NCAA Football News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Bailey Hockman to FSU: Seminoles Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Florida State landed one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation on Sunday when McEachern High's Bailey Hockman announced his commitment to the Seminoles: 

Hockman, who stands 6'2" and weighs 192 pounds, is considered a 4-star prospect and the No. 7 pro-style quarterback, the No. 19 player from the state of Georgia and the No. 156 prospect overall in the class of 2017, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

He originally committed to Georgia but decided to decommit in December 2015:

That ultimately benefited Florida State, which landed a player who threw for 3,597 yards, 42 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a sophomore, per Jeff Sentell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, firmly putting himself among the top quarterbacks in the 2017 class. 

The lefty combines solid arm strength, nice touch on his deep balls and above-average athleticism at the position. He's a well-rounded weapon, and while he'll need some polishing at the next level, he should develop into an excellent quarterback for the Seminoles.

Hockman should have the chance to earn a backup role for Florida State. Sean Maguire will be the front-runner to win the starting gig in 2016, though behind him is the inexperienced J.J. Cosentino, along with Deondre Francois and Malik Henry.

A redshirt may well be in Hockman's future; though if he impresses, he could find himself climbing up the depth chart.

 

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2016 College Football Games with Biggest Playoff Implications

Many results impact the College Football Playoff, but 10 regular-season games in 2016 are primed to matter the most.

While the first two years of the system have showed one shortcoming can be overcome, late-season losses tend to have a greater influence on the final polls. Losing any of the following games could be the unwanted dagger to championship aspirations for some teams.

The list is organized chronologically and focuses on matchups between early Odds Shark favorites for the national title.

Conference championship games are not included. However, most of the clashes will be a critical factor in determining which programs have an extra outing that weekend.

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Troy Smith Arrested for OVI: Latest Details on Former Ohio State QB

Former Ohio State and NFL quarterback Troy Smith was arrested and charged with "improper display of license tags, OVI and possession of marijuana" early Sunday morning, according to 10TV.com.

Smith tested .143 after being pulled over by police. According to Cpl. Greg Franey of the Westerville Division of Police, the 31-year-old was pulled over on S. State Street at 2:38 a.m., per the Columbus Dispatch.

The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner last appeared in an NFL game in 2010 with the San Francisco 49ers. He began his NFL career as a backup for the Baltimore Ravens before stints with the Niners and Pittsburgh Steelers.

He compiled 1,734 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, five interceptions, 230 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in 20 NFL games, completing 51.7 percent of his passes.

Smith also spent time with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL in 2011 and the Montreal Alouettes in 2013 and 2014. His excellent college career ended after he led the Buckeyes to the 2007 BCS Championship Game, where they lost to the Florida Gators, 41-14.

Smith is currently a free agent.

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Why Boston College FS Justin Simmons Could Be Huge Draft Steal

We're nearing the end of the NFL draft evaluation process, and the majority of the elite prospects have been analyzed from every angle over the past 12 months. 

But inevitably, late risers emerge, such as Boston College Eagles safety Justin Simmons. 

Understandably, many fans are skeptical of these so-called late risers. After all, Simmons hasn't set foot on the field since November, so what could he possibly have done to go from off-the-radar prospect to one of the hottest names in the draft?

Simmons will inevitably be labeled a workout warrior thanks to his impressive NFL combine numbers, but his rise is a result of far more than his numbers in Indianapolis. 

Every year a handful of players put on a combine performance that forces evaluators to go back and give a prospect who may not have been a priority a more serious look.

This was exactly my experience with Simmons this season.

Having not watched much Boston College football during the year, Simmons never made his way into my notes during the season. He was a former cornerback converting to safety, so he didn't enter the season with any significant draft buzz to make him a prospect worth seeking out during the year. But his combine performance forced many evaluators, myself included, to go back and give him a serious assessment—and the results were impressive. 

To appreciate Simmons' potential value in the NFL, it helps to have an understanding of the role safeties play in different defensive schemes. 

On a very basic level, regardless of scheme, the free safety is generally the deepest defensive back on the field, responsible for covering the most ground in the deep secondary. The strong safety tends to play more man coverage and act as the eighth defender in the box in certain alignments.

Simmons is capable of playing the free safety role in any scheme, but his highest value is specific to the Cover 1, which has become the predominant base coverage for most NFL teams. 

Every team mixes up their looks throughout the game to confuse the quarterback, but the Cover 1 scheme heavily relies on a single-high safety (the free safety). 

To provide an example, we'll use the Detroit Lions due to their apparent interest in Simmons. According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, the Lions have met with Simmons three times this offseason. 

This particular play starts out with a Cover 1 look with Glover Quin operating as the free safety, while Isa Abdul-Quddus is the strong safety in the box. 

As the play unfolds, Quin drops back and becomes responsible for providing protection in the shaded region of the image below, which features two Oakland Raiders receivers on this particular play. 

As the free safety, Quin is arguably the most important defender on the field in this situation. His ability to read the quarterback and get to either receiver in time to contest the reception is critical to the success of this defense. 

Ultimately, quarterback Derek Carr checked down to an underneath receiver on this play, potentially due to Quin's positioning on the field, threatening both receivers in his area. 

In a Cover 1 defense, the free safety's ability to provide help over the top allows cornerbacks to play more aggressively near the line of scrimmage. Typically cornerbacks are instructed to try to force receivers to the middle of field, which complicates the read for the quarterback and leads to more turnovers. But none of that is possible without a reliable rangy free safety as protection. 

Simmons played a variety of roles in the Boston College defense, but the single-high free safety was one of his primary responsibilities in 2015. 

Here's a look at his positioning as a Cover 1 free safety on a 1st-and-10 play against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

As the deep safety, Simmons' range and ability to read the quarterback is what sets him apart. 

These skills were on display throughout his game against Notre Dame—NFL Network's Mike Mayock is among those who have praised his performance against the Irish—but his rage showed up at an elite level on this interception in particular:

The range Simmons shows on this play is obvious, but his ability to quickly read and react to the quarterback is really what sets up this play. Plenty of defensive backs have the ability to cover the ground Simmons does on this interception, but his quick reaction to the quarterback's decision is a skill that sets him apart from other free safety prospects in this draft class. 

Simmons also showed off his playmaking ability with an interception off the Clemson Tigers' Deshaun Watson. Once again, Boston College shows a Cover 1 look with Simmons as the single-high free safety. As Watson drops back, he appears to underestimate Simmons' range, as he cuts in front of the Clemson receiver for the interception.

In addition to his range in coverage, Simmons shows off an impressive closing ability in the run game. His athleticism gives him the ability to cover ground, but it's his quick reaction to the developing play that allows him to reach another level with his playmaking ability. 

While free safeties are most valuable for their skills in coverage, the ability to step up against the run is also a critical skill in the Cover 1. 

The Cover 1 allows for teams to stack the box, but it also puts them at risk of allowing longer run plays. If the linebackers get sealed off or drawn out of position by misdirection, a crease can open up for the running back, which forces the free safety to essentially become the last line of defense.

This scenario plays out against against Notre Dame, with Simmons as the free safety in Cover 1. Fortunately for Boston College, Simmons quickly diagnoses the play and the running lane he needs to step into, then he closes the gap with impressive speed and makes a strong wrap-up tackle. 

Simmons' ability to break down in space makes him an elite open-field tackler. He's capable of making these plays charging in from his deep safety position against the run and also makes many similar plays on quick-strike passing plays underneath. 

In terms of his NFL draft stock, Simmons' place on draft boards likely falls in a wide range depending on the role teams see for him in the NFL. 

While this evaluation has been focused on Simmons' value as a free safety in Cover 1, it's also worth noting his prowess against the run and his man coverage skills from his days as a cornerback could lead some teams to view him as an option at strong safety. 

Teams that view Simmons as a free safety in Cover 1 could potentially justify him as a first-round selection based on his range, reaction skills and the value of the position in a Cover 1 defense. However, teams evaluating him as strong safety may have concerns about his size limiting him lining up in the box and may have a much lower grade. 

As a result, Simmons' place on draft day will be determined by whether a team falls in love with his skill set and sees an immediate starting role. If a team does view Simmons as an instant-impact rookie, the late first round is a reasonable landing spot.

Regardless of when Simmons comes of the board, if he finds himself in the right system, he has all the tools necessary to carve out a long career in the NFL.

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Jim Harbaugh Sings the National Anthem on Stage at a Lil Dicky Concert

There are few things more American than Jim Harbaugh singing the national anthem at a rap concert.

The Michigan Wolverines football coach hopped on stage with Lil Dicky for the hip-hop artist's stop at Hill Auditorium on the Ann Arbor campus Saturday and belted out "The Star Spangled Banner."

As it turns out, Lil Khaki has some serious pipes.

[Twitter]

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Alabama Football: Takeaways and Stats from Tide's 1st Spring Scrimmage

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Bo Scarbrough hype officially reached liftoff Saturday. 

Scarbrough had a statement performance during the Crimson Tide’s first spring scrimmage, with 132 rushing yards on nine carries, according to statistics released by the University of Alabama.

He also scored three touchdowns, including one on a 95-yard carry.

Moreover, Scarbrough was the first of three playmakers that head coach Nick Saban specifically mentioned after the closed session at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“I was encouraged by some of the guys out there,” Saban said. “Bo Scarbrough ran pretty well.”

The buzz among Alabama fans about Scarbrough has been building for years, dating back to even before he was considered since one of the top running back recruits in the nation.

Scarbrough hails from the Tuscaloosa area, and at 6’2” and 230 pounds, he physically reminds many of last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry.

With Henry and Kenyan Drake having moved on, Alabama has little proven depth in the backfield, which is led by second-year players Damien Harris and Scarbrough.

After serving a four-game eligibility suspension, Scarbrough played in seven games and had 104 rushing yards on 18 carries with one touchdown last season. Despite the limited workload, his 5.8 yards per carry topped the Crimson Tide, just ahead of Henry’s 5.6.

Harris, who played in 12 games as a true freshman, had 157 rushing yards on 21 carries last year.

“I certainly think he’s capable of doing all the things that we need him to do,” Saban said when asked about Scarbrough. “I think part of it is confidence, knowledge, experience. Having confidence in what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to do it, why it’s important to do it that way. I think when he understands that he plays fast and he’s very effective.

“I like his work ethic, I like his toughness. I think there are things that we need to improve on, but we’re encouraged by what he’s done to this point.”

 

A good day for one of the quarterbacks

The second player that Saban individually praised to reporters was quarterback David Cornwell, who is competing with Copper Bateman and Blake Barnett for the starting job.

Per usual during an Alabama quarterback competition, the program did not release passing statistics from the scrimmage to the media, but Saban said “some of the young quarterbacks made some plays. David Cornwell threw the ball fairly well.”

Although Saban declared that none of the quarterbacks has really stood out so far, they also haven’t had much of an opportunity to do so yet, as Alabama rotated the four on scholarship throughout the scrimmage.

The offense was missing some starters as well.

“There were some inconsistencies in the passing game,” Saban said. “When I say that, I’m not just talking about quarterbacks throwing the ball. I’m talking about the protection, the receivers running the right routes, the timing, all those things. I think the thing that affects the passing game and the kicking game as much as anything is the wind, and it was really windy.

“There were some good plays made today. I’m encouraged by all of those guys. I think the big thing they need to is each and every one of them can’t be thinking about where I am on the depth chart, what my position is and worry about that.”

 

Injury report

Alabama continues to bring the players who are coming off injuries along slowly. Defensive end Jonathan Allen (shoulder), left tackle Cam Robinson (shoulder), wide receiver Robert Foster (shoulder) and safety Eddie Jackson (leg) were among those in black no-contact jerseys and held out of the scrimmage.

Maurice Smith has been working at safety in Jackson’s absence, and early enrollee Jonah Williams filled in for Robinson during the scrimmage.

“Jonah Williams has really played nicely and actually played left tackle today with the first team and did a really nice job,” Saban said.

The coach also stated that reserve tackle Korren Kirven missed some time this past week with a foot injury.

 

Tide-bits 

• Saban indicated that the scrimmage format was simple, as the aim was for coaches to evaluate how the players competed. “I think that I can’t really ever say that I’m pleased with much of anything around here, but I guess, relatively speaking, this scrimmage was a lot like you would expect a first scrimmage to be,” he said. “There were a lot of good things and there were a lot of things that need to be cleaned up.” Overall, Saban said he liked the team’s effort and toughness.

• A third playmaker that Saban singled out was wide receiver ArDarius Stewart. He was credited with a team-high seven receptions for 100 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 18 yards.

• Saban didn’t comment too much on the defensive side, saying it “batted some balls down, got some turnovers, made some good plays.” Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson and linebacker Rashaan Evans led all players with eight tackles, while linebacker Reuben Foster returned an interception for a touchdown.

  

Alabama spring scrimmage No. 1

Stats include 11-on-11, situational drills, red area, goal line, two-minute 

Rushing leaders

  • Bo Scarbrough: 9 attempts, 132 yards, 3 touchdowns
  • Jalen Hurts: 10 attempts, 57 yards
  • Damien Harris: 12 attempts, 36 yards

 

Receiving leaders

  • ArDarius Stewart: 7 catches, 100 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Calvin Ridley: 3 catches, 50 yards

 

Defensive leaders

  • Dalvin Tomlinson: 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 passes broken up
  • Rashaan Evans: 8 tackles, 1 sack
  • Reuben Foster: 7 tackles, 1 interception (returned for a touchdown)
  • Ryan Anderson: 7 tackles, 1 sack

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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