NCF Nation: Montori Hughes
Gary Russell, 20, said the only two players he could positively identify were defensive tackle Montori Hughes and receiver Denarius Moore. Russell said six or seven players jumped on him and were kicking and beating him while he lay on the floor after he bumped into Hughes. Russell said Hughes started the fight by pushing him and then punching him in his chest following the inadvertent bump. At that point, Russell said he swung back to defend himself, triggering the brawl that eventually spilled outside and left an off-duty police officer unconscious.
The 6-foot-4, 312-pound Hughes claims he was attacked by Russell from behind, and the Tennessee players in separate meetings have told coach Derek Dooley that's what happened. The police are still investigating and say more charges could be coming. Hughes has yet to be questioned by police or charged with anything, although he hired a lawyer last weekend.
Here's the latest on the situation.
Alabama: Safety Mark Barron. He’s the Crimson Tide’s lone experienced guy back in the secondary and one of the best safeties in the SEC. He also worked a bunch this spring at Alabama’s all-important star/nickel position in the defense. If something were to happen to Barron, Alabama might have to rely on a true freshman, possibly Jarrick Williams or Nick Perry. Robby Green's NCAA-mandated suspension was a major hit in terms of the Tide's depth at safety.
Auburn: Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba. The Tigers were hopeful that freshman signee Shon Coleman would be able to come in and sort of serve as Ziemba’s apprentice this first season at left tackle. Sadly, Coleman is battling lymphoma. Right now, it’s difficult to pinpoint anybody on Auburn’s roster who would be able to come in and competently handle defensive ends in this league.
Florida: Quarterback John Brantley. He’s the purest passer Urban Meyer has had at Florida and looked terrific this spring throwing the football. He still has to prove himself against SEC defenses, but the Gators are confident in what he’ll be able to do. Behind Brantley is true freshman Trey Burton, who had a 76-yard run in the spring game and may be used to run some of the “Tim Tebow” package next fall in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Georgia: Quarterback Aaron Murray. Your first inkling is to go with junior receiver A.J. Green, who just might be the best receiver in the country. But the more you study the Bulldogs’ quarterback situation, it has to be Murray. Granted, he hasn’t taken a snap in a college game, but he’s at least gone through two spring practices at Georgia. If Murray goes down, the Bulldogs’ options are junior Logan Gray (who wants to move to receiver) and true freshman Hutson Mason, who just finished up high school.
Kentucky: Receiver Randall Cobb. What doesn’t Cobb do for the Wildcats? He’s their most effective offensive threat whether he lines up at receiver or at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. He also returns kickoffs and punts. Kentucky is optimistic that senior Chris Matthews could also be a go-to guy at receiver now that he’s in his second year in the program after coming over from junior college last season. But Cobb’s versatility makes him one of the most irreplaceable players in the conference.
Mississippi State: Defensive end Pernell McPhee. The Bulldogs think they have the talent, size and athleticism in the defensive line to give opposing offenses fits next season. The guy who makes it all happen up front is McPhee, who’s powerful enough to play inside, but has the burst to play outside. He returns as one of the top defensive linemen in the SEC and is one of those difference-makers on defense you simply can’t take out of your lineup and not expect to have a steep drop-off. Junior Sean Ferguson or possibly redshirt freshman Johnathan McKenzie would be in line to replace McPhee.
Ole Miss: Defensive end Kentrell Lockett. The Rebels have more defensive tackles than they know what to do with. They’re as deep in the interior positions on the defense line as any team in the country. But Lockett is the lone wolf at end when you look at everybody that departed last season. The Rebels were encouraged by what they saw out of junior college newcomer Wayne Dorsey at the other end in the spring, but Lockett’s experience and ability to rush the passer will be one of the keys to Ole Miss’ defense. The Rebels are a lot less imposing in their front seven without him.
South Carolina: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. It sounds like Gilmore’s duties may expand in 2010. Steve Spurrier is talking about using him a couple of series every game at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. He also returns punts and is South Carolina’s top cornerback. Gilmore was one of the top freshmen in college football last season. Even though he’s only a sophomore, he’s the heart and soul of that secondary and will be even better his second tour through the SEC. Junior C.C. Whitlock would be first in line to replace Gilmore and is plenty talented. Whitlock just needs to prove that he’s going to be more dependable -- both on and off the field.
Tennessee: Defensive tackle Montori Hughes. Nowhere on Tennessee’s roster is the depth more precariously thin than at defensive tackle. Hughes and Marlon Walls are pretty much it, and they were both pushed into action last season as true freshmen. They’re bona fide SEC tackles, too, and make for a solid tandem. They just don’t have anybody behind them who’s played many (or any) meaningful snaps in this league. There’s depth at defensive end, and Rae Sykes may be one of those guys who can also play inside. But if something happens to the 6-4, 317-pound Hughes, the Vols will be extremely vulnerable in the middle of their defensive line.
Vanderbilt: Middle linebacker Chris Marve. He’s first SEC player since former Vanderbilt great Jamie Winborn to post 100-plus tackles in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Marve has also shown incredible toughness, playing through injuries and pain, and will be the heartbeat of that Vanderbilt defense in 2010 in more ways than one. There’s also not much experience around him at linebacker. Marve will be the one getting everybody lined up. And when there’s a play to be made, he’s the one who's usually making it. Redshirt freshman Blake Southerland would get a shot in the middle if something happened to Marve. The Commodores could also potentially move Tristan Strong or DeAndre Jones into the middle, although Strong is one of the favorites to step in for Patrick Benoist at weakside linebacker.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We're counting down the 30 best players in the SEC. We've taken a look at 10 players who may well emerge as stars in this league. Now, let's examine five players who came out of nowhere this spring to become major factors heading into the fall.
1. Ron Brooks, S, LSU -- A quarterback and receiver in high school, Brooks made his name as a special teams player last season as a redshirt freshman. He made another move this spring, from cornerback to safety, and was an instant hit. Every time you turned around, he was intercepting a pass or making a big play. With Harry Coleman sliding over some to outside linebacker, look for Brooks to play a major role in what should be a deep, talented LSU secondary in 2009.
2. Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee -- A little-known recruit coming out of high school, the 6-4, 312-pound Hughes exploded this spring on the practice field after spending last year at prep school. He was dominant enough that Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin evoked an Albert Haynesworth comparison after one scrimmage. Hughes is incredibly quick for a guy his size and gives the Vols that big, physical presence inside on the defensive line. He should be a nice complement to Dan Williams and Wes Brown this fall.
3. Carlton Thomas, RB, Georgia -- All eyes were on Caleb King coming into the spring, especially with Richard Samuel recovering from wrist surgery. King was supposed to be the heir apparent to Knowshon Moreno and still may be. But the most impressive running back for the Bulldogs this spring was the 5-7, 178-pound Thomas. He has great moves, is tough as nails and is one of those guys who's impossible to get a good hit on in space. The Georgia coaches think he can be aThomas Brown-type of player.
4. Robby Green, S, Alabama -- One of the most important jobs for Alabama this spring defensively was finding somebody to replace Rashad Johnson, who did so many things for the Crimson Tide defense a year ago. The guy who emerged was at one time thought to be too small to play cornerback in this league, let alone safety. Green, who was about 170 pounds when he arrived at Alabama, played almost exclusively on special teams last season. But his smarts, hustle and ability to hit a lot bigger than he weighs made him one of the surprises of the spring for the Crimson Tide.
5. Justin Albert, RB, Auburn -- He came to Auburn as a walk-on after blowing out his knee during his senior year of high school and spent last season on the scout team. Scholarship or no scholarship, Albert was one of those guys this spring that his teammates kept talking about in glowing terms. He's hungry, talented and willing to do whatever he can to contribute. He showed a knack for making the big plays in scrimmages and should fit in nicely to Gus Malzahn's new spread offense.