he was just on it. That's something that you enjoy seeing out of your linebackers."

Flowers, whose father is former Clemson and Atlanta Falcons player Kenny Flowers Sr., had an interesting journey from his high school days to becoming the surprise star of Auburn's defense in the 2014 A-Day Game.

The junior from Lilburn, Ga., went to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas right out of high school and immediately went on a road that few in the junior college ranks travel—he was redshirted at Hutchinson.

"I didn't like redshirting at JUCO, but it turned out well for me," Flowers said. "I just thought about my future. More years for me and more experience down the line."

He developed into a 3-star recruit at Hutchinson as a redshirt freshman, and, after Auburn's coaching staff change, decided to join the Tigers in January 2013.

But Flowers had to wait before having to make an impact on the Plains. He appeared in 13 games for the Tigers last season but only recorded four tackles as he worked on learning the ins and outs of Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme.

"Jumping into all of this was a big move," Flowers said. "I had a lot of learning to do—a lot of mental preparation, getting to know the defense. The linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. I needed to learn a lot, and I wasn't at the mental level last year."

Flowers said he worked on the mental side of his game over the last few weeks and showed it Saturday.

Now, at the completion of his first spring at Auburn, the versatile Flowers looks to get in the rotation at both the middle and weak-side linebacker spots.

"We expect a lot out Kenny Flowers as a [middle linebacker]," star Robenson Therezie said after Saturday's game. "They might move him to [weak side] sometimes, but he's getting great with both positions. I feel like today was a great day for him to open up and just fly."

While Flowers might have been surprised with his breakout performance Saturday, his teammates were not, and they feel confident in his ability to get more playing time in 2014.

"We knew he had it in him," safety Johnathan "Rudy" Ford said. "Kenny came out and showcased his skills. He did an excellent job out there today, and we feel great about Kenny Flowers."

 

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.

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Auburn Spring Game: Nick Marshall, Tigers' Offense Could Be Even Better in 2014

AUBURN, Ala. — For the first time in his college coaching career, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has his starting quarterback returning for a second season in the offense.

It showed on Saturday afternoon.

Rising senior Nick Marshall completed 13-of-22 passes for 236 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 58-3 win for the Blue team over the White in front of 70,645 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium during Auburn's spring game.

The performance served as confirmation, of sorts. Confirmation that Marshall, who made a living last season on the ground and on deep passes, has progressed as a passer and can play within the offense.

"He did a good job with his eyes and his progression and didn't put the ball in jeopardy," Malzahn said. "The big thing is being more comfortable. You can see in the pocket, he's more under control. His balance is good. His eyes and his progressions are good. You can tell that he's really improved."

Even without running back Tre Mason and right tackle Greg Robinson, Auburn is still confident it can run the ball. It showed on Saturday, as Corey Grant gained 128 yards and scored a touchdown, and Cameron Artis-Payne added 97 and a touchdown.

They were able to do that despite the ground game not being the primary focus for the Tigers this offseason.

"We can be real scary," Marshall said. "We know that we can run the ball. We've been focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That's the emphasis. If we can throw the ball downfield, we are going to be a scary sight this year."

Marshall spread the wealth around to his receivers on Saturday, hitting senior Quan Bray for two touchdowns, junior Sammie Coates for one and junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams for another.

While Marshall's development was one of the dominant storylines in the spring game, it was Williams' performance that created the buzz on the overcast afternoon on the Plains.

The No. 1 junior college prospect in the class of 2014 was a human highlight reel, catching five passes for 88 yards and the score—a fade in the corner of the end zone where he went up over the defensive back.

Williams' performance was a welcomed sight to Auburn fans, but wasn't a surprise to his teammates.

"Oh yeah, he's a playmaker," fellow wide receiver Sammie Coates said. "He's been making plays since he got here. He can help the team a lot and bring a lot to the table. It's going to be hard to stop him."

Last season laid the groundwork for this veteran-laden offense, and this offseason provided the coaching staff the opportunity to build upon that and take it to the next level. With a potent, multi-dimensional running game, two wide receivers (Coates and Williams) over 6'2" and tight end C.J. Uzomah in the mix, this team could be even more lethal in the red zone.

"With Duke, he's an aggressive receiver. He wants the ball," Grant said. "He goes up and grabs it. We have big guys in he red zone, and that's going to be a big attribute this year."

Saturday Down South's Jon Cooper agrees.

With Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams outside, how could Auburn's passing game not be better? Auburn's offense could be nasty.

— Jon Cooper (@JonSDS) April 19, 2014

Auburn's first-team offense scored touchdowns on three of its four red-zone possessions and kicked a field goal on the other. The best is yet to come according to Coates.

"It's going to be a surprise to the world what we do in the red zone."

That sound you hear is opposing defensive coordinators scrambling to the film room to figure out how to stop the "Marshall 2.0" offense.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and spring game statistics were obtained firsthand.

 


 

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Why Allen Robinson Is the Most Overlooked Prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft


This year's NFL draft has been one of the most talked-about drafts in years due to its depth. One of the deepest positions has been the wide receiver position. There are numerous prospects who are gaining most of the attention. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are considered surefire top-10 selections.

Other prospects like Marqise Lee, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin have all had their names appear in the first round on nearly every mock draft out there. There is one player, however, who has yet to really gain the same level of attention as these players, but he could end up being better than a lot of them: Allen Robinson.

Robinson, out of Penn State, has set numerous school records and has been on fire over the past two seasons in the Big Ten. He thrived in the Bill O'Brien-led Nittany Lions offense, compiling 2,450 yards on 174 receptions and 17 touchdowns since the beginning of the 2012 season. After the season ended, the hype surrounding him seemed to die down, especially after the 2014 NFL Combine.

This could be attributed to the breakout performances some receivers, like Cooks, had, as well as an average combine for him highlighted by a slower-than-expected 4.60-second 40-yard dash, per NFL.com's results tracker. It is a shame because, as you can see in the video below, Robinson's on-field drills were very fluid.  

Robinson has the size you want from a receiver, coming in at nearly 6'3" and 208 pounds. One of Robinson's best traits is his run-after-the-catch ability. He is very fluid moving with the ball in his hands and either making defenders miss or breaking through tackles.

This was on display in the blowout loss to Ohio State in one of the more amazing plays you will see: 

He has great field awareness and is a threat at any level of the field. As seen above, he is good in the screen game but is also excellent going deep down the field. He has a great ability to high-point the ball, allowing him to out-jump defenders to get to balls that were just thrown up for grabs.

Robinson demonstrated that in Penn State's quadruple-overtime win against Michigan:

Robinson is starting to get some of the attention he deserves after performing extremely well at his pro day. He improved on all his numbers from the combine, most noteworthy of which was his 40-yard dash time. Per CBS Sports, he dramatically improved his previous time of 4.60 seconds to 4.47 seconds, a number that more accurately shows the speed he exhibits on tape. 

*The 40-yard dash time listed in this tweet was an unofficial time he ran.

Robinson is not the flashiest receiver in this draft, and that does attribute him being under the radar. He isn't the fastest receiver out there, nor the biggest, however, he is very good at nearly every aspect of the position. He has a good combination of size, speed and hands to excel at the next level. 

Because of these traits, he reminds me of Houston Texans All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson. They both possess a keen ability to make yards after the catch, as well as being able to high-point deep balls, as you can see below. They both possess a big frame they use to out-muscle smaller corners to fight for more yardage. 

Robinson has everything you want from a receiver in order to succeed at the next level. While he does have some room to improve, like blocking and body control, these things are coachable. He has the experience coaches like after playing in a pro-style offense. He is definitely a receiver that can be worked with and can contribute early on in his career.

He put on a show for two years at Happy Valley and is now poised to do it for the NFL. 

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Auburn A-Day Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

The Auburn Tigers began their 2014 quest to repeat as SEC champions with Saturday's A-Day spring game, which the Blue took over the White, 58-3.

They may have played against themselves, but the Tigers showcased that they will still be an offensive force to be reckoned with in the SEC just as they were in 2013 with more than 700 total yards between the two teams—including 657 from the Blue squad. 

Even though he toted a non-contact orange jersey, Nick Marshall was the driving force behind the Blue's victory thanks to his new-look passing attack, which had him finish 13-for-22 passing with 236 yards and four touchdowns. 

Marshall wasn't making the defense pay with his legs like usual, but he still gashed the White squad with two passing touchdowns in each of the first two quarters. Within minutes of the first plays, it was apparent that the Blue team would be on a first-half offensive assault. 

B/R SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee was on hand in Auburn to catch A-Day and the revamped Marshall. Even early on, it was apparent that it would be a pass-happy day for the typical rush-first quarterback:

The Tigers will have their hands full replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason, but head coach Gus Malzahn got a promising glimpse into the future of the running back position Saturday with Peyton Barber, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne as three of the biggest names to watch.

Barber played on the White squad and showed some burst in his only run—a 13-yarder—but fumbled and was injured on the play. Things didn't look good for him as he was carted off, per Sallee

The Auburn Plainsman's Eric Wallace noted how positive of a spring Barber had, which makes his loss and potential injury an even bigger blow in the early moments of the game:

Malzahn later said Barber should be "OK," per Sallee

Meanwhile, Grant only grabbed five carries on the day but turned them into a wildly productive 128 yards with a score. Artis-Payne toted the rock 12 times for 97 yards and also got into the end zone. 

With Marshall not rushing, Auburn's backs were still able to find open lanes just like Mason did plenty in 2013. That's a sign that bodes well for the Tigers heading into 2014, where they will certainly still be a run-first team despite Marshall tossing 22 passes in limited action. 

The passing weapons made themselves known as well, with Quan Bray, D'haquille Williams, Melvin Ray, Sammie Coates and Tony Stevens all catching touchdown passes.

Williams particularly stood out to college football columnist Bruce Feldman, who said Auburn's coaches have been high on the junior college transfer:

But of course, with Auburn playing itself, the question now becomes whether the offense is that good, or if the defense was that bad. 

The Blue squad racked up 657 yards on 62 plays, an average of more than 10 yards per snap. The Blue defense was solid in allowing just 85 total yards, but many of the Tigers' first-team defenders were on the White squad that was gashed. 

However, Malzahn wasn't looking too much into things after the game and noted that it was more of a first team against second team deal:

Even with the final score inconsequential, Auburn's fanbase came out by the thousands for A-Day and racked up one of the biggest attendance totals of a spring game this year, per Sallee:

Coming off a brutal, last-minute BCS national championship loss to Florida State, Auburn has a serious shot at rebounding to contend for the SEC yet again in 2014. The Tigers are losing talent, but not much more than counterparts Alabama and LSU. 

This Auburn team won't truly be revealed until Marshall is live and can make teams pay with his legs, but even with him only dropping back and making handoffs, Auburn can still be unstoppable on offense. That's a scary thought for the 12 teams in their schedule. 

And, obviously, the best news is that there didn't look to be any serious injuries as B/R Auburn Lead Writer Justin Ferguson noted:

During the Auburn A-Day festivities, the Tigers added their 2013 SEC title flag to Jordan-Hare Stadium as you can see below:

A-Day is one of the best spring game traditions in the nation, and Auburn once again proved its place among the best teams in college football, even if it was Tigers vs. Tigers. 

 

All stats courtesy of AuburnTigers.com 

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