NCAA Football News

Florida Gators Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

The Florida Gators spring game is only one day away. We’ll finally get to see firsthand what the coaches have been talking about and what the players have been working on.

Questions on both sides of the ball will be answered, while concerns in certain areas are bound to remain just that until fall camp rolls around. All in all, the spring game is still one of the more exciting events of the offseason. The score may not mean much and it’s a little weird watching players tackle their teammates, but it’s still football.

Are you excited yet?

Here’s a complete breakdown of the Florida Gators 2014 spring game. 

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USC Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

The spring game quickly approaches at USC, as the Trojans completed another week of spring practices on Thursday. Things are really starting to come together for Steve Sarkisian, and despite the new offense, the atmosphere around practices feels like the old USC style.

In a week, we will get our first true glimpse of what we can expect from the Trojans come the fall, but for now, let's revisit the standout moments from this installment of spring ball.

 

The Future of Adoree' Jackson

Easily USC's biggest catch of the 2014 season, Adoree' Jackson has many anxiously anticipating his arrival to the Trojan ranks. On Thursday, Sarkisian volunteered some insight about how Jackson could be used next season, and it's a pretty exciting development:

There hasn't been a notable two-way player at USC in recent memory, with the exception of Marqise Lee, who briefly lined up at cornerback against Oregon in 2012. Jackson's place at USC has been debated since the 5-star athlete signed with the cardinal and gold, and playing him at both wide receiver and cornerback solves that dilemma.

Furthermore, Jackson isn't the only one that could pull double-duty:

Sark did say they would revisit these options over the fall, but it's a promising possibility to think about nonetheless.

If Jackson, Juju Smith and Rahshead Johnson (or any of these three, for that matter) truly do end up playing on both sides of the field for USC, the Trojans become that much more dynamic of a team in 2014. 

 

QB Battle in the Homestretch 

At the beginning of spring camp, Sarkisian said he didn't have a timeline for naming a starter and that he would do so when it felt right. As practices went on, the head coach alluded to separation between returning starter Cody Kessler and his challenger, Max Browne, with Kessler having the advantage. On Tuesday, Sark all but declared the competition over:

Sark reiterated that after Thursday's practice as well:

Kessler and Browne will have their final showdown next Saturday, and at some point after that, we can expect Sark to announce that Kessler has retained his job. 

To Garry Paskwietz of ESPN.com, Sark elaborated about having (mostly) reached a decision:

I would suspect we’ll name one before the end of spring. As I’ve said before, when I have a pretty good feeling for it I’m going to let it sit for a little bit, maybe watch for a bit and view it that way, see what that feels like. I feel like that’s a good way to go about it.

Choosing a starting quarterback has been Sark's most important, most pressing issue since he got hired, and with that in the bag, he can move on to further shaping the offense around that athlete's skill set. 

 

Defense Rising to the Occasion 

During the third week of spring practices, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told the media that while the defense would start strong against the uptempo offense, productivity would taper off throughout the scrimmage sessions. This week, it appears the defense has responded.

Sark lauded the unit after practice on Tuesday:

 On Thursday, more positive feedback came from the coaches about their effort:

Rahshaun Haylock of FoxSports.com outlined just how important Woods is to USC's defense and what his progression means to the team going forward. 

The fact that the defense is starting to gel is particularly good news, as the Trojans have kept contact in practices to a minimum due to injury and depth concerns. 

With the veteran Trojans that Sark mentioned stepping up to lead the defense, we can expect an even more spirited and competitive fall camp in four months. 

 

Other Notes

 A handful of former Trojans attended Thursday's practice:

Sark plans to baptize the incoming freshman by fire:

Sark praises the efforts of strength coach Ivan Lewis, who previously worked with Sark at Washington:

The Trojans will hold another light scrimmage Saturday, before the annual spring game takes place in the Coliseum next Saturday, April 19, at 3 p.m. PT. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

12 Starting Quarterbacks Most Likely to Lose Their Jobs Before the End of 2014

Forget the old adage about quarterbacks getting too much credit and blame in today’s college football.

If programs want to win, they are best advised to field dynamic playmakers and fantastic decision-makers at the sport’s most important position.

Case in point: 2014 Florida State.

The Seminoles graduated first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel but upgraded with redshirt freshman Jameis Winston.

Fourteen games later, Winston and his teammates lifted the BCS National Championship trophy.

The team across the field—Auburn—had suffered through a 0-8 SEC campaign in 2012. Junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall can’t take all the credit, but he played no small role in turning the Tigers around to within mere seconds of a national title.

Backup quarterbacks have long been the biggest fan favorites on rosters because they, like the start of a new season, represent the unknown and—more importantly—hope.

Today we examine 12 starting quarterbacks who could lose their jobs during the 2014 season.

To be considered for the list, the quarterback in question must have started at least half the 2013 season, or there has to be reason to believe he will be the starter in 2014.

Reasons to believe someone has a chance to start include participation as a starter in past seasons or games started during injury situations.

Fill-in moments—such as when Texas A&M quarterback hopeful Matt Joeckel stepped in for Johnny Manziel—are not considered.

Many quarterbacks on the list will have either endured struggles or injuries at times during their careers. Having former highly rated prospects as backups can also impact a player’s spot on the list.

Here is our list of quarterbacks on the hot seat.

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Reviewing Vinnie Sunseri's ACL Tear, Impressive Recovery and NFL Draft Stock

In January, former University of Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri declared for the 2014 NFL draft—a move AL.com's Andrew Gribble called a "stunner"—about three months after tearing the ACL in his left knee.

Tuesday, at Alabama's second pro day, Sunseri proved just how far he'd come. Gribble notes that the former Crimson Tide standout posted 40-yard dash times between 4.48 and 4.52 seconds—while also completing multiple agility drills—less than six months after rupturing his ACL.

In short, that's impressive.

Despite recent, nearly incomprehensible recoveries—such as that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson—ACL tears remain a threatening knee injury for any football player.

Then again, for Sunseri, it seems the stars aligned.

For instance, Gribble mentions that his injury involved only the ACL:

Sunseri's therapist, Kevin Wilk, worked with Peterson and has told Sunseri that he's following a similar path back to 100 percent health.

Working in Sunseri's favor is that his ACL tear was "clean" and did not affect any of the other ligaments.

The fact that Sunseri's medical team consisted of experts such as Wilk and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain—among others—certainly didn't hurt, either.

Ordinarily, an average elite athlete will work back from an ACL tear between seven or eight months to well over a year after suffering the dreaded injury. The slow, wide-ranged timeline is necessary to allow the reconstructed ACL—usually a piece of the athlete's own hamstring muscle tendon—to safely meet the progressively increasing demands of rehab and, eventually, top-level competition.

Yet just how well is Sunseri doing?

While sprinting in a straight line and performing basic drills does not necessarily constitute game-readiness, doing so marks the penultimate steps. As such, there is no reason to think the defensive back will not be ready for action in advance of the 2014 NFL season.

Given his current draft stock, his excellent recovery may carry even more weight than other surefire NFL prospects who are rehabbing comparable injuries.

According to multiple analyses—such as Rotoworld, NFL.com and Rob Rang of CBSSports.com—Sunseri projects to be, at best, a late-round draft pick in May.

Originally, Sunseri's ACL injury likely significantly influenced such projections—perhaps even knocking him off most big boards altogether—but his rehab success may be assuaging some of those fears.

Will Carroll, Bleacher Report's lead writer for Sports Medicine, notes that for some athletes, everything simply falls into place.

"Healing response is individual," Carroll said. "For some, it's hard work. For others, it's a bit of luck with genetics. Every injury is different, and every surgery is different, so we shouldn't expect every result to be the same."

In other words, some injuries just, well, heal.

In the end, when NFL teams look at Sunseri, one may see a football-smart safety coming off an injury that will end up proving merely a minor speed bump, and another might focus on his injury risk and relative football shortcomings.

A third might question his decision to opt out of his senior year with so many unknowns still swirling, and a fourth may fall somewhere in between them all.

All told, when draft weekend rolls around, Sunseri's ACL tear will undoubtedly come up in all 32 draft circles. However, if Tuesday's pro day proves anything, it's that he's making every attempt to minimize its impact.

And doing a darn good job, at that.

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

On Saturday, James Franklin will take the Beaver Stadium turf for the first time and officially debut as Penn State's head coach. 

Since his hiring in early January, Franklin has excited fans with his active presence on social media. While his engagement has been welcoming, he's yet to showcase the football side of things. 

Weeks of spring practice sessions will culminate with the annual Blue-White game, an event that brings thousands of fans and alumni back to Happy Valley. It will be the public's first time watching the Nittany Lions under the tutelage of Franklin and his staff.  

Here's a comprehensive preview of Penn State's 2014 spring game. 

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South Carolina Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

Gamecocks fans, football season is finally here.

Well, sort of. 

South Carolina ends its spring season with the annual Garnet and Black spring football game, and it's the first dose of big-stage South Carolina football since the 2013 season's bowl game. 

The Gamecocks have been hard at work this spring trying to find answers to fill the defense and turn the offense into a finely tuned machine. 

This Saturday, the public catches a first glimpse of the team's progress, while head ball coach Steve Spurrier can experiment by testing his players on a bigger stage despite the fact it's just a spring game. 

Spring football is a great way to learn about your team for the next season.

Here is your complete preview for South Carolina's Garnet and Black Spring Game. 

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Miami Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

The Miami Hurricanes annual spring game is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET Saturday, April 12, bringing college football back to Sun Life Stadium for the first time in 2014.

From a new quarterback and new offensive linemen to a handful of new defensive starters, the 'Canes are showcasing talent Al Golden and his coaching staff have been developing.

A few positions battles are in full force, and a couple storylines are worth following throughout the day.

As a bonus, the new Nike uniforms for the upcoming season will be unveiled Saturday, making for an exciting night in South Florida.

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Is College Football's 'Bag Man' Phenomenon Really Such a Bad Thing?

Steven Godfrey of SBNation penned an extraordinary long-form piece titled "Meet the Bag Man: How to buy college football players, in the words of the man who delivers the money." It was a striking expose in which Godfrey talked at length with an unnamed "bag man" about the standards and practices when it comes to money flowing into the pockets of college football players in the SEC.

In the piece Godfrey publicized the underground culture that insiders would never dare discuss with outsiders. Simply put, he gave readers a look at the topics that college football players really talk about. Whether it is recruits comparing notes about the "perks" at certain schools or former players recalling the "help" that came out of nowhere, fans got an inside view of what it looks like from the other side. Not message board rumors. Not disgruntled players hoping to bring someone down. Not a coach reporting another coach because he lost a recruiting battle. No, this was an unbridled look at how the money changes hands and, more importantly, the way it flows from one area to another.

Godfrey has sparked his own news event, including an appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show and an "Ask Me Anything" with Reddit scheduled. His facts are undeniable, but the morality of it all is an interesting element worth delving into and examining. Undoubtedly, the topic of "How to buy college football players" will leave a bad taste in some folks' mouths. However, as Godfrey showed, it is far more than just about big money and throwing it around at stud players. It's a delicate ecosystem of funding, relationships and hopes of upward mobility. An ecosystem where against the rules is not synonymous with bad. Where it is a facet of the business structure, and not necessarily a cause for outrage.

Who really gets hurt if, as Godfrey mentions, a "bag man" gives a recruit money to fix the family tractor?

Certainly, the bag men, coaches and schools want to win, but on the players' side, winning is rivaled by family stability, simply going to college and having a relatively normal collegiate experience.

Those goals align. Programs need talent. Talents need school, and football is often their way in. It is that synergy that creates a near-symbiotic relationship between the two sides. And relationship is key, because more than money, both sides have to grow to trust the other for the preliminary seed to grow.

Meanwhile, the judgment from the outside is real. Non-participants discussing rules and glorifying amateurism. Of course it's better to let that 5-star's family tractor go unfixed than it is to help his family and reap the benefits. Surely, giving that 4-star's mom a better job to make School A more attractive is poor form compared to allowing her to spin her wheels to make ends meet.

At least that is what those bound to the NCAA structure believe.

Luckily, for those involved, the NCAA structure is not a moral barometer. Getting caught is bad, but offering the help and keeping it off the books is acceptable and tends to benefit the kids, all while sometimes leading to championships.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

With Alabama’s A-Day spring game set for April 19, the Tide are nearing the conclusion of spring practice.

A critical loss in the secondary and the fallout from the Tide’s first scrimmage held last Saturday headline the biggest news of the week.

 

News of the Week

As detailed by Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Montgomery Advertiser, Nick Saban expressed optimism following the scrimmage.

“I was really pleased with the effort and intensity the players had,” Saban said. “I really like the attitude of this team in terms of how they go about what they try to do, how they work, the effort that they give and the mental and physical toughness that we play with.”

The biggest headliners on offense were quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper, while linebackers Trey DePriest and Denzel Devall led the charge defensively.

Cooper, who caught 10 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, looks primed to have a monster season under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

However, the news wasn’t all good. Sophomore corner Eddie Jackson suffered a torn ACL in a non-contact drill during the scrimmage, according to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.

Jackson’s injury means a corner rotation already thin on experience will be without a key contributor—one who was seeing reps with the first team for a majority of the spring—for the foreseeable future.

Another distraction for the Tide came on Thursday when junior linebacker Dillon Lee was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

In a statement released by Alabama’s media relations department, Saban said he will handle the situation appropriately, "once I’ve had a chance to review all of the information.”

Lee has been one of the spring’s most notable standouts, and his off-field mishap is concerning for a team looking to regain its focus and discipline heading into the season.

 

Sims Takes Charge

While Saban has repeated that the quarterback competition is one that will play out well into fall camp, Sims took a step forward in separating himself from the pack in the first scrimmage.

The senior went 16-of-23 for 227 yards and two scores with no interceptions. Those numbers were good enough to get the attention of Saban, who praised Sims for “taking some command,” as noted by Scarborough.

Considering Sims was able to hurt the defense by making big plays through the air, his continued development as a passer gives the Tide’s offense an added dimension when his ability to create plays with his legs factor into the equation.

“There are two plays with Blake: the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” senior safety Nick Perry said.

If Sims continues to make progress, he has a strong chance of exiting the spring as the prime challenger to incoming transfer Jacob Coker when fall camp begins in August.

 

Defensive Notes

Last week’s report featured a note on Saban’s unhappiness with the perceived depth and talent along the defensive line. However, Saban clarified his thoughts on that position during a visit to Mobile for a charity dinner, according to AL.com’s Mike Herndon.

I was told what a great defensive line we have, by someone in your position. So I asked: 'What's the basis of your criteria that you're using to make this assessment?' And he says: 'Well, it looks that way on paper.' So, I just kind of took offense to that and said that we're not satisfied with how they're playing, but we're looking forward to them getting better. And they are getting better, and I think probably will be better, more athletic than we were a year ago.

Elsewhere, despite the Tide’s base defense being a 3-4 scheme, Alabama is spending more snaps in nickel sets due to the number of teams using spread offenses with three and four receiver sets.

During the first two practices earlier this week, the Tide’s nickel package featured Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve at the corners, Landon Collins and Geno Smith at safety with Jarrick Williams at star, according to Gribble.

With the injury to Jackson and freshman Tony Brown nursing a shoulder injury, the rotation at corner will be worth monitoring as A-Day approaches. Smith getting a chance to work alongside Collins at safety is also a new development that could stick depending on how things play out until the end of spring.

 

What’s Next

Spring practice is nearing its conclusion, and the next date to pay attention to is Saturday when the Tide will hold their second scrimmage, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com.

The position battles at critical spots such as offensive line, defensive end, linebacker and at various spots in the secondary are ones to watch over the final handful of practices.

With precious few opportunities for players to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff, expect the intensity to pick up with this scrimmage and the subsequent practices leading up to next weekend’s spring game.

 

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

Nebraska football fans know it’s close—so close they can almost taste it. This Saturday, Memorial Stadium will fill up with the faithful once again to watch the spring game, the annual last gasp of football before a long summer.

So if you want to get the most out of this last look at Nebraska football until August, make sure that you’re prepared. Here’s all the information you’ll need.

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Dabo Swinney Gives 2017 WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. Clemson Offer

Keyshawn Johnson Jr.'s recruitment has been heating up, as the 2017 WR has fielded offers from top programs such as Ohio State, Florida State and Arizona State. 

You may now add Clemson to the list. The 6'1", 180-pound ninth grader has yet to record a varsity reception, but his potential has the scouts drooling. 

Johnson Jr. and fellow class of 2017 prospect Darnay Holmes took a visit to Clemson recently and met with Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris.  

Holmes, a 5'11", 180-pound athlete, whose father, Darick Holmes, was an NFL running back for five seasons, was also offered a scholarship to Clemson. 

Both Johnson Jr. and Holmes have a long way to go before college, but with their NFL pedigree, they should have a leg up on the competition. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Is Donald Catalon Texas' Most Important Newcomer for 2014?

The Texas Longhorns have 23 new players arriving this offseason as members of their 2014 recruiting class. After losing significant depth at tailback, none could be more instrumental to the program's immediate success than running back Donald Catalon.

Jerrod Heard and Derick Roberson are the faces of this group of newcomers. Over the next four years, no two players will be more important than the quarterback and pass-rusher of the future. As for the 2014 season, Catalon is already on the fast track to a major role without even stepping on the practice field.

Since they did not land an impact safety, the Longhorns do not have a 2014 recruit that needs to contribute immediately. The 'Horns return eight starters on defense, and every departed offensive player has a backup that is ready to assume more responsibility.

At least that was the case before spring practice began. Now that Joe Bergeron has been suspended due to academic issues, the Longhorns need all the help they can get behind returning All-Big 12 runner Malcolm Brown.

Even with Johnathan Gray out for the foreseeable future with a ruptured Achilles, the Longhorns entered the offseason with a deep stable of runners led by Brown. The senior rushed for 462 yards in the four games Gray was out, and Bergeron's 1,392 career yards gave Texas a trusted backup with offensive weapon Daje Johnson on hand as a change-of-pace back. 

Losing Bergeron complicates that expected depth, especially because Brown has missed eight games in his career. Johnson and redshirt sophomore Jalen Overstreet are the other Longhorn backs that carried the ball 10-plus times last season, though, neither should be relied upon to spell Brown on a regular basis.

Weighing just 180 pounds, Johnson is in no way built to handle the ball between the tackles. What he brings is pure, game-changing speed that is better utilized when he is moved around the formation. He possesses great talent, but trying to give him heavy carries would be counterproductive.

Overstreet, a converted quarterback, is less of a known commodity. He rushed for 92 yards on nine carries last season against New Mexico State, but his other 11 totes gained just 10 yards. Coming in at a sleight 215 pounds, the 6'2" glider is no more built for an increased role than Johnson.

In all, that's one out of three tailbacks with proven skill to handle a solid workload. And there's no guarantee he can stay healthy.

For the incoming Catalon, that provides an opportunity to immediately step in as the backup until Gray and/or Bergeron is back in action. The Houston product was 247Sports' top running back recruit in the state, and he possesses a skill set that would be a nice complement to Brown's punishing style.

Catalon's scouting report, courtesy of SB Nation's Wescott Eberts:

And in any case, Catalon's speed in pads is what will be important once he makes the transition to college. In that regard, the opening highlight from the above video shows Catalon bursting into the open field and outrunning a defender with an angle, as well as every other player on the opposing defense.

So it's safe to say that he possesses more than enough explosiveness. A decisive runner who likes to plant his foot and get upfield, Catalon prefers to make subtle cuts at top speed -- he's more of a slide cutter than a jump cutter with elite lateral agility.

A prerequisite for any good running back is good balance and Catalon certainly has it, as he can keep his feet if opponents try to tackle him too high.

One area of improvement for Catalon is to consistently use his 190-pound frame to move the pile at the end of runs. While he can occasionally break arm tackles and drive his legs on contact, he doesn't always maximize runs by finishing strong against smaller opponents in the secondary.

An added bonus to his game is that he has experience out of the backfield as a receiver, so he could be a candidate to split out wide at times in college.

As indicated above, Catalon brings good speed and lateral quickness to the position, while his receiving ability would make him useful on third down. So long as he can add 10 pounds to his 5'11" frame, which shouldn't be a problem, there is enough there for him to spell Brown for 10 totes a game.

A lot can change for Texas by the start of the season. More injuries can befall key contributors, Overstreet or Johnson may prove more ready than expected or one of Texas' missing backs could return to the field in time for the opener. All of which could temper the need to get Catalon rolling as a freshman.

For now, the backfield is the area that needs a fresh body, and the Longhorns are fortunate have a guy like him ready to fill the void.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bralon Addison Injury: Updates on Oregon WR's ACL Tear and Recovery

Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison could miss the entire 2014 college football season after tearing his ACL.

Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com reported that the wideout injured his knee during a non-contact drill on Wednesday. A torn ACL can require up to nine months of recovery, and should that happen, Addison would be out for almost all of the Ducks' 2014 campaign.    

He tweeted out his disappointment on Thursday:

The impact of the injury wasn't lost on USA Today's Paul Myerberg:

Addison was second on the team in receptions (61), receiving yards (890) and receiving touchdowns (seven) in 2013. With Josh Huff having graduated and De'Anthony Thomas off to the NFL, Addison was set for a major breakout this year.

The silver lining—if you can call it that, given the severity of the injury—is that it occurred during the spring. The team has enough time to figure out how Addison can be replaced and should be able to use a medical redshirt to save him a year of eligibility.

Addison, meanwhile, has time to fully focus on his recovery in order to be prepared for the 2015 season.

While this is a blow for second-year head coach Mark Helfrich, the Ducks are never bereft of weapons in the offense. One door has seemingly closed on Addison for 2014 and opened for somebody else to fill the void.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Head Coach Les Miles Sits in on Texas History Class

Not every day do you see an SEC head coach with time to spare, but Les Miles was in Austin and decided to kill some time by sitting in on a history lecture at the University of Texas. 

There isn't much detail on why the "Mad Hatter" was in town, but one thing is clear: Les Miles likes history classes. 

[Longhorn Network, h/t The Big Lead]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

The second week of spring practice is underway in Westwood. 

This stock report will primarily focus upon recent entries to the program. Two of the respective risers are in their first seasons under the direction of Jim Mora. 

One member of the team has struggled thus far in camp. It is a mild surprise considering the hype surrounding the former Scout 5-star prospect

Here's a look at the Week 2 stock report for the UCLA Bruins. 

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Breaking Down Alabama's Josh Frazier's Highlight Tape

Josh Frazier is a 4-star defensive tackle who signed with Alabama in February. At 6'3" and 325 pounds, the Arkansas native already looks like a college player.

He has solid quickness at the snap, but his strength and power are what set him apart. He can drop his weight to anchor at the point of attack, which causes a lot of messes in the middle versus running plays.

Based on highlight tape, he has a chance to become a key player for the Crimson Tide's defense.

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Alabama Football: What Will Nick Saban's Secondary Look Like on Opening Day?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you had asked Nick Saban a year ago at what position he could least afford a major injury, the University of Alabama coach almost certainly would have said quarterback.

But his second choice may have been cornerback.

At the time, this position group had the least experience of any on the Crimson Tide, with one-year returning starter Deion Belue and a whole bunch of question marks. The coaching staff was so concerned that three offensive players spent a good part of last spring learning the position just in case, one of whom ended up staying and starting five games.

So when Saban recently had to announce that sophomore Eddie Jackson needed surgery to repair a knee ligament, it obviously was a setback. However, the situation isn’t anywhere near as dire as had a similar injury occurred in 2013.

“Eddie’s surgery went well,” Saban said Wednesday afternoon. “We feel like we've got a really good chance to get him back for the season. He was having a great spring and doing a good job. This just gives some other people some opportunity to get some reps as well.”

As Alabama prepares for its second spring scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which will be closed to media on Saturday, juniors Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones have worked with the first unit this week. Early enrollee Tony Brown and redshirt freshman Anthony Averett have lined up on the second unit along with sophomore Maurice Smith—who has been learning the nickel spot, or “star” in Alabama’s terminology.

Barring another setback, that’s probably the way they’ll line up for A-Day on April 19th, but like with the quarterback position, it appears the competition to start will continue well into the fall and could go past the season opener Aug. 30 against West Virginia at the Georgia Dome.

Overall, the unit has a lot more experience and a ton more young talent.

“Eddie was having a great spring and probably our best corner, most consistent,” Saban said after Jackson sustained the injury during last week’s scrimmage, when he “just jumped up in the air for a ball and came down funny.”

While it’s no secret that the coach prefers tall cornerbacks, and Jones (5’10”) and Sylve (5’11”) are his shortest players at the position, for now experience wins out.

“Bradley Sylve has had a really good spring and is doing a good job,” Saban continued. “We just seem to not be making as many mental errors as we have in the past at this time.”

Among returning cornerbacks, Jones had the most interceptions (two) and tackles (25) last year.

Coaches were pretty high on Sylve, only to see him be limited by an ankle injury the second half of the season. When healthy, he may be the fastest player on the Crimson Tide, although Brown is the one who’s also been running track this spring.

Unfortunately it’s also led to his wearing a black no-contact jersey during practices to protect a shoulder injury, originally sustained during the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game and aggravated by falling over a hurdle.

“I’m not sure exactly how much more track he’ll do the rest of the spring, but we have a schedule that says what he’s able to do,” Saban explained about the true freshman. “He’s done a good job of managing both of those things. We feel like he’s made a lot of progress and learned a lot by splitting time at spring practice.”

This summer Alabama will also add Marlon Humphrey, rated by 247Sports as the top cornerback in the nation in the recruiting Class of 2014, while Brown edged him in the composite rankings (second and third, respectively). Both were considered 5-star prospects.

“Tony is very competitive,” senior safety Nick Perry said. “He doesn't like to lose. Even out there in seven-on-seven or one-on-one, he's fighting for the ball a couple minutes after the ball has been caught.”

Now contrast to this time a year ago. Besides Belue, the only other experienced player, John Fulton, was out following surgery to repair a turf-toe injury. Belue ended up being bothered by a similar injury all of last fall while making 10 starts, while Fulton struggled during his senior year.

Sylve, who had made the move from wide receiver during the late part of the 2011 season, was a primary backup last spring. Two others, Geno Smith and Jabriel Washington, who have since moved to safety, were splitting reps with wide receivers Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones, and running back Dee Hart.

It only reinforces how much of a problem the Crimson Tide had at cornerback in 2013 and helps explain why Alabama only had 11 interceptions, the fewest since Saban arrived in 2007. Just four were by a cornerback.

In contrast, things look very bright with this group.

“You’ve got Cyrus, you’ve got Bradley, who is really fast. You have Eddie who is really good,” said junior wide receiver Amari Cooper, who also made a reference to safety Laurence “Hootie” Jones, another early enrollee: “Hootie surprised me today. He made a one-handed interception. It was crazy. So those guys are all pretty talented.”

 

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

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Alabama LB Dillon Lee Arrested on DUI Charges

Alabama linebacker Dillon Lee, a true junior who is competing to start on the Crimson Tide's 2014 defense, was arrested Thursday and released on $1,000 bond for driving under the influence, according to Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is aware of the arrest and issued the following statement: "I don't have all of the details at this point and will handle it appropriately once I've had a chance to review all of the information."

Lee was a 4-star recruit and the No. 101 overall player on the 247Sports Composite in 2012, checking in as one of the 10 best outside linebackers in the class. He appeared in all 13 games as a sophomore last season and recorded 16 tackles—mostly as one of the team's best coverage players on special teams.

Known as the "wild man" within the Crimson Tide's locker room, Lee's motor has earned him on-field praise from coaches and teammates alike. Saban lauded him earlier in spring practice, saying he thinks Lee "will be a really good player for us," per Michael Casagrande of AL.com.

However, for all of the good he reportedly does on the field, this is not the first time Lee has gotten in trouble off of it: He was one of two players, along with Ryan Anderson, sent home from the 2013 BCS National Championship Game after breaking curfew, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

A DUI arrest is obviously a little more serious than that.

Even without the arrest (and any potential suspension), Lee was locked and loaded in the battle to start for Alabama next season. He is capable of playing both inside and out, and that versatility should continue to help his chances, but given the depth of blue-chip recruits competing with him, every step Lee takes in the wrong direction is a big one.

We'll keep you posted as we learn more.

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10 College Football Programs Poised for a Big 2015 Recruiting Year

The 2015 recruiting year is off and running, and several programs around the country are poised to do a lot of damage on the trail. 

Some schools reside in areas that have a ton of available talent this year, while others will have a big recruiting year because they always do. A few programs have gotten a commitment from a key elite recruit, which will help them attract other great prospects to finish with a high ranking.

A Pac-12 school has a chance to make a resurrection statement this year, while a group of SEC juggernauts figure to have outstanding classes yet again. Plus, a Big Ten school has a new head coach who is already off to a terrific start.

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Have We Seen the Best of Jameis Winston Already?

Last fall, Florida State faithful and college football fans watched one of the most impressive debut seasons in college football history unfold right in front of them.

A previously unknown redshirt freshman quarterback named Jameis Winston became a household name in a matter of weeks. The supremely confident 6’4”, 228-pound signal-caller led the Seminoles to heights they hadn’t scaled in more than a decade.

Teaming with a talented offense, Winston threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, completing 66 percent of his passes.  He had a quarterback rating of 184.8, and also added 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Winston became the youngest player (19 years, 342 days) to win the Heisman Trophy, and a month later, he rallied the Seminoles from an 18-point deficit to defeat Auburn for the BCS National Championship.

Which begs the question: can he do it again?

The departures of two of Winston’s top targets in standout junior Kelvin Benjamin (NFL draft) and speedy senior Kenny Shaw (graduation) raise a serious question: Have we seen the best of Jameis Winston as a collegiate player?

Winston and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher don’t think so. They are working hard this spring to make sure the talented sophomore doesn’t rest on his laurels.

“You don’t want to relax,” Fisher said recently. “You can become complacent. This spring practice, we won’t be taking that mentality.”

Last fall, Florida State’s receiving corps was the envy of many a college quarterback. Junior Rashad Greene, who has excellent speed, quickness, hands and separation, caught 76 passes for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns.

The 6’5”, 240-pound Benjamin finally put it all together and became a nearly impossible matchup for opposing secondaries, catching 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns. And Shaw was almost as impressive, rolling up 54 receptions for 933 yards and six touchdowns.

With Benjamin and Shaw gone, spring practice has revolved around finding the next great receivers to wear garnet and gold. Christian Green, a 6’2”, 200-pound senior, has speed and strength and is an option to replace Benjamin, as is 6’4”, 200-pound sophomore Isaiah Jones. But both are unknown quantities.

Scooter Haggins, a 6’0”, 193-pound senior, along with the 5’7”, 178-pound sophomore Kermit Whitfield and  Bobo Wilson (5’9”, 177-pound) are battling to replace Shaw in the starting lineup.

Haggins is coming off a redshirt season after missing all of 2013 with a stress fracture in his knee. Whitfield has elite, gamebreaking speed, as he displayed with a 100-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter against Auburn that gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game.

Florida State also has several high-profile receiver recruits arriving this fall in 5-star Ermon Lane (rated as the nation’s No. 24 overall recruit by 247Sports), 4-star Travis Rudolph (rated as the nation’s No.6 wideout)and 4-star Javon Harrison (rated as the No.16 athlete).

“It’s important that he learns a whole new group of receivers,” Fisher said. “We have to develop two or three more while also keeping a great bond with Rashad and (tight end) Nick (O’ Leary).”

For his part, Winston doesn’t appear worried about adjusting to a new group of targets and says all of his new receivers can “jump out of the gym.”

“I can spread the ball out to anybody,” he said. “That makes me smile. In our offense, it just gives us more weapons.”

Building trust, he said, is crucial.

“It’s very important for their confidence and our confidence,” he said. “We trust all the guys we go out there with. That’s why you come to Florida State, to win championships. We’ve got great players and those guys are going to be great. It’s going to be a fast adjustment to work on timing with me and them and we’re going to get this thing rolling.”

And you’d better believe that Fisher and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders pushed Winston on personal improvements this spring, too. Fisher said fundamentals are a key for Winston, and when “your mind plays fast, your arm plays fast.”

Fisher said his star has plenty to work on, and says “I think you’re always learning as a competitor in different situations.”

“It’s fundamental knowledge of our offense, the things we do and how you make decisions that create success,” he said. “You have to make reads against the coverage and blitz, press and blitz and recognize situations in the offense against a defense that will create big plays.

“Fundamentally, it’s the way he balances his body and moves in the pocket. Those are all areas where he’ll continue to grow and must continue to grow.”

Winston said Fisher is a “perfectionist,” and he and Sanders are always pushing him.

“There are things that coach Sanders brings to my attention a lot,” he said. “He’s always on coach Fisher about me. I’m always trying to get better. I’m not going to be the guy who sits back and lets things go. I’m going to get my hips up higher, get the ball up higher and I’m going to start throwing rockets.”

The possibility for off-field distractions also exists. USA Today reported that Florida State was facing a federal civil rights investigation into its handling of rape charges against Winston. He was cleared of criminal charges in the case in December 2013. 

Opposing defensive coordinators will have a year’s worth of film to study. His receivers almost certainly won’t be up to the caliber of 2013. But if Winston regresses in 2014, it’s hard to say that it’ll be due to lack of effort on his part.

Winston was pulled in the second half of many Florida State blowouts, which may have surpressed his numbers. Depending on the closeness of FSU's games this fall, it is entirely possible that he could match or build on his 2013 numbers, despite the personnel around him.

It could be his last collegiate run: Winston has been projected as a top selection in the 2015 NFL draft, and former NFL general manager Jerry Angelo says he'd have been the top pick in the 2014 draft if he were eligible. However, Winston said in February he'd like to play two more college seasons.

None of that really matters right now, however. He's just focused on repeating last fall's success and building on it. 

“I’m going to be relentless,” he said, “in trying to lead my team to another national championship.”

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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