NCF Nation: Andre Smith
Spring practice starts: Feb. 16
Spring game: March 26
What to watch:
- Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
- New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
- Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)
Spring game: April 23
What to watch:
- Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
- Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
- Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 9 or 16
What to watch:
- New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
- Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
- Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 9
What to watch:
- The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
- Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
- Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 2
What to watch:
- The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
- Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
- Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 23
What to watch:
- Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
- Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
- Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.
Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.
Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.
Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.
Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.
Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.
Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.
Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.
Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.
Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.
Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.
Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.
Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.
Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.
Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.
Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.
Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.
Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.
Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.
Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.
Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.
There’s plenty of history between Florida State and Virginia Tech heading into Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC championship game, and the Hokies have not fared well in it. They have, however, won three ACC football titles in their five seasons in the ACC and are on a 10-game winning streak as they chase their fourth. Florida State, which once dominated the conference with its 12 league titles, is looking to regain the grasp it once held on the ACC while Virginia Tech wants to maintain it.
“Yeah, this game is definitely going to determine whether or not they put us back up in the spotlight of taking over the ACC,” said FSU linebacker Kendall Smith. “In the past, Florida State was very successful with taking over the ACC, and by us going against Virginia Tech, which has been very successful in the ACC in the past four to five years, we've definitely got a chance to -- this is going to help with recruiting, with everything. This is going to show the world that, OK, if we win this game at Florida State, we're back on the path and whatnot.”
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder agreed.
“They're always competing at the ACC championship level and they've been to pretty much every ACC championship game,” he said. “So I think they're ahead of us right now, and they've competed really well the whole year this year and obviously struggled a little early on but have really turned it up ever since those first two games.
“I mean, right now they're undefeated in the ACC, so they're definitely the best team in the ACC right now, and this is going to be a tough game for us.”
Ponder and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, both seniors, will take center stage against two of the nation’s top scoring defenses. Statistically, Virginia Tech and Florida State are very similar teams -- both are averaging over 30 points per game, and they’re both holding opponents just under 18 points per game. They both have a talented group of running backs that has suffered its share of injuries, and defenses that have progressed throughout the season.
In order for the Seminoles to win their first ACC title since 2005, Florida State’s passing game must first win the battle against a talented Virginia Tech secondary that has 12 interceptions in the past five games and a league-leading 20 picks overall.
Ponder is No. 3 in the country in passing efficiency and has thrown 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He’s played better since back-to-back losses against NC State and North Carolina.
“We're two plays from being 11-1 right now, and I think since the NC State game I started taking it upon myself to play better,” he said. “I mean, I was doing a lot more in practice, studying a lot more film, and finally things started clicking for me. I started getting confidence and it kind of started snowballing. The more confidence I got, the more comfortable I was, and I just started playing better.”
Taylor will have his hands full with Florida State’s defense, which ranks second nationally in quarterback sacks. The Seminoles’ defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops has been a major factor in the program’s return to the title game.
“Their front four is playing pretty good,” Taylor said. “I know the two outside guys, the two rushers are playing at a very high level, going to have to keep my eyes out for those guys. And as far as the secondary, just fast. Just got to do a good job in one-on-one situations.”
Should Virginia Tech win its fourth ACC title in six years, tight end Andre Smith said this one would mean the most because of the Hokies’ 0-2 start.
“Again, you know, we started off rough, and here at Virginia Tech we're not used to that,” he said. “It would definitely feel like a lot bigger than the previous two. Just to be able to win out and be doing so well after a rough start would just be great. You know, that would be great confidence for us and definitely a turnaround of the season. They've all been enjoyable, but I think this one would definitely be the most enjoyable for sure.”
The same can be said for Florida State, which has dominated the series, but not the game.
Virginia Tech changed its course when the seniors called a team meeting after the loss to James Madison and declared their losing streak over.
“We weren't on the same page,” said tight end Andre Smith. “We weren't playing as a team. We weren't acting as a team, and that could obviously be shown throughout our process in those two losses that we began with. But it was huge, and I definitely believe it was the biggest turnaround that we had all season, to get everybody in there and make sure that the seniors stepped up and the veterans talked and made sure that everybody realized what we needed to do here.”
“Going into the season, some people had picked us to play for this game, and of course with us losing the first two games, a lot of people counted us out,” said Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. “We fought back hard every game and worked towards our goal, and I think this is the perfect situation for us to go out there and showcase the talent we have on this team.”
Virginia Tech’s current 10-game winning streak is the longest by an ACC team since Florida State won 17 straight in 1999 and 2000. The Seminoles were 12-0 in ’99 and started the following season with five victories. If the Hokies win the ACC title, they’ll become only the fourth team in conference history to do it after starting out 0-2.
First-year FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has established a new school record for wins by a rookie coach with nine, which ranks third in ACC history. Last week's win over rival Florida was a monumental step in shifting the power within the state. The next task is to do the same in the ACC.
“I think it's huge," Fisher said. "You want to win an ACC championship. You want to make yourself relevant. As soon as you do that, you're in a BCS bowl. Now you make yourself relevant nationally. That's the whole key for every program, where we all want to go. It's a big game for both programs.”
And it’s the first step in returning to the pinnacle of college football -- a place both programs are familiar with. FSU defeated Virginia Tech 46-29 to cap its unbeaten run to the 1999 national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
“I think, obviously, we’re trying to get ourselves back on the map and become relevant again,” said FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. “To beat Florida and win the state of Florida and make it to the ACC championship game, it would be big if we won it. Obviously we want to make it to a BCS bowl, and very few teams get to make that. So if we do, hopefully people would start to take us a little bit more seriously.”
So they decided to do something about it.
The seniors on the roster called a players-only meeting in the team auditorium on the eve of the season's third game against East Carolina game. Each senior stood up and talked about how much work they had put into their collegiate careers and how much the season meant to them.
The ability to rally has become this team’s identity. Not only did it climb out of an 0-2 start and back into the BCS Standings after an embarrassing FCS loss to James Madison, Virginia Tech has trailed by double digits in four games this season and won three of them, including Thursday night’s 28-21 win over Georgia Tech.
The Hokies were down 14-0 after one quarter, but with Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt sidelined with a broken arm, they pulled together for a comeback and sealed the win with David Wilson’s blazing 90-yard kickoff return. It turned into a wild, back-and-forth game that was a microcosm of the entire ACC -- impossible to predict. The one constant in the league this year, though -- at least since Sept. 11 -- has been Virginia Tech.
With the win, the Hokies remained the only undefeated team in conference play. In order for anyone else in the Coastal Division to have a shot, Virginia Tech would have to lose two of its next three games. The Hokies have back-to-back road games looming at North Carolina and Miami before closing the season at home with rival Virginia.
And this Virginia Tech team doesn’t look like it’s going to fold anytime soon.
“It’s a completely different team from the standpoint of guys being together,” said Bruce Taylor, who had a career-high 14 tackles and had two sacks. “In the beginning of the season, there was a lot of finger pointing, guys wondering why we’re losing. Nobody had the answer, so we kind of got separated, but when we had that meeting after the 0-2 start, guys really came together and started playing as a team.”
It’s been the difference in their season.
While Tyrod Taylor has gotten a lot of the attention, Virginia Tech has benefited from three talented tailbacks and a group of wide receivers able to catch the ball in traffic and hang onto it. The defense, which had to replace seven starters heading into this season, has still made game-changing plays under longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Senior Rashad Carmichael’s fourth-quarter interception of backup quarterback Tevin Washington in the end zone ended Georgia Tech’s final attempt at an upset. It also likely ended the Yellow Jackets' chances of defending the ACC title.
Virginia Tech got what it needed in all three phases of the game -- a collective effort that was missing in September.
“It’s huge, especially in comeback wins like this,” Smith said. “We don’t want to have individuals, or groups. When we’re all on the same page, that’s when you see cohesion. As a team we talked about it. It’s easy when things are going bad to fall apart. As seniors and older guys on the team, we knew we weren’t going to let that happen.”
And in one of the most important games of the season, they didn’t.
During Arkansas State’s fourth spring practice Monday, coach Steve Roberts had wide receiver Andre Smith take some snaps with the quarterbacks and got some good results.
Smith, a sophomore, originally signed with Arkansas State as a quarterback, but moved to receiver during last year’s spring camp. He did take limited snaps at quarterback during the 2009 season, but prior to this spring, Roberts said he wanted to make sure Smith learned the wide receiver position better before he worked with the quarterbacks.
Redshirt freshman Phillip Butterfield is the top quarterback listed on the depth chart with walk-on Seth Tripod behind him. Butterfield was in the quarterbacking competition last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during fall camp.
Departed senior Corey Leonard was last year’s starter before injuries forced him off the field. Sophomore Ryan Aplin started three of the team’s final four games last year and won the final two to help the Red Wolves finish 4-8.
Aplin underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder after the season and has limited participation in spring ball. Roberts did say that Aplin did enough in the fall to continue to be the team’s starter.
“He proved that during the fall last year,” Roberts told media prior to spring practices. “Obviously we’re installing a new system and there are opportunities that the other quarterbacks will get during the spring. We don’t have to name a starter until before our first ballgame, so we probably won’t.”
Smith, who came into spring listed as a second-team wide receiver on the depth chart, notched stats as a rusher last season as he ran 12 times for 46 yards. With the ability to run and catch, Smith gives the Red Wolves the diversity to use him in the wildcat or as a decoy.
“Our plan from the beginning was to start getting him some reps at quarterback this week,” Roberts said of Smith after Monday’s practice. “He got more reps than we expected him to get today, but he adjusted and made some great plays. He is going to figure into our plans with some things as a quarterback next year, and I am really pleased with the way he competed today.”
But it’s obvious it was a learning experience.
Senior linebacker Cory Reamer said Alabama was a splintered football team emotionally and mentally last season at the Sugar Bowl, and that was clear in how they played.
Utah whipped Alabama 31-17 in a result some of the players saw coming. Andre Smith’s suspension the week before the game for improper dealings with an agent was a time bomb that had been ticking inside the program, according to Reamer.
“We had a lot of guys who were potential first-round and second-round guys, and a lot of guys who were going to get drafted, so there were agents and (people) like that everywhere who really weren’t interested in what our best interests were,” Reamer said. “They were worried about themselves. But we have a plan set now where we can handle it as players and handle everything here, which I think helps a lot because we don’t have a lot of outside people influencing us on what their ideas should be.”
Reamer said the Crimson Tide learned the hard way how a few people getting “too caught up in what’s coming next” can soil an entire season.
He said nobody on this team ever plans to go through that again.
“You’ve got to know what your responsibility is, and know what your focus should be, and you should never get caught in those situations,” Reamer said. “You should never put yourself in a situation where you could be a distraction for the team. You focus on what you have to do to help this team win this game and not worry about what’s coming after that.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Here's the second part of my Q&A with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
It's obvious in listening to him talk about his father, Nick Sr., what a huge influence he was on the younger Saban's life and why he is the way he is today.
The values the coach preaches in his program -- self-determination, being accountable, being disciplined, doing a day's work for a day's pay -- come straight from his father.
|Marvin Gentry/US Presswire|
|As a kid growing up, Nick Saban was an Alabama football fan.|
Saban's father died in 1973 of a heart attack. He was only 46. Saban was just starting his coaching career at the time as a graduate assistant on the Kent State staff under Don James.
How often do you find yourself thinking about your father and the influence he had on your life?
Nick Saban: He was a big influence on a lot of people's lives because he started Pop Warner football in our area [Fairmont, W. Va.]. He bought a school bus and went and picked up kids. Everybody lived in a coal mining town, so we hitch-hiked about every place we went. All of us did. We didn't have cars. You kind of knew who was going to go by. It was a rural area. You knew who would pick you up and who wouldn't. A lot of kids didn't participate because they couldn't get to practice. There are a lot of things I took from my dad -- work ethic, responsibility, compassion for other people. The lessons I learned working at that Gulf service station that my dad owned ... I still relay a lot of those lessons to our players now.
What were some of the most enduring lessons?
NS: I was working at the station when I was about 15 years old. I remember being in a bad mood because I had a fight with my girlfriend, and we broke up. So I wasn't treating the customers very well and talked back to a customer. In those days, everything was full service. You cleaned the windows, checked the oil, put the gas in, said 'please' and 'thank you,' got the change and gave it back to them. I was a little curt that day. My dad said, 'Your mom told me you broke up with your girlfriend. You're a little upset about that?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm a little upset about that.' He said, 'Let me just tell you this: When you let one bad thing that happens to you affect other things, sometimes you create more negative consequences than you like. You're about ready to cause a couple more. You don't have a girlfriend right now. Pretty soon, you're not going to have a job, because I'm going to fire you. And if I fire you, I'm going to whip your ass.' It was that kind of stuff from him all the time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|Tim Larson/Icon SMI|
|Tyson Jackson's stock skyrocketed in the weeks leading up to the draft.|
Jackson played on an LSU defensive line that underachieved in a big way last season, but it obviously didn't hurt his stock. He was one of the few up front who played well last season. He also had great workouts and is big enough and quick enough to play in a lot of different schemes.
Everybody thought Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith was going to be the big loser after his agent-related suspension at the Sugar Bowl, his nightmarish NFL combine experience and some of the boneheaded decisions he made.
But I said at the time and was confident in saying so that there was no way he would slip out of the top 10, and he went sixth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. Smith will play a long time in the NFL, and it could be that the lessons learned these last few months will end up making him a better pro.
There were a few eyebrows raised when Alabama running back Glen Coffee decided to come out early. But he was coming off an outstanding season, and he saw it as an opportunity to strike while the iron was hot. He was right. He went in the third round to the San Francisco 49ers and was the sixth running back selected.
As is the case every year, there were a handful of players who should have stayed in school.
Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore was a terrific college player and made an impact wherever he lined up last season. But slow 40-yard dash times pushed him down to the fourth round. I still think he'll end up being a really good pro. He has great instincts, great leaping ability and plays his best against the best competition. But to give up a final season of eligibility and go in the fourth round is a downer.
South Carolina safety Emanuel Cook came out early and went undrafted. His former teammate, South Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, gave up his final season and went in the seventh round to the Carolina Panthers.
Talk about getting bad advice and/or putting yourself in a position academically where you have no choice but to turn pro.
And what about the case of LSU defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois? He looked to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the SEC entering last season after playing lights out in the BCS National Championship Game.
But he slumbered through a disappointing junior season last year, decided to come out anyway and was taken in the seventh round by the San Francisco 49ers.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tennessee running back Arian Foster. He received a second-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee last year, but elected to stay in school. He suffered through a disappointing senior season, injured his hamstring in the Senior Bowl and went undrafted.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Making the rounds to see what's making headlines in the SEC:
- Georgia is using a new testing procedure to help identify if a player might be vulnerable to a particular injury.
- LSU opens spring practice with some key holes to fill on both the offensive and defensive lines.
- Tennessee's Cody Pope is looking to go from utility player to starter at offensive tackle.
- Columnist Ray Melick of The Birmingham News writes that some of the questions regarding former Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith should fall on the shoulders of his agent, Alvin Keels.
- Arkansas linebacker Ryan Powers allegedly attempted to shoplift some items from the health and beauty aids section of Wal-Mart, according to a Fayetteville police department report.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Making the rounds in the SEC:
- Georgia's tight ends won't be forgotten in 2009. The Bulldogs' tight ends caught just 10 total passes a year ago.
- Ole Miss is still searching for a 12th game for its 2009 schedule. One of the possibilities was TCU, but TCU has agreed to play Clemson next season.
- A continuance is granted in the Carl Johnson case. The hearing for the Florida offensive lineman will now take place in April.
- Arkansas receiver Crosby Tuck decides to leave the football team for injury-related reasons.
- How much money did former Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith cost himself with the whole NFL combine debacle? Darren Rovell of CNBC thinks as much as $20 million or more.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Some of the fiercest battles for starting jobs are waged in the spring.
Granted, there's always that chance that a player could win a job back, or for that matter, lose a job once preseason practice begins in August. But spring practice is where it all starts.
Here's a look at five of the most compelling position battles around the SEC this spring:
1. LSU quarterback: When the season ended a year ago, true freshman Jordan Jefferson was in charge. He led LSU to a 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, marking his second straight start. Jefferson was steady in both of his starts and was the Tigers' leading rusher in the 31-30 loss to Arkansas, so he can definitely make things happen with his feet. He also didn't turn the ball over in either start. He'll be pushed this spring, though, by another true freshman. Russell Shepard was one of the most dynamic high school athletes in the country a year ago out of Houston and enrolled early to be able to go through spring practice. He and Jefferson will duel for the job with sophomore Jarrett Lee not completely out of the equation. Lee suffered through a nightmarish redshirt freshman season by throwing seven interceptions for touchdowns before LSU coach Les Miles turned to Jefferson at the end of last season.
2. Alabama left offensive tackle: Andre Smith has been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons, but there's no debating what he meant to Alabama's football team last season. He was a dominant left tackle, one of the best to come through the SEC in a long time, and those guys aren't easy to replace. There are several different ways the Crimson Tide could go at left tackle, although one of the candidates won't be on campus until this summer. Signee D.J. Fluker, rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 1 tackle prospect in the country, could be a definite factor once he arrives. But this spring, newcomer James Carpenter of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College will get a head start in the race, as he's already on campus. One of the last options could be moving seniorMike Johnson from guard to left tackle. Johnson started for Smith in the Allstate Sugar Bowl before getting hurt, and Alabama then slid Drew Davis from right tackle to left tackle and played true freshman John Michael Boswell at right tackle. The other guy to watch this spring will be Tyler Love, a big-time recruit who redshirted last season.
3. Tennessee quarterback: The debate is ongoing about the last time Tennessee struggled as much at the quarterback position as the Vols did last season. Was it 25 years ago? Was it more than 30 years ago? Now that Lane Kiffin and a new staff are aboard, the race will be as wide open as ever in the spring among the three guys who shared the job a year ago -- Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman. None of the three had much success. Crompton has the most experience and would seem to have the physical tools, but never found any kind of rhythm last season. For what it's worth, Kiffin and the Vols' coaches told some of the receivers they were recruiting this winter that Crompton was more than capable and that it was the system that held him back a year ago. We're going to find out this spring.
4. Florida "Percy" position: How good was Percy Harvin? So good that they're calling the position he played the last couple of seasons by his name -- part running back, part receiver and all playmaker. The Gators won't find one just like him. He was big enough and strong enough to take the pounding as a runner and fast enough to get open and run away from everybody at receiver. There's a long list of speedy guys on Florida's roster, but identifying somebody this spring who can do everything Harvin did will be a stretch. One of the guys to watch is Deonte Thompson, who has blazing speed and unbelievable athletic ability. Brandon James may see his role grow on offense, too, although he won't be around in the spring because of foot surgery. David Nelson came on at the end of last season, but he's strictly a receiver. Florida fans can't wait to get touted signee Andre Debose on campus. Some have already tagged him as the next Harvin. The 6-foot, 180-pound Debose played quarterback, slot receiver and wideout in high school. Sound familiar?
5. South Carolina cornerback: The Gamecocks lost their three top cornerbacks from a year ago. Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson were seniors, and Captain Munnerlyn compounded the situation by leaving early for the NFL draft. It will be a free-for-all for playing time at that position, and it starts this spring. Akeem Auguste played safety as a true freshman last season and played well despite a hamstring injury. The Gamecocks, though, are moving him back to cornerback, which is his natural position. They're also keeping their fingers crossed that C.C. Whitlock will continue on the course he's kept for most of this offseason and make a run at one of the starting cornerback jobs in the spring. Whitlock is a game-breaking athlete who struggled with maturity issues last year as a true freshman. And speaking of true freshmen, the guy everybody wants to see this spring is Stephon Gilmore, who enrolled early as a highly rated signee out of Rock Hill, S.C., and will start out at cornerback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A snapshot of what's in the news around the SEC:
- Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore could be the third Commodores player in the last four years to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
- Columnist Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News writes that Alabama and Tennessee are waging an uncivil war on the recruiting trail in Memphis.
- Kentucky is looking at the possibility of opening the 2009 season against Miami (Ohio) in Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium. The Wildcats need one more game to complete their schedule.
- Columnist Ray Melick of The Birmingham News writes that Andre Smith is being introduced to the real world.
- Auburn signee LaVoyd James is back in top form after breaking his ankle on a freak play last season in high school.