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As a draft analyst, one of the last quarterbacks on my list to scout was Wyoming junior, Brett Smith.
Admittedly, I was none too thrilled to be watching film of a Mountain West quarterback with a losing record (17-20) and omission from the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet, after a few games of resisting the urge to be incredibly impressed, I could hold my enthusiasm back no longer.
This is the time of year when most days are spent in a dark room watching tape until hundreds of NFL hopefuls have been graded and identified—each trying to not only convince an NFL team they belong, but perhaps subconsciously convince themselves as well.
Truth is, not a single young man out there training their butt off for a shot at the NFL really knows what the NFL is like.
It’s a place where hotshot all-stars go to be humbled by an entirely new level of competition. It’s an unforgiving league that will weed out the weak faster than a pride of lions on the Serengeti.
So I watched another game of this odd-looking kid, and another. What the tape showed over and over again was a terrific competitor making plays all over the field with his legs, arm and very little help from a supporting cast.
It was as if someone took Johnny Manziel, put him on a team of castoffs, stretched him vertically and harnessed his manic playing style into a more controlled, steady burn. In his three years at Wyoming, Brett rushed for 1,529 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing 76 touchdowns and 28 interceptions.
Keep in mind any Manziel comparison coming his way speaks more towards his unique mobility and affinity to ad lib than anything else. Aside from that, it kept getting better.
One of the more impressive things about Smith’s game was his incredibly consistent mid-range accuracy. Nearly every throw over the course of several games was placed exactly where it needed to be. He also flashed rare accuracy while on the move or under pressure.
These are critical skills for any NFL quarterback in today’s game and certainly contributed to Smith’s 62 percent completion rate at Wyoming.
Coupled with his accuracy was enough zip to place the ball perfectly in tight windows 10-20 yards downfield.
One of the most important factors in determining a QB’s success at the next level is their ability to deliver under pressure.
Throwing an accurate pass while a 280-pound ball of muscle launches into your chest is a vastly underappreciated skill in the evaluation process—yet this trait is oftentimes significantly more valuable than a guy’s frame, arm strength or hand size.
The same can be said about the importance of a quarterback’s ability to put the team on his shoulders and carry them for four quarters despite being significantly outmatched.
Smith is certainly the type of respected leader who can keep his teammates believing they have a chance regardless of the score. Perhaps one of the better examples of this leadership quality is the 2013 season opener against Nebraska.
After watching every bit of tape available on Wyoming’s prolific dual-threat passer, it was time to get this guy on the phone. Thankfully he was courteous enough to grant Bleacher Report a last-minute interview.
When asked about the Nebraska game he described it as "One of the proudest games I’ve ever played in."
He went on to explain:
"I remember we were down 31-14 in the third quarter. I got to the sideline and just started screaming to the guys to keep the fire going and not to give up. I was really proud of the way we fought back as a team and gave Nebraska everything we had. It was like everything just started to click for us."
If you watch that game close you’ll see a guy who knows how to rise up from adversity to carry a team across the finish line. But as you watch his competitiveness, keep an eye on his accuracy as well.
Wyoming went on to lose that game 37-34 but showed they could stand toe-to-toe with elite-level talent—thanks in large part to their steady quarterback, Brett Smith.
Despite being showered with school records such as total offense (10,390 yards), touchdowns (97), touchdown passes (76) as well as the Mountain West and Wyoming record for total yards in a game (640) and finishing second in school history with 8,829 passing yards, Smith was shockingly one of only 13 underclassmen to declare for the draft and not get an invite to the combine.
In 2014, 355 prospects were invited to Indianapolis while only 256 players will be drafted this May.
When asked why he thinks he wasn’t invited, he said, "I called them up, and they said it was because there was a record number of underclassman who declared this year, and they wanted to make sure they had enough spots available for seniors."
Though this is certainly a contributing factor with a record 98 underclassmen declaring, it explains only a small portion of the reason. This year the combine played host to 19 quarterbacks looking to impress on the big stage for all 32 teams—none of them named Brett Smith.
So what fatal flaws could he possibly have to warrant 19 QBs going ahead of him?
His footwork is certainly a negative element to his game that pops out rather quickly.
In a candid interview with the Casper Star-Tribune's Mike Vorel, Smith had this to say regarding his footwork:
Towards the end of the year we were doing a lot of east/west concepts where I’d throw bubbles or really short two-yard passes, so I was just getting it out and throwing it as fast as I can. I wasn’t worrying about my feet, so my footwork got really, really bad. I was just catching and throwing, because that’s what the coaches were telling me to do.
Nonetheless, college quarterbacks are notorious for displaying poor foot mechanics. Besides, buried within this flaw emerges a promising concept. If he can be this accurate and proficient with poor footwork, imagine what he can do when he puts it all together. That has to at least be an intriguing thought, no?
Maybe the big knock on him is his wiry, odd-looking frame that appears to have no business in an NFL uniform.
This concern is somewhat valid considering he is likely to measure in around 6’2” and 200 pounds. But in reviewing the tape, he constantly displays incredible, functional strength and is a tough mamma jamma to bring down with an arm tackle. Not to mention, Smith can deliver a mean stiff arm when needed.
But if size or a skinny frame were really such a concern for scouts, why are prospects like Johnny Manziel (6'0", 207) and Teddy Bridgewater (6'2", 214) being considered for the No.1 overall pick in the draft?
Anyhow, last time I checked, they do fill out as they get older—especially if they dedicate themselves to a weight room.
Another common critique swirling around the Twitter draft community are concerns about his arm strength. This is something I too worried about and kept a close eye on.
It’s true that he doesn’t have the strongest arm in this class but he does have an extremely quick release that comes with impressive zip. This allows him to throw passes in tight windows over great distances, which seems to override any tangible argument that he lacks an NFL arm.
Though unconfirmed by any official measurement, Smith looks to have relatively small hands. This may concern many evaluators who believe quarterbacks with small hands rarely have much success at the next level. If it turns out his hand measurement falls on the smaller side, this is something to take into account and could diminish his potential to a degree.
But could this actually be a worthy reason to keep him out of the combine? I doubt it considering plenty of below-average hands were represented in Indianapolis at the QB position.
When pressed about what time he would run his 40-yard dash in, the man who prefers to let his actions do the talking eventually said, "I believe I would’ve had one of the faster times out there for quarterbacks. I tried watching it on TV but eventually became too frustrated and had to turn it off and go outside."
Despite being egregiously snubbed by the combine, Brett Smith remains convinced he made the right decision to enter the draft when he did.
"Even if I don’t get drafted and end up signing as an undrafted free agent, I wouldn’t feel it was a mistake. I’m trying to make my dream of being an NFL quarterback a reality and didn’t want to wait any longer. I believe that I can be a top guy in this draft class and from a strategic perspective, it seems like a lot of teams are in need of a quarterback right now."
Brett is all too familiar with being overlooked and has learned to use it as fuel for an impressive work ethic that he identifies as his primary asset as a football player.
"Ever since I was in high school I wasn’t recruited and wasn’t given much respect at Wyoming. People have always been telling me I’m not good enough to live my dream. That can be hard to hear over time. It has been hard. It forces me to ask myself why I’m doing this. Do I love it? I do."
This prompted an inquiry about his goals as a quarterback.
"This may sound cliche, but I’ve always had this crazy, vivid dream of being world champion—to be at the top, to be the best. Every day I put on my headphones and visualize, every single day. It feels weird walking without music. I need to visualize. I have aspirations to be the best quarterback in the NFL. I don’t play this game to blend in and be just another quarterback. I don’t work to be sixth- or seventh-ranked quarterback in the draft. I want to be the most productive. I approach this whole process to be the best."
At the moment, it appears as though NFL scouts are positioning themselves to make the same mistake colleges made three years earlier when they doubted his ability to play Division I football.
To say Brett Smith plays with a chip on his shoulder would be an understatement. Even a Doritos-sized chip would do him no justice with regard to the disrespect and doubt he has had to endure. Even he admits being the perpetual underdog can be “disappointing, frustrating and, at times, exhausting.”
One thing the evaluation process has always struggled to measure accurately is the size of a man’s heart, drive and willingness to overcome obstacles.
I personally believe Brett Smith has a very real chance to eventually become the best quarterback of this draft class. His propensity to visualize the game long before it materializes is reminiscent of the newly anointed Super Bowl champion, and fellow underdog, Russell Wilson.
Wilson is a guy who spends a lot of time visualizing what he wants to happen on a football field. Smith added, "I spend a lot of time with my headphones on just visualizing playing in the NFL. When I say a lot of time, I mean I do this every single day."
My only explanation for him not making a trip to Indianapolis is that teams interested in drafting him are holding their cards close to the chest and don’t want other teams to get a better look or see their interest in him.
This type of game-playing is not uncommon and may be just enough to cause him to slide into the middle-to-later rounds. Given everything he brings to the table as a highly intriguing prospect, there really isn’t a better explanation that comes to mind.
Whichever team wises up and takes him should be getting the steal of the draft. There was another wiry quarterback drafted in the third round, way back in 1979—some guy by the name of Joe Montana.
Note: All quotes were obtained firsthand from Brett Smith unless stated otherwise. Statistics courtesy of sports-reference.com
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.
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Ever since Mike Gundy came back to be the offensive coordinator behind Les Miles at his alma mater in 2001, where he took over as head coach in 2005, he's been part of a revolution throughout the college football landscape.
His uptempo, spread offense is the new trend on Saturdays, and one that looks like it's here to stay. Since 2005, Gundy has won 77 games overall (8.5 wins per season) and 45 games in the Big 12. He's lived up to the standard that his predecessor, Miles, set at the school.
Gundy's success with the Cowboys was capitalized in 2011, when the school won the Big 12 outright then beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Had Oklahoma State not slipped up early last season to a 4-7 West Virginia team on the road, their season finale against Oklahoma State would've had national title implications.
A national championship is next on Gundy's to-do list in Stillwater. That's certainly a lofty goal, but in the new age of the College Football Playoff, it's more attainable. Especially since OSU plays in the Big 12, where there is no championship game that could knock off the conference's best team in the last week of the season, vis-a-vis Ohio State in 2013.
So for Oklahoma State, as it with any Big 12 team for that matter, the mission is simple. Win the Big 12 in emphatic fashion, and you should earn a bid to the College Football Playoff for a chance to play for a national title.
The problem for the Cowboys, one that has been for the past few years even when they've been one of the nation's elite, is their consistency.
Last season, they had a chance to seal up the Big 12 title with a win over Oklahoma. Instead, they got manhandled 33-24 at Boone Pickens Stadium. That opened the door for Baylor's conference title and subsequent Fiesta Bowl berth.
That wasn't the only slip up last year. As mentioned earlier, the Cowboys started the Big 12 season 0-1 after losing to a bad West Virginia team.
In 2011, the Cowboys went into Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. There was just a game against Iowa State and Oklahoma left between them and a bid to the BCS Championship.
Instead of making easy work of a 5-4 Cyclones squad, the Cowboys instead lost a heartbreaker in double overtime that all but ended Oklahoma State's bid for a national title.
Oklahoma State went on to thump rival Oklahoma in the Bedlam game that secured a Big 12 title and sent the students rushing the field. But that season is forever marred by that one loss to Iowa State.
The Cowboys slipped up next year, going just 8-5 and losing three of the four games they played against ranked teams by an average margin of over 12 points.
Gundy has to find a way to make the Cowboys play at a more consistent level if he wants to check off a national championship from his wish list.
And it starts with the signal-caller. After Brandon Weeden left, Gundy's relied on the shaky efforts of Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Gundy did sign South Carolina native Mason Rudolph, a 4-star pro-style quarterback, according to 247sports. But he'll have to dethrone Walsh to get the starting job this spring.
Next, Gundy needs to be able to field a more potent defense. The Cowboys ranked just 46th in total defense last season, and 48th the year prior. The Cowboys also lose Calvin Barnett, Shaun Lewis and Justin Gilbert from last year's squad, all of whom were big time players on the defensive side of the ball.
Oklahoma State will have to find a way to replace those guys if they want to compete for a Big 12 title and a berth into the inaugural CFB Playoff.
But Gundy knows how to make something out of seemingly nothing. His recruiting classes are littered with mostly 3-star guys, but he still routinely wins 10 or more games a year. 247sports lists Oklahoma State's 2014 class as just the 28th best in the nation, with no 5-star guys and only five 4-stars.
Expectations are always high in Stillwater. When you have an oil tycoon that donates millions to improve the state of the program, expecting to be among the elite teams in the nation is certainly justifiable.
But everything starts with Gundy. If he can find a high-quality quarterback, a suitable defense and a more consistent effort from his squad week in and week out, that goal of bringing home that crystal ball to Stillwater can become a reality.
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Former University of Oregon standout De’Anthony Thomas presents a very interesting case to NFL scouts. Thomas, aka the “Black Mamba,” is undoubtedly an explosive player who could impact a team on both offense and special teams.
While at Oregon, he racked up 46 total touchdowns and helped lead his Ducks to wins in the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl in 2012 and 2013.
Despite his storied career, Thomas remains low on CBS Sports' draft board due to his 5’9’’, 174-pound frame. Let’s take a deeper look at the speedster’s play and his future in the NFL.
Speed is how Thomas will make a living at the NFL level. During his days as a Duck, Thomas showed time and time again that he was capable of scoring whenever he got his hands on the football. Whether it was on offense or on special teams, Thomas had a knack for finding the end zone.
In a highly anticipated 40-yard dash, Thomas underwhelmed NFL scouts at the combine when he ran an official time of 4.50, 10th overall among running backs.
What is encouraging is that Thomas ran an unofficial time of 4.34, a mark that would’ve been one of the fastest among all players.
While the 40-yard dash certainly did not go as Thomas envisioned, his stock should not drop based on that time. Scouts understand that Thomas has been one of the fastest players in college football over the past three years and 4.50 seconds should not change that.
“He plays a lot faster than he really is. He’s got great speed but I think he plays even faster and I think that’s going to be an advantage,” said Oregon’s running back coach Gary Campbell via Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.
The ability to play multiple positions is definitely a plus for Thomas. He ended his career at Oregon with 26 rushing touchdowns, 15 receiving touchdowns, four kick-return touchdowns and one punt-return touchdown.
What does this show? Thomas is capable of playing all over the field.
Thomas has drawn similarities to St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin. Although Austin is a more pure receiver than Thomas, they both have very similar styles of play. Austin is 5’8’’, 176 pounds and was a versatile threat for the Rams as he had four receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and a 98-yard punt return for a score as well.
Scouts should look at Austin as an example of the player Thomas could be at the next level.
Whichever team drafts Thomas will get a player who can be utilized at several spots on the field. Whether it’s as a running back, slot receiver or return man, Thomas will give a team a lot of flexibility.
Thomas is a home run threat waiting to happen. He had 15 plays for at least 40 yards throughout his career at Oregon, including two kick returns that exceeded 90 yards.
Explosiveness out of the backfield? Check.
Breakaway speed as a return man? Check.
Ability to catch the ball and burn past opponents? Check.
Is Thomas’ big-play potential enough to convince NFL scouts to draft him?
If Thomas has one knock on him it is that he is undersized. One NFL scout said that “size and durability will be his issues, but he would be a kick returner, punt returner and slot wide receiver/running back. He’s pretty unique,” per The Oregonian's Greif.
Players like Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead and Trindon Holliday have all had success in the NFL despite none being taller than 5’8’’.
Can Thomas prove that size doesn’t matter and become a playmaker at the next level?
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“It’s good to be back on the field…”
So began coach Brady Hoke’s first spring press conference following last year’s disappointing season when Michigan entered the backstretch of Big Ten schedule with hopes of playing in the conference championship game until a 1-4 finish dropped the team out of contention. The late-season slide fueled rumors that Hoke was on the hot seat until athletic director David Brandon released a statement on mgoblue.com voicing his support and taking aim at critics.
“Anyone making efforts to stir up a coaching controversy at Michigan is ill-informed and is likely promoting a personal agenda that is not in the best interest of Michigan football.”
Brandon made it clear that Hoke was safe and continued to support him despite a final-minute 42-41 loss to Ohio State and an embarrassing 31-14 bowl loss to Kansas State. But the same didn’t hold true for offensive coordinator Al Borges, who was dismissed.
As Michigan begins spring practice, the heat is on Hoke as he enters his fourth season. Michigan needs to drastically improve last season’s record, or fan frustration may boil over.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise, noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
It has become an annual tradition for Boise State fans to tune into the NFL combine coverage to see how former Broncos fare among the best of the best. This year is no different, with three players taking part in the drills, the measurements and the interviews.
Offensive center Matt Paradis, offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence all participated in the 2014 event. Of the three former Boise State players participating, it was Paradis who had the most to gain.
The NFL combine is a grueling process for each player as they are asked to perform several drills testing speed, agility and overall athletic ability. They are also put through a litany of interviews by various NFL teams, and the spotlight itself can prove daunting for players used to playing football as a team sport.
Let's look at each one of these former Broncos' performances in the combine in an effort to assign them a grade and determine how it will affect their NFL futures.
All combine results via NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
All draft projections and positional rankings via NFLDraftScout.com unless otherwise noted.
The media frenzy. The 40-yard dashes. The glorified job interview.
Six former Ohio State Buckeyes made their way to Indianapolis last week with the hopes of improving their draft stock at the NFL combine.
First-round hopefuls Ryan Shazier, Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby headlined the group, representing a solid core of NFL-bound Buckeyes.
Was Ohio State well-represented at the combine? Read on for grades, results and analysis for each former Buckeye at the combine.
The NFL Scouting Combine is now in the books, and, as expected, the Virginia Tech Hokies' contingent fared quite well.
The Hokies were represented by Logan Thomas, James Gayle, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. Each of the four players competed in every position-specific drill.
It remains to be seen how each player's stock will be affected by their performance at the combine, but, as of now, it appears each player may have helped themselves to a degree.
Which player stood out the most?
Here is a look at the results from each player, some analysis and individual grades for all four former Hokies at the combine.
All results and rankings are courtesy of NFL.com and their Scouting Combine Tracker
Stanford isn’t Notre Dame’s biggest rival—not in the country, the Pac-12, or even California—but it’s been the Cardinal, not USC, that have been a recent thorn in the side of the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has dropped four of five to the Trees after winning seven straight from 2002-2008.
The two-time defending Pac-12 champions suffered some significant losses, most notably in the front seven. Notre Dame has yet to top 20 points in four tries against Stanford under Brian Kelly. Could the Oct. 4 meeting in South Bend finally be the Irish’s time to crack the 20-point barrier?
Despite strong records, both coaches, Kelly and David Shaw, have received some criticism for their unbalanced play-calling—Kelly in favor of the pass, Shaw of the run. Will a retooled depth chart force Shaw to stray away from what has helped him go 34-7 in three seasons?
Let’s take an early look at the 2014 Cardinal, who began practice on Tuesday and conclude on Apr. 12.
For other Notre Dame opponent previews, click on the links below:
The annual sideshow known as the NFL Scouting Combine took place recently, and among the participants were seven former Trojans eager to make an impression on prospective future employers.
For safety Dion Bailey, offensive lineman Marcus Martin, wide receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Xavier Grimble, defensive tackle George Uko, defensive end/linebacker Devon Kennard and running back Silas Redd, the matriculation to playing on Sundays began in Indianapolis where the former Trojans delivered what can only be described as mixed results.
This slideshow will look at the performances of these seven men of Troy and offer some analysis as to their performances in America's heartland.
Did any Trojans deliver a head-turning workout that will seal their tickets to NFL riches?
Read on to find out.
Grades based on events participated in, results of those events and overall performance.
Combine results provided by NFL.com.
The NFL combine is always a place to change that. BYU was represented in this year's combine by five* former players—four on the defensive side of the ball. Cougar household names, like Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman, participated and were given opportunities to get higher on draft boards.
How did the former Cougars perform? Here's a complete guide.
All results courtesy of NFL.com.
*Because of injury, Uani 'Unga did not participate in drills.
Five former Miami Hurricanes participated in the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine during the weekend of Feb. 22 to 23, and as expected, the final results were both good and bad.
Quarterback Stephen Morris, wide receiver Allen Hurns, offensive linemen Seantrel Henderson and Brandon Linder and punter Pat O'Donnell were tested throughout a variety of position drills and workouts.
Every NFL franchise was present at Lucas Oil Stadium, keeping a close eye on the middle- and late-round prospects from "The U."
But did the former Miami players impress the scouts, or are their respective draft stocks taking a tumble?
Nebraska football fans watched the NFL combine with interest, waiting for their native sons to appear and make their mark in the speed and strength drills used to evaluate future professional football talent.
Nebraska had three combine invites: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Quincy Enunwa, and Spencer Long. Unfortunately, Long was unable to participate in the combine due to injury, and Enunwa’s combine was cut short due to hamstring problems.
But we were still able to learn quite a bit about how the NFL views this year’s crop of Nebraska alumni.
Measureables: 6’3”, 218 pounds, 32 3/8” arm length, 8 5/8” hand width
Drill Results: 4.61 sec. 40-yard dash, 13 reps bench press, 41.5” vertical leap, 128.0” broad jump, 4.33 sec. shuttle run (top Combine performer reflected in italics)
Overall Grade: 5.29 (NFL backup or special teams potential)
Jean-Baptiste certainly did enough at the combine to get himself noticed, particularly with standout performances in the vertical leap and broad jump. Given the success of the Seattle Seahawks, particularly the Legion of Boom's secondary, defenders with size like Jean-Baptiste are going to garner even more attention from NFL scouts.
Questions still remain about Jean-Baptiste’s ball skills and ability to stay with elite receivers on the next level. He also runs the risk of being a tweener—too big and stiff to play corner, not quick or physical enough to play safety. Jean-Baptiste’s pro day—where he can answer some of those questions left unanswered at the combine—could well prove critical.
Measureables: 6’2”, 225 pounds, 32 5/8” arm length, 9 1/2” hand width
Drill Results: 4.45 sec. 40-yard dash, 19 reps bench press
Overall Grade: 4.8 (should be in an NFL training camp)
A hamstring injury cut Enunwa’s testing at the Combine short, which was truly unfortunate given the testing numbers he put up before he got hurt.
A 4.45 40-yard dash for a player of his size will get the attention of a number of NFL scouts, and should give Enunwa a fighting chance to at least make an NFL training camp. He could possibly land a spot on a final roster with a solid showing in training camp. Enunwa’s pro day will be immensely important to help fill in the gaps left from his abbreviated combine.
Measureables: 6’5”, 320 pounds, 33 1/8” arm length, 10 3/4” hand width
Drill Results: None (did not participate due to injury)
Overall Grade: 5.26 (NFL backup or special teams potential)
Long’s rehabilitation kept him from participating in any drills at the combine, so his status with NFL teams remains as it was. His tape at Nebraska, demonstrating consistency and durability before the injury that cost him the 2013 season will have to weigh heavily for Long as teams go through their evaluation.
As with the other Nebraska participants at the combine, Long’s pro day (assuming he is able to participate) will carry an outsized importance.
All measurables, drill results, and draft grades are from the official NFL Combine results.
If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to email@example.com.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.
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With a bright future ahead of him, Thompson will be a coveted man on the recruiting trail until he announces his decision. He has schools from coast to coast after him due to his potential to be a cornerstone beast for a college defense.
Because of this, Thompson warrants a closer look.
All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports.
A year after returning 19 starters, the Texas Longhorns are being hit with one of college football's inevitable realities—losing starters to graduation.
There are the obvious ones like Jackson Jeffcoat, Mike Davis and Anthony Fera. Having attended the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week, each is fulfilling the expectation of moving on to the professional level.
But not every impact player gets to go to the NFL, starting safety Adrian Phillips being a prime example. Nonetheless, he will have to be replaced just as well as Jeffcoat.
From familiars Tyrone Swoopes and Desmond Jackson to relative unknowns like Adrian Colbert, filling those voids is a total team effort.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of TexasSports.com.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
South Carolina is in position to have a solid 2014 season, but it all starts now. Gamecocks, it's time for some spring practice.
Now that the 2013 season is over and the young players have a season of experience under their belts, South Carolina can push forward in the offseason development of its players.
The Gamecocks are far from short of talent, but they will need some big performances from some of their players.
Last spring, we witnessed the emergence of Mike Davis, arguably the team's best player going into the 2014 season. Who will be this year's Mike Davis?
Even though many players are locked into starting spots, there is a lot of work to be done and many players still have a lot to gain. The sky is the limit, but these guys can make their cases this spring.
Here are the five players with the most to gain in spring practices for the Gamecocks.
Quite surprisingly, very few former Georgia Bulldogs participated in the NFL Scouting Combine this week. Despite appearances in two of the last three SEC Championship Games, the 'Dawgs were minimally represented in Indianapolis.
Quarterback and SEC passing record holder Aaron Murray was in town for the combine but participated only in team interviews and media sessions as he continues to recover from a torn ACL.
With Murray's activity limited and no early draft entrants, tight end Arthur Lynch was the lone Bulldog running through the proverbial gauntlet in front of NFL personnel.
With the combine now complete, here is a breakdown of Georgia's potential draftees in order of their projected positioning within Matt Miller's latest mock draft.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all NFL Scouting Combine results courtesy of NFL.com. All other statistical information courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com
USC has a recent tradition of featuring two standout wide receivers in the same offense. The Trojans have one star wideout for 2014 in Nelson Agholor, but finding that second breakout performer is among the challenges facing new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff once spring practices commence in March.
Agholor is making a natural progression that has been a calling card for USC of late. He was a complementary player to All-American Marqise Lee and thrived in his role. Similarly, Lee flourished in his first year playing alongside Robert Woods, who was initiated to the Trojans offense feeding off Ronald Johnson and vice versa.
From Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith in 2006, to Keary Colbert and Mike Williams in 2003, USC offenses flourish with a dynamic one-two punch at receiver.
Half of the combination is set thanks to Agholor. His ascent to top receiver actually began ahead of schedule due to Lee's injury-plagued 2013, and he enters 2014 as arguably the conference's most explosive receiver.
Agholor finished the season with one fewer reception than Lee, but 918 yards to Lee's 791.
But even a banged up Lee forced defenses to compensate, turning more of the attention to him. Without a viable No. 2 option to alleviate some of the similar pressure he'll face, Agholor could be in for a frustrating junior campaign.
Sarkisian and his staff molded successful, multifaceted receiving corps at Washington. Most promising for this upcoming year's USC team is that the most recent Huskies receiving corps succeeded despite losing its top returner, Kasen Williams, for the final five games.
Jaydon Mickens showed flashes in his freshman season of 2012, then more than doubled his production as the No. 2 target behind Kevin Smith in 2013. Darreus Rogers is a candidate to make a similar second-year leap.
Rogers was USC's third-most-productive receiver in his rookie campaign with 22 receptions, tied for fourth most among all Trojans with running back Buck Allen. A 4-star prospect from Carson (Calif.), Rogers offers a nice contrasting style that could work well opposite the explosive Agholor.
Sarkisian might be able to fill Lee's vacancy from the same pipeline that provided Lee. From nearby Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra, USC produced both Woods and Lee, and this offseason George Farmer will make his bid to continue the Serra tradition.
Farmer was moved to running back in 2011, a switch that Farmer still saw as an opportunity to make plays in the passing game when it was made, as he told USCTrojans.com:
I am committed fully. I'd still like to play some receiver. If they flank me out there, with Robert and Marqise on the outside, it'll be good because I'll have a linebacker covering me. If it's going to help the team, I'm down for it.
Helping the team could mean bouncing back from the knee injury that sidelined him throughout 2013 to be the receiving corps' new playmaker.
Another Serra product and the marquee signee in the Trojans' 2014 recruit class, 5-star athlete Adoree' Jackson, shined on both sides of the ball at the prep level. Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated writes Jackson's diverse repertoire is "a nice tool for...Sarkisian" and could make Jackson "an immediate replacement for Marqise Lee."
Jackson does not arrive until the summer, so returning receiver reserves Steven Mitchell and Victor Blackwell have a head start in preparing for 2014.
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Spring practice can be make-or-break for some coaches, players and even programs. Yet each program takes a different tack in how it deals with the annual tradition.
However, there is one thing that plays a coach's hand each and every year—injuries. Some coaches look forward to spring as a chance to see their teams fully healthy while others are forced to deal with major injuries that put the best-laid plans to rest before they ever get going.
While injuries—like the recent ACL tear of Michigan tight end Jake Butt and a shoulder injury to teammate Erik Magnuson—have been garnering headlines, one team is going to have to alter its plans more than any other in the Big Ten this spring.
As Northwestern opens up camp on Wednesday, the Wildcats will start camp down 11 players already, according to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune.
The number is high, but it's also the names on that list that matter most. Chief among the 11 names is running back Venric Mark, who received a medical hardship to return for the 2014 season in the first place.
According to Greenstein's article, Mark is still recovering from surgery on his left ankle.
Head coaches generally let the media know about injuries entering camp, but the details of injuries and where players are in the recovery process is a whole different story. When asked about the possibility of Mark's issues lingering into the fall, NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald responded with a simple: "I hope not."
However, Mark isn't the only big name being ruled out for the spring due to surgery issues.
On the other side of the ball, the big name is defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo. He had nine tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman last season.
Odenigbo is just the tip of the iceberg on the defensive side of the ball, though, as Fitzgerald announced that no fewer than six D-linemen will be held out of spring drills. That means a lot of reps for some players to impress, but it could also lead to fatigue given the number of practices that go on in spring drills.
This isn't a new issue for Northwestern, either, as a rash of injuries and offseason surgeries left the offensive line completely depleted during spring practices.
Fitzgerald and Co. are old pros at dealing with a lot of players missing spring thanks to that experience, and with six defensive linemen amongst the group being held out, it means a change in how they will do things in Evanston once again.
“We’ll get in the reps,” Fitzgerald said, via Greenstein's article, “but we’ll tweak the structure of practice so there won’t be so many in a row.”
What should be worrisome to Fitzgerald and his team is what happened last year. After suffering through major injury issues along the offensive line during spring, that unit—which was expected to be a strength—struggled during the season.
The good news is that the defensive players who are now missing saw the after-effects of what took place last spring, and the hope is that they won't repeat themselves in 2014.
“Hopefully those (defensive linemen) learned the lesson that the sense of urgency, once you are cleared, has to go up,” Fitzgerald said, via Greenstein's article.
It's on this year's players to prove history won't repeat itself at Northwestern, especially if the players getting additional reps in their stead shine in the spring.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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The Penn State Nittany Lions have their new head man in James Franklin and expectations will be high in Happy Valley.
However, as the storied program begins the next step of its revival in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, PSU faithful have to understand that Big Ten titles aren't just going to come rolling in—even though Franklin could be just the person to make it happen.
But while sanctions still have the Nittany Lions limited, the steady improvement could continue with the 2014 season.
The centerpiece, star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, is already there for Franklin and his new staff.
As a freshman, Hackenberg was anointed as PSU's future and he delivered. The former blue-chip recruit was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
While those numbers aren't overwhelming, they're very good considering he was thrown into the fire immediately in his career.
They also look even better while considering the strength of the Penn State rushing attack. The Nittany Lions boast three talented running backs who will all be back next season.
The powerful Zach Zwinak led the way with 989 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Bill Belton followed with 803 rushing yards and five scores. Change-of-pace speedster Akeel Lynch added 358 yards and a touchdown to a PSU attack that averaged 174 yards per game.
This talented trio teamed up with Hackenberg to finish No. 4 in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 433.2 yards per contest.
Next year, they should fit perfectly into Franklin's system. Rather than trying to plug players into one set style, Franklin believes in a multiple, pro-style attack that plays to the strengths of its players, which he told the media during his introductory press conference:
We'll be pro style, multiple pro style offense, defense, and we'll be aggressive in everything we do. When we get off the bus, we'll be aggressive. The way we call the game, we'll be aggressive. I think that's very, very important. I think the fans want to see an exciting style of defense. I think the fans want to see an exciting style of offense and special teams.
We'll take calculated risks. We're going to have fun. It always helps to have a quarterback. I don't care whether it's little league, high school, college or the NFL. If you have a quarterback, you've got a chance. We feel very, very good about the quarterback we have in our program right now.
In addition to having the right quarterback for the attack, PSU will also bring back several key defenders, including No. 2 tackler Mike Hull, top corner Jordan Lucas and sack leader C.J. Olaniyan.
The Nittany Lions don't necessarily have one star defender, but they have an overall talented group that will fit well into Franklin's aggressive philosophy.
This group will be taking on an overall navigable schedule. While PSU will have to travel to Michigan, it will host Ohio State and Michigan State, its two toughest opponents. The Nittany Lions won't have to play several other Big Ten contenders, including Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa.
After looking at their 2014 slate, the only major cause for concern is the departure of receiver Allen Robinson, a Biletnikoff Award finalist who represented nearly half of the team's production at receiver a year ago. Robinson amassed 1,432 yards while no other receiver even touched 400.
However, Franklin is one step ahead of the game.
PSU's 2014 class was heavy on playmakers. The No. 24 class in 247Sports.com's composite rankings, PSU brought in three 4-star receivers and a 4-star tight end.
The group is highlighted by early enrollee and Under Armour All-American De'Andre Thompkins. He'll soon be joined by Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin and tight end Mike Gesicki. Derek Levarse of The Times Leader opined that it might be the nation's most impressive class of receivers.
If just one or two of those four newcomers are able to find their stride early, the Penn State offense could be even better than it was a year ago.
The PSU team that fought its way to a 7-5 record last year seems to be in position for a bump up the ladder. The only question is how high it will climb.
The Nittany Lions will open with Central Florida, which will be an easier out now that quarterback Blake Bortles is off to the NFL. That game will set the tone for the season, but from top to bottom, a 10-win campaign isn't out of the question.
If PSU can find the consistency it lacked last year, it's a definite possibility. And if Franklin can take his new club close to that mark, it should set him up for continued success on the recruiting trail.
Franklin was a quick success in Nashville, and if he can install the same blueprint in Happy Valley, those Big Ten titles are coming.
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Former Kent State running back Dri Archer ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine on Sunday, finishing just .02 seconds short of the combine record (4.24) set by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson in 2008.
Players have been manually clocked with times faster than Johnson's 4.24, but the NFL didn't officially record 40-yard dash results until 1999, and times from before that year are often considered unreliable. Former Oakland Raiders running back Bo Jackson notably turned in an unofficial time of 4.12 seconds in 1986, but with the pre-1999 results considered questionable, Johnson's 4.24 is the record that every speedster shoots for.
A quick look at Johnson's twitter timeline makes it clear the the Titans running back takes a great deal of pride in his record. Prior to the combine, Archer announced his intention to best Johnson's record, and CJ2K even admitted that Archer had him nervous.
While the Kent State product fell short of Johnson's mark, he somehow finished the 40-yard dash in just 18 steps, matching a record set by Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2007. The Lions' Johnson is a towering presence at 6'5", while Archer measured in at a mere 5'8" over the weekend. The record for fewest steps comes with zero prestige, but it was still an incredible feat for a vertically challenged player to accomplish.
Archer's breathtaking speed should ensure him of a spot in May's NFL draft, but the 173-pounder probably isn't big enough to be used as anything more than a change-of-pace back. He does have experience as a kickoff return man, and his hands are good enough that a move to slot receiver is conceivable.
Chris Johnson aside, the top performers in the 40-yard dash generally haven't found much success in the NFL.
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