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Why Myles Jack Should Be Considered the NFL Draft's Top Prospect

Since 2006, there have only been 10 linebackers, not including edge-rusher-only prospects, that have been drafted in the top 10 picks overall. It’s not a position that’s top-10 valued by NFL teams due to its reliance on defensive line support as well as the presumed idea that, like running back, it’s a position you can find a starter at anywhere in the draft.

But elite talents like Myles Jack completely change a defense, superseding perceived positional value.

Jack is more than a rangy run defender. He’s more than a potential stand-up pass-rusher. He’s more than a strong coverage linebacker. He’s a defense-changing talent that, despite his position, can be the catalyst for his defense’s success in all three major areas.


Explosiveness and Willingness in Run Game

To be a successful off-ball run-defending linebacker, you need to be willing to fill gap responsibility inside the tackle box, finish in space and on the perimeter and absorb and work through second-level blockers. Thriving in any one of the three areas can potentially earn a linebacker a starting spot in the NFL.

Jack, despite his relative inexperience, thrives in all three areas, and surprisingly offers immediate value to NFL teams as a run defender. The former safety/jack-of-all-trades possesses high-level instincts, but, more importantly, he has developed confidence trusting his read-and-react skill set coupled with his elite athletic upside.

In the first play below, Jack reads the guard-pulling power play in his immediate gap. While it’s his job to attack his gap and work through the blocker, it’s not often that a former safety displays not only a willingness to embrace contact, but explodes through his responsibility with ideal pad level, tenacity and burst. His sudden and impactful pop at the initial hole is what immediately stifles any hope of the running back trying to make something out of the play. 

Jack could fill any number of roles in an NFL defense, but he’ll likely be best playing on the edge in a strong-side linebacker spot. Working on the strong side in today’s NFL means ample pitch and outside zone runs, requiring balance and lateral quickness to finish on the perimeter against shiftier runners. As seen in the play below, that won’t be an issue for Jack. He’s able to match any running back’s elusiveness or lateral separation and routinely finishes in space in the run and passing game. 

Finally, and most impressively, is Jack’s natural bend before blocker contact that allows him to disengage from second-level blockers. Quickness allows some undersized linebackers to separate and evade major contact, which Jack can do as well. But he seemingly doesn’t need to; he’s able to meet quality run blockers, stay low with his pad level and dislodge hand placement with ease.

Notice in the play below how Jack, who’s aligned as the strong-side off-ball linebacker, meets his block with balanced and explosive lower-half readiness, easily erases the blocker’s positioning and reaccelerates to the ball-carrier to finish the gang tackle at the line of scrimmage. It’s the rare disengage ability for a linebacker who can also separate in other ways that makes Jack a special run-defending talent.  


Underutilized but Capable Pass Rushing

Of the 10 off-ball linebackers drafted in the first 10 picks since 2006, Jack has the lowest career sack total of them all. Finishing with just one career sack, Jack clearly doesn’t have ample experience to make the case that he could be a top edge-rusher in this draft class. 

However, as a future outside linebacker in the NFL, he’ll likely be asked to develop as a blitzer and take on at least some pass-rushing responsibility. Despite not being asked to rush the passer all that often at UCLA, Jack has flashed the skill set to do it. While his low pad level and violent explosion should be enough, the play below indicates just how well he can drive the pocket back when asked to do so. Keep in mind that the left tackle he’s going against is Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, a potential first-round pick. 

He likely wasn’t used as a pass-rusher in college due to the fact that his coverage skills were elite for a college linebacker. But that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of immediately adding value as blitzing 4-3 linebacker. It’s a skill set that will need some development to find success at the NFL level, but his movement and athleticism leaves no doubt he could quickly become one of the more productive blitzing linebackers.


Elite Linebacker Pass Coverage

Finally, but perhaps most notably, Jack is an elite coverage linebacker. In fact, Jack is he best coverage linebacker of the last 10 years, and it may not be close. He was frequently asked to cover not only tight ends and running backs, but slot and perimeter receivers for the UCLA defense.

While safety, a position he’s played in the past, wouldn’t maximize his run-defending ability, it’s clear he has the coverage skills to make the transition at the NFL level without many problems. His bend as a run defender and pass-rusher obviously translate to coverage, where it arguably has the most value for a defender.

Jack is able to sink, bend and turn with receivers, and while his footwork hasn’t been refined enough to continue to face the NFL’s top slot receivers or any of their capable perimeter receivers, he’s certainly able to add value as a premier coverage linebacker for tight ends, running backs and occasionally slot receivers. 

As in the play below, Jack is able to pick up a slot receiver after five yards, engage, turn and run from a 4-3 linebacker alignment. He’s able to stay tight with his responsibility, turn his hips and neck back toward the quarterback and finish the play with ideal positioning for the interception and run back.

Jack’s safety experience and rare explosiveness at linebacker will allow him to continue to thrive in space, against NFL blockers and in coverage. And as the 20-year-old continues to develop, he possesses the athletic upside and on-field displays to quickly ascend to the elite level of NFL linebackers, similar to the sudden and dominant rise Khalil Mack made in 2015. 

Is Jack the 2016 draft’s best prospect? For some teams, no, he’s not. It’s a position that not every top-10 team needs or covets, and with fellow elite talents like Laremy Tunsil and Joey Bosa playing positions that are perceived as more valuable, you may be hard-pressed to find a team that will place Jack atop their board.

But in terms of his value to a defense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to any evaluator if Jack was the class’ clear-cut top player three years from now. Rare talents with consistent impact plays don’t come around often, and Jack’s talent level can truly change a defense’s potential in a way that few in any draft class can.

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Why Myles Jack Should Be Considered the NFL Draft's Top Prospect

Since 2006, there have only been 10 linebackers, not including edge-rusher-only prospects, that have been drafted in the top 10 picks overall...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

25 College Basketball Stars We Wish Played Football

College basketball takes center stage this month with the NCAA tournament, one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Sixty-eight teams from all tiers of Division I come together to crown a champion in a winner-take-all event played out over three weeks.

It's one of a handful of events college football fans can use to help them get through the long offseason, and if you try hard enough, you can imagine what some of these athletes would be like playing in pads and throwing or carrying the ball rather than dribbling it.

We've put together a list of standouts from the college basketball ranks, most of whom will be on display during the NCAA tourney, who would probably make for great football players. For arguments' sake, we're going to assume these hoopsters would play for their school's football team, but in the case of those from schools without an FBS program, we've picked the next best option.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star QB Near a Decision; 4-Star RB Discusses Visits

The Opening Dallas regional featured more than 300 athletes at Coppell (Texas) High School, which meant Sunday was the perfect time to reach out to multiple athletes for recruiting updates.

Here's the latest on some of the nation's most recruited standouts.

Big decision soon for QB Davis?

Notre Dame will hold a junior day on Saturday, and Cedar Hill, Texas, 4-star quarterback Avery Davis is expected to be in attendance.

Fans of the Irish are hoping the timing aligns well. Notre Dame is in need of a quarterback commitment for the 2017 class, and Davis currently has a top three of Notre Dame, Colorado and Utah.

While Davis refused to completely tip his hat, he gave a hint of when a commitment could happen.

"It's coming down soon," he said. "It's getting really serious."

Davis, the nation's No. 7 dual-threat quarterback, has 16 reported offers, including Houston, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Virginia and Oregon State, among others. Davis said he's built good relationships with coaches at all three of the schools atop his list.

The winning program—when he's ready to make the final decision—will be one he said will satisfy both his athletic and academic needs.

"With academics, you don't know how far football's going to take you," Davis said. "Football wise, I'm looking for great tradition and a great family. I want to have a coaching staff that's going to care for me and develop me as a quarterback and football player.

"Just knowing that all these schools want me to come to their school and play football, that's a blessing. But I want to be at a place that instills family. If you don't care for the guy you play next to, it's going to be really hard to win."

RB Benjamin talks road trips, re-emphasizes leader

Road tripping has been a fun, fully loaded experience for Wylie, Texas, 4-star running back Eno Benjamin. In a matter of days, Benjamin said he took in trips to Texas and Texas A&M and then made rounds in Big Ten country, visiting Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Iowa.

He made it back just in time to compete in The Opening Dallas Regional.

"I've been on a bunch of trips, so my legs...it's been like sitting in a car, standing up here and there," Benjamin said. "But it's all going pretty good. It can get overwhelming at times, but that's just how it goes."

The trips helped Benjamin from a recruiting standpoint, as he said on Sunday he's "almost ready" to drop a top-10 list of schools. One of the schools expected to be on the list is Iowa, a program he's held in high regard for quite some time.

"Iowa's my top school," he said. "I also like Michigan. Looking at the Big 12, I like Oklahoma State as well. Baylor just jumped in the mix, so we'll see how that goes."

Benjamin continued: "I'm looking for a place where I can fit in and where they have the right role for me. I also want to be able to go in and see that brotherhood from the team, from the players as well as the coaches. I want to get a degree to where I will have a good opportunity to go to the next level at whatever I do."

Arizona State pledge Mondy ready for big spring

Wearing an Arizona State hoodie on Sunday, linebacker Loren Mondy made a bold statement.

Even after nearly three years, the Sun Devils are still his No. 1 school. And that remains fact even though he said he's keeping his recruiting door ajar as a courtesy to give schools an opportunity to deliver their pitches.

"My commitment is solid," said Mondy, a 3-star linebacker who committed to Arizona State before the start of his freshman year. "Right now, everything is going kind of slow, but a lot of schools are wanting to see my play during the spring."

Mondy, at 6'1" and 240 pounds, is switching from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, which he said many schools already are projecting him at the next level. He has eight offers, including Cal, Iowa State and Kansas. Mondy currently only has one in-state offer, from Texas State.

LSU unofficial visit postponed for CB Calloway

Dallas 4-star cornerback Chevin Calloway had plans of visiting LSU over the weekend. However, severe flooding throughout Louisiana forced Calloway to postpone his plans. 

Calloway still plans on visiting LSU soon.

"I'm looking to reschedule; I've just got to get with the coaches there," Calloway said. "[Tight ends coach Steve Ensminger] told me to get with him whenever I get a chance so we can set up some dates."

LSU is a school to keep an eye on with Calloway, who is nearing 30 reported offers. He is a fan of LSU's history with producing quality defensive backs, as well as Ensminger, defensive backs coach Corey Raymond and head coach Les Miles.

"I don't really know too much else about the school, which is why I'm trying to get down there and talk to coaches and see how the environment is," Calloway said. "I want to see what they're all about. What I do know is they put a lot of DBs in the league. I just want to get there and get a better interest in them."

Calloway additionally said Oklahoma is a school showing him a lot of love. He was on campus last week visiting his friend and former high school teammate A.D. Miller, a receiver for the Sooners. Schools like Baylor, Ole Miss, Ohio State and UCLA also are contenders for Calloway.

Texas A&M visit coming for 2018 OT Simpson

There will be one very happy school when 6'7", 330-pound tackle Darrell Simpson makes his decision.

The 2018 lineman from Justin, Texas, said he's keeping all of his options open and is looking forward to Texas A&M's Friday Night Lights football scrimmage on April 1.

Simpson, who said he's most comfortable playing right tackle, has Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU, SMU and a few other programs high on his list. He recently took an unofficial visit to TCU and said he had a great conversation with head coach Gary Patterson.

Simpson doesn't have plans on making an immediate decision, but he's keeping his eyes open for the perfect fit.

"I want a good team that likes to bond together and work hard," Simpson said. "Bonding and staying together, that's important."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 Senior Stars with the Best Shot at the 2016 Heisman Trophy

Upstart sophomores and standout juniors are all the rage in college football these days, but a select group of seniors have a decent chance to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy.

Although the list of seniors isn't large—and the best shot doesn't necessarily mean a good one—Baker Mayfield and Seth Russell lead the veteran cast that could upstage popular names such as Deshaun Watson, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.

Historical trends were a main factor in selecting these candidates. For instance, an offensive lineman is not going to win the Heisman, while quarterbacks and running backs are typically the top finalists.

Players from major-conference programs also received the most attention—but not quite all. Not since 1990 (Ty Detmer, QB, BYU) has a non-power school star hoisted the trophy.

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5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2016 Dallas Elite 11 Regional

COPPELL, Texas — If nothing else, Matt James is always honest. As the regional head coach of The Opening and one of the main individuals following quarterbacks for Elite 11 consideration, you have to be blatantly honest if you want to see athletes get better.

Sunday's Elite 11 Dallas regional had its pros and cons, as roughly 50 quarterbacks competed at Coppell High School for an invitation to the Elite 11 semifinal this summer in Los Angeles. The good news, James said, is that the pros outweighed the cons, particularly when looking at the entire field, including talent level and classification.

"It was a great group. We saw a bunch of guys who were working hard," James said. "As soon as we got here, the kids had their game faces on. We had a good [2019] class and a good [2018] class. ... It was good from top to bottom.

"We've had stronger overall, top-of-the-line guys here, but from top to bottom, from the '17s to the '19s, that was one of the better groups we've had."

Athletes from seven states—including Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi—participated in Sunday's production. The half-skelly showdown, the final event that helped determine a camp MVP, came down to five athletes. Here is a look at those five quarterbacks, with James offering comments about each.

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The SEC East's Most Indispensable Players

In college football, depth is the equivalent of gold.

Every team wants it, few have it and one injury or suspension could derail an entire season.

The most indispensable player on each team doesn't necessarily have to be the superstar. At Georgia, injuries to Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb in 2014 and 2015, respectively, could have been devastating had it not been for the depth the Bulldogs had built up at the position.

Who are the most indispensable players in the SEC East in 2016? Here are our picks based on talent and depth.

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Ohio State Football Week 1 Spring Practice Report

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State's first week of spring practice is in the books, and this year's session has already proved to be quieter for the Buckeyes than its predecessor.

As opposed to a year ago, when Ohio State was in the midst of an unprecedented quarterback competition with perhaps unrealistic expectations being thrust upon the defending national champs, this spring is more about the overall development of a roster that will be replacing 16 combined starters in the coming year.

And while this year's spring session is only a few days old, some players have already stepped to the forefront in what Urban Meyer's deemed "The Year of Development" in Columbus.

With spring break having just started and classes no longer in session at Ohio State, the Buckeyes will have the next week off before returning to the practice field in advance of their April 16 spring game.

Let's take a look back at what was accomplished in Columbus during Ohio State's return to the practice field last week.


Return of the Mack

Meeting with reporters during the Buckeyes' star-studded pro day last Friday, Meyer's mind found itself wandering back to the week of practice his current team had just endured.

Asked which players had stood out to him, the fifth-year Ohio State coach thought back not to what he was in the midst of witnessing, but rather the few days of practice that preceded the pro day.

And when he did, one name immediately came to mind.

"Austin Mack is gonna play next year," Meyer said. "He’s doing fantastic."

Meyer's high praise of Mack is particularly encouraging considering that the early-enrollee freshman could currently be spending his time preparing for his senior prom instead of battling it out on the practice field with Division I defensive backs.

A 4-star prospect by way of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Mack arrived in Columbus in January as the nation's 10th-ranked receiver in the 2016 class, having committed to the Buckeyes over Michigan and Notre Dame.

With Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller each headed to the NFL draft, Ohio State finds itself replacing all three of its starting wide receivers from 2015. That means opportunities for playing time will be plentiful for the Buckeyes' young wide receivers in the coming year—something of which Mack has already apparently taken advantage.

Mack's early emergence was forecasted by the Hoosier State native himself, who told starting quarterback J.T. Barrett in winter workouts that he planned on becoming the starting "X" wide receiver in the Ohio State offense in his freshman season. The proclamation was met with a healthy amount of skepticism from Barrett, who made sure to make his younger teammate aware of just what he was taking on.

"In our offense, X, you better be a Mike Thomas, you have to be a dog," Barrett said. "There's a reason his Twitter handle is @cantguardmike. That wasn't an accident; that was on purpose."

There have only been a few days of practice, but it's been so far, so good for the newest member of the Ohio State wide receiver corps. And while Meyer has even admitted he has a tendency to overevaluate players early in their college careers, Mack's big first week certainly bodes well for his future with the Buckeyes.


Injury Issues

Although Mack wasn't the only Ohio State player to stand out in practice last week—Meyer also singled out left tackle Jamarco Jones, right tackle Isaiah Prince and running backs Bri'onte Dunn and Michael Weber—there was more negative news than anything else from the Buckeyes' first week of practice.

According to Meyer, his roster is so depleted by injuries at the moment that he's not even sure if he'll be able to put together a full depth chart by the end of the spring session.

"I'll let you know as we go along the journey here. This is uncharted waters for me, too. You'd like to [have a depth chart], but I don't think so," Meyer said after the first day of spring practice. "With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody's ready to go, I think you could do that. But we're not."

Those injuries have been particularly problematic in the wide receiver room, where the Buckeyes were without three of their presumed top receivers, Corey Smith, Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown. Ohio State's safeties room appeared to be decimated as well, with injuries to Cam Burrows and Erick Smith leaving the Buckeyes with just two healthy scholarship players available at the position, Malik Hooker and Eric Glover-Williams.

Between the 16 starters who have departed from last year and the 11 injured players Meyer was counting on to contribute this spring, mere numbers alone may prevent Ohio State from getting the most out of this spring. That, however, won't stop the Buckeyes from trying, as it's only increased the importance for Ohio State's younger players to continue to emerge this spring.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Meyer said.


Schiano Sighting

Of all of the sights from the Buckeyes' spring practice, perhaps the most unusual was Greg Schiano working with Ohio State's secondary.

After spending a year away from coaching following his two-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the former Rutgers head coach is back at the college level, replacing Chris Ash as the Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach.

"I had a blast," Schiano said following Ohio State's Thursday practice. "The last two practices have been a lot of fun."

You'd have to go back to 2000 to find the last time Schiano was an assistant and not a head coach, and it's not a stretch to say that he could find himself running his own program or team once again sooner than later. In fact, before being hired by the Buckeyes, Schiano was one of the candidates who interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at Miami (Florida) this past offseason, according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.

Speculation that Schiano's stint in Columbus will be a short one was only fueled this past week when it was revealed that he had signed just a one-year deal with Ohio State, which the defensive assistant said was one of the few places he considered taking an assistant coaching job. Schiano, however, insists that his new contract is merely a "business" decision and not something that should be taken as a sign of anything more.

"When you're under contract with someone else, there's a lot of business-type stuff that's involved there," Schiano said. "But that's all it is. Nothing to read into."

Just how long Schiano will remain with the Buckeyes remains to be seen, but it will still take some time to get used to the sight of him in scarlet and gray as a member of Meyer's staff.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Report

AUBURN, Ala. —  Don't look now, but the Auburn Tigers are already one-third of the way through their 2016 spring practices.

Last Thursday night, head coach Gus Malzahn's team wrapped up its second week of camp before pausing for the university's spring break.

When the Tigers return to the field on March 22, they'll have three weeks of practice remaining, including the annual A-Day Game at Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 9.

"I just really challenged our guys over spring break to keep their cardio, to work on their own," Malzahn said. "We’ll come back and have 10 practices. They’ll be very important practices. ... When we come back, our guys should have a foundation offensively and defensively to start scrimmaging and tackling."

With no football on the Plains this week, now's a good time to recap the second week of action and the highlights from Thursday night's post-practice interviews.


A new attitude

At the end of the second week of spring practice, several Auburn players said they could feel something new in the air—and they weren't talking about the warmer temperatures that have made their way back to the Plains.

"There's just a different feeling out there," H-back Chandler Cox said. "It's a good feeling. ... It's totally different than what it was last year. I don't know what it is. I don't think anyone knows yet. But there's something brewing in the air. Something good."

Starting center Austin Golson felt it, too. He compared the feeling to what he had in the preseason practices before his high school, Alabama powerhouse Prattville, won a state championship.

"I don't think anybody is dreading practice," Golson said. "Last year, I remember that we had some guys [saying], 'Man, I can't wait until spring break.' Nah, today we were like, 'Man, I can't wait to get out there and practice, and then we can worry about spring break.'"

The new buzz around the football complex is a welcome sight to Malzahn, especially after a disappointing 2015 campaign.

Through the sizable coaching staff turnover and a number of notable starter departures, Malzahn likes how his team has come together and worked early in spring ball.

"When I look back on the first five days, I'm really pleased with our energy," Malzahn said. "I'm really pleased with our focus. We've repped everybody on the team, we've repped three groups primarily. The guys want to be coached."

Star defensive end Carl Lawson said that energy began before last season's finale, when the Tigers knocked off a high-powered Memphis team in the Birmingham Bowl. According to Lawson (via Auburn Gold Mine), that momentum carried into winter conditioning and is now evident on the practice field this spring:

The different vibe from some of Auburn's new defensive coaches has been a boost for the program in Lawson's eyes.

"I like Coach [Kevin] Steele's coaching style," Lawson said. "He's making us put in effort without having to do all the screaming and stuff. When we got that, I honestly feel it makes us want to compete."

But does Lawson feel like Auburn needs to keep practicing this week in order to keep that momentum going?

"I won't say that," Lawson said with a big smile. "I like spring break."


Lawson leading the way

While Lawson was quick to say he would enjoy his time away from the practice field, the Georgia native is just glad he's getting any opportunity to compete again.

After missing all of the 2014 season with a knee injury, Lawson said he felt his hip "crack" on the fifth play of the 2015 season opener against Louisville. But he wasn't going to let that keep him down in the Georgia Dome.

"Adrenaline was going, so I was just gimping around on the field. ... I didn't know what had happened until they told me," Lawson said. "I sat out for a whole year, I wasn’t coming out until I couldn’t play no more. I really wanted to play."

Lawson would miss the next six games with the hip injury, returning in a close loss against Ole Miss. Even though the Tigers went 3-3 with him back on the field, the defense was better in virtually every category after his comeback:

But Lawson said he never felt completely healthy last year. That's not the case anymore, and it's drawing the attention of his coaches and teammates.

"He really is looking 100 percent," Malzahn said. "He's a handful, not just in the pass game rushing the passer, but he disrupts stuff in the run game. If the offensive line can get used to blocking him, we feel like we can block anybody in our league."

Once expected to become an early entrant into the 2016 NFL draft, Lawson decided to return to the Plains for the upcoming season alongside defensive tackle and fellow Class of 2013 star Montravius Adams.

The reason for his decision was simple.

"I need to get better as a football player," Lawson said. "That's pretty much it. And I've got a lot to prove, a lot to prove to myself, nobody else. I still have a lot of stuff I want to accomplish."

As Lawson continues to improve on his already game-changing skill set—he rattled off a laundry list of areas he wanted to work on in the spring—he will be looked at as the unquestioned leader of his position group and the defense as a whole.

With Lawson and Adams back, along with a handful of key players from last season and a few instant-impact pickups in this year's recruiting class, Auburn's defensive line is as deep as it's been in a long time.

So for Lawson, the No. 1 attribute he wants to work on over the next few weeks is leadership.

"That's what you need," Lawson said. "It's a main focus for me trying to become a leader, especially in my redshirt junior season. ... The more leaders you have, the more champions you have, the better team you have."


Rewinding the running back battle

A lot of deserved focus has fallen on the quarterback position so far this spring for Auburn, but there's another battle brewing in the backfield, too.

According to Malzahn, both Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas are splitting first-team carries at running back as they battle to replace Peyton Barber as the No. 1 rusher.

"Right now, both of those guys we have confidence in," Malzahn said. "They're rotating with the first group. ... We feel good about both those veteran guys."

Robinson, a senior who was the No. 1 player in junior college for the Class of 2015, caught fire late last season for Auburn.

After only playing in two of the first seven games of the season, Robinson rushed for 90 or more yards in five of the last six, including a 159-yard effort against Texas A&M and a 126-yard Birmingham Bowl performance—both wins.

A bigger back (6'0", 230 lbs) with a good amount of shiftiness and burst in the open field, Robinson is the favorite to become Auburn's lead running back in 2016.

"Jovon has been in the offense for one year, and now you can tell he's more confident than he was," Malzahn said. "We can do some more things with him."

But don't count out Thomas, the junior who has created some explosive plays with his speed and agility in his first two seasons with the program.

Consistency has eluded Thomas up to this point in his young career, with injuries and ball security becoming problems several times. He also brings an added receiving threat out of the backfield and has experience in the slot.

"Roc has had a good start so far, too, and he has a really good understanding of the offense after being in the system for so long," Malzahn said.

Outside of the race for the No. 1 job at running back, Auburn has cross-trained H-backs Cox and Kamryn Pettway at the position during the first two weeks of camp.

With sophomore Kerryon Johnson out for the entire spring following shoulder surgery, the Tigers could use some added depth at the position.

Pettway, who said earlier in camp that he wants to be a short-yardage replacement for Barber, was a traditional power running back in high school, while Cox was more of a fullback.

"It's definitely a good time, running the ball," Cox said. "I'll do whatever I have to do to help this team. I'll contribute either way, whatever I have to do."

Even if Pettway and Cox don't log significant playing time in any rushing role this fall, they are expected to play bigger roles in the Auburn offense after impressing in their freshman seasons. 


Quick hits

  • Malzahn expects the injured trio of safety Rudy Ford, defensive end Paul James III and versatile defensive back Josh Holsey to return to practice after spring break.
  • Auburn's quarterbacks could go live in practices next week. Malzahn said those practices will start to feature full tackling instead of just "thudding."
  • Cox's first impression of new quarterback John Franklin III was short and sweet: "Wow, he's quick." Malzahn also described the JUCO transfer signal-caller as someone with the "wow factor" when he takes off running.
  • Malzahn on new wide receivers coach Kodi Burns: "He's all over those young receivers. He's running as much as they are out there."
  • Both Malzahn and Golson mentioned the impressive work so far this spring of Kaleb Kim, a redshirt freshman offensive guard who is getting work at center.
  • As Kerryon Johnson sits out the spring with his injury, Malzahn said the sophomore has done his part helping coach up his teammates, specifically early enrollee Malik Miller, who played with Johnson in high school at Madison (Alabama) Academy.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Creating a 64-Team Bracket for the 2015 NCAA Football Season

Imagine, if you will, a college football postseason spanning across six magnificent weeks and featuring 64 teams.

Productivity would plummet. Holidays would be left in shambles. Televisions would be exhausted. Relationships would be tested. It would be beautiful madness.

Round 1 would feature 32 games alone. It would take place sometime in the heart of December and be the greatest weekend on the sporting calendar. From there, the tournament would hover right on by Christmas, carry us through New Year’s Eve and conclude sometime in late January.

A national champion would then be crowned—the last team standing. Oh, it would be extraordinary.

This dream, of course, is only that. No, college football is not getting a 64-team playoff. Not next week, not next year, not next century. It will expand beyond four teams at some point, but not to this level of gluttony.

However, as college basketball recharges its bracket batteries for another year—a postseason structure that is equal parts perfect and insane—one can’t help but ponder what this madness might look like in the football realm.

Over the past four years, I have put this hypothetical picture on paper with a 64-team postseason. I have done so because of tradition. I have done so because the offseason does strange things to us all.

A few important notes, starting with the most important: The bracket is seeded based on last year’s results. This is where most of the commenters have gone astray in the past. The anger will flow regardless.

It’s perfectly fine to detest the work of the committee (me), but at least understand precisely what you hate.

In order to complete the seeding, I used a combination of factors: final poll position, overall record, bowl performance and general momentum heading into the end of the year. To cap it off, I incorporated a solid serving of the eye test. This ingredient is usually where we go our separate ways.

With that information out in the open, let's embrace the hypothetical madness. Here are the four regions.


The most delightful tailgate of the entire tournament will come out of the Midwest. When fifth-seeded LSU takes on 12th-seeded West Virginia, the pregame festivities will be seen from outer space.

There will be delectable cuisine. There will be loud voices. There will be fires—most of which will hopefully be controlled. There will be alcohol poured in bottles without labels. It will be one of the most amazing game-day experiences ever concocted. Stay safe, all.

The sexiest No. 2 vs. No. 15 matchup is also housed here, which is a wonderful way to market a region, I suppose. Michigan State, fresh off its Alabama demolition, still gets plenty of respect as a No. 2 seed. The Spartans will draw Auburn in a matchup that is fascinating on paper if nothing else.

Leading this bracket is Clemson, the No. 1 seed and the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament. The Tigers take on No. 16 Arizona State—not something I thought I’d write before last fall began—followed by the winner of Appalachian State-Georgia Southern.

Not enough people will watch as Appalachian State-Georgia Southern touch gloves, which is a shame. That’s a glorious little game. Plan accordingly.

Although things took a turn for the worse late in the year, Iowa still hangs on to a No. 3 seed. The Hawkeyes draw No. 14 Washington in Round 1—a pesky underdog that could give them a game. The winner there will take on the winner of No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Louisiana Tech.

For a reminder of how Iowa fared last time they played Tennessee, please see this GIF.


Here’s some insider bracket knowledge: Texas Tech was the last team to earn a spot in the top 64, edging out a slew of other programs with comparable resumes. Kliff Kingsbury’s reward for making it to this next phase is a matchup with No. 1 seed Stanford.

The committee takes no prisoners here. After all, the nation’s No. 127 rushing defense will go up against Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey, one of the most diabolical running backs in the nation. It will do so after it was steamrolled by LSU running back Leonard Fournette in the previous game.

Please keep your children away from this game. They don’t need to see this.

TCU is the second seed in the region following its thrilling bowl win over Oregon. The Frogs will draw Northern Illinois and then the winner of Boise State-Washington State—a game that is destined to get weird early and stay weird throughout.

The Fighting Irish, despite an avalanche of injuries and a bowl loss to Ohio State, are the No. 3 seed. Brian Kelly’s team will play Western Michigan. The winner of this game will then play No. 6 Wisconsin or No. 11 BYU.

And perhaps my favorite game of Round 1 in this region is San Diego State—winners of their final 10 games—taking on Memphis in the 8-9 game. There will be points. And don’t go sleeping on San Diego State. The Aztecs can hang with just about anybody in this region.


Just imagine the magnitude of a Jim Harbaugh-Nick Saban game for a spot in the Elite Eight. The ratings for such a telecast would be Super Bowl-esque. The postgame handshake would be a frigid, facial-expression buffet. It would be a national holiday.

In my world, this is all possible. Alabama, the No. 1 seed in the South (and the No. 1 seed in the tournament) plays North Carolina State in Round 1.

A victory there could guarantee a game against Georgia in the next round, which would generate some rather substantial ratings as well. Kirby Smart might coach against his protege in an Alabama polo.

Houston is the No. 2 seed overall in the South, which may seem strange to some. It shouldn’t. In fact, coming off a bowl victory over Florida State, giving the Cougars this seed was an easy decision. They’ll open with Penn State before drawing the winner of Louisville-Florida.

If BCS rematches are your thing, then look no further than No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech—a 2012 Sugar Bowl replay. And yes, because it can’t be stated enough, look again at the potential Elite Eight game and just buy tickets. It doesn’t matter that it’s not real—go get them!

As for a game that would ultimately last seven hours and feature roughly 57 touchdowns, look no further than No. 6 Western Kentucky vs. No. 11 Cal. With two of the nation’s most punishing offenses and two defenses that are certifiably “meh” on a good day, this could be fun.


Ohio State may have missed out on a playoff spot, but the Buckeyes are proud owners of a No. 1 seed in a tournament that will never happen. I am sure Urban Meyer is thrilled.

Also, to the soon-to-be 478 or so former Buckeyes headed to the upcoming NFL draft from this year’s squad, please come back and play college football for free a little longer. Pretty, pretty please?

The Buckeyes will open with Cincinnati in an all-Ohio showdown in Round 1, followed by the winner of Temple-Arkansas in the next round. While Meyer-Bielema might not have the same matchup power of Saban-Harbaugh, these former Big Ten buddies—note: not actual buddies—would make for quality watching.

Oklahoma, after faltering late in the year, is the No. 2 seed overall in the East. The Sooners will draw Duke and then the winner of Northwestern-Bowling Green, a delightful little 10-7 matchup to get things going.

Ole Miss vs. Miami is about as interesting as a bracket gets when it comes to a three seed taking on a 14 seed. The winner of this game draws Mississippi State or South Florida—the trendy No. 11 seed that bracket hipsters will peg to win more than one game.

And Florida State, fresh off a loss to Houston, still holds down a four seed here. The Seminoles will get Arkansas State, followed by the winner of Utah-Marshall.

This is the bracket in its entirety. The winner, of course, will never be known. The idea that 64 teams could ever play one another in a college football season remains preposterous.

See you again next year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football Week 2 Spring Practice Report

The second week of Michigan football's spring practice was back in Ann Arbor, which meant exponentially less attention compared to the weeklong "circus" in Florida.

Plus, as is typical, head coach Jim Harbaugh closed workouts to the media. Fewer updates were available to pass along, but a few Wolverines assistants shared important notes on the team's outlook.

Notable news included defenders impressing in practice, a returning player locked in a position battle and an incoming prospect poised for immediate snaps—and perhaps stardom.


Guys and Dudes

New defensive coordinator Don Brown brought from Boston College a unique way to describe players, classifying some as "guys" but standout performers as "dudes."

If you're not familiar, that's perfectly OK—mostly because it provides an excuse to share the greatest Vine in the history of football coaches saying stuff. This is Boston College head coach Steve Addazio:

Brown periodically shared the updates on Twitter, which helped explain how the Michigan coaches feel about a collection of guys.

And dudes.

Through two weeks, players classified as "guys" are defensive end Chase Winovich, linebacker Noah Furbush, linebacker Devin Bush Jr., cornerback Brandon Watson and safety Delano Hill.

Linebacker Ben Gedeon, versatile weapon Jabrill Peppers and cornerback Channing Stribling compose the select group of "dudes" so far.

While Winovich could develop into a capable reserve for 2016, the encouraging sign for Wolverines fans likely is seeing a total of three linebackers—as well as Peppers—on the lists. Stribling might start opposite Jourdan Lewis.


Updates on Ty Isaac, Running Back Competition

After receiving regular carries during the early portion of the 2015 season, Ty Isaac disappeared from the rotation and eventually the travel roster. At that time—from our seat—a transfer seemed like a potentially realistic option.

Per Nick Baumgardner of MLive, Isaac admitted he made some mistakes that contributed to his lack of playing time.

However, running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley said the main factor was Isaac's competition—namely De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson—flat-out being better.

Baumgardner noted Isaac shared he didn't second-guess his transfer to Ann Arbor. So, the Wolverines will have a healthy battle for carries throughout the next year. Smith, Johnson and Karan Higdon return, while 4-star Kareem Walker should also be a factor.

According to Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press, Wheatley said the No. 1 job is Smith's to lose. He led the team with 753 yards and six touchdowns last season.


Looking Forward to Rashan Gary

Defensive line coach Greg Mattison offered some praise for a player headed to campus this summer. That player, unsurprisingly, was No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary.

Per Carlos Monarrez of the Free Press, Mattison said:

The thing that's so exciting about Rashan is you can watch a highlight tape and then you can watch entire games and it's the same thing. The reason a highlight tape is called a highlight tape is because they pick out the best plays. Well, you can see a lot of good players doing that. This young man really is consistent on trying to play the way you want him to play.

The Wolverines will have a chance to interact with Gary during the third week of practice. According to Steve Lorenz of 247Sports, Gary's mother said the 5-star defensive tackle is spending his spring break at Michigan.

Mattison shared Gary will begin his career at defensive end, though production and need might result in him shifting inside to tackle.

Gary's billing created the hype train, but Michigan's coaches aren't doing anything to slow it down.


All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Football Week 1 Spring Practice Report

The defending SEC East champs are on the practice field in 2016 as second-year head coach Jim McElwain hopes to defend his division title and fill enough roster holes to make any head coach lose sleep.

The quarterback battle taking place among Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby and Feleipe Franks is what's garnering the most attention, but finding a running back, solidifying the offensive line, reloading the front seven and replacing superstar corner Vernon Hargreaves III are all on the docket for the Gators this March and April.

No pressure, Jim.

How have the boys from old Florida looked during the early stages of spring?


Quarterback Picture Coming Into Focus?

Treon Harris ended last season as the starter at quarterback and reportedly will be moved to wide receiver if and when he hits the practice field following his suspension (more on that in a moment). The battle to win the job in 2016 most likely won't be settled this spring thanks to Del Rio's inexperience, the arrival of Appleby—a Purdue transfer—and the presence of true freshman early enrollee Franks.

Apparently a front-runner has emerged. 

Del Rio, the former Alabama and Oregon State player who arrived at Florida a year ago and sat out the 2015 season, has impressed the staff with his ability to pick up the playbook and lead the team, as McElwain explained to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel

One of the things that I love about him is he's kind of a gym rat. You can tell he obviously grew up around the game. He's a guy who enjoys watching film. He enjoys [being] around the guys, he's does a great job as a leader. Not only is he a good quarterback, but just the qualities you want at that position.

The Gators sputtered down the stretch after former quarterback Will Grier was suspended for a year after violating the NCAA's performance-enhancing drug policy in mid-October. They averaged just 319.8 yards per game and 4.65 yards per play over the final six games of the year, according to cfbstats.com.

Once Grier decided to transfer and it became clear that Harris' future was at wide receiver, Del Rio became the leader the Gators needed during offseason conditioning. 

"He took the role on very fast," safety Marcus Maye said, according to Thompson. "He's got a great relationship with the guys."

Unless there's some unforeseen news that pops up between the end of spring practice, it's unlikely that McElwain will actually name a starter during or immediately after spring practice. He let the Grier-Harris battle bleed into the season last year, and with so much inexperience across the board in this year's battle, a prolonged competition is essentially required so the staff can have a firm grasp on what each contender is capable of.

But Del Rio's emergence early in spring practice is a good sign for an offense that desperately needs a leader. A quick jump will leave a lasting impression on the staff and set the bar high for the contenders. Even if he doesn't win the job, a higher standard will benefit the entire offense.


Suspensions? Who Knew?

One of the most surprising developments of spring practice came in the form of suspensions to Harris and star sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway, according to the Associated Press (via the USA Today). Harris obviously needs spring practice to adjust to his new position if that is McElwain's plan, and Callaway is the only proven playmaker outside on the Gator offense. 

Depending on how long they last, these suspensions could be huge for the wide receiving corps.

Harris is certainly a project and will likely mimic the role of slot receiver Brandon Powell. Because of that, these 15 spring practices will be invaluable to his development as a receiver. With Harris on the sideline, his future with the team—at either position—doesn't look very bright.

For Callaway, it's a missed opportunity to learn with the quarterbacks who are practicing.

The majority of his work as a true freshman in 2015—when he caught 35 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns—came with Grier and Harris taking the snaps. The eventual winner of the quarterback battle in Gainesville will need to be on the same page with Callaway—who caught the game-winner late in the rivalry with Tennessee in late September—if the Gators are going to add that much-needed second dimension to the struggling offense.

The silver lining is that other wide receivers will get more snaps in their absence, which will build much-needed depth and versatility to the struggling unit. Building that depth is one of the primary goals of spring practice in most instances. But with Florida's offense serving as the punchline to a bad joke for a half-decade, the search for explosiveness takes precedent this spring.


Building DB Depth

Florida has the dynamic duo of Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson to rely on at cornerback this spring, along with Maye at safety and the versatile Duke Dawson—who can play corner or safety—in the mix.

Depth is needed, though, and it could come in the form of early enrollees.

Former 4-star corner Chauncey Gardner is up to 205 pounds from 194 so far this spring, and athlete McArthur Burnett—who's listed as a defensive back on Florida's spring roster—has already added 17 pounds, McElwain told Nick de la Torre of GatorCountry.com.

"They are able to eat. Let’s call it the way it is. That’s one of the great things the NCAA did, was allow these guys to be able to have access to actual meals," McElwain said. "For guys like that who aren’t used to getting consistent eating habits, it’s not hard, right? So that’s good to see."

Gardner has everything it takes to be a star, and will fill in nicely behind the two starters as a true freshman a lot like Tabor did two years ago. 

It's lather, rinse, repeat for the Gators secondary, which routinely develops young players and turns them into stars quickly once they arrive on campus.


Ground And Pound(s)

Anytime a junior college transfer comes in, the expectation should be for him to make an immediate impact.

Mark Thompson has done just that.

The former Dodge City (Kansas) Community College running back has stepped into the battle that's taking place at running back with Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite and made a huge impression.


The 6'2", 242-pounder originally from La Mott, Pennsylvania, already looks the part of a star in the SEC.

"That’s an SEC back, right there," McElwain said of Thompson, according to Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald. "He looks the part. Now we’ll find out when we get pads on. I noticed when he was hitting a couple inside zones and cutbacks, the guy that was kind of coming down questioned [himself] a little bit. He could see a bigger body there."

Could he be the next Derrick Henry?

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner and former Alabama star is of similar size and stature to Thompson, and McElwain's pro-style pedigree will lend itself to a bruising running back playing a big role in the offense. 


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Most Unbreakable Records in College Football

Records, by nature, were made to be broken. As time marches on and players get bigger, faster, stronger and smarter, records are threatened. That’s true for college football as well. The NCAA’s FBS record book contains some impressive records, but with each passing season, more and more of them are threatened by better players, as well as a season that continues to expand with the introduction of the College Football Playoff.

However, some records are more secure than others. Certain college football records, whether they’re single-game, single-season or career, stand out as particularly impressive when you scan the record book. Here’s a look at nine of the most unbreakable records in college football.

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Tennessee Football Week 1 Spring Practice Report

Each spring of head coach Butch Jones' tenure in Knoxville, Tennessee, has been met with anticipation, but there's arguably never been a Tennessee football practice more welcomed than this year's.

Not only are the Volunteers expected to be excellent in 2016, the offseason Title IX lawsuit turmoil that has embroiled the university and athletic department has been difficult to escape as it has dominated numerous news cycles.

For the past week, it's been nice to be able to talk about football for a change.

And, boy, have the reports been encouraging for UT so far. Jones' success on the recruiting trail has translated extremely well to the rebuild on Rocky Top as the Vols have gotten progressively better each year. Just 10 players recruited by former head coach Derek Dooley remain, and the roster flip is evident on the field this spring.

This year's Vols should be a deep, strong and talented football team bolstered by being coached by the same coaches and in the same strength and conditioning program for most of their entire careers. 

The staff changes that have been made (trading defensive coordinator John Jancek for Bob Shoop and tight ends coach Mark Elder for Larry Scott) should be upgrades.

Even those veteran coaches are gushing about the Vols' workmanship approach. GoVols247's Wes Rucker recently spoke with Shoop, who is impressed with some of the leadership he's already seen:

Few positions should give Tennessee trouble this year. There are still a few question marks about defensive tackle depth, and the left offensive tackle job is open along with plenty of receiver battles, but there is talent galore. There appear to be several potential answers in places where there are questions.

Even the players aren't shy to talk about their excitement.

"We have a lot of depth, and it's huge," quarterback Joshua Dobbs told Rucker. "I mean, this program's really night and day since I got here. It's great to see we're headed in the right direction. But our key this year, you know, is we’re trying to take the next step in moving forward.

How big is that step? SEC East? SEC championship? Perhaps even more?

They certainly passed the eyeball test after the first week of spring. So, let's take a look at some of the storylines dominating Tennessee's fall camp thus far.


The gap is closed

Perhaps the most eye-opening thing throughout the entire first week is just how infrequently everybody has heard about the Vols' known stars.

Little has been mentioned about Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton. That's because they're doing little. And, why not? Jones and the coaching staff already know what they're going to get from those guys.

There's no reason for them to be churning out rep after rep and risking injury.

When you talk about the top level of talent at Tennessee, everybody around the SEC can name those guys. But it's the depth and speed of the underclassmen that could separate this group and finally lead to them competing for meaningful things.

Players such as Preston Williams, Jauan Jennings, Vincent Perry and Jeff George are standing out in the receiving corps. Everybody has been raving about the defensive backs and linebackers, too. The offensive line is impressing, and defensive end depth is sick.

Simply put, this is a different team. It looks original, and the speed of the game has been noticeably different to everybody watching.

"Their athleticism stands out," Volquest.com's Paul Fortenberry said on a video of observations this week. "I think they like their skill guys. ... But these first two days, I think we've come to appreciate what they have in terms of their skill guys and their athleticism."

Once the pads went on, the attention shifted to praise for redshirt freshman left tackle Drew Richmond and sophomore defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, who has changed his body. Redshirt freshman defensive end Darrell Taylor is drawing rave reviews, too, for his speed off the edge.

It's not a big surprise that UT looks like a quality SEC team a year removed from a 9-4 campaign that featured four losses by a combined 17 points. But this is a team big, fast and physical enough to compete with anybody on the schedule.

That's huge news in what could be an exciting year. One of Tennessee's slogans this year is being "elite" and trying to make that jump from "good" to "great." It appears the Vols are off to a solid start on the field:


Emerging star on the perimeter?

If there's been one player who has been the talk of the camp so far, it would be Williams.

Last year around this time, nobody could stop yapping about freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, who turned heads early. He wound up making an immediate impact and was becoming one of the team's two best interior linemen before a season-ending injury against Georgia cost him the rest of the season. 

Now, Williams will try to be the next buzzworthy player who turns potential into production.

The 6'4", 209-pound sophomore receiver from Lovejoy, Georgia, was one of the most coveted pass-catchers in the country when he chose UT. He battled back from a nasty knee injury as a high school senior and an ACT issue that kept him off the field for much of fall practice to make a quick impact.

He had two touchdown grabs against Western Carolina, but then, a nagging hamstring injury limited him throughout the last part of his freshman year. Now that he's healthy and refocused, the player nicknamed The Resort may be a regular destination for Dobbs passes in 2016.

He's big and strong, as evidenced by this tweet from the Daily Times' Austin Bornheim:

It looks like he's worked a lot in the weight room, and if he has his head on straight, there are few limits to Williams' potential.

Williams got his black stripe removed in the first week, which is a rite of passage for UT players. He's starred on the field and looks like he is ready to step up, especially in the absence of injured leading receiver Josh Malone, who won't be healthy until the summer.

"You can't help but be impressed by Preston Williams," GoVols247's Ryan Callahan told Vince Ferrara and John Adams on GVX Audio. "It looks like he's really taken a step from the end of last season."

The Vols haven't had a legitimate receiving weapon since Justin Hunter's final year in Knoxville, which also happened to be Cordarrelle Patterson's only season wearing orange and white. 

With UT's shift to faster, yards-after-catch-oriented targets, having somebody big and fast who can stretch the field like Williams is vital. He really could play a major role in this offense. If he emerges, it'll only make the Vols much more dangerous.


Top-end talent on the defense's back end

Last year, one of the strengths of Tennessee's team was supposed to be the third level of the defense.

With star junior Cameron Sutton anchoring down one edge and the senior duo of Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil at safety, the Vols should have been great in the secondary.

But the bizarre one-game suspension of defensive backs coach Willie Martinez in a season opener where Bowling Green receivers consistently torched UT led to a rocky early season on the back end.

As the year progressed, Malik Foreman began to grow into the role of nickelback, Sutton began to look like himself again and Randolph did, too. Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley began rounding into form, and by the end of the year, the defensive backs looked good.

This year, they should be even better.

Not only is Shoop around now, along with his reputation of developing stellar safeties, but the Vols have much more talent in the secondary. Though Randolph and McNeil are gone, potential stars abound.

Rashaan Gaulden is back and playing for the injured Evan Berry at safety along with Todd Kelly Jr. Micah Abernathy is turning heads at safety, too. Martin, Moseley, true freshman Marquill Osborne and others are back there, and Sutton is going to be steady regardless.

If UT can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks up front, Shoop's addition should really help the defensive backs to be aggressive. There's so much talent that Tennessee can play matchups, and the Vols will have even more weapons at their disposal once Nigel Warrior and Tyler Byrd get on campus this summer. 

Shoop told Callahan earlier last week that he's thrilled with the options, particularly at safety:

I'm excited about Rashaan. Rashaan's had two excellent days. Todd Kelly probably has the most game experience at safety, but Rashaan, he's had two really good practices. Micah Abernathy's had two really good practices. And Stephen Griffin has had two really good practices. 

I feel like a position that may have been a perceived weakness, because you lose Randolph and McNeil, could well be a position of strength. All those guys are highly recruited players, and they're competing very well. They're very diligent in the film room. They're trying to do the right things, communicating and making plays on the field.

And then, obviously, come (preseason) camp, when you get Tyler Byrd or a Nigel Warrior here, it's going to even be more competitive. And those guys are well aware of that, and they’re competing with one another.

With all that talent back there, the Vols will almost certainly be able to field a group of athletes that will cause fits for opposing quarterbacks.


Rocky Top roundup

  • One of the battles to watch this spring is at left tackle, and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord told Callahan that Richmond and fifth-year senior Dontavius Blair are battling for that spot right now.
  • There have been several notable position moves this spring that already are paying dividends, such as Dillon Bates shifting back to outside linebacker and Austin Smith moving down to defensive end. But the biggest move that could cause the quickest waves is Jason Croom to tight end. Croom told Callahan he wants to add a different "element" to UT's offense.
  • Sophomore defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie is still big; huge even at 6'3", 344 pounds. But he has redefined his body, and he is making a much bigger splash than he did a year ago. Middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown of McKenzie: "He's a man amongst boys."


All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football Coaches Facing the Toughest Tasks This Spring

Ohio State's quest to replace an incredible 16 starters, Michigan State's journey back from its blowout playoff loss and Michigan's search for its next great quarterback highlight a busy spring for the Big Ten.

The conference was the king of the college football world following a breakout 2014 postseason, when the Buckeyes won the first-ever College Football Playoff, the Spartans beat the Baylor Bears in one of the best games of the season and the Big Ten went 5-5 overall despite being underdogs in each matchup. 

The league went 5-5 again in the 2015 postseason, highlighted by Ohio State's drubbing of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Big Ten took a hit with Michigan State's disastrous 38-0 defeat at the hands of Alabama in the playoff. 

The road back to college football's biggest stage starts this spring. From new coaches taking over to established ones trying to reload, here are five coaches facing some of the league's biggest challenges. 

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Highlights and Analysis from the Opening Dallas Regional

COPPELL, Texas — The Dallas regional for both The Opening and Elite 11 has a reputation of highlighting some of the nation's most talented players. Sunday proved to be nothing different, as more than 300 athletes showcased their skills at Coppell High School.

When the competition was over, nine athletes punched their tickets to The Opening finals, which will take place this summer in Beaverton, Oregon.

Linebackers shine, punch their tickets

Of the nine invitees, three who were consistent during the day will play college football as linebackers.

Baron Browning, Levi Draper and Anthony Hines III all left with invitations to The Opening—despite not claiming position MVP honors at the event. Mohamed Sanogo, a 3-star inside linebacker from Plano, Texas, won the MVP award.

It was Browning, Draper and Hines, however, who claimed summer invites to the nation's most prestigious high school football skills competition.

"I came out with the mindset of getting it. That's all I wanted," Browning said. "When they didn't call my name for [linebacker] MVP, I didn't trip because all I wanted was The Opening. It felt good to hear my name called, and when they called my name first, I was looking around hoping it wasn't another Baron."

Hines added: "Honestly, it's an awesome feeling. I'm really blessed to have this opportunity to compete in the first place. To get this, it's just a cherry on top."

Of the three linebackers, Draper is the only one who is currently committed. Draper, the No. 3 inside linebacker in the 2017 class, committed to Oklahoma on Dec. 5. Browning, a former Baylor commit, is the No. 2 outside linebacker, while Hines—who has 85 offers—is the No. 2 inside linebacker.


Sleeper no more: New Mexico RB makes his mark

Get to know the name O'Maury Samuels. He's expected to be a name that goes from one offer to many in a very short time.

A running back from Los Lunas, New Mexico, Samuels first made an impression Saturday by taking over the nation's top spot in the Nike+ Football Rating competition. After running the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, finishing the 20-yard shuttle in 4.14 seconds, throwing the power ball 43 feet and recording a vertical jump of 44.5 inches, Samuels scored a ratings score of 138.30, besting the previous ratings leader, 2018 running back DeMarcus Townsend, by nearly six points.

Samuels earned a spot in The Opening Dallas regional with the help of Saturday's performance. And on Sunday, he competed and impressed the event staff enough to earn his invitation to Beaverton. It's an outstanding feat for an athlete who only has one offer from New Mexico State.

"It's a blessing. Not a lot of athletes can say they'll be able to do this," said Samuels, who rushed for 1,468 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior for Los Lunas High School, according to MaxPreps.com. "This is the first major camp I've ever been to. I think I showed out."

Samuels said that while he only has one offer, he's also been in contact with Notre Dame, USC, Arizona and New Mexico, and he hopes to use his weekend performances to grow his recruitment.


DB skills training coach gets high praise

There are defensive backs—and linebackers looking to improve their coverage skills—from the states of Texas and Oklahoma who are big fans of Clay Mack. The skills training coach has built a reputation of improving athletes' overall skill set using intensity and positive reinforcement without publicly degrading an athlete.

Mack's level intensity was high Sunday, as he served as a defensive backs coach at the regional. Mack also saw two athletes he's trained, 5-star Texan Jeffrey Okudah and 4-star Oklahoman Tre Brown, earn invitations to The Opening finals.

"It's a testimony to how hard I worked this offseason, polishing my mechanics with Coach Mack," said Okudah—the nation's No. 1 safety in the 2017 class. "I've put in extra hours with him, and it's really paid off."

Mack has trained some of the best athletes to play college and pro football in recent years. Among them are Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson, LSU safety Jamal Adams and Texas safety Jason Hall.

Verone McKinley III, a 2018 cornerback with double-digit offers, gave Mack his stamp of approval, as well.

"Clay Mack's the real deal," McKinley said. "My technique and my football IQ, I think he's really helped out with those skill set. I don't care what anyone says; Clay Mack is my guy."


APB Williams shows skill, versatility

Cedar Hill (Texas) High School has a few stud 2017 athletes on its team. One of those players who made an impact Sunday is Kaegun Williams—a 3-star all-purpose back who walked away with running back MVP honors.

Chiseled at 5'9" and 190 pounds, Williams was solid in running back drills, as well as passing drills. He made a lasting impression in "Cat & Mouse," the popular, one-on-one drill pitting a running back against a linebacker.

Williams is classified as an all-purpose back because he is equally dangerous in the backfield as he is lined up as a receiver.

"I feel comfortable wherever I'm at on the field," Williams said. "I can catch and be comfortable at receiver, and I can run the ball."

Williams only has four offers thus far, but Tennessee is his most well-known offer. He also has SMU, Kansas and Tulsa offers and has been in contact with Stanford and Cal. Williams called his recruiting process "subtle and real smooth" and said he's expecting things to pick up during the spring.


Play of the day...with a kick

"Cat & Mouse" is a steady attraction at The Opening regional competitions, primarily because of the combination of intense linebacker-running back competition, the joking and trash-talking among the coaches and the punishment of 25 push-ups ultimately directed to the losing side.

Recently, the competition has been one where, if the running backs win, those in attendance will see running backs coach Jamal Robertson show his joy with a jump and a heel kick. It's been caught on video twice this circuit when the running backs win the battle in the final round.

Credit Hermitage, Arkansas, 3-star athlete Monta Thomas for Robertson's heel kick Sunday.

Robertson, who played in the NFL for San Francisco, Carolina and Atlanta and also saw time in the CFL, gave the same kick at The Opening Los Angeles regional when Jared Adelman made a winning move in favor of the running backs two weeks ago.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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10 College Football Teams in Need of Uniform Redesign

When you look good, you play good. Some college football teams don't always display the former, however, and they could use a redesign to their uniforms.

To be clear, this is not necessarily a critique of a program's entire set of uniforms. Few teams have perfectly similar home and road uniforms merely differentiated by primary color.

Each uniform included was used during the 2015 season, so a disaster like the Connecticut helmet worn with anything is not eligible—yet it found a way to get mentioned anyway.

Personal opinion undoubtedly plays a notable role, and you might not share the following views. Believe it or not, that's actually OK! Head to the comments and defend your favorite team's ugly uniform.

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College Football Teams Set for Huge Turnarounds in 2016

The great thing about college football is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Want an example? Print out a preseason Top 25 poll and place it right next to the postseason Top 25 released following the national title game. The differences are often stark.

Look at 2015’s Associated Press preseason Top 25: Auburn at No. 6. Georgia at No. 9. Meanwhile, Clemson lingered at No. 12 and Oklahoma stood at No. 19. We know how those rankings looked by season's end.

Chances are, the polls released in August will look similarly shortsighted by January 2017. Highly touted teams will falter, and lightly regarded squads will rise. Which teams are in position to make the biggest turnarounds in 2016? We took a look. These squads were determined by factors like the number of starters and key starters returning, favorable schedules and overall opportunity within their respective leagues. Disagree? Let us know.

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