NCAA Football News
Jauan Jennings is headed to Tennessee.
Barton Simmons of 247Sports.com provided the news:
The 4-star prospect, whose collegiate position is as much in the air as his destination was, verbally committed to the Volunteers on Monday, making him one of the first of what should be a slew of highly touted players announcing their decision. Jennings set a final six set of choices earlier this year and decided on a decision date last month.
He chooses Tennessee over Alabama, Auburn, Northwestern Michigan State and Ohio State. Heading into Monday's announcement, Tennessee was largely seen as the favorite. The Volunteers received a 50 percent confidence rating on 247Sports' recruit page, Auburn (31 percent) and Alabama (19 percent) trailing by a good margin.
There was plenty of good reason behind that assumption. A rising senior at Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Jennings is ranked No. 156 nationally and is the fourth-best player in the state of Tennessee. He also made a last-ditch visit to Knoxville before his decision, which typically means one of two things: A player is committing or he's going to give the proverbial breakup speech.
In the end, it turned out to be the former.
"From a family standpoint, that's something I want to do, but as an individual I can't limit my chances by staying close to home," Jennings told Wesley Sinor of AL.com of Tennessee. "I look for academics and how much the school brings a positive attitude."
Listed as an "athlete" by 247Sports, the biggest remaining question for Jennings is his position. He's going to have to make a choice between being a dual-threat quarterback, where he's electrifying as a runner but raw as a passer, and safety, where he's...mostly just very, very good but his ceiling isn't as high.
ESPN's recruiting service has Jennings listed as a safety. In his profile of Jennings' decision, Sinor lists him as a quarterback. While the finalists all recruited him as a quarterback, there is no guarantee he finishes school on offense—and the still 16-year-old kid could always change his mind.
Commitments are nonbinding until a player signs his national letter of intent, which NCAA bylaw prevents from happening until February. Considering the level of uncertainty that went into Jennings' decision and the history of young players flip-flopping, it's hard to say his recruitment is over. By summer, a coach could sway him into re-opening his recruitment.
At least for now, though, Tennessee has landed one of the more intriguing prospects in this class. At 6'4" and 185 pounds, his body likely won't be ready to withstand SEC-level punishment as a freshman. He's going to have to hit the weight room and grow into his frame, which is lanky at the moment but leaves room for muscle growth.
Even if Butch Jones' plan is to use Jennings as a run-first option out of the backfield, he's someone who's going to need developmental time. He needs to learn how to read defenses and adjust to pressure without his first instinct being to run.
Perhaps if he decides a move to safety is his best option, he'll be able to contribute earlier. Jennings' time at quarterback makes him an aware, athletic safety with the ability to jump on routes with his quickness.
But there's plenty of time to figure that all out. Jennings is a moldable prospect who could be special down the line at either quarterback or defensive back. It'll be up to Jones to see how he wants to go forward with that plan.
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Jennings possesses the skills to have a huge impact on the Tennessee offense in both their passing and rushing games. This is a huge get for Butch Jones, especially since the Vols do not have a starting quarterback coming out of spring practice—a role Jennings could fill in 2015.
Check out Michael Felder break down what Jauan Jennings means to the Tennessee Volunteers.
Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital
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Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper had somewhat of a down year last season when compared to his remarkable freshman campaign. After going for 999 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, Cooper only recorded 736 yards and four TDs in his sophomore year.
With new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on board with the Crimson Tide, look for Cooper to up his production in 2014. Will Kiffin try to highlight Cooper as he did Marqise Lee at USC?
Watch as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down how Cooper could be used in his junior season and what kind of stats should be expected from the star wide receiver.
Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.
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LSU's spring game didn't solidify true freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris as the Tigers' starting quarterback, but it certainly could go a long way towards him winning the job if he continues his progression during summer conditioning and into fall camp.
The 6'2", 184-pounder from Bossier City, La. was tremendous in LSU's spring game on Saturday, completing 11-of-28 passes for 195 yards, tossed three touchdowns, rushed for 77 yards and added a rushing touchdown.
His primary competition, true sophomore Anthony Jennings, didn't fare so well. The 6'2", 211-pounder from Marietta, Ga. completed 9-of-17 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.
Head coach Les Miles was impressed with Harris' performance, but maintains that there's plenty of work still to be done.
“I think that things that you do in a game certainly are things you must recognize," he said in quotes released by LSU. "He [Harris] made some really big plays and nice passes, but he also made some mistakes. It was certainly reviewed very positively by us. We’re a ways away, but there needs to be improvement in both spots."
Sure, the completion percentage isn't where it needed to be, but that didn't stop Harris from impressing those in attendance, including Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate:
Half-time observation: The disparity between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris is stunning. #LSU— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) April 5, 2014
As my B/R colleague Carter Bryant pointed out following the game, the battle isn't over yet. The two dual-threat signal-callers will have to impress the coaching staff during summer conditioning and the winner likely won't be determined until after fall camp starts.
But Harris' play in the spring game flipped the script.
No longer is he the hunter, he's the hunted.
Barring an injury that took place to a competitor this spring, this is as good as it could have been for Harris in his first spring in Baton Rouge. He's made the quarterback position a legitimate debate and positioned himself well to win the job if he continues his current trajectory.
There's a lot to like about what Harris brings to the table.
He has a big arm, is accurate downfield, has the ability to be a weapon in the running game but keeps his eyes downfield when his protection breaks down. For offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, he's the perfect fit.
Cameron is a run-first kind of coach who likes to take the top off of a defense when the safeties creep up. He can do just that with Harris, but Harris also has the dual-threat capabilities that allows the offensive staff to throw some curveballs into the playbook.
That makes LSU's offense incredibly dangerous, especially once true freshman wide receiver Malachi Dupre and running back Leonard Fournette join the program later this summer.
Does one scrimmage make or break a quarterback battle?
No, and Miles went so far as to admit that in his postgame quotes.
"I think both guys are good enough to be our quarterback," he said. "At times, I think the two guys played better than that in the spring. I think the game itself was a little more emotional because it was in the stadium.”
Consider the LSU quarterback spot a work in progress, but with Harris progressing quicker than Jennings in the race to replace former starter Zach Mettenberger.
After the spring game, it's Harris' job to lose.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of LSU's sports information department unless otherwise noted.
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The Virginia Tech football team’s spring drills are only two weeks old, but already there are some players that are worrying the coaching staff with some slow starts.
Tech’s spring game isn’t for another three weeks, so there is some time for them to turn things around, but the way they’ve started is still a little troubling.
There are plenty of open spots on the depth chart, and many of the team’s most important position battles will be resolved by this spring practice session, so these next few days are of paramount importance to these veterans.
If these three players don’t step up in a hurry, they’ll quickly find themselves sliding down the bench as more players arrive for fall camp.
Summer is coming.
Like the long-teased Winter in HBO's Game of Thrones—an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire—a dead season is approaching for fans of college football.
In roughly a month, when not even spring games exist to distract us from earnest football's absence, the time will be barren for everyone who cares about the sport.
Perhaps the only thing that can ease us through these doldrums is the return of premium cable. Thrones itself premiered its fourth season Sunday evening, saving us from another weekend without football and great television to watch.
So now, in the show's honor, here are some college football figures re-imagined as Game of Thrones characters. For the sake of being germane (and spoiler-free), these comparisons refer only to the TV series and not the books. But if you sincerely want to nerd out and talk ASOIAF, feel free to shoot me a message or an email.
I suppose a defense of Teddy Bridgewater should begin with one of the best throws I’ve ever seen a quarterback make at any level.
Building a resume off a single moment is a ridiculous, anti-scout thing to do, but then again, this was quite a throw. It came on December 5 of last year against Cincinnati. Louisville was down four halfway through the fourth quarter when the Bearcats called a well-timed blitz and the pocket collapsed before it ever formed.
From there, Bridgewater delivered the spectacular throw. I remember shrieking like a child on Christmas morning and then frantically saving the replay to my DVR. It’s still there.
Mechanically, it was a mess because it had to be a mess. The fact that there was any play at all still boggles the mind. In the scouting world, however, such magnificent improv will be—and likely has been—docked accordingly.
“Well, goodness, look at how far his arm dipped on that pass. Horrendous mechanics.”
“I can’t believe while being swarmed by roughly 35 defenders he didn’t execute his reads accordingly.”
“That’s a pretty selfish way to score a touchdown; clearly, there’s an attitude problem.”
As ridiculous as these criticisms might seem, we’re approaching this threshold with Bridgewater.
One of the most consistent, accurate and downright productive quarterbacks to leave the college ranks in quite some time is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the draft. There’s no reason this should be the case, of course, but the scouting process often targets a select few like an overzealous bacteria with no antidote to speak of.
In the case of Bridgewater, the contrarian opinion has gone mainstream. It’s no longer different enough to be different—it’s how different are you. And taking the stance that one of the best college quarterbacks in recent years is actually pretty good is slowly—and shockingly—becoming the minority.
This chatter began with his average-to-below-average pro day, one that received a fair amount of backlash from notable draft personalities.
ESPN’s Todd McShay provided his thoughts on Bridgewater’s performance (via ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco):
In coming to these pro day workouts for 14-15 years, the vast majority of them, almost all of them, the QB ends up outperforming what you see on tape. There's no defense. There's no pass rush. You're in shorts and a T-shirt and it's a scripted workout that you've been working on for 30-40 days with your wide receiver. So to see Bridgewater come out here today and be the exception to the rule ... this is a rare occurrence for a QB in his pro day, who is not nearly as efficient and effective when he is when studying his tape.
It’s only a pro day, although the conversations surrounding his lackluster performance, at least by some, were reasonable. This depends a great deal on how much you value pro days (hopefully not much), but the feedback from this glorified backyard throwing session was at least understood. You may not agree with it, but you understand it.
Where we’re headed next, however, is where the ship veers off course and crashes into the nearest iceberg.
Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller tackled this topic in the latest Scouting Notebook when he spoke to an anonymous scout about the sudden Bridgewater shift. While Miller loves Bridgewater—he has him at No. 1 on his latest Big Board—the unnamed individual he talked to felt differently.
'What am I missing?' was my question to him. The answer? '(I'm) not high on him, honestly. Biggest concerns on him are the mental and inconsistencies in mechanics. In my opinion, you don't see him go through many progressions, a lot of primary, target-only reads. Mechanics-wise, I think he has good feel for pressure in the pocket but drops his elbow too often. He definitely flashes elite ability, but the lack of consistency is alarming.
Let’s dive deeper. Former NFL scout John Middlekauff, who now works for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, took this one step further when talking about Bridgewater’s potential draft prospects.
More specifically, he took the idea that Bridgewater could still be the No. 1 overall pick and smashed it with an industrial-sized hammer.
More NFL people I talk with the more I think Bridgewater falls to the 2nd round— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 4, 2014
Middlekauff then followed up with the scouting equivalent to a 99.5-yard touchdown pass that bounced off the scoreboard and then the mascot’s groin.
That’s right: Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage and Teddy Bridgewater are now being lumped together in one of the strangest and unforeseen taste tests imaginable.
Honestly wldnt be that shocked “@IanKenyonNFL: I said this yesterday, if Tom Savage is drafted over Bridgewater, I'm going to lose my mind.”— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 4, 2014
Before my brain explodes and the column ends abruptly, let’s go back to where we started: the remarkable touchdown pass from late last season against Cincinnati (or, "The Day My DVR Stood Still").
The spectacular for Bridgewater in this particular moment identifies the canyon between anatomical perfection and production. There’s nothing about this that should be taught to young QBs. In fact, you can’t teach it. But when you see something like this happen—something completely absent from the scouting handbook—it makes an impression.
Of course, the scouting process never boils down to one moment, throw or game. In fact, if you assess NFL worth based off this limited sample size, you’ll likely be doing so as a hobby for the foreseeable future.
For Bridgewater—and like every college QB that has come through the system—the collective performance wasn’t always perfection. But I can’t imagine telling someone with a straight face, with the utmost seriousness, that his “consistency is alarming.”
This includes the days when Bridgewater was backing up the loveable Will Stein at about 175 pounds—soaking wet—coming in off the bench with very little idea of what he was doing at the position. Even then, in his rawest of form, he had promise. Since then, he added about 30 pounds, learned an offense and made his gorgeous wrist-flick throwing motion slightly more potent.
My defense of Bridgewater is by no means a guarantee that he’ll be the next (insert choice NFL quarterback with promise here). Projecting NFL quarterbacks is like playing darts after a long night at the bar. You’ll hit sometimes, certainly, but you’ll also miss the board—maybe taking out a patron every now and then— despite exhibiting the utmost confidence on each throw. It’s one of the most difficult assignments in all of sports with absolutely no blueprint to follow.
Yet there’s also a legitimate way to approach a player’s faults and potential holes.
In the case of Bridgewater—and the countless others who are often taken apart and left disassembled for no reason at all—the over-the-top criticisms don’t match up with authentic areas of concern.
I watched far too much bad American Athletic Conference and Big East football to sit quietly on the sidelines for this particular argument. While “scout” is nowhere to be found on my business card, you don’t have to be a football projection wizard to understand that Bridgewater is an exceptional talent who does a lot of things exceptionally well.
If you don’t believe his game will translate to the NFL, that’s fair. But at the very least, let’s assess why with more evidence than hand size, shirt-and-shorts box scores and bogus bullet points. He deserves so much better than that, and I have the DVR to prove it.
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Mississippi State appeared to be headed for a sub-.500 season in mid-November 2013, but back-to-back overtime wins, including a 17-10 Egg Bowl victory over intrastate rival Ole Miss, sent the Bulldogs to a bowl game for the fourth straight season.
All they did in that bowl game is dispatch Rice 44-7 in the Liberty Bowl.
With 16 starters returning, including quarterback Dak Prescott—who took the job over from Tyler Russell last season when Russell was injured—they could be set up for a breakout season in 2014.
What does head coach Dan Mullen think of his team as spring practice closes? Barrett Sallee caught up with the sixth-year head coach of the Bulldogs to get an update on the state of the program.
Bleacher Report: Your quarterback, junior Dak Prescott, is getting a little bit of Heisman Trophy love. How good can he be and how important is it for you to have a full offseason as the unquestioned starting quarterback?
Dan Mullen: It is important, but I don't know how important. He started a couple games for us because of injuries last year. I had a guy who won the Heisman in his first year as a starter when Tim Tebow won it [in 2007] at Florida. Dak is a guy who has a lot of work to do, and he is a great worker. He doesn't get too caught up in the hype or anything like that. He's competing as if he's trying to win the starting job, which is always good. You want to have quarterback competitions and guys pushing for playing time.
The biggest thing with him is work ethic. He's always trying to get himself better, whether it be how fast he's making his reads and his decision-making when things break down. It's easy to make the right reads, but how good are you when things get a little funky? He's good at those things.
B/R: You've got a lot of talented running backs coming in, most notably of which is Josh Robinson, who looked good in limited snaps last year. What do you expect from him and how important was some of the extended playing time last year for his development?
DM: We like to have a lot of tailbacks, and we always try to rotate guys. He got a lot of reps last year, and really the last couple of years, he's gotten more and more. He's going to be more the "A" position for us this year rather than the "B" back, and he's done a really great job. He has breakaway speed, which he's shown in games last year, as well as a physicality where he can drop his pads and run in between the tackles. You always want guys to stay healthy, and if he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a really good all-around back.
B/R: Jameon Lewis (64 rec., 923 yards, 5 TDs) being the leading returning receiver in the SEC might be a bit surprising to some folks. Is he the best receiver who not many people have heard of?
DM: Sure, I guess. I mean, we know a lot about him here. He set a lot of school records last year. He's an explosive guy. He's done a really good job at working at becoming an all-around player. You know, the techniques, the fundamentals and everything it takes to become that. Instead of being a great athlete—you know, being the great high school quarterback that he was—learning the receiver position and the ins and outs of that, I think he's done a great job developing year to year. He had his first time as a starter last year and really took advantage of that and had a great season.
B/R: Who else has impressed you this spring at wide receiver?
DM: We've had a bunch. Robert Johnson is coming into his senior season and he's had a really good spring. De'Runnya Wilson has really gotten to learn a little bit more about the game at the receiver position. I expect some things out of him. Fred Ross is a guy as a true freshman played for us last year a little bit. Now with another guy like De'Runnya who has the opportunity to learn what's going on rather than scrambling and getting caught up and all the adjustments those guys go through to really learn has had a really good spring.
B/R: Defensively, Mississippi State looked pretty solid in several games last season. A lot of those impact players on that side of the ball are coming back. How important is having that experience in your back pocket as you build that depth you need in the SEC West?
DM: Coming into last year, we had a very, very young defense. They got better every game as the year went on and were really peaking towards the end of the year. You look at that crew, 19 of the 22 on our two-deep are back; as well a guy like [defensive back] Jay Hughes, who missed the entire season with an injury—and he was a starter too. For us, the depth is really important because we want to rotate in and out. I love rotating guys. I love looking at the stats at the end of the game and the snaps played stat never hits 40 for any defensive player. If that happens, then those guys will be playing with the passion and the effort that we expect them to play with.
B/R: Four straight bowls for Mississippi State and you've still had to deal with doubters. And I'll be forthcoming, one of those was me and you proved me wrong. You've been on record saying that it's hard to take that next step in the SEC West because it's not just a regular step, it's a really big step. What do you have to do to make that step?
DM: Here's the thing, we're in position to do that. Last year, I give our staff a lot of credit, I think it was the best coaching job we've done since we've been here. We had almost 120 games missed by starters due to injuries last year. On top of that, I think we played, statistically speaking, one of the top three or five hardest schedules in the country. I think we were the only team in the top five hardest schedules in the country to make a bowl game—and we won the bowl game. For all of the injuries we had, to make it and win that bowl game and win four out of five Egg Bowls—which is huge here—is pretty special.
That next step, if you're going to compete for a title, you have to be a consistent program. We've created expectations. When I first got here, the expectation was to maybe go to a bowl game. That's not a good enough expectation for me. I don't like that expectation of "hey, let's just have a winning season" and call that good enough. We want to compete for championships.
Certainly within that program that expectation has been changed. Outside the program, doing something that's never been done in over 100 years of this program still puts you on the "hot seat," that's a good thing to me. Because that means that expectations have changed. People look at our program and expect us to win a championship.
The difference in the SEC West is that, in the last five seasons, six SEC West teams have competed for the national championship. A lot of times, the next step is "hey, we've built a program as a consistent winner; now let's go win a conference championship." In the SEC West, you skip that step. A conference championship is also a national championship here. And that's just in the West, never mind the Florida run before that. Our next step is to play for a national championship, because that's where it's been if you win the SEC West.
Obviously, with the new College Football Playoff, that can change. But those are our sights. Those are expectations for guys within this program to play for the SEC title and I guess at that point the national championship.
B/R: What did you think of the BCS and do you like the idea of a four-team playoff?
DM: I don't know. Hard to say because we have to see it play out first. Besides the 2004 season, I think the BCS got it right. I was on the bad end of it that year with the University of Utah. I thought we could have beat anybody in the country with that team, and I'm sure Auburn has a lot of claims to it as well that year and they didn't get an opportunity.
If you wanted to do it perfect, I guess that year you should have had a four-team playoff. Other years, you may not have needed it. Maybe one year one team gets a berth and two others do a one-game playoff while one team waits for the winner.
It seems to me [the BCS] kind of got it right most years. I like the old way. I love going to your pre-slotted bowl games and hey, if there are two national champions, then there are two national champions. I don't know if there's an exact way to do it.
Look at basketball. There's a No. 7 and a No. 8 seed in the Final Four. Essentially, then, the regular season meant nothing to those teams. All that matters is that you get in the tournament.
The last time there were co-national champions in 2003, do both sets of kids consider themselves national champions? That's an unbelievable experience, isn't it? That's educational. That's motivational for young people. What a great opportunity for student-athletes. Instead of just 85, 170 got to call themselves national champions. What a great educational experience for those young people.
B/R: Last year's ending to the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss was riveting, with Dak coming off the bench, sending it to overtime and then you guys winning after recovering a fumble on the game's final play. How big was that for your program, and how much does that come up when you're out on the road in Mississippi?
DM: In this state, it's 24/7/365. That's the game that matters. Winning that game is everything. It sounds maybe crazy, but here in the state of Mississippi, that's what people talk about. Year-round, that game will be talked about nonstop. I haven't heard many people talk about our bowl win, but they all talk about the Egg Bowl because it's a neighbor against neighbor game. Everywhere you turn, you're either one school or the other. That lasts the whole year.
B/R: Do you have any thoughts on the effort by Northwestern's players to unionize, and what are your general thoughts on player compensation?
DM: I love player compensation. I don't consider myself a super smart person, but I do understand that most people don't pay attention to the tax implications. I can tell you this, the IRS is not going to not get their share—especially with April 15 coming up on us. Maybe I'm off on this, but if our players are going to have to pay tax on the value of their scholarship, which could be the case if you're an employee, I don't think a lot of people would be into that.
But I do think that, however way possible, players should get a little bit more spending money to put in their pocket. There are methods out there. If you want to give them minimum wage like any other job, that's fine. I'm not sure how you do it. I think the cost of attendance is the one that people come up with who are smarter than me, and they understand the intricacies of the tax code.
I mean, you can't pay the players for playing because they have to then file income tax in every state in which a game is played like the NFL does. You're looking at an IRS nightmare for these players; now they're going to have to go hire accountants and they'll end up losing money.
These guys do have a lot of value built in in addition to the scholarship. You know, there's tutoring, they get exposure not just as a football player, but when they go on a job interview they have job recognition that "Johnny Averageman" doesn't.
I am great for players having a voice and a say, and I'd love to compensate them for the work they put in. However we can do it, allow them to do it. I'm into all of that. There are a lot of smart people working on it, and I hope they come up with some good answers that better improve the lives of these young men. But I don't know if some of the things we've seen are the best ways to do it.
B/R: Are you relieved that we don't have to talk about the 10-second rule for the next 10 or 11 months?
DM: The injuries and all that, I don't know about all that. Everyone's looking to get an advantage. The thing I liked about the 10-second rule was consistency. In the SEC, we have great officials in this league. Not that they don't make mistakes, but as a coach, you want consistency. If they say they're going to call it tight, then they're going to call it tight the whole game. If they're going to call it loose, they're going to call it loose the whole game. As long as it's consistent, I'm great.
The one thing that a 10-second rule would have done would be to give you a consistent snap point for the ball. When you go to another league's officials, all of the sudden they spot things differently. I never had a substitution issue with tempo offenses that we played last year. I never thought it was an injury or health issue, to be honest with you. There are much bigger health issues in the game than snapping the ball within 10 seconds.
I do think it was going in the right direction. Let's look at all the snaps that took place within 10 seconds, and let's review those. Were there any deception issues? Was the umpire out of the way? I'm an offensive coach and I think [tempo] is a neat deal sometimes, but as a head coach, here's the umpire putting the ball down and turning his back to the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped and he's actually in the way blocking either your "Mike" linebacker or your 3-technique [defensive lineman] while the ball is being snapped. I never saw that happen with us in the SEC, but I do think [the 10-second rule] would lead to consistency from league to league. That part of it, to me, was interesting.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats were courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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The Florida Gators Orange and Blue spring game takes place this weekend (April 12), and there’s still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered. Don’t be alarmed: This is all part of the process, but it’s key to identify the problems so the team knows what to continue to work on heading into fall camp.
For the Gators, a lot of their issues are on the offensive side of the ball.
With a new offensive coordinator and a new system being implemented, there’s going to be a few growing pains along the way. Finding playmakers, ironing out the issues at quarterback and discovering depth at certain positions are crucial. There’s also a major concern on special teams and an issue defensively that must be addressed.
Let’s take a look at the major remaining questions for the Florida Gators.
It's finally time for football as Clemson plays its annual spring game on Saturday in Death Valley.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Tigers.
Who will replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback? Will head coach Dabo Swinney choose experience or go with a dynamic true freshman who could be the future of the program as soon as this year?
The Tigers lost several talented stars from last year's Orange Bowl-winning team. Aside from Boyd, receiver Sammy Watkins is the most glaring loss. Watkins was the best receiver in college football last year and the greatest in school history.
Here are four players—or positions—to pay close attention to this Saturday.
College football's spring-practice season is hitting the final stretch, with many schools set to hold their annual spring games in the next week or two. These contests, although completely unofficial, provide us with the last tangible evaluation of teams and players before the pads and helmets are put away until preseason training camp.
There is so much to look for during these spring games, from individual player development to position battles to overarching schematic changes. The storylines number the hundreds.
We've identified the 10 most intriguing spring-game storylines that will set the stage for the 2014 season. Some are specific to a certain team or player; others are more general and apply to many schools.
Either way, they'll leave us with some lasting impressions of what to expect this fall.
The Big Ten, now the "big 14," will be wrapping up its spring football schedule over the next couple of weeks. While we've already had some entertaining and newsworthy spring games, there are still several interesting games remaining before spring practices conclude.
Even though we've already seen Michigan conclude an interesting spring practice, there's still a lot of compelling storylines across the conference that have yet to play out. While we're not guaranteed any resolutions—like Michigan's quarterback situation that will apparently linger until fall camp—we should still be able to fill in some holes with these five remaining spring games.
The Miami Hurricanes are entering the final week of spring workouts, culminating in the annual spring game at Sun Life Stadium.
But as the 'Canes approach the landmark, a few unanswered questions linger over the team. One major recent incident was prospective starting quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Miami under the control of a young gunslinger.
Additionally, the defense has been preaching improvement, but how high are the expectations for the Hurricanes' more veteran-infused unit next season? Looking specifically at one key fundamental of football and one position helps, but the questions still remain.
Following two midweek practice sessions, the spring game will be held on Saturday, April 12 at 6 p.m. ET.
Can the Defense Tackle?
At the beginning of the 2013 campaign, the Miami defense was, to paraphrase an oft-used expression by head coach Al Golden, flying around and making plays. But as the season wore on, the 'Canes reverted to poor decisions, bad reads and, most importantly, missed tackles.
Simply put, the defensive linemen need to shed blocks and disrupt the intended flow of a given play. Then, the linebackers can close in on the ball-carrier while the secondary moves in to eliminate any potential hole.
Earlier this spring, Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post wrote Golden said:
"We've got to tackle better. We've got to read our keys better so the windows aren't as big. There's a lot of things that we've obviously studied that we've got to fix here this spring, but our tackling already is better than it was in the fall."
Coach-speak? Or truth?
Well, at least 10 players have donned a black jersey this spring, denoting Golden's and defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's collective praise for the respective 'Cane. But Miami needs to have physical improvement from the team leaders—not just vocal and motivational progress.
Have the Defensive Tackles Improved?
Is this just another rag on the defensive tackles? No, not quite.
The Hurricanes have played much of spring without their best interior lineman, Olsen Pierre. The senior has been sidelined due to an unspecific head injury, missing the majority of practices and both scrimmages to date.
According to Porter, Ufomba Kamalu and Anthony Chickillo are expected to play inside on third down when the Miami defense utilizes a 4-3 formation. However, personnel on first- and second-down situations in the 3-4 are somewhat unknown.
A handful of reserves have been given valuable reps in Pierre's absence, but is the current progression of the 'Canes' D-tackles sufficient?
Per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, D'Onofrio said "Earl [Moore] has been steady. He has gotten better. Probably the last three or four practices have been really consistent for him. The light went on."
Moore earned a black jersey following the second scrimmage, though it's worth nothing he has appeared in 23 career games and tallied just six career tackles. Behind Moore, JUCO transfer Calvin Heurtelou and junior Corey King are chasing the emerging lineman down.
So, after a few months in the weight room and then spring practice sans Pierre, have the D-tackles improved? While the spring game will not showcase linemen in midseason form, Miami followers are expecting some improvement from the position since the end of 2013.
Is Kevin Olsen Ready to Lead?
Williams' unfortunate injury means the Hurricanes offense is dependent on redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen.
Consequent to Williams' absence, Gray Crow is ultimately the only competitor for the starting quarterback job. In 2013, Crow completed six of eight passes for 75 yards, one touchdown and one interception during two appearances.
Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will arrive on campus this summer, but asking either freshman to mentally grasp the entire playbook and properly execute the calls by September is unrealistic.
Yes, Garrison Lassiter, Michael Welch and Isaac Hoza are on the roster, but many have probably not even heard of Lassiter, let alone Welch and Hoza. Save for the trio never seeing the field, there are no logical expectations for any of those players.
Granted, though Olsen has zero game experience, he will be surrounded by Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley, Joseph Yearby and other talented playmakers. The freshman will not be asked to be a hero under center, but he still needs to learn how to become an efficient distributor—like Williams had been this spring.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel noted Golden has been looking for Olsen to become more of a leader.
And unless Williams has a swift recovery period or the ACL tear is somehow not that extreme, it's Olsen's team now.
Ready or not, here he comes.
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Changing positions in college can be huge for a recruit. Oftentimes, college prospects are the best and most athletic players on their teams, so they're usually forced to play out of position.
Yet joining a college team allows them to settle into one home and develop. Other recruits simply are listed at one position but figure to be better suited at another spot due to their size, athleticism or speed.
Looking at the 2015 class of recruits, there are several prospects who could change positions at the next level. A 5-star cornerback could get moved to safety, while a 5-star offensive tackle may be an all-conference guard. Plus, an athlete who plays quarterback may be a better running back.
After reading more than a month's worth of updates about spring practice, Ohio State fans will finally get a live look at the Buckeyes when the team takes the field for its annual spring game this Saturday.
Urban Meyer is looking to replace key starters such as Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby. The Buckeyes are also battling through a number of injuries as Braxton Miller, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall and Jeff Heuerman all recover from minor surgeries.
Needless to say, Buckeyes fans will be seeing a lot of new players in action this weekend.
Here are five to watch.
Ohio State needs to replace one of the most productive running backs in school history, but the Buckeyes have a number of very talented ball-carriers.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is setting himself apart.
After playing sparingly in half of Ohio State's 14 games last season, Elliott emerged as a legitimate playmaker this spring. The former 4-star prospect has added some weight this offseason, and that has shown up on the field as he has held his own against Ohio State's biggest linebackers.
He still has that same explosiveness, though, so don't be surprised if he breaks a long run this Saturday.
Ohio State's lost its most reliable defender—Ryan Shazier—to the NFL draft, so Meyer needs to fill a vacant spot at linebacker.
His move to linebacker was to add depth at a position of need, but he has beat out higher-rated players—primarily Trey Johnson—for a spot on Ohio State's first-team defense.
After redshirting as a freshman last year, this will be the public's first look at a guy who has impressed Meyer and risen to the top.
If Miller's first three years in Columbus taught us anything, it's that he needs a reliable backup.
Kenny Guiton, who proved to be one of the biggest safety nets in college football by saving the Buckeyes multiple times when Miller was sidelined, is gone.
Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones is looking to be his replacement.
Both he and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett have gotten a long look from the coaching staff this spring as Miller recovers from shoulder surgery. Buckeyes fans will be awarded the same opportunity this Saturday.
Jones has pulled ahead in that race, though, and could solidify the backup spot with a strong outing.
Ohio State ranked No. 110 (out of 123 teams) in pass defense last year, allowing opposing teams to throw for an average of 268 yards per game.
The Buckeyes are losing three starters from their secondary, but the biggest hole to fill comes with the departure of cornerback Roby.
Armani Reeves started the spring as Ohio State's second corner behind Doran Grant, and while he has impressed, redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple are pressing for playing time.
The Buckeyes need drastic improvement on the back end of their defense, so if Reeves doesn't step up, Meyer won't hesitate to pull him for one of the younger guys.
Most are very familiar with Dontre Wilson, the speedy playmaker who piled up 460 total yards and three touchdowns in a limited role last year.
With the departure of the team's leading receiver (Corey Brown) and leading rusher (Hyde), Meyer wants to expand Wilson's responsibilities this season.
So far this spring, he has proved he's up to the task.
Wilson has been named the starting H-back, the position that Percy Harvin made famous during Meyer's tenure at Florida. The former 4-star standout has thrived in that role, and Meyer specifically singled him out as the team's top playmaker.
Much of Ohio State's offense will go through Wilson this season, and Buckeyes fans should get a preview of that this Saturday.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Football is a physical sport, so it takes a lot of toughness to play it. Some players get the job done with skill and finesse. Others excel by being physical, or just downright nasty.
Playing nasty and with a mean streak is always admired, no matter what position a player lines up at. Yet, the positions inside the box require players to play nasty the most.
While the 2015 class has many recruits who can get mean on the field, this list is just going to be a quick rundown of several prospects who appear to fit the mold. A few offensive linemen will be spotlighted, plus a trio of 5-star defensive tackles.
Johnny Manziel likes to hang with celebrities of all types. Even though he is reportedly scheduled to meet with the Oakland Raiders on Monday, Manziel was seen hanging out with Jep and Willie Robertson of the hit show "Duck Dynasty," presumably at Sunday's "Duck Commander 500" race.
The NASCAR event at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, was postponed until Monday due to rain.
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Brady Hoke knows that Michigan needs to improve across the board.
During Saturday’s spring game at The Big House in Ann Arbor, the fourth-year Wolverines coach said as much during sideline interviews with the Big Ten Network’s Lisa Byington (check out the spring game blog for more morsels from Byington’s one-on-ones).
Several times over, the need to bolster the O-line was stressed by Hoke, who watched an immensely talented Team 134 stumble to a 7-6 record in 2013. This year, with Team 135, hitting nine wins should be the only thing talked about.
Well, that and assembling something suitable up front for quarterbacks.
Have you heard that the O-line needs work?!
Since winning 11 games in 2011, Hoke’s fallen further behind schedule; by now, he should have had won at least one Big Ten Championship and maybe even a Rose Bowl or something comparable. Minus its 2012 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, Michigan’s yet to really give fans a meaningful, era-defining victory.
Right now, getting Erik Magnusson back to the plus side on the health meter is important. As the successor to Taylor Lewan, the redshirt sophomore left tackle has big shoes to fill. There’ve been a couple of OK guys to play that position for Michigan in the past.
No real pressure, right?
Replacing an All-American isn’t easy, but replacing Lewan’s size may not be of concern: At 6’6” and 295 pounds, Magnusson’s close enough to 6’8” and 318 pounds. If he won’t do, there’s always Logan Tuley-Tillman, a 6’7,” 290-pound redshirt frosh who, according to his Twitter account, is also a left tackle.
However, most charts project him at right. But the blind side is his natural position.
Also projected as a right tackle, Ben Braden, at least body-wise, is a Lewan-esque option for the No. 1 job. At 6’6” and 313 pounds, the redshirt sophomore is among the most promising O-liners in Ann Arbor.
Don't Come Around Here No More
You know the tune...
So far, so good.
Hoke hasn’t had any ACLs blow out this spring, so he’ll have to knock on wood. Those injuries are always tricky. Some guys recover sooner than others. Some respond to treatment better than others.
It's all a waiting game.
Easing the transition for Jake Butt is a concern, likewise as it is for Jake Ryan, who is arguably the team's MVD—Most Valuable Defender.
Injuries are part of the game. As a coach, Hoke is always on the lookout for player safety. He can't afford to see guys down at any time, especially during practices.
According to Dr. Stephen R. Saddemi, ProMedica Wildwood Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital's co-medical director, it doesn't take much for an athlete to stress an ACL to its limits. As one of four primary stabilizing ligaments in the knee, it's subject to a range of motion and pressure, via Rachel Lenzi of The Toledo Blade.
When you want to change direction, it can pop. There’s several hundred pounds of force on the knee, and in football, a lot of ACL injuries are related to contact, such as when a knee is hit by an opposing player.
The following table chronicles the recent spill of ACL-related injuries that's made its way through the Wolverines' locker room since 2012.
Following "practice" time, the spring game shifted to "game" time.
Then Devin Gardner, who rolled out to his right, threw an interception to Jarrod Wilson, a 6'2," 202-pound junior who has the size to be a smashing safety for Curt Mallory, who'll exclusively handle the position instead of overseeing the entire group of DBs.
Roy Manning, who moves from linebackers coach, will coach corners, per MGoBlue.com.
One of those guys will be Jabrill Peppers' No. 1 man. Relationships with position coaches often run deeper than those with head coaches and other assistants; it makes sense to assume that Peppers could share his tightest bonds with Mallory and Manning.
Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, is all about spreading the wealth. Wherever Peppers fits best is where he'll play.
Jourdan Lewis, a 5'10," 174-pound sophomore, had a respectable spring game. He broke up a couple of passes and ran with top units—the former Detroit Cass Tech star appeared sharper than ever. That's what experience does, and the Wolverines have veterans such as redshirt junior Blake Countess and senior Delonte Howell on whom to rely.
Showing signs of growth and maturity, Michigan's defensive backs could easily be the strength of Team 135's defense. Yes, despite a deep pool of linebackers, Team 135's pre-Peppers secondary looks to be in good shape.
Hoke should focus on maintaining the quality he has now, rather than going all-in on Peppers, who arrives this fall. He is a game-changer, that much is clear. But the secondary is plural, not singular.
How does that old saying go? Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear?
Something like that, right?
By now, everyone has had stories about what went wrong in 2013. Those, of course, are usually rumor-driven discussions with little to no credibility. Don't believe the message boards. That being said, it didn't take a football expert to see that Team 134 had lacked togetherness.
Sure, that may sound harsh, and it is.
But given the coaching staff's reputation, success in recruiting and access to existing talent, winning seven games was a far cry from what was expected. If anything, 2013 should have been filed under "what not to do."
They've had months of "hey, don't do that again," from staff members and teammates—the Wolverines don't need to be reminded of how poorly they played this past season.
But they do need to be reminded of how they wasted their potential. Again, Wolverines football v. 2013 was capable of much more than it put forth. Four of their losses came by 11 combined points. Each of those losses were by four or less.
Nightmares of Hail Mary passes in Happy Valley, thoughts of dropping yet another one to Michigan State and bad tastes from the one-point loss to Ohio State were enough to make everyone want to forget the year that was.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverine football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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SEC coaches know they have to attack the recruiting trail hard to have success. There's plenty of talent in the league's region, but each SEC coach has that one 2015 recruit he covets the most.
Every recruit the coach goes after is told he is dear and special, but that's not always the truth. While the coach may not say who he covets the most, you're sure to find out which recruits are favorites by reading this piece.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt is smitten over a defensive tackle, while Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has his sights set on a 5-star quarterback. Plus, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze loves a linebacker.All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.com, Rivals and 247Sports.
G-Day is one week away, and despite having more practices after the spring game, this is the week that players need to turn it up a notch.
For the most part, the Georgia Bulldogs have looked solid, especially Todd Gurley and Hutson Mason. Even players like Tray Matthews and Ramik Wilson have had good spring practices.
But there are a few players that have gotten off to a slow start. They have to find a way to finish strong so they can impress the coaches before they conclude spring practice and get ready to hit the field again in August.
Here are four players that need to turn things around this spring.