NCF Nation: Arian Foster
2. Here’s why college athletics as we know it is going to change. Never mind that Arian Foster came out and said he got paid while he played at Tennessee. When a high-profile player such as Foster feels there’s not enough social stigma to prevent him from declaring that he got paid, then the public opinion has shifted enough to mean that a change is going to come. Some people in the NCAA understand that and are trying to manage the change. Others want the status to remain quo. But it never does, does it?
3. If you haven’t seen the onside kick executed by Rice senior Chris Boswell with 2:19 remaining in the Owls’ 31-26 loss to Houston, get thee to YouTube or click here. It defies belief. Boswell has established himself as one of the most talented placekickers in the FBS. He made six field goals of 50 yards or longer last season. He nailed a 56-yarder in Rice’s 23-14 victory over Kansas on Sept. 14, although he missed two 50-plus yarders Saturday. Maybe the onside kick will soothe his anguish.
Manning’s signature includes a short note that reads simply: “Coach Jones, I’m in your corner.”
The truth is that they’re lining up in Big Orange Country to be in Jones’ corner. He hasn’t won a game, hasn’t even coached in a game. But he’s made a lot of right moves to this point, starting with fully embracing Tennessee’s traditions and reaching out to the former players.
It’s one of the reasons Jones is bringing back a captain from every era to address the team. Manning was on campus last week. Al Wilson, who captained the 1998 national championship team, is also scheduled to come in at some point.
On Friday, Jones tweeted out a picture of he and Arian Foster together in Tennessee’s new $45 million football complex. Foster, the Houston Texas’ All-Pro running back, had not been back to campus since 2009. He spoke to the team on the eve of Saturday’s Orange & White spring game.
“There’s only one Tennessee, and we’re going to get back to being Tennessee,” vowed Jones, who’s made it a point to get out and see fans, engage fans on social media, and speak just about anywhere he’s asked to speak.
“I think our fans and former players see our body of work, and feel the passion and energy and zeal me and my coaching staff have to be here at Tennessee. We’re one of them and as impatient as anyone, but we’re going to do it right and build it brick by brick and make sure that foundation is set in stone.”
As passionate as Jones is, he’s equally realistic. There aren’t going to be any quick fixes, not with a killer schedule in 2013 that includes trips to Alabama, Florida and Oregon.
The good news is that the Vols return an offensive line that should be one of the best in the SEC. But just about everywhere else, there are major question marks.
Simply getting to a bowl game next season would be a huge accomplishment for the Vols, who have suffered through three straight losing seasons.
“We’ve got a ways to go, but I’m hopeful we’ll be able to overcome some of the challenges we have starting out with our effort, our fundamentals, and our chemistry,” said Jones, who won four conference championships in his six seasons as head coach at Cincinnati and Central Michigan.
“The big thing for us is continuing to get better in our program day by day, hour by hour, and the winning will take care of itself.”
Amazingly, Jones is the fourth different head coach at Tennessee in the past six seasons. It’s hard to find genuine stability anywhere these days in the realm of SEC football. But for more than 30 years, the Vols were coached by two men -- John Majors and Phillip Fulmer.
Jones is hellbent on bringing back that stability, and his players insist the difference from the old regime under Derek Dooley has been night and day.
“There’s no locker room drama, people talking bad in the locker room,” said junior safety Brian Randolph, who is healthy again after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. “We used to have those people. That went away once coach Jones got here. The locker room atmosphere is much better, people hyped every day for practice. The team camaraderie is a lot better.”
Junior quarterback Justin Worley said Jones has followed through on giving everybody a fresh start, which has made for some fierce competition on the practice field this spring and eliminated any sense of entitlement that might have existed previously.
“Everybody’s had an opportunity to prove what they can do on the field and off the field, whether it’s in the classroom or the weight room,” said Worley, who exits the spring as the Vols’ likely starter at quarterback.
“That’s been a huge change. He hasn’t focused on just a small group of guys. We’ve had some walk-ons even step up and take some reps. We’ve never had that here. It really has been a clean slate, and we needed that.”
Something else Jones has done is get off to a blazing start on the 2014 recruiting class, which has been his most important move. The Vols were No. 7 nationally in ESPN’s early class rankings. They have already landed a pair of commitments from ESPN 150 prospects Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr. A third ESPN 150 prospect, linebacker Dillon Bates, could be soon to follow.
If the Vols are indeed going to return to elite status under Jones, they have to get back to beating teams on the recruiting trail that they have to beat on the field. When they had it rolling under Fulmer in the 1990s, that was the formula.
Jones’ message to recruits hasn’t wavered since he took the job, and the early returns suggest that they’re listening.
“We have it all right here at Tennessee, and then to be on the ground floor to build it back to its rightful place makes it even more special,” Jones said. “That’s a legacy, and something that will live with you for the rest of your life.
“It’s easy for players to go somewhere that’s established and they can just sort of fit in. Go some place you can make a difference.”
They’re believers on Rocky Top that Jones will make a difference. It’s just going to take some 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
We take our daily stroll to see what others are saying and writing about SEC football:
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier continues to search for answers at quarterback.
- Tennessee running back Arian Foster sticks by his decision to stay for his senior season.
- First-year Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin has been a hit in Oxford.
- Arkansas' Michael Smith is likely out along with several other starters for Hogs' final game against LSU.
- The Iron Bowl is never just a game. Just ask Nick Saban.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Florida's Tim Tebow says he can't say for sure whether or not he'll be back next season. His interview with The Sporting News' Dave Curtis tops our lunchtime links:
- Curtis sat down with Tebow in a wide-ranging interview that included his recruitment, his NFL plans and his politics.
- Tennessee's Arian Foster is closing in on the school's all-time rushing record, but he's not talking about it ... unless you speak Pterodactyl.
- Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News has an interesting look at the Nick Saban-Gary Pinkel relationship, which goes back to their days as teammates at Kent State.
- Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin goes back to the old Tony Franklin in practice, as the Tigers continue to look for answers on offense.
- Ole Miss' Greg Hardy disappears against South Carolina and finds his way to the bench in the second half. His coaches say he'll stay there unless he plays with more energy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Here's a look at our first installment of "Hot and Not" in the SEC. We'll do this every week throughout the season after all of the games are played. We'll top it with that week's "En Fuego" award and end it with the dubious "Ice, Ice Baby" award:
Alabama's offensive line: Even without star left tackle Andre Smith for much of the second half, the Crimson Tide offensive line controlled the game and reminded us all what being physical is all about. Clemson's fannies are probably still smarting.
Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson: He brings a dimension with his ability to run the ball (166 yards in the opener) that's critical to the Vanderbilt offense.
The Auburn passing game: The Tigers had just 28 yards passing at the end of the third quarter last Saturday in their 34-0 rout of Louisiana-Monroe.
Ole Miss running back/receiver Dexter McCluster: He's the Rebels' version of "Slash" and he had 125 total yards last weekend. Gotta love the Wild Rebel formation.
Mississippi State's offense: The Bulldogs' five turnovers were bad enough. But the real clincher: They didn't have a first down in the fourth quarter.
LSU's composure: The game was moved up to a 10 a.m. start and a deadly hurricane was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, but LSU never blinked and went out and took care of business.
Kentucky's defense: We knew the Wildcats would be stout up front defensively, but they're as talented and deep across the board on defense as they've ever been under Rich Brooks.
Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson: He played exactly the way the Tide needs him to in the opener. He managed the offense, didn't force things and made plays when they were there.
Tennessee tailback Arian Foster: Crippling fumbles will tarnish an otherwise stellar career. He had another one against UCLA that totally changed the complexion of that game.
ICE, ICE BABY
Tennessee's coaching staff: Not the best start for Phillip Fulmer & Co. New offensive coordinator Dave Clawson had first-year starter Jonathan Crompton throw the ball 41 times. The defense played soft in coverage and never adjusted to UCLA's short passing game in the second half. How many touchdowns do the Vols need to give up on special teams before they hire a full-time coordinator?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- From the Rose Bowl press box ...
Is the UCLA defense wearing down as Tennessee asserts itself?
UCLA went three-and-out, and the Vols promptly drove 73 yards to the Bruins' 6-yard line.
But then Tennessee's Arian Foster fumbled, and the Bruins recovered.
Boy, this Bruins defense. Coordinator DeWayne Walker has these guys schemed-up and ready to play.
Perhaps as a belated reward, the Bruins offense earned two first downs, moving out to their 40. That gave them seven for the game.
Then, after another good defensive series, what's this ... a UCLA drive!
Give Kevin Craft credit for being mentally tough. A lot of guys would have gone into the emotional tank after tossing four interceptions in the first half.
He goes 3-for-4 for 31 yards on a 10-play drive that's capped by a 41-yard field goal by Kai Forbath, closing the gap to 14-10.
The line surrendered its first sack, which means the maligned crew has done fairly well in pass protection through almost three quarters.
Is this really a game? Seems like it's going to take a Tennessee mistake for the Bruins to pull off an upset, but this is much closer than most folks expected, including yours truly.
The Bruins are pinned deep -- second and 14 on their 4-yard line to start the fourth -- not good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- Hopeless? Beaten down? Overmatched? Don't tell UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell about lost causes. He doesn't believe in them. He'll probably know better than anyone else on the field Monday when Tennessee visits the Rose Bowl that there's always hope for those who refuse to surrender.
Harwell, as detailed in this 2004 LA Daily News story, spent time homeless and living in a car with his mother and two youngest brothers growing up. He also lived in foster homes, separated from his siblings, while his mother struggled with personal issues.
Yet he still found his way to UCLA, became a standout defensive lineman, a good student and an NFL prospect.
Then he blew out his knee two games into the 2007 season.
Did he shake his fist at the heavens and wonder why, after all he'd been through, his life had taken another downturn due to no fault of his own?
No way. If there's a UCLA player who can match new coach Rick Neuheisel's philosophy of relentless optimism, it's Harwell.
He busted his rear rehabilitating his leg and then applied for a medical hardship waiver. He arrived in camp in the best shape of his life, a chiseled 290 pounds.
Now, he will team with sophomore Brian Price to make one of the Pac-10's most formidable DT combos.
|Chris Livingston/Icon SMI||Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno top a list of talented SEC offensive players.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
I'll be taking the rest of this week off to gear up for the unofficial start of the SEC season next week. The SEC Media Days are scheduled for July 23-25 in Birmingham, and I'll be there with wall-to-wall coverage all three days.
But to get us through the rest of this week, I've put together a package on the "Best of the SEC," which I'm sure won't create any debate, second-guessing or lively conversation.
We'll start today by ranking the 10 best offensive players in the SEC. Check back on Tuesday for the 10 best defensive players. We'll rank the 10 most underrated players on Wednesday, the 10 most likely breakout players on Thursday and the 10 best impact newcomers on Friday.
Let me hear who we've left off, who's ranked too high or too low and who's ranked about where they should be.
In a conference as talented as the SEC, it's almost impossible to pick just 10 players for each of these lists. But here goes:
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida: The first sophomore in history to win the Heisman Trophy and the only player in NCAA history to rush for and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season. And, no, he doesn't wear a cape.
2. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: Joined exclusive company last season with 1,334 rushing yards. The only SEC freshmen to rush for more were Herschel Walker, Emmitt Smith and Jamal Lewis.
3. Percy Harvin: WR, Florida: Keep an eye on him, because he might line up anywhere. The SEC's most versatile weapon, Harvin has averaged nearly 10 yards per carry and 15 yards per reception.
4. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: A starter from the day he stepped foot on campus, Smith is the prototypical left tackle and the most devastating blocker in a league ripe with great blockers.
5. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss: Took a long look at turning pro following his junior season. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Oher has gained upper-body strength and will be even better in 2008.
6. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas: One of the most complete offensive linemen in the country, Luigs won the Remington Trophy last season as the most outstanding center in college football.
7. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia: He doesn't wow you over with eye-popping statistics, but the big Texan can make all of the throws and has the kind of physical tools you can't teach.
8. Kenny McKinley, WR, South Carolina: If Harvin's the SEC's best receiver, McKinley's not too far behind. He led the league in receptions (77) and receiving yards per game (80.7) last season.
9. Arian Foster, RB, Tennessee: His total of 1,650 all-purpose yards last season was the second best mark in school history. Has the size, vision and pass-catching skills to hurt teams a variety of different ways.
10. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida: Came to Florida as a quarterback. Ingram caught seven touchdown passes a year ago. If this physical specimen takes his blocking to another level, look out.
In closing: I could have easily picked a few more offensive linemen for this list. The SEC is stacked with NFL-caliber offensive linemen for 2008. And if Harvin is 100 percent healthy after coming back from heel surgery, he gets my nod as the best playmaker in the league.