Big 12: Brandon Sesay
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are 10 players who developed as names to remember during spring practice across the Big 12.
Colorado CB Jimmy Smith: Emerged as the Buffaloes' most talented one-on-one pass defender and the Buffaloes' key player in the secondary.
Iowa State QB Jerome Tiller: Lanky freshman who might still have a chance to compete for playing time with starter Austen Arnaud. Tiller didn't hurt his chances by throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns and also adding a 65-yard touchdown run in the spring game.
Kansas WR Johnathan Wilson: Took advantage of the departure of top deep threat Dezmon Briscoe to emerge as the Jayhawks' prime deep threat when he was gone. Wilson led all receivers with 133 receiving yards and could be a capable featured receiver if Briscoe or Kerry Meier is injured.
Kansas State DE Brandon Harold: After struggling after being moved inside, Harold flourished with a big spring after moving back to defensive end.
Missouri RB De'Vion Moore: As Derrick Washington recovered from offseason knee surgery, Moore played as the Tigers' No. 1 tailback during most of the spring. Not only did he show tough between-the-tackles running ability but also developed into a strong receiving threat out of the backfield.
Nebraska LB Matthew May: The converted sophomore safety earned a role at weakside linebacker in both the Cornhuskers' nickel and base defenses.
Oklahoma LB Tom Wort: Became an immediate producer for the Sooners as a true freshman. He could be ticketed to immediate play on special teams as he provided immediate depth.
Texas DT Ben Alexander: The 310-pound senior claimed the starting job next to Lamarr Houston as the Longhorns look for a playmaker in the trenches to replace Roy Miller.
Texas Tech DE Brandon Sesay: After losing 21 pounds before spring practice, a slimmer Sesay notched two sacks in the spring game to showcase a strong finish as he challenges for a starting position left open when McKinner Dixon was suspended for academic reasons. .
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Earlier this week, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach commented that the "rebuilding question" is vastly overrated for his team.
"Sure, we're going to lose [Michael] Crabtree and [Graham] Harrell, but the fact is we've done it about seven times before," Leach said.
Which is true. But the transformation will become a lot harder if Leach carries through with his plans to suspend pass-rushing threat McKinner Dixon for failing to keep up with his academic demands.
Leach is adamant about education and particularly for Dixon, who was given a second chance after flunking out of school after a sterling freshman season in 2005.
Dixon got his grades back up at Cisco Junior College and returned to Tech last season to become the same kind of transcendent defensive threat he had been before he left the first time. In the process, he notched nine sacks and 11 tackles for losses -- both leading totals for Tech returnees this season.
I've got to believe that Leach will try everything he can to get Dixon back into class and his grades up. He's that good of a defensive player and his return would keep the Red Raiders at a level that could enable them to challenge the likes of Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 South Division.
The Red Raiders' defensive front with Dixon involved is one of their biggest defensive strengths. And that position is of paramount importance considering players like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Todd Reesing and Robert Griffin on the Red Raiders' upcoming schedule.
Even after Brandon Williams declared early for the NFL draft, the return of projected starters Rajon Henley and Brandon Sharpe for Tech led to Dixon and Brandon Sesay cross-training at defensive end and defensive tackle this spring. Dixon likely would have been even more valuable for the Red Raiders by his ability to play two positions than merely one.
The Red Raiders already are solid inside with Colby Whitlock, Chris Perry and Victor Hunter at nose tackle and Richard Jones, Myles Wade and Britton Barbee at defensive tackle.
But Dixon was clearly the best pass-rushing threat they had and along with Whitlock, one of the Red Raiders' top two defenders in the trenches.
Leach told reporters Monday that he didn't see much hope in Dixon being able to come back.
That might have been his spin to try to get him back into class. But something tells me that a clearer indication of the Red Raiders' needs will be seen over their next few practices by Leach.
Even with the needs of doing everything possible to keep a standout pass-rushing threat, I'm guessing that Leach might not be willing to give Dixon much rope considering his earlier educational transgressions. And that might be a tough doghouse for Dixon to extricate himself from, after the allowances that Leach has already made for him earlier in his career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
And then there were three.
Teams, that is.
With Texas Tech starting spring practice this afternoon, only Texas A&M, Colorado and Kansas State still haven't started their spring work. And the Aggies kick off spring practice on Thursday.
With camps opening across the Midwest, it means more news.
And thankfully, more potential sources for lunchtime links from across the conference.
Here are today's offerings.
- Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill plans to alternate Ra'Jon Henley and Brandon Sesay at defensive tackle and end this spring, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal beat writer Don Williams reports.
- So much for any lingering bad feelings after he was demoted as Iowa State's defensive coordinator late last year before left the school. Charles Goldberg of the Birmingham News reports that Gene Chizik has hired former ISU assistant Wayne Bolt as Auburn's director of football operations.
- New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads avoided confusion with his team by having his players tape their names on the front of their helmets to make for easier recognition on the Cyclones' first day of spring practice, Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register reports. And Rhoads told Chuck Schoffner of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that his first day of practice was "boring."
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino will be honored Sunday when he's inducted into the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tully Corcoran reports.
- Newsday's Mike Rose has Baylor ranked No. 1 among five national programs set to rise in 2009.
- Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star details the higher expectations that Bo Pelini has for his program as he begins his second spring as head coach.
- NCAA heavyweight champion Mark Ellis plans to join Missouri's football team after spring break as a walk-on defensive end, Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star reports.
- Tulsa World beat writer Bill Haisten details how Oklahoma State will rebuild its punting game without Ray Guy Award winner Matt Fodge.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The breathless hype is already starting around Austin. Early Longhorns practices have shown that backup QB John Chiles can pump some excitement into a Texas offense that appeared stale at times last season.
Veteran Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls was salivating at the prospects of what formations with Colt McCoy and Chiles playing at the same time could bring, evoking memories of Tim Tebow's early use in the Florida offense or Arkansas' "Wild Hog" formation with Darren McFadden.
As Bohls correctly states, all of the talk about trick plays doesn't mean much if they are being used against teams like Rice and Florida Atlantic where Texas seemingly has a huge competitive advantage. These plays and formations need to be employed against Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Missouri.
Chiles threw a couple of interceptions during a Thursday workout. And he told Bohls that his 1-for-9 passing struggles last season -- similar to some of Tebow's early passing missteps as a freshman with the Gators -- weren't unexpected because of his inexperience.
"It wasn't too embarrassing," Chiles told Bohls. "I might should have redshirted, looking back. Quarterback is a tough position."
The use of two quarterbacks would be a "walk on the wild side" for Texas coach Mack Brown -- and a refreshing one at that.
Much like these Big 12 links this morning. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
- It's hard for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops not to get excited this summer. He told the Oklahoman's Berry Tramel that he's seeing flashes in DeMarco Murray that makes him think he could develop into his most talented tailback ever. Didn't he coach that guy named Peterson once upon a time?
- Texas Tech DE McKinner Dixon will likely be ineligible for the upcoming season, Tech coach Mike Leach told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. But heralded junior-college transfer DE Brandon Sesay appears to have made his grades and will be able to play.
- Returning Colorado players are noticeably bigger and stronger than previous seasons, the Boulder Daily Camera's Neill Woelk says. One of the most striking transformations was QB Cody Hawkins, who showed up with noticeably bigger biceps and about five pounds heavier, the Denver Post's Tom Kensler says.
- It will take three or four players to replace the contributions of leading Colorado tackler Jordon Dizon, Buffaloes linebackers coach Brian Cabral told B.G. Brooks of the Rocky Mountain News.
- Iowa State returns all four starters in the secondary this season. Despite that experience, the group is bracing for heat as every Big 12 team it will face returns its starting quarterback.
- NFL Hall of Famer Mike McCormack will be the next former Kansas player to be included in the school's Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium. School officials better save room up there for Todd Reesing one of these days.
- Missouri wide receivers coach Andy Hill has a quaint way of describing how he teaches young players to "drink from the fire hose" in their early preparation. The Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter says that Tigers are learning to open wide, because here comes a big mouthful of football preparations.
- Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon isn't worried about a Sports Illustrated cover jinx after he, QB Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Maclin will be pictured on one of the regional covers highlighting the upcoming season. "Nobody else from my hometown (Jasper, Texas) can say they've ever been on the cover of Sports Illustrated," Weatherspoon told Matter. "Even though it's just a regional cover ... it's a great accomplishment. It just shows what type of things are going on at Mizzou."
- Forget about all the talk about the competition between Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu Jr. Slimmer TB Quentin Castille also is in the mix for playing time at Nebraska, Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal-Star writes.
- Bo Pelini likes his team's progress after its first four days of practice this summer. But then again, I've never heard a coach speak otherwise at this time of year.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is toying with the idea of giving backup QBs Alex Cate and Brandon Weedon most of the snaps at Saturday's scrimmage. If Gundy is as concerned about finding a backup for Zac Robinson as he has continually maintained, it's a great idea.
- Birthday candles for esteemed Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel, who writes of turning 50 today. I have a lot of admiration for Shatel in more ways than one. He's got me beat in this late dad thing. He's got three little ones and I only have one.
- Sooner practices are closed, but OU coach Bob Stoops told fans at the Sooner Caravan Thursday night that competition has been spirited at his team's early practices. "You can't believe the battles we've had at practice," Stoops said. "That's really fun for me as a coach." But with no chance to watch his team scrimmage, we'll all have to wait until the Aug. 30 opener against Chattanooga. The scrimmages sound more competitive to me.
- The San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman's "Aggie Insider" highlights Hunter Goodwin, a former Texas A&M lineman who helped roust his school's lethargic performances in other sports with some colorful comments a few years back. Zwerneman also had a couple of other A&M camp nuggets about A&M TB Mike Goodson's slight groin injury and DT Kellen Heard's dramatic weight loss over the offseason.
- The Austin American-Statesman reports that LB Sergio Kimble and DE Brian Orakpo were reversing roles at Thursday's practice. Kimble was experimenting with rush from a three-point stance and Orakpo was being used as a stand-up defender.
- Rocky Balboa in shoulder pads? The Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel has a great story about Oklahoma junior college transfer LB Mike Balogun, who didn't play hig
h school football his last two seasons and became a construction worker after high school to support his family. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Balogun could be in the mix to challenge for a starting job.
- Stoops told the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler that he has dropped out of voting in the USA Today coaches' poll this season. "I have my reasons," Stoops told Sittler. But he was guarded about his rationale as much as his scrimmage plans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Good morning from the Cornhusker State. New coach Bo Pelini conducts his first news conference later Monday morning before fall practice begins this afternoon. It's a momentous time. Media outlets from across the state are tripping over themselves to try to outdo the next. There will be streaming media shows from a number of sources as Pelini breaks down his thoughts heading into his first fall camp.
I'll be there too, which makes me feel like I'll be witnessing history. Hard to believe the Cornhuskers finished 5-7 last season with their worst defensive team in history.
Most of the Nebraska citizenry think that Pelini will fix that. I'll be interested to hear his thoughts about his task at hand.
Pelini-mania dominates the news as a couple of other teams across the conference have started practice this weekend. Here's a breakdown of some of what people are talking about.
- Pelini's resuscitation plans for Nebraska's defense. along with a sidebar about his reaching back to the roots of the Cornhuskers' walk-on program, are detailed in a big spread written by Steve Wieberg in USA Today. It doesn't get much bigger than that, does it?
- Baylor coach Art Briles is weighing his options as he decides on a starting quarterback. "It might be decided as we jog out on the field for pregame," Briles told Chad Conine of the Waco Tribune-Herald. "Seriously, I wish I was kidding."
- Missouri QB Chase Daniel has a clear goal this season. "I want to play in Florida," Daniel told the Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond. And he's not talking about the Gator Bowl, either. The BCS title game will be staged in Miami.
- The Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter ratchets up the pressure on Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and the Tigers. He picks them to finish second nationally and play for the national championship against USC. Matter also predicts Oklahoma to face its third-straight BCS buster as the Sooners will draw BYU in the Fiesta Bowl in his preseason predictions.
- Sure, Missouri's offense will score a lot of points. But with 10 starters back from a team that led the Big 12 in total defense in conference play last year, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the Tigers' defense will determine how far the team goes this season. And he's right.
- Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star said that Pelini isn't intimidated by facing all of the Big 12's potent spread offenses. "We try to have an offensive mentality on defense," Pelini told Sipple. "We want to dictate to the offense as much as it's trying to dictate to us." Easier said in August than when facing Bradford, Daniel, Harrell, etc., later this season.
- The Oklahoman's John Rohde almost was turning cartwheels after Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops purged his roster of WR Josh Jarboe.
- Oklahoma State has been successful starting seasons against Pac-10 teams on the road. The Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel said that the Cowboys set the tone for bowl seasons with double-digit victories at Arizona State (1984), Washington (1985) and UCLA (2004). The Cowboys travel to Seattle to face Washington State on Aug. 30.
- Although Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford somehow didn't attend last month's Big 12 media days, the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger did a nice job of gauging his importance for the Sooners' hopes of claiming their third-straight Big 12 title.
- Texas A&M reported for practice Sunday without two freshmen who signed in February. TE Blake Chavis and DB/WR Derrick Hall didn't meet NCAA eligibility requirements. And several Texas newspapers reported that DE Mike Bennett, who missed the Alamo Bowl last season because of academics, will be eligible for his senior season this year.
- The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal breaks down Texas Tech's roster with a depth chart as the Red Raiders' practices begin Monday. Notable points of interest include Rylan Reed back starting at LT, Stephen Hamby ahead of incumbent Shawn Byrnes at C and Aaron Crawford, Baron Batch and Shannon Woods listed as co-starters at RB. On defense, heralded transfers Brandon Sesay and McKinner Dixon both are listed as third-string at DE.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel says improvements at "The Boone Bowl" will take your breath away. That's a big step forward from the old days when I thought Lewis Field was the worst stadium in the Big 12.
- Hawaii-born LB B.J. Beatty is continuing Colorado's rich tradition of recruiting in the islands. And he's a pretty good football player, too. There's also a great picture of Beatty's flowing red hair on the Boulder Camera's Web site.
- Iowa State coach Gene Chizik is looking for more production from a puny offense that scored a conference-worst 18.2 points per game last season. It may start with reinvigorating a running game that ranked 95th nationally -- a big decline from the Cyclones' salad days under former coach Dan McCarney.
- Forget about losing CB Aqib Talib to the NFL. The Oklahoman's John Helsey says that Kansas' biggest loss from last season will be the departure of wizened coordinator Bill Young to Miami. His protégé, Clint Bowen, tries to fill his shoes. Young was an underrated element of the Jayhawks' 12-1 record and Bowen will be sorely pressed to match that production -- particularly against a much-tougher schedule.
- Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman said Oklahoma is searching south of the Red River for more players than in recent teams coached by Bob Stoops. Oklahoma is slated to start eight Texans this season, compared to six Oklahoma products. Looks like Stoops has been studying the blueprint that Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer employed to turn the Oklahoma program into a monolith -- lots of great players from Texas.
- Suzanne Haliburton of the Austin American-Statesman lists a lengthy to-do list
for Texas coach Mack Brown during fall practice. The Longhorns started practice this morning almost as early as a typical ESPN.com conference blogger this morning -- beginning at 6 a.m.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas Tech is a fashionable choice to emerge as a potential BCS buster as the Red Raiders contend for their first Big 12 championship.
With most of the Red Raiders' offensive weapons back from last season, points shouldn't be a problem. Their hopes to contend will depend on the growth of a defense that struggled in previous seasons.
Tech coach Mike Leach addressed his team's defensive struggles after an early 49-45 loss to Oklahoma State when he fired veteran defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich and replaced him with Ruffin McNeill on an interim basis. The Red Raiders responded to the change by ranking third in the conference in pass defense and leading the conference in pass defense in Big 12 games last season.
After the season, Leach hired McNeill on a full-time basis after the Red Raiders' victory over Virginia in the Gator Bowl. He's begun working with his new philosophy with 10 returning defensive starters and a boatload of impressive junior-college transfers.
Most observers expect the play of McNeill's defense will ultimately determine whether the Red Raiders measure up to their early hype. We caught up with him for a few minutes after he got back from a recent vacation to talk about his plans for his unit.
Your defense showed some great improvement over the last have of the season. What are you expecting from them after a full spring and fall training camp to work with them?
RM: The thing we wanted to do in the spring was to prepare to get us ready for the first two weeks of fall practice. It will still revolve on us playing with sound fundamentals. We're going to be making sure we keep improving on that aspect. And we're also going to keep trying to install some new things. The kids did a good job last season of grasping the things we wanted them to. We kept adding some things. The biggest thing for us will be to keep the kids geared in and focused.
How did the spring go as far in building on what you learned last season?
RM: The kids are comfortable in what we're asking them to do. The spring gave us a chance to slow down and put the concepts in that we wanted. I'm excited after seeing how comfortable they looked in the spring. They had some big eyes and ears and wanted to learn what we wanted them to learn and what we were tossing them. I'm looking forward to continuing it.
Your defense seemed to peak late last season with the season-ending victories over Oklahoma and Virginia in the bowl game. Did that success give you a natural progression to keep building into the spring and the fall?
RM: I think the way we finished really sparked our confidence and it really showed in the offseason. When I took over [as interim coordinator] we wanted to install confidence where they would believe in themselves. I wanted them believe in what we do. There will always be ups and downs, especially in the Big 12. But I was very pleased that we never lost our confidence. We fought through adversity and I was really pleased with that. We've got lots of guys back and after what we accomplished gives us something to build on for this season.
Texas Tech is getting some unprecedented national attention this summer coming into the season. Most prognosticators believe the team's biggest question mark will be the defense. Do you like the feeling of being in the crosshairs as your team tries to capture its first Big 12 title?
RM: I've heard that pretty often (laughing) and we've told the kids about. But there are a couple of things to consider. One is that you hope after you've been here for awhile that there should be some expectations put on us. Secondly, we're not close to being what we could be with our program. We have high expectations we place on ourselves and it works within our program. The crosshairs are not intimidating. I appreciate them. It tells us we have a chance to do some special things if we believe and can focus on the task at hand.
Tell us about the growth of your defensive line, which could potentially be your deepest group you've had since you've been at Tech.
RM: All of our development always starts from the inside [at defensive tackle] and we have a good group there with Colby Whitlock, Rajon Henley, Richard Jones and Chris Perry, who's a transfer from Miami. At the ends, we've got Jake Ratliff back, Brandon Williams. Daniel Howard did a good job. McKinner Dixon came back to us and had a good spring. The depth will help us. I'm very pleased with their progress. It's a young group, but they've really developed. I'm looking forward to seeing how far they've come.
What about the work of Dixon, who was a standout as a freshman in 2005, before he became academically ineligible and had to go back to junior college before he came back?
RM: I can tell a difference in him since he's come back. He's always been a good kid, but coming out with as much publicity as he had [from high school] made for some early challenges. Now, he's making sure everything is settled in his life. Junior college helped him reprioritize his life. It kind of humbled him a little. Not that he was cocky, but he's got things in order now. And he can be a big help for us. He did a good job of bonding with his teammates after he came back. And he did a great job of picking up where he left off on the football field.
And how about Brandon Sesay, who was highly regarded at College of the Sequoias. Will he be a part of your team this year?
RM: He's ready to go. He's in a class this summer and should be ready to go at the end of the semester.
You've been a defensive coordinator twice before with stints at Appalachian State and UNLV. How did those opportunities change how you will get ready for your opportunity at Tech?
RM: I'm very fortunate to have my staff intact. Most of us have been together for four, five or six years and that's really comforting. Knowing we've had a chance to watch film and study together over the years gives us a better comfort level. And these kids know what to expect as a group. Having the staff together, having that continuity and then going through the spring will help us.
Are you approaching this opportunity this season any differently than before? Are you more excited because of all of the high expectations on the program?
RM: The one thing I learned early is to always be myself. I feel comfortable in my situation after being a coordinator two previous times before. I'm really looking forward to it. There's a different excitement that I've got now than I've had in a long time. I'm looking forward to the opportunity.