NCAA Football News

Cesar Ruiz Tweets Top 12: Which Teams Have Best Shot to Land No. 1 OC?

Offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz has attracted attention from college coaching staffs across America, claiming 30 scholarship offers well in advance of his senior high school season.

The 6'3", 315-pound prospect, rated No. 1 overall among centers in 247Sports' composite rankings, provided an update on his whirlwind recruitment Sunday evening. Ruiz, who attends IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, released a list of 12 favorites on Twitter:

A list this large doesn't always necessarily offer much insight into a recruit's mindset, but this announcement is an exception since Ruiz ranked programs in order of preference. Michigan tops his pecking order at this point, followed by Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, LSU, Clemson, Florida, Auburn, Temple, Miami and Rutgers. 

It's a group of contenders that features three of the four qualifiers for 2016 College Football Playoff action, along with representatives from five different conferences. The SEC is represented at the highest volume, with five universities in the mix.

Ruiz, considered a top-200 prospect nationally in composite rankings, dropped the list shortly after a visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was on campus Friday, April 1, for the Wolverines' second spring game under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

It's important to note that while Ruiz currently battles in the trenches for IMG Academy, he landed on the national recruiting radar in New Jersey. Prior to a summer 2015 transfer, he competed at Camden High School, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

This provides further context for his sustained interest in nearby Rutgers and Temple, as each identified him as a priority target early in the process. However, it's also another reason why Ruiz's rapport with the Wolverines is so strong. 

Led by assistant coach Chris Partridge, who previously led New Jersey powerhouse Paramus Catholic High School, Michigan claimed six commitments from the state in the 2016 recruiting cycle. This haul included a pair of Ruiz's former Camden teammates in defensive end Ron Johnson and Brad Hawkins.

Ruiz can be seen here, far right in an IMG sweatshirt, following Partridge on campus Friday:

Michigan also made headlines earlier this spring by holding a portion of spring practice at IMG Academy. While contact between current IMG student-athletes and the Wolverines was limited, that exposure may have also helped Harbaugh's squad climb atop this list of collegiate options.

Alabama, currently No. 2 on Ruiz's list, and Auburn, sitting at No. 9, will reportedly have an opportunity to further build their stock with the coveted offensive lineman. Both programs will welcome him to campus this week, according to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports.

The Crimson Tide have stockpiled elite recruits across the offensive line with greater efficiency than any team in America this decade—a trend that contributes mightily to a six-year streak of No. 1 overall recruiting classes. Ryan Kelly, a multi-year starter and Rimington Trophy winner at center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will be in the NFL next season, giving former 4-star prospects such as J.C. Hassenauer and Ross Pierschbacher an opportunity to fill the role. 

Along with Kelly, Alabama produced a Rimington Trophy winner in 2012 (Barrett Jones). The award honors college football's top center, and Alabama's track record here has to be appealing for a talent like Ruiz. 

North Carolina remains an intriguing option at No. 3, though we get the sense there could be a significant gap separating Michigan and Alabama from the rest of this pack. Ruiz previously mentioned the Tar Heels as a team "sticking out" early last season, according to Corey Bender of Scout.com, so the staff has clearly sustained a favorable impression.

Ruiz will compete against one of America's most impressive defensive front-seven units on a daily basis during practices at IMG. The group includes a pair of 5-star recruits in defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and linebacker Dylan Moses, and a challenging national schedule will thrust him further into the spotlight as he lines up across from several lauded defensive linemen this fall.

Expectations are immense for Ruiz as he approaches his senior year following an invitation to The Opening finals, an elite prospect showcase held in July at Nike's world headquarters. Without a public commitment timeline in place, expect speculation to swirl around the standout throughout the summer and into next season.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football Week 3 Spring Practice Report

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's first spring at Georgia has made the turn and is headed for the clubhouse.

The Bulldogs have wrapped up their third week of the spring practice session, with all eyes on the G-Day Game on April 16 for which Smart hopes 93,000 fans will fill Sanford Stadium.

What will they see? That picture began to come into focus over the last week.

 

Time To Panic?

True freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason is supposed to be the future of the quarterback position in Athens but has yet to ascend to his throne.

According to Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, senior Greyson Lambert and junior Brice Ramsey split the first-team snaps during Georgia's first spring scrimmage on Saturday, with Eason taking the majority of the snaps with the threes.

The returns were quite positive.

"We did have some big, explosive passes," Smart said, per Emerson. "It’s not good on defense, but it’s good when you have a chance to do that on offense."

Time to panic?

No, not even close.

Eason is essentially three weeks into his college career, and of course Smart is going to rely more on his veteran quarterbacks in his first spring session as a college head coach. That's the wise thing to do. Eason needs to learn how college quarterbacks operate in practice, approach work every day, handle the pressure of scrimmages and adjust to different ideas coaches bring to them on the fly.

That takes time.

It'll still be Eason's show at some point this season, and the former 5-star prospect's winning the three-man competition outright prior to the season opener vs. North Carolina is a legitimate possibility. 

Patience is a virtue.

 

Slowly Building

With Nick Chubb out rehabbing from his knee injury, Brendan Douglas not taking contact due to a wrist injury and junior Sony Michel being treated with kid gloves due to massive running back depth issues, Saturday's scrimmage became the Tae Crowder Show in the Bulldog backfield.

How did the redshirt freshman do?

Stats weren't released, but Smart didn't seem too thrilled.

"That running back situation made it tougher to run it but I still feel like to be a productive football team we’re going to have to run the ball first and then throw the ball down the field," Smart said, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. "We’re not where we need to be physically running the ball, dominating up front."

Crowder, a 6'3", 220-pounder from Hamilton, Georgia, was a 3-star prospect in the class of 2015 and committed to the Bulldogs on national signing day a year ago.

As is the case with the quarterbacks, the progression of the running game—and Smart's quest to build depth—is going to take time. The blessing for Smart is that the number of carries Crowder will receive this spring will help him develop, get him used to the speed of the college game and could land him some rotational carries in the fall if he succeeds.

He has the body type; he just needs the comfort. That comfort is happening this spring.

 

Linebackers Improving

With Jake Ganus, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins gone, Smart and first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker desperately need some younger players to become stars this spring.

Natrez Patrick and Reggie Carter obliged in Saturday's scrimmage.

Patrick, an inside linebacker who cross-trained outside at times last spring, is a versatile, 6'3", 248-pound sophomore who had 22 tackles and a career-high four against Penn State to close the 2015 season. Carter, a 6'1", 228-pound junior, has struggled with injuries at times but appears to be doing fine this spring after last season's shoulder surgery.

"Natrez Patrick and Reggie Carter did well today, and I was excited to see them out there," Smart said, per Georgia's official site. "We always tell the guys you can run hard to the ball, and that's the one thing that doesn't take any talent. And those guys were running hard."

There's no shortage of talent in the linebacking corps at Georgia. If they earn starting nods, Patrick and Carter will be joined by juniors Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy outside in an ultra-athletic unit that could evolve into one of the SEC's best.

 

Breaking Out Of The Slump

Speaking of Carter, the former 5-star prospect burst onto the scene in 2014 with 41 tackles, seven for loss and an eye-popping 11 quarterback hurries.

The Norcross, Georgia, native suffered through a sophomore slump in 2015 with just 19 total tackles, none of which were behind the line, and only four pressures on the quarterback, according to CFBStats.com. Hearkening back to his freshman year is imperative to Georgia's success in 2016, and Carter appears to be on his way to doing just that.

"He’s done a good job giving extra effort, and I’ve been pleased with that," Smart said, according to Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph. "I’ve been pleased with what he’s doing so far. But I think he’s one of those guys you have to push and challenge all the time because he’ll relax on you."

That has to be welcome news to Georgia fans, who expect Carter to be the unblockable threat off the edge that Floyd was over the last couple of years and Carter looked like he could become as a freshman. 

Smart apparently knows that Carter needs to be pushed, and that's fine. Perhaps the fact that everybody is forced to fight for his job due to the coaching change is exactly what Carter needs to realize his potential.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Early 2016 Win-Loss Record Projections for Every Big Ten Football Team

The Big Ten has put a team in the College Football Playoff in each of the first two installments of the new postseason, with Ohio State claiming it all in 2014 and Michigan State falling short in the semifinal a year later.

Both the Buckeyes and the Spartans lost loads of talent after the 2015-16 season but will try to piece a playoff run together. But it's the chief rival for each team—Michigan—that has the pieces in place to contend, with nine starters returning on offense and six on defense.

Those three teams will battle for Big Ten East Division supremacy, while Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern will try to unseat reigning West Division champion Iowa.

How will the conference hierarchy unfold in 2016? Here's an early record prediction for each Big Ten team.

Begin Slideshow

4-Star QB Bailey Hockman Commits to FSU: Seminoles Add to QB Factory Rep

Florida State’s 2017 class received a major boost over the weekend with a commitment from 4-star quarterback Bailey Hockman.

A few weeks ago at Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta, the 6’2”, 192-pounder—who rates as the nation’s No. 7 pro-style passer and the No. 156 player overall in the 2017 cycle—spoke on what attracted him to the Seminoles program. 

"It’s a great school and a beautiful campus,” Hockman told Bleacher Report recently. “It could be a really good place for me and help me get to where I want to go. [Head] Coach [Jimbo] Fisher is one of the best quarterback coaches in the county, so that’s definitely appealing." 

Hockman’s commitment is big for the ‘Noles for a number of reasons. 

According to MaxPreps, the left-hander out of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, threw for 2,520 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore. 

However, as Barton Simmons of 247Sports points out, Hockman—who plays for his father, Kyle, at McEachern—has the intangible qualities necessary to succeed on the college level. 

Another benefit for FSU is that he has a 3.8 GPA and is on track to enroll at Florida State in January.

Getting him in the fold early should help the ‘Noles attract other top prospects to a class that sits at No. 6 nationally in 247Sports' team rankings.

Additionally, his pledge also continues the theme of Florida State being a primary destination for elite quarterback recruits.

With Hockman’s commitment, FSU has landed a quarterback recruit rated 4-star or higher in five of the Seminoles’ last six recruiting classes.

As Hockman alluded to, Fisher’s resume with landing and grooming top passers is hard to ignore. 

Since he’s been in Tallahassee, Fisher has developed three passers into first-round NFL draft choices—including Heisman Trophy winner and Tampa Bay Buccaneers standout Jameis Winston.

Players such as Winston and EJ Manuel were touted recruits with national offer lists. However, even quarterbacks who weren’t household names in recruiting circles have benefited from Fisher’s tutelage. 

Former Seminoles such as Clint Trickett and Jake Coker—who guided Alabama to a national championship last season—have found success elsewhere after beginning their careers at FSU. Another former ‘Nole—John Franklin III—is competing to become the starter at Auburn this fall, as detailed by AL.com’s Wesley Sinor.

With the Seminoles having established that type of success at the game’s most important position, it gives Fisher’s program a major advantage in helping to keep FSU among the nation’s elite for years to come.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Report

AUBURN, Ala. — This weekend, football and all the necessary fanfare will return to Jordan-Hare Stadium after months of quiet.

Only a couple of practices remain for Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers between now and Saturday's A-Day Game, where they'll give the orange and blue faithful its first glimpse at what's coming in a crucial 2016 campaign.

Auburn wrapped up its fourth week of spring practices last Saturday with its second scrimmage of the year, where a certain quarterback got some special spotlight due to his jersey color and more separation developed at key position battles.

Malzahn has said he has a goal of putting together a two-deep depth chart at the end of spring practice, which means these last few practices—and A-Day—will be quite important for the team heading into the long summer months.

Here are all the top news, notes and quotes from Week 4 of Auburn's spring practices, with the grand finale just around the corner.

 

Shaking things up on the offensive line

Between Auburn's need to replace both of its starting tackles and new offensive line coach Herb Hand's plan to build versatility, there's a new favorite in the race to be the Tigers' next blind-spot protector.

Austin Golson, who started at center last season for Auburn after transferring from Ole Miss, was the Tigers' first-team left tackle during last Tuesday's media viewing window. According to Hand, Golson's move there isn't a one time thing.

"Austin Golson has been repping at both left tackle and center," Hand said. "He's got a lot of experience at center so every rep he takes at left tackle he gets more comfortable, which is big for us."

On Saturday, Malzahn said Golson's move to left tackle might be permanent, according to Ryan Black of 247Sports. The head coach said Golson was still getting used to the position:

Moving around on the offensive line is natural for Golson at this point in his career. He was a 4-star offensive tackle out of Prattville High School in Alabama, but he played mostly at guard as a true freshman in 2013 with Ole Miss. At Auburn, he quickly became the favorite to replace Reese Dismukes at center.

Senior and experienced backup Xavier Dampeer has stepped in as the first-team center while Golson reps on the outside. Hand said Dampeer has been playing at a "pretty good level at center" and was one of the players he has been pleased with this spring.

Golson's move to left tackle has bumped Robert Leff, who began spring practice as the favorite at left tackle, over to right tackle. The now-eligible transfer Darius James, who sat out Tuesday's practice but returned for Saturday's scrimmage, is primarily competing at left tackle with Golson.

While it seems the Tigers are moving closer to an established depth chart on the offensive line as spring camp winds down, Hand is still making it a point to work players at multiple positions.

"We have to have a contingency plan...and what that means is I can't just go out there and say this guy is our left tackle and this guy is our right tackle," Hand said. "We have to have a plan that if something were to happen and we have to shift some bodies around. What's allowed us to do that is the versatility of guys like Austin Golson."

  

Staying live, staying live

Malzahn said at the end of Week 3 that one of the staff's biggest goals from its scrimmage was to get more film on quarterback John Franklin III in live situations. 

In Auburn's second scrimmage one week later, Malzahn decided to put his newest quarterback under the microscope again. Reports on Franklin from the closed scrimmage were favorable, per Brandon Marcello of SEC Country:

According to Wesley Sinor of AL.com, Malzahn left the orange non-contact jersey off of Franklin on Saturday. Former starting quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Sean White, however, did not go live.

"We just felt like it was important, one more time, to see how [Franklin] can protect the football," Malzahn said, per Sinor. "Let him make some plays and stuff like that, so it was a good evaluation from that end."

Franklin, who continues to rotate and get first-team reps in practices, has been subject to more hands-on coaching by Malzahn over the last couple of weeks.

That carried over to his teammates on defense, too, and Malzahn sounded pleased with the way Franklin protected the ball—a key focus after some fumbles in Week 3's scrimmage.

In almost every player and coach interview that has mentioned Franklin's name this spring, the transfer's speed has been a hot topic of conversation. But on Saturday, Malzahn focused on the finer details of playing quarterback at Auburn when discussing Franklin's scrimmage.

"We've been impressed the way he's picked up all the things from the sideline―the pre-snap things," Malzahn said, per Michael Niziolek of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "There's a lot to playing quarterback in our system before the play even starts, before you even look at the defense. I've been very impressed the way he's done that."

The next time Franklin goes up against the Tigers defense in a scrimmage setting will be this Saturday's A-Day Game, when Auburn fans will get to see the dual-threat star in uniform for the first time.

 

'Butt beatings' important for heavily hyped linemen

The focus on Auburn's now-deep defensive line this spring has been on two different camps—the veteran leadership of returning starters such as Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, and the bright potential of underclassmen such as Byron Cowart and Marlon Davidson.

In his first interview session of the year, veteran defensive line coach Rodney Garner spoke highly of both Cowart and Davidson, who are both repping at strong-side defensive end, opposite the "Buck."

Garner said Cowart, who had a microscopic amount of production compared to the hype he received last year as a true freshman, is showing the consistency this spring needed to become a factor at the SEC level.

"He's going to be fine," Garner said. "They have to guard against all this pressure that everybody has placed on them that they're going to come in and be an instant success. ... I don't care about stars. Nobody cares about stars. You think that guy lined up across from him cares about stars? It probably motivates him more to beat his butt."

On Saturday, Cowart faced the media for the first time as a Tiger, and he spoke openly about one of the main areas that was said to have held his development back in 2015—his head.

"I'm trying to improve my mental toughness—that's the biggest thing, and being able to move on to the next play," Cowart said, per Black. "If you mess up on the last play, don't let it affect the next play, because if you let it affect the next play, then it's affecting the whole team."

Garner said making that adjustment comes differently for every highly touted defensive lineman, who is normally used to dominating his competition in high school practices and games. 

Davidson, who impressed as the first-team defensive end in a pace drill last Tuesday, is finding that out, to the delight of a smiling Garner.

"It's been great watching him get beat," Garner said with a laugh. "It's been a humbling experience because he hasn't had many of those opportunities. ... For him to have to go in there, because he just thought, 'I'm Marlon Davidson, I'm going to line up and kick your butt,' and then get his butt kicked—it's great."

 

No-huddle notebook

  • Auburn picked up a graduate transfer over the weekend—Georgia native Marshall Taylor, who played cornerback at Miami (Ohio) in the MAC. At 6'2" and nearly 200 pounds, Taylor provides another big body with experience to the Tigers' cornerback room. 
  • Malzahn made a special note to highlight the play of sophomore wide receiver Ryan Davis on Saturday, per Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advertiser (via the Anniston Star): "Ryan Davis is a guy that really you can tell has taken that next step. I've been very proud of him. He's got a lot of winner in him. He's wanting to be coached, and he's got some ability."
  • According to Niziolek, sophomore cornerback Carlton Davis' goals for the defense this season are massive. He wants the Tigers to hold opponents to an average of less than 14 points per game.
  • New defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff said sophomore defensive back Nick Ruffin has had a "really good spring camp" at safety and raved about his "good football IQ" and "contact skills."
  • Running backs coach Tim Horton said senior running back Jovon Robinson has been more engaged with his teammates in the past year and has opened up after his tough journey to get back to the Plains.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Winners and Losers of Wolverines' Spring

Spring practice has come and gone for the Michigan Wolverines, and the team finished the session with a few standout performers who have encouraging outlooks for 2016.

However, a couple of players aren't as close to grabbing significant roles—whether that's a starting position or top reserve spot.

While performance in March isn't perfectly indicative of future successes or struggles, each of the listed players created a certain perception heading into the summer.

The list includes focuses on both the entire spring and the scrimmage itself.

Begin Slideshow

Ranking the Top 25 College Football Coaches Heading into 2016

College football coaching is not for the meek or weak. While the pay scale, especially at the highest levels, has improved significantly over the past decade, the pressure to win, and win consistently, can be intense.

Carving out a career as a successful head coach is difficult, and we should celebrate those who it well. We’re doing a little of that here. Here’s a list of the top 25 coaches in college football. We judged coaches by their resumes, including things like 10-win seasons, league titles and, in some cases, national championships.

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.

Begin Slideshow

Florida Football Week 4 Spring Practice Report

The Orange & Blue Debut, Florida's annual spring game, takes place Friday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which means head coach Jim McElwain has reached the homestretch in his second spring practice session of his stint as head coach of the Gators.

How did the last week of spring practice go in Gainesville? 

Here's our recap of the last week of spring practice around The Swamp.

 

Appleby, the Starter?

Plan A for Austin Appleby was to be the starter at Purdue heading into the 2016 season. After all, he threw for 1,449 yards and 10 touchdowns in a little over half a season as the Boilermakers' starter in 2014 and then five touchdowns through the first two games of the 2015 season. 

But a 9-for-28 debacle against Virginia Tech in Week 3 sent Appleby to the bench in favor of then-freshman David Blough, and Blough took the job and ran with it.

Plan B for Appleby was the graduate transfer market, which led him to Florida. The 6'4", 235-pounder who also can run a little bit (nine career rushing touchdowns) hit the ground running and hopes to win the starting job in Gainesville this offseason.

"I didn't come here to not play,'' he said according to Scott Carter Florida's official site. "I came here to compete and earn this starting job. The way I do that is just be me. If I take care of the things I need to take care of, control what I can control, I believe everything will take care of itself."

He's embroiled in a big quarterback battle that includes redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. Appleby has the most experience of the group, with Del Rio having the most experience with McElwain's system after running the scout team for a year following his transfer from Oregon State.

What kind of experience will win out?

Appleby hopes his game experience in FBS football will do the trick. We'll see what happens on Friday in the spring game and beyond, but it's a near-certainty that the race will come down to Appleby and Del Rio over the summer.

 

Who Can Create A Mismatch?

In any pro-style offense, a multidimensional tight end who can create mismatches as a receiver up the seam and isn't a liability as a blocker in the running game is a necessity.

Jake McGee was that guy last year, but his absence leaves a glaring hole for McElwain to fill.

Enter C'yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby. Goolsby had 17 catches for 277 yards and one touchdown last year serving as the primary No. 2 tight end, while Lewis had just four catches but totaled 75 yards and two scores. 

With a week to go before the spring game, it seems Goolsby has a slight edge heading into the spring game.

"Goolsby’s had a good spring," special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Greg Nord said, according to Nick de la Torre of Gator Country. "He’s made some plays for us, has a good grasp of the offense as you would think he would with the number of plays he got to play last year."

Lewis has shown that big-play ability in limited action, though. If he can improve as a blocker, get downfield for his running backs and effectively chip blitzers off the edge to protect his quarterback, he could find his way into a more prominent role in the tight end-friendly offense.

 

McMillian On The Move

Florida seems to have a cloning machine that regenerates top-tier linebackers every year, and this year appears to be no different. 

Jarrad Davis is back and should be a star, and fellow senior Daniel McMillian could be as well—albeit in a new location. 

McMillian has switched to the strong side this spring, and it has paid off.

"He’s done well at it," linebackers coach Randy Shannon told Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald. "We’re kind of excited about the progress, the way he’s learning. Great things ahead for us and for him, because him learning the weak-side and now he’s able to play the strong-side, now we gain two positions out of one."

With Davis entrenched and senior Alex Anzalone likely joining them in the middle of Florida's defense, the Gators have plenty of talent and experience to work with in defensive coordinator Geoff Collins' second season in Gainesville. That experience should pay off for the Gators, who need new leaders to step up in the absence of the stars of last year's defense, including linebacker Antonio Morrison.

 

Boom or Bust

Florida's last scrimmage leading up to the spring game featured several big plays, including a long touchdown run from junior college transfer Mark Thompson and big plays through the air from Goolsby and 6'4" senior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood.

The secondary also forced multiple turnovers on Friday, according to Simonton, including big plays from versatile defensive back Duke Dawson, true freshman early-enrollee safety Chauncey Gardner and veteran safety Marcus Maye.

"We got our hands on the ball, and we did some positive things," secondary coach Torrian Gray said, per Simonton. "But there were also some long plays that we got to clean up."

"Overall, we’re going to like what we’re going to put on film with the understanding that we’ve got a lot of work to still do."

For Florida, this is probably the best-case scenario with one week to go prior to the spring game.

Explosive plays happening from the offense has to be a sight for sore eyes for Gator fans, who have become far too accustomed to mediocre offenses that are incapable of stretching the field and have been seemingly allergic to big plays.

The secondary forcing turnovers also has to be welcomed news, especially since they're coming from players like Dawson and Gardner—two players who should be taking on more responsibility in the secondary in 2016.

 

No Glorified Practice

In 2013, offensive line injuries forced Florida to change the format of the spring game from a scrimmage to an open practice under former head coach Will Muschamp. Last season, a similar problem threatened the format of the game, but McElwain opted for an actual game (even though the second-team offensive line struggled mightily). 

This year, there's no question—it's game time.

"It's going to be football. It's not going to be a practice, if that makes sense," McElwain said, according to Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun. "It's still a little bit to be determined from the standpoint of how we're going to split the teams to see where we're at injury-wise and make it as competition-oriented as possible.

"We need to create game situations and a game-type atmosphere to see how these guys play on a stage. So that's why we're going to do that simulation as much as possible."

What does it mean for the Gators? 

Creating a game-like atmosphere is important because it does put pressure on players fighting for positions. That matters, especially for teams that have ongoing quarterback battles. Watching how quarterbacks respond to the crowd, atmosphere and pressure associated with being on the biggest possible spring stage won't necessarily determine the winner of those battles, but it will be something that the staff takes into consideration when making decisions.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football Week 3 Spring Practice Report

The Tennessee football program's love affair with new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop continued throughout the third week of spring practice, as that side of the ball continued to take strides toward being one of the most talented units in the SEC.

But Alvin Kamara and the Vols offense took some real shots for the first time all spring. 

The junior running back ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run in a scrimmage where the offense got the best of the defense consistently for the first time all spring. It was just a sign of things to come for AK and fellow junior Jalen Hurd, who should provide one of the best tandems in all of football.

The UT athletics production department already is getting ready for the hype machine that will be surrounding those two.

That long run is one of the few highlights you'll see out of Tennessee's "Run CMG" duo this spring. After all, the "Chain Moving Gang" can't churn out yards in chunks this fall if they get hurt in April. That fact isn't lost on Tennessee coaches.

"You look in the NFL—I talked with guys from the Seattle Seahawks—and Marshawn Lynch doesn't need to get hit during practice," Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown. "He's going to be in car wrecks all Sunday 16 Sundays out of the year."

Point, Gillespie.

But all Vols fans know (and brag) about Hurd and Kamara. Let's take a look at some positive developments from the past week, the third full week of Tennessee spring practice 2016.

 

Sophomore defenders taking the next step

Last week was all about headlines revolving around a pair of second-year defensive ends who weren't household names for most Vols fans last year in sophomore Austin Smith and redshirt freshman Darrell Taylor.

A couple of guys you do know about are now beginning to take a step forward toward stardom.

Two of the biggest coups of UT's 2015 recruiting class were middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie. Kirkland was a budding star last year, and McKenzie began to live up to his lofty status as the season wore down.

This spring, they've been all over the place.

The big hope for UT when Jalen Reeves-Maybin went down with a spring-ending injury was that Kirkland would take over the role of being the unequivocal leader of the defense. He's done that and more.

It's safe to say they're hitting it off.

First, the first-year Tennessee defensive coordinator told GoVols247's Wes Rucker that sitting in the film room with his two star linebackers was "like watching film with 10-year NFL vets." Kirkland reciprocated the love by saying that Shoop had a "beautiful mind."

Those words led to a hilarious tweet from Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Grant Ramey, who routinely owns Twitter with his humor:

It would be massive for Tennessee if Kirkland grew into the kind of player he's capable of being this spring and carried it over into an All-SEC campaign a year after earning freshman all-conference honors.

Speaking of reaching potential, McKenzie was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school in California and is the son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

So much was expected of him right away—perhaps unfairly so, considering he was ineligible as a senior after transferring and also dealt with a knee injury.

But he's still huge and back to throwing people around this spring. Once he gets his technique down and stays consistent in doing those things that defensive tackles must do to be successful, he's going to be a load to handle.

Even so, coaches know how great he can be, and they aren't cutting him any slack, including defensive line coach Steve Stripling, who told Brown:

 

Filling the void

The player Tennessee will miss most off the '15 squad isn't longtime emotional leader Curt Maggitt or four-year starting safety Brian Randolph. It won't be strong, burly defensive tackle Owen Williams or departing receiver Von Pearson.

Instead, it'll be left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, a journeyman offensive lineman who played about everywhere you can think of along the front during his five seasons with the Vols.

Though he probably was always better-suited for the interior, the Knoxville native shifted outside as a senior and stabilized the exterior of the left side, protecting Dobbs' blind side.

This year, former highly-recruited lineman Drew Richmond will try to step into those big shoes.

With right tackle Chance Hall hurt this spring, Brett Kendrick is looking good holding down the right side. Richmond is making strides, too, but just because there isn't a ton of depth out there, it doesn't mean UT couldn't wind up moving a guard out there.

Richmond must do well, and so far, he's getting better and better, he told Rucker:

I'm just working on my consistency. It’s an every-day battle. Your mental ability takes you farther than your athletic ability, and I've been learning that. I work every day to continue to work on my mind to go through things with adversity, and just try to condition my mind to be more consistent and finish plays and play up to the standard that we hold ourselves to.

When he shifted over to left tackle, Richmond said everything changed. He even began to favor his left hand in daily routine activities just to get used to it, he told Rucker:

Will all that dedication pay off? It's hard for a freshman to step into such a pivotal role, even a redshirt freshman. But the Vols desperately need somebody to fill the void of Kerbyson. Richmond looks like he may be the answer.

 

Offensive resurgence

Not only did the highlight happen in Saturday's scrimmage with Kamara's 80-plus-yard touchdown run, but the more important things occurred, too.

You aren't going to get long gains every game, though the Vols will certainly take those when they get them. Situationally, UT needs to be sharper than it was a season ago offensively.

The Vols did some nice things in short-yardage situations, and quarterback Joshua Dobbs showed his competitive drive by scoring a pair of touchdowns. Goal-line drills ultimately helped the offense pull away, and though the passing game reportedly wasn't as sharp in the windy conditions, UT made strides.

According to Brown, coach Butch Jones asked multiple times for "clutch plays" from "clutch players." That's a far cry from previous years when the UT coaches were trying to find guys upon which they could depend.

Now, they know. They just need to see it on a consistent basis. Dobbs told Brown the echoed words aren't anything they don't already know.

[Jones is] saying it a lot, but when you look back at the last five games we've lost over the last two seasons, it's come down to one or two plays that literally have changed the game. We're just looking for guys that are able to embrace the moment, step up when their number's called and go up and make a play when we need them to as an offense and defense.

Apparently, they responded.

Much of camp has been about UT's defense really looking strong despite having injuries all over the field. That speaks to the depth on that side of the ball. 

But the offense is winning its share, too. And there was no doubt who came through on Saturday and who gets to keep the Smokey Gray helmets that go to the winners, according to Rocky Top Insider:

 

Rocky Top roundup

  • Everybody is excited about the potential of redshirt senior Jason Croom moving from receiver to tight end. But how has the experiment gone so far? Swimmingly, UT offensive coordinator Mike DeBord told Rucker: "Obviously, he's a guy that can create mismatches, you know? We can work to get him the ball down in the red zone and stuff like that, which we're doing. We're adding things as we go."
  • According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, sophomore runner John Kelly had a rushing score and a receiving score in Saturday's scrimmage. As said, UT knows what it has in Hurd and Kamara, but Kelly's emergence this spring is exceptional news for the future.
  • Some may assume that the trio of Vols who returned for another season rather than going pro (Kamara, Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton) just didn't get the draft grades they expected. Sutton probably turned down millions, however, and he's a major factor for UT. Shoop is seeing it on a daily basis. "I knew he was good, but I didn't realize he was this good," Shoop told Brown. "He's a pro."

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Highlights and Analysis from The Opening Houston Regional

HOUSTON — The competition level at Houston's Delmar-Tusa Athletic Complex was high, and by the end of Sunday afternoon, seven athletes were invited to The Opening this summer in Beaverton, Oregon.

The greater Houston area saw athletes earn invitations in defensive tackle Marvin Wilson; running backs J.K. Dobbins and Toneil Carter; and offensive linemen Walker Little and Austin Deculus.

Also receiving invitations were two out-of-town athletes in IMG Academy (Florida) linebacker Dylan Moses—the No. 2 player overall in the 2017 class—and Oregon cornerback commit Elijah Molden. Both Moses and Molden are making return trips to The Opening after going as incoming juniors last summer.

Here are some updates from Sunday's event.

 

High school teammates relish honor

Episcopal High School in Houston is the home to two national top-150 players in Marvin Wilson (No. 4 overall, No. 1 DT) and Walker Little (No. 149 overall, No. 25 OT). Both are excited not only about earning the invitation to Oregon but also about representing their school.

"It's awesome," Little said. "It feels great to come out here and get a lot better, and it's great to compete against the great competition."

"I'm on top of the world right now," Wilson added. "Now that I've got this envelope, I'm more happy than anybody."

Wilson and Little play for a school with an enrollment of less than 700. Both have heard outsiders question the talent level at Episcopal and on the school's schedule.

Getting two athletes to The Opening helps validate what Episcopal brings to the table.

"A lot of people say that we're just a private school, and we don't play anybody," Wilson said. "We just came out and showed that it doesn't matter who you play. If you've got talent, you've got talent."

To which Little added: "It's all about representing the school. We feel like we can do well and win a lot of games because we have some decent talent. I think this shows it."

 

A second invite: veteran status for Moses?

Dylan Moses won't mind being called a veteran of The Opening. In his eyes, earning a second trip to the prestigious summer event is quite the accomplishment.

Moses competed last summer and said he is excited about earning the return invitation. He got it Sunday with consistent efforts in drills and solid one-on-one performances.

"It's going to be real good going back and competing with my classmates," he said. "It's always good to go against the best of the best. There will be a lot of competition."

And will this be an opportunity for Moses to play the veteran role?

"Not really," Moses said. "I'm just looking to go out there and have fun."

 

Texas flight works in Molden's favor

How do you top a great weekend visit to Stanford? For Oregon legacy and West Linn, Oregon, prospect Elijah Molden, taking a trip to Houston and earning a return invite to The Opening was in the plans.

Molden, who was in Beaverton last summer for the event, said he had a great trip to Stanford and added that the trip to Houston was icing on the cake to a very productive weekend.

"It was just an opportunity for me to check out the competition, and there's great competition here," Molden said. "I came from a visit from Stanford; it just worked out with the flights.

"I feel good. I tested a little better in some categories, but there's always stuff to improve on. I'm going to go back home and work on my craft."

The son of former Oregon and NFL defensive back Alex Molden, Molden has Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame high on his list.

 

Carter: 'Nothing but great competition here'

In short, Toneil Carter described the atmosphere at the Delmar-Tusa Athletic Complex.

"We're in Houston," he said. "There's nothing but great competition here."

Carter showed his abilities on Sunday and earned a trip to The Opening in the process. He then spoke about the mission at hand, which was being coachable and learning as much as possible.

"I just want to keep performing at the top level," Carter said. "From there, it's all about taking it to the next level. I came here to do my thing, so I'm feeling pretty good."

Carter, the nation's No. 6 running back in the 2017 class, has 18 reported offers and said he will take his time with recruiting. However, a decision will be made this year, as he plans on enrolling early.

"I'm going to take all my officials and then make a decision," he said.

 

The Opening alumni make appearance

Last year, athletes like Deontay Anderson, Dontavious Jackson, Jeffrey McCulloch and Tyrie Cleveland were running the drills, completing the skills competitions and listening to the coaches to earn a trip to The Opening. At the end of the day, it was mission accomplished.

On Sunday, the four athletes, who are now preparing for college football, were in attendance again—not to compete but to see the future athletes of the event.

"It's always good to come back," Anderson said. "They just need to listen to the coaches and make sure they're getting better."

 

Speed...and hops

While 2018 athlete Caleb Jolivette made a name for himself one way, 2017 Timarcus Davis helped his cause in another.

Jolivette ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.35 seconds during skills testing. He also claimed "Fastest Man" honors during a five-man race featuring the fastest 40-yard times of the day.

Davis impressed the crowd with a vertical jump of 45.8 inches, which is the highest recorded jump of the 2016 The Opening circuit thus far. He went on to win the ratings MVP award with a score of 124.08. Davis, who has a dozen offers, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds, finished the 20-yard shuttle in 3.95 seconds and threw the power ball 35 feet.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages