NCF Nation: got help spring 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Every Big Ten team circled and underlined a few questionable positions entering spring practice. Some of those concerns went away as young players blossomed and depth was built. Where did each Big Ten team get better this spring?
Here's a snapshot:
Illinois' running backs -- The development of sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure this spring gives Illinois plenty of options at running back heading into 2009. Ford and LeShoure both improved physically and mentally and will compete with senior Daniel Dufrene to be the featured runner. Bottom line: Juice Williams' job should be easier.
Indiana's offensive line -- After being decimated by injuries last season, Indiana can feel a bit better about the front five. Tackle James Brewer might finally be reaching his potential, and center Will Matte impressed the coaches in the middle of the line.
Iowa's offensive line -- This group figured to be pretty solid no matter what, but Iowa got some help from a familiar name in the interior line. Dace Richardson might finally be healthy, and he worked with the first-team at left guard as Iowa tries to replace all-conference linemen Seth Olsen and Rob Bruggeman.
Michigan's offensive line -- Not a major surprise here, considering the Wolverines bring back all their starters from last season. But an extra year of experience plus several talented redshirt freshmen (Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh) joining the mix should pay off big time this fall.
Michigan State's quarterbacks -- The Spartans felt great about the progress of quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, who both threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Head coach Mark Dantonio is in no rush to name a starter, but unlike many men in his position, he really has two viable options here.
Minnesota's wide receivers -- With superstar Eric Decker playing baseball, Minnesota needed to identify other solid options at receiver. Return specialist Troy Stoudermire emerged as a big-play threat, and quarterback Adam Weber liked what he saw from Brandon Green and Da'Jon McKnight.
Northwestern's running backs -- Of the three offensive skill positions where Northwestern loses starters, running back appears to be the most stable. Sophomore Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring and will push Stephen Simmons for the starting job. Northwestern has several options in the backfield after losing four-year starter Tyrell Sutton.
Ohio State's linebackers -- You can't deny all the production Ohio State loses in its defensive midsection, but the spring revealed several solid players who can step in. Austin Spitler and Tyler Moeller have waited their turn for the spotlight, and Brian Rolle had an excellent spring. With returning starter Ross Homan back on the outside, the Buckeyes should once again be solid.
Penn State's defensive line -- Despite losing three defensive ends with starting experience, Penn State should once again boast one of the league's top pass rushes. Sophomore Jack Crawford looks like the Nittany Lions' next superstar pass rusher and should fill the void on the edge with Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham.
Purdue's running backs -- Even with Jaycen Taylor still rehabbing from a torn ACL, Purdue got a lot better at running back this spring. Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to steal the show in spring scrimmages (420 rush yards, 4 touchdowns), and Dan Dierking also looked impressive. The Boilers will need a viable rushing attack this fall, and they can feel a lot better about this group.
Wisconsin's wide receivers -- Dropped passes dogged the receivers throughout 2008, but the group definitely got better this spring. Nick Toon emerged as a potential No. 1 target with an excellent performance in practice, and Isaac Anderson, Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath all showed progress at times.
Spring football isn't just about finding new starters, it's also about finding depth. Several teams among the Independents and Others found a lot of depth some coaches didn't even know existed. My blogging counterparts released their teams that received the most help last week, but since I was recovering from surgery, I didn't get to post it. However, I didn't want to leave several deserving teams out of the loop. Below is a list of a couple teams that found much needed depth this spring.
Running game: The Nevada running game ranked third behind the efforts of Vai Taua and Colin Kaepernick and the reserve running of Courtney Randall, but add Luke Lippincott, who was approved for a sixth year and the Nevada running game could be the best in the country.
Wide receiver: After losing the top three receivers from a year ago, the Utes gained some confidence this spring with the emergence of Aiona Key, David Reed and Jereme Brooks. The Utes also should get help from freshman Luke Matthews and DeVonte Christopher, who was a quarterback.
Running back: With Damion Fletcher sitting out because of a suspension, coach Larry Fedora realized his running back depth with the strong play of players such as V.J. Floyd, Tory Harrison and redshirt freshman Desmond Johnson. Fletcher might still be the starter, but those guys will see time.
Offensive line: Last season, the Broncos played 11 different offensive line combinations and a dozen different players. While it was a big problem last year, it made for quite a bit of depth this year, anchored by center Thomas Byrd.
Wide receiver: The Knights didn't have much of a passing game last year, but that should change this season with more experience at quarterback and the return of A.J. Guyton and Rocky Ross from injury. They'll complement Brian Watters, who led the team in receiving yards last season.
Wide receivers: UNLV returns three of its top four receivers, including Ryan Wolfe, who caught passes for more than 1,000 yards last season. But coach Mike Sanford is also hoping for production out of Michael Johnson and incoming freshmen Marcus Sullivan and Mark Barefield.
Wide receiver: Aaron Bain and Malcolm Lane are the team's top returning receivers, but the team found multiple weapons this spring, including Jovonte Taylor, who missed last season with injury. The Warriors also got spring production out of Dustin Blount, Rodney Bradley, Greg Salas, Jon Medeiros, and Ryan Henry.
Tight end: Replacing James Casey is a tall order considering he was the most versatile player in the Rice lineup. But Taylor Wardlow had a great spring and freshman Vance McDonald, who signed with the 2008 class but missed the season with shoulder surgery, should be a great duo to replace him.
Running back: The Pirates had a running back by committee last season, but with Dominique Lindsay, who missed last season with a knee injury, back in the mix and Brandon Jackson emerging, the Pirates have nice depth regardless of whether Jonathan Williams and Norman Whitley, who both missed spring football after being suspended, are allowed back.
Wide receiver: Austin Collie is gone, but the return of McKay Jacobson from his two-year mission should make up for that. Dennis Pitta will be the premier target in the fall, but players such as O'Neill Chambers and Luke Ashworth came into their own this spring. Tight end Andrew George also should make a strong contribution.
Questions remain around the Big East, but a few teams found some help this spring at certain positions. Here's a list of where that help came from for a few teams:
Cincinnati: The addition of Marcus Barnett to the defense helped solidify a secondary that lost starting cornerbacks Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith and safety Brandon Underwood.
Pittsburgh: Elijah Fields finally played up to his potential, and Dom DeCicco was solid as the Pitt safety position looked strong this spring.
Syracuse: Moving Derrell Smith to the inside and switching Doug Hogue from running back solidified the Orange's linebacker corps.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.
Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.
Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.
Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.
Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.
Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.
Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.
Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.
Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.
Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.
Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.
Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
With everybody hoping to build depth and identify younger players ready to step up and contribute, here's a look at the position on each team in the SEC that received the most help this spring:
Tight end: Colin Peek, a transfer from Georgia Tech, will be a major factor in the passing game. Even though Nick Walker and Travis McCall are both gone, the Tide will continue to use two tight ends a lot of the time.
Receiver: The touchdown catches were spread around this spring. Sophomores Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs all took it to another level, while London Crawford also appears poised for a big senior season.
Defensive line: Michael Goggans really came on at the end and will make it tough for opposing offenses with Antonio Coleman coming off the other edge. The big get, though, was Auburn legend Tracy Rocker returning to the Plains to coach the Tigers' defensive line.
Secondary: Florida's depth in the secondary is ridiculous. Guys like Dorian Munroe, Wondy Pierre-Louis, Will Hill, Adrian Bushell and Markihe Anderson would be full-time starters for a lot of teams in the SEC. They'll provide depth for the Gators.
Quarterback: It's clearly Joe Cox's job, but the two true freshmen showed this spring that they could play and are willing to do what it takes to play. Aaron Murray can do a little bit of everything, and Zach Mettenberger has a big-time arm.
Defensive line: The loss of Myron Pryor will hurt, but junior college newcomer Mark Crawford made his presence felt this spring at tackle, while Chandler Burden and Collins Ukwu both made big strides at end.
Secondary: First-year defensive coordinator John Chavis loves his nucleus of players in the secondary. The Tigers moved Ron Brooks from cornerback to safety, entrenched Chad Jones at free safety and got outstanding play from Patrick Peterson at corner.
Linebacker: Getting Jamar Chaney back in the middle was huge after he missed just about all of last season with a broken leg. He's an All-SEC caliber player that will make K.J. Wright even better at one of the outside linebacker spots.
Running back: Brandon Bolden had a terrific spring for the Rebels and is the starter heading into the fall. But he'll also have Cordera Eason and Enrique Davis pushing him. And don't forget about Devin Thomas, who was one of the stars of the spring.
Running back: It was hard to predict what to expect from the Gamecocks' running backs heading into the spring. But freshman Jarvis Giles provided the game-breaking threat they lacked last season in the backfield, and Brian Maddox, Eric Baker and Kenny Miles all showed significant improvement.
Defensive line: The Vols are still thin up front defensively, but the emergence of tackle Montori Hughes was one of the stories of the spring for the Vols. And on the outside, Chris Walker showed that he's ready to become a star in this league.
Offensive line: All five starters are back on the Commodores' offensive line, and it's a unit that showed vast improvement this spring under the tutelage of Robbie Caldwell. Center Bradley Vierling and right tackle Thomas Welch, both fifth-year seniors, will be the anchors.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There was some progress in the ACC this spring, and each team got a little bit of help at certain positions. Here's a look at who found some help this spring and where:
BOSTON COLLEGE: Marcellus Bowman and Wes Davis are two safeties who should help make the Eagles' secondary one of the best BC fans have seen in recent years. Four players return to the secondary with starting experience.
CLEMSON: It's amazing what a year of experience can do, and the Tigers' offensive line needed it. The only direction for this group to go is up, and it started to do that this spring. All five starters return.
DUKE: The return of running back Re'quan Boyette will give the Blue Devils' running game a more potent punch. He could be a difference maker on the field this fall, and Duke will need him to be.
FLORIDA STATE: Leading rusher Antone Smith is gone, but FSU fans can rest assured Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones can carry the load for the Noles. Both had several breakaway runs this spring.
GEORGIA TECH: On a defense that lost its leaders up front, defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett established themselves as the new captains of the ship this spring, and they should be the Jackets' top two defenders.
MARYLAND: Phil Costa helped ease the transition of the graduation of longtime leader Edwin Williams at center. The Terps lost three starters up front and have four players in new positions, but Costa proved he can be the new leader of the group.
MIAMI: This "got help" award goes to new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. He had an immediate impact on the offense this spring and has Jacory Harris' full attention.
NORTH CAROLINA: Da'Norris Searcy and Melvin Williams gave the staff some confidence in life without Trimane Goddard. Searcy played well in the Meineke Car Care bowl as a fifth defensive back and played with confidence this spring.
NC STATE: Mike Glennon answered the distress signal at backup quarterback, a position that had been exposed far too many times in the past. Glennon completed 23 of 38 passes for 272 yards and one touchdown in the Kay Yow Spring Game.
VIRGINIA: The return of Jameel Sewell at quarterback and addition of Vic Hall no doubt helped the Cavaliers. At this point last year, they didn't have one quarterback who had any starting experience. Now they've got three.
VIRGINIA TECH: Confidence grew in the linebackers this spring, and that's because of the efforts of Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson. Bruce Taylor and Quillie Odom are still learning, but there was progress at this position.
WAKE FOREST: Kenny Okoro and Josh Bush both proved to be dependable players at a position that just lost Alphonso Smith. Okoro in particular stood out, but both of them got a lot of reps with Brandon Ghee out with an injury.