SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

SEC lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
The tax man cometh ...

Looking back at SEC spring games

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
Five SEC teams -- Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- played their spring games on Saturday. Here's a quick recap:

South Carolina: Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson exits the spring as the Gamecocks' clear starter at quarterback, but coach Steve Spurrier is still trying to settle on his backup. Thompson saw limited action in the spring game and finished 8-of-11 for 129 yards to lead the Black to a 28-10 victory over the Garnet in front of a crowd of 36,412 at Williams-Brice Stadium. Battling for the backup job are Connor Mitch and Brendan Nosovitch. Mitch threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to running back Shon Carson. For stats and interviews from the game, go to South Carolina's official web site.

Tennessee: The Vols' fans came to last Saturday's Orange and White spring game excited about some of the freshmen enrolled early and were treated to a show by freshman receiver Josh Malone, who caught six passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. The "old" man of the receiver group, Marquez North, had five catches for 106 yards and caught a 50-yard touchdown pass. Josh Dobbs had the best day of the quarterbacks and made up some ground on Justin Worley and Riley Ferguson, but coach Butch Jones was not pleased with the defense as a whole in the game and called it "unacceptable." For more on the Vols' spring game, which drew a crowd of 68,548, go to Tennessee's official web site.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores, in their first spring game under new coach Derek Mason, didn't show a lot by design. But freshman running back Ralph Webb was hard to miss with his 114 yards on 14 carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run. The defense held the offense to two touchdowns, and it appears that the quarterback competition will extend into the summer. Mason gave the edge on Saturday to redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, but sophomore Patton Robinette also had his moments. For stats and more from the game, which drew 8,400 fans, go to Vanderbilt's official web site.

Check out Jeff Barlis' piece for a closer look at Florida's spring game, and Edward Aschoff was on hand for Georgia's spring game.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC lunch links

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
While college basketball teams are punching their tickets to the Elite Eight, the SEC's best quarterback of the last two seasons might have cemented his position as an elite talent in the NFL draft.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Butch Jones has seen enough of Team 118 this spring to know that it should be faster, more athletic and more talented next season.

For those not up on Jones’ lingo, Team 118 is his pet name for the 118th football team in Tennessee’s proud history and the second one that he will coach.

As Rocky Top’s master brick layer, Jones’ task is clearly stated: making Tennessee football whole again by building it back brick by brick.

“If you’re going to do it right, that’s the only way,” Jones said. “There are no shortcuts.”

That’s easier said than done, especially with a win-starved fan base hanging on every shred of hope. The Vols have suffered through four straight losing seasons and haven’t had a winning SEC record since 2007, Phillip Fulmer’s next-to-last season.

That was four head coaches ago.

“We’re still not where we need to be to compete at a high level in this conference, but we have taken great steps in moving forward by increasing our team speed and overall athleticism, and the exciting thing is that there are 18 more newcomers arriving in June,” said Jones, who was 5-7 in his first season at Tennessee, which included a win over No. 11 South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesButch Jones knew all along that his second season at Tennessee would be challenging.
A large chunk of a signing class, ranked No. 5 nationally, is already on campus. Including junior college signees, the Vols brought in 14 early enrollees. Many of those will play key roles next season, and a handful may start.

Junior college offensive tackle Dontavius Blair and junior college receiver Von Pearson won’t have to wait long to get on the field, and the same goes for freshman running back Jalen Hurd, freshman receiver Josh Malone and freshman offensive tackle Coleman Thomas.

“We only have 13 seniors in the program,” Jones said. “We’ll be much more talented, but very youthful. It’s kind of invigorating, though, because this football team has been willing and they’ve been eager. We’ve just got to teach them.”

What you can’t teach is experience, strength and explosiveness in the offensive and defensive lines, and that’s where Jones’ greatest concern lies with Team 118.

He knew when he took the job that his second season might be his most challenging after seeing what the Vols had coming back up front. All five starting offensive linemen from a year ago are gone as well as their top five tacklers in the defensive line and seven defensive linemen from their 2013 opening-day roster.

“I knew right away when I studied the roster that we were in trouble in Year 2 in terms of depth and experience,” Jones said. “We had to make a commitment in recruiting. We have to get back to attracting the top-level offensive and defensive linemen to the University of Tennessee. We’ve had them. You look at all the great offensive and defensive linemen who played here, and now the opportunity to play early and at an institution that has that tradition in the line of scrimmage is as great as it’s ever been.”

The truth is that Jones won’t have a good feel for what his defensive line will look like next season until the rest of the freshmen start rolling in this summer. Sophomore Corey Vereen has been impressive at one end this spring, and redshirt junior Curt Maggitt is going to move around and play a lot with his hand down. But the Vols will need freshmen Derek Barnett, Dewayne Hendrix, Charles Mosley and Michael Sawyers to come in and help right away in the defensive line.

“It still has to evolve, and right now, that’s just where we are,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to play true freshmen. And as we know, this is an unforgiving league when it comes to the line of scrimmage. But it is what it is. We’ve been talking to them a lot. They have to have a great next few months at home while they’re finishing up high school, and then when they get here in June, we have to get as much out of them as we can, get them bigger and stronger.

“That’s just where we’re at in the program. We’re going to have to rely on true freshmen.”

From what he has seen so far from some of the newcomers already on campus, Maggitt isn’t sure that’s such a bad thing.

“One of the things you see is some good competition at different positions with these new guys, and you’re going to see even more when the rest of them get here this summer,” Maggitt said. “I can already tell that we’ll be a better team and a faster team.”

And maybe the team that puts an end to the longest drought in modern Tennessee football history.

"We all have the same goal, and that's getting Tennessee back to where it's supposed to be," Maggitt said. "We've got Coach Jones' back, and he has ours."
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee got to the opposing quarterback last season about as often as the Vols have made appearances on college football’s national stage the last few years.

Tennessee finished last in the SEC with 18 sacks in 12 games and was 12th in opponents’ third-down conversions, which goes a long way in explaining the Volunteers’ struggles on defense.

Likewise, they’ve been ranked just once in the Associated Press Top 25 poll (the third week of the 2012 season) since the opening week of the 2008 season and are 2-28 against nationally ranked foes during that span.

[+] EnlargeCurt Maggitt
Wade Rackley/Getty ImagesCurt Maggitt, who missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury in 2012, will play a few different positions for the Vols in 2014.
The general consensus on Rocky Top is that both of those trends are about to change, and a big reason why is the return of Curt Maggitt.

The Vols lacked an explosive finisher on defense last season, and really for the last two seasons. Maggitt fits that mold and is healthy again after redshirting and missing all of 2013. He suffered a torn ACL in a November loss to Missouri in 2012 and never got back to the point where he was confident enough to give it a go in a game last season.

“I just never felt like myself,” Maggitt said. “I gave it a shot a few times (in practice), but I just didn’t feel like myself. If I’m out there, I want to be able to go 110 percent.”

He’ll be out there in 2014 ... and in more than just one spot.

An outside linebacker in the Vols’ old 3-4 scheme under Sal Sunseri in 2012, Maggitt will line up just about everywhere next season. He’ll spend a good bit of time with his hand down and rushing the passer at defensive end, but the Vols will use his versatility to keeps teams guessing.

“You’re going to see him rushing the passer. You’re going to see him in a three-point stance, a two-point stance coming off the edge. You’ll see him at the mike or will position (at linebacker),” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “He’s an every-down player and has a great skill set, from rushing the passer to playing linebacker and also being able to match him up in man-to-man coverage.”

The 6-foot-3 Maggitt is up to the 245-pound range after weighing 233 a year ago. He has just 2.5 career sacks but tied for the team lead with five tackles for loss in nine games in 2012 before his injury. The Vols also like the potential of Maggitt at one end and promising sophomore Corey Vereen at the other end, especially on passing downs.

“I’m bigger than I was last season and just as fast,” said Maggitt, who is a fourth-year junior. “I’m ready for some big collisions. The coaches and guys on this team know that anywhere they need me, I’m there, and I think you're going to see that we have a lot of guys on this defense who can make big plays.

“Last year was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through, not being out there. It was a harder decision than deciding what school I was coming to. I was losing sleep over it, coming up and talking to Coach Jones in his office three or four times a week, texting him, talking to my dad, Herman Lathers, A.J. Johnson. It was a long, tough process. But after I made a decision, I promised myself I wouldn’t look back on it.”

The wait was worth it, for Maggitt and the Vols, because he’s already showing signs this spring of being the kind of player who can take over games and galvanize a defense.

“Having him back is invaluable,” Jones said. “I’ve said it: He’s the leader of this football team. Just his presence on the football field alone makes us better. He’s a very gifted and talented football player and plays with great intensity and great effort. He’s an individual that everybody on our football team respects. When he talks, everyone listens.

“So, now, it’s not just having him on the sideline. We have him in practice, and it’s completely different having him on the field. You can just tell.”

SEC's lunch links

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
The words "revolutionary" and "game-changing" are prominent in the aftermath of Wednesday's ruling by a federal agency that college athletes at Northwestern University are school employees and can form a union. The SEC had this to say:
"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," commissioner Mike Slive said in a written statement.

Former South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles came out against the idea of college football players unions.

Elsewhere in the South, spring practice and NFL scouting continued as if the earth had not spun off its axis.

Video: Tennessee C Mack Crowder

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26

Chris Low talks with Vols center Mack Crowder about how the offensive line is moving on and their expectations after losing so many starters from last year's team.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.