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Ed O'Bannon Lawsuit Will Go to Trial After Judge Denies NCAA's Request

Compounding the litany of legal issues already facing the NCAA, a federal judge ruled a lawsuit against college sports' governing body spearheaded by former forward Ed O'Bannon will go to trial in June if a settlement is not reached.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken rejected the NCAA's motion to throw the case out and rule in the governing body's favor before trial, per Reuters' Dan Levine. Without a settlement, the case will be heard by an antitrust court, which will then render a ruling.

More than 20 plaintiffs, each of whom will have file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf, are suing the NCAA for what they claim is unlawful use of their likenesses in video games and other forms of media. The O'Bannon plaintiffs had previously sued Electronic Arts, which used to produce the NCAA Football and NCAA March Madness video games series, before the two sides settled last year.

The NCAA has since sued Electronic Arts.

More than past likenesses, the O'Bannon case is a potential landmark victory for student-athletes—past and present. With the NCAA raking in billions of dollars annually from television rights, merchandising and other revenue forms without compensating the players, a verdict in the plaintiffs' favor would give players—specifically those who play basketball and football—an undetermined piece of the pie.

Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer, told Reuters he expects the governing body to win the case. 

"The model we have today enables nearly half a million student-athletes at over a thousand schools to compete on the playing field while getting a college degree," Remy said. 

In her ruling, Wilken both opened the door for a full-fledged trial while paring down some of the legal matters in the case. The judge ruled out the NCAA's attempt to use its First Amendment right by claiming live broadcast of games fall under its jurisdiction, per Jon Solomon of AL.com. Wilken also noted some possible culpability from television networks and other forms of media, which use player likenesses in numerous ways beyond live telecasts:

Because the record does not demonstrate that all Division I student-athletes validly transferred all of these rights, the First Amendment does not preclude student-athletes from asserting rights of publicity in live broadcasts or re-broadcasts of entire games. Accordingly, the First Amendment does not preclude the existence of a market for group licenses to use student-athletes' names, images and likenesses in those broadcasts.

The ruling noted that there needs to be a better-established agreement on what constitutes likeness use. Per Solomon, Wilken wrote the signing away of a player's likeness would have to be "a condition of playing so the representative could license the right to televise the athletes' games."

While this is far from a monetary ruling in O'Bannon's favor, an oncoming trial is just the latest piece of litigation that stands to change the college sports landscape as we know it. The National Labor Relations Board granted a motion from Northwestern University football players requesting college athletes be able to form a union. The board ruled that athletes were already university employees due to the long work hours and performance-based contingencies worked into their scholarships.

“It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’” the decision said.

Players have to vote via a majority to form a union. The NCAA has also appealed the ruling, so the litigation in that case is far from over.

Nevertheless, some form of change is afoot whether the NCAA agrees with it or not. The mountain of litigation is only going to get higher as players see revenue made on their hard work going anywhere but their pockets. 

"I don't feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I'm starving," Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier told reporters at the Final Four.

With any luck in the courtroom, the Shabazz Napiers of the future won't have to go to bed "starving" for much longer.

 

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Texas Football: David Ash Fractures Foot, What Injury Means for QB Battle

Texas Football announced a major hit Friday when it sent out an injury update about the one position at which the Longhorns cannot afford to lose depth.

Quarterback David Ash suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot during spring practice and will undergo surgery next week, according to a media release sent out by Texas football. He will be sidelined for the remainder of spring, but head athletic trainer for football Anthony Pass expects Ash to return to the field during fall camp.

This is not the first injury Ash has suffered during his three seasons at Texas. In 2012, Ash was sidelined with broken ribs during the Longhorns' game against TCU and suffered a concussion against BYU in 2013, which kept him out for the majority of last season.

Texas currently has one healthy scholarship quarterback on campus in Tyrone Swoopes. Aside from him, the Longhorns have walk-on Trey Holtz and wide receiver, turned tight end, turned quarterback Miles Onyegbule backing up Swoopes for the annual Orange-White spring game April 19.

To say the Longhorns are currently desperate for another quarterback is an understatement. The best option available for spring saw action in six games last season and completed five passes for 26 yards and picked up 20 rushing attempts for 79 yards and a touchdown.

Swoopes clearly did not have much opportunity to show his talents in 2013, so it's too early to determine how good he could be. But the time has come to make a name for himself as the starting QB for the Texas Longhorns, before incoming freshman Jerrod Heard arrives in Austin for summer workouts. 

One scenario to keep an eye on is with former USC quarterback Max Wittek, who took a visit to Texas in February and is currently weighing his transfer options. According to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, Texas appears to be the leading candidate for Wittek.

With news of Ash's injury surfacing, it will be very interesting if Wittek makes a decision over the next couple of weeks and if Texas will be the place he chooses to finish out his college career.

Stay tuned.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and information was obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. You can follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar. 

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David Ash Injury: Updates on Texas QB's Foot and Recovery

Texas Longhorns quarterback David Ash won't participate in the remainder of spring practice due to a fracture in his left foot.

Longhorn Network's official Twitter account reported the news of Ash's injury on Friday, noting that the to-be senior signal-caller will be back in time for fall camp:

Max Olson of ESPN.com noted the limited experience Texas has under center beyond Ash:

This coming 2014 season marks the best opportunity Ash has had in years to establish himself as the Longhorns' clear-cut starter, having split time with Case McCoy in each of the previous three campaigns. Health issues have played a part in Ash's inconsistency, especially in 2013 when he suffered a season-ending head injury that kept him out of all but three games.

Ash has suffered yet another setback in his bid to carve out a legacy in Austin, Texas, creating a lot of uncertainty at the most important position for first-year head coach Charlie Strong.

If he is indeed able to return for preseason camp, the outlook for Ash still looks bright if he can stay on the field. That's because Strong comes from Louisville and groomed top-tier NFL prospect Teddy Bridgewater in a pro-style offense. Strong's tutelage should help Ash ins his bid to realize his obvious potential.

Strong is bringing an intense but caring attitude to the table at Texas.

"I’ve told the players that now, when you come up, you can just walk right in," said Strong, per ESPN.com's Olson. "I just want them to know who we are. When a young man knows that you care about him, he’ll do everything you ask of him."

To look toward the more immediate future beyond Ash's continual development, though, the Longhorns' spring game is slated for April 19. Someone has to play quarterback, and atop the depth chart is expected to be Tyrone Swoopes, who's thrown just 13 passes in his collegiate career.

Given the experience Ash has, it's unlikely that Swoopes will do enough to unseat him for his job in the future, but Swoopes will be getting valuable, necessary reps in a new system. Ash will have his work cut out once he does return to the gridiron.

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Ohio State Spring Game 2014: Full Preview for Saturday's Scarlet and Gray Action

The 2013 season began with so much promise for the Urban Meyer-led Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State jumped off to a 12-0 start—winning most games in decisive fashion. Unfortunately, a shaky secondary put the team in shootouts late in the season, resulting in two consecutive losses to finish out the year.

Surely, this team enters the Scarlet and Gray spring game with a bitter taste in its mouth.

There are plenty of changes on hand for the Buckeyes this season. These will all be on display when the team takes the field on Saturday.

To ensure not a moment of the highly anticipated action is missed, let's take a look at the essential viewing information and preview several hot storylines to watch.

 

Viewing Information

The Scarlet and Gray game is an all-around spectacle for everyone in attendance and also for those viewing from home. The Buckeyes coaching staff breaks the team down into two evenly built squads in an attempt to create a competitive atmosphere and evaluate players accordingly.

This is one game that shouldn't be missed, as the 2014 season draws closer.

When: Sat., April 12

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

Channel: BTN

Live Stream: BTN2Go

 

Top Storylines

New-Look Secondary

Chris Ash was made co-defensive coordinator and has taken on the daunting task of improving what was a dismal secondary over the back half of the 2013 season.

During an interview with Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, Ash spoke of his intentions for this unit:

I'm not concerned about what's happened here in the past. I'm more concerned about the direction we're going to go and how we get the players aligned to what our vision is going to be, and that we get better.

We will put the best players on this football field that will help us win, and we will give everybody an ample opportunity to show that they can do that.

Saturday marks the first chance for members of the secondary to prove their worth against dangerous receivers Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson.

 

No Braxton Miller

As Braxton Miller recuperates from offseason shoulder surgery, backups will see plenty of work on Saturday.

Kenny Guiton is no longer with the team, and there will be an intense battle between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones for the backup position behind Miller.

Jones has been give more of the first-team reps during practices due to his seniority; however, each will have a fair shake of earning the backup role.

During an interview with Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com, Barrett spoke of the ongoing competition:

We're very competitive. But that's also my guy. When he makes a good play, I root for him. If he does well, that's great. I am just working on myself. It is an individual thing, but there is competition.

My biggest thing is to just lead by example. You can't lead anybody if you're not doing right. You have to have that personal integrity, and I tell that to my guys. I wouldn't actually be able to do it if I didn't do it, so that's biggest thing. Then also developing that trust over time so they can believe in you and believe in what you say.

Expect these two signal-callers to put on a dazzling show on Saturday.

 

Who's the Running Back?

Carlos Hyde is getting ready for the 2014 NFL draft. His departure from Ohio State has left a serious void in the backfield.

Hyde was a physical, bruising runner for the Buckeyes, and replacing him will be one of Ohio State's top priorities this offseason.

Running backs coach Stan Drayton spoke of the change at the position during an interview with Austin Ward of ESPN.com:

He has to be replaced. This is The Ohio State University, and it's the next man up. I'm sure if you asked Carlos Hyde, he'd tell you the same thing. It's the next man up. Somebody has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde. If it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it's going to get done.

The team could certainly look at a committee approach to this year's backfield.

Ezekiel Elliott looked good in a limited role a year ago and provides the same kind of interior pounding approach as Hyde. Senior Rod Smith will look to get things going as well, while Bri'onte Dunn, Warren Ball and Curtis Samuel figure to factor into the mix as well.

Hyde's replacement may not be set yet; however, Ohio State sure has plenty of depth to work with.

All of these players will be looking to put on a show on Saturday.

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How Dorial Green-Beckham's Dismissal Changes Dynamic of Missouri's Offense

In the end, Dorial Green-Beckham gave Missouri no choice.

Despite no charges being filed in a fight over the weekend in which Green-Beckham allegedly injured two women after storming into a Columbia, Mo., apartment, the 6'6", 225-pound rising junior wide receiver for the Tigers was dismissed from the program, Missouri announced on Friday.

“This decision was made with the best interests of all involved in mind,” said head coach Gary Pinkel in a statement released by Missouri. “Dorial’s priority going forward needs to be focusing on getting the help he needs. As we have all along, we will continue to do everything we can to assist Dorial and his family."

Green-Beckham caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, finally living up to the 5-star hype that followed him to Columbia.

So where does Missouri go from here?

We hit on how the offense has to change quite a bit. That puts more pressure on wide receivers Bud Sasser, Wesley Leftwich, Darius White, J'Mon Moore and Jake Brents. New quarterback Maty Mauk established quite a connection with DGB when Mauk took over for an injured James Franklin last season, and that connection was the foundation in which the entire 2014 Tigers offense was supposed to be built on.

Now that it's gone, that means more pressure for Mauk to find a new go-to guy. Unfortunately for Mauk, Pinkel and the rest of Missouri, there is no receiver on the roster comparable to Dorial Green-Beckham.

Nobody's even close.

With L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas gone, Missouri's wide receiving corps is now incredibly inexperienced, as my colleague Ben Kercheval notes.

With dismissal of DGB, Missouri has lost roughly 2/3 of its receiving production in receptions, yards and touchdowns from 2013.

— Ben Kercheval (@BenKercheval) April 11, 2014

That means Mauk is going to have to mature in a hurry.

My colleague Adam Kramer got exclusive reaction from Mauk when he heard the news.

“Well, [string of horrendous expletives]” - Maty Mauk

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) April 11, 2014

OK, maybe that's not verbatim...but it's probably close to the truth.

Mauk completed just 51.1 percent of his passes last season (68-of-133), and five of Mauk's 11 touchdown passes last year went to Green-Beckham. The weight of the offense is now on Mauk's shoulders, because the entire Missouri offense would have been predicated on Green-Beckham. Whichever side he lined up on, a safety would almost certainly roll over to his side.

Now there is no game-breaking receiver on the roster, which makes it more difficult for Mauk to exploit matchups outside, and more difficult for Missouri to go ground-and-pound with running backs Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy and Morgan Steward. 

Even if they do become more of a run-based offense—which was the case in 2011 when they finished ninth in the nation in rushing offense (243.46 YPG)—they'll have to find some way to keep opposing defenses honest downfield, and DGB was scheduled to be a big part of that plan.

Does this mean Missouri is going to have a hard time repeating as SEC East champs?

It was going to be an uphill battle anyway, and that hill is just a little steeper now.

The Tigers were successful last season because of their deep and dynamic offense, and now all of that depth at wide receiver is gone. On top of that, defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam played a big part in generating pressure in which that Tigers secondary, led by cornerback E.J. Gaines, routinely capitalized on.

With all of those players gone, Missouri is going to have its work cut out for it if it wants to make a return trip to Atlanta.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statements and quotes were obtained firsthand via statement from the University of Missouri, all spring stats are courtesy of the University of Missouri, all college stats from previous seasons are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 


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Dorial Green-Beckham Dismissed from Missouri Football Program

Missouri wide receiver and second-team All-SEC team member Dorial Green-Beckham was officially dismissed from the program following a string of arrests and incidents over the past two years, the school announced Friday.

College Football Talk received official word from Missouri:

Green-Beckham, 20, was suspended indefinitely Monday for a violation of team rules. While confidentiality agreements between student-athletes and schools prohibited Missouri from stating the official reason for his dismissal, it's unquestionably been tied to his increasingly troubled off-the-field behavior.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel released a statement along with the announcement, saying he hopes his former receiver gets the necessary help he needs (via Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee): 

Green-Beckham's latest incident came over the weekend, where he was allegedly involved in an attempt to break into the home of a female. While police were initially investigating the crime as a burglary, per Matthew Fairburn of The Missourian (subscription required), Green-Beckham was not officially charged with a crime.

According to the police report, Green-Beckham attempted to force his way into an apartment door while it was being blocked. He then pushed an unnamed female down a flight of stairs before leaving the scene in a vehicle, with Missouri football teammates imploring residents to not call the police.

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported no charges would be filed because the resident feared for her safety if she would press forward against a high-profile athlete:

“First and most importantly, I take responsibility for my conduct and my mistakes," Green-Beckham said in a written statement, per Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Don’t blame my girlfriend or her friends for anything. I am not looking for sympathy. I thank those who have given me concern."

Green-Beckham said he will be entering counseling, though he did not specify for what reason. He reasoned that many of his mistakes were due to being "young and dumb."

Even without charges, this is at least the third time Green-Beckham has been involved in incidents needing police attention. He was one of three men arrested on Jan. 10 for having marijuana following a routine traffic stop. The highly touted receiver was initially charged with possession with intent to distribute, which would have been a felony charge.

Because of the ongoing nature of the case, he was allowed to still attend the university and practice without a suspension. Green-Beckham was also arrested as a freshman for marijuana possession, though those charges were eventually pleaded down to trespassing. The suspension was not tied to either of his past arrests, Green-Beckham's adoptive father, John Beckham, told the News-Leader.

Regardless of the reasoning, Green-Beckham will have to start a new chapter in his life. Should he prove he's beyond his drug issues and apparent anger problems, it's likely at least one school will take a chance on him in the near future.

The top-ranked recruit in the nation in the Class of 2012, per 247Sports' composite rankings, Green-Beckham was on the precipice of realizing his promise last season. He made 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns, helping lead Missouri to a 12-2 record and a Cotton Bowl win. 

Given his size, speed and overall athletic profile, most expected an even bigger breakout in 2014. Because he's not yet three years removed from high school, Green-Beckham will not be eligible for the NFL supplemental draft had he chosen to eschew college altogether. 

The Tigers will certainly struggle to recapture his production, but it's obvious that Pinkel and the university needed to take a stand and move forward. The next question will be what comes next—for both parties.

 

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Georgia Spring Game 2014: Viewing Info and Players to Watch on G-Day

It's been over four months since the Georgia Bulldogs suffered a devastating 24-19 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Gator Bowl.

Luckily for the Georgia faithful, the long-awaited return of this football team is over. On Saturday, the Bulldogs take the field once again for the 2014 G-Day spring football game.

There will be plenty of new faces on the field for Georgia. Aaron Murray is headed to the NFL, and in his place will be Hutson Mason, who put on a solid showing in the Gator Bowl, completing 21 of his 39 passing attempts for 320 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Some familiar faces will be on hand as well. Running back Todd Gurley will look to build upon a very fine showing in 2013. He will be joined by complementary back Keith Marshall.

This spring game will bring an insightful glimpse as to how this team has improved after finishing with an 8-5 record last season.

Let's take a look at all of the essential viewing information and highlight some players to keep an eye on during G-Day.

 

Viewing Information

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs' spring game is set for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff. This conflicts with another prestigious Georgia event that you may have heard of—the 2014 Masters at Augusta National.

Due to this conflict, there's always a chance for a blackout; however, the viewing information for Saturday's game is as follows:

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Channel: CSS

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

Players to Watch

Hutson Mason, QB

Mason redshirted last season and figures to take the reins for the departed Murray.

Due to Murray's late-season injury, Mason saw some time on a big stage last season. During the Gator Bowl, Mason was inconsistent but showed glimpses of stellar play.

The highlight of Mason's performance was a 25-yard touchdown pass to Todd Gurley early in the fourth quarter to pull the Bulldogs within five points of the Cornhuskers.

Mason finished the season completing 67 of 110 passing attempts for 968 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Even though Murray is not in the mix anymore, there's plenty to be excited about at the quarterback position in 2014.

 

Todd Gurley, RB

Gurley is the most explosive and exciting of all the Bulldogs. His quick burst, one-cut ability, vision and top-end speed make him a home run threat every time he touches the ball.

Despite missing three games in 2013, Gurley still finished the season with 989 yards on 165 attempts for an average of 6.0 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns.

Gurley's shining moment last season was the team's double-overtime thriller against Georgia Tech to close out the regular season. In the Bulldogs' win, he rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns while adding four receptions for 36 yards and anther score.

Expect plenty more of exciting moments from this junior running back in 2014.

 

Leonard Floyd, LB

Floyd really showed some good stuff as a freshman in 2013.

He's a natural pass-rusher and can wreak havoc in the backfield—both against the run and the pass.

Floyd recorded 55 total tackles, including 9.5 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks last season, according to CFBStats.com.

Standing at 6'4" and weighing 220 pounds, Floyd has freakish athleticism for his size. He's incredibly well-rounded and could even see split time between linebacker and defensive end this season.

His first test of the year will be a big one as he'll be up against the Bulldogs explosive offense.

Expect Floyd to shine early and often this season—he should not have any difficulty surpassing last year's sack total in a hurry.

 

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LSU Football: Jeremy Hill Proves He Is Best RB in NFL Draft at Pro Day

Jeremy Hill is a freak of nature.

Hill's performance at LSU's pro day on Wednesday showed why he is the best running back prospect in the NFL draft.

Ross Dellenger and Sheldon Mickles of The New Orleans Advocate report that he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, which is significantly better than his 4.66 at the NFL combine. At 6'1'', 233 pounds, running that fast led to NFL Network's Mike Mayock calling him a "top-level tailback."

Hill also has amazing ball skills and balance. According to DraftInsider.net's Troy Pauline, he looked spectacular during drills at LSU's pro day:

But forget about running around in tights. On the field, Les Miles has never coached a better back at LSU than Hill.

He rushed for 28 touchdowns and over 2,100 yards in his two seasons in Baton Rouge. However, it was not until midway through his first year that he started getting a respectable amount of carries.

Last season, Hill earned first-team All-SEC honors after rushing for over 1,400 yards. He was consistent throughout the year, with spectacular performances against Auburn and Iowa. With his 216 yards against the Hawkeyes, Hill is the only back under Miles to rush for over 200 yards in game.

The Tigers have had some good workhorses under Miles. Joseph Addai, Jacob Hester and Stevan Ridley are a few that have had successful NFL careers. None of them were as athletically gifted as Hill, though.

Hill's sublime abilities are impossible to ignore. Nevertheless, NFL franchises may avoid him due to his off-the-field behavior while at LSU. He has been given probation twice since 2012.

However, Hill has been proactive in getting rid of the negative stigma surrounding his troubled past. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, he sent a letter to all 32 NFL franchises before the combine addressing the subject.

He told Tiger TV at his pro day that he has overcome the adversity and will come into the league "humble" and with "the intention of playing right away."

There is no running back in the NFL draft that is as well-rounded as Hill. He can immediately do anything a team could ask him to do, whether it be to block, catch, convert on third down or break a long run. His versatility increases his value.

Former Dallas Cowboys Vice President of Player Personnel and current NFL.com writer Gil Brandt believes Hill could be drafted late in the first round.

Rotoworld's Evan Silva said he could be a starter:

There are other great running backs in the draft. Auburn's Tre Mason, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde will all be productive players at the next level. However, Hill will be an instant star, much like the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy.

Bleacher Report's NFL Lead Draft Analyst, Matt Miller, has Hill as a fourth-round pick in his latest mock draft, with four running backs being drafted before him. In a league where young backs drafted late are of high value, the team that selects him could be golden if he goes that low.

Hill will be eye candy for NFL fans. Not only can he run over defenders, but he can dance around them in the open field. The former Redemptorist High School star had seven runs of 50-plus yards in his college career.

Hill will be easy to find next season. If a fan wants to watch him, just pre-order the Red Zone Channel. Andrew Siciliano will be calling out his name quite often.

 

Stats provided by LSU Sports Information and cfbstats.com.

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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SEC Football: 3 Sleepers That Will Shock the Conference in 2014

Which Southeastern Conference football team will be the most underrated in 2014 is just one of a wealth of projections we all go through in the offseason. Who will win the SEC, which players should we look out for, which newcomer will provide the biggest impact…Asking all of these questions allows us to wade through the difficult time in which bodies aren't flying across gridirons.

Turnover will play a vital role in the 2014 edition of SEC football. A massive amount of experience and talent is gone from key skill positions for powerhouse programs, leaving a void that will likely be filled by several teams that struggled in 2013. 

The traditional threats remain, led by Auburn's stacked depth chart fresh off playing for a national title, but these three squads have the experience and talent to hit a 2014 surge and challenge for SEC supremacy in the fall. And let's not forget what happened a year ago when talented, experienced no-names threw the conference power structure on its head.

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Lawyer Explains Possible Impact of Federal Investigation of Jameis Winston Case

Last week, Rachel Axon of USA Today reported that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into Florida State University’s handling of the Jameis Winston rape allegations. The Florida State investigation is the latest in a series of investigations into the adequacy of universities’ responses to sexual harassment—UConn, Michigan and UNC are all currently under investigation as well, according to various reports.

Now that one of the biggest stars in college football has been pulled back into controversy, many are curious about the scope, process and consequences of a Department of Education investigation.

Background

According to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Winston’s accuser claimed he raped her on December 7, 2012. The Florida State Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into the incident in November 2013 and one month later, it announced no charges would be brought against Winston.

It is unclear when Florida State’s investigation into the rape allegations began. But according to Adam Weinstein of Deadspin.com, the university took action in January 2014 following the BCS championship game.

The university brought code-of-conduct charges against two of Winston’s teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, and brought Winston in for questioning. When brought in, Winston reportedly declined to answer questions regarding the alleged rape and the meeting instead turned into an “educational conversation” where university officials advised the athlete of its alcohol policies and code of conduct. Winston was not charged with any conduct violations.  

What will federal investigators be looking for?

Unlike prior investigations in the Winston case, the subject of the federal investigation is the university and whether it met its obligations as a Title IX funding recipient.

Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination, which includes acts of sexual violence, in universities that receive federal financial assistance. The Department of Education is tasked with designing and implementing rules universities must follow when responding to sexual harassment complaints. In addition, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is empowered to investigate complaints that a university has failed to comply with these rules.

In April 2011, OCR released a guidance letter clarifying how it would evaluate universities’ compliance with the department’s rules regarding sexual harassment. As this document reflects OCR’s latest thinking on sexual harassment compliance, it provides a window into what federal investigators will be looking for in the Florida State case.

Based on what we know about the Winston case, there are at least two areas of investigation that OCR may focus on:

Timeliness of the university’s internal investigation

The 2011 guidance letter states that “schools should not wait for the conclusion of a criminal investigation or criminal proceeding to begin their own Title IX investigation.” The letter does recognize that the schools may need to delay the fact-finding portion of their investigation while the police are gathering evidence. But once the police department has completed its gathering of evidence, the university must “promptly” resume its investigation.

As mentioned above, Winston’s accuser claimed he raped her on December 7, 2012. We know that the university took action in January 2014, but we do not know if it began investigating before that time. OCR may investigate the timing of Florida’s State’s response to determine whether it was sufficiently prompt and whether any delay caused by the police investigation was warranted. 

The “meeting” with Winston

The 2011 letter also states that during a school’s investigation, the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator “must be afforded similar and timely access to any information that will be used at the hearing.” Specifically, the letter instructs that “a school should not conduct a pre-hearing meeting during which only the alleged perpetrator is present and given an opportunity to present his or her story,” unless it also provides a similar pre-hearing meeting to the alleged victim.

According to Weinstein, Winston was brought to a meeting with university administrators in late January. During this meeting, Winston reportedly did not answer any questions regarding the rape accusations and instead the meeting became “an educational conversation.”

It is unclear how OCR would treat this meeting. But it could conceivably be treated as a “pre-hearing” meeting, and OCR may then investigate whether a similar opportunity had been provided to Winston’s accuser.

What are the possible consequences if FSU is found to be in violation of Title IX?

If OCR finds FSU has failed to comply with applicable regulations, it is required by law to first seek to negotiate a voluntary resolution agreement with the university. Resolution agreements typically require the university to make certain changes to its sexual harassment policy and include provisions that allow OCR to monitor implementation of the changes.

For instance, in 2012, a federal investigation into Yale University’s sexual harassment policies ended with a resolution agreement that required Yale to establish a new sexual harassment grievance process to handle complaints and to provide progress reports to OCR annually for two years.

In the event that a voluntary resolution cannot be reached, OCR has two options.

First, it may initiate administrative proceedings to suspend or terminate federal funding to the university.

Second, it may refer the case to the US Department of Justice, which may in turn bring a lawsuit against the university asking a court to order the university to make changes to its program.

Either of these options are extremely unlikely. The Department of Education has never stripped a university of its federal funding for a Title IX violation, and only a handful of sexual harassment cases are referred to the Department of Justice.

Winston should not face penalties as a result of OCR’s investigation, as he is not the subject of the investigation. However, FSU has stated that it may issue code-of-conduct charges against him if additional information regarding the incident becomes available. It is unclear whether any new information unearthed by the federal investigation can be legally used by the school the bring code-of-conduct charges against Winston. 

Would Jameis Winston be legally obligated to cooperate in the investigation? 

Perhaps the most intriguing question is whether Winston is required to testify or cooperate with investigators. As mentioned earlier, he has remained silent about the incident up to this point.

Based on OCR’s Case Processing Manual, which governs its investigations, it is unclear whether Winston would be legally obligated to cooperate with investigators. Section 602(d) of the manual provides for witness interview procedures.

When interviewing a witness, OCR is required, among other things, to inform the witness of the purpose of the interview and of their right to personal representation during the interview. But the manual does not discuss instances where a witness refuses to cooperate.

Moreover, the federal regulations governing the Department of Education do not appear to have any provisions that would empower OCR to compel a witness who is not employed by the university to testify during an investigation. In the absence of any legal authority conferring such power to the OCR, Winston may be able to legally refuse to cooperate with federal investigators.

In addition, the Manual states that while OCR has a general right to the university’s information and records during an investigation, it has no legal authority to require information from others.  

How long would this investigation take?

It is difficult to predict the length of this investigation. The Yale investigation mentioned earlier took about a year; a system-wide investigation of the State University of New York (SUNY) took close to three years.

Meanwhile, OCR is also currently investigating the University of Michigan’s handling of allegations that former football player Brendan Gibbons raped another student. 

Kevin Chen is a graduate of Yale Law School and a practicing attorney in San Francisco.

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Texas Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Texas Longhorns are approaching the final stretch of spring practice. Head coach Charlie Strong and staff have kept things on the quiet side in regards to depth chart progress, but that is to be expected from a first-year coaching staff.

The positive news for Texas fans is there could be progress from the quarterback position. Strong said David Ash has shown steady progress throughout the first four weeks of spring. 

"The thing about David is he's studying it and working at it," Strong said. "And each practice he has gotten better."

Progress is a big positive for Ash, who spend the majority of the 2013 season sidelined with recurring concussion symptoms. One should not coin him the starter just yet, but his continued progress could help him secure the starting role for Texas.

 

Running Back Out for Spring

Running back Joe Bergeron will miss the remainder of spring practice to focus on academics but is expected to be ready for summer workouts, as first reported by Orangebloods.com:

Texas does not have a lot of depth at running back without Bergeron and Johnathan Gray sidelined with a torn Achilles tendon. However, Bergeron's absence has freed up a lot of second-team reps for Jalen Overstreet. And one cannot forget about Malcolm Brown.

Strong had a lot of good things to say about Brown, who has appeared to impress the first-year head coach with his hard hitting running ability.

"He's a really solid player," Strong said of Brown. "I told our defense, at times they didn't want to tackle him because of the way he runs. He does a great job just running behind his pads. He's a punishing runner. When he hits, he's always falling forward."

Brown really stepped up after Gray's injury in 2013, and it sounds like he is once again stepping up and continuing to punish defenders.

 

Strong Changes Worth Mentioning

For the last few years, Texas has often been referred to as soft by many critics. Strong seems to be on a mission to change that, and he started that change when he decided the team needed to walk to practice rather than taking an air-conditioned chartered bus.

"They don't have a choice, they're going to walk back and forth to practice. What else are they going to do? They're for sure not going to ride with anyone," Strong joked. "It's been a great group of guys. They're done everything we ask, and I can say that there has not been another who has challenged us on anything we have asked of them."

Texas held a coaching clinic for in-state high school coaches last weekend, and the coaches seemed to be impressed with the change in football staff, according to an Orangebloods.com report (subscription required). 

"There's definitely a new sheriff in town," the report said. "Gone are the days of glad handling boosters and pampering your five star athletes. They're going to push those kids, break them down firm, and then believe they'll build them back up."

Sheriff Strong is changing the culture at Texas, and fans across the nation should happily accept that news.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

 

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The Case Against Naming a Starting Quarterback Before Fall Practice

If we've learned anything during the rise of advanced statistics in football—and every other major American sport—it's that few (if any) commodities are more valuable than data.

The more data you have, the better. The less data you have, the worse. Data makes otherwise ignorant decisions informed, and its lack makes otherwise informed decisions ignorant. And who about his or her wits would prefer to make ignorant decisions over informed ones?

This is a new-age model of thinking, and it rebels against antiquated notions such as the belief that one must name a starting quarterback before or during summer workouts. Why would that be the case?

If the battle at QB is truly close, a coach is better served waiting until late August to make his decision. The more reps each player gets to run—that the coach gets to observe—the more data he has collected, and the more time he has to formulate a conclusion. 

The more informed of a decision he can make.

But the benefits of waiting extend far past data collection. There are psychological advantages to making two or more players compete.

It would have been easy, for example, for Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher to name Jameis Winston the starting QB after spring camp last season. It was that much of a slam dunk.

Even though Winston was just a redshirt freshman, his pedigree and performance in practice and the Garnet & Gold game made it clear, to most observers, that he would beat out Clint Trickett (who transferred that summer to West Virginia) and Jacob Coker (who transferred this winter to Alabama) and claim the starting gig.

But Fisher didn't give in, refusing to acknowledge the formality of Winston's position. He made Winston battle Coker throughout fall camp before eventually naming him the starter in late August, mere days before opening the season at Pittsburgh.

We all know what happened next. Winston lead the nation in passer rating and won the Heisman Trophy, leading Florida State to a 14-0 record and the BCS National Championship. His Heisman was the second in a row by a redshirt freshman and first-year starter, following the man who finished four spots behind him, Johnny Manziel.

One more thing Winston and Manziel had in common during their respective Heisman campaigns?

Neither was named the starter until fall camp.

No one can say for sure what the alternative—the world where Jameis and Johnny didn't have to claw for their jobs in fall camp—would have held. For all we know, they would have been even better had they been named starters after spring practice.

For all we know, it doesn't matter a lick either way.

What we do know is that those things happened. The overriding argument against waiting to name a starter is one of closure—that a team is better, or somehow more cohesive, if it goes into the summer knowing which guy will be the guy.

Florida State last year is a flawed counterexample (since most assumed Winston would win the job), but Texas A&M the year before is not. Neither is what happened at Auburn last season when Nick Marshall beat a field of four to win the job on the Plains.

In fact, the top three finishers in last year's AP rankings—FSU, Auburn and Michigan State—all had a quarterback battle in fall camp, and so did No. 5 Missouri and No. 6 Oklahoma. That is five of the top six, or, as some might call it, an overwhelming majority.

It seems like coaches are starting to take notice. For the most part, schools with the highest-profile quarterback battles—e.g. Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Michigan, Texas A&M, Tennessee—will keep the spirit of battle alive throughout the summer.

"The idea that you make the decision early is foolish," said LSU head coach Les Miles, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune. "There's always going to be that point in time a young guy gains speed late, or an injury makes the decision or the more-veteran guy shows he's worthwhile."

Miles is referring, of course, to the theory of data collection. 

The more informed a coach's decision, the better its chances of being correct. There's a reason LSU stays competitive each season, why its QBs are rarely a flop.

Sentiment seems to be in favor of freshman Brandon Harris after he outperformed Anthony Jennings in the spring game. Look at the poll on this article by B/R's Barrett Sallee—more than 87 percent think the job will be Harris' come fall. But why should Miles make that choice after the spring game, which is only one data point informing him?

Why not get as much information as possible?

In breaking down the four-way quarterback battle at Tennessee, which has now skewed toward a two-way battle between Justin Worley and Riley Ferguson, B/R's Dan Shepard brings up one final, important benefit of patience: It dissuades younger players from transferring.

Tennessee has two promising quarterbacks competing, primarily, for the job. Worley is a senior and Ferguson a redshirt freshman. Sophomore Josh Dobbs is in the mix and has some potential, too.

How catastrophic would it be if Worley was named the starter, then one or both of those guys transferred? That's the type of thing that can cripple a program—and given the momentum Butch Jones has UT moving forward with right now, it can ill afford to be crippled.

Take a perfunctory glance at what Rich Rodriguez is doing with his quarterbacks at Arizona, and it may seem utterly absurd.

According to Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Starfive players have a realistic shot at the job. Rodriguez said the quintet is "pretty bunched up" at the moment, which many might think is a bad thing. If you've got five quarterbacks, you ain't got any.

But Rodriguez disagrees with that platitude. Instead, he called the lack of a true No. 1 "a great problem" to have.

If you've got five quarterbacks...you've got five quarterbacks.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Top Recruits Visiting Ohio State Buckeyes' 2014 Spring Game Weekend

The Ohio State Buckeyes wrap up spring camp Saturday with annual spring game festivities, which begin at 1:30 p.m. ET and are broadcast live on the Big Ten Network. Plenty of attention in the Horseshoe will be focused on the scrimmage, but a big element of the event takes place off the field.

Head coach Urban Meyer and his staff are set to welcome several standout members of the 2015 recruiting class, along with younger prospects. Though the goal of a spring game is to iron out details and make in-roads toward solving position battles, the Buckeyes will be busy attempting to secure commitments from potential stars of the future.

Here's a review of recruits expected to be in attendance for Saturday's action in Columbus, according to Cleveland.com and ElevenWarriors.com.

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Alabama Football: Meet Trey DePriest, the New Leader of Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Simply put, he’s not the same player.

He doesn’t have the same range, the same awareness nor the same tackling skills as former All-American C.J. Mosley, at least not during his first three years at the University of Alabama. Then again, very few in Crimson Tide history, if not all of college football, can compare to the 2013 winner of the Butkus Award as the game’s best linebacker.

But that’s not necessarily how coaches want senior Trey DePriest to try and replace his former teammate on the Alabama defense. It’s Mosley’s leadership that he’s being asked to take over as the established veteran in the heart of a defense that will essentially have seven new starters.

“Trey has a lot of experience,” Coach Nick Saban said. “He’s a very good player. We need his leadership on defense. He’s obviously going to become the signal-caller, which I think everyone looks up to.

“He certainly has the knowledge and experience and maturity to affect other players in a positive way. I think that’s something that’s going to be important for our defensive team that he not only contribute with his physical performance and doing his job well, but how he affects everyone else.”

In terms of on-field production, Mosley’s more than a tough act to follow. At the weak-side spot in Saban’s base formation, he led the Crimson Tide with 108 tackles while being named team MVP and finished third on the Alabama career tackles list with 318.

Playing beside him at middle linebacker, DePriest had 65 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception.

None of the other returning linebackers had more than 30 tackles last season, which was Denzel Devall's total in his first year as the Jack linebacker, the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot who frequently puts his hand on the ground. Among the other interior linebackers, Reggie Ragland had 17 tackles, Dillon Lee (who is more of an outside linebacker) had 16, Xzavier Dickson had 13, Reuben Foster had 12 and Ryan Anderson five.

By returning for his senior season, DePriest automatically inherited the veteran tag, as he’s played in 40 games with 26 starts.

“I’ve been around long enough to where I can handle it,” DePriest said about the play-calling responsibilities. “Playing with C.J. last year, we both took the role and kind of split it. He did the majority of it, but sometimes I had to help him out when teams went fastball and stuff, so he can’t get it off and communicate it so I had to help there too.”

With the future of Alabama’s interior linebackers probably resting with Foster and early enrollee Shaun Dion Hamilton, Ragland, a junior, has been lining up more as a pass-rusher on the outside in obvious throwing situations.

“Just find a way to get on the field more,” said Ragland, who added that he didn’t get frustrated working behind Mosley.

“I knew I had two years to learn behind the best, and I did.”

However, Ragland has also been working quite a bit with the first unit at Mosley’s old spot, especially after last week’s first scrimmage when Foster took another stinger. That’s actually better than a year ago when hit a teammate so hard that he knocked himself out.

Consequently, when asked about his eventual replacements, Mosley said at the Sugar Bowl that Ragland needed to keep studying the defense while Foster had to keep his head up while making tackles.

“Reckless abandon,” Ragland said about Reuben’s style of play. “He'll come down and hit you.”

While Saban said “consistency” is the key for the three primary interior linebackers “understanding their run fits, understanding their pass coverage all the time.” Hamilton has impressed teammates with how well he’s picked up the defense so far.

But ideally coaches want everything stemming from DePriest, whose responsibilities will now include making sure other players are in position to make big plays.

It was reflected in last week’s scrimmage numbers as DePriest led the defense with eight tackles while Devall and Ragland both had five. But Devall also had two tackles for loss and a sack while Ragland had two sacks and a pass breakup.

That’s what they need from DePriest the most, to be the leader and eventual captain, just like last year’s defense was Mosley’s.

“I’m just blessed to have a lot of experience,” DePriest said. “I’ve played for a while. So I’m just trying to help out where I can.”

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Johnny Manziel's 'Aggie Ring' Contains Large Diamond

When Johnny Manziel does something, he goes all out.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has played his final snap for Texas A&M, so he decided to commemorate his time on campus by ordering an Aggie ring. His choice in ring matches his style of play: flashy.

[Johnny Manziel, h/t College Spun]

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USC Football: 5 Ways Trojans Will Flourish in Steve Sarkisian's Offense

Among the more intriguing facets of Steve Sarkisian's hire as USC head coach is the installation of a new offensive philosophy. Long stalwarts of the pro-style, the Trojans have spent spring practices laying the foundation for a hurry-up, no-huddle scheme that could transform the program's identity.

USC has the talent to make it work, and according to Sarkisian, the pieces are coming into place in time for the start of the 2014 season. 

"Believe me, these practices are harder than the games," he said, via USCTrojans.com. "They'll be in great shape when September rolls around, they'll be ready to play."

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USC Football: 5 Ways Trojans Will Flourish in Steve Sarkisian's Offense

Among the more intriguing facets of Steve Sarkisian 's hire as USC head coach is the installation of a new offensive philosophy...

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How Charlie Strong, Texas Can Take Back Big 12 Football in 2014

While "sleeper" may not necessarily be the right term, Texas is at the point where it's no longer the hunted program in the Big 12. Schools like Baylor and Oklahoma State have significantly closed the gap between themselves and Texas, and Kansas State has become perennially good without bringing in blue-chip talent.

There's also the emergence of Texas A&M in the SEC. Yes, the Aggies no longer compete for Big 12 titles, but their impact on recruiting and exposure in Texas can't be ignored. 

By hiring Charlie Strong from Louisville, Texas wants to widen that gap again and take back the conference and national spotlights. As crazy as it may sound, it's possible Strong could accomplish some of that in year one. 

Oklahoma should be the preseason favorite to win the conference after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but it wouldn't be surprising to see K-State and Baylor receive serious consideration as well. And Texas is right in that second tier. 

Making a run at a conference title—Texas' first since 2009—starts on defense. That's where the Horns are strongest and it's Strong's calling card. 

Even with the departure of defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, the defensive line returns Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson. Linebacker Jordan Hicks returns from injury, meaning the Horns' starting defensive front seven should be as stacked as any in the Big 12. 

But returning starters are only as good as their improvements, and last season Texas struggled early to stop the run. The first example that comes to mind is BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who rushed for 259 yards in a 40-21 win over Texas last September. 

That was the game that cost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz his job. His successor, Greg Robinson, did a much better job of simplifying things and getting results. Still, mobile quarterbacks proved to be Texas' kryptonite all the way up to the Alamo Bowl, when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota rushed for 133 yards in a 30-7 win. 

In Texas' five losses, the defense allowed the quarterback to rush for at least 95 yards three times. And Texas never faced Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight.  

Knight, along with Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and possible Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh, is one of the mobile quarterbacks Texas may have to contain in 2014. That's not including back-to-back games against Hill and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, respectively. 

Just as stopping the run is important for Texas, having a sound running game is critical for the Horns' offensive success. This is where Texas is strongest on offense with running backs Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron. 

With Gray recovering from an Achilles injury and Bergeron dealing with "personal issues," according to Texas, depth in the backfield is thinner this spring. That said, it should be a strength once the season rolls around. 

The biggest question mark will be the offensive line, where four starters are being replaced. Couple the turnover with the knee injury to tackle Kent Perkins, and Texas is off to a rough start shoring up the O-line. 

"Losing Perkins hurts us because he was doing so well," Strong said, via B/R's Taylor Gaspar. "But it now gives us a chance to look at the younger guys and watching them compete and making sure they get enough reps."

If that group can come together, though, the offense can be serviceable and still win plenty of games. That would be the case whether it's David Ash lining up at quarterback or anyone else. 

Looking back at Strong's time at Louisville, the Cardinals last had a 2,000-yard rushing season in 2010. That was before Teddy Bridgewater took over at quarterback. 

With uncertainty surrounding the quarterback spot at Texas, look for Strong to concentrate on a stout defense that takes pressure off the offense while playing clock management and field position. (Louisville finished in the top 20 in time of possession in the past three seasons.) 

Instead of beating teams 40-30, look for Texas to win more games in the 28-21 range. That's how the Horns take back the Big 12 in 2014. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Notre Dame Football: Week 6 Spring Practice Stock Report

Notre Dame's final spring practice will be live for every Irish fan to see, with the NBC Sports Network broadcasting the 85th annual Blue-Gold game at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

With a sunny day forecast, a large crowd expected and a slew of recruits descending on South Bend, the annual scrimmage is a wonderful finale to the spring session. Our last opportunity to see this football team before they gather for fall camp, the game serves as our last peek through the window before four months of darkness. 

As we close out practice, let's take one last look at the big board. 

 

Can Jarron Jones Keep Up Productivity?

Late last year, Jarron Jones emerged as the unlikely heir apparent to Louis Nix at nose tackle. For those that had tracked his career up until that point, it seemed like a far-fetched idea.

Jones spent his redshirt freshman season learning the ABCs of college football. He didn't do much more in his sophomore campaign, until Nix went down. But after being buried on the depth chart at defensive end, Jones emerged as a productive player at nose tackle, even if he was learning on the fly.

Jones was set to walk into spring practice as one of the only legitimate options at nose guard. That distinction loses its importance with the Irish playing in Brian VanGorder's four-man front. But lined up on the interior next to Sheldon Day, Jones be even more productive after the system switch. 

VanGorder commented earlier this week on the knack Jones has for making plays, something this defensive front could use. 

"As much as we're on him about technique, every time we scrimmage or get in a physical-type team run, he's productive," VanGorder said about Jones. "As much as he still has to learn and develop from a technique standpoint, he's a productive player. You can't ignore that."

Day is expected to have a breakthrough season, finally healthy after a lingering ankle injury. He is capable of wreaking havoc—and at 6'5.25", 310 pounds he should. The two Irish tackles might give the unproven defensive ends plenty of help. 

 

On Offensive Line, Possibilities Still Endless—That's Good Thing 

It looks like Harry Hiestand and Brian Kelly know what they think they want their offensive line to look like. But it's also clear that they're in no hurry to get there. 

If everybody were healthy and the Irish were playing Rice tomorrow, here's how the Irish would line up along the offensive front. 

Ronnie Stanley, LT
Steve Elmer, LG
Nick Martin, C
Christian Lombard, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

But after reloading the depth chart the past few years and developing plenty of depth during the injury streak that hit the offensive line hard last season, there are plenty of options to consider. Does McGlinchey give the Irish their best five? Is Elmer better served as a tackle? Has Matt Hegarty or Conor Hanratty shown enough in relief to battle for a starting job?

It all feels like a champagne problem. 

After not having enough healthy players to prepare for Alabama and the BCS Championship game, even shorthanded with nine healthy bodies, this offensive line looks the best it has in a decade. (And that's before a highly touted freshman class enters the picture.) 

"We’re not anywhere near where we need to be," Hiestand told Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated.com (subscription required) last week.  "It’s definitely way out of whack. We’ve been throwing guys all over the place. But in the end, it will serve us really well."

 

After Much of Season in Coverage, Jaylon Smith Could Help Pass Rush 

What? Jaylon Smith can blitz, too? Don't expect to see it take place on Saturday. Blink and you could miss Smith, a player far too valuable to risk in a glorified scrimmage. But while settling into his outside linebacker spot this spring, Smith could be unleashed in the pass rush in VanGorder's system, something that didn't happen much under Bob Diaco. 

"I think what (VanGorder's) done more importantly has created some pass rush from where we've lost some guys that could get after the quarterback," Kelly explained about the schematic shift. "For example, Jaylon playing drop, we never saw him come off the edge. Now he's coming all the time, so he's an extra pass-rusher."

After an impressive freshman season, Smith filled the stat sheet everywhere but in the sack column. But there's every reason to believe Smith has the ability to be a Anthony Barr-like terror coming off the edge.

He's just got to get his chance. 

 

Stock Down, Stock Up: Don't Count Out Jarrett Grace Just Yet 

It's been a roller-coaster few months for Jarrett Grace. When Kelly announced that Grace had another rod inserted into his surgically repaired fibula, the writing seemed on the wall. The Irish's starting inside linebacker looked like a long shot for next season, as his slow recovery from a leg fractured in four places seemed unlikely. 

But Grace certainly hasn't given up on making it back for next season, and this week Kelly delivered some good news. While the Irish are waiting to make any medical decisions until they get to six weeks after surgery, Grace looks like a new man. 

"Early indications are very positive,” Kelly said. "We’re cautiously optimistic where he is. He feels great. He’s in a good frame of mind."

Grace's return would solidify a position that's one of the biggest question marks on the roster, even with Joe Schmidt's emergence this spring. While it's still too soon to know what exactly this means, Kelly's optimism tells you he's rooting for the veteran leader. 

"There’s not a better kid that you would want to root for in terms of coming back from the kind of injury that he had than Jarrett Grace," Kelly said. 

 

After Spring Inside, We'll See How Much Progress Irish's Special Teams Have Made

The Blue-Gold game will be only the Irish's sixth practice outside. For as nice as the Loftus complex is to accommodate practice during inclimate weather, it's no substitute for the great outdoors when trying to practice special teams. 

And practice is what the special teams desperately need. So even with the Irish fair-catching punts and forgoing kickoffs on Saturday, Kelly had his gallows humor in midseason form. 

"There will be all fair catches and I'm sure we'll drop three of them, and the Internet will blow up on punt returning and who that might be," Kelly cracked.

We don't have to wait until a muffed punt to wonder how the Irish will get things figured out. But just as intriguing will be the guys Kelly decides to trot out and fair-catch punts. 

Kelly identified Greg Bryant as a top candidate in the punt return game. He also tabbed Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr. (He even offered Irish sports information director Michael Bertsch as a candidate.) 

"We're going to try anybody that has a pulse. We're going to try them back there," Kelly said. "We just don't know who that guy is going to be." 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter.  

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4-Star WR John Burt Talks Texas, Auburn, FSU and Future Visit Plans

Wide receiver John Burt has plenty to consider as his recruitment continues to heat up. An expansive list of opportunities presents plenty of potential scenarios.

The 4-star Tallahassee playmaker could commit to the national champions who reside in his hometown or venture out of the neighborhood to establish a career far away from Florida State. Auburn is in hot pursuit, along with several SEC programs, while a new contender out west has emerged as a slight front-runner.

Like most prized prospects, Burt has plenty to juggle when it comes to deciding where he wants to play college football.

"I have a lot to think about," he said.

The Lincoln High School playmaker is undecided, but recent developments have brought a new team to the forefront.

Burt received an offer from Texas in February during a visit to Austin and has quickly established a relationship with the new Longhorns coaching regime.

“I hadn’t really heard from [former head coach] Mack Brown," he said. "Charlie Strong has ties in Florida and his assistants at Louisville were recruiting me to play there. That carried over when he went to Texas.”

Burt, who routinely communicates with Strong and first-year defensive backs coach/special teams coordinator Chris Vaughn, has been pleasantly surprised by the program's ability to quickly rebound from a high-profile coaching change.

“The team has a lot of cohesiveness for not being together that long," Burt said. "Expectations are high at Texas but not unrealistic. With the coaches they have there, I think they have a chance to succeed in whatever they want to do.”

Despite growing up in a community that glorifies Florida State icons and Seminoles success, the Longhorns have always been a favorite. Burt's family ties to Texas fortified those feelings from an early age.

"Having an opportunity to go to college at Texas is surreal. I’ve been following the team for most of my life," he said. "I have family in Austin. My aunt works at the university and my grandmother was involved in the administration department there."

Still, the hometown team remains a legitimate option.

“I talk to FSU every now and then," Burt said. "I plan on going to the spring game this weekend [April 12] and I’ll talk to coaches then. Obviously it’s very close to home.”

So is that proximity a positive or negative?

“I don’t have a problem with staying so close, but I need to figure out where I want to spend my college years," Burt said. "Whether I want to stay nearby or leave the area."

Auburn isn't as much of a hike as Texas, but the university presents another potential landing spot beyond the Sunshine State. The Tigers hosted Burt earlier this year, and he was in attendance for the team's epic 2013 Iron Bowl victory over Alabama.

"I like Auburn a lot. Coach Craig talks with me a lot about what I could do there," he said, referring to wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig. "The campus is small and the community really supports Auburn, which I like.”

Campus environment is crucial, according to Burt.

“The main thing for me is about feeling comfortable at the university," he said. "That’s why it’s important for me to visit as many schools as I can."

Burt plans to expand his horizons by lining up future college trips. He lists South Carolina as a definite destination and would like to explore UCLA and USC if his schedule allows.

“It wouldn’t make sense for me to come up with a top-three or a top-five list until I visit more schools," Burt said. "I don’t think I’ve seen enough campuses to come up with a top group yet so I don’t want to rush it.”

When Burt eventually whittles down his list of offers, plenty of programs will be in play. His options also include Alabama, Miami, Tennessee and LSU.

A look at Burt's highlight reel reveals obvious reasons for his frenzied recruitment.

He enjoyed a strong junior season during a journey to the state playoffs. Burt caught 37 passes for 713 yards and nine touchdowns.

A well-rounded receiving approach makes him a top target for offensive coordinators across the country.

“I just want to make plays any way possible, whatever the team needs," Burt said. "If we need five yards, I’ll pick up five yards. If you need me to go deep for a big gain, I can do that too.”

When he self-assesses his skill set, Burt doesn't need to look far for a comparison.

“Calvin Johnson is my favorite receiver, but at the college level I would compare myself to [Florida State's] Kelvin Benjamin," he said. "Like them, I’m a guy that can go up and high-point the ball. They’ll also catch short passes and create big plays that way. I can do all those things.”

Burt, who lists himself at 6'3", 185 pounds, belongs at the highest level of FBS competition but faces several decisions during his journey to a final choice. A commitment doesn't appear imminent, so expect him to continue surveying options while lining up campus visits.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R college recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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