Well, Jamal Turner is not new; the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior caught 60 passes over the past three seasons. And he has played quarterback -- in high school.
Coach Bo Pelini said Nebraska plans “significant reps” for Turner in March and April.
Turner has tried the position in the past at Nebraska, Pelini said, but never in such an expanded role.
“This spring is a time for us to experiment and maybe take it to a different level," Pelini said. "He likes it. He thinks he’s [NFL quarterback] Russell Wilson. Jamal isn’t lacking for confidence.
“I thought he handled some things pretty well. He was further ahead than I thought he’d be. But when you play wideout, you kind of get how the offense runs.”
Turner also spent time at receiver on Saturday. He accounted for more than 10,000 yards in his high school career at Arlington (Texas) Sam Houston.
Armstrong performed well on Saturday with the top offensive unit. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton also worked at the position in addition to walk-ons Ryker Fyfe and Tyson Broekemeier. Freshman Zack Darlington, who joined the team in January, wore a green jersey to restrict contact in his first workout.
Senior I-back Ameer Abdullah said he liked the element that Turner adds.
“We’re just trying every new wrinkle we can to make this offense more dynamic,” Abdullah said.
Pelini said he was pleased with the opening day.
“I liked the tempo, the enthusiasm,” the seventh-year coach said. “Obviously, different guys are at different levels right now, as far as their knowledge, but I thought it was a good start.”
The Huskers have installed changes this spring to terminology and other logistics in an attempt to simplify aspects of the offense.
Pelini said he expected more mistakes than occurred.
“I was surprised how smooth it went,” he said. “There were very few missed assignments and alignment errors.”
Secondary matters: Senior safety Corey Cooper, Nebraska’s top tackler in 2013, sat out on Saturday with turf toe, Pelini said. Cooper suffered the injury last week in a conditioning drill.
“I’m not going to push Coop at this time of year,” Pelini said. “We want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”
Sophomores LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry, a converted linebacker, played safety with the top defense in Cooper’s absence.
Pelini said the Huskers used juniors Charles Jackson and Byerson Cockrell, a newcomer out of junior college, at nickel, the spot manned last season by versatile defender Ciante Evans. Junior Jonathan Rose performed well at cornerback opposite returning starter Josh Mitchell.
Getting bigger: All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory has made important strides in recent weeks, Pelini said, as the junior attempts to add weight.
The 6-6 Gregory, who recorded 10 ½ sacks last season, looked especially thin in January. But Gregory is back up to about 235 pounds, the coach said.
“His offseason has only begun,” Pelini said. “He’s got a long way to go before we play a game.
“Every day is important for Randy to get bigger.”
Time to reflect: Senior receiver Kenny Bell caught 52 passes for 577 yards last season and remains on track to shatter school records in both categories.
He’s not resting on his accomplishments, though.
“I was disappointed in my year last year, for selfish reasons," Bell said. "I wanted to perform better.”
Bell’s production dropped from his sophomore season, when he caught 50 passes for 863 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns.
“I had a lot of time to self-reflect and think about it over these past three months,” he said.
Spring football is often unenjoyable, Bell said, but he’s determined to improve.
“I’m here to work, definitely. I want to win football games with my team. I want to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, and that’s win a conference championship."
For now, anyway.
To most of the coaches who want to play fast and want to play without huddling and want to keep the defense from substituting, Alabama’s Nick Saban is the face of the movement to slow things down.
Saban is on record as saying he doesn’t believe football was meant to be a continuous game. He’s also on record as saying he believes more plays and longer games are a detriment to player safety.
His logic (cue his now famed cigarette quote): The more exposures a player has in a game when everything is live, the more susceptible that player is to being injured.
Even though the proposed 10-second rule was tabled by the NCAA football rules committee and never went to a vote this week, it’s a debate that’s not going away.
I think most would agree that the prudent thing was to wait and not push this thing through when there are still so many questions unanswered.
Rogers Redding, college football’s national officiating coordinator, probably said it best.
“Tabling it allows for a broader discussion and time to engage the medical folks more,” Redding said.
Meanwhile, Saban will remain the lightning rod in this debate, and as he told me recently, he can handle it. If you haven’t noticed, Saban doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think or say about him.
And for that matter, he never has been shy when it comes to speaking his mind. He was the only coach in the SEC to endorse the idea of going to nine conference games. He was also outspoken in his opposition to taking head coaches off the road during the spring evaluation period.
Heck, he once compared unscrupulous agents to pimps while speaking at the SEC media days a few years back.
He understands that coaches, media and fans will question his true intentions when it comes to slowing down the game, and it’s a fact that Saban is not a fan of these “fastball” offenses. That’s his word, by the way.
But anybody who thinks Saban won’t adjust, or is sweating to the point that all of his championship rings won't stay on his fingers because more teams are incorporating fast-paced attacks, doesn’t know him very well. Or at the very least, they haven't followed his career very closely.
It’s true the last three teams Alabama has lost to ran some version of a hurry-up offense -- Auburn and Oklahoma last season and Texas A&M in 2012.
It’s also true Saban has won three of the last five national championships with the rules exactly as they are now. The 40-second play clock was adopted by college football in 2008, and Redding said recently that there was a feeling at the time that the advantage had swung somewhat to the offenses.
“To some extent, we knew we were handing the pace of play over to the offense, although I don’t think anybody anticipated that we’d see what we’re seeing today,” Redding said.
The reality is that very few teams snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock. The bigger issue is that defenses don’t have a window to substitute unless the offense substitutes.
The offensive coaches see that as strategy, which makes perfect sense if the pace of play is going to be dictated by the offenses and not the officials.
What might come out of all this is a legitimate discussion going into 2015 about no longer stopping the clock after a made first down, which is what happens in the NFL.
It should make for another interesting debate.
What’s not up for debate is that Saban and Alabama aren’t going away.
The defenses best equipped to deal with these hurry-up offenses are the ones with the best players, the best athletes -- and probably most importantly -- the best depth.
That sounds a lot like Alabama’s defense.
The Crimson Tide recruits and develops players as well as anybody. They have second-team guys who would be starting just about anywhere else.
Moreover, you can bet that finding more hybrid guys and more quick-twitch pass-rushers has been a priority in these last two signing classes at Alabama. Rashaan Evans comes to mind in this most recent class.
With offenses going so fast and not huddling, those defenders who can move around and play different roles (when you can’t substitute) will be a commodity. The same goes for having a second-team defensive lineman who’s just a shade behind the first-team guy and can come into the game in the second half with fresh legs.
So regardless of what Saban’s agenda is or isn’t, saying he’s trying to create a competitive advantage for his defense through a rules change is a stretch.
The competitive advantage he has created goes back to the way he has recruited and developed players.
And let’s not forget that Alabama still finished fourth in the country last season in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. That’s after finishing first nationally in both categories in 2011 and 2012.
Seeing Texas A&M roll up 628 yards and 42 points on Alabama (despite the Tide winning) was eye-opening last season, especially after the Aggies and Johnny Manziel won in Tuscaloosa the year before. The same goes for Auburn’s 34-28 win over Alabama last season. The Aggies and Tigers both run “fastball” offenses.
But Alabama also outgained Auburn by more than 100 yards last season, missed two field goals, had another one blocked and missed another 57-yard field goal at the end of the game that Auburn turned into one of the most improbable plays we’ve seen in college football in decades.
What’s it all mean?
The game is changing, no doubt, and will continue to change. Similarly, the SEC has a way of bringing even the best teams and best coaches back to the pack.
The best coaches, though, adapt. They evolve and they find answers.
Just a hunch, but here’s guessing the fast lane won’t be too fast for Saban regardless of what rule changes we see … or don’t see.
Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:
Spring practice over
What we learned:
- Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
- Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
- Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Spring start: March 24
Spring game: April 18
What to watch:
- Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
- Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
- Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Spring start: Started March 1
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
- Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
- Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
Spring start: Started March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
- Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
- Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Spring start: March 16
Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13
What to watch:
- The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
- Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
- Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Spring start: Started March 1
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
- Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
- Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Spring start: March 27
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
- Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
- Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.
2. It’s ironic that Alston is suing the five big conferences, which have the funds and the will to pay scholarships that would cover the full cost of attendance. They have been held back by Division I members who don’t have that kind of money and fear the competitive imbalance that would result. But considering that Ohio Stadium seats more than 100,000 and Ohio U.’s Peden Stadium seats 24,000, the competitive-imbalance ship sailed a long time ago.
3. The inclusion of 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam of Colorado on the new College Football Hall of Fame ballot reminds us of one aspect of what the Hall represents. The Buffaloes’ run of dominance lasted from the late 1980s through the 1990s. The Hall has elected linebacker Alfred Williams (2010) and head coach Bill McCartney (2013). Salaam and running back Eric Bieniemy are eligible. Lined up behind them are cornerback Deon Figures, center Jay Leeuwenburg, linebacker Matt Russell, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, and others. A once-dominant program gets to re-live its success. That’s nice.
Pinkel, who led the Tigers to the SEC championship game last season, has agreed to an amended contract that will pay him $3.1 annually. His deal runs through the 2020 season.
One of the most important facets about Pinkel's new agreement and something he'd voiced concern about previously is that he's getting more money for his assistants. Their salary pool is growing from $2.66 million to $3.2 million. Pinkel previously made $2.8 million per year.
From a financial standpoint, the SEC' is clearly the place to be if you're a head football coach.
With Pinkel getting his bump, 11 of the 14 coaches in the SEC are making right at $3 million or more per year.
Here's the most up-to-date rundown:
- Nick Saban, Alabama: $5.62 million*
- Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: $5 million
- Les Miles, LSU: $4.3 million
- Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: $4 million
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn: $3.85 million#
- Bret Bielema, Arkansas: $3.2 million
- Mark Richt, Georgia: $3.2 million
- Gary Pinkel, Missouri: $3.1 million
- Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: $3 million
- Butch Jones, Tennessee: $3 million
- Will Muschamp, Florida: $3 million
- Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: $2.65 million
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky: $2.2 million
- Derek Mason, Vanderbilt%
* Saban agreed to a new deal in December that will pay him a reported $7 million per year. The university has not released the financial terms.
# Malzahn will earn $3.85 million this first year of his new six-year deal, and his salary will increase by $250,000 each year of the deal afterward. He's scheduled to earn $5.1 million in the final year of the contract.
% Vanderbilt, as a private institution, does not release salary figures.
Immediately following his first career interception in Florida’s 2013 opener against Toledo, the no-longer-wide-eyed-freshman jumped up and sprinted toward the sideline, weaving his way around teammates who congratulated him.
Hargreaves III had no time for celebration, as he had some beef to settle with defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
It’s rare that a freshman has the gall to approach his position coach like that, but Hargreaves III had incentive after Robinson, known for being quite the trash-talker, challenged him earlier in the week.
Sidelined for eight preseason practices with a shoulder injury, Hargreaves III was first provoked by Robinson in the training room eight days before the opener. Robinson asked if he was going to get beat against the Rockets, or worse, quit.
“No, I’m gonna get a pick,” he told Robinson.
Eight days later, Hargreaves III ended his first mission as a Gator but began a journey that earned him both All-American and all-SEC honors.
Thanks to his father Vernon Hargreaves II's assistant coaching stints at Miami, Florida International, East Carolina and South Florida, Hargreaves III called Miami, Greenville, N.C., and Tampa home.
It exposed Hargreaves III to different places and people, but his love for sports flourished during his nine years in Miami, starting at age three.
“More often than not, they were outside riding their bikes and out running and doing stuff outside, which is kind of old school these days,” Hargreaves II told ESPN.com.
That evoked Hargreaves’ competitive side, as he immersed himself in football, basketball, baseball, soccer and even swimming.
When Hargreaves II got the job to coach USF’s special teams and defensive ends, the family moved from North Carolina to Tampa heading into Hargreaves III’s sophomore year of high school. That’s when Hargreaves III decided to focus solely on football.
His father took him to the Team Tampa 7-on-7 practices, where he had his son line up at cornerback against one of the best high school athletes around -- current USC receiver Nelson Agholor. Hargreaves II said his son held his own for the most part, and he could see his natural fit was at cornerback. He advised his son to stay there, but he never pushed him or trained him outside of anything Hargreaves III didn’t want.
When Hargreaves III garnered five-star status, earned a trip to the Under Armour All-America Game and was offered a scholarship to Florida, it came from his own desire and work ethic.
“He took it upon himself to get as good as he can,” Hargreaves II said.
“I hate to say it, but a lot of that stuff just comes naturally. I don’t know how to explain it, really.”
One interception wasn’t enough for Hargreaves III so he snatched another one in his second game and a third in his fourth.
Hargreaves III seemed almost too comfortable on the field in the country’s toughest conference. He said fall camp was tough … for a week. Hargreaves III wasn’t used to being yelled at or getting beat so he sought guidance from veteran corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. After some tough love and reflection, Hargreaves III said he started to ease in, even with the coaches moving him around from outside corner to nickel.
Coach Will Muschamp said he could tell that Hargreaves III was special with “off the charts” high school film, but he knew he needed to get him on the field early after that first week of preseason practice.
He was collecting interceptions and constantly picking things up. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the workload, understood all the new verbiage and was extremely coachable, Muschamp said.
“Vernon’s got the talent of hard work. He works,” Muschamp said. “When he goes out on the offseason program, he competes, and he works. He’s extremely intelligent; football comes very easy to him.
“Hard work is a talent, and a lot of very talented guys don’t have that.”
To Hargreaves III, it’s more than just work ethic. It’s a desire to never sit.
“I guess I don’t like not playing,” said Hargreaves III, who started 10 games in 2013 and was third in the SEC with 14 defended passes. “That’s what pulls me over. I don’t like not being able to do anything.”
Now, he’ll be asked to do even more. In a depleted secondary, Hargreaves III is the top returning member. He’s a youngster by grade, but not by his level of play. He understands that he has to do more than just elevate his game.
“I’m ready to take that on,” he said. “I don’t really feel the pressure, but I know that my coaches and the players look up to me to be able to make plays and teach other guys. That’s what I want to do. I want that to be on me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Hargreaves III will now be hunted in a league and society comprised of wolves. He’ll be scrutinized at every turn, as the spotlight shifts his way.
Neither Muschamp nor Hargreaves II are worried. They know their quiet secondary assassin is capable of ignoring the noise. But they also know that he has to build on 2013 and evolve as he looks to take his next steps.
“If you go backward, they’re going to wear you out,” Hargreaves II said. “You have to go full blast and be even better than you were. This may sound crazy, but that’s the reality. It’s gotta happen.”
Spring start: March 12
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
- Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
- Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
- Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
- Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Spring start: March 19
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
- The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
- Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 11
What to watch:
- Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
- Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
- New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
- The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
- Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
- The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
- Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Spring start: March 25
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
- Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
- The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- They entered in packs, tentatively exploring the upscale bar just a block from Doak Campbell Stadium in search of a Florida State legend.
There were parents with their children, rowdy fraternity brothers with beers in hand, and bubbly coeds laughing amongst themselves, all trying not to seem too eager. Slowly, they'd shuffle over, camera phones or Florida State souvenirs in hand, and make their request.
A father asked the legend to take a picture with his young daughter, then dropped any pretense of dignity and requested another photo of his own. An attractive waitress begged for a follow on Twitter.
Two women snapped pictures and then asked the legend to autograph their T-shirts, which were already emblazoned with his likeness. As he'd done countless times in the past few months, he graciously agreed, scribbling the words "Red Lightning" across the cotton with practiced ease.
"They all come in and say, ‘Hey, it's Red Lightning,'" Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat said. "They don't know my real name."
This was a charity event for coach Jimbo Fisher’s foundation less than a month after Florida State won the 2013 BCS National Championship and Grizzle-Malgrat, the Seminoles' equipment manager, became a superstar. He offered to donate any proceeds gleaned from his overnight success to the cause, and on this night he was guest bartending while organizers auctioned off Red Lightning prizes, including a chance to challenge him to a footrace.
Grizzle-Malgrat is 21, just six months into his tenure at Florida State after transferring from Tallahassee Community College, and his overnight fame courtesy of a YouTube video has afforded him a unique brand of celebrity. He's part Internet meme, part sports icon, part social construct -- an average guy living every football fan's dream. But mostly, Grizzle-Malgrat is a blue-collar student doing his best to navigate celebrity life with the same earnest enthusiasm that earned him that fame in the first place.
"A mattress?" he inquires. "Like what you lay on?"
Still, bartenders are eager to relay their knowledge as he mixes up concoctions for the growing crowd, including a special "Red Lightning" shot. The original mixture was a bit tame, and by night's end, Grizzle-Malgrat refined the recipe to one more appealing to his fans.
He takes photos with FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, who was eager for an introduction. He's cornered by a trio of men wanting to buy him a drink in exchange for advice on life. After he's pulled away, the men agree: "It's like we're following Jesus."
"Everybody is his friend," Candi Fisher said. "He's just got so much personality."
But Grizzle-Malgrat understands how preposterous the situation is.
In August, he'd reached out to Florida State equipment operations manager Darin Kerns, hoping for a quiet job behind the scenes with his favorite college football team. He drove 650 miles from his hometown of Key West, Fla., on the first day of fall camp, then spent the rest of the next six hours trudging across the practice fields, collecting helmets and laundering uniforms. It was a dream job.
"This is all I ever wanted to do, and it so happened to be Florida State, my favorite football team," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "I couldn't ask for it to be any better."
His enthusiasm was obvious from the outset. Within a month, Grizzle-Malgrat's work ethic earned him a scholarship. He'd stop by the locker room as early as 6 a.m. to lend a hand, even on off days. Some nights, he'd remain at work past midnight. At practice, he began working with the quarterbacks, clicking with eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston. On game days, Grizzle-Malgrat was a whirlwind of energy, sprinting down the sidelines following a big run, celebrating with players after a score, even jawing with the opposition when tempers flared.
It wasn't just the equipment staff that appreciated Grizzle-Malgrat's passion, however. With his shaggy red beard and bright, curly hair, he's easy enough to spot from the stands, which is how photographer and FSU fan Jake Brashears first took notice. Brashears dug up TV clips of Seminoles highlights that featured Red Lightning in the background, assembled the video and posted it to YouTube after FSU's win over Florida. It became an instant phenomenon.
By the time Florida State arrived in Charlotte for the ACC championship game a week later, Red Lightning was a household name.
For Grizzle-Malgrat, the next few weeks were a blur. In Charlotte, he met longtime broadcaster Brent Musburger, and the two struck up a friendship. At clubs, eager women swarmed him, posing for photos with their arms wrapped around him. When stopped at traffic lights, drivers honked and yelled his name. His fellow equipment managers basked in the shared spotlight, and suddenly players were joking that Red Lightning had become the most famous member of the Seminoles entourage.
"They love him," Kerns said. "Jameis came back from the Heisman and was like, ‘They were asking about you, Red Lightning.'"
Back home in Key West, Grizzle-Malgrat's sudden fame wasn't quite as much of a surprise. He's always been an avid sports fan, and he's always been passionate about his work. The YouTube video simply captured what his hometown had seen for years.
"It's him," his mother, Kim, said. "He was full on. He got most school spirit. He's constantly full throttle."
Still, his family is amused by the celebrity in their midst. At church during a trip home for the holidays, Grizzle-Malgrat was mobbed with photo requests. Kim keeps a picture from the Internet of Winston and her son captioned, "One of these men is a living legend. The other is Jameis Winston."
At Kim's Kuban, a sandwich shop she owns, a Pepsi distributor provided a banner for the national championship game that read: "Home of Red Lightning."
The video still gets clicks and numerous spinoffs have followed. At the bar, women still shout for Red Lightning, and he still poses for numerous pictures. But Grizzle-Malgrat knew from the outset that fame was fleeting, so he's embraced its inevitable end point.
Before he leaves for spring break -- a trip back home to Key West -- Grizzle-Malgrat plans to shave the scraggly beard he's been growing since August and tame the frazzled curls that became his trademark. After that, he expects, the Red Lightning phenomenon will likely fade into Internet obscurity.
"It's kind of a good thing," he said. "I'll stay out of the spotlight then."
But even after the beard disappears, the legend of Red Lightning will remain embedded into the story of Florida State's national championship run.
And when the 2014 season kicks off this fall, Grizzle-Malgrat will be back, too, sprinting down the sideline, a ball tucked under his arm, doing what comes naturally.
"I never thought just me doing my job would be something out of the ordinary for other people," he said. "Now over a million people have seen me hustle, seen the passion I have toward everything, especially sports. I guess that's what made it big."
None of them has ever started a game.
“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”
As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.
“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”
Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.
Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.
“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”
Not to mention spring and summer auditions.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.
“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”
It could be the case elsewhere, though.
Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.
Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.
"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”
Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.
All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.
“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”
With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.
Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.
Is Cooper Bateman really ready to take a step forward after redshirting last season? What about Parker McLeod and Alec Morris? Would Saban dare gamble on the run-oriented Blake Sims? Is it possible that true freshman David Cornwell could get a look? My goodness, what about Jacob Coker?! Isn’t the job really his anyways?!
As Saban sat down with a group of reporters on Wednesday to discuss the start of spring practice and a number of other issues facing his Crimson Tide, he seemed resigned to the oncoming quarterback drama. Asked what he was looking for in the next starter, he listed a number of qualities: the ability to process information quickly, to make good decisions, to throw the ball accurately, to manage the game and make the correct calls.
And then came the disclaimer.
“But let me be very clear about this,” he said. “We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”
That’s right, folks. Saban and his staff plan on taking their time with this decision. So hold your questions, please. Whatever opinions you have on who should start and why, keep them to yourselves until this is over.
“We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is,” Saban said. “We're going to give everybody a lot of opportunity to compete. You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback, and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 ‘We're going to wait and see.’”
Saban’s been through this before. If you count John Parker Wilson, he’s been a part of naming three starting quarterbacks at Alabama. He did the same at LSU and Michigan State plenty of times before that. And each and every time he’s been content to employ the wait-and-see approach.
When the temperature rises and the competition heats up in the coming months, Tide fans will do well to remember that Saban didn't rush naming McCarron the starter in 2011, and that worked out to the tune of two national championships and a slew of new school passing records.
“When AJ became quarterback him and Phillip Sims actually alternated quarters in the first two games, I think, to see who played the best,” Saban said, drilling the point home now. “And it really was hard on all you guys.
“I think it's important to get it right. ... And we have one candidate in this horse race who's not even going to be here until May, till he graduates where he is now. He's certainly a guy that's going to compete for the position too.”
Ah, Jacob Coker.
Whatever we think we're able to learn this spring will come with the caveat that the primary competition hasn’t even arrived yet. Coker, who will make his transfer from Florida State complete in May if he passes all his remaining classes, is the presumed frontrunner to win the job. He’s not bowing to the pressure that comes with that, but it won’t change the perception around camp this fall that he's the man to beat.
Saban would cringe at such assumptions. But his desire for less talk and more patience will do nothing to change what's sure to develop into a circus-type atmosphere as we inch closer to the start of the season. Between Coker's hype, the other quarterbacks competing and the arrival of Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, all eyes will be squarely on who's under center in Alabama. Every day a starter isn't named will be a day someone somewhere will talk about who it should be rather than who it actually is.
Just don't look for the competition itself to play itself out publicly. Scrimmages at Alabama are closed to the general public and media. Reporters only see the first few minutes of practice each day, and it's never enough to glean any real information. Getting insight from coaches and players will be next to impossible. None of the quarterbacks are likely to be made available to reporters while the competition is ongoing, and teammates who do speak won't stray from the company line. If you're looking for Kiffin to talk, he'll have his one and only media obligation of the year in early August, and even then he's never been one to show his cards. Which leaves Saban, who won't deviate from his steadfast policy to divulge nothing and speculate on even less.
So trade predictions at the water cooler, shout at the talking heads on television and scream at talk radio all you want. Whatever you do, though, have a little patience. Because whatever soap opera you were hoping for just isn't going to happen. This is The Nick Saban Show and it has very little in the way of drama.
2. In a discussion on the ESPNU Football Podcast on Wednesday, my colleague Matt Fortuna made an interesting point in favor of the idea that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has established himself as a success in South Bend despite having had only one BCS-bowl season. Three of Kelly’s coordinators have been hired as head coaches: Charley Molnar (UMass), Chuck Martin (Miami of Ohio) and Bob Diaco (UConn). Here’s another point in Kelly’s favor: he is in year five in South Bend without questions surrounding his job security. Since Dan Devine retired in 1980, only Lou Holtz has passed the five-year threshold.
3. Has it occurred to anyone else that this is the golden age of college football in the state of South Carolina? The Gamecocks have finished 11-2 and in the top 10 in the last three seasons; Clemson has done both in the last two seasons. This from the flagship programs of a state best known in recent years for exporting its talent to national powers such as Florida State and Penn State. What Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have achieved gets lost because they have one conference title between them in their present jobs. But the state of South Carolina stands behind only Alabama in recent success.
College football coaches spoke loudly, and the NCAA listened (for a change).
One day before the NCAA’s 11-member playing rules oversight committee was set to vote on whether to slow down the pace of play in college football, the NCAA Football Rules Committee on Wednesday tabled the controversial rule change it proposed last month.
The rule proposal would have prohibited offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds had run off the 40-second play clock, which would have afforded defenses more time to substitute. Under current rules, defenses can substitute only if offenses do it first. The only exceptions for the proposed rule would have been in the final two minutes of each half and if the play clock began at 25 seconds. If an offense snapped the ball before the play clock was at less than 30 seconds, it would have been penalized 5 yards for delay of game.
Coaches of teams that employ hurry-up, spread offenses vehemently opposed the rule change, especially after the committee proposed it for what it called player safety issues. The committee argued that it was logical to assume that players were at more risk of injury because of the increased number of plays in games because of the faster pace.
Coaches such as Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin were vocal in their opposition to the proposed rule change, while Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema were in favor of it.
“There was a lot of comment on it -- and a lot of negative comments,” said Rogers Redding, the NCAA’s coordinator of football officiating. “The committee believed there is not enough medical data. The committee decided to wait and get the medical data and see if the two are tied together.”
The proposed slowdown rule isn’t dead yet. The NCAA plans to study the issue in the coming months, and the rule change could be brought up again for comment at a later date. Redding said Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, participated in the Football Rules Committee’s conference call Wednesday and said more medical research was needed to determine if the faster pace of play in college football correlates with more injuries.
“One thing I would like to point out is that the process worked,” Redding said. “The injury timeout rule is still in place. If a player is hurt, he should be taken out of the game. If a player is fatigued and can’t go anymore, it’s a legitimate reason to get him out of the game.”
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, whose Bulldogs ran a whopping 1,088 plays in 13 games (83.7 per contest) last season, said coaches who backed the rule change just wanted to prevent up-tempo offenses from playing so fast.
“If there was any kind of documented evidence that showed there were more injuries, it would make sense,” DeRuyter said. “But I think there are certain coaches that don’t like the style of football up-tempo teams play. They want to change the rules instead of adjusting to up-tempo football.”
The NCAA’s playing rules oversight committee will vote Thursday whether to adjust college football’s controversial targeting rule, which was introduced last season. If the rule change is approved, teams will no longer be penalized 15 yards if a targeting call is overturned by replay review. Under current rules, only a player’s automatic ejection is overturned; his team is still penalized even if replay leads to an overturn of the call. A rule change would also allow officials to review targeting calls at halftime of nontelevised games and potentially overturn them.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed another rule change that would penalize players for hitting a quarterback below the knees. Redding said the rule, which won’t be voted on until after it goes through the official comment period, would mimic the NFL’s “Tom Brady rule.”
Both of the aforementioned rule changes would go in effect for the 2014 season if they are passed by the rules oversight committee.
But for Arizona receiver Austin Hill, spring practice feels like he's standing in front of a spectacular buffet dinner. And he's really, really hungry.
Hill was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection following the 2012 season after ranking second in the conference in receiving yards. The sophomore looked like a potential All-American in 2013 after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards -- 16.8 yards per reception -- with 11 touchdowns.
But his 2013 season ended before it began on April 10 after he tore his ACL during the second-to-last session of spring practice.
Poof -- just like that, football was taken away, replaced by uncertainty and the daily burden -- and boredom -- of rehabilitation. That's why even a no-pads practice to start spring drills this week was invigorating.
Hill practiced with the Wildcats in a limited fashion during the final weeks of the 2013 season, but he's still not 100 percent healthy. While he's officially full-speed this spring, he's still wearing a knee brace and his explosiveness and speed are not fully back.
"That's basically the last step of ACL recovery," he said. "I'm still in those processes."
Neal and Jones both sat out last season, so Hill knows they share his hunger, while the returning starters and contributors don't want to yield repetitions. While it's a collegial atmosphere among the receivers at practice, it's also a competition for touches and position in the pecking order.
"Everyone is helping each other out on the field," Hill said. "It's fun to see athletes compete. It's always fun."
Of course, the competition at receiver figures to yield certainty -- an outstanding and deep crew of four or five guys in a regular rotation with one or two leading the way. The bigger issue is who is going to deliver the ball.
Hill laughs at the inevitable quarterback competition question, for an answer behind center probably won't be delivered until fall camp. Perhaps even late in fall camp, as it was last year.
Hill, for one, admits he'd prefer to get some clarity much sooner.
"Right now ... who knows? I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was," he said. "I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day."
“Of course, that's up to the QBs -- senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer, junior Jerrard Randall and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon -- and coach Rich Rodriguez, who has said repeatedly about QB competitions that he would prefer that one guy quickly and decisively wins the job.
I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was. I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day.” Arizona receiver Austin Hill on the Wildcats' quarterback competition.
Just don't expect it to happen this spring.
As for Hill's take, he often doesn't even know who's delivering the ball.
"The quarterbacks are getting switched around so much, sometimes it's even hard to tell which quarterback even went with my group when I went," he said. "We move so fast, I don't get to pay attention to what quarterback is throwing me the ball."
While the QBs work through their competition, Hill will be a veteran leader for the offense, back in action after a year of observing the team from the outside. When he looks around at practice at the improved personnel on both sides of the ball, he senses that the Wildcats are going to surprise some folks this season.
"I'm ready to help this team to a BCS bowl," he said. "I feel like that's where we're headed."
As Hill missed last season and is still not 100 percent, he, of course, can be forgiven for forgetting 2013 was the last season of the BCS era. His point is clear. He believes Arizona is going to be a threat in the Pac-12's South Division in 2014.