NCAA Football News

Tennessee Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Not every spring practice is perfect, and that certainly extends to a Tennessee football team that has had a near-month of praise-filled drills despite being extremely short-handed thanks to injuries.

But a week after the refrain was refreshing around the Vols' progress, Saturday brought a particularly perturbed coach Butch Jones after a subpar practice.

Though much of spring has centered around the emergence of some fresh faces (such as Alvin Kamara and Shy Tuttle) and the development of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, some little-used contributors have begun to take serious strides toward helping the Vols in 2015.

Last week, Jones praised defensive backs Rashaan Gaulden and Evan Berry. This week, two more had done enough to get public recognition.

All that and more will be discussed in this week's stock report.

 

Saturday's Malaise 

All the hurt players have seriously hindered UT's ability to participate in game-like situations this spring, but that hadn't damped the team's ability to install much of the concepts from new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord or turn up the tempo.

"We're pushing tempo, and people know the plays like the back of their hand and more than they did last year, so we're able to go faster and do things on offense," Dobbs told B/R last week. "We're installing various concepts and stuff, so we're definitely growing as an offense and growing the arsenal we have.

"Tempo, that's something that's always been a part of our offense. We're picking that even more this offseason."

What a difference in tone a week makes.

With Kamara missing his third consecutive practice with a thigh bruise and other offensive weapons missing, the Vols failed to please their coach on Saturday.

In situational work and under difficult circumstances that any team will face during the course of its season, they struggled to perform.

"I did not like our offense's approach," Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press' Patrick Brown. "I thought we were stale. I thought we had no mental effort. I thought we had no intensity about ourselves, and I think it showed.

"We started off putting them in some demanding situations."

UT didn't fare very well in those, reportedly. But the injuries can't be discounted. With Jalen Hurd limited this spring, Kamara and Dobbs generated the most positive publicity among offensive players. With Kamara out, the offense sputtered.

The Vols miss the running backs a lot when they aren't out there, but Jones indicated Kamara's injury isn't anything to worry about.

Despite his general unhappiness with the way the Vols handled every situation, Jones noted the practice was productive because of the varying situations in which his team gained experience.

Even so, Dobbs wasn't real chipper when asked about the general sloppiness of the passing game or about drops, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker. It has been a long spring with injuries and trying to push through short-handed, and maybe it got to him a little after a less-than-stellar day.

 

Defensive Duo Making a Move

Injuries have equaled opportunities this spring, and it isn't just newcomers taking advantage.

Most of the excitement entering the spring centered around redshirt freshman Dillon Bates moving to middle linebacker to perhaps seize a wide-open spot and solidify that position for the next few years. 

Gavin Bryant was another redshirt freshman everybody wanted to see, and while true freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. is out with an injury, he is expected to have a say-so in that race before the season starts.

Bates isn't yet healthy, however, and he has yet to wrestle the job away from redshirt junior Kenny Bynum, who started in the place of Jakob Johnson in the TaxSlayer Bowl and hasn't relinquished the job yet.

The 6'1", 243-pound linebacker isn't anywhere near the most athletic of the bunch, but Jones said, via Volquest's Twitter account, that his knowledge of the defense and ability to get everybody lined up are major assets in his attempt to win the job.

Another player who's a bit of a forgotten man in the defensive tackle battle is Kendal Vickers.

The 6'3", 288-pound former defensive end has worked on his body all offseason to take advantage of a wide-open opportunity to help inside, and he continues to make good on a storybook career.

Vickers was an extremely late addition to Jones' first recruiting class at Tennessee as a lightly recruited defensive end out of Havelock, North Carolina.

Though UT wound up getting a higher-ranked prospect from the same school in Derrell Scott last year, the running back already has transferred while Vickers stuck around.

He may be rewarded with playing time. 

With Danny O'Brien missing the spring, Vickers has joined Tuttle as players who are turning heads on the interior. Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that Vickers' success stems from a technical improvement— he's using his hands more:

And he's starting to really use his athletic ability, and he's very explosive. That shows in the weight room. But now it's transferring the weight room onto the football field, and he's been able to do that. Now you're starting to see the volume of repetitions really starting to improve his play.

He's very prideful, but I can see his first step off the football. He's playing with much more explosiveness. He's playing with much more confidence, and he’s using his hands and his technique better.

Shoring up the middle of its defense is the biggest question mark on that side of the ball for Tennessee. Everybody may be talking about elite recruits such as Kirkland and Kahlil McKenzie, but it never hurts to have players improving who have been in the defense for a number of years.

Bynum is going into his fourth season at UT, and Vickers is entering his third. Getting them to consistently play well is huge for coordinator John Jancek's defense.

 

Mixed Bag for Blair

One of the brightest spotlights the past two seasons on any player has stayed firmly on former 4-star JUCO offensive tackle Dontavius Blair.

At 6'8", 300 pounds, he certainly looks the part. But after a redshirt season a year ago, he still hasn't cracked the starting rotation. Knoxville native Brett Kendrick has enjoyed a stout spring at right tackle, and when Coleman Thomas returns from his suspension, he should be in the mix for snaps, too.

Then this summer, instate recruiting star Drew Richmond gets to campus, and he will battle for the job, too.

But everybody's wondering about Blair, and whether he'll ever really be able to help the Vols.

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney told GoVols247's Callahan this week that Blair must be more consistent:

I told him the thing he needs to focus on is just working to get better each and every day, and he's got to be a guy that is providing us valuable play. He's more focused right now than he's been because of the hype and all that, that came into this thing.

Now it’s just a matter of staying focused. Eliminate the clutter and focus on what you need to. He's not as consistent as he needs to (be). That's the thing that's frustrating both he and I right now that has got to improve. 

He's one that he's got to be technically and fundamentally (sound) and fanatical with the way he plays, and it's not as consistent as it needs to be right now, so that’s what we’re working toward.

 

Rocky Top Roundup

  • One of the biggest objects of obsession for UT fans is Hurd, so when it was reported that the rising sophomore running back who's been limited this spring is between 235-240 pounds and hasn't lost a step, it was big news. 
  • Spring practice is serious business, but that doesn't mean there can't be a little good-natured ribbing, especially between coaches. So, it was an extremely popular retweet this week when UT tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder tweeted a video that showed offensive line coach Mahoney falling to the ground with an apparent calf cramp.
  • After missing all of last season, UT receiver Cody Blanc suffered another setback this spring. He will miss the remainder of drills after breaking ribs, according to Jones.
  • Former Vols coach Johnny Majors offered a couple of hilarious soundbites on Saturday directed at the media.

 

All statistics gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Tackle Jake Fisher Has the Athleticism NFL Teams Covet

Finding top-tier players amongst the thousands of quality athletes who play competitive football is an extremely difficult task. One method NFL front offices and talent evaluators use to filter through the clutter to find standouts is athletic testing. Oregon offensive tackle Jake Fisher firmly established himself as an athletic freak after he turned in an extremely impressive NFL combine performance.

Offensive tackle is one of the four premier positions in football. On offense, it’s not a stretch to say it is the second-most crucial investment a team could make behind the quarterback. Creating offensive production is much easier in the NFL with a solid pair of tackles.

Finding elite athletes at tackle is something teams put an emphasis on because recovery speed and agility are critical. According to Mockdraftable, here are the average combine weigh-ins by offensive tackles since 1999. Notice the size and short-area burst numbers.

Now that you’ve seen that, let’s look at what offensive tackles must face every down. Below are the average numbers by defensive ends since 1999. This time, the speed and lower-body explosion numbers should pop out.

Just by going off the numbers, tackles are at a great athletic disadvantage to start. Even the best athletes must possess strong technique or else the speedier edge defenders in the NFL will school them. But the top athletes have that extra leeway to help overcome mistakes.

There have been a handful of truly great athletes at tackle to be drafted highly since 2004. Although not all have turned out to be elite players, most have worked their way into a starting position. More importantly, their athleticism is far from the reason they’ve failed. With the exception of New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead, all of the players listed below were taken in the first round of their respective drafts.

The importance of the NFL combine can be debated to an extent, but teams clearly have shown that better athletes have high value because of their ability to “win” in multiple ways. Technique can be learned, but size, speed and bend cannot be significantly improved without major alterations to the body.

Fisher’s case to be a day one starter in the NFL is very strong. He is a former tight end who has terrific movement skills. He started 35 games in college, including 13 at left tackle in 2014.

Yet he was omitted from CBS Sports' Dane Brugler’s latest mock draft. Now, a mock is simply what someone is hearing and is in no way an iron-clad statement on what will happen. But Fisher is very comparable to former first-rounders, and if he doesn’t go in the first, he could be a huge steal.

Fisher’s combine was terrific. Take a look at his raw numbers, as well as where he ranked in percentiles. His short-area and explosion numbers were off the charts.

Fisher’s athleticism easily translates to the field, as well. He’s not just some workout warrior who blew up. Armstead was that guy, but Fisher was an accomplished three-year starter at Oregon, so they’re not as similar as Fisher and the rest of the examples used earlier.

Above is a great example of how Fisher can use his athleticism to protect his quarterback. It is just one play, but this was routine throughout his film, so I feel comfortable showing this as a snapshot of who Fisher is. Notice how smoothly Fisher gets back, stays engaged and neutralizes the inside move by the rusher.

Being able to handle countermoves inside and out is more important than ever for left and right tackles. Passing rates are at an incredible high right now, and things may not start trending downward for a few years, if ever. Quality tackles are absolutely a must.

A smart team will select Jake Fisher at the end of the first round or early second. Considering the premium cost of his comparisons, Fisher will be a bargain. He’s more of a technician than Armstead, Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Taylor Lewan. Combining his athletic prowess and NFL-ready skill set, he should be getting more buzz.

Fisher isn’t the perfect tackle prospect, though. He could use more functional strength on his body, and he has some injury concerns. His ability to play either tackle spot or guard shouldn’t be questioned, though. A year from now, he will very likely be “that guy” teams wish they didn’t pass up.

 

Ian Wharton is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After a slower week for offers two weeks ago, Alabama was much more aggressive doling them out last week and laid a lot of groundwork for the 2017 class in the process.

With less than a week until the A-Day spring game, the Crimson Tide offered nine targets last week, including several big names who just finished up their sophomore seasons.

Let’s take a look at who Alabama added to their list:

 

Darnay Holmes, 2017 5-star athlete from Newbury Park, California

Holmes came out from the West Coast to Tuscaloosa for an unofficial visit and left with an offer after meeting with Nick Saban.

Saban emphasized discipline to Holmes, after a stretch that has seen three Crimson Tide players arrested in a short span.

“It went great,” Holmes said, according to 247Sports’ Hank South. “I had a deep talk with Coach Saban, he talked a lot about how he looks for guys that are disciplined, how if we see something that’s wrong we’re going to do something to make it right.

“He’s the type of coach that’s going to set you up for success, he’s not going to put you in harms way. He emphasized life after football, and how it’s important to get your degree, so you can succeed in life and not just football.”

Per South, Holmes caught 89 passes for 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore at Newbury Park High School, but he met with Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker when he came to campus, indicating that the Crimson Tide may project the 5’11”, 180-pound as a safety or corner in college.

He got an up-close view of Alabama, attending a practice.

“They just get after it," Holmes said. “There were no sluggish guys out there. They were all out there competing and playing SEC football.

“It’s definitely a pretty place. The facilities are really nice. You can look outside the weight room and see the fields, and the indoor field with the coaches’ offices right above it. They definitely had a nice layout when they put the place together.”

 

Shawn Robinson, 2017 5-star dual-threat quarterback from Denton, Texas

Alabama got in on one of the top players of 2017, offering 247Sports’ No. 1 player in the state of Texas and No. 1 dual threat quarterback.

Robinson already holds offers from an impressive list of schools like USC, Oklahoma, Baylor and, of course, Texas.

"It kind of surprised me because I haven't heard anything from Alabama before,” Robinson told TideSports.com’s Andrew Bone. "And Alabama recruits nothing but big time players and they've never come to me," Robinson said. "Then they just offered me. I don't know it was just crazy talking to Nick Saban. It was just crazy."

Robinson told Bone that the Alabama offer is going to make him consider a Tuscaloosa visit this summer.

“Nothing is 100 percent but I have a pretty good gauge," Robinson said. "Probably Ole Miss, LSU, most likely Alabama, USC, and there's some more but I'm not remembering. I have it like on a calendar."

Alabama’s trend of offering dual-threat quarterbacks continues, this time with the Crimson Tide going after a top name in the 2017 class. Per 247Sports, Robinson is Alabama’s third quarterback offer of the 2017 cycle, two of whom are dual-threats.

If he does come to Tuscaloosa, though, he shouldn’t have to worry about being confused with A’Shawn Robinson, who should be in the NFL by then.

 

Leonard Warner, 2017 4-star outside linebacker from Snellville, Georgia

Another visit from a 2017 prospect ended with an offer this week, with Warner grabbing one on Wednesday.

"I got a chance to speak with Coach Saban," he told TideSports.com’s Andrew Bone. "He wanted me to know he has an offer for me. He wanted me to know what they are all about. He told me football is a small part of life. He can help you get to the League, but getting your degree is important. He wants to help players be better people and be more successful."

Warner is listed by 247Sports as 6’4”, 209 pounds and someone who could play wide receiver, tight end or outside linebacker.

He already holds offers from most of the SEC powers, such as Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

"The visit was nice," Warner told Bone of Tuscaloosa. "It was fun. It was my first time going there. I went with my dad, sister, coach and a few guys I train with.

"I was really impressed with the weight room. It was cool to see how much they care about developing their players. I talked to the strength coach (Scott Cochran). He definitely is something else."

 

Other offers from the week:

Josh Brown, 2016 4-star outside linebacker from Charlotte, North Carolina (Florida State commit)

Brandon Burton, 2016 4-star safety from Gardena, California

Jay Jay McCargo, 2016 3-star offensive tackle from Arlington, Virginia

Jamal Pettigrew, 2016 4-star tight end from New Orleans, Louisiana (LSU commit)

Chauncey Gardner II, 2016 4-star cornerback from Cocoa, Florida (Florida commit)

Tony Gray, 2017 offensive tackle from Lawrenceville, Georgia

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football’s spring game is around the corner, and the Irish have been equally busy the last few weeks on the recruiting trail.

Each week, we’ll be keeping tabs on the new scholarship offers sent out by the Notre Dame coaches, tracking the recruiting process as the Irish focus their attention toward the classes of 2016, 2017 and maybe even 2018.

Notre Dame wasn’t as active with its offers this week, but there’s still plenty of action in the recruiting world.

 

Kevin Stepherson

Class of 2016 wide receiver Kevin Stepherson added an offer from Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Michigan extended an offer to the 6’2” 180-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, a day later. Stepherson also boasts offers from LSU, Indiana and West Virginia, among others.

“It means so much to have an offer from Notre Dame,” Stepherson told Irish247’s Tom Loy on Wednesday. “That offer and the one from LSU mean a lot. Those are the two schools really standing out to me right now. Both of them are big offers for me.”

 

Recruiting Notebook

The offers were few and far between this week, but Notre Dame’s spring recruiting efforts continued.

Class of 2016 outside linebacker Curtis Robinson, the No. 10 player at his position and No. 110 in the country, announced his top seven schools Monday.

Robinson then declared he will announce his commitment Monday.

The Santa Ana, California, product took an unofficial visit to South Bend in mid-March and stopped by Stanford earlier this month. The Irish will soon have clarity on one of their top linebacker targets.

A decision date has also been set for class of 2016 defensive end Julian Okwara, the brother of Irish senior defensive end Romeo Okwara.

The No. 11 weak-side defensive end and No. 185 overall player announced his top five Friday and said Saturday he will announce his commitment April 30.

The 4-star from Charlotte, North Carolina, stopped by for an unofficial visit at the end of March.

Class of 2016 offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg visited South Bend over the weekend and took in Saturday’s full practice.

A top target along the line for this cycle, Eichenberg is the No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 83 overall player in the nation. Following Friday’s portion of his weekend visit, Eichenberg recapped his visit with Loy.

“It was great. I had a good time,” Eichenberg said. “I spent a lot of time with [offensive linemen] Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars. Those are some great dudes. They were telling me that going to Notre Dame was the best decision they ever made, and they have never regretted it.”

The 6’6” 290-pounder from Cleveland is scheduled for a visit to Ohio State on Friday.

One of Notre Dame’s other high-end class of 2016 targets along the offensive line, Ben Bredeson, also visited campus this weekend. Bredeson ranks as the No. 6 tackle and No. 34 player in the class. The Wisconsin native is considering Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Stanford in addition to Notre Dame, per 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings. 

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football: Which Teams Will Overachieve and Underachieve in 2015?

The 2015 college football season is a few months away, and with spring practices receding into memories for most Big Ten programs, eyes are turning toward the fall. The name of the game is expectations and whether "Dear Old U" can live up to them. In that vein, we're going to lay out some predictions based on those early forecasts—will these teams fail to live up to the hype, or exceed expectations?

College football is a notoriously difficult sport to make accurate predictions in. There's so much that changes from year to year, and it seems as if no two seasons are ever the same for any program. A few short seasons ago, we were all hearing about the demise of the Big Ten and how college football had passed the conference by. The Michigan State Spartans' flash-in-the-pan status seemed to be confirmed after a 7-6 season in 2012.

Over the following two seasons, Michigan State won the Rose Bowl and the CFP Committee-selected Cotton Bowl, while the Ohio State Buckeyes won the first-ever College Football Playoff.

So which Big Ten teams will be next to defy expectations? Which Big Ten programs will fall flat in 2015? Here are our picks for the five teams that will overachieve and underachieve in 2015.

Begin Slideshow

Lou Holtz and ESPN Part Ways: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

"Dr. Lou" has diagnosed his last patient.

According to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, Lou Holtz will no longer work as an ESPN college football analyst. Both parties reportedly agreed Holtz would step away from his roles on College Football Final, in addition to any guest appearances on other ESPN programs.

ESPN's College GameDay tweeted out a final farewell to Holtz:

"There are plenty in Bristol who knew the Holtz-Mark May shtick was long past its shelf life, and this is a good time to change things up," Deitsch wrote. "No doubt part of the thinking on Holtz’s part was to move on without (Rece) Davis in the host chair."

The news doesn't come as a big surprise. Holtz said last May that he intended to retire after the season, per Dan Murphy of Irish247:

I'd like to leave when people say, "Why are you leaving?" not "When are you leaving?" This is my fifth last year. They usually talk me into it. ESPN is a great organization to work for. We've been together nine years now. That's unusual. They're like my family. I love them. We enjoy it. There comes a time where you need to step aside and let the younger people do it.

There will certainly be quite a bit of turnover on ESPN's Saturday night college football program. Along with Holtz departing, Davis left to take over for Chris Fowler on College GameDay.

May is now the only holdover, and with his and Holtz's banter constituting so much of the show, it will be interesting to see how ESPN tweaks the show going forward.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages