NCF Nation: 2012 spring breakout players

Pac-12 spring breakout players

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
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Every spring, players break out. Here are a few that stood out in the Pac-12.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey was a hyped recruit from Tucson -- Canyon del Oro High -- and the local boy seems likely to make good this year after rushing for 425 yards as a freshman. He led a solid crew of backs this spring.

Brice Schwab, OT, Arizona State: It's been a long time coming for Schwab, who has gone from heralded junior-college transfer to bust to likely starting right tackle. Schwab's problem when he arrived was conditioning: He was huge but it wasn't good weight. And he was way too weak. He started four games in 2010 and struggled, then redshirted last season in order to get in better shape. Once a 340-pounder, he's now 6-foot-7, 295. And he's a better player.

Deandre Coleman, DE, California: Said coach Jeff Tedford of the 6-5, 311-pound junior: "He may be one of the best that we've ever had." That about sums it up. Coleman dominated this spring, looking like an all-conference candidate.

Tony Jones, RB, Colorado: Replacing the highly productive Rodney Stewart was a spring priority and Jones, a sophomore, answered the bell. Jones is built a little like the diminutive "Speedy" -- 5-7, 175 pounds -- and he has a versatile range of skills, just like Stewart. With questions at quarterback, he will be asked to do a lot. Just like Stewart.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: Lyerla should be a big weapon for whomever wins the Ducks' quarterback job. The 6-5, 238 pound sophomore should step in for the departed David Paulson and could end up as one of the Ducks' leading receivers. He caught just seven passes last year, but five went for touchdowns. He's a special athlete with a year of seasoning, which often is the foundation for a breakout.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Cooks has speed and quickness and will play opposite one of the best receivers in the conference in Markus Wheaton. He caught 31 passes for 391 yards and three TDs last year while being extremely raw. He's less raw now and has good upside. And it will help that defenses will obsess over Wheaton.

James Vaughters, LB, Stanford: The coaches have said they are going to let the leash off of this aggressive, physically imposing linebacker and see what happens. We know he'll be at middle linebacker (as opposed to just a third-down specialist last year) where he's expected to wreak havoc.

Steven Manfro, RB, UCLA: Speed and quickness. There is a difference, but Manfro has both. He excelled in the spring sessions and though he sits third on the UCLA depth chart, he might work his way into carries if he continues to show explosive breakaway ability.

Isiah Wiley, CB, USC: Wiley quietly started the final six games in 2011 and played fairly well. While he's a senior, this is only the JC transfer's second year in the program. This spring, he took a step forward and seems likely to start opposite Nickell Robey.

V.J. Fehoko, LB, Utah: With possibly the best defensive line in the conference in front of him and offenses keying in on Trevor Reilly, Fehoko could be in position to be extremely productive filling the shoes of Chaz Walker. Similar build as Walker, who tallied 118 tackles last year.

James Johnson, WR, Washington: After an injury-plagued career, Johnson is finally healthy and in the starting lineup. The physical tools are all there and the quarterback is in place for him to put up some solid numbers -- if he can stay on the field.

Andrei Lintz, WR, Washington State: This converted tight end was the talk of WSU's spring session. He has the hands and size to be effective over the middle and he showed great chemistry with Jeff Tuel during the 15 practices. The more attention Marquess Wilson draws, the more opportunities there will be for Lintz to excel.

ND's spring breakout players

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
10:30
AM ET
Who made names for themselves this spring? Glad you asked.

RB/WR Theo Riddick: Riddick seemed more comfortable this spring, as the learning curve from playing two different positions is all but gone and he is ready to make plays. The senior stood out during several intrasquad scrimmages. If Riddick can be an effective punt returner this fall, he can be the complete package for the Irish.

WR John Goodman: It's not often you see a fifth-year senior on lists like these, but Goodman, as coach Brian Kelly said, was the Irish's go-to guy this spring, and he served as an offensive captain in the Blue-Gold game as a result of being the unit's most improved player. No longer in the shadow of Michael Floyd and with one last chance to succeed after being invited back for another year, Goodman is primed for a breakout season this fall.

NG Kona Schwenke: Like Goodman, Schwenke was a captain in the Blue-Gold game, winning most improved defensive player honors while temporarily supplanting Louis Nix from the starting spot in the middle. He added some weight and improved his handwork, and he figures to see plenty of snaps next season, regardless of whether or not he starts.

LB Ishaq Williams: Kelly revealed that Williams went home to Brooklyn, N.Y., for a few days in the winter to think about his future. He has apparently come back with a new focus, as the rising sophomore had a strong spring, filling in for the injured Prince Shembo at the cat position and coming up with a pick and a fumble recovery in the spring game.

LB Jarrett Grace: Playing time may be hard to come by -- he is, after all, backing up a likely first-round draft pick in Manti Te'o -- but Grace has made the most of his opportunities. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco loved him this spring, and, after redshirting his freshman season, Grace figures to spell Te'o every now and then this fall while also seeing duties on special teams.

SEC spring breakout players

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
10:30
AM ET
We're taking a look at some of the breakout SEC players from this spring:
  • Marcus Caffey, CB, Kentucky: Caffey spent his first year on Kentucky's campus looking up at the rest of the running backs on the roster. But the coaches didn't want to waste his talent, so he moved to cornerback, a position in desperate need of bodies. The Caffey experiment worked, as he immediately adapted to his new position and left spring with one of the starting corner spots. The youngster is a bigger body at corner, which will help him when taking on some of the league's bigger receivers.
  • Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: After missing most of last season with back issues, Ford came back very strong this spring. The rising junior caused plenty of issues for Auburn's offense all spring with his play off the edge. The rust that was supposed to come with missing most of the previous season wasn't there, and he left with the starting defensive end spot opposite Corey Lemonier. Ford was named the defensive MVP of Auburn's spring game and registered four tackles, including two for loss and one sack.
  • Joe Morrow, WR, Mississippi State: Morrow showed that he can be that receiver who really stretches the field in Mississippi State's offense. He was a big-play machine in Starkville this spring with some tough catches and the ability to fly by defenders. The redshirt freshman wasn't ready to play last season and still has some maturing to do, but the staff expects him to expand the Bulldogs' passing game this fall. He caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Florida: Coach Will Muschamp said Pittman was one of the most consistent players this spring and had a knack for making the tough catches. Muschamp also said that he had a tremendous work ethic this spring, but must stay grounded. The early enrollee isn't the fastest player out there, but he's big, physical and will immediately help a very unproven receiving corps. He caught two passes for 51 yards in the spring game.
  • Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee: Richardson spent last year on special teams, but the coaching staff always had an eye on him. The hope was that he'd make a big impact this spring, considering the issues Tennessee had up front last season. The 6-foot-6, 329-pound rising sophomore impressed all spring and left with the starting job at left tackle. He's not only big but he's extremely athletic and tough, making him a solid option at the line's most important position.
  • Demarco Robinson, WR, Kentucky: On a team that was in desperate need of more offensive firepower, Robinson was one of the most impressive players at Kentucky's camp and if spring is any indication, he'll have a lot of passes thrown his way. Coach Joker Phillips said Robinson made play after play in practice this spring and should help take some pressure off of rising senior La'Rod King in the passing game. He caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in Kentucky's spring game.
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Yeldon enrolled early at Alabama this spring and did more than just go through the motions. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder continuously showed off an array of moves and wasn't afraid to take a little contact. Yeldon put everything together in Alabama's spring game, where he totaled 179 yards rushing and receiving and scored on a 50-yard pass. He also earned the Dixie Howell Award, which goes to the game's most valuable player. With Trent Richardson gone, Alabama will look to draw more from its stable of running backs this fall. Eddie Lacy might be listed as the starter, but Yeldon showed this spring that he's capable of getting some carries here and there.
  • Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama: Hubbard had a monster spring for the Crimson Tide. He takes over for Courtney Upshaw at the Jack position and the people at Alabama think he might be the Tide's top pass-rusher this fall. The rising sophomore earned the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the Game Award given to the spring game's most valuable lineman after registering seven tackles, including four tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
  • Steven Jenkins, LB, Texas A&M: Jenkins started six games last year, but was still fifth on the team in tackles. The former juco college transfer was all over the field for the Aggies this spring and made a lot of plays at the Will linebacker position. He's very fast and athletic and should really excel in his second year in Mark Snyder's 4-3 defense.

ACC's spring breakout players

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
9:52
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Here's a look at those who made names for themselves, those who fine-tuned some strengths and those who burst onto the scene this spring in the ACC.

WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson: Hopkins had seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' spring game, including five for 100 in the first quarter. Coach Dabo Swinney called him the team's spring MVP, and he and Sammy Watkins could form the top receiver tandem in the nation.

RB Rolandan Finch, Boston College: Finch will have to carry a bigger load with Montel Harris off the team, and he stepped up in the spring game when the three men ahead of him were all banged-up, rushing for 196 yards on 27 carries. He will likely battle with Andre Williams for the top spot this fall, though both figure to see plenty of time.

LT Cameron Erving, FSU: The converted defensive tackle impressed this spring, as the sophomore is one of two new tackles the Seminoles are breaking in on the offensive line, a unit that may just be the deciding factor on whether FSU can return to the national elite this season. Coach Jimbo Fisher has called the 6-foot-5, 304-pound sophomore a future NFL starter.

QB Ryan Williams, Miami: Coach Al Golden said this week that Stephen Morris has been medically cleared, and he will likely enter a full-on quarterback competition with Williams, the Memphis transfer who saw most of the action this spring and played well, despite a sub-par spring game.

TE Jake McGee, Virginia: The converted quarterback caught two passes for 81 yards and figures to be a reliable target this fall after a subpar performance for the Cavaliers' tight ends last season.

CB Demetrious Nicholson, Virginia: Coach Mike London named him the team's most distinguished freshman this spring, but he will have to grow up fast. After playing almost every snap last fall, he is the veteran of the Cavaliers' secondary in 2012.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: Maddy was named the Hokies' defensive MVP of this spring. The rising sophomore has said he has adjusted to the speed of the game after a freshman year that featured seven starts, and he figures to be a key on a line that will anchor Virginia Tech's defense this season.
We're taking a look at spring breakout players across college football today, and here's who made a big impact across the Big 12.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma: Metoyer may have had the best spring of anyone in the Big 12. The physical freshman spent last season in prep school, but walked in this spring and essentially earned a starting job. Then three Sooners receivers were suspended indefinitely. Metoyer was already going to play and probably going to start. Now, with Oklahoma's passing offense and Landry Jones throwing the ball, it's a near certainty that he'll have a huge impact.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State: Lunt hasn't made an impact yet, but he's already made headlines. Lunt may be the first freshman to win a starting QB job in the spring in the history of the Big 12. The Illinois native beat out junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh for the right to succeed Brandon Weeden, and quickly trended nationwide on Twitter after the announcement.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech: Smith came to Lubbock as a lightly recruited California juco transfer trying to find some playing time at outside linebacker. Midway through spring, he'd already established himself as the team's best linebacker and coach Tommy Tuberville moved him to the inside so he wouldn't have to leave the field during passing downs.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia: WVU is already loaded at receiver, albeit a bit top-heavy. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are bona fide studs, but Thompson should find a niche in the Mountaineers' offense after showing he could make an impact as an early enrolling true freshman. He's quick and has good hands, and the Houston native may resemble (gasp!) a young Tavon Austin next fall.

Brandon Moore, DT, Texas: Moore reportedly still needs to work on his conditioning, but the 6-foot-6, 330-pound juco transfer was a force in the middle of the line for the Longhorns, and could be a valuable pocket collapser and run stopper for a loaded Texas defense in 2012. That could blow up a lot of great Big 12 offenses. Think Nick Fairley vs. Oregon in the 2010 season's national title game.

Charlie Moore, WR, Oklahoma State: There was buzz surrounding Moore all spring, but he proved it in a big way as a spring game breakout star. The junior caught nine passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the game, and overshadowed yet another breakout star over the course of the spring, sophomore receiver Josh Stewart. OSU needed to find weapons this spring to replace Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam and Michael Harrison at receiver. The Cowboys did exactly that.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson made a small impact last season, but he's essentially the unquestioned starter at KU for now after Darrian Miller was kicked off the team and James Sims was suspended for the first three games of 2012. The East St. Louis native is dangerous in the open field and gives KU a much needed home run threat.
Spring practice is a time when coaches install new schemes or just instill the fundamentals. The most exciting part of spring practice is potential new stars emerge, with newcomers or former reserves turning heads with their performances.

Some of these guys will fade back into the shadows come fall. But others will be making major contributions on a field near you. Here's a list of some players who had breakout springs:

Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois: Redshirted last year after a hamstring injury, Ferguson blew up for 130 yards and caught six passes in the Illini spring game. He flashed his speed and versatility for an offense that desperately needs playmakers in its new spread attack. Ferguson should be in line to get a lot of touches in 2012.

Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State: A true freshman who enrolled in January after spending a year in prep school, Thomas suddenly became Braxton Miller's favorite target in the spring game, hauling in 12 catches for 131 yards. Like Ferguson, he gave a glimmer of hope to a position that was sorely in need of a boost for the Buckeyes, and he'll get a shot at plenty of playing time right away.

Darien Harris, LB, Michigan State: Few people were talking about Harris at the start of spring, especially since the Spartans return all three starting linebackers. But with Chris Norman out this spring with an injury, Harris got a bunch of reps and ran with it. Mark Dantonio called the redshirt freshman "one of the exciting surprises of the spring." He'll play this fall, but the question is how much?

[+] EnlargeBill Belton
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicBill Belton had a nice performance during Penn State's Blue-White spring game, rushing for 53 yards and a TD.
Joey Burzinski, OL, Michigan: Even most Wolverines fans had probably not heard of Buzinski, a walk-on freshman, before this spring. But a strong work ethic and a lack of depth on the Michigan O-line helped him make a move until he found himself working with the first string. Burzinski is no lock to start but should see minutes somewhere on the line and is a great story.

Bill Belton, RB, Penn State: Belton was a highly-regard recruit who started to make an impact at the end of last season. Moved to full-time running back this spring, he responded by making a lot of plays and adding depth to a spot that was extremely thin behind Silas Redd. Belton's versatility should help him become a useful weapon in Bill O'Brien's offense.

David Cooper, LB, Indiana: There's no question that the Hoosiers desperately needed some help on defense, and head coach Kevin Wilson scoured the junior college ranks for a talent injection. Cooper, along with Jacarri Alexander, proved he could run and tackle this spring, and he also brought a high energy level that rubbed off on his teammates. He's slated to start at middle linebacker and hopefully bring some improvement to the overall defensive effort.

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa: He was a hyped recruit, and now Fiedorowicz might be about to show why. A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, the junior is expected to play a major role in new offensive coordinator Greg Davis's offense, and James Vandenberg has to love having such a big target.

Frankie Williams, S, Purdue: By the end of last season, Danny Hope regretted his decision to redshirt Williams because he felt he could have contributed at cornerback. Williams moved to safety this spring and got the start there in the spring game. The Boilers are deep at corner but could use a little help at safety, and Williams looks ready to fill that need.
Let's put one final bow on the spring with a look at five top breakout players.

JaQuez Jenkins, safety, USF. With starting strong safety Jon Lejiste out for the spring because of injury, Jenkins made his presence immediately felt in the defensive backfield and had one of the best springs of anybody on the Bulls roster. Jenkins was everywhere, making big plays and hard hits. His emergence gives USF a nice problem to have once Lejiste returns in the fall.

Scott Radcliff, receiver, Louisville. The most talked-about receiver after the Cardinals' spring game the former walk-on, who played with the first team and led all receivers with nine catches for 119 yards. He is listed ahead of Eli Rogers at the H-receiver spot on the post-spring depth chart.

Walter Stewart, defensive end, Cincinnati. Yes, Stewart is a returning starter. But he has never had a spring like the one he just completed, in which he was able to maintain what he started as his position. Stewart had been switched to several positions earlier in his career, but now he has a home at end and is ready to be a force this season.

Ray Vinopal, safety, Pitt. Safety could actually turn out to be a position of strength across the Big East with some of the talent that has emerged this spring. Vinopal sat out a year after transferring in from Michigan, and despite the coaching change, had an outstanding spring. He made big plays, forced turnovers and now makes safety a bright spot for the Panthers with Jarred Holley, Andrew Taglianetti and Jason Hendricks all returning.

Ryan Wirth, defensive tackle, UConn. The Huskies lost an NFL player in Kendall Reyes, along with their other starting tackle, so this is a huge question going into the season. But Wirth showed he can make an impact inside, especially after his spring performance, with 4.5 sacks and a safety.

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