Rebuilding mode? What's that?
Just because a head coach is entering his first year with a new program doesn't mean he can't hit the ground running. While it takes time for every new coach to put his stamp on things and get players to buy in, some inherit good situations. With the right fit and perhaps a little bit of luck, first-year coaches don't have to settle for losing seasons or tempered expectations.
Certainly, that holds true for the upcoming season.
Which first-year coaches are primed for big things in 2015? We have five in the following slides who take over ready-to-win rosters. Coaches are selected based on returning players, upcoming schedules and realistic goals.
And when the time comes, Cavin said he's going to do what's best for him.
As a highly touted 2016 recruit, Cavin Ridley will go through the spring, summer and fall with a handful of solid opportunities to play college football. With the latest offers coming from Florida State and Florida, Ridley is nearing double-digit offers and could have double the offers by the end of the spring.
But if you're thinking Ridley is an automatic lock for following his big brother's footsteps, think again. That's not to say he isn't considering Alabama, but Ridley said his recruiting process is just that—his process.
"I just have to be myself," Ridley said. "I can't be like my brother all the time. My brother's going to Alabama; it doesn't mean I'm going to go there. I mean, who knows? I may not have a future there."
Calvin Ridley was the nation's top-ranked receiver of the 2015 class. At 6'0", 170 pounds, he won many over with his speed, route running and overall hands.
Cavin Ridley, an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier, said there are things that will put him in the same category as his brother. Currently, he's ranked No. 39 among 2016 receivers nationally.
"I think I've got better hands than my brother. You can go on YouTube and see that," he said. "I'm bigger than my brother, so I'm more physical.
"He runs unbelievable routes, so he's got me with that. But I train with my brother, so it's going to come naturally to me. He's going to help me get more crisp with my routes."
Ridley said everything "is open right now" with his recruitment. He is considering every offer received. Florida State, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville and Temple all have offered.
Alabama also has offered, and he said that while it would be fun playing alongside his brother, he's going to make the right decision by researching every school.
Ridley visited Florida two weekends ago. He said he had a chance to chat with both receivers coach Kerry Dixon II and head coach Jim McElwain.
"The trip was nice. I had a chance to talk to them and see how I fit into their play style," Ridley said. "The coaches are nice guys."
Ridley said he has a couple other schools that he'd like to visit, including Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia. Dates haven't been set yet, but he's hoping to make the trips before the end of the summer.
"I feel like I can go anywhere," he said. "I'm looking for how I fit in to a play scheme. This is going to be four years of my life. I want to make sure I fit and see what it'll look like for me."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' player ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles
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If your program is the talk of spring practice, that's usually either really good or really bad. Either stars have emerged and the depth needed to compete for a national championship is being developed, or injuries have whittled away that depth to a point of concern.
For Alabama, it's the latter.
The latest injury scare came in the form of defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson's ankle.
The 6'4", 312-pound monster was carted off of the practice field on Tuesday, according to the The Tuscaloosa News' Aaron Suttles. However, according to Matt Zenitz of AL.com, the injury isn't believed to be serious.
That isn't a breeze you feel, it's a sigh of relief coming from Tuscaloosa.
Robinson had 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss last year. He dominated the line of scrimmage in the SEC Championship Game win over Missouri when he notched nine stops and generally made life miserable for Tiger quarterback Maty Mauk.
Fortunately for Alabama, head coach Nick Saban's recruiting prowess over the last few years has made the defensive line one of the deepest units on the roster—even without recently dismissed lineman Jonathan Taylor.
Sure, had Robinson's injury been serious, losing both nose tackles within a two-week span wouldn't have been the most ideal situation in the world, but Alabama has created enough depth and versatility up front through recruiting to sustain the line when holes develop.
If 313-pound starting defensive end Jarran Reed—a former 4-star prospect—needs to slide over and play the nose, he can. After all, former 5-star prospect Da'Shawn Hand and 4-star stud Dalvin Tomlinson are waiting in the wings as rotational players behind Reed and former 4-star prospect D.J. Pettway at end.
If Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart don't want to move Reed, no worries. Plans C and D could be to trot out Josh Frazier or Darren Lake at nose, both of whom chime in at a cool 315 pounds.
As if that wasn't enough, 5-star, 325-pound defensive tackle Daron Payne is coming this summer to provide the ultimate interior line insurance policy.
"Competition is always hot for us because we like competition," Tomlinson told Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence. "That's how we are on the D-line. It just depends on which defense we're going to be in, and everybody has a better ability than someone else, and we try to help each other improve our abilities that we might be lacking at."
The same kind of recruiting success has helped Alabama withstand massive attrition at running back.
Remember back in 2013 when Alabama signed stud running backs Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny—all of whom were rated as 4-star prospects or higher by 247Sports?
Kamara left after the 2013 season, Tenpenny transferred following the 2014 season and Jones was recently dismissed from the program following an arrest for second-degree possession of marijuana.
Those losses, combined with the loss of freshman Bo Scarbrough to an ACL injury suffered Friday afternoon, puts Alabama in a precarious spot at the running back position.
Think about that for a second—the loss of of three running backs with four or more stars attached to their names only puts Alabama in a precarious spot, and hasn't ruined the season before it starts.
That's a huge compliment to Saban and his recruiting prowess.
Henry is still around to be the bruiser, Kenyan Drake is back from injury to be the ultra-versatile weapon offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin likes in his offenses, 4-star early enrollee Desherrius Flowers is there to serve as Henry's primary backup and 5-star Damien Harris—the top running back in the class of 2015—is coming this summer.
It's not the X's and the O's, it's the Jimmys and the Joes.
Alabama's Jimmys and Joes are virtually all 4- and 5-star studs, and that allows Saban and the Crimson Tide to overcome what would be devastating spring injuries to most teams.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Special teams are a lot like putting—neither seems important until it’s late in the day and the game is on the line.
Either your team has a three-point lead with two minutes left to go and you need your punter to pin the other team inside its own 20, or you’re standing over a short putt on the 17th that would put you two up on your yappy brother-in-law.
Suddenly, once again, you wish you would have taken the whole “short game” thing more seriously, instead of obsessing about a quarterback battle or how far you could hit your new driver.
It reminds you of Boston College kicker Mike Knoll missing an extra-point attempt in overtime in last season’s Pinstripe Bowl, sealing Penn State’s unlikely 31-30 comeback victory.
Here are 10 players who we should all be wishing for this year—they won’t likely get the yips or the press.
Four practices are now in the books for the UCLA football team during the spring-ball period.
This piece will provide a stock report based on the first week of practice. Two members of the team are enjoying solid starts to the camp, whereas a group of other players have had mild issues.
Of course, this is an extremely early time within spring ball. A player's stock can fluctuate literally from practice to practice.
With that said, one member in particular has potentially put himself in prime position to solidify UCLA's question mark at quarterback.
Here's the Week 1 spring practice stock report for the UCLA Bruins.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A year after revamping its defense with a new coordinator, Notre Dame football tinkered with the offense this offseason, adding Mike Sanford to the sideline of minds that already included head coach Brian Kelly and now-associate head coach Mike Denbrock.
Of course, just a few weeks into spring practice, any offensive adjustments are yet to fully reveal themselves. But after a slow week of spring ball, let’s focus on where things stand offensively halfway toward the Blue-Gold Game.
As we’ve said before, don’t expect the quarterback competition to be decided any time soon.
Notre Dame quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are still locked in a “very competitive” battle and are sharing reps “right down the middle,” according to Sanford. The offensive coordinator didn’t lay out a specific timeline for settling on a starter.
In the meantime, Sanford has provided his quarterbacks with feedback throughout the spring. In addition to churning out quantifiable data such as completion percentages and passer efficiency ratings, which Notre Dame’s graduate assistants have handled, Sanford has been grading Golson and Zaire’s technique and decision-making on each rep and providing them with notes afterward.
“We want those guys to feel like there’s accountability for every rep that they take,” Sanford said.
Asked for his early impressions of Golson, Sanford pointed first to the mental side.
“The thing about Everett that I’ve been so appreciative of is his buy-in,” Sanford said. “Everett’s been outstanding in the meeting room environment. He’s been taking unbelievably good notes, attentive. He’s very engaged in the process.”
Sanford added that Golson has been willing to modify aspects of his footwork and mechanics and noted the senior has a clean throwing process.
On the other (left) hand, Sanford first highlighted Zaire’s “unbelievable athletic ability” and said the initial emphasis is on his mechanics and fundamentals.
“That’s really what we’re trying to get done with him because if he’s a well-trained pocket passer first, from a mental standpoint and from a fundamental and physical standpoint, then obviously the sky’s the limit with his ability as a runner and what he can do outside of the pocket,” Sanford said.
Beside Notre Dame’s quarterback—whoever that may be—in the backfield will be a talented running back corps.
Irish junior running back Tarean Folston returns after a sophomore year in which he piled up 889 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Notre Dame will be looking for more from classmate Greg Bryant, the former highly regarded recruit who notched 289 yards and three scores on the ground in 2014.
New running backs coach Autry Denson has now had a few weeks to work with his small but talented stable of backs. Denson, a former Notre Dame star running back himself, said Folston has done a good job leading the backs through the spring.
“For any back that has been playing, the next part is the mental part of the game—getting the concepts and really being another quarterback on the field,” Denson said when asked about the next steps for Folston. “So that’s when the game really starts to slow down.”
Irish senior C.J. Prosise, one of Notre Dame’s two slot receivers in 2014, has been cross training at running back this spring. Denson said he doesn’t yet know where Notre Dame will need the 220-pounder but added he’s treating Prosise “like anybody else.”
"The biggest thing with C.J. is just his comfort level,” Denson said. “As he gets more and more comfortable, I’m seeing some really good things out of him. And like with C.J. or any other player, what you’re trying to do is get him as many reps as possible so that he doesn’t have to think, so then that natural athletic ability can just take over, and he can take some plays.”
Notre Dame’s tight ends hauled in 31 receptions last season. Thirty of those found the mitts of Ben Koyack, who is busy preparing for the NFL draft.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Durham Smythe grabbed his lone reception of the season—a seven-yarder—against Arizona State. Sophomore-to-be Tyler Luatua was featured almost exclusively as a blocker in 2014.
So what will so-called “Tight End U” look like in 2015?
Notre Dame tight ends coach Scott Booker spewed the standard spring cautions last week, reiterating that his position group is a work in progress and they’re looking to develop all-around tight ends. When asked directly if Smythe is the front-runner for the top job, Booker deferred to Kelly but did praise the third-year man from Belton, Texas.
“I do know that Durham has really done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Booker said. “So as far as his development, I like where he’s at right now [on] April 1.”
Booker didn’t want to pigeonhole Luatua, who tipped the scales at 260 pounds as a true freshman last season, as solely a blocking tight end.
As for redshirt freshman Nic Weishar, who profiled well as a pass-catching threat split out wide in high school, Booker said it’s tough to develop a comfort for in-line blocking overnight.
Booker is looking for consistency across the board from junior tight end Mike Heuerman, who hasn’t seen the field in two seasons on campus. Heuerman has dealt with injuries during his time in South Bend, including preseason hernia surgery before the 2014 campaign, but Booker said he still needs to find a path to consistency—with weight gains, pass catching, etc.
Denbrock, who served as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator in 2014, said, despite the addition of Sanford, his role this season is “almost exactly the same” as it was last year.
Kelly had made the comment that Notre Dame brought in someone like Sanford to turn the offensive coaches’ room upside down.
“Every day I come in, my papers are all over the floor. The tables are upside down. The chairs are upside down,” Denbrock cracked.
In all sincerity, Denbrock said Sanford brings another valuable voice to a mix that now includes three high-profile offensive coaches. Denbrock deferred to Kelly when asked who should handle play-calling duties.
Wide receiver Will Fuller will look to follow up a breakout sophomore season in which he racked up 76 receptions, 1,094 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Denbrock said Fuller can still improve his hands, route running and understanding of coverage variations.
Booker, who doubles as Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator, said Bryant has been back returning punts, while Amir Carlisle has taken reps again as the kick returner. Those positions don’t appear to be locked down at this point, as Booker said Fuller and a few freshmen are possibilities.
Practice continues for Notre Dame with sessions Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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Following a Saturday scrimmage, Texas head coach Charlie Strong and his staff have shaken up their personnel two weeks into spring practice.
As expected, offensive coordinator Joe Wickline has shuffled the deck with his offensive line. Tristan Nickelson worked with the second team on Monday, making way for true freshman Connor Williams to work at right tackle.
Nickelson's move from the first team is hardly anything final, but it's good to see Williams living up to the hype. This will be part of the process for everyone not named Kent Perkins as Texas tries to figure out the right combination of bodies up front.
Where fans should be concerned is with the linebackers, a group that just lost senior Dalton Santos for the spring and gave up some big plays in Saturday's scrimmage. This group needs somebody to step up; otherwise, one or two of these spots could go to freshmen.
Then there's the big news at quarterback, where Jerrod Heard has boosted his stock by showing off some arm talent.
Stock Up: QB Jerrod Heard
Heard has started stringing together some good practices behind Swoopes, and Strong told TexasSports.com that he believed his redshirt freshman has been the better quarterback of late. "Right now Jerrod [Heard] is playing better, but if you look at Tyrone [Swoopes], he's been consistent," said Texas' head coach.
The difference for Heard has been his passing. 247Sports' Jeff Howe came away very impressed with three of his throws, including two for touchdowns, while Horns Digest's William Wilkerson called a throw to Daje Johnson "as good as any throw I'd seen a Longhorns QB make in a year and a half."
Texas' highly touted freshman is turning a corner. He still has a ways to go in terms of consistency, but his game-changing athletic ability is undeniable. If he's even close to Swoopes as a passer by the start of the season, it'd tough to imagine him sitting when Texas takes on Notre Dame in the opener.
This quarterback battle is officially interesting.
Stock Up: WR Dorian Leonard
One play hardly makes a star or even indicates one in the making. The difference is that Dorian Leonard has backed up that one play with a solid body of work and is emerging as a legitimate candidate to lead the Horns in receiving this season.
Strong has been praising Leonard since spring practice began, citing his energy and work ethic last Monday, per TexasSports.com:
"And another guy who is really working is Dorian Leonard," Strong said. "Dorian is one of those guys who comes out every day with a smile on his face, and he just works. He has a lot of energy, talks and doesn't mind talking, but he talks all the time. But he is one of those guys who never gets tired."
It turns out that those comments were more than a coach favoring a hard worker. Leonard might have some really dynamic talent, which he displayed on a circus one-handed catch.
As a result, it should surprise no one that Leonard has been consistently running with the first team. At 6'3", 203 pounds, he's easily one of Texas' biggest pass-catchers.
The Horns need a receiver who can block, extend drives with tough catches and go get the ball down in the red zone as John Harris did in 2014. Leonard has the body to do all of those things, and his big-play ability puts him in the running to be the team's No. 1 receiver.
Stock Down: The Linebackers and Defensive Backs
The troubles continue to mount for Texas' defense, which lost two more major contributors along the back seven over the weekend.
Santos is the biggest loss here, as he's really the team's only true middle linebacker. His speed may be a liability, but he's an experienced starter who can drop the hammer. The Roberts injury means that Bryson Echols and Antwuan Davis would start on the outside if the season started today.
The freshmen better be ready to play, because there's just not a lot of talent at these spots.
Stock Up: Defensive Line
Even without Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed, Texas' defensive line looks like a strength through two weeks of spring practice.
Coming off a breakout, six-sack season, you knew junior Hassan Ridgeway was going to be one of Texas' best players. Senior Desmond Jackson has also been a dependable talent, and Poona Ford showed some real potential as a freshman.
Those three are all defensive tackles, though. The pass-rushers were a different story not long ago with Reed off to the NFL and modest production from Fox hybrid Naashon Hughes.
As a group, these guys are chucking those concerns out the window, and it starts with that Fox position.
Per Howe, Strong wants a multiple look from his defense to confuse the offense even while using a nickelback. A player like Hughes, who combines linebacker range with defensive end length, allows him to do just that.
Hughes is having a good spring, but it sounds like freshman phenom Malik Jefferson has found a home here, as well. He's an absolute physical freak with game-breaking speed at almost 220 pounds, and he told ESPN's Max Olson that he's loving the role.
On the other side, both Shiro Davis and Quincy Vasser are showing out. Strong called Davis the "most surprising" standout along the defensive line, while Vasser picked off a pass on Saturday to show off some agility.
While the rest of the defense figures out what it has, this group will provide the foundation upon which to build.
Stock Up: WR Jacorey Warrick
The competition for Texas' third and fourth receiver spots is a jumbled mess thus far in spring ball. This week, it's Jacorey Warrick who's been making his case for serious playing time.
With Dorian Leonard taking hold of an outside job, Marcus Johnson and Lorenzo Joe will fight for No. 2 duties. That will leave two more open spots for three explosive talents to carve out roles before the freshmen arrive.
Until now, those spots seemed to belong to Armanti Foreman and Daje Johnson. Foreman became a playmaker late last season as a freshman, while Johnson has worked hard for one last chance to make an impact.
But Warrick is talented in his own right, generating some buzz last offseason when he did some mean things to his teammates in one-on-one drills.
The junior is back at it this spring, shredding his current teammates for a big gain over the weekend.
Each of these three guys has the talent to change the complexion of a game, but there might not be enough touches to go around. Summer arrival Ryan Newsome is every bit as impressive in the open field, and Strong has really liked what he's seen from possible third-down back Duke Catalon.
There are featured roles in the offense waiting for one or two of these guys. This week, it's Warrick who has been making the strongest case.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.
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The second week of spring practice is in the books for the Virginia Tech Hokies and the intensity picked up with the first live scrimmage on Saturday. It wasn't pretty, as the offense struggled.
"Too many," said Beamer. "And every one of them you go right back and look at the situation you put them in wasn't very good. So that's something we'll talk about."
In addition to the penalties, the Hokies were 0-of-8 on third-down conversions. It's important to note that last year's starting quarterback, Michael Brewer, did not participate in the scrimmage. Junior Brenden Motley received his chance to impress coaches.
Motley completed three of his four attempts for 56 yards on what was a windy day in Blacksburg. Brewer and Motley are still listed as co-No. 1 on the depth chart. With a solid performance in the opening scrimmage, Motley could make things interesting in the quarterback competition with another strong showing this Saturday in Tech's next scrimmage.
Travon McMillian Making a Name For Himself
Redshirt freshman running back Travon McMillian came to Tech as a quarterback one year ago. However, it didn't take him long to realize his quickest impact could be made at running back and switched positions not long after he stepped on campus.
With presumed starters J.C. Coleman and Trey Edmunds not competing in the scrimmage, McMillian took advantage of his opportunity.
Early in the scrimmage, McMillian found the edge and raced to a 52-yard score. The play showed not only his speed, but also his vision—a pretty impressive trait for someone who just moved to the position less than a year ago.
Beamer was impressed, too.
"I'm telling you, I think the guy has got a nice run style about him. He's big. He's got some size, but he's really got speed. I've been really impressed with him. I think he is going to keep going."
It's never a bad thing to be singled out in a positive manner by the head coach after a strong showing in practice. McMillian has a good chance to make an impact in the backfield this fall. Coleman, a senior, has struggled to remain consistent in his first three years. He did finish strong last year, though.
Edmunds has a lot of talent. He just can't stay healthy. Each of his last two seasons have been cut short by injury.
While Coleman possesses speed, Edmunds possesses size. McMillian gives Tech a little bit of both.
McMillian won't be VT's starter at running back in September, but if he continues making plays this spring, he will be in the mix.
Battle at Safety
Tech, of course, lost both starters at safety from a year ago. Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner were each three-year starters. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster knew replacing both of them would be tough, but finding good defensive backs is never a problem for the Hokies.
So this spring, Foster and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray have moved several guys around trying to find the right combination to fill each spot.
At "Rover," junior Desmond Frye is competing with sophomore C.J. Reavis. Both players came to Tech as a free safety and were, coincidentally enough, high school teammates.
Foster and Gray decided to let Reavis and Frye battle it out at "Rover" because both are more physical players.
Of course, it's possible Frye and Reavis both find a starting gig this fall. In an ideal world, Reavis would love to see that, according to Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
"That’d be fun. That’d be really fun,” Reavis said. “But I’m here to play. If I have to beat him out for it, than that’s what I have to do.”
At free safety, coaches moved Chuck Clark and Donovan Riley—both cornerbacks last year—to the position some this spring in an effort to find the best option. Both players are good in coverage, yet physical, too.
With cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson sidelined, Clark has still had to play some corner this spring. But that could change this fall, according to Gray.
You never know how an injury is going to go or if you’re going to get Brandon back, so I’m just trying to have some flexibility and do some things with some guys this spring. Chuck could be free safety come fall, he could be corner come fall, depending on who’s hurt, who comes back.
Gray is confident in Clark's versatility and his ability to play free safety in the fall, even if he doesn't get a lot of work at the position this spring. Gray's biggest question concerning Riley is his ability to communicate—a must for the free safety position at Virginia Tech.
"He’s great at the point of attack," Gray said. "He can tackle. So it may be a strength for him. It’s just now finding out, can he communicate? Can he make the calls? Can he play doing those other things? That’s something we want to look at this spring with him.”
Don't expect either of these positions to be finalized until later this summer.
Others Odds and Ends
- Before spring practice, Foster was eager to share his excitement regarding freshman defensive lineman Yosuah Nijman. Now, according to Beamer's official website, Nijman has moved to offensive tackle. Whether it's offensive line or defensive line, Nijman has the athletic ability to be a special player.
- Joel Caleb has moved back to wide receiver. After beginning his career at wide receiver, Caleb moved to running back due to a lack of depth at that position. He struggled at wide receiver, so it remains to be seen if he fares better this time around.
- Freshman Mook Reynolds is quietly showing everyone he will be ready to play serious minutes this fall. Reynolds was terrific in last week's scrimmage. The Hokies have several young corners and thus far, he is staking his claim to start opposite of Fuller in September.
- The only injuries of note in the spring game were freshman defensive tackle Steve Sobczak, who rolled his ankle, and walk-on center Andrew Williams, who also suffered an ankle injury. Sobczak should be OK, but Williams' appears to be more serious, according to Tech trainer Mike Goforth, per Barber.
- The Hokies take the field again this Saturday for their second spring scrimmage. The practice portion begins at 10:45 a.m., with the scrimmage set to begin approximately 30 minutes later, per Tech's official website.
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