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Tennessee 2014 Quarterback Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

With a horde of highly touted youngsters sprinkled throughout its offensive depth chart, Tennessee has enough talented playmakers to improve significantly in 2014.

The Volunteers just have to find somebody to get them the football.

A four-man, free-for-all quarterback battle in the spring failed to yield a clear starter. Then, one of those candidates near the top of the list—redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson—abruptly and surprisingly transferred.

That leaves senior Justin Worley as the most likely candidate to start. He was the leader in the clubhouse for the job anyway, with the most experience and a keen grasp of the offense.

Considering talented but inexperienced players Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Von Pearson, Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm are expected to play huge roles in UT's offense, having a seasoned quarterback at the helm is important.

But reversing the fortunes of last year's putrid offense that ranked 12th in total offense, next-to-last in passing yards and 11th in points scored in the SEC begins with improved quarterback play.

Let's take a look at Tennessee's depth chart once fall practice begins a month from now.

 

Quarterback No. 1: Justin Worley

Worley finally has started looking like a leader.

A season ago, the Rock Hill, South Carolina signal-caller struggled mightily to begin the season as Tennessee's starter. He was even benched prior for the Florida game before taking over again after Nathan Peterman's forgettable half at the helm.

Fans clamored for Butch Jones to play one of his ballyhooed freshmen (Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs) and put Worley on the pine.

But a funny thing happened on the way through Worley's abbreviated season: He got progressively better, even if the stats didn't bear it out.

Maybe it was his willingness to take shots, but the progression was obvious in the workload Jones put on his quarterback's shoulders.

In a close-but-shaky win over South Alabama, a narrow miss against Georgia, a signature win over South Carolina and a half before an injury ended his season against Alabama, Worley tried to command the offense.

He wasn't always successful, but he looked like he'd at least shed the training wheels.

Worley enjoyed his best stretch of football in the Vols' comeback against the Bulldogs that forced overtime. 

Then, against the Gamecocks, he had the guts to throw a heave-and-hope prayer answered by Marquez North to set up the game-winning field goal.

This spring, Worley led the offense much better at times. While he didn't make the spectacular plays, he didn't make catastrophic ones either. His maturation was evident in the Orange and White Game as he meticulously made all the passes, was more crisp with his timing and accuracy and took care of the ball.

Dobbs stole the show, but Worley's steady work came against the first-team defense.

You aren't ever going to get superstar numbers from Worley, but he may be just what this UT offense needs this year—a steadying force to distribute the ball to the weapons around them and let them do the rest.

 

Quarterback No. 2: Joshua Dobbs

Few collegiate athletes are more impressive off the field than UT sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who is going to school to be an aerospace engineer while playing in the SEC.

His career at Alpharetta High School was strong enough for Dobbs to be ranked as the nation's No. 10 pro-style passer, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Now, he just has to translate all of that success to the college field. For one April afternoon at UT's spring scrimmage, he looked like he wasn't far from doing that. 

Dobbs finished the Orange and White Game 6-of-9 passing for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a long rushing touchdown. Though most of that work came against the second-team defense, it wasn't the numbers that were the most important aspect.

His touch on the deep ball, zip on other passes and post-snap progressions were extremely polished, and those areas had been major issues for Dobbs throughout his brief UT career.

Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) it was Dobbs' "best performance of the spring in the spring game."

It was a glimpse of what Dobbs can be, but he hasn't put it all together yet.

In 2013, Dobbs was forced into action before he was ready. He showed flashes of ability, but he never strung together enough plays to prove he was able to be an SEC-caliber quarterback.

With a bowl game in play, Dobbs played his worst game against Vanderbilt, and the Vols couldn't get bowl-eligible. His only win as a starter came in a meaningless finale against Kentucky.

Still, all the tools are there. Dobbs has worked on his arm strength and packed on weight, now checking in at 203 pounds. He also traveled to California to participate in the Whitfield Quarterback Academy with Worley, according to 247Sports' Brad Pope

Even after stellar spring finales, the duo went to work even harder. That's a good sign for the Vols.

Dobbs has put in the work to make a run at the starting job once fall camp starts. At worst, his 2013 experience and considerable skill set gives Tennessee fans comfort knowing if Worley is hurt or falters, Dobbs has been through the battles.

If he keeps making strides, Dobbs will be the Vols' quarterback of the future. Many more days like the spring finale, and it may be this year.

 

Quarterback No. 3: Nathan Peterman

Very few SEC teams have a third-string quarterback with starting experience, even if Peterman would probably like to forget last year's Florida game.

The 6'2", 225-pound redshirt sophomore is a former 3-star prospect and the nation's composite No. 17 pro-style quarterback.

The light hasn't come on yet for the Jacksonville, Florida product, but from a physicality and arm strength standpoint, there are tools on which to build. While the physical elements are present, Peterman makes too many mistakes. 

Jones has never ruled Peterman out of the quarterback race, so it's not out of the question that once a light comes on, the sophomore could become a bigger factor. There just haven't been any concrete signs that is ready to happen yet.

With prospects like Quinten Dormady and Jauan Jennings on the way in 2015, Peterman could get lost in the shuffle. But having a big, strong-armed quarterback who is athletic enough to run a little as this season's third-stringer is not a bad position in which to be.

The Vols are fortunate to have somebody with experience that far down the depth chart, and Peterman still has three seasons to progress and compete.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite

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

@Brad_Shepard

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Maxwell Award Watch List 2014: Full List and Bleacher Report Favorites

The start of the 2014 college football season is still nearly two months away, but the preseason watch list releases are in midseason form. 

On Monday, the Maxwell Football Club released its annual watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year. Last year's winner was Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, meaning there's going to be a new winner this December. 

But the watch list itself is packed with familiar names, including Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a finalist for last year's Maxwell Award. Can Winston add another trophy to his already impressive resume? Here is a list of the 75 other players he's up against:

Who are some of the early favorites from this year's watch list? A short list follows. Keep in mind that these names are subject to change at any time based on performance or other factors so as to let us completely off the hook. 

 

Jameis Winston: How can he not be? The reigning Heisman winner will be under an intense microscope, but he's more than talented enough to repeat last year's success. Winston also has what should be another excellent supporting cast around him. If he puts up numbers that are anything like last year's, Winston will likely be a finalist in 2014. 

Braxton Miller: Miller is one of the most gifted runners in college football at any position. He has a rocket for an arm too, so he's a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. In college, that's tough to stop, and there's little reason to believe Miller won't light it up on the field again—except for injuries. Miller was banged-up last year with knee and shoulder injuries. If he can stay healthy—and that's an if behind the Buckeyes' new-look offensive line—he has a great shot. 

Marcus Mariota: It might be too early to tell, but Mariota is being tabbed by some, including B/R's Matt Miller, as the best quarterback in next year's class—not Winston. Mariota can put up video game numbers in Oregon's offense, though the Ducks have questions at wide receiver. Will that put more pressure on Mariota in the running game? It will be interesting to see how his role adapts this season. 

Todd Gurley: There are plenty of running backs on the watch list, but few feature backs like Gurley. On the contrary, it can be hard for a running back to win the Maxwell, since running backs can be complementary role players. The last running back to win the Maxwell was Larry Johnson from Penn State in 2002. But Gurley is the whole package: powerful and fast with great vision and pass-catching skills. If he can stay healthy, he can have a monster year. 

Bryce Petty: Baylor has done as good a job as any program over the last several years of recruiting and developing quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and now Bryce Petty have put up ridiculous numbers in the Bears' high-powered offense. Petty recently received rave reviews at the Elite 11 camp for being a workout warrior, via ESPN's Travis Haney. If the Bears can reload on offense, Petty will be in the discussion for major awards by year's end. 

Nick Marshall: The former Georgia defensive back is a perfect fit in head coach Gus Malzahn's offense at Auburn. He showed as much last year, with nearly 3,000 yards of total offense and 23 total touchdowns. The SEC loses a handful of its best quarterbacks from a year ago, meaning Marshall is the main attraction among the conference's signal-callers this year. Another big year running and passing, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Marshall as a Maxwell finalist. 

 

Honorable Mentions: Melvin Gordon, Tyler Lockett, Chuckie Keeton, Amari Cooper. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. 

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Auburn 2014 Quarterback Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

Auburn has been no stranger to quarterback controversy over the last several seasons.

The dismal 2012 campaign began with new starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who was benched midway through the season in favor of backup Clint Moseley and later true freshman Jonathan Wallace.

Barrett Trotter opened 2011 as Auburn's new starter under center, but Moseley took over midway through the season before passing the reins back to Trotter for the Tigers' Chick-fil-A Bowl win.

Although he eventually won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship, no one truly knew what to expect from junior college transfer Cam Newton heading into 2010, his first and only season at Auburn.

Before Newton's heroics, Chris Todd was Auburn's top quarterback in 2009. He took the spot from Kodi Burns, who lost the starting job due to an injury in the 2008 opener but later reclaimed it for the second half of the season.

Some Auburn fans who were upset at senior Brandon Cox's play chanted Burns' name in 2007, when he was a true freshman. Burns, who ended his Auburn career as a wide receiver, scored the game-winning touchdown in another memorable bowl victory in the Georgia Dome.

While 2013 started in familiar fashion for Auburn—another dual-threat JUCO star originally from an SEC school winning the quarterback job—Nick Marshall made sure the Tigers would open 2014 with the luxury of an established starting signal-caller.

After leading Auburn to an unforeseen bounce-back season that ended with an SEC title and a berth in the national championship game, Marshall is back on the Plains to lead Gus Malzahn's patented offense for one more year.

He had an entire offseason to work on his accuracy issues and develop a better connection with his receivers, and the senior has Tiger fans excited about the team's chances at another magical year.

Fans will also be excited about the future of the position as the Tigers return all three quarterbacks who saw action last season. With the addition of a top signee, Auburn will venture into somewhat unfamiliar territory: having experience and depth at the helm of the offense.

 

Starter: Nick Marshall

Marshall did not blow anybody away with his passing numbers in his first season at Auburn, but his offensive production still made him one of the SEC's top playmakers.

His athleticism makes the Tigers' top-ranked rushing attack and developing passing game even more dangerous for opposing defenses. He can use his impressive speed to race past defenders on option keepers, buy extra time in the backfield for passing plays or just scramble for the first down. 

But the Tigers want Marshall to throw the ball more this season, and he must improve on his middle-of-the-road completion percentage from 2013. While a more experienced set of receivers could give him the intermediate threat he was missing last season, he will have to cut down on his recurring personal errors such as overthrown deep balls.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee set a goal for Marshall to complete "between 65 and 70 percent" of his passes during spring practices—a high mark that the senior met.

"He was 64 percent in 7-on-7 all spring, and he was almost 70 percent in team setting in practice," Lashlee said in May, per the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea.

If Marshall can carry that level of success through the air into the fall while continuing to be an effective weapon in the passing game, he could emerge as a contender for the Heisman Trophy as the Tiger offense sets its sights on smashing more records.

 

Backup: Jeremy Johnson

Johnson raised a few eyebrows last season when he made the final cut in Auburn's preseason quarterback battle.

Although he lost the starting job to Marshall, the true freshman was surprisingly not redshirted and recorded a pass in five different games as the No. 2 quarterback on the roster.

He got his first career start against FCS opponent Western Carolina, wowing the homecoming crowd with his excellent touch on long passes in a 62-3 smashing of the Catamounts.

Johnson later came in for an injured Marshall against Florida Atlantic, once again impressing through the air against weaker collegiate competition. After Marshall got back to full health midway through last season, Johnson was used sporadically in special packages. 

Johnson, Alabama's Mr. Football in 2012, was listed as a 4-star pro-style quarterback out of high school, but he has enough athleticism to be a solid rushing threat for the Tigers. Marshall is a smaller, speedier type of running quarterback, but the 6'5" Johnson reminds Auburn fans more of the powerful Cam Newton when he takes the snap.

Only time will tell what kind of impact a more experienced Marshall will have on Johnson's play count in 2014. But if Marshall goes down with an injury, the Auburn faithful should have plenty of confidence his backup to take over and showcase his own set of dual-threat talents against tougher opponents.

 

Third-String: Jonathan Wallace

Wallace will be a true junior this season, and he has already had a wild career on the Plains.

Hailing from nearby Phenix City, Alabama, Wallace was a signing-day surprise in 2012 and managed to get on the depth chart for his true freshman season. He was even Auburn's first-choice quarterback toward the end of the dismal season, trying to provide a spark for the lackluster offense.

He did not make the cut in Auburn's four-way battle for the starting quarterback spot last fall, sliding into third on the depth chart following Frazier's move from the position. The former starter saw little time behind Marshall and Johnson in 2013 as his biggest production came on a six-carry, 36-yard night against lowly Florida Atlantic.

If Marshall and Johnson somehow are not able to occupy the No. 1 and No. 2 roles on the depth chart at any point this season, Auburn will have some starting experience with Wallace. He is also a running quarterback who could fit right into Malzahn's offense after showing some promise in Scot Loeffler's pro-style scheme.

Wallace will have an opportunity to make a difference in 2014, although it probably will not be on the offensive side of the ball:

As a quarterback who has played against SEC defenses, he could be a valuable weapon if Malzahn and company want to get more creative in the popular "Batman" 2-point conversion package.

 

Newcomer: Sean White

White was not the highest-rated quarterback in the class of 2014—he was the nation's No. 8 pro-style signal-caller—but he stood out in his final year of high school with a pair of prestigious MVP awards.

The Florida native was the MVP of the Elite 11 quarterback camp last July and committed to Malzahn and the Tigers days after winning the award. A few months later, he was named the Under Armour All-America Game MVP after completing 10 of 12 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Unlike Auburn's current starting quarterback, White is a pure passer known for his deadly accuracy in the pocket.

"It's an NFL type of ball that he throws," former pro quarterback Trent Dilfer told 247Sports (subscription required) at last year's Elite 11 camp. "He throws an artistic ball. He doesn't just throw a skinny post, he sends a message with the skinny post. It blows your mind, his passing proficiency."

If Auburn continues to put a stronger emphasis on the passing game in the next few seasons, White will have an advantage in future quarterback battles thanks to his top-level arm. He also boasts great ratings in pocket presence and footwork, so he has the potential to turn into a dual-threat player during his time on the Plains.

White will most likely redshirt in 2014 and have an opportunity to compete for the starting job in 2015 against Johnson and any quarterbacks the Tigers might sign in this year's recruiting class. He might not become a starter early in his Auburn career, but Auburn fans should be excited for when he gets the chance.

 

 

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

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Michigan Wolverines 2014 QB Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

Devin Gardner enters fall practice as Michigan’s presumptive starter at quarterback. While signs point to him leading the team as it tries to bounce back from a disappointing 7-6 record, there are some nagging doubts about whether Gardner’s position on the top of the depth chart is completely solid.

Gardner is being pressed by a talented group of players who may be a better fit for coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s offense. He has been complimentary of Gardner, but as the team prepares to open fall camp, all eyes will be fixed on the Michigan offense that is being retooled after the departure of former offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Nussmeier has been tasked with revitalizing the Michigan running game that last season relied on Gardner’s scrambling ability. With running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith locked and loaded for the upcoming season and transfer Ty Isaac waiting for word of eligibility from the NCAA, the running game appears be significantly upgraded.

Gardner will need to prove that he can drive the offense—allowing others to run the ball, passing to a gaggle of unproven receivers and playing behind an offensive line that is attempting to rally from last season’s epic failure as a position group.


Devin Gardner

Senior Devin Gardner (6’4”, 218 lbs) is the starting quarterback—for now. Despite tallying impressive statistics last season, there are reasons to question whether he is the best quarterback for Nussmeier’s offense.

Gardner’s strengths include a wealth of experience under what will be his third offensive system at Michigan and a toughness that he exhibited playing hurt last season versus Ohio State.

Unfortunately, that injury begs the question whether he’s fully recovered, after spending nearly two months of the offseason on crutches. His performance during the team’s public spring practice was unspectacular.

Gardner sparked last season’s attack with his legs, while the offense this season will feature the team’s running backs. His ability to move in the pocket could be valuable since the offensive line is again expected to be weak this season.

“Coach Nussmeier is really aggressive,” said Gardner following practice earlier this spring. “He demands perfection and nothing less.”

Can Gardner be accurate enough as a passer (last season 60.3%, career 59.7%) to run this offense?

That’s the question that will determine how long he remains atop the quarterback depth chart. He has a history of misreading coverages and throwing easy interceptions. Gardner will need to cut back on the turnovers while breaking in a number of new receivers. If he struggles, Nussmeier may be tempted go with a younger quarterback by the start of the Big Ten season.


Shane Morris

Sophomore Shane Morris (6’3”, 202 lbs) was pressed into service last season after Gardner’s injury. He gained valuable experience as Michigan prepared for its bowl game in which he made the sole start of his young career.

Morris was impressive under difficult circumstances, and he entered spring practice pressing Gardner for the starting quarterback position.

“Everyday is a competition,” said Morris of his sparring with Gardner during spring practice. “Everyday we compete to be the number one quarterback.”

Morris has a strong arm and will be ready off the bench to replace Gardner if he falters.


Wilton Speight

Freshman Wilton Speight (6’6”, 230 lbs) emerged as an intriguing talent during spring practice. An early enrollee, he impressed Devin Gardner, “…Wilton has game, he can play…he’s definitely a threat for Shane and I,” despite being an unheralded three-star recruit

Speight is the wild card in the quarterback competition. He doesn’t have the emotional baggage of Gardner and has just as much time working with Nussmeier as Morris.


Russell Bellomy

There was a time when junior Russell Bellomy (6’3”, 210 lbs) was on track to compete for the starting position at quarterback.

But that was before a disastrous 2012 appearance versus Nebraska and before missing last season because of an ACL injury. The good news is that he recovered in time to practice for last season’s bowl game. Gardner’s injury freed up more repetitions for both Morris and Bellomy.

Bellomy is on the edge of the quarterback battle, but he’s overcome adversity and is still competing for a place on the depth chart.


All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department website.

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

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Bednarik Award Watch List 2014: Full List Released

The Maxwell Football Club has officially announced the college football stars who've earned consideration on the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award. 

The Bednarik Award has been given to the best defensive player dating back to 1995. Notable past winners include Charles Woodson, LaVar Arrington, Julius Peppers, Ndamukong Suh, Manti Te'o and Patrick Peterson.

The honor isn't a guarantee of pro success, but most of those players have gone on to have productive NFL careers, while Te'o and last year's winner, Aaron Donald, look primed for strong 2014 seasons.

This year's watch list features plenty of defensive standouts who will likely hear their name called on draft day very soon.

Here's a look at the full 2014 Bednarik watch list.

 

Stars to Watch

Leonard Williams, DL, USC

Leonard Williams was one of the best defensive linemen in the country last year, and he wasn't even 100 percent. In fact, he may have been closer to "65 to 70 percent" in 2013, according to Rahshaun Haylock of FoxSportsWest.com after surgery for a torn labrum.

"I'm just expecting to just be a lot better than I was last year," Williams said. "My last season was a lot better than my freshman season so I just want to gradually continue to get better."

The USC junior is equally capable of playing on the inside or outside of the defensive line. In his two years as a Trojan, he's compiled 13 sacks and 26 tackles for loss.

 

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

It's always scary when a freshman establishes himself as the best at a certain position. You can only wonder where he might go from there.

Vernon Hargreaves III needed only one season to emerge as one of the best lockdown cornerbacks in the country. In his first year at Gainesville, he intercepted three passes and broke up another 11. Those 11 breakups tied Janoris Jenkins' school record for a freshman.

Teams may be a bit more wary of throwing Hargreaves' way, which could lead to a drop in production. His talent will never be in doubt, but if he doesn't have the numbers, Bednarik voters might not look his way, either.

 

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU

Devonte Fields' freshman season couldn't have gone much better. He was named Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and earned a first-team selection on the All-Big 12 team.

It wasn't hard to see why Fields earned so many plaudits, as he racked up 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

Injury derailed Fields' sophomore campaign, though, so the hype train has slowly idled into station for 2014.

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer believes that with a clean bill of health, the TCU star will get back to the player he was in 2012:

Whether you want to call it a breakout season or a comeback year, Fields is primed to return to form after a disappointing 2013 campaign. Injuries and a few off-the-field issues limited him, and he was barely present when he was on the field. He's had a good spring and looks to be even stronger than he was when he had a terrific freshman year. If he's 100 percent, he's a nightmare for opposing offenses.

The Horned Frogs should be a title contender in the Big 12, and Fields' performance will go a long way toward getting them near the top.

 

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Myles Jack may be considered a two-way player, but he's a much better linebacker than he is a running back.

UCLA head coach Jim Mora said that Jack will get touches in the backfield, but he sounded far from committed to the idea, per Pac-12 Networks:

The Bruins sophomore was named to Phil Steele's preseason All-American team, via ESPN.com, and the college football writer believes that Jack may be destined for New York:

Last year Jack became the first player in Pac-12 history to be named the conference's freshman of the year on both the offensive and defensive sides. His 75 tackles were the second-most by a UCLA true freshman in school history and on offense he scored seven rushing touchdowns. If he exceeds that type of production this year, he could be a dark horse candidate to get an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

In a way, being a two-way player may benefit Jack in the Bednarik discussion, much Tyrann Mathieu's prolific punt returns helped him in 2011.

The more attention drawn to Jack's snaps on offense will invariably lead to more voters seeing him on defense and truly appreciating how great a player he is.

 

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

Expectations were high for Vic Beasley last season, yet he somehow managed to exceed them, registering 13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and six defended passes.

The Clemson senior could've easily entered last year's draft and made a good account of himself. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweeted back in January that Beasley could've earned a first-round grade:

Instead, he returned to school for his senior season and enters 2014 as one of the premier pass-rushers in the country. The Tigers lost a ton of offensive talent last year, but with Beasley leading the defense, they may be all right after all.

The only potential snag for Beasley's Bednarik campaign may be that constant double teams will lead to a drop in stats.

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Top SEC Recruits to Watch at Nike's The Opening 2014

The annual recruiting extravaganza known as "The Opening" will hit Beaverton, Oregon this week, as the top prospects in the class of 2015 will show off their skills to coaches and television viewers on Nike's campus.

You'll see several of the nation's top football players considering SEC schools.

Which SEC recruits will steal the show at The Opening? Here are our top 10.

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Ohio State Football: 3 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

The Ohio State football team will receive a huge boost in a few weeks when members from the country's No. 3 recruiting class report for fall camp.

With the coaching staff searching for playmakers, freshmen such as Damon Webb, Marshon Lattimore and Jamarco Jones will compete for a spot in the Buckeyes' two-deep rotation.

Despite the influx of new talent, Urban Meyer is hoping for big contributions from a trio of freshmen who enrolled early for spring camp. Whether they're providing a boost to a depleted unit or replacing a longtime starter, these three players must step up.

 

Raekwon McMillan

The Buckeyes had big issues at linebacker last season, so Meyer hit the recruiting trail hard in order to fix them.

That turned out to be a successful endeavor. Ohio State pulled in a 5-star and three 4-star linebackers this February, giving Meyer the kind of depth at the position he needed.

Raekwon McMillan was the crown jewel of the group.

The 6'2", 242-pound bruiser was the rated the nation's top inside linebacker after piling up 159 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks during his senior season. He chose the Buckeyes over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia.

With the loss of Ryan Shazier, who was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ohio State's linebacker unit needed a playmaker. McMillan came in this spring and competed with senior Curtis Grant at middle linebacker.

McMillan will take that position battle into fall camp. A strong month could end with a starting role in Ohio State's defense.

 

Johnnie Dixon

Ohio State's most inconsistent unit on offense lost its most consistent performer when wide receiver Corey Brown graduated last year.

Meyer will look to seniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer to provide steady production, but more help could come in the form of Johnnie Dixon.

The 4-star blazer out of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, came to Ohio State because of Meyer's past success with receivers. According to Daniel Rogers of The Lantern, Dixon knows what he needs to do in order to see the field this year.

“I feel like if I work hard enough, I can hit the field and I can make an impact,” Dixon said.

Zach Smith, Ohio State's wide receivers coach, was impressed with Dixon this spring, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.

Johnnie’s been impressive. He is a lot like Dontre [Wilson]. He’s a grown man for an 18-year-old. He comes in and handles his business. He handles his business outside of this facility, he handles his business in the classroom. So I’m excited about where he is going to be.

Now, he is a typical freshman. He’s still learning and still trying to figure everything out. He has the commitment to be great, and he is doing everything we are asking him to do right now. That’s usually a formula for success.

If Dixon keeps working through that formula, Ohio State could get a much-needed boost on the perimeter.

 

Sean Nuernberger

It isn't glamorous, but the kicker plays a pivotal role on every team. The Buckeyes have a huge hole to fill with the loss of three-year starter Drew Basil.

Basil provided a steady leg to the Buckeyes, going 33-of-40 on field-goal attempts in three seasons. Ohio State's offense was dynamic enough to reduce his contributions over the years (he kicked just 10 field goals in 2013), but he had big moments. His four field goals pushed the Buckeyes past Michigan in a 26-21 victory to cap a perfect season in 2012.

Senior Kyle Clinton was the early favorite to replace Basil, but 3-star Sean Nuernberger surged down the stretch. That was capped by an impressive spring game, when he connected on seven of his eight field-goal attempts. Clinton was successful on just half of his eight tries, which opened the door for the true freshman. 

If Nuernberger continues his strong play this fall, he could be kicking field goals against Navy in Ohio State's season opener.

 

All recruiting information per 247Sports.

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

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Georgia Football: 5 Toughest Players Bulldogs Will Face in 2014

The Georgia Bulldogs may dodge such SEC powers as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M on their schedule this season, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of talent squaring off against the Dawgs in 2014.

To the contrary, the Bulldogs will face some of the nation's most impressive offensive and defensive players over the course of a slate that is packed with SEC East competition, a cross-division rivalry game with reigning conference champ Auburn and a season-opening tilt against Clemson.

Here are the five toughest players (appearing in order of schedule) that Georgia will face in 2014.

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Florida Gators 2014 Quarterback Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

It won’t be long before fall camp takes place for the Florida Gators, and quarterback is a position that everybody is going to be watching closely. Then again, quarterback almost always is the most-watched position regardless of the team.

The signal-caller can either make or break Florida’s success this season. After getting almost no production out of the offense a year ago, this position must improve by leaps and bounds if there’s going to be a major turnaround.

Florida’s starter is coming off a major injury and is now learning a new offense. The backup didn’t show much promise last season and is still fighting to hold that spot on the depth chart. Florida also has a couple of new faces who could make a splash if a few bounces go their way.

Here’s a look at Florida’s quarterback depth chart heading into fall camp.

 

QB 1, Jeff Driskel 

Driskel will once again be the captain of the ship and must have his breakout season if Florida is going to turn things around from a year ago. He’s coming off a broken leg and has a lot of fans holding their breath given the fact he’s never quite fulfilled expectations. Driskel has 10 interceptions to 14 career passing touchdowns and was a turnover machine in the limited time he saw last season before suffering the injury.

The reason to be positive if you’re a Florida fan is Driskel will finally play in an offense suited for his skill set. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is going to mix things up, spread the field and give Driskel chances to run with the football. That’s something that has been missing from his game but is sure to be a key part this season.

Roper feels like Driskel is the perfect quarterback for his system and expects big things from him, according to Robbie Andreu of Gainesville.com:

'He's really talented,' Roper said of junior quarterback Jeff Driskel. 'I didn't get to see him much before I got here. I watched him in high school and knew he was heavily recruited and those things. I don't know that I was one of his choices, so now I get the luck of the draw here, I guess I should say.

'But that's a big, powerful, fast-twitch, natural throwing motion. He's talented, folks. I mean we're sitting here talking about a guy that's really, really gifted. And his experience shows whenever we have conversations. He understands football. It's not his first rodeo.

'I mean when we start talking coverages or fronts and how pressures are mirroring each other, he understands. So his eyes end up in the right places a lot right now.'

Driskel has improved his deep-ball accuracy, as he still leads receivers out of bounds. He also has to get more comfortable in the pocket and not get happy feet, which leads to a lot of his poor decisions with the football.

It’s no secret Driskel has the skill set to become a terrific quarterback for the Gators. The problem is the fans have been hearing that for the last three seasons and not much has happened. Fall camp will help prove whether or not he’s ready to take that next step.

 

QB 2, Skyler Mornhinweg

Mornhinweg left little to be desired as a backup quarterback last season. Yes, his completion percentage of 69.8 percent looks good on paper, and he did throw the only touchdown in the blowout loss against Florida State, but he looked lost much of the time out there and padded his stats on short dump passes. Mornhinweg didn’t look like a reliable backup quarterback in the limited time we saw him last year.

However, Mornhinweg was a top player in spring ball and did a nice job of solidifying his spot as the backup quarterback. He did a nice job of running the backup offense and even had an OK spring game as well.

Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports (subscription required) called Mornhinweg one of the most surprising players in spring practice:

After a rough 2013 season and a horrible opening practice to the spring, Mornhinweg went on to show marked improvement throughout spring practice. Even with Will Grier showing off a superior arm, Mornhinweg held onto the No. 2 job and looked competent running the second-team offense for the majority of the spring.

To be fair, Mornhinweg was thrown into the fire last season, and two of his three games were against elite defenses such as South Carolina and Florida State. Assuming he can continue to improve in practice, it looks like that little playing time has helped him get over the learning curve a bit.

Although hoping Driskel remains healthy is the safer option, as long as Mornhinweg continues to make positive strides, the coaching staff has to feel a lot more confident having him as the backup.

 

QB 3, Will Grier

Grier is the future of the Gators at the quarterback position and could see a redshirt if Mornhinweg continues to hold down the fort as the backup.

A 4-star recruit, Grier has everything you look for in a starting quarterback from the arm strength to the mental makeup of his game. He reads the field well, has great size at 6’3”, can make any throw on the field and even has a good deal of athleticism. If there wasn’t already an experienced quarterback on the roster, there would probably be no issue with throwing him on the field right away as a starter.

But despite the talent level, there’s pretty much no chance Grier sees the field this season as long as Driskel remains healthy. If another freak injury happens, well, all bets are off.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: 8 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

As USC transitions back to a full roster, Steve Sarkisian and his staff will have to look for help replenishing a very thin depth chart in 2014.

To that end, even precocious true freshmen must be scrutinized to see if they can offer assistance this year.

Fortunately for the Trojans, last year's recruiting class offers an abundance of very talented athletes who would like nothing better than to contribute to this edition of the men of Troy.

This slideshow will take a look at this class of incoming freshmen and identify those players who have an opportunity to see the field of play for USC this year.

While some of these youngsters will undoubtedly find themselves taking a redshirt year, others will need to grow up fast in order to help the Trojans sooner than later.

So without further delay, here are the young Trojans who must shine in fall practice so they can help USC when the season starts. Their efforts really count.

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USC Football: 8 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

As USC transitions back to a full roster, Steve Sarkisian and his staff will have to look for help replenishing a very thin depth chart in 2014...

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Top Big Ten Recruits to Watch at 2014 Nike 'The Opening'

Nike's "The Opening" brings together the nation's top prep stars as they prepare for their senior high school season.  Over 160 players from across the country will gather this summer for workouts and games, and you can rest assured that every coach in the Big Ten will be keeping a keen eye on the performances this summer.

In the "good old days," the potential of college football prospects was known only to a select few.  With reliance on game tapes, visits by scouts and word-of-mouth spread by high school coaches, recruiting was a closed system.  Things have certainly changed.

The incessant need of today's college football fanbase to be informed about every detail is being filled by the media, and in turn, the media's job is made much easier with modern, glitzy prep camps like Nike's "The Opening."

While there are several great prospects with Big Ten schools on their list, we've chosen the top-five prospects you should be watching at "The Opening" right now at Nike's World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

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How Top College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat Can Get off It by End of 2014

With league media days cranking up next week—starting with the SEC’s four-day gabpalooza in Hoover, Alabama—the chatter surrounding college football will soon reach a fever pitch.

Coaches and players will be paraded before hordes of news media to talk about their team, their 2014 season and what they’re expecting this fall.

For a few coaches, the questions will be more pointed than most. College football is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of business: According to Patrick Stevens of Syracuse.com, the median hire date for all 128 FBS head coaches is Dec. 8, 2011. A total of 76 FBS coaches have spent less than three seasons in their current positions. The pressure to win is intense, and a fair share of coaches are feeling the heat.

No reporter will come out and ask the question directly, but for some coaches, there’s the question we’re all thinking: “Will you be here next year?”

Here’s a look at some coaches on the hottest of seats and what they must do to secure their positions for 2015 and beyond.

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Elite 11 2014: 6 QBs Turning Heads Early on

Built-up anticipation ended Sunday morning in Beaverton, Oregon, as 19 of America's top quarterback prospects assembled on the same field for the start of Elite 11 finals at Nike's world headquarters. The annual event, led by head coach and Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, puts its competitors through a variety of passing drills that challenge their power, accuracy and decision-making.

Elite 11 alumni include national stars like Andrew Luck, Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston. The 2014 edition features several recruiting class cornerstones, with Josh Rosen (UCLA), Ricky Town (USC) and Kyler Murray (Texas A&M) in the mix.

The group, which participated in a pair of sessions Sunday, is mentored by an impressive collection of counselors. Baylor's Bryce Petty and Notre Dame's Everett Golson are among the college standouts in attendance to assist, while Heisman Trophy winners Sam Bradford and Johnny Manziel spent time watching and speaking with participants.

Several quarterbacks turned in outstanding performances on the first day of a weeklong stay in Oregon, which culminates with The Opening later this week. Here's a look a six competitors who stole the show as we watched from the sidelines.

 

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Elite 11 Buzz: Latest on Where Top Uncommitted QBs Will Land, Possible Big Flip

There are still multiple top 2015 quarterbacks's that have yet to announce where they will be playing their college football, and they are all on display at the prestigious Elite 11 Camp in Beaverton, Oregon.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder spoke with 247sports.com's Ryan Bartow at the event to get the latest information on where these QB's could land and a potential major flip that could be brewing.

Which top 2015 prospect could be switching alliances and where will the biggest uncommitted recruits end up?

Watch the video to find out.


Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

QBs Who Blew Up on Day 1 of the Elite 11 Camp

The top quarterbacks of the 2015 class have travelled to Oregon for the annual Elite 11 showdown. These young stars are looking to test their skills against some of the toughest competition in the country.

With so many big-time recruits on one field, there were only a few individuals who were able to stand out on Day 1. Who do you think is the best QB at the Elite 11?

Watch Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down who is looking good so far.

 

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami 2014 Quarterback Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

The Miami Hurricanes will soon be entering fall practice, and the team's prevailing headline is a particularly volatile quarterback situation.

Once August arrives in Coral Gables, Florida, the revamped Greentree Practice Fields will host a five-man competition largely dependent on a certain player's rehabilitation.

The depth chart is sure to be a fluid scene throughout August, but a general idea of the current status helps preview what will be a hectic month at "The U."

Having been in the system for three years now, Ryan Williams is the most prepared option mentally. Physically, on the other hand, his well-documented ACL injury makes him the least prepared at the moment.

According to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald, Williams' goal is to be ready for the season-opener, which means he must be ready for fall camp:

I feel like where I'm supposed to be, is where I'm at. No setbacks yet. As long as I'm not going to go out there and re-injure myself and the doctor feels confident I can play in Week 1, I will play. But if I can't, if he wants me to hold off a couple weeks, then I will. ... As soon as [Dr. Lee Kaplan] gives me the full go, I'll be back out there.

Undeniably, the senior's official return date is the dominant factor in the competition. If Williams is not fit, however, all eyes remain focused on Kevin Olsen.

According to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), Olsen acknowledged he arrived at Miami "immature" and unfocused because immediate playing time was highly unlikely. Olsen said he flipped a mental switch once Stephen Morris graduated, and Williams' injury has now forced him into the physical change of being the starter.

Considering head coach Al Golden and his staff definitely do not want to rely on someone who loses concentration, the freshman's focus is a concern. But if Olsen proves his words are true throughout August, he is the No. 1 option behind a healthy Williams.

While transfer Jake Heaps possesses the most game action, he also packs the most baggage—though not literally—after mediocre stints at BYU and Kansas.

But Heaps was not offered a spot to simply watch from the sideline, and his experience gives him one notable advantage over Olsen and two younger quarterbacks.

An 18-year-old with near-prototypical size at his position, 6'4" Brad Kaaya is considered a high-ceiling prospect. During his state championship-winning 2013 season, Kaaya completed 62.2 percent of passes for 3,853 yards, 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Malik Rosier is the lone dual-threat weapon as opposed to a quarterback merely capable of some running. Over his final two years in high school, Rosier complemented his 4,126 passing yards with 2,277 on the ground.

Kaaya and Rosier are already turning heads on the practice field, one of which belongs to senior wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.

"They are looking good," Dorsett said, per Lake. "Brad is more of a pocket passer. He has a real strong arm and he is accurate too. Malik can get outside of the pocket and make plays. He has a strong arm too. They are both real smart and they know a lot more than I thought they would coming in."

In the future, Rosier is a legitimate potential challenger for the starting position. Legitimate, as opposed to filler players on the roster who have no realistic chance to win the job. With that being said, "future" is not the upcoming campaign.

Should Williams return for the majority of fall practice, both true freshmen will have their practice reps extremely limited. Kaaya's will be extremely limited, and Rosier's may be virtually nonexistent.

And so, everything comes full circle: The Hurricanes and their following are awaiting official word on their long-expected No. 1 guy, because his status next month affects every potential starter.

 

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking the Top 25 Fastest College Football Players for 2014

Speed is the ultimate weapon in today's college football.

Have it, and you can compete with anyone, no matter the difference in size, skill or talent. Don't have it, and you'll get left in the dust.

College coaches are going heavy on speed when recruiting high school and junior college players, looking for fast guys they can turn into strong and skillful athletes. Speed can be developed, but not as easily as the other attributes, thus putting a premium on finding players who already possess a high-octane motor. 

We've culled through rosters, recruiting reports and other data to find the fastest guys—both newcomers and veterans—and used their recorded times in the 40-yard dash as well as other races—take note, many of college football's top speedsters are also track stars—along with how they've maximized that speed to rank the 25 swiftest in the FBS heading into the 2014 season.

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5 Reasons 5-Star DE Keisean Lucier-South Will Sign with UCLA

Keisean Lucier-South is a 5-star defensive end from California who is one of the nation's top pass-rushers. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Lucier-South combines excellent length with a quick first step to pressure quarterbacks down after down.

Many schools are after him, but UCLA leads in his 247Sports Crystal Ball. The Bruins have a lot going for themselves, but there are a few specific reasons as to why Lucier-South will sign to play in Westwood.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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5 Reasons 5-Star DE Keisean Lucier-South Will Sign with UCLA

Keisean Lucier -South is a 5-star defensive end from California who is one of the nation's top pass-rushers. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Lucier -South combines excellent length with a quick first step to pressure quarterbacks down after down...

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