AUBURN, Ala. -- What’s the adage? Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. Well, after Nick Marshall and the first-team offense put up 44 points in the first half of Saturday's spring game, it’s clear that Auburn has enough firepower to win games. But do the Tigers have a defense good enough to win a championship?

That answer remains unclear.

The 58-3 final score looks bad, but more than anything, it shows a lack of depth on the defense, which is understandable given the number of injuries that ravaged the Tigers this spring. Last week, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he had about a dozen guys who either missed all of spring practice or a good portion of the spring. Saturday was no different.

[+] EnlargeBrandon King
John Reed/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Brandon King breaks up a pass intended for Marcus Davis during the spring game. The Auburn defense's lack of depth showed on Saturday.
Potential starters Carl Lawson, LaDarius Owens and Jermaine Whitehead did not play, and a handful of other key contributors were limited in action, making it difficult to get a read on how good this unit really is.

“I feel like the defense did good,” defensive lineman Gabe Wright said after the game. “It’s hard to say that when the team has got 50-something points, but the first-team unit, we did better. There wasn’t a lot of loafs, according to the coaches. Guys were making plays, so overall I feel like it’s a win for us.”

Wright, who started at defensive tackle last season, played defensive end in the spring game because of all the injuries. He was one of the many players who moved around this spring, and he’s another reason why the grade for the defense is incomplete.

One positive that came from all of the attrition was that it gave several younger players a chance to compete.

With Joshua Holsey out this spring, junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief stepped up and earned himself some playing time at one of the safety spots, while versatile sophomore Johnathan Ford played well at the other spot in place of Whitehead on Saturday.

“They looked pretty well,” Robenson Therezie said of the two safeties. “Those are the type of guys we can count on in a big game. They’re not rookies anymore, especially Derrick Moncrief. He came in, and he just got it. He caught up with everything. We feel pretty comfortable with the secondary right now.”

It was no different at linebacker, where injuries limited both Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and paved the way for Kenny Flowers. The former junior college transfer was named defensive MVP of the spring game after he finished with seven tackles, 2.5 for loss and a sack.

“It felt great,” Flowers said. “I wasn’t a big factor last year, but I hope to be this year.”

Ultimately, the defense that Auburn rolled out Saturday probably isn’t capable of winning a conference championship, let alone a national championship, but it’s going to look a lot different in the fall, when everybody is back and healthy. That’s when the true test will come.

“This defense is going to be really good,” Therezie said. “Probably better than last year, because we have some guys coming back. We understand the concept of what Coach Johnson is running and everything, so it’s going to be really good. I can’t wait to see it.”
Editor’s note: With Florida’s spring practice now in the rear-view mirror, we’ll clean out the notebook this week and touch on a few remaining topics.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- What does Vernon Hargreaves III do for an encore to one of the best seasons by a true freshman in Florida football history?

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCB Vernon Hargreaves III is coming off am All-SEC freshman season, and coaches say he can be even better this year.
Going into his sophomore season, the cornerback can expect to be a full-time starter after a sensational first year in which he was named first-team All-SEC.

He can also expect a cold shoulder from opposing quarterbacks who won't want to test the Gators' best cover corner. So the man they call VH3 has resolved to help his team in other ways.

"I just need to be a better leader," he said during spring practice. "A lot of guys are looking up to me now. ...

"That's the role I'm trying to figure out right now. Last year was easy for me to ask [older players] what to do or what to expect or what's going down. Now they're asking me. I'm still learning how to kind of take that older brother role, but it's a process."

Teammates have noticed the change.

"I feel Vernon is very different," Dante Fowler Jr. said. "Vern came in here and wanted to be a leader. He's being vocal. He's matured a lot. He's working hard in the weight room. He's taking the offseason program very seriously, and you can see it in his body. He's just a freakish cornerback."

Last year, Hargreaves recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass breakups, which tied Janoris Jenkins in 2008 for the most by a freshman in school history.

The No. 3 overall prospect in the nation came to Florida last summer with an air of confidence. The son of a longtime college football coach, Hargreaves also brought razor-sharp coverage instincts and good enough technique to play in all of UF's 12 games and make 10 starts.

"Obviously Vernon lived up to everything we thought as a freshman and did some great things," defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "I think he’s still got a lot of growing to do in his game. I think he’d be the first one to tell you that. I think the unique thing about Vernon is not just his talent and his ability, it’s his understanding, an awareness of where he’s at and awareness of where the game of football is.

"Vernon’s a guy that understands you gotta get better. He’s not letting his head get too big and think, 'I’m this, I’ve arrived.' He practices really hard. He works on the finer details of his game, his technique. As long as he continues to do that, he’ll continue to do better and progress. The sky’s the limit for him."

Hargreaves has a more blunt assessment of his first season.

"Personally, I felt like I did OK," he said. "I had some things I needed to improve on. ... Just getting bigger, faster and stronger. I wasn’t really small last year, but I can get a little stronger."

Working every day in UF's conditioning program, Hargreaves did just that, which is why he is one player coach Will Muschamp doesn't worry about.

"He’s really intelligent," Muschamp said. "His biggest talent to me is his competitive edge and his thirst for being the best player he can be. Sometimes that’s hard. Guys rest on their laurels a little bit, they get patted on the back. He’s not a guy you worry about those sort of things. He handles praise and criticism very well. He’s not a guy that goes out and takes a day off. He goes out and works every day.

"He’s a great example for our younger players -- especially our younger secondary players -- of how you approach your business. I’m really proud of him in that regard."

Hargreaves had what Muschamp called "an outstanding spring." He performed so well and so consistently that the Gators held him out of their spring game, choosing to avoid exposing one of their best players to injury and instead giving extra playing time to two young cornerbacks.

Early enrollee freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson also had good springs, each attempting to follow in Hargreaves' footsteps as a starter.

Nine months ago, Hargreaves was in their shoes. Now he's taken both freshmen under his wing.

"He embraces it and does a great job bringing those guys along," Durkin said. "He’s approachable and helps those guys.

"He’s great for our defense. We’re lucky to have him."

Three-star 'stars' in the SEC

April, 22, 2014
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It’s not always about the four- and five-star prospects.

Plenty of three-star (and lower) prospects go on to highly successful careers in the SEC.

Below is a stab at the 10 best players in the SEC next season who were ranked as three-star prospects or lower by ESPN coming out of high school. We’ve listed them alphabetically.

[+] EnlargeSammie Coates
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Sammie Coates had seven touchdown catches last season.
David Andrews, C, Georgia, Sr.: The center position in the SEC is loaded, and Andrews will be near the top of that list in 2014. He's entering his third season as a starter and is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team. He wasn't ranked among the top 35 players in the state of Georgia coming out of high school and committed to the Bulldogs nearly a year before signing day.

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn, Jr.: We've only seen a glimpse of what Coates is capable of, even though he had seven touchdown catches last season and averaged 21.5 yards per catch. A product of Leroy, Ala., Coates was ranked as the No. 76 receiver nationally. Originally committed to Southern Miss, Coates ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the Auburn camp, got an offer and switched his commitment to Auburn.

Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky, Sr.: With 16 career sacks, Dupree is one of the most accomplished pass-rushers returning in the SEC. Coming out of Irwinton, Ga., as a high school senior, he was ranked as the No. 48 tight end nationally and picked Kentucky over Georgia Tech. He wasn’t offered by Georgia.

Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas, Sr.: Flowers had 13.5 tackles for loss last season, which leads all returning players in the SEC. He was ranked as the No. 108 defensive end nationally as a high school senior in Huntsville, Ala. He was originally committed to Georgia Tech but took a visit to Arkansas on the final weekend and signed with the Hogs.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Sr.: Eight quarterbacks in the Class of 2011 who signed with SEC schools were ranked ahead of Marshall, who was a cornerback at Georgia that first season before running into trouble and getting kicked off the team. He blossomed last season at Auburn in leading the Tigers within an eyelash of a national championship. He has become a more consistent passer this offseason and returns as one of the more dynamic players in the SEC.

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State, Jr.: Only a two-star prospect in 2011 out of Tunica, Miss., McKinney was ranked as the No. 169 athlete nationally and weighed just 205 pounds coming out of high school. He played quarterback, linebacker and punter for his high school team. Now 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, McKinney has been a tackling machine for the Bulldogs at middle linebacker with more than 170 tackles the past two seasons.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State, Jr.: One of the top returning quarterbacks in the league along with Marshall, Prescott is a threat both as a runner and a passer and is poised for a huge season in 2014. A Haughton, La., product, Prescott was ranked as the No. 41 quarterback nationally coming out of high school. LSU offered after he had a big senior season, but Prescott stuck to his guns and enrolled early at Mississippi State that January.

Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Sr.: Prewitt led the SEC last season with six interceptions, and his 71 total tackles were second on Ole Miss' team. He was a first-team All-American by the Associated Press after exiting high school in Bay Springs, Miss., as the No. 78 athlete nationally in the 2011 class.

Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina, Sr.: South Carolina's offensive line should be one of the better ones in the SEC in 2014, and the 6-8, 348-pound Robinson returns as one of the premier left tackles in the league. Coming out of high school in Havelock, N.C., in 2010, he was ranked as the No. 56 offensive guard nationally. Other programs on his list included Duke, East Carolina and North Carolina State.

Braylon Webb, S, Missouri, Sr.: Webb is entering his third season as the Tigers’ starting free safety. He was second on the team in 2013 with 89 total tackles, and he also had three interceptions. He was unranked nationally coming out of Gilmer, Texas, in 2010 and chose Missouri over Houston.

SEC's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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So after all that, Kevin Durant made this insane shot ... and lost? Ouch.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A-Day might not have featured the finest quarterback play. It might not have been the introductory moment offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was hoping for, either.

One thing did, however, go over incredibly well for Alabama on Saturday. The defensive line answered this spring’s most hard-to-pin-down question with a resounding yes.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Pettway
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsD.J. Pettway was a big part of Alabama's resurgent pass rush this spring.
Yes, Alabama has excellent depth up front on defense. And, yes, the line seems ready to get after the quarterback more than it has in seasons past. All you had to do was watch Kiffin’s passing game fold under pressure time and time again to see that.

The ultimate point of pride for defensive line coach Bo Davis and his players had to be the first touchdown of the game: Defensive end D.J. Pettway snags a screen pass from Blake Sims, finds the open field and races 29 yards to pay dirt. After holding the offenses scoreless for 45 minutes, it was the defense that found a way to score.

But as much fun as it was to watch a big man rumble into the end zone, what really had the faithful at Bryant-Denny Stadium giddy was Alabama’s resurgent pass rush. We’d heard all spring how Davis had infused enthusiasm and energy into the defensive line. How he was full of energy. How he was asking his players to read less, react more and get after the quarterback. And unlike the unfulfilled promise of Alabama’s quarterbacks, its defensive linemen delivered, to the tune of seven sacks and 19 tackles for loss.

(For comparison sake, Alabama totaled two sacks and five tackles for loss at last year’s spring game.)

Even coach Nick Saban, who fought speculation about the quality of the defensive line early on this spring, had to concede that he had a talented group of players to work with. In fact, he had to widen his praise to most of the defensive front seven.

“We have a lot of experienced players,” Saban said after the White beat Crimson, 17-13, in a game where the score is meaningless, though White was led by the first-team defense. “[D.J.] Pettway and [Jarran] Reed add a lot of depth and athleticism to that group. A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen were both freshman last year, and I always say that you make the most improvement between your freshman and sophomore year. Those guys got to play a lot last year; they’ve both had great springs.

“We had three inside linebackers that I thought played really well. Trey DePriest had a really good spring. Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster [did] as well. We also had three guys that played really well at outside linebacker. Denzel Devall, Xzavier Dickson, and Dillon Lee, those guys all had really good springs. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson both contributed and improved.”

Pettway and Williams played so well on A-Day that they were named co-winners of the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the Game award. Allen, who had six tackles and two sacks, also blocked a field goal.

“From the front seven stand point, I feel a lot further along,” Saban said.

Trey DePriest, Alabama’s leader on defense at middle linebacker, said the defensive line showed at A-Day what it was capable of.

“My defensive line is great,” he said. “They put their hands on guys, they strike them, they push them back and let me and Reggie hit the holes and run.”

Ragland, for his part, agreed -- though it came with a caveat. How good is the defensive line? “You’ll see coming up," he said.

“We still have a lot more to prove. We didn’t get to do half the stunts we wanted to.”
LSU’s spring practice ended two weeks ago, leaving a full 15 weeks before the Tigers return to the practice field.

The position battles that started in the spring will continue through summer workouts before resuming in front of coaches in August. Let’s take a look at what happened in a few of those spring battles and what we’ll be watching between now and Aug. 30, when the Tigers open the season against Wisconsin.

Defensive tackle: The spring was as much a feeling-out process as anything for defensive line coach Brick Haley. He mostly rode two departed veterans last fall while using youngsters Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas in spot duty. LaCouture and Thomas jumped into leading roles during the spring, and Haley also tested Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron (at times) in the middle. Haley has probably established a mental pecking order with the group, but August and the early-season games will certainly play important roles in cementing the coach’s opinions. It will also be worth watching how signees such as Travonte Valentine perform once they arrive on campus, as they might allow Haley to utilize a true rotation in the middle.

[+] EnlargeKendell Beckwith
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith moved inside and was impressive this spring.
Linebacker: This should be a fun bunch to watch in the fall. While Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis and D.J. Welter seemed to rank among John Chavis’ first options during the spring, it’s apparent that the Tigers’ defensive coordinator has no shortage of talented options. One of the intriguing spring storylines was Kendell Beckwith’s transition to middle linebacker behind Welter. The linebackers as a group had an excellent spring game, with Ronnie Feist leading all tacklers with 14 stops and both Alexander and Deion Jones picking off Anthony Jennings passes and returning the interceptions for touchdowns. Clifton Garrett is one of the Tigers’ highest-rated 2014 signees, and he could add even more intrigue to the competition for playing time once practice resumes.

Quarterback: Surely you’ve heard by now that the battle between Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris appears to be wide open entering the summer months. Jennings has a slight experience advantage, but Harris was the more effective performer in the spring game. Both players made plenty of mistakes, however. Their offseason preparation in the next few months will be enormously important once August arrives.

Right guard: This is another battle that the coaches said was wide open once the spring concluded. Evan Washington shifted from tackle to guard and seemed to take the leading role in the competition. Fellow senior Fehoko Fanaika and sophomore Ethan Pocic are lurking, however. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see all of them play some scrimmage downs against Wisconsin -- or in Weeks 2 and 3 against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe -- as new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes weighs his options. Coach Les Miles complimented all three players after the spring game, so it seems that the coaches would be comfortable playing any of the candidates.

Safety: Injuries caused this position to remain as a bit of a mystery during the spring. Jalen Mills remained in a starting role, and Ronald Martin seemed to be faring well in a return from a fractured right foot. He was injured again by the end of the spring, however, joining Corey Thompson (knee surgery) on the sideline by the time the spring game rolled around. Mills and Rickey Jefferson were the top options in the spring game, but the Tigers could use any number of combinations when the season arrives -- especially once highly-rated safety prospect Jamal Adams and the other signees make it to Baton Rouge this summer. Once the Tigers are back to full strength in August, this should make for one of the most intriguing position battles.

Tight end: This will be a fun position to track in the fall. They had plenty of playing time last season, but barely made a blip as receivers. They seem to be confident that they will make a more well-rounded contribution in 2014. Sophomore DeSean Smith and signee Jacory Washington possess intriguing receiver skills, and Dillon Gordon, Travis Dickson and Logan Stokes worked this spring to prove that they are well-rounded players at the position. It’s a big group, but all of them should have roles to fill during the season.

Wide receiver: They were the walking wounded for much of the spring, with Avery Peterson, Kevin Spears, John Diarse and Quantavius Leslie all spending time in non-contact jerseys. That was a tough blow for a group that has a lot to prove after Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright all left the roster after last season. Travin Dural -- who had an outstanding spring game with five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns -- seemed to solidify his spot as the No. 1 receiving option for now. But this will become one of the Tigers’ most interesting position battles in August once a star-studded signing class, led by Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, arrives to challenge the returning wideouts.
AMHERST, Mass. -- Patience, like big, quick defensive linemen, is in short supply in intercollegiate athletics these days.

The public sees billions flowing into the five major conferences and has decided that the faucet isn't working so well for the student-athletes. That makes for a compelling, quintessentially American fat-cat/little-guy narrative. Political careers have been built on flimsier foundations.

But in this case, the fat cats, the five conferences with bulging wallets, are on the same side as the little guys. You can argue that they came late to the party, or that they converted at the point of a legislative gun. At this point, that's a waste of time. They have gotten religion.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive spoke for the big schools when he said, "What we're trying to give them is what they (student-athletes) are asking for."

Slive visited the University of Massachusetts last week as the Executive-in-Residence for the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management. In a keynote address, Slive laid out seven goals for the new subdivision of Division I that will house the following conferences: SEC, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.

To continue reading, click here.

Five LSU spring movers

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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Sometimes spring practice is important to a football player not because he seizes a starting job, but because he proves to his coaches that he deserves to play.

We’ve discussed plenty of LSU’s key spring position battles here in the last few weeks and speculated about who might become the starters at those spots. But what about some younger players who haven’t played much or at all? There are several who made an impression during the Tigers’ spring practice and, even if they don’t become starters, we should see them make an impact in the near future.

Here are five of those spring movers:

Maquedius Bain: Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas mostly handled the first-team snaps at defensive tackle this spring, but Bain was among the youngsters who made it seem likely that the Tigers will utilize a deeper rotation in the middle this fall. Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron -- all redshirt freshmen -- sat out last season while veterans Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson played most of the important snaps. We should hear all three players’ names quite a bit in 2014, particularly Bain, who tied with Herron for most tackles (four) among second-team defensive linemen in the spring game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris showed plenty of potential this spring.
Ronnie Feist: LSU has no shortage of talented linebackers, a truth that will become even more evident this summer once Clifton Garrett and the other signees arrive on campus. But Feist -- who did not play last season after contributing as a true freshman in 2012 -- proved during the spring game that he will not be ignored. In fact, he was one of the stars of the afternoon, leading all tacklers with 14 stops and a couple of big hits. It remains to be seen where he’ll fall on John Chavis’ depth chart, but Feist showed that he belongs to be on there somewhere.

Brandon Harris: The big question entering spring practice was whether Harris could threaten Anthony Jennings for the starting quarterback job. The big question afterward concerns how quickly he will overtake his sophomore competitor. An early enrollee, Harris is understandably raw and mistake-prone. He’s extremely talented, however, blessed with an outstanding arm and impressive quickness. Harris will become LSU’s starting quarterback and, based on what we saw from Harris and Jennings this spring, it might happen sooner rather than later.

Melvin Jones: Is he going to play tailback at LSU? No. But a shortage of scholarship tailbacks this spring gave Jones a chance to learn a bit more about how to function in the running game. The sophomore switched from linebacker to fullback last season and even caught a touchdown pass against Furman. He has yet to record a carry in a game yet, however, so the opportunity to carry the ball some during the spring will be helpful when he splits time with senior Connor Neighbors at fullback this fall. Jones led the backup offense with 38 rushing yards on 12 carries in the spring game.

DeSean Smith: After catching just one pass last season (for 14 yards against UAB), Smith seems primed to play a much larger role in 2014. The sophomore tight end possesses valuable pass-catching skills and is nimble enough to split out wide as a receiver. If he proves himself as a capable blocker, Smith’s three catches for 45 yards in the spring game -- including a 19-yard touchdown catch from Harris -- should be only the tip of the iceberg in terms of his offensive production.
Editor’s note: With Florida's spring practice now in the rear-view mirror, we’ll clean out the notebook this week and touch on a few remaining topics.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Want some hard evidence for optimism inside of the Florida football offices? Look no further than two upperclassmen starting at offensive tackle.

Bookends D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green are back, and they're healthy.

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIRight tackle Chaz Green's last appearance came in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl, but he was healthy and looking sharp this spring.
"That’s a big deal, man," Humphries said during spring practice. "Me and Chaz being back, that’s good. When we’re on the field together, it works well. We’ve been flowing well this spring. We’re going to try and keep it up. If both of us stay healthy, we can make some things happen."

Florida coach Will Muschamp puts a heavy emphasis on winning the line of scrimmage. That was harder than ever in 2013 when the Gators played the entire season without Green, the right tackle who suffered a torn labrum in preseason camp. Humphries, the left tackle, missed the final five games of last season with a sprained MCL.

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who lines up against both tackles in practice, saw the impact of their losses.

"Chaz was having a great summer camp [in 2013]," Fowler said. "He just had that setback, and it was like a freakish accident. D.J. is kind of like the anchorman. He leads everybody, so when he went down, things kind of went down the drain from there."

Muschamp said both players came back with more determination than ever.

"[Chaz] has picked it up to another level as far as his commitment, his work ethic," the coach said. "I mean, the guy has been a great example for our entire offseason program on how he’s handled himself and how he’s worked.

"I think when something’s taken away from you, you realize how important it is to you. Not that he didn’t work hard before -- he’s always worked hard, he’s always had a great work ethic -- but even more so this time."

Muschamp said Humphries has finally gotten his weight where it needed to be. Since January, he has consistently weighed more than 290 pounds -- the first time that has happened since he arrived at Florida.

Once practice began, the two were eager to return to action. Green, a senior, and Humphries, a junior, spent much of their time butting heads with Fowler, a junior who is the team's best pass rusher.

"Me, D.J. and Chaz, we really got each other better," Fowler said. "We went at it. We just competed this whole spring. I feel like I’m a better player, and I can feel it because of them helping me."

As Florida installed its new no-huddle spread offense, the two tackles saw just how well they fit the zone-blocking scheme, which is predicated on short drops by the quarterback.

"It's kind of made for athletic tackles," Humphries said. "So it's kind of working out for me and Chaz. We're able to get on the edge a little, get on the outside shoulder of our defenders. I would say it's been kind of an easy adjustment."

The effectiveness of the tackles has had a domino effect on the rest of the line.

Junior Tyler Moore, who played much of last season at right tackle in Green's absence, has found a home at guard. Senior Trenton Brown started the spring competing with Green at right tackle before moving to right guard.

Moore and Brown have cited Green as one of Florida's most important leaders.

"He's a really hard worker, a really talented guy," Moore said. "We've just got to keep him healthy."

Staying on the field is the key for Florida's entire offensive line, which was battered by injuries last season.

Having healthy bookends in 2014 is a tantalizing thought for the Gators. There's even a chance that Green and Humphries could anchor the line for two more seasons, as Green could still get a medical hardship waiver for missing the 2013 season.

"I haven't discussed that," he said. "I think I'm going to see how this year goes, and then if I need it I'll use it. I'm just trying to get back out there, have a great year, get back to playing at the level that I know I can play at, because it's been so long that I've been hurt.

"Help the team out with my play, that's what I'm trying to do."

With all of his focus on playing this fall, Green knows he'll be overcome with emotion when he finally gets back onto Florida Field on Aug. 30.

"I'm too excited," he said. "I feel like it's been so long since I've been out there. So I'm just excited to get out there, just get back to doing what I love doing."
A late touchdown by Missouri's second team lifted the Tigers' reserves over the starters in a 21-20 win in Saturday's Black and Gold scrimmage at Faurot Field.

The starters might have lost the spring game, but all eyes were on new starting quarterback Maty Mauk, who had an impressive day for the first team. The redshirt sophomore completed 11-of-15 passes for for 129 yards. He also ran for a 3-yard touchdown to cut the second string's lead to 14-13.

The plays of the day came late when redshirt freshman quarterback Trent Hosick connected with sophomore receiver Eric Laurent for a 93-yard touchdown pass to put the first team up 20-14. That play was nice, but the second team responded when freshman quarterback Marvin Zanders faked a handoff and ran for an 80-yard touchdown to give the second team the lead for good.

For more on Missouri's spring game, check out the Tigers' official website.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It made sense for Nick Saban to begin his post A-Day spring game news conference with a caveat. After what everyone had seen that Saturday afternoon, a reasoned voice was needed, and Saban stepped to the podium to deliver his own sense of perspective.

“Nobody ever has a bad spring game,” Alabama’s head coach told reporters. “Let’s start with that.”

Fourteen practices behind closed doors led to a great deal of expectation surrounding A-Day, where the biggest question was, of course, at quarterback. Everything uttered about Blake Sims had been positive heading into the weekend. He’d improved his mechanics, they said. He’d made progress at becoming a better pocket passer, they added. Saban praised Sims for his command of the offense, his accuracy and his consistency. Throw in some pretty remarkable statistics provided by the school -- 515 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two scrimmages -- and it amounted to the kind of credentials that would lead anyone to believe that Sims had really turned the corner, that he was indeed the front-runner to replace AJ McCarron.

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
Jeff Gammons/Getty ImagesAs Alabama's quarterbacks struggled in the spring game, the spotlight on incoming transfer Jacob Coker becomes even brighter.
Then practice No. 15 arrived.

Much of the controlled environment from earlier practices and scrimmages was removed on Saturday. Saban, for instance, wore a tan suit and played the role of commissioner. A television audience and more than 73,000 fans looked on. Sure, it was a far cry from the usual 100,000-plus fans and the buzz that accompanies a regular-season game, but A-Day offers its own brand of pressure. If you mess up on that stage, not only is it a very public experience, but you’ll also have to dwell on for the months to come.

And given the way Sims and the rest of the quarterbacks closed out the spring, they enter the offseason with a sour taste in their mouths.

Sims was a shell of himself, completing 13 of 30 passes for 178 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. A first-half pass over the middle should have been turnover No. 3, if Landon Collins hadn’t dropped it. And the other quarterbacks? Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and David Cornwell went 14-for-33 for 165 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Alabama’s combined effort equaled an 86.37 passing efficiency rating -- lower than any of the top 104 quarterbacks in the FBS last season.

Saban did his best to downplay the significance of A-Day after the game ended, but it did little to erase what everyone saw. In fact, when put up against his comments only a few days earlier, his plea for reason came off as hollow.

“It’s an opportunity for them to go out and play a game-like circumstance, a game-like situation,” Saban said Thursday about the A-Day game. “It’s really your first opportunity as an individual, as a unit or as a team, to really create an identity for who you are and how you play.”

By that standard, his quarterbacks failed miserably.

“Blake had a really good spring, and he did a really good job in the scrimmages,” Saban said when asked to measure the performance of his quarterbacks, again attempting to weigh a poor spring game against a previously solid spring. “I thought in the game he was trying to speed everything up a bit. ... It’s like when a baseball pitcher tries to throw the ball a little harder and all of a sudden he can’t throw a strike.”

In other words, the pressure got to Sims. Though Saban would raise some valid points about how the setup of A-Day robbed Sims of some of what made him an effective quarterback, the bottom line was unavoidable. Sure, wearing a no-contact jersey kept Sims from taking full advantage of his athleticism to escape the pocket and buy time. But, to be fair, it also removed the pressure of facing a threatening pass rush.

“There’s a lot of things [Sims] could do to be an effective quarterback that he didn’t do in this game today,” Saban explained before changing directions. “We recruited a guy. Blake knows this and Blake embraced the guy before the game. They're going to compete through the summer and through fall camp.”

Ah, Jacob Coker.

If there was a bright spot amid the sloppy offense Saturday, it was the 6-foot-5 quarterback on the sideline wearing a crimson polo and camouflage hat. Coker, who backed up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State, is due to graduate from FSU and enroll at Alabama later this spring, when he’ll immediately join the race to earn the starting job.

"It was awesome," Coker said of his visit to Tuscaloosa. "Excited about getting there."

In a way, Coker went to A-Day with the possibility of seeing just how far the other quarterbacks had come. He might have been worried that if someone stood out, they could carry a lead into the offseason that would be hard for him to overcome.

But Coker had to leave A-Day feeling good about his chances. Nothing he saw there should have scared him. Hearing Saban mention him afterward in regard to the quarterback competition should have only reaffirmed his standing as a favorite to replace McCarron.

While it’s true that you can’t win or lose anything during a spring game, you can take a step back. There's always ground to lose. And Sims & Co. did just that on Saturday, yielding momentum to Coker. Whatever standing they built through 14 practices seemed to vanish with each errant pass and interception.

The perspective Saban pushed so hard for in his postgame news conference was hard to swallow considering the sour taste the passing game left behind. A-Day isn't everything, but it was the last thing this spring, and it wasn't the note any quarterback would have wanted to go out on.
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AUBURN, Ala. -- The talk on the Plains this spring has been all about Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and how he has improved as both a passer and a leader.

Marshall exceeded expectations last year as he guided the Tigers to 12 wins and a conference championship in his first year on campus, but his completion percentage was below 60 percent and he was ninth in the league in passing yards. He was known more for his running ability, leading all SEC quarterbacks with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

On Saturday, he looked like a different player out there. Marshall came out throwing, and although it took him a minute to find his rhythm, he finished 13-of-22 for 236 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions -- all in the first half. He threw for that many yards just twice last season and never came close to that many touchdowns.

“I think he did a good job with his eyes, his progression,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “He didn’t put the ball in jeopardy.

“I think the big thing is just being more comfortable. You can see him in the pocket. He’s just more under control. His balance is good. His eyes, his progression are good. So you can tell he’s really improved.”

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesNick Marshall looked like a much-improved player on Saturday.
Marshall’s performance Saturday was quite a contrast to the quarterbacks on the other side of the state, but what should we make of all this? Is he that improved as a passer? Should we go ahead and give him the Heisman Trophy? Will anybody be able to stop Auburn?

Hold on. Before everybody gets too excited, let’s not forget who Marshall was throwing against. It was a combination of the second-team defense and scout-team players. Former walk-on Mack VanGorder was playing safety and finished second on the team in tackles. Linebacker Michael Clifton wore No. 83 because he was a tight end last year. It’s fair to say that Auburn’s starting quarterback had a stiffer test against Florida Atlantic last year.

However, there were still plenty of positives to take away from the game, beginning with wide receiver D’haquille Williams, or Duke as they call him.

Williams arrived in January as the nation’s top junior college player, and he looked every bit the part in Saturday’s spring game. He led the team with five catches for 88 yards and made a terrific grab on a 3-yard fade route for a touchdown.

“He’s a playmaker,” Malzahn said. “There’s no doubt. He can get open. He’s one of those big, long, rangy guys that wants the football and makes a pretty good target for a quarterback.”

The wide receiver corps in general looked much improved in the spring game. Last year’s breakout star Sammie Coates has put on 15 pounds since the BCS title game and made the catch of the day with a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone. Veteran Quan Bray caught two touchdown passes from Marshall, and though he had a quiet afternoon, Ricardo Louis will be counted on again this fall.

“Our group is so tight,” Coates said. “The way we’re playing right now -- we’ve got so much talent in that room -- it’s scary. There are so many players in that room that can make plays at any time. Any time you give it to them, they’re going to make a play.”

So yes, it was an inferior defense that Auburn’s first-team offense ran the score up on, but the talent at wide receiver is there and, after a slow start, Marshall played more consistently and made some throws he might not have been able to make last season. For once, he looked comfortable in the pocket.

It’s a small sample size, but if Marshall in fact proves himself as a passer this coming season, there’s nothing stopping this Auburn offense.

“We’re just helping each other get better every day,” Marshall said. “There’s no telling how good we can be on the offensive side of the ball.”
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alec Morris may have had the biggest impact of any Alabama quarterback during the Crimson Tide's spring game Saturday. The problem, however, is that he stood out most as a punter, booming 15 kicks for an average of 38.4 yards.

In a game that was built up as a quarterback showcase, the defense ultimately stole the show while the passing game went missing in action.

AJ McCarron was on hand for A-Day in Tuscaloosa, but only to be inducted into the Walk of Fame. His potential replacements under center, meanwhile, looked far away from fulfilling his legacy as a starter.

Blake Sims, McCarron's backup a year ago and the early leader in the quarterback race this spring, threw for an underwhelming 178 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 13-of-30 passing. A 55-yard touchdown pass to Chris Black late in the fourth quarter helped salvage some of his day as the "Crimson" team starter, but it was a far cry from his reported 515 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two earlier scrimmages this spring, both of which were closed to the media.

"Blake had a really good spring and did a really good job in the scrimmages," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I thought ... the game speeded up today and he tried to speed up with it, rather than just staying in his rhythm."

Cooper Bateman, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, had the two best moments of the day as the "White" team starter, delivering a 34-yard pass over Robert Foster's right shoulder in the first half and then a 32-yard touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart in the fourth quarter. But he was ultimately inconsistent, finishing with 156 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-24 passing. He was also sacked three times.

Read the rest of this story here.

Ball security in the SEC

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:00
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Turnovers are the great equalizer in football.

Teams that turn it over consistently don't win very often, and teams that force turnovers typically find ways to win.

Looking back at the SEC in the last three seasons, it's not surprising that Alabama and LSU lead the way in turnover margin. The Tigers are plus-36 and the Crimson Tide are plus-24 during that span. They've combined to win two of the last three SEC titles and played each other for the national championship in 2011.

Alabama has been especially good at not turning the ball over. The Crimson Tide haven’t turned it over 20 or more times in a season since 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and LSU are the only teams in the league that haven’t had a 20-turnover season at least once over the last three years. During that three-year span, Alabama has turned it over just 44 times.

By contrast, Ole Miss has turned it over 75 times during the last three seasons, which is the most in the league. Arkansas is right behind the Rebels with 74 turnovers, and the Hogs have forced the fewest turnovers in the SEC since 2011 (47). Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the only SEC teams to turn it over more than 20 times in each of the last three seasons, although Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12 in 2011.

In the last three seasons, South Carolina's defense has led the way when it comes to creating turnovers. The Gamecocks have forced 86 turnovers. LSU is second with 82. The Gamecocks have intercepted an SEC-high 52 passes in the last three seasons. Vanderbilt is second with 48 picks during that span.

Ole Miss has thrown the most interceptions (44) in the last three seasons, just one more than Tennessee (43). Alabama has thrown the fewest picks (18).

Below is the turnover margin for all 14 SEC schools in the last three seasons. Missouri and Texas A&M were in the Big 12 in 2011.

1. LSU: 82 gained, 46 lost -- plus-36
2. Alabama: 68 gained, 44 lost -- plus-24
3. Mississippi State: 78 gained, 55 lost -- plus-23
4. South Carolina: 86 gained, 64 lost -- plus-22
5. Missouri: 77 gained, 57 lost -- plus-20
6. Georgia: 77 gained, 66 lost -- plus-11
7. Vanderbilt: 77 gained, 69 lost -- plus-8
8. Florida: 62 gained, 61 lost -- plus-1
9. Kentucky: 52 gained, 55 lost -- minus-3
10. Tennessee: 60 gained, 64 lost -- minus-4
11. Ole Miss: 67 gained, 75 lost -- minus-8
12. Auburn: 55 gained, 65 lost -- minus-10
13. Texas A&M: 53 gained, 66 lost -- minus-13
14. Arkansas: 47 gained, 74 lost -- minus-27

Video: Auburn RB Racean 'Roc' Thomas

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
2:30
PM ET
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Auburn running back signee Racean 'Roc' Thomas talks with ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf about the Tigers' running back battle and how he will factor in this summer.

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