NCAA Football News

Texas Football: Projecting Post-Spring 2-Deep Depth Chart

The Texas Longhorns are done with spring practice, and first-year head coach Charlie Strong is putting together the two-deep depth chart. Although it is unlikely Strong will publicly release any depth chart, he said he planned on telling the players where they stand following spring practice.

"They are going to have the chance to just sit one-on-one and have the coaches tell them exactly where they are," Strong said. "I want the coaches to let them know 'If you are a starter, then you are a starter, and if you are a backup, you are a backup.' Each player will understand the role he has on this football team."

Here's a look at the projected two-deep for the Texas Longhorns heading into summer workouts.

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Florida State Reportedly Extended Contract with Nike in 2013

There was hardly a peep made at the time, but according to Powell Latimer of Warchant.com, Florida State renegotiated its apparel contract with Nike in June 2013, likely locking it in with the sporting magnate until 2022-23.

Warchant.com obtained the quiet contract—which can be seen in full here—through an open records request. But if legal jargon isn't your thing, Latimer expounded on the specifics of the deal:

The extension, signed June 27 of last year, stipulates that NIKE will provide FSU an average of 1.45 million in cash each year and 2.9 million in supplied product each year for five years, with a potential extension through 2022-2023. It also came with a hefty $3 million signing bonus. As a total, FSU's apparel contract is valued at roughly $24.5 million over the first five years, with a slight increase to $25 million in the next five years if the extension is signed.

That contract puts FSU shy of the largest national apparel deals but still among the most well-compensated universities in college sports.

FSU's contract with NIKE has been renegotiated in 1998, 2005 and 2011 before the 2013 amendment. The past two amendments have both extended the term of the contract through 2022-2023 and significantly increased FSU's compensation from NIKE, from an original base compensation of $1 million per year to the current $1.45 million average.

According to Latimer, Nike played a big part in the logo and uniform redesign that was debuted during the Florida State spring game.

The logo was met with fervent backlash, but the unveiling of the new uniforms was a positive step for the Seminoles.

Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com says they "aren't terrible, and that's the only thing I ask for these days." Amen to that:

According to Latimer, associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte said the new Nike contract was at first negotiated by former Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman but signed soon after he was removed from his position.

"The initial conversations were between Randy and Nike, and then everyone gets involved in it from the CFO, to the president, but most of that is internally within athletics," Bonasorte elaborated. "You're letting lawyers and president know so they're not surprised."

While not the most splashy apparel contract in the country—Latimer notes that Nike doesn't shell out the same lucrative compensation as Adidas and Under Armour have—this is a stable move for the FSU program and something it won't have to worry about for another near-decade.

What do you think of the extension?

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South Carolina Football: 4 Things We Learned About Gamecocks This Spring

With the South Carolina Gamecocks' spring football season in the books, it's time to reflect on what we learned about this team. 

Spring ball is about answering team questions and finding players who elevate their level of play to move up the depth charts. 

We all knew Mike Davis, the offensive line and the linebackers would be excellent, but we still learned a good amount about the rest of the offense and defense. 

The Gamecocks need to replace Connor Shaw and key parts of the defensive line and made a lot of progress this spring toward those goals. 

Here are the four things we learned about the South Carolina Gamecocks this spring. 

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Would You Rather Braxton Miller or Marcus Mariota Be Your QB in 2014?

It's hard to pick a favorite between Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller—two Heisman candidates and two of the best quarterbacks in college football. Both are capable of making a run at the Heisman Trophy this season—as I outlined yesterday—and neither would shock anyone by winning the national title.

If forced to choose, however, it would be hard not to skew toward Mariota, who seems a more balanced mix of throwing and passing than Miller, who still has some work left to do.

Even after injuring his medial collateral ligament (MCL) down the stretch last season—an injury that more or less cost him a Heisman nomination—Mariota finished first in ESPN's Total QBR metric. He did so with a top-15 score in rushing and passing (which is more than Miller can say):

Miller's passing EPA—expected points added—puts him behind names such as Derek Thompson (North Texas), Adam Kennedy (Arkansas State), Sean Schroeder (Hawaii), P.J. Walker (Temple) and, perhaps most damning of all, Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech).

In an opponent-adjusted metric such as Total QBR, that is pretty bad.

Meanwhile, the worst quarterback Mariota trails in passing EPA is probably Bowling Green's Matt Johnson—and he's pretty good. He led the upset of Northern Illinois last season and was listed as a Heisman candidate by Bovada in early February.

Both Mariota and Miller are great at keeping the chains moving, which is a product of their duality. On offenses like that, which put pressure on the defense to make a stop and get off the field, the worst thing a quarterback can do is turn the ball over.

And though Miller has been good in this respect, Mariota has been flat-out ridiculous.

One could argue that Mariota is a product of his system.

He played his first season with Chip Kelly, who is by all accounts an offensive genius, and his second season with Mark Helfrich, who was one of Kelly's most trusted assistants.

That argument, while fair, falls short because Miller plays with Urban Meyer. Both have played in systems that are famous for making quarterbacks succeed, and only Meyer from that group has coached a Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow).

These are two of the five best quarterbacks in the country; each has put up big numbers, and should continue to put up big numbers, in a scheme they fit like a glove.

Each will win a lot of games—as they have their whole career—and are likely to contend for a conference championship and spot in the College Football Playoff. When they do, their teams will have them to thank in large part for getting them there.

They are the faces of this upcoming season, and you certainly can't go wrong picking either one.

But, me? I'll take Mariota by a nose. At least if he's healthy—and it sounds like he is.

"He's moving faster than I've ever seen him move," said starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone, according to Gary Horowitz of USA Today"He's doing all the things that Marcus Mariota always does. I'm real excited to see him this season."

That makes two of us, Tyler. And I reckon we aren't alone.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Auburn Football: Inside the Tigers' New-Look Defense

Everything's bigger now for the Auburn defense.

When veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson brought his 4-2-5 scheme to Auburn last season, he also brought a new mentality for a unit that was average at best during former head coach Gene Chizik's tenure.

While Auburn did not show much change in basic statistical areas like total yards and points allowed in Johnson's first season, there were other spots where the Tigers showed tremendous improvement:

The Tigers defense made a name for itself last season on the big play—interceptions, sacks and red-zone stops. 

This season, the defense is focused on getting rid of the opposition's big plays.

The first-team defense showed that mentality at the annual A-Day game, where the opposing second-team offense averaged 2.2 yards per play. The second team's biggest offensive play of the day was an 18-yard pass from backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson to Melvin Ray.

"If you look at our first-team defense, they didn’t give up many plays period, much less deep balls," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said after the first team's 58-3 rout of the second team. "That has been an emphasis trying to keep away from the big play. I think our first-team defense has improved greatly this spring from last fall."

The improvement in deep-ball coverage during spring practices was a turnaround from how the defending SEC champions finished the season in Pasadena.

Even with the tremendous leap in the interception count last season, the Tigers finished second to last in the SEC in pass defense, and Johnson wants to see immediate change in the fall. Johnson told the team's official website:

When you are No. 1 in the SEC in third-down defense, you ought to be good in pass defense. But we were terrible. It would be one of these stupid first-down plays a lot of times, turning a guy loose in man coverage, somebody running out of a zone, run-fit on a one-back zone play. We’d do stuff like that and give up a 25-yard play and somehow hang on and make a stop.

Johnson's system of using five defensive backs in the standard set—two cornerbacks, two safeties and one hybrid linebacker/safety known as the "Star"—is both fluid and physical.

In order to prevent opposing offenses from making the big play, Johnson is gradually making a shift toward a bigger secondary.

While Chizik's 4-3 defense usually featured smaller, speed-first defensive backs, Auburn's current staff is recruiting bigger players who can play a more physical game against tall receivers like Florida State title-game hero Kelvin Benjamin and former Missouri standout Dorial Green-Beckham.

"Being stronger and faster in this league, it definitely helps," cornerback Jonathan Jones told AL.com's Joel Erickson last month. "The bigger you can get, the faster you are, flexibility, that all helps. It adds up."

A perfect example of Auburn's new commitment to bigger and more physical defensive backs is newcomer Derrick Moncrief.

Standing at 6'2" and 218 pounds, Moncrief's size would have made him a prototypical linebacker during Chizik's tenure. But now, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is already the first-team boundary safety under Johnson.

"[Moncrief] is high energy, flies around to the ball a lot," safety Jermaine Whitehead. "He’s a big dude. He’s going to help us a lot."

Coaches and teammates have also pointed out the physical nature of more newcomers in the secondary.

Wide receiver-turned-cornerback Trovon Reed and Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, who has moved from running back to cornerback to safety in less than a year at Auburn, stood out with their aggressiveness in what is now a deeper secondary.

“Rudy’s a physical player, one that's got a passion for the game," Whitehead told the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington. "[He] wants to lineup every play and knock someone out."

But Auburn's emphasis on being bigger and more physical goes beyond the secondary.

When an injury crisis struck at defensive end earlier in the spring, Johnson and defensive line coach Rodney Garner created the "Rhino package," a front four made up entirely of Auburn's larger defensive tackles.

The package, which featured 300-pounder Montravius Adams and Ben Bradley, made enough of an impact in practice that the coaching staff wants to implement it in the fall.

"In looking toward next fall, we'll have a big package that we can play four bigger linemen in certain situations," Johnson said. "They've gotten a lot of work at that, and I think that will be something we will utilize."

At the linebacker position, Auburn is looking for another big thing—big hits.

The Tigers coaching staff went into Auburn's depth chart at safety and brought another big body to join the sure-tackling Cassanova McKinzy and agile Kris Frost.

The hard-hitting Khari Harding became a bit of a sensation in his high school days for laying the lumber on wide receivers, and now he will have a chance to make that big impression at linebacker.

"We expect the same things from [Harding] as a linebacker," Frost said of Harding, who disappointingly ended his solid spring with a foot injury. "He's got good body size to play linebacker. He’s fast. He moves well from playing safety."

Big size, big plays, big hits and big potential—exactly what Auburn wants to see out of its entire defense in 2014.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Grading Virginia Tech's Post Spring Depth Chart

The Virginia Tech football team hardly had the most productive showing in its annual spring game, but the overall result of the Hokies’ work this spring did answer a lot of questions about the team's depth chart.

The starting quarterback job remains a mystery—a disconcerting fact given the position’s importance—but the rest of Tech’s depth chart is starting to take shape.

Even though the offense lacks a leader, the spring sessions made it clear that the skill positions have real depth to go along with some veteran leadership, which should be huge for whichever player wins the starting quarterback spot.

Similarly, on defense, the spring proved that some positions may be a little thin, but the team has plenty of star power in its starters.

Read on for a full evaluation of each of Tech’s position groups now that spring practice has concluded.

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LSU Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball

LSU's spring practice had no shortage of headlines, the biggest of which were on offense. 

The Tigers lost quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, right guard Trai Turner and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. To make matters worse, only Mettenberger was a senior. 

Brutal. 

But LSU had question marks defensively as well. The Tigers lost key components in their run defense in Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Lamin Barrow.

Performing well in spring practice does not mean a player will play during the season. But there is no doubt it helps the coaches know if a player has the talent to play in games.

Here are a few of LSU's performers who rose to the occasion, and a few who didn't.   

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Michigan Football: Was Doug Nussmeier Hired One Year Too Late?

In the wake of Michigan’s 7-6 season Brady Hoke made critical changes, firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and reorganizing his defensive staff. Hoke admitted that last season’s disappointment resulted from a failure of leadership on his part and made the necessary moves to correct things heading into this season.

While the dismissal of Borges was welcomed by Michigan fans, many questioned if the changes were too little, too late. Borges was an easy target, paying the price for the failure of an offensive line and a running game that struggled except for quarterback Devin Gardner.

But criticism of Borges had been growing since the previous season. His transformation of quarterback Denard Robinson from Heisman hopeful to offensive afterthought had raised eyebrows.

The year before Hoke and Borges came to Ann Arbor, Robinson set a team record with 502 yards of total offense (258 rushing yards and 244 passing yards) in a 28-24 win over Notre Dame.

By his senior season, Robinson managed a paltry 228 yards (90 rushing yards and 138 passing yards) in a 13-6 loss to the Irish. Robinson threw four first-half interceptions, passing up opportunities to run the ball while attempting to implement Borges’ offense. Borges’ insistence at moving Robinson up under center and passing the ball more didn’t play to his strengths.

Borges continued to work his offensive magic last season as the Michigan surged and wheezed from one week to the next—performances that ran the gamut from blowing out Central Michigan 59-9, to barely besting Connecticut 24-21 and completely disappearing versus Michigan State (29-6 loss).

Finally, Hoke decided he had seen enough and replaced Borges with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to bring stability and direction to the Michigan offense.

Nussmeier faces a daunting challenge. He needs to shore up an offensive line that has lost two of it best players, sort out a quandary at quarterback (teach Devin Gardner his third new offense or start fresh) while scoring enough points to keep the heat off of Brady Hoke.

Athletic director David Brandon has dismissed speculation about Hoke’s status, but the seat in Ann Arbor is hot before a head coach even starts—add a 7-6 season and you have the makings of an inferno.

Gardner put together some impressive statistics last season, but 7-6 doesn’t equal job security for any quarterback. Nussmeier absolutely needs to look closely at the quarterback position and decide if Gardner is the best choice.

The offensive line is harder to fix.

Offensive line coaches rarely get singled out for criticism, but Michigan struggled mightily up front last season and coach Darrell Funk’s return this season was something of a surprise.

Offensive linemen usually take a season or two to acclimate to the college game—Hoke must be confident that last season’s epic failure on the offensive line was an aberration. Funk absolutely needs to have a better starting group ready this season or risk another offensive meltdown.

It’s telling that early enrollee Mason Cole has made such a big impression on Hoke. It’s troubling that a true freshman can show up on campus a few months removed from playing high school football and be working with the first group at offensive tackle.

It’s easy to second-guess Hoke’s decision to keep Borges for last season. But right now, with an unsettled quarterback position and an offensive line where every position is up for grabs, even Hoke has to wonder if maybe he waited too long to dismiss Borges.

 

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

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Penn State Football: Anthony Zettel's Chance to Be Nittany Lions' Next Great DT

Since 2010, Penn State has earned a bit of a reputation by sending several defensive tackles to the NFL. In fact, if DaQuan Jones is drafted in the first three rounds of next week's NFL draft, he'll be the fourth Nittany Lion tackle to do so in the last five years.

Anthony Zettel might be next in line.

After spending his first two seasons in the rotation at defensive end, Zettel has added significant weight and is projected to be a starter at tackle in 2014. After playing at 258 pounds in 2013, Zettel weighed in at 274 during spring camp, but he isn't done yet, saying he "wants to put on about seven or eight more pounds of muscle before the season."

As a defensive end, Zettel was what you would call a high-motor player, being constantly disruptive behind the line of scrimmage.

In limited action as a true freshman, Zettel recorded 10 tackles, four of which were sacks.

He became a fan favorite last season by recording six tackles for loss, four sacks and a key interception against Michigan while backing up Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan.

The upfield aggression he plays with will be welcomed at defensive tackle, and having him on the field at the same time as Barnes and Olaniyan will create havoc on passing downs. The three of them have recorded 22 sacks over the last two seasons while rotating with each other.

The move inside came naturally for Zettel and conveniently fit what the coaches had in mind for the Michigan native. New head coach James Franklin was prepared to persuade him to make the move during the winter before learning that Zettel was already working on the switch.

“He’s excited about doing it; he wants to do it,” Franklin said, according to Josh Moyer of ESPN, adding, “I learned a long time ago, once it’s been sold, stop selling.” 

Zettel saw this move coming from afar, but the depth chart may have sped up the process ever so slightly.

"When I first got to Penn State, they recruited me as a D-End, but they knew in the future that I'd be a 3-tech [tackle]—that's just the way my body is. I knew that, and gaining the extra weight just helped solidify that."

The move couldn't have come at a more ideal time.

Penn State will have several experienced players in the rotation at end this year, and high school All-American Garrett Sickels will push everyone for snaps. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions lost their top two tackles from 2013 in DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz and were in need of bodies.

The path Zettel is taking has been walked before in Happy Valley.

Like Zettel, Devon Still was recruited out of high school as a 4-star defensive end, according to Rivals. He also started his Penn State career there before adding weight to his 6'5" frame and going on to be named an All-American as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year—an award previously won by Jared Odrick.

Zettel's aggressive style mirrors both Still and Odrick, who were disruptive interior linemen capable of taking over the line of scrimmage. 

Built tall and lean, similar to Odrick, Zettel looks to be in great shape and didn't show any signs of slowing down in the spring game while recording two tackles for loss with a bare midriff that drew laughs among the crowd.

His versatility and explosiveness could mean the world to a defensive front that is used to operating around a dominant tackle.

If this spring was any indication, Zettel will be that dominant tackle.

 

All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

 

 

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Florida Gators Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball

It goes without saying that spring practice for the Florida Gators was a success. However, like everything in life, there were a handful of winners and losers during the first month of practices.

The winners likely overachieved or simply fulfilled expectations and were the stars for much of the event. The losers fell short in certain areas and will have their work cut out for them once fall camp begins in a couple of months.

There were certainly more positives than negatives, but everybody can’t be a winner at the end of the day.

Here are your winners and losers from the Gators spring practice.

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Georgia Football: What Bulldog Fans Need to Know About James DeLoach

The defensive line for the Bulldogs is in an interesting situation.

The depth is there for the unit to succeed, but the group is facing its third position coach in as many years, and there have been a handful of players who were recruited for one position and now have to adapt to another.

One of those players is defensive end James DeLoach. After playing outside linebacker the last two seasons, DeLoach is making the move to defensive end. He has a chance to be the starter, according to Gentry Estes of 247 Sports (membership required).

However, DeLoach was one of the four players arrested, then released, on theft-by-deception charges before spring practice began. DeLoach's status when it comes to the regular season remains to be seen, but he could be suspended for a game or two, which could hurt his chances of being the starter.

So the only thing DeLoach can do is to continue to impress the coaches during offseason workouts and preseason practices. DeLoach was able to thrive in the defensive end position during spring practices because he has speed and more fluidity than he did at outside linebacker. In the spring game, DeLoach only made one tackle, but he was rotating in with John Atkins.

DeLoach spent the last two seasons at outside linebacker; despite getting praise from his coaches during each preseason, it did not translate to the regular season as he has played in only 18 games and recorded eight tackles. And of those 18 games, DeLoach he made zero starts.

When DeLoach was in high school, he played defensive end and was considered a 3-star prospect by 247 Sports. He was also considered one of the top 50 prospects in Georgia, so the Bulldogs knew he was going to be a very nice addition to the team once he arrived on campus.

The problem is that DeLoach has yet to make that impact, prompting Jeremy Pruitt to move him to defensive end. He will have to take on more offensive linemen, but per 247 Sports (membership required), Pruitt told Estes that DeLoach has a high motor and always wants to make a play.

UGA names C David Andrews spring offensive MVP and LB Ramik Wilson defensive MVP. Most improved: OG Greg Pyke and DE James DeLoach.

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) April 15, 2014

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker echoed these sentiments and said that he and Josh Dawson are two guys who stood out during the spring game.

DeLoach was named Defensive Most Improved Player at the conclusion of spring practice because of the work he put in over the course of the practice sessions. He started off slowly because he was learning the system, but once he got more reps, he started to get the hang of it.

Because the defensive line will be constantly rotating during preseason practices, there’s no telling if DeLoach will still be listed as the starter. But after two years of underachieving at linebacker, DeLoach has a chance for a new beginning and can really make an impact on defense.

 

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Arkansas Football: Defense Is Biggest Problem Standing in Way of an SEC Title

The Arkansas Razorbacks are far off from competing for an SEC championship, don't let the headline fool you. There is a laundry list of problems standing in the way of a conference title for the Hogs and head coach Bret Bielema

However, covering all those problems would take a very long time. So instead, we'll cover the biggest issue keeping Arkansas from winning its first SEC championship. 

Above anything else, the biggest obstacle standing in the Razorbacks' way of an SEC title is the defense. Some might think quarterback would be a problem, but it's one position. Brandon Allen had a great spring and there's good depth behind him. The defense as a whole is weak and the biggest problem.

Offense wins games, defense wins championships. It's an extremely cliche saying, but it's also very true.

When you think of the best and most consistent programs in the SEC, such as Alabama and LSU, a staple of them are tough, hard-nosed defenses. Even when their offenses don't have good games, their defenses shut down the other team.

One of the big problems is the sheer lack of physicality. You'd think they were afraid of tackling, which is saying a lot considering they are football players who play defense.

The physicality issue plagued the entire defense. The defensive line was pushed back repeatedly throughout the year, opening big holes for backs to get to the second level against a weak and thin linebacker unit. The D-line was not bad in passing situations but fizzled against the run, ranking 78th nationally in yards allowed per game (178.4).

The linebackers were probably the worst group on the defense. A lot of that can be contributed to pure inexperience, lack of depth and talent. 

The Hogs didn't have one linebacker with starting experience on their depth chart last year. That resulted in poor play for the group overall for the season, with the worst being their tackling. You know things are bad when college linebackers playing at a high-level Division I school have problems wrapping up and making a tackle.

Most of the time, the linebackers were either misreading plays, not getting off blocks or using weak arm tackles. It's fundamental things like this that are keeping the Arkansas defense from making big strides.

The secondary lacked physicality as well. The Hogs play a lot of man, which requires defensive backs to be physical, make good reads and stay with their man. Arkansas' defensive backs did the opposite, not playing physical, making bad reads and getting beat deep. 

What really stuck out for the defensive backs was them providing up to 10 yards of cushion for opposing wideouts. That led to the Hogs being eaten alive with underneath patterns and crossing routes. When they did line up close, wideouts were able to beat them deep with straight-line speed or faking the direction of the route.

The defensive backs have to get better at the bump and run in man coverage. Being physical at the snap can throw receivers off their routes. They also can't bite on fakes by receivers. They have to learn how to play physical and up close, but at the same time, go step for step with their man.

This physicality issue can be fixed through practicing hard, repetition and raising the talent level through recruiting, something Bielema and the staff are working hard on. 

It already looks as if the 2014 defense will be much better than last season's. 

The D-line looked great during the spring and has defensive end Trey Flowers (44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks in 2013) back for his senior year. At the other end is redshirt sophomore Deatrich Wise (17 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks), who Bielema spoke highly of to HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy:

He's a kid with unbelievable talent and a lot of god-given ability. He's definitely showing great, great signs. He's using his hands, he's being aggressive.

Wise has a great frame at 6'6", 267 pounds and made big impressions this spring, recording five touch sacks in scrimmages. Arkansas will have a formidable rush off the outside if Wise continues the path he's on. He will most likely be rotated a lot this season with redshirt sophomore Brandon Lewis (13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks), who actually took more first-team reps this spring than Wise. 

Arkansas also has capable pass-rushing ends in Tevin Beanum and JaMichael Winston, giving them five ends they can rotate and good depth. 

The depth at defensive tackle isn't as good, but the talent is better than last year. Redshirt sophomore Darius Philon (46 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) had one of the best springs out of anyone on the team and showed that after a solid freshman campaign, he's ready to take the next step in 2014. 

The current depth chart on HawgSports has DeMarcus Hodge as the starter at defensive tackle alongside Philon. He's listed at 343 pounds, so he needs to lose some weight, but Hodge is good against the run and is an effective pass-rusher. 

True freshman Bijhon Jackson has a legitimate chance at starting over Hodge if he can't get into better shape. Jackson has the skills to step in and contribute immediately. If he ends up starting next to Philon, the defensive line would be athletic and the pass rush would be dangerous. 

You can also expect redshirt sophomore Taiwan Johnson to see the field a lot more at defensive tackle. He's undersized at 6'3", 263 pounds, but he's quick and has a good first step. He'll be used in passing downs quite a bit this season.

The linebackers should also be much improved despite the product in 2013. 

After a year of starting under his belt, Braylon Mitchell is set to take a giant leap forward for his senior year. He was second on the team in tackles last year with 77. He was good in pass coverage with three pass breakups, but you'd like to see him use that power and speed to make more plays behind the line.

In the middle, the Hogs have sophomore Brooks Ellis (33 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks), who is as physical as they come. He earned a starting spot later in the season and showed big-time potential. He's a sideline-to-sideline player and could be one of the best linebackers Arkansas has had in a while. 

However, one of the most talented players at the position is junior Otha Peters, who was injured most of the '13 season. Biddy had a good suggestion on how to put the three best guys out there:

Leave Peters at MIKE, move Ellis to WILL and move Martrell Spaight from WILL to SAM. Spaight may not love that move as he seems himself as more of an inside linebacker, but he is the only linebacker aside from Mitchell with the sideline-to-sideline speed to get the job done at SAM, and he is a bigger hitter than Mitchell. The only way Arkansas can get its best three linebackers on the field at the same time is if Peters is at MIKE, Ellis is at WILL and Spaight is at SAM.

Peters in the middle, Spaight at SAM and Ellis at WILL would put the three best on the field and be a huge upgrade from a physicality, skills and talent standpoint. All three are competent tacklers and good in pursuit of the ball. 

The secondary should be strong if all the experience pans out. Senior safety Alan Turner (97 tackles, two interceptions) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (47 tackles, 3.0 TFL, interception) have a lot of experience and are playmakers. Mitchel has always had the talent to be an All-SEC performer but has struggled with tackling in space. Biddy wrote on his progress this spring:

Tevin Mitchel made strides this spring and has grown more as a team leader. This is a player who seems to have regressed from his freshman to junior season but is now a senior and at least in scrimmage work looked like the best cornerback on the field. That is a welcome sight because Mitchel has shown great potential in the past. His biggest problem to date has been poor decisions with tackling techniques in the open field. 

If junior cornerback Will Hines can use his strength and long arms to challenge receivers in press coverage, he could make the secondary much improved overall against the pass with Mitchel. Redshirt junior Rohan Gaines (33 tackles, 1.0 TFL) is listed as the other starter at safety. He has the experience, but redshirt freshman De'Andre Coley made huge plays this spring.

Coley has a very high ceiling and is good in pass coverage, but Gaines would give this secondary even more experience, which the Hogs need.

The 2014 version of the Arkansas defense looks to be better already and spring practice just ended. Don't get me wrong, it's still a long ways off from being good enough to help the program compete for a conference title. But, Bielema and his staff are teaching these kids how to play tough, physical defense that wins you ball games.

They are also putting together the pieces for a defense that can win the ugly games on days the offense just doesn't have it. Jackson, Ellis and Philon are excellent building blocks, and there's some serious talent already on board in the Class of '15. 

The Hogs are headed in the right direction on defense. With the young, athletic playmakers they have and talented recruits, Arkansas could finally have a great defense sooner rather than later.

 

All player stats courtesy of ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.

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Clarifying Tre Mason's Wrist Injury and Surgery Talk

Last week, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport announced former Auburn University running back Tre Mason attended the NFL Scouting Combine medical recheck due to a lingering wrist injury. Specifically, Mason will reportedly need to undergo surgery to fuse a bone that is not healing properly.

Almost immediately after the news broke, Mason himself refuted the news via Twitter, stating he will "NOT be having any surgery"—and leaving many confused in the process.

Later on, Rapoport confirmed this author's suspicion that the bone in question is Mason's scaphoid. Presumably, it is not healing together well following a prior fracture—an unfortunately relatively common scenario for the scaphoid—leading to the above questions and apparent contradiction.

To clear up that confusion, let's take a brief detour into the anatomy textbooks.

A small bone close to the base of the thumb, the scaphoid is one of the many bones that make up the base of the hand and wrist.

Just like any other bone, the scaphoid can break. Often, it does so when an athlete falls onto his or her outstretched hand and uses the base of the palm to absorb the blow.

For example, imagine a defender hitting a running back on the right hip and leg, causing the back's lower body to move left and upper body to fall to the right. Instinct will usually take hold, making the runner attempt to catch himself with his right hand. If he also forcefully straightens his arm immediately prior to contact with the ground—preventing his elbow from bending and allowing his triceps to buffer against some of that contact—his hand and wrist will absorb nearly 100 percent of the impact.

If that force is too great, the scaphoid can suffer the consequences.

Scaphoid fracture prognoses can depend tremendously on the precise location of the injury. Breaks close to the thumb may heal quite well on their own, but those near the wrist may require surgery.

Why?

As is frequently the case for injuries, it comes down to blood flow.

For instance, on one extreme, injuries to areas with a rich blood supply—such as inside the mouth—can heal within a matter of days. On the other, injuries at sites without robust circulation—such as cartilage or muscle tendons—can linger for weeks, months or longer.

Some may even never heal at all.

Furthermore, blood supply can differ within the same tissue type. For example, the very outer rim of the crescent-shaped, shock-absorbing knee meniscus sports a significant amount of blood flow, whereas the inner portions do not.

Similarly, while the end of the scaphoid close to the thumb receives a reasonable amount of circulation, the part closer to the wrist receives much less. As such, fractures in the latter zone can fail to reunite via the body's normal healing process—a complication known as "nonunion."

Nevertheless, information surrounding Mason's specific injury is scarce, and exact medical details will probably not surface beyond the former Tiger's inner circle—as well as his future NFL team's medical staff.

That said, according to James Crepea of The Montgomery Advertiser, Mason played through the injury during at least three games. Rapoport also mentioned on Twitter that doctors discovered the issue during combine medical exams.

It's quite possible he unknowingly suffered the fracture well before the combine—perhaps even a matter of months—yet once exams revealed the injury, the game changed.

More than likely, teams asked Mason to return to the medical recheck to ascertain just how well the fracture is healing after an additional two months of recovery time—or how poorly.

What can be done for nonunion, if that is indeed the case?

When a scaphoid fracture appears to be heading toward nonunion, surgeons can surgically fuse the bone back together using metal hardware. Doing so helps prevent downstream complications such as arthritis, which can lead to chronic wrist stiffness and pain.

Hopefully for the talented Mason, it never gets to that point. After all, multiple experts expect big things for him at the next level.

Matt Miller—Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer—recently ranked Mason as the third-best overall running back prospect heading into next week's draft. Elsewhere, Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBS Sports project a second-round selection for the young star.

Yet from a medical standpoint, it seems at least some uncertainty remains—at least from the far outside looking in. NFL medical staffs are surely considering the possible need for bone-fusion surgery at some point in the future—if the decision is not already a foregone conclusion among some circles, that is.

Either way, if and when no unforeseen serious complications arise, Mason's initial NFL prospects should still ride high regardless of the final outcome of this story.

 

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

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Texas Football Recruiting: Can Charlie Strong Keep Patrick Vahe Away from LSU?

On national signing day 2014, brothers Maea and Sione Teuhema flipped from Texas to LSU. Their cousin, Patrick Vahe, remains committed to Charlie Strong and the Longhorns for the time being.

Vahe, a Longhorn pledge since July 2013, is a 4-star guard with elite mobility that jumps off the screen. But the happenings of the past two months have led to speculation that the 6'3" prospect could be the latest Longhorn commit to jump ship.

Sione Teuhema, a 3-star defensive end, was the first chip to fall when he made the surprising decision to sign with LSU on February 5. From there, it was only a matter of time before his brother, 5-star offensive tackle Maea Teuhema, switched his verbal to the Tigers' 2015 class. 

Just like that, Strong lost a high-upside member of his first recruiting class and, more importantly, the best player from his second season's haul. Even worse is that Vahe, who was primed to play next to Maea, was expected to follow suit and further cripple Texas' line of the future.

At least, that's what most would expect. The Tigers play in the SEC, have won 14 more games than Texas over the past four seasons and have had twice as many players drafted than the 'Horns heading into this year's draft. Texas hasn't even had an offensive lineman drafted since 2008.

But Vahe's flip never happened. As rumors swirled, mum was the word on him prior to Texas' junior day on February 28, three weeks after the Teuhemas flipped. Vahe attended, enjoying his first interaction with Strong and his coaching staff enough to tell Horns247 that he was "110 percent" still committed to the Longhorns.

Yet to visit any other programs, Vahe has offered nothing but reasons for optimism. While earning MVP honors at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp, the surging prospect said his commitment to the Longhorns remained "solid" and shed some insight as to why he has not shopped around.

"At first, yeah," Vahe said about wanting to look elsewhere. "But after meeting with the coaching staff, I realized that Texas is where I want to be." More specifically, The Opening invitee seems to have taken a liking to offensive line coach Joe Wickline, characterizing him as a "cool dude" and calling his work at Oklahoma State "amazing."

The 2015 recruit is referring to Wickline's nine-year tenure in which the Cowboys produced two players named as Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. Over his 33-year career, Texas' new assistant has produced a total of eight All-Americans.

Herein lies Texas' biggest edge in retaining Vahe's commitment. The main goal for every recruit is to maximize his chances of reaching the NFL, and Wickline can point to the successes of former pupils, such as Russell Okung and Max Starks, as proof that he can do just that for Vahe. 

Sure, LSU offers Vahe the ability to play with his cousins. Just like Texas gives him the opportunity to reunite with Euless Trinity classmate Myles Turner, who just committed to play basketball in the burnt orange. But if another program were to enter the mix and present a better chance for him to become a professional player, then you have to believe that offer would take precedence.

Right now, Wickline and his credentials give Strong's team the edge heading into the summer. The head coach's job before next signing day is to continue to push this team and show some improvement next season.

So long as the results on the field indicate progress, Strong will ensure that Vahe's cousins will be the only members of the family to become LSU Tigers.

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Ohio State Football: 2014 NFL Draft Should End Tough Stretch for Buckeyes

Ohio State has a rich history of sending its players to the NFL, and only one school (USC) has produced more first-round selections than the Buckeyes.

Over the last several years, though, Ohio State has failed to produce that top-level talent.

The last time the Buckeyes had an exceptional draft class was in 2009, when four players—Malcolm Jenkins, Chris "Beanie" Wells, James Laurinaitis and Brian Robiskie—were selected in the first 36 picks. Jenkins (No. 14) and Wells (No. 31) were picked in the first round by New Orleans and Arizona, while Laurinaitis (No. 35) and Robiskie (No. 36) were taken near the top of the second round by St. Louis and Cleveland.

Since the 2009 draft, only one former Buckeye has been drafted in the first 36 picks. In 2011, Pittsburgh selected Cameron Heyward at No. 31. The next highest pick over the last four years came in last year's draft when the New York Giants selected Johnathan Hankins at No. 49.

That drought should end very soon.

A trio of Buckeyes stand a great chance of going high in next week's draft. Ryan Shazier is rated one of the top outside linebackers in this year's class. Bradley Roby has true lockdown ability at cornerback—a coveted skill in the pass-happy NFL—which makes him a valuable commodity. Carlos Hyde is considered by most as the best running back available, comparing favorably to Eddie Lacy, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In a pair of mock drafts from Bleacher Report's Eric Galko and Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, both Shazier and Roby were slated as first-round picks. In WalterFootball.com's latest projection, all three are projected as first-round selections.

That is, of course, if Roby's latest run in with the law doesn't cost him.

It was reported last week that Roby was cited for operating a vehicle while impaired in downtown Columbus. He pled guilty to a reduced charge and now has to serve 30 days of probation, three days in a driver intervention program and pay a $375 fine, according to Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports.

In the end, this incident could cost him much more if he slips down the draft board.

Still, Ohio State should be represented very well in New York next week. 

Despite not producing many high picks, Buckeyes have been drafted with a high consistency over the last five years.

According to Sean Merriman of the Big Ten Network, Ohio State and Iowa are tied for producing the most draft picks since 2009. 

 

Of those 23 Buckeyes selected, though, 15 were picked in Rounds 4 through 7. Compare that to Alabama's 33 overall draft picks during the same time, 20 of which came in the first two rounds, and it's clear that Ohio State has some ground to cover.

That starts next week when Shazier, Roby and Hyde hope to hear their names called on the first night of the draft.

 

All draft information via NFL.com.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: Projecting Post Spring 2-Deep Depth

With spring practice finished and summer camp just around the corner, Penn State head coach James Franklin now has a better idea of what his depth chart looks like.  

For the most part, there shouldn't be any major roster surprises for Nittany Lions fans come August. Besides the quarterback, offensive line and some of the specialists, most position groups will do a lot of subbing anyway to keep legs fresh. Usually, players listed in the top two or three spots at one of those given positions will play on a weekly basis. 

Here's a projection of what Penn State's two-deep depth chart will look like come the fall.

Note: Bold indicates a returning starter, while italics indicate a first-year player. These are true freshmen, as well as prep school and JUCO transfers.

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