NCF Nation: Needs to come through spring 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The spring surprises are always sweet. The same goes for that star who takes his game to another level in the spring.
But what about the guy who wasn't around for the bulk of the spring either because he was recovering from surgery, serving a suspension or concentrating on his academics?
Here's a look at the player on each team who didn't go through spring practice for some reason that needs to come through next fall:
RB Roy Upchurch: He was held out of contact all spring after undergoing surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his neck. Nick Saban likes to rotate his running backs, and Upchurch is one of the most versatile of the bunch and also excels on special teams.
RB Michael Smith: After carrying the entire Arkansas offense on his back last season, the 173-pound Smith wore down toward the end and underwent hamstring surgery in the offseason. He's a special player who should be even more special now that he's healthy.
WR Montez Billings: An academic issue that remains unresolved kept Billings out of spring practice. He's the Tigers' leading returning receiver, and it's a position where they can use all the help they can get. His experience would also be invaluable.
RB/KR Brandon James: One of the main reasons the Gators' special teams are some of the best in the country is because of James' ability to change the complexion of a game with a punt return. He missed the spring after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured bone in his right foot.
DT Jeff Owens: Owens is on track to be 100 percent by the start of preseason practice. He blew his knee out in the opener last season and didn't go through the spring. He and Geno Atkins give the Bulldogs what should be the best defensive tackle tandem in the league.
RB Derrick Locke: Despite a serious knee injury midway through last season, Locke still led the Wildcats with 812 all-purpose yards. They need his speed and big-play ability in the backfield, although there are no guarantees that he'll be recovered in time to start the season.
C T-Bob Hebert: The son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert was held out of contact in the spring following knee surgery that forced him to miss most of last season. He's the missing piece for the Tigers on the offensive line at center.
WR Brandon McRae: The Bulldogs need receivers in the worst way, and McRae was one of the few who stood out last season. He broke his leg in the season finale against Ole Miss and was severely limited this spring. He said he was about 60 percent at the time, but is determined to be ready to go for the fall.
DE Greg Hardy: The only time he was really healthy last season was against Florida, and Hardy dominated that game. He missed the spring after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot that has lingered. If healthy and focused, Hardy makes an already strong Ole Miss defensive line scary good.
DT Ladi Ajiboye: One of the Gamecocks' top run-stuffers last season, Ajiboye was suspended for the entire spring following his arrest on a drug charge. He remained in school, though, and has been making steady progress toward being reinstated.
S Eric Berry: This one's a no-brainer. Berry is the heart and soul of the Vols' defense, but was held out of contact in the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. He said the shoulder is no longer an issue and is raring to go in Monte Kiffin's new defensive scheme. Berry already has 12 career interceptions.
RB Jared Hawkins: Held out of spring practice while recovering from a foot injury, Hawkins is one of the keys' to the Commodores' running game next fall. He led the team in rushing last season with 593 yards and is one of the more underrated players in the league.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
A host of key Big 12 players battled through a variety of maladies this spring as they missed practice in preparation for the upcoming season. Here's a look at some of the more notable players and what they need to do in order to bounce back strong when practice begins this summer.
Baylor WR David Gettis: Bothered by recurring hamstring pulls in the spring, Gettis needs to be healthy to fulfill his lofty promise that arrived before him. If not, he'll have trouble keeping pace with Kendall Wright, Ernest Smith and Justin Fenty in the Bears' developing rotation of wide receivers.
Colorado QB Tyler Hansen: Looked to be competing at a near equal basis with Cody Hawkins before he broke his right thumb in the spring game. He'll have to recover quickly from post-spring surgery if he wants to renew the competition when the Buffaloes report in August.
Iowa State T Scott Haughton: Didn't participate in spring practice while he addressed some academic issues. His return in the fall is critical for the Cyclones after making 11 starts last season.
Kansas RB Jocques Crawford: Heralded former national junior-college rushing leader fell into coach Mark Mangino's doghouse after he was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Jake Sharp and Rell Lewis have jumped far ahead in the rotation as Crawford's role for the Jayhawks remains uncertain.
Kansas State RB-S Logan Dold: After switching to defense late in practice, Dold was hampered by an undisclosed injury and did not appear in the Wildcats' spring game. He needs to be healthy to make a challenge for earning playing time either on offense or defense.
Missouri WR Jared Perry: Missed all contact work as he recovered from post-season shoulder surgery. His absence, along with that of Danario Alexander's recovery from knee surgery, might explain why Blaine Gabbert struggled in the Tigers' spring game.
Oklahoma DE Auston English: English was the best speed pass-rusher in the Big 12 for most of the 2007 season before injuries cut his productivity. He still has that promise -- even as his struggled last season and missed the spring with a knee injury. But other talented defensive ends like Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander have caught the attention of coaches, making it tougher to English to win his way back into the starting lineup.
Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant: His knee injury turned around the Cowboys' Holiday Bowl loss to Oregon. He's expected to return as normal after missing all of spring practice, although there is always a concern about a recovery from any kind of knee surgery.
Texas RB Cody Johnson: Appeared ready to claim the starting lineup midway through spring practice before injuring his left hamstring. He needs to return healthy and in shape to be able to hold off heralded freshman Chris Whaley and the other contenders among Texas running backs.
Texas A&M QB-WR Ryan Tannehill: His expected challenge against Jerrod Johnson for playing time at quarterback never materialized as Tannehill's spring practice was limited by a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. His lack of playing time at quarterback this spring could mean he heads back to receiver while also serving as Johnson's backup at quarterback.
Texas Tech DE McKinner Dixon: After the departure of Brandon Williams to the NFL, Dixon was counted to be the Red Raiders' top pass-rushing threat. But he got crossways with coach Mike Leach after falling behind academically. Leach said Dixon's return is doubtful, making the Red Raiders' biggest defensive concern that much more tenuous.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Guys get hurt, need surgery and time to rehab. Or they get suspended. Or they need some, er, extra time to work on their grades.
In other words, while their teammates are fighting -- and sweating -- to retain or win jobs, they stand on the sidelines watching. Or sitting on a stationary bike. Or dressed in a red jersey.
Still, most fans pencil them into the lineup, worry-free.
To which we say: We shall see.
C Blake Kerley & OT Phillip Garcia: Kerley had started 29 games before injuring his knee last year, and in his absence Colin Baxter entrenched himself at center. Garcia is an intriguing talent who was limited this spring after knee surgery. Both of these guys could fight into the starting lineup. Or they could provide capable depth. Or they could stand on the sidelines.
OT Matt Hustad: Hustad, a sophomore, is athletic and physical and if he were healthy he'd find a spot on the Sun Devils' beleaguered offensive line. But after two years of knee issues that's starting to become a significant "if."
RB Jahvid Best: We know, we know. Jahvid's fine! Foot and elbow surgery? No worries. That hip issue last year? Didn't look like it hurt him in 2008, did it? All is well. Heisman Trophy here we come ... wheee! But, honestly, Cal fans, aren't you eager to read about him practicing again?
RB LaMichael James: James' potential is beguiling. He's the lightning -- taking Jeremiah Johnson's place -- to match with LeGarrette Blount's thunder in the backfield. But he missed spring with a shoulder injury and he'll need to prove himself in the fall.
QB Lyle Moevao: Moevao "Wally Pipped" Sean Canfield last year, and it appears Canfield might return the favor this fall. Moevao missed the spring after shoulder surgery -- just like Canfield last year -- and he's fallen behind Canfield in the quarterback competition because of that -- just like Canfield last year. Of course, Moevao is a scrapper, so counting him out might be a mistake.
OT Allen Smith: Smith and his pesky patella, which killed his 2008 season and which he re-injured this spring. He's an NFL talent, and he could answer a lot of questions on the Cardinal offensive line, but he's got to stay healthy and it doesn't appear that he can.
TB Christian Ramirez: The Bruins' coaches must love Ramirez because he still tops the depth chart after being academically ineligible last year and being limited most of spring with a bum hamstring. With two other tailbacks already opting to transfer, the pressure is on Ramirez to reward his coaches' faith.
TB Joe McKnight: McKnight sat out practice with injuries (skip). McKnight sat out practice with injuries (skip). McKnight sat out practice with injuries (skip). Hey, he's a great talent, but my biggest memory of him last year wasn't a play -- it was of him sitting in a golf cart watching practice. Did they bring the golf cart back this spring?
S Jason Wells: Remember this guy, Husky fans? I didn't until Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta reminded me. He's a two-year starter who suffered a knee injury in 2007 that killed his 2008 season and then missed spring with an Achilles injury. The Huskies have a lot of issues in their secondary and Wells could help. If he's healthy, that is.
DT Bernard Wolfgramm: The JC transfer redshirted last year yet was listed as a starter on the pre-spring depth chart. But he's had persistent back issues, which limited him this spring, so it's hard to say what he could give the Cougars in 2009. And they really need some help on the defensive line, so Wolfgramm's health is a critical issue.
Several major players missed some or all of spring football this year because of injuries they suffered during the regular season. Those players need to make a comeback in order to ensure their team's success in the fall.
Here are a few of the players who are expected to make some major contributions once they're completely healthy.
• Patrick Edwards, WR, Houston: Everyone saw the YouTube video of Edwards crashing into a cart full of band equipment just outside the end zone at Marshall. The accident left Edwards, who was the team's leading receiver at the time, in surgery with a broken fibula and tibia, but he returned quickly, participated in non-contact drills and should be ready for the fall.
• DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss: Brown suffered a broken leg in the New Orleans Bowl after landing awkwardly after leaping for a pass. Brown, the nation's leading freshman receiver, didn't participate in spring drills, but told coach Larry Fedora that he's faster than he was before he was injured.
• Luke Lippincott, RB, Nevada: Lippincott suffered a torn ACL against Texas Tech last season and missed almost all of his senior season. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility late in the spring, and did the bare minimum during spring football while continuing to heal. He was first-team All-WAC in 2007.
• Alex Allen, RB, Akron: Allen was expected to take over for Dennis Kennedy, but he's struggled to come back from a hip injury he suffered last season. The Zips don't have many other options at running back especially after Dale Martin tore his Achilles tendon during the team's final spring practice.
• Klay Kubiak, QB, Colorado State: Colorado State came out of the spring with no starter at quarterback and the effort was so poor that coach Steve Fairchild called it embarrassing. Kubiak is recovering from shoulder surgery, but could be the starter in the fall.
• Tim Hiller, QB, Western Michigan: After the Broncos bowl loss to Rice, coach Bill Cubit announced that Hiller had played the back half of the season with a torn ACL. He spent the spring recovering from it and will be a key returner for the Broncos run for the MAC West.
• Dominique Lindsay, RB, East Carolina: Lindsay was supposed to be the starting running back last season, but tore his ACL during fall camp and has been recovering ever since. He participated in some spring drills and will be a key component in ECU's defense of C-USA East.
• Andre Anderson, RB, Tulane: Anderson is the best offensive weapon the Green Wave has and his return is important for the team to improve on its 2-10 record. Anderson suffered a fractured dislocation of his right shoulder in October and participated in non-contract spring drills.
• Asher Clark, QB/TB, Air Force: Clark was supposed to challenge for the starting quarterback role with Tim Jefferson, but a meniscus tear in his knee cut his spring and his learning of the quarterback position short. Clark also was the team's top returning rusher.
• Donovan Porterie, QB, New Mexico: Porterie is trying to win the starting quarterback job back after suffering a knee injury last season. He participated in some spring drills, and he'll continue to fight for his starting spot through the fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
But there were also players who missed all or part of the spring because of injuries, suspension, academics or whatever. And several of them are key parts to their team. Here's a look at some players who need to come through this fall after being absent for at least part of spring ball.
Cincinnati: Linebacker Andre Revels was held out of most of the spring after minor offseason knee surgery. The senior is one of the few experienced players on the Bearcats' defense and will be counted on this fall. Young defensive back Dominique Battle was expected to compete for a starting cornerback job this spring but was sidelined at times with an ankle injury.
Connecticut: The Huskies were remarkably injury- and issue-free this spring. They'll hope that continues this fall.
Louisville: The Cardinals are a different team offensively when receiver Scott Long is healthy. Unfortunately, he missed most of last season with injuries and sat out the spring following ACL surgery. He should be good to go in the summer.
Pittsburgh: Starting cornerback Aaron Berry was suspended for the final part of spring drills for violating team rules. Pitt needs him to have his act together and be on the field.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had a lot of important players miss time this spring with various injuries, including safety Joe Lefeged, leading returning rusher Kordell Young, running back Jourdan Brooks and several of their young receivers.
South Florida: Seemingly every offensive linemen the Bulls missed time with an injury or another problem this spring. Obviously, Jake Sims (finger), Zach Herman (concussion), Sampson Genus (knee) and Jeremiah Warren (academics) all will be needed in the fall for South Florida to contend.
Syracuse: First-team all-Big East defensive tackle Arthur Jones tore his pectoral muscle before the spring and was unavailable. The timetable for his return isn't clear, but Syracuse would have a hard time without him.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could use Jock Sanders back in the lineup. The speedy receiver/running back was suspended for the spring after a DUI arrest. He will try to return to the team once he completes his court case.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Who needs to step up for each team?
Donsay Hardeman, S, Illinois -- Neck surgery sounds pretty scary, but Hardeman likely will return to the field this fall after undergoing the procedure during the offseason. He can provide experience at the all-important safety spot after recording 44 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery last fall.
Deonte Mack, DT, Indiana -- Any number of players could fit in this spot for the injury-plagued Hoosiers, but Mack, who missed spring ball following hip surgery, must provide leadership at an extremely thin position. Pass-rushers Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew will only be effective if opponents have to worry about the interior line.
Tony Moeaki, TE, Iowa -- It's hard not to pull for Moeaki, a heralded prospect who has endured injury after injury with the Hawkeyes and was on crutches during spring ball. He's expected to return this summer and possibly fill a key role after Iowa lost first-team All-Big Ten tight end Brandon Myers.
Jonas Mouton, LB, Michigan -- Michigan's improvement on defense must start with the linebackers, and Mouton returns to the mix after shoulder surgery kept him off the field this spring. Mouton finished second on the team in tackles last fall (76) and could form a solid linebacker tandem with Obi Ezeh.
Jeremy Ware, CB, Michigan State -- One of several contributors in the Spartans' secondary to miss spring ball with injuries, Ware will be a key name to monitor during the summer. He emerged nicely last season, recording an interception and six pass breakups.
Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota -- Decker wasn't hurt this spring, but he spent the time playing center field for the Gophers' baseball team. There's little doubt he's one of the nation's best receivers, but he must absorb a new offensive system installed this spring and re-establish rhythm with quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray.
Corey Wootton, DE, Northwestern -- How Wootton recovers from ACL surgery could shape Northwestern's defense this fall. The All-Big Ten selection missed spring ball but is ahead of schedule on his recovery and expects to practice this summer. With questions on offense, the Wildcats need Wootton to return to top form.
Dane Sanzenbacher ,WR, Ohio State -- A projected starter in the slot, Sanzenbacher missed the latter part of spring practice with a high ankle sprain. He might be Terrelle Pryor's most dependable target heading into the fall, so a strong summer will be vital for the junior.
A.J. Wallace, CB, Penn State -- The secondary remains the biggest question mark for Penn State, and Wallace can ease some of head coach Joe Paterno's concerns with a strong preseason camp performance. Hamstring problems once again slowed Wallace this spring, but the Lions sorely need his speed in pass coverage.
Jaycen Taylor, RB, Purdue -- Taylor has by far the most experience of any Boilermakers running back, so his return this summer from a torn ACL looms large. Ralph Bolden put himself in the mix for the starting job with a stellar spring, but Taylor gives new head coach Danny Hope with a proven ball-carrying option.
Louis Nzegwu, DE, Wisconsin -- Unlike a year ago, the Badgers avoided many major injuries this spring, but they'll certainly be watching Nzegwu during the coming months. The immensely gifted sophomore improved his body and impressed the coaches early on during spring ball until sustaining a torn MCL on March 31.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Regardless of whether it was for injuries, suspensions, academics -- whatever -- not everyone was present and accounted for this spring. There were a few players who were missing who will be desperately needed to make a comeback this fall. Each team had at least one:
Boston College: Linebacker Mike McLaughlin -- He is still very questionable for the fall, but his return from an Achilles injury would be a huge boost to a position that lacks depth. Wide receiver Clarence Megwa broke his leg in the Clemson game last year and missed the rest of the year and spring, but could be a key returnee.
Clemson: Bandit end Ricky Sapp -- He missed the Gator Bowl and sat out the spring getting over a torn ACL he suffered in the first half against Virginia. He will be a prime pass-rusher for the Tigers and is Clemson's best player when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback.
Duke: Defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase -- The Blue Devils' leader on the defensive line missed the spring with an injury, but ranks second among active ACC players in both career tackles for loss (29.0) and quarterback sacks (11.5), trailing only N.C. State's Willie Young (32.0 and 12.5). Oghobaase has started all 36 games over the past three years, compiling 128 tackles.
Florida State: Linebacker Dekoda Watson -- He missed the spring after offseason elbow surgery, but should be one of the Noles' top defenders. He ranked fourth on the team with 46 tackles last year.
Georgia Tech: Center Dan Voss -- He was the starter last year, and if his labrum isn't fully recovered (which it should be), aerospace engineer major Sean Bedford moves to the top of the depth chart. Not that there's anything wrong with a super smart center.
Maryland: DT Dion Armstrong -- The Terps had a host of key players miss the spring, but Armstrong, who was out for academic reasons, is at a position in need of some help. It's unclear, though, if Armstrong's academic situation will extend into the summer. Also at defensive tackle for Maryland is Travis Ivey. The coaches raved about his improved play and leadership during the spring, and the offensive line was having a tough time containing him. But he got a concussion in the fourth week and missed the rest of the spring. He also had a scheduled shoulder surgery at the end of the spring.
Miami: LB Colin McCarthy -- Miami needs depth at linebacker and McCarthy was playing well last season before a shoulder injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season, starting with the FSU game. He had shoulder surgery.
North Carolina: Free safety Deunta Williams -- He had wrist surgery in January and missed the spring, but should be ready for the fall. He started all 13 games in 2008 and ranked fifth on the team with 65 tackles (55 solo).
NC State: Strong safety Javon Walker -- He's actually missed the last TWO springs and last season with a knee injury, but will be cleared by the fall and is being counted on very heavily in the secondary.
Virginia: Right guard B.J. Cabbell -- He missed spring ball due to knee surgery, but started 12 games last year. The junior is expected back in August.
Virginia Tech: DE Jason Worilds -- Worilds missed the spring after shoulder surgery for an injury that kept him out of the Orange Bowl. End is one of the few positions the Hokies have that lacks depth. Worilds started in 12 of 14 games last year and had eight sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The Hokies will also need the return of guard Sergio Render, who missed the spring following shoulder surgery.
Wake Forest: CB Brandon Ghee -- Ghee suffered a sprained knee on the very first day of spring and missed the remainder of practice. The Deacs will need Ghee healthy this fall as he is the only returning starter in the secondary. Starting nose tackle Boo Robinson has also been bothered by a bad back and didn't play this spring.