NCF Nation: newcomers watch 022609
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's always a shot in the dark to try and pick the top impact newcomers in the SEC before spring practice even gets underway.
But I'll give it the old college try, keeping in mind that newcomers would encompass redshirt freshmen, prep school players, junior college transfers and transfers from other four-year schools.
I won't go as far as to label these the top 5 impact newcomers, but they are definitely five players to watch in the fall:
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: The most talented quarterback on Arkansas' roster last season was relegated to the scout team. That didn't keep the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Mallett from showing off his rifle arm on the practice field. After sitting out the year following his transfer from Michigan, Mallett is ready to go, and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is ready to expand his playbook with a guy who has the arm strength and accuracy to make any offense more potent. Petrino's not going to just hand the starting job over to Mallett and will make him earn it during the spring. But make no mistake: Mallett is the guy. He also has experience, having played as a true freshman at Michigan in 2007 while filling in for the injured Chad Henne and going unbeaten in three starts.
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore: The Gamecocks have three high school players from the 2009 signing class already on campus and set to go through spring practice, and they're counting on all three to play early. The 6-2, 180-pound Gilmore is one of those rare athletes who could play just about anywhere. He'll get his first shot at cornerback, mainly because the Gamecocks lost their three top cornerbacks from a year ago. He also has the size to play safety, and don't be surprised if you see him in there at quarterback some, too. He's an explosive player who led his South Pointe High School team in Rock Hill, S.C., to a state championship as a quarterback. The Gamecocks would like to put his vast talents to use in a special package at quarterback.
Vanderbilt receiver Terence Jeffers: The Commodores needed a go-to receiver in the worst way last season. Their passing game was non-existent. With senior receivers Sean Walker and George Smith gone, they're going to need one even worse next season. Jeffers, a transfer from Connecticut, should help alleviate a lot of their problems. He was Connecticut's leading receiver two years ago, catching 44 passes for 582 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-2, 210-pound Jeffers was also the Huskies' top deep threat and started in 21 of 25 games during his two-year career there. He's built a lot like Vanderbilt's all-time leading receiver, Earl Bennett, maybe even a little bigger, and attacks the football. Whoever wins the Vanderbilt starting quarterback job will look for Jeffers often and early in 2009.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson: Here's the first giveaway: Alabama coach Nick Saban called Richardson a "great player" on national signing day, and Saban doesn't loosely throw around such compliments unless he means it. The 5-11, 220-pound Richardson is a punishing runner inside and also has very good speed. He ran a 10.5 in the 100 meters in high school. Glen Coffee rushed for 1,383 yards last season, and now that he's gone, somebody is going to have to step into his spot. Mark Ingram will remain a big part of the rotation, but Roy Upchurch's injury status makes him iffy. Richardson has 20-plus carries per game written all over him and is a perfect fit for Alabama's offense.
Georgia receiver Marlon Brown: The Bulldogs need a complement to A.J. Green on the other side, and Brown has everything it takes to be that player. He's already 6-5 and 205 pounds with the strength, speed and toughness that will serve him well in the SEC. Rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 3 receiver prospect in the country, the Memphis product arrives on campus this summer and will be an inviting target for Georgia quarterback Joe Cox right away. For a guy his size, Brown is especially good after the catch. He'll go over the middle, break tackles like a running back and is the kind of receiver who should excel in the red zone. Georgia fans are going to like this guy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The spring practice primer continues today with five newcomers to watch as Big Ten teams return to the field next month.
All five of these men could play critical roles come September.
Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier -- The true freshman from San Diego, who enrolled early, is considered the frontrunner for the starting job after incumbent Steven Threet transferred earlier this month. Forcier boasts the skill set to run Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. If he catches on quickly this spring, he'll likely be the man to beat when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives in the summer.
Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol -- Nichol sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma and will begin competing this spring for the starting job alongside Kirk Cousins. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Nichol ran Michigan State's scout team last year and fits the Drew Stanton-like mold as an adept runner as well as a passer. Cousins enters the spring with a slight edge after backing up Brian Hoyer last year, but Nichol isn't too far behind.
Ohio State guard Justin Boren -- He's hardly a newcomer to the Big Ten, but the news-making transfer from Michigan hits the practice field this spring seeking a starting job. The 6-3, 320-pound Boren, who started all 13 games for Michigan in 2007, may very well emerge as Ohio State's best offensive lineman this spring. He could cement himself as a starter on a line that underperformed last fall.
Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips -- A heralded recruit from Tennessee, Phillips joins a wide-open competition under center after redshirting last season. Named Wisconsin's offensive scout team player of the year in 2008, the strong-armed Phillips could be the long-term answer at quarterback that the Badgers sorely need. He'll compete alongside incumbent Dustin Sherer, Scott Tolzien, James Stallons and true freshman Jon Budmayr, another key newcomer.
Minnesota tackle Jeff Wills -- As the Gophers resurrect the power run game this spring, Wills should play a key role on a line that struggled for much of last season. Coming from the same junior college that produced Bryant McKinnie, Wills has excellent size (6-7, 350) and will compete for a starting position right away. "He may be one of the biggest humans I've ever been around," head coach Tim Brewster said of Wills.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Several key players are poised to earn their shot at playing time after sitting out last season. Here are some of the more notable newcomers who will start practicing with their teams during the spring with hopes of winning starting jobs.
Texas RB Tre' Newton -- The son of former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton didn't fall too far from the tree as far as his blocking skills, even if he is more than 100 pounds lighter than his father was during his playing career. Texas coaches visualize him as the ideal replacement for Chris Ogbonnaya as a third-down specialist because of his receiving and pass-blocking skills.
Baylor DT Phil Taylor -- You may remember him after he played two seasons as a starter at Penn State before his dismissal from the Nittany Lions squad for his role in an on-campus fight. The 6-foot-4, 340-pounder practiced with the Bears and turned heads throughout practice last season. He arrived at Baylor because of his association with defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, a former Penn State assistant. And the best example of Baylor coaches' expectations for him can be seen in this nugget: Of Baylor's 29 recruits in its most recent recruiting class, none were defensive tackles.
Missouri WR Rolandis Woodland -- Missouri coaches likely could have used him last season, but preserved his redshirt because of the depth at the position. Some observers are reminded of Jeremy Maclin when they watch Woodland's receiving and kick-returning skills.
Nebraska DT Baker Steinkuhler -- How about this for a neat family twist? Steinkuhler has a good chance to slide into playing time opposite Ndamukong Suh at the same position his older brother, Ty, played for the Cornhuskers last season.
Kansas State DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald - -A two-year starter at Virginia who earned Freshman All-American honors in 2006 should immediately boost the Wildcats' dormant pass rush. Fitzgerald produced 12 sacks and four interceptions in two seasons as a starter with the Cavaliers before leaving school because of academic issues.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Which Pac-10 newcomers might make a name for themselves this spring and put themselves into position to start or see significant action in 2009?
Let's take a look.
- QB Nick Foles & OT Phillip Garcia: Foles is a sophomore transfer from Michigan State who will compete with Matt Scott and Bryson Beirne to replace Willie Tuitama. Garcia was a JC transfer last January, but the 6-foot-7, 340 pounder hurt his knee and missed the season. He's in the mix at left tackle.
- S Keelan Johnson, RB James Morrison, DE Dean DeLeone: Johnson, a redshirt freshman, is the sort of athlete who could end up playing both ways. Morrison was a true freshman walk-on destined to play last year before he broke his ankle. He's back this spring. The 25-year-old DeLeone, a JC transfer, is already drawing raves for his weight room work.
- WR Marvin Jones & LB Mychal Kendricks: Jones was a touted true freshman last year but hurt his knee and never broke through. Kendricks had 16 tackles and a sack as a true freshman and is a frontrunner to fill one of the three vacancies at linebacker.
- DE Zac Clark & WR Lavasier Tuinei: Oregon has big-time needs on the D-line and at receiver, and these JC transfers will be given an opportunity to immediately ease those needs. Tuinei, at 6-foot-5, should give the Ducks receiving corps some size, while Clark will be eyeballing the vacancy left by Nick Reed.
- WR Jordan Bishop & OT Colin Kelly: Receiver is a need area for the Beavers, and Bishop, a redshirt freshman, impressed on the scout team and during Sun Bowl practices. Kelly, a redshirt freshman, is in the mix on an offensive line that lost both starting tackles.
- QB Andrew Luck, OG David DeCastro, TE Konrad Reuland: Luck almost lost his redshirt last year while Tavita Pritchard struggled, and he'll have a good chance to win the starting job. DeCastro is presently No. 1 on the depth chart, while Reuland is a transfer from Notre Dame.
- QB Kevin Price & TE Morrell Presley: Prince, a redshirt freshman, is the most likely candidate to unseat returning starter Kevin Craft. Presley, a true freshman, could make an immediate impact as a hybrid TE/WR.
- QB Matt Barkley, DE Nick Perry, RB Curtis McNeal: Barkley, the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2009, could jump over Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp in the quarterback competition, while Perry, a redshirt freshman, is almost certain to be in the mix at end or perhaps outside linebacker. McNeal, a redshirt freshman, was a late arrival last year but made an impression with his explosiveness.
- LB E.J. Savannah, C Mykenna Ikehara , WR Anthony Boyles: Savannah is not a newcomer -- he was the Huskies leading tackler in 2007 before finding his way into Tyrone Willingham's spacious doghouse and getting kick off the team. Pencil him in as a starter. Ikehara, a redshirt freshman, could replace Juan Garcia at center. Boyles, a redshirt freshman, was a touted recruit who didn't break through last year but is expected to be sharper this spring.
- DT Bernard Wolfgramm, CB Brandon Jones, RB James Montgomery: It's not unreasonable to go ahead and pencil in all three of these guys in as starters. Wolfgramm is a 2008 JC transfer who redshirted last year, while Jones and Montgomery both transferred from California.
Some familiar names in the Big East are gone, and they're not coming back. It's time to get to know some new names.
The two newcomers in the league who will probably get the most attention are a pair of quarterbacks: Tom Savage at Rutgers and Eugene Smith at West Virginia. But it's tough to pick up the finer points of quarterback play early on, so expecting too much out of them right away might be unrealistic. Here are five other newcomers to watch in 2009 (for purposes of this discussion, we define newcomers as incoming freshmen, transfers, redshirts and even coaches):
• Antwan Lowery, DT, Rutgers: Interior linemen are usually not big or strong enough to play right away as true freshman. But very little is usual about Lowery, who's massive at 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds. Greg Schiano has never had a tackle with Lowery's size and speed, and he could change the way the Scarlet Knights play defense. Lowery will likely force his way onto the field sooner rather than later.
• Logan Heastie, WR, West Virginia: There are several incoming recruits who could make an immediate impact for the Mountaineers, including Smith, running back Tavon Austin and junior-college lineman Tavita Finau. But Heastie is getting a head start by enrolling early so he can participate in spring drills, and receiver is a spot where it's easier for a newcomer to play right away. The Mountaineers will need more targets in their ramped-up passing game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
With a new season comes new faces and the potential for new stars. Redshirt freshmen, transfers and early enrollees will all have a chance to contribute. Here are five newcomers worth watching this spring:
Virginia Tech tailback Ryan Williams -- After expecting to play as a true freshman and then redshirting last season, Williams is eager to show what he can do. He was a member of the 2008 ESPN 150 and rated the No. 4 running back in the country by ESPN.com. Williams rushed for over 3,000 yards during his career as a four-year starter at Stonewall Jackson High School.
Miami redshirt freshman receiver Tommy Streeter -- He was part of last year's eight-man recruiting class from nearby Miami Northwestern High, and one of Jacory Harris' favorite targets in high school. Streeter had wrist surgery last year, though, and missed the season. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Streeter is quick and can take off for significant yardage after the catch.
Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins -- Sure, E.J. Manuel will be fun to watch compete against Christian Ponder at quarterback this spring, but Manuel doesn't have to replace the Lou Groza Award winner. Hopkins, rated by ESPN.com as the nation's No. 1 high school kicker, could be called upon immediately to replace Graham Gano. He has a strong leg and his kickoffs are deep or out of the end zone.
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker -- He redshirted last season, but Parker is first-team All-ACC in baseball so he is used to being in the limelight and someone the team relies on. Parker was rated the No. 4 quarterback in the 2008 class behind Terrelle Pryor, Dayne Crist and Mike Glennon. Parker was the No. 34 recruit in the 2008 ESPN 150 and our analysts compared him to Todd Reesing and Chase Daniel.
North Carolina freshman receiver Joshua Adams -- Adams chose Carolina as a junior on last year's signing day. He is physically imposing, but still quick for his size. Adams graduated early, enrolled in January, and has already looked impressive in the voluntary workouts. With the Heels' situation at wide receiver, Adams should be in the mix in August.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
March is almost upon us and spring football is starting to become prevalent. Several players among the Independents and Others have decided to forego their second semesters in high school or junior college and join their new FBS teams.
Several of those players are on this list as they hope to get a jump on a starting position with their new teams. Below is list of newcomers to watch among the Independents and Others.
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Few teams hang their hopes on one player, but Te'o is considered a program-changer for the Irish. He'll join the team in the summer, but likely will only be on campus a year before he goes on his two-year Mormon mission.
Kendrick Hardy, RB, Southern Miss
Hardy was considered a must-get during his recruitment, but with the legal trouble Damion Fletcher has gotten himself into, Hardy might be thrust into action a lot sooner than originally expected.
Larvez Mars, LB, FIU
Mars is the highest-ranked recruit the Golden Panthers have ever snared and he's a sign that Florida International might be a team to watch both in 2009 and for years to come. Mars was offered by the Golden Panthers last August and stayed committed despite many other enticing offers.
James Aiono, DE, Utah
T he loss of top defensive end Paul Kruger to the NFL Draft makes the recruitment Aiono important to keeping the defensive prowess that has defined Utah the past couple of years.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With the graduation of Tom Brandstater, who was the only quarterback on the Fresno State roster to accumulate any stats, Carr has a good shot to be a starter right out of high school. He's on campus this spring to get a head start on following in his brother David's footsteps.
Waymon James, RB, TCU
The Horned Frogs were the nation's No. 12 rushing offense, but leading running back Aaron Brown was lost to graduation, leaving the door open for James to contribute right away. He's on campus this spring to learn the offense and gel with quarterback Andy Dalton.
Josh Jarboe, WR, Troy
Jarboe joined the team last summer after being released for Oklahoma for a rap video that was posted on YouTube. The Trojans were hoping he'd play last season, but NCAA transfer rules kept him out. It will be interesting to see if he lives up to the hype of being one of the nation's best prospects from the 2008 class.
Roy Watts, OL, Houston
Watts was a Texas commit in 2006, didn't qualify, went to junior college and now finds himself on a Houston team that's looking for a left tackle. Watts was all-everything in both high school and junior college and should be a great boost for an offense that's already one of the best in the country.
Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame
The Notre Dame running game has been the weakest point of the team each of the past two years, but with a new offensive line coach and a new running backs coach, the Irish will look to balance its offense. Wood is one of the most dynamic running backs in the 2009 class and in the fall will challenge the backs that are already on campus.
Josh Robinson, CB, UCF
Robinson, the highest rated player in UCF's 2009 class, already has drawn comparisons to graduated defensive back Joe Burnett. Robinson is on campus and coach George O'Leary said he's eager to see what he can do this spring.