Dallas Colleges: Jeff Scott

Ranking the SEC kick returners

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
10:00
AM CT
Projecting a top 10 among kick returners from the SEC is difficult at this point, as many of those jobs will be up for grabs once preseason practice opens in August.

For instance, who will replace All-American Odell Beckham at LSU? It’s too early to know for sure, but you can bet he will probably be good enough to include on this list once the season gets rolling.

We do, however, know the identities of some of the SEC’s top return men -- starting with the ridiculously talented Christion Jones, Andre Debose and Marcus Murphy. We’ll take an educated guess at some of the other spots in today’s SEC kick return rankings.

[+] EnlargeChristion Jones
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsElectric return man Christion Jones can be a game-changer for the Crimson Tide.
1. Christion Jones, Alabama: How good is Jones? The SEC’s career leader in kickoff return touchdowns (Debose) is on this list and we’re ranking Jones ahead of him. It’s just plain scary to kick the ball in Jones’ direction as his ranking second in the SEC in both kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14.0 ypr), plus his three return touchdowns last season, would indicate.

2. Andre Debose, Florida: Debose would have been a candidate for the top spot, but we’re not sure what kind of player he will be when he returns from a torn ACL suffered during preseason camp last season. If his speed and mobility come back, we’re talking about one of the most electric kick returners in SEC history.

3. Marcus Murphy, Missouri: A 2012 All-SEC pick who is capable of garnering All-America attention, particularly because of his skills as a punt returner, Murphy is one of the key returnees for a Tigers club that lost a lot of firepower. He scored 10 touchdowns on offense last season, but didn’t notch a TD on special teams a season after he found the end zone four times on returns. Murphy will compete for the starting tailback job, but thus far his biggest impact at Mizzou has come while serving as an excellent return man.

4. Devrin Young, Tennessee: A breakout candidate for the Vols before a broken hand cost him nearly half of the 2013 season, Young could be a huge difference maker for Tennessee this fall. He’s already fifth in Tennessee history with 1,575 career total kick and punt return yards. If he stays healthy, Young will move up that list in the fall.

5. Trey Williams, Texas A&M: His primary objective is probably to claim the starting running back job, but Williams is also scary as a return specialist. The shifty and lightning-quick junior ranked fifth in the SEC with an average of 25.2 ypr on kickoffs last season, a season after earning SEC All-Freshman team honors as a return man.

6. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: It looks like both the kick and punt return jobs belong to Cooper after he handled those duties much of the time in 2013. He was a solid kickoff return man (22.4 ypr) and averaged 4.4 yards on nine punt returns. Cooper looks like a Bruce Ellington clone, possessing the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways -- particularly as a return specialist.

[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMICorey Grant could have a big season for the Tigers.
7. Corey Grant, Auburn: Grant hasn’t won this job yet, but he seems like a good choice to take over for Tre Mason. He averaged 10.0 yards per carry out of the backfield and 32.0 ypr in just five kickoff returns -- one of which went 90 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee. He has breakaway speed that Auburn’s coaches have to like in this role.

8. Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss: Another guy competing for a 2014 starting running back job, the diminutive Walton was impressive as a return man last season. In addition to his 523 rushing yards as a backfield mate for Jeff Scott and I’Tavius Mathers, he contributed 25 kickoff returns for 515 yards, good for a team-best average of 20.6 ypr.

9. De’Vante Harris, Texas A&M: A solid if unspectacular performer, Harris ranked sixth in the SEC with an average of 6.7 yards per punt return a season ago. He broke the Aggies’ season-long punt return in a win over SMU, snapping off a 30-yard runback.

10. Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State: Let’s make a speculative pick here. Holloway has nowhere near as much experience as Jameon Lewis as a return man, but he made some noise in limited action last season. As a full-time returner, he could become a star – although his hopes of becoming the Bulldogs’ running back might interfere. Holloway averaged 37.7 ypr on three kickoff returns, thanks in large part to a 95-yard runback against Alcorn State, and also had a 23-yard punt return in the Egg Bowl and a 13-yard return in the bowl win over Rice.

SEC position rankings: Special teams

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:00
AM CT
Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).

Ole Miss looking for energy against Aggies

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
3:00
PM CT

OXFORD, Miss. -- You'll have to forgive Hugh Freeze if he strayed from healthy eating this week. It's been a long couple of weeks for Ole Miss' head coach.

That explains the scene of him standing outside his office Wednesday morning, clutching a plate with a half-eaten slice of pepperoni pizza in his left hand and a Coke Zero in his right. He then juggles nibbling and sipping as he makes it to his desk, where a plate of spaghetti is waiting for him, completing an unorthodox late breakfast.

"It's never too early around here," he says with a laugh.

Freeze needs all the energy he can get. He has seen recent road trips end at three and four in the morning and has stressed over an unsettling off-field incident that has thrust the entire football program into an embarrassing light.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesHugh Freeze has had a full plate of late, and it doesn't get easier with Texas A&M coming to town.
The last five days have provided Freeze with a temporary escape from the last two weeks, but Saturday brings a new challenge when Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M offense visit the Grove.

For the first time in more than a month, the Rebels will play at home, ending three weeks of travel that has physically and mentally drained players and coaches. Now, they have to be energized for Johnny Football and an offense registering 586.4 yards and 49.2 points per game.

It doesn't help that Manziel has become that much more dangerous with improved passing skills (297.8 yards per game and 14 touchdowns). He's sitting in the pocket longer, looking for second options and reading defenses before running.

"He's just one of those players that you're not going to stop," safety Cody Prewitt said. "He makes plays consistently, no matter the situation. The best we're going to do is try to contain him.

"He's going to find a way to make a play, no matter what."

The Rebels' defense has played well to this point, giving up just 361.4 yards per game, and A&M's defense is currently the worst in the SEC, but can Ole Miss keep pace with the Aggies?

"I don't know if you can," Freeze said with a laugh. "Where we are right now with our program, I'm not sure. We're going to certainly give it our best effort.

"It's about as difficult as it gets."

Defensively, it's all about trying to contain Manziel. Easier said than done, but that's where discipline comes into play. Defensive backs have to stick to their receivers, and the front seven can't over pursue. Then, you just hope.

On offense, Freeze wants to reestablish the run. During the first three wins, Ole Miss averaged 250 rushing yards and had 10 touchdowns on the ground. In the Rebels' two losses to Alabama and Auburn, they've averaged 85, gaining just 46 their shutout loss to Alabama.

Freeze said his team was spoiled by early defensive schemes. During the first three games, teams usually played with a two-high shell over receiver Donte Moncrief's side to take away the deep ball, leaving the middle of the field open for the Rebels to run.

Alabama took its chances inside with the two-high and out-muscled Ole Miss' offense, while Auburn played the run game straight up, stacking the box. In the last two games, Jeff Scott was held to 94 total rushing yards.

Against the Aggies, who are giving up an SEC-high 214.8 rushing yards a game, Freeze wants his running game to chew some clock to keep the ball away from Manziel.

"We go fast, but going fast and throwing it is not going smart fast against this team," Freeze said. "But we're gonna have to throw it some too. We're not built to just line up and pound it like Alabama and Arkansas did."

The back-to-back losses have some Ole Miss believers inching closer to the ledge, but Freeze says he's fine. His 3-2 record is the least of his worries. He understands that fans will point to the scoreboard, but with just one full recruiting class on campus in his second season, Freeze says this program is far from clinging to results each week.

"Man, I don't think you're ever going to be able to build a consistent program if you're going to be up and down with what people define as your expectations," he said. "That stuff does not bother me at all. Does it bother me to lose? Of course it does. It bothers me to look at plays that we screwed up that could have had an impact on the game; you better believe it does.

"After you've had four recruiting classes, then the results do matter to you. It's way too early for us to start and try to define somebody by one or two games, or even four games, or even the whole season."

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 27

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
11:25
PM CT
Despite turning the ball over six times, Texas A&M escaped Oxford, Miss., with a thrilling 30-27 win over Mississippi on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Let's break it down:

It was over when: Texas A&M junior defensive back Toney Hurd stepped in front of a Bo Wallace pass and intercepted it with 1:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. On a night when the Aggies turned it over so many times, it was Hurd who snagged an Ole Miss turnover to seal the deal and allow the Aggies to secure the victory.

Game ball goes to: The Aggies' front seven. Despite being put in some tough positions, the Aggies defense made some big plays and key stops. One was a 37-yard interception return by linebacker Steven Jenkins, as Sean Porter forced Bo Wallace to rush the throw, that tied the ballgame 17-17 in the second quarter. Porter came up with a huge stop in the fourth quarter to keep Jeff Scott from getting a first down on third-and-2 and Jonathan Stewart came up with perhaps the biggest stop of the night, halting Scott on fourth-and-inches at the Ole Miss 39 with 3:02 remaining. That gave Texas A&M possession for its game-winning scoring drive. Damontre Moore was once again in the backfield, registering his seventh sack of the year and defensive tackle Spencer Nealy was a constant force.

Game ball, Part 2: The Aggies' offensive line. They paved the way for Ben Malena to post a season-high 142 rushing yards and they gave redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel all kinds of time in the pocket. The unit has been solid in pass protection all season long and Saturday was no exception. It was probably their best effort in the running game.

Rising star: Hurd. He's been coming on as of late and he came up with the huge play at a critical time, intercepting Wallace on the Rebels' final drive. Without the turnover, the Rebels were at least in game-tying field goal range. Hurd had six tackles in addition to the pick.

What it means: The fact that the Aggies could have so many things go wrong -- six turnovers, Manziel looking like a freshman, missed tackles on defense -- and still come up with a road win in the Southeastern Conference says a lot. Texas A&M is now 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference and it's becoming more and more clear by the week that they're going to be a factor in the SEC West.

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