Friday, July 22, 2011
SEC media days: One good thing
By Chris Low
AUBURN: The defending national champion Tigers won't have to look far for motivation in 2011. They've heard from their own coaches all spring and all offseason that "all the good players are gone."
Not that anybody on the Plains really believes that, but it's made for some fierce competition on the practice field and in the weight room.
It's also driven the returning players to prove that the foundation of the Auburn football program remains rock-solid despite the departure of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Antoine Carter, Josh Bynes, Lee Ziemba, Darvin Adams and 30-some other players who were on the roster in Glendale, Ariz., in January.
"We lost some great players, no doubt," Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "But we have a lot of other talented players who've just been waiting for their shot. Nobody expected us to do what we did last year, so why would this year be any different?"
GEORGIA: It's no secret that Georgia's depth on the offensive line has taken a considerable hit.
It started with Trinton Sturdivant's third torn ACL in the spring and continued with A.J. Harmon and Brent Benedict both leaving the program.
Georgia coach Mark Richt, though, is more interested in who he will have this fall up front, and it's a unit that's anchored by a guy, Ben Jones, whom Richt calls the "best center in America."
Richt knew from the time Jones attended Georgia's football camp that the Bulldogs were getting a great one.
"We're doing a little pass-rush drill," Richt said. "He's just whooping everybody. Finally, I stepped in and said, 'Look, I want every defensive lineman to line up. One by one, I want you to go against Ben, play after play after play.
"After about I don't know how many, 10 or 12, he was finally exhausted and somebody beat him. But he's a fierce competitor. He's mean as a snake on the field, but he knows what he's doing. He's a great leader. He's a great football player. I'm glad we got him."
KENTUCKY: A year ago, it was the Randall Cobb Show at Kentucky with Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews and Mike Hartline all playing supporting roles.
This year, it might not be as flashy offensively for the Wildcats (unless you like the big guys up front), but they enter the 2011 season with one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the league.
"Everybody knows that's where it starts … in your offensive line," said Kentucky junior quarterback Morgan Newton, who enters his first season as the full-time starter.
Stuart Hines and Larry Warford form perhaps the best guard tandem in the SEC, while center Matt Smith and left tackle Chandler Burden are also returning starters.
"We've all played together for two years now," Hines said. "We trust each other. We rely on each other, and we want it to be on our shoulders this year."
TENNESSEE: Quarterback Tyler Bray did a lot of things right last season as a true freshman.
He threw 16 touchdown passes while starting the final five games and led the Vols to a 4-1 record.
He also threw seven interceptions in his last three games and beat up on four teams (Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) who won a combined 13 games.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is as anxious as anybody to see what kind of encore his strong-armed sophomore has and whether he's ready to enter the next stage as a quarterback.
"He's made a tremendous investment in getting better, having a better command of the offense, being able to make better decisions and putting our offense in better positions," Dooley said. "It's only going to come with experience."