SEC: Chris Lammons

College football is getting younger and younger. Gone are the days of just relying on upperclassmen to guide your football programs. Really, gone are the days of waiting for freshmen to develop.

Getting guys on the field earlier and earlier is more than just the norm, it's a necessity. Just look at all the young skill players tearing it up around the country.

The SEC has a treasure trove of young stars, so today we're going to look at rising sophomores and redshirt freshmen to keep an eye on in 2015.

Now, we aren't going to talk about the obvious guys. No All-SEC members from the coaches or the Associated Press. That's just too easy. We're diving into guys who just slid under the title of star in 2014 and could jump right in to the limelight this fall.

Here are the obvious guys who either made All-SEC teams, were honorable mentions or already are well known:
There are a ton of youngsters to choose from, so this certainly wasn't easy, but here are 10 rising sophomores and redshirt freshman from the SEC to keep an eye on in 2015:

EAST

[+] EnlargeJosh Malone
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsJosh Malone didn't live up to the hype as a freshman, but expectations for him remain high.
Will Grier, QB, Florida: He redshirted last year but will be in an all-out battle with Harris for the starting job. Some feel he might be more suited to run new coach Jim McElwain's more pro-style offense.

Jacob Park, QB, Georgia: Another quarterback who redshirted in 2014, Park will challenge for the starting spot in Athens, and he might be the most physically gifted of the three guys competing for that job this spring.

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia: He really came on at the end of last season, proving to be one of the Bulldogs' best pass-rushers. He finished the year with 4.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries.

Isaiah McKenzie, WR/RS, Georgia: Running back Sony Michel should be fun to watch too, but McKenzie has a chance to really take a big step forward in the receiving, rushing and return game. He registered 684 all-purpose yards in 2014.

Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia: Sanders started all 13 games for the Bulldogs last season and finished the year on a very high note with a two-interception performance in Georgia's bowl win over Louisville.

Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky: He started seven games last season and finished the year with 10 tackles. He has to become a more disruptive player up front, but he really has a chance to help this defense in 2015.

Chris Lammons, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' defense will be a little bit older and hopefully a little bit wiser in 2015, and Lammons could be a big part of the improvements in the secondary.

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: The Vols return a pretty deep receiving corps, but Malone could have a bright future in Knoxville and should improve on his 23 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown from 2014.

Ethan Wolf, TE, Tennessee: Another talented, young weapon in the Vols' offense, Wolf made an instant impact as a freshman and should continue to be a key part of the Vols' aerial attack in 2015.

Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt: Not much went right for the Commodores in 2014, but Bowden could be a budding star. He led Vandy with 78 tackles and added two tackles for loss and a sack.

WEST

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsFreshman defensive end Marquis Haynes led Ole Miss in sacks.
Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama: He registered only seven tackles with two sacks in 2014, but Hand, a former five-star prospect, is a monster talent for the Tide who should see plenty of time this fall.

Marlon Humphrey/Tony Brown, CBs, Alabama: Brown played in 13 games, making two starts, while Humphrey redshirted. Alabama had issues at corner all year and these two youngsters, who might be the most talented corners on the team, will have every opportunity to take both starting spots.

Cam Sims, WR, Alabama: With Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones all departing, Alabama will be rebuilding at receiver. Sims, a former top high school prospect, could jump right into a key role at receiver for the Tide.

Jojo Robinson, WR, Arkansas: Coaches knew that he was really talented when he arrived last year, but he wasn't ready. There are high hopes for the former four-star prospect, who has a chance to make a strong impact in Arkansas' passing game.

Roc Thomas, RB, Auburn: In a crowded backfield, Thomas played in 12 games and registered 214 rushing yards with two touchdowns. With both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant gone, Thomas will take over as Auburn's lead back so of course he'll be productive.

Travonte Valentine, DT, LSU: Eligibility issues cut into Valentine's chances of playing in 2014, but he has the potential to be a major player up front for the Tigers. He was probably physically ready to play last year.

Clifton Garrett, LB, LSU: Garrett didn’t really play much last season but was one of LSU's top prospects in its 2014 recruiting class. Garrett just wasn’t ready last season, but that will all change this year.

Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State: While he sat out the 2014 season, the good news is that he's built like Benardrick McKinney, who just left Starkville for the NFL. He's a big, fast, strong, long, athletic linebacker, who the coaches are very excited about.

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: With Cody Prewitt gone, Hampton should step right in at that safety spot. There was even talk before the 2014 season that he could have replaced Prewitt and moved him to linebacker. He already has had good field experience, playing in 13 games.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: The Rebels are loaded with defensive line talent, but Haynes was Ole Miss' best pass-rusher in 2014. He started four of the 13 games he played in and led the team with 7.5 sacks while tying for the team lead with nine tackles for loss.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 9

October, 29, 2014
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Another week, another game where an SEC true freshman running back made a big impression. Nick Chubb and Georgia were off on Saturday, but LSU's Leonard Fournette did a fine job representing the league's freshmen with a 100-yard outing against Ole Miss' vaunted defense.

Here is a recap of how Fournette and some of the SEC's other true freshmen standouts performed last weekend:

S Jamal Adams, LSU

What he did: Although he made five tackles and broke up three passes in a 10-7 win against Ole Miss, Adams once again went viral on the Web for something else entirely. As he had done against Florida's Andre Debose, Adams dramatically flopped to the ground after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace made contact with him after a play. Once again, Adams' flop drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

What it means: Adams' flops are amusing and all, but the kid has serious game. He is one of LSU's best special teams players and is becoming a playmaker in the Tigers' nickel and dime defensive packages. He is tied for fifth on the team with 42 tackles.

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett was one of Tennessee's top defensive performers against Alabama, recording six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Volunteers' 34-20 loss.

What it means: Now a fixture in Tennessee's starting lineup, Barnett has become one of the SEC's top young defensive ends. After adding another 1.5 TFLs against the Crimson Tide, Barnett ranks second in the conference with 11. He's also tied for sixth in the league with four sacks.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette was unquestionably the SEC's top freshman this week, helping LSU gain an upset win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss by rushing 23 times for 113 yards (he did lose a fumble in the end zone, however), catching two passes for 41 yards and returning two kickoffs for 57 yards. He finished with 211 all-purpose yards.

What it means: This was Fournette's third game with at least 100 rushing yards and his second where he cracked the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards. His high was 225 against Florida. The Ole Miss game pushed him past the 1,000-yard plateau in all-purpose yards this season (1,209).

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd propelled Tennessee's running game against a stingy Alabama defense, rushing 16 times for 59 yards in a loss to the Crimson Tide. He also caught a team-high six passes for 27 yards.

What it means: He has dealt with injuries recently, but Hurd returned last week to rush for 40 yards against Ole Miss. He seemed to be back to normal against Alabama, registering 86 yards of total offense. The Vols will surely lean heavily on the freshman when they face South Carolina's underwhelming run defense on Saturday.

CB Chris Lammons, South Carolina

What he did: Lammons started at cornerback and finished second on the team with six tackles along with 0.5 tackles for loss in a 42-35 loss against Auburn.

What it means: Lammons started for the second consecutive game and has set a new career high for tackles in both of them. With six against Auburn, he bested the five he posted against Furman the previous week. South Carolina's defense has had major issues this season, and it looks like the Gamecocks are giving Lammons the chance to lock down a job with an eye on the future.

Other notables:

K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Kicked field goals of 24 and 27 yards and hit both of his PATs in a loss to Alabama.

WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in a loss to Alabama.

WR Trey Quinn, LSU: Caught two passes for 42 yards in a win against Ole Miss.

CB Tre Tarpley, Vanderbilt: Made two tackles, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble in a loss to Missouri.

RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran eight times for 34 yards in a win against South Carolina.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 31, 2014
7/31/14
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You hear that?

No, it's not the sound of former LSU defensive back Patrick Peterson making it rain with his new $70 million contract extension.

That sound you hear is another kind of excitement.

Football is here. Sort of.

Fall camp in the SEC gets going this afternoon at Mississippi State and will kick off at Auburn and Alabama tomorrow.

So, to celebrate, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban took his players out on the lake. Enjoy.

.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming and a look around the rest of the conference.
  • "Everything gets lumped into one bucket," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin lamented. The Aggies have had a tough offseason and Sumlin believes his players' off-field problems have been judged somewhat unfairly. (An aside, coach: It's not a saying but it should be, "The police blotter don't lie.")
  • Tough news for former Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams. The Seattle Seahawk, fresh off an entire rookie season spent on the injured reserve list, was carted off of the practice field with a leg injury. The Monstar, as he likes to be called, has a history of knee problems. Here's to a speedy recovery for the lovable Aussie.
  • Tennessee is not necessarily lacking for talent. The problem for the Vols is that the majority of it resides in its freshman class. A veteran star in his own right, linebacker C.J. Johnson said you need to have the "right mindset" to play early. With a whopping 35 players in the 2014 signing class, the law of averages seems to favor at least a few possessing the ability to contribute as rookies, right?
  • Wait, so Auburn got a commitment from Jeremy Johnson yesterday? No, it's not the same guy who already backs up Nick Marshall at quarterback. Unfortunately for our purposes the younger Johnson is a baseball player. But that doesn't mean he doesn't think toting the pigskin is out of the question. "Maybe Auburn was interested in me (for football) for some time, but I lost contact," he told Al.com. "I'm not sure. If they need a kick/punt returner, I specialize in that."
  • South Carolina signed five cornerbacks in its 2014 class. But before Wednesday, only two had been cleared by the NCAA to get on campus. Well, good news for the Gamecocks: Chris Lammon and Wesley Green, two of their top four overall prospects, according to ESPN, are good to go, according to coach Steve Spurrier.
Today, we continue our break down of each position group in the SEC by looking at an area of defense that has a lot to prove after last season.

We’re talking, of course, about the secondaries.

Maybe it was that they were young and inexperienced. Maybe it was a case of so many quarterbacks being the opposite. But whatever it was, the league’s defensive backs should have a chip on their shoulder after the beating they took in 2013.

With that said, let’s dig into which programs are poised to rebound and sport the best secondaries in the league.

Secondary position rankings

[+] EnlargeCody Prewitt
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesOle Miss safety Cody Prewitt is the leader of an experienced, talented Rebels secondary.
1. Ole Miss: Talent and experience. Both are worth their weight in gold, and Ole Miss has loads of each. We’re probably not giving anything away when we say that both Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will make the list of the league’s top 10 safeties later today. Prewitt led the league in interceptions last season, and Conner, a former four-star recruit, has barely scratched the surface on what he can do. Trae Elston and Senquez Golson, meanwhile, are potential impact players, along with Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones. If C.J. Hampton lives up to the hype, he could be a true freshman to keep an eye on.

2. Florida: The Gators have plenty of issues. Defensive back is not one of them, however. Despite losing Cody Riggs to transfer and Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson to the NFL, Florida has plenty of talent remaining in the secondary. Only a sophomore, Vernon Hargreaves III is arguably the best corner in the SEC. If either Jalen Tabor or Duke Dawson emerges opposite him, you’re talking about a good one-two punch. And with three experienced safeties to lean on -- Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole -- coach Will Muschamp should like what he sees from the secondary as a whole.

3. LSU: Getting Jalen Mills to safety would have been huge. But with his status up in the air, LSU must move on. It's still DBU -- Defensive Back University -- and thankfully for coach Les Miles, he’s got plenty more to work with. Ronald Martin has experience at safety, along with Corey Thompson, who missed the spring with an injury. At corner, LSU is in good shape with Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson in position to start, not to mention Jalen Collins, a former Freshman All-SEC choice in 2012. And since this is LSU and someone always emerges from nowhere, be sure to keep an eye on Jamal Adams. The former No. 2-rated safety in the ESPN 300 didn't enroll early but should have every chance to play as a true freshman. If Mills is able to return and some the young talent on LSU's roster develops as expected, the Tigers could have an argument for the top secondary in the league.

4. Alabama: Talent and experience. Alabama has one but not the other, and you can probably guess which. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and Deion Belue are all gone. That fourth spot in the secondary? It was never settled to begin with. Getting Landon Collins back at safety, however, is huge, as the former five-star prospect has All-SEC potential. But who starts opposite him is up in the air with Nick Perry coming off an injury, Jarrick Williams entrenched at nickel corner/star and Laurence "Hootie" Jones early in his development. At corner, Alabama’s hopes are pinned to two freshmen -- Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey -- along with a slew of unproven prospects such as Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Bradley Sylve.

5. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen loves his defense heading into this season, and considering what he has at defensive back it’s easy to see why. The Bulldogs are in the enviable position of having five legitimate SEC-caliber players at both safety and cornerback. Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun are two rock-solid corners, and Will Redmond is a good third off the bench. Kendrick Market and Deontay Evans might start at safety today, but Jay Hughes is back from injury and Justin Cox could very well be the most talented of the bunch after transitioning from corner this spring.

6. Auburn: The Tigers secondary was atrocious for most of last season, surrendering 260.2 passing yards per game through Jan. 1 (No. 104 nationally). Really, it wasn’t until the BCS title game that we saw some fight out of them. So was that first half against Florida State a mirage or a glimpse of the future? Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has to hope it’s the latter. With Jonathon Mincy at corner, Jermaine Whitehead at safety and Robenson Therezie playing the star, he’s got some experienced parts to build around. Meanwhile, juco transfer Derrick Moncrief has the look of an impact player at safety. If Joshua Holsey is back to 100 percent, Johnson will have a better deck of cards to play with than last season.

7. Georgia: The good news is that the two main culprits from last season’s heartbreaking loss to Auburn -- Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons -- are gone. The bad news is that those same players were expected to start this season. Throw in the loss of Shaq Wiggins and you’re looking at Georgia, under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, essentially starting over in the secondary. It’s not all bad, though. There might not be much depth at cornerback, but veteran Damian Swann is a good place to start. And the same can be said of safety, where Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger have some experience.

8. Tennessee: The Volunteers have one of the deeper secondaries in the SEC, returning all four starters, but it’s a group that received its fair share of criticism last season after giving up 283 yards per game. There’s still talent back there, though, with safety Brian Randolph and cornerback Cameron Sutton. In particular, Randolph led the team in interceptions (4) and finished second in tackles (75), and though he missed the majority of spring due to injury, he’s expected back for fall camp. At cornerback, freshman Emmanuel Moseley arrived in January and could make a push for playing time after a strong spring.

9. South Carolina: You have to fear the unknown if you’re a Gamecocks fan. Brison Williams is a solid safety, but both of your starting corners from last season -- Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree -- are gone, and the senior you expected to be starting by now, Kadetrix Marcus, is trailing sophomore Chaz Elder on the depth chart. Rico McWilliams, the corner with the most returning experience, isn’t even a sure thing to start. A redshirt freshman, Ali Groves, is in line to start at the second cornerback spot, but keep an eye on two talented true freshmen who could play early: Wesley Green and Chris Lammons.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett has all-conference potential, but the Texas A&M secondary is filled with question marks.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies return plenty of experience in the secondary this season. That's good in the sense that they have a defensive backfield with a lot of SEC football under its belt but make no mistake, this unit has a lot of room for improvement. Cornerback Deshazor Everett is the best player of the group and could be headed for an all-conference season, while junior corner De'Vante Harris continues to grow as a player. The safeties -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt -- must show improvement this season after last year's performance. The nickel position is open and a number of candidates could step in, including sophomore Noel Ellis or junior Devonta Burns.

11. Missouri: Much of the attention has been paid to reloading on the defensive line after the departures of Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, but Missouri should be fine there. The real concern, however, is the secondary, as three of last year’s starters (E.J. Gaines, Randy Ponder and Matt White) are gone. Getting Braylon Webb back at safety is huge, but he’ll need help. Ian Simon and Duron Singleton should vie for the second safety spot, and John Gibson and Aarion Penton are two of the more experienced options at corner. The wild card in all of this, though, is an incoming class that featured seven defensive backs.

12. Kentucky: With two of the better pass rushers in the league, one would think that Kentucky could force the opposing quarterback into throwing some interceptions. That didn’t happen last season. The Wildcats were dead last in the SEC with just three interceptions. Mark Stoops and his staff are hoping to turn that around this season, and they have plenty of capable bodies to work with on the back end. All four starters are back, five if you include nickel back Blake McClain -- who was third on the team in tackles as a freshman -- and junior college transfer A.J. Stamps might be the most talented defensive back on the roster.

13. Arkansas: Depth is going to be a concern for new secondary coach Clay Jennings, who is stressing turnovers this spring after the Razorbacks came in dead last in that category in the SEC in 2013. But in terms of front-line starters, he’s got some experience to work with, as every projected starter at safety and corner is a junior or senior. The most reliable of the bunch is safety Alan Turner, who led the team in tackles last season and should continue to play a pivotal role on defense. Another one to watch is cornerback Tevin Mitchell. It wasn’t that long ago that the 6-foot senior was an SEC All-Freshman selection. For Arkansas to take the next step, he’ll need to fulfill the early promise of his career.

14. Vanderbilt: The Commodores were spoiled last season with four seniors starting in the secondary. You don’t replace the talent and experience of an Andre Hal and a Kenny Ladler overnight. And you certainly will have a hard time doing so when the entire coaching staff has changed. But such is new head coach Derek Mason’s task. The good news for him is that the cupboard wasn’t left entirely bare as the entire second string of the secondary -- Paris Head, Jahmel McIntosh, Andrew Williamson and Torren McGaster -- returns after having played in a combined 50 games last season.

South Carolina spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
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Three things we learned in the spring about the South Carolina Gamecocks:

1. Offense is deep: As long as fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson stays healthy, South Carolina shouldn’t have many issues on offense. The backfield is deep and talented with Mike Davis leading the way. The offensive line is loaded with future NFL players. Although Bruce Ellington turned pro, the receiving corps features plenty of explosive options. With Steve Spurrier at the controls, it should be an entertaining year to watch the Gamecocks move the ball in a wide variety of ways.

2. Linebacker will be a strength: South Carolina’s defense certainly has some holes to fill, but the linebackers are a proven commodity. Three of the Gamecocks’ top-five tacklers return in Skai Moore, Kaiwan Lewis and Marcquis Roberts. It's a deep group of playmakers who could carry the defense while some new faces finds their way early in the season.

3. Defense has a lot to prove: Losing one of the best defensive talents ever to don garnet and black, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, will obviously be a blow. Same with defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton and cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Those guys were the rocks of a solid South Carolina defense last season, and their absences were evident in the spring game when the defenses surrendered 6.5 yards per play and 16.8 yards per completion. The cupboard isn’t bare, but the Gamecocks still must fill a lot of holes.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who takes over at cornerback? This seems to be the most likely position where a freshman might earn immediate playing time. The Gamecocks added a slew of talented cornerbacks -- including three of their four highest-rated signees in ESPN’s rankings, Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith and Wesley Green -- and struggled a bit at the position during the spring without Hampton and Legree. Safety Brison Williams and Rico McWilliams started at corner in the spring game, and Jamari Smith might be another name to watch. But it’s clear that nothing is settled at the position as of now.

2. Who backs up Thompson? Spring practice proved that Thompson is head and shoulders above the competition at quarterback. But who steps in if the senior suffers an injury? Connor Mitch is one option. Brendan Nosovitch and Perry Orth are others. Not yet on campus is a fourth option, signee Michael Scarnecchia. Thompson has already played a lot while sharing time with the departed Connor Shaw, but the reserves are a completely unproven bunch.

3. Might this be the SEC’s best backfield? The star power at Alabama and Georgia attracts more attention, but the talent in South Carolina’s backfield is nothing to sneeze at. Davis proved himself as a tough runner and home run threat last season, rushing for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns before fading late because of injury issues. In Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson, the Gamecocks have another two SEC-caliber backs, and the Gamecocks’ coaches seem excited about adding redshirt freshman David Williams to the mix. The depth here is excellent, and the backs will be running behind a stout offensive line. That should make for a highly productive running game in the fall.

One way-too-early prediction:

This is the golden age of South Carolina football, and Spurrier will add another impressive chapter this season. Namely, the Gamecocks’ streak of three straight seasons with at least 11 wins will grow to four. Although Lorenzo Ward’s defense has a lot to prove, the offense should be good enough to help the D hit its stride like it did as last season progressed. Plenty of preseason publications will name South Carolina as the favorite to win the SEC East, and that’s for good reason. Spurrier’s staff has built one of the league’s most consistent programs, and it should once again rank among the top contenders this season.

Opening spring camp: South Carolina

March, 3, 2014
3/03/14
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Schedule: The Gamecocks will open spring practice at 4:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday. All 15 of the spring practice sessions are open to the public unless determined otherwise. The Gamecocks also will practice on Thursday this week and then take a hiatus for spring break and return to practice on March 18. The Garnet & Black spring game is set for April 12 at noon ET and will be televised live by ESPNU.

What’s new: From a staff standpoint, not a lot. For the first time in a while, South Carolina’s coaching staff will return intact.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIMike Davis topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2013, including seven 100-yard games.
On the move: Junior Cedrick Cooper, who played sparingly last season at linebacker and a good bit on special teams, is moving to defensive end. Sophomore Jamari Smith is moving back to cornerback after playing some at running back last season. Smith has bounced around between the positions since arriving as a freshman.

On the mend: Receiver Damiere Byrd will miss the spring after injuring his knee during bowl practice in December. Fullback Connor McLaurin will miss the spring after suffering a broken left fibula just days before the bowl game. Cornerback Ali Groves will be limited after undergoing shoulder surgery. Offensive tackle Mike Matulis has undergone surgeries on each of his shoulders and redshirted last season.

New face: Junior-college defensive tackle Abu Lamin enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Lamin has three years of eligibility remaining, and the Gamecocks are hoping he can be a run-stopper in the middle of that defensive line.

Question marks: Cornerback is at the top of the list. Only four recruited scholarship cornerbacks are on the roster this spring, and there’s little experience. Redshirt sophomore Rico McWilliams is the “veteran” of the group and has all of two career starts. The Gamecocks are bringing in several heralded cornerbacks in this signing class, but Wesley Green and Chris Lammons won’t be on campus until the summer. With Jadeveon Clowney leaving early for the NFL, the Gamecocks also need to find some disrupters off the edge on defense. It’s a big spring for redshirt sophomore Darius English, who has beefed up close to 245 pounds. Gerald Dixon is another redshirt sophomore who played some last season and showed a lot of promise. Cooper also could help in pass-rushing situations. He recently ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and is up to 235 pounds. He’s one of the best pure athletes on the team.

Key battle: Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will have several options at linebacker, meaning guys will be jockeying for playing time this spring. It’s doubtful anybody will unseat sophomore Skai Moore at weakside linebacker, but Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman will battle it out at middle linebacker. Fifth-year senior Sharrod Golightly returns at the hybrid “spur” position, and sophomore Jordan Diggs is one to watch there, as well. Sophomores Larenz Bryant and Jonathan Walton will also be hard to keep off the field this fall at the linebacker/spur positions, where the Gamecocks should have plenty of depth, especially once top signee Bryson Allen-Williams arrives on campus this summer.

Breaking out: Pharoh Cooper was one of Steve Spurrier’s favorites last season as a true freshman, and you can bet the Gamecocks will look for more ways to get the ball in his hands in 2014 with Bruce Ellington leaving early for the NFL draft. The 5-11, 200-pound Cooper will get plenty of reps this spring, especially with Byrd still recovering from his knee injury. Cooper could be a force in the slot, and now that he has a season under his belt, should develop into one of the better after-the-catch players in the league. Staying at the receiver position, junior Shaq Roland could also be poised for a big season provided that he has matured off the field.

Don’t forget about: The Gamecocks are deep at running back, and Mike Davis is coming off an 1,183-yard season. Brandon Wilds should also be healthy, but redshirt freshman David Williams adds that breakaway dimension that’s so valuable in this league. The 6-1, 215-pound Williams posted the fastest 40 time on the team during winter conditioning (Byrd didn’t run) and has a chance to emerge as a nice complement to Davis, Wilds and Shon Carson.

All eyes on: Now that Connor Shaw has moved on after going 27-5 as the Gamecocks' starting quarterback, fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson gets his shot to show that he can lead this team and get it done on an every-down basis. He has been terrific in relief roles and was one of the stars of the Gamecocks’ offseason conditioning program. While he's not the extend-the-play quarterback Shaw was, Thompson can stand back there in the pocket and make precision throws. Not only that, but he has one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the SEC returning.

Now that you've seen the national signing day hits and misses from the SEC West, it's time to take a look at how the East fared:

FLORIDA

Needs filled: With four starters gone from the secondary, Florida got right to work on their replacements by signing three ESPN 300 cornerback prospects, including early enrollees Jalen Tabor (five-star) and Duke Dawson. The Gators also signed five defensive linemen, including No. 2 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III and No. 3 defensive tackle Thomas Holley. Along with six offensive line signees, Florida added much-needed quarterback depth with ESPN 300 members Will Grier (early enrollee) and former Florida State commit Treon Harris.

Holes remaining: Florida missed out on elite offensive playmakers in running back Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, who both flipped from Florida to Florida State. The Gators also lost out on five-star cornerback/receiver Adoree' Jackson to USC and ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince to Maryland.

GEORGIA

Needs filled: The Bulldogs had some big gets on signing day by keeping five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter home and surprising everyone by signing explosive ESPN 300 athlete Isaiah McKenzie. The Bulldogs signed three other defensive linemen and the No. 2 and No. 7 running backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Georgia also secured the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in Jacob Park and second-ranked tight end Jeb Blazevich.

Holes remaining: Georgia didn't necessarily need a big linebacker haul, but the Bulldogs did watch top-notch linebackers on their board Raekwon McMillan, Rashaan Evans and Bryson Allen-Williams go elsewhere. They would have also liked to have secured an elite receiver and missed on ESPN 300 cornerback Wesley Green, who signed with South Carolina.

KENTUCKY

Needs filled: Coach Mark Stoops really made a splash with this recruiting class and hopes to have his quarterback of the future with ESPN 300 member -- and early enrollee -- Drew Barker. Barker will have help with the additions of ESPN 300 running back Stanley Williams and ESPN 300 receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass. He also hit the defensive line hard, snatching ESPN 300 defensive end Denzel Ware away from Florida State and four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam away from Alabama. Stoops also signed ESPN 300 corners Kendall Randolph and Darius West.

Holes remaining: With the loss of senior Avery Williamson and the other holes at linebacker on the roster, the Wildcats would have liked to add a couple more linebackers to this class.

MISSOURI

Needs filled: The Tigers' staff needed to add to the offensive line and the secondary, and had to come away pretty satisfied with the prospects they secured. The gem of the class is ESPN 300 offensive tackle Andy Bauer, who should provide immediate depth up front. Mizzou also signed four other offensive linemen. The Tigers grabbed six defensive back signees and ESPN 300 linebacker Brandon Lee.

Holes remaining: While Mizzou was able to sign three players who could see time along the defensive line, the Tigers missed out on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, who signed with Texas, and weren't able to flip Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end signee Derek Barnett.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Needs filled: The Gamecocks needed to add some quality depth to their secondary and did just that with the signing of ESPN 300 members Chris Lammons, who flipped from Florida, D.J. Smith, and Wesley Green, along with two other defensive back prospects. Steve Spurrier also bolstered a defensive line that lost three starters by signing ESPN 300 members Dante Sawyer (DE) and Dexter Wideman (DT), along with junior college standout tackles Jhaustin Thomas and Abu Lamin.

Holes remaining: You can never have too many offensive linemen, and the Gamecocks only signed two. South Carolina would have probably liked to sign another elite receiver prospect with the loss of Bruce Ellington, and didn't sign a running back.

TENNESSEE

Needs filled: The Vols signed a hefty class, and met most of their needs in the process. ESPN 300 receiver Josh Malone and ESPN 300 running back Jalen Hurd, both of whom are early enrollees, should make an immediate impact. ESPN 300 running back Derrell Scott should help as well, along with juco transfer receiver LaVon Pearson. Tennessee secured four ESPN 300 defensive backs, grabbed two ESPN 300 linebackers in Dillon Bates and Gavin Bryant, and signed a handful of defensive line prospects, including ESPN 300 ends Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett.

Holes remaining: After losing all five starters from last season's offensive line, signing a couple more linemen would have been a plus for the Vols. Tennessee signed only three offensive linemen and also lost defensive tackle Cory Thomas to Mississippi State on signing day.

VANDERBILT

Needs filled: After dipping down into single-digit verbal numbers, the Commodores closed with 22 signees. The biggest gets were ESPN 300 members Nifae Lealao (defensive tackle) and Dallas Rivers (running back), who could provide immediate help. After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, the Commodores flipped Pittsburgh commit Wade Freebeck and former East Carolina commit Shawn Stankavage.

Holes remaining: Losing offensive lineman Andrew Mike to Florida just before signing day hurt and as signing day went on, you just weren't seeing the same caliber players that former coach James Franklin brought in, which was going to be tough for new coach Derek Mason, anyway. Vandy also missed out on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett.

Signing day wrap: SEC

February, 5, 2014
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The Southeastern Conference had a strong finish the 2014 recruiting class. Alabama, which received a commitment from four-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) on Wednesday, finished with the top overall class by a landslide, and seven of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country are in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC on national signing day.

Top class

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillESPN 300 OLB Rashaan Evans, who chose Bama over Auburn, made a great class even better.
There is no question Alabama had the top overall class. The Crimson Tide finished with 27 signees, including 19 ranked in the ESPN 300 and five five-star prospects. In addition to the incredible class Alabama put together leading up to signing day, the Crimson Tide were also able to land Evans, the No. 52 player in the country. Evans chose Alabama over arch-rival and hometown Auburn Tigers.

The Alabama class was led by the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), the No. 2-ranked defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the country Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), who is already enrolled.

The SEC West alone had three schools, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, finish in the top five of the final recruiting team rankings. In all, 13 of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the team recruiting rankings.

South Carolina, LSU and Georgia finish strong

South Carolina had arguably the best finish of any class in the SEC. The Gamecocks were able to flip ESPN 300 defensive end Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and defensive tackle Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. They were also able to land ESPN 300 defensive backs Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King) giving the Gamecocks a very athletic secondary.

If South Carolina was the best, LSU wasn’t far behind. The Tigers were able to land the No. 1 wide receiver in the country Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic). Dupre chose LSU over UCLA, Ole Miss, Alabama and FSU. Valentine had decommitted from three different schools – Louisville, Florida and Miami -- over the course of his recruitment before finally settling on LSU. The Tigers were also able to hang on to defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine), who had been wavering on his commitment leading up to signing day.

Georgia, meanwhile, added five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), who chose the Bulldogs over LSU, FSU and Florida. They also added four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage). The ESPN 300 wide receiver wasn’t even considering Georgia until earlier this week, but a late offer from the Bulldogs was enough for McKenzie to pull the trigger and sign with Georgia.

Several schools lose commits

Signing day was full of surprises, including several prospects who backed off of their commitments and signed with a different school. Three-star defensive tackle Cory Thomas (McCalla, Ala./McAdory), a long-time Tennessee commit, spurned the Volunteers and signed with Mississippi State. But not all was good news for Mississippi State. Ole Miss was able to steal junior college defensive back Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes CC), the No. 22-ranked player in the ESPN JC 50. The Vols took another hit when three-star offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge) unexpectedly signed with Oklahoma. The Volunteers, however, were able to land four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers (Nashville/The Ensworth School), and had the No. 5 recruiting class in the country -- one that included 11 players ranked in the ESPN 300.

Quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) backed off his pledge to FSU and signed with Florida. Offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino) was only a part of Vanderbilt’s class for one short day, but the three-star tackle flipped on Tuesday night and signed with Florida on Wednesday. Four-star Alabama safety commit Chris Williams (Kingsland, Ga./Camden Co.) flipped and signed with UCF because of personal family reasons. Four-star wide receiver DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped his commitment from Louisville and signed with Missouri.

Vanderbilt able to rebound

The Vanderbilt class may not be filled with four- and five-star prospects, but the job new head coach Derek Mason did to rebuild the Commodores’ class is nothing short of amazing. After James Franklin left to take the head coaching job at Penn State and a string of decommitments followed, Vanderbilt was down to eight verbal commitments. After an impressive few weeks of recruiting the Commodores finished with 22 signees, including 17 prospects ranked three stars or higher.

The class is led by ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) and four-star running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, Vanderbilt was able to flip Pitt quarterback commit Wade Freebeck (Fort Lauderdale, Fla/St. Thomas Aquinas) and former ECU commit Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons).

Chris Lammons chooses Gamecocks 

February, 5, 2014
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video Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation), the No. 86-ranked player in the country, announced Wednesday that he will sign with South Carolina. The four-star athlete, a former Florida commit, chose the Gamecocks over Wisconsin.

SEC class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
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With one week left until national signing day, 13 of the 14 schools in the SEC have spots in the ESPN class rankings. As expected, Alabama continues to have a stranglehold on the top spot with Texas A&M sitting at No. 2. All told, the conference has four schools ranked in the top five, seven in the top 10 and nine in the top 20.


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Most important targets: SEC 

January, 28, 2014
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The Southeastern Conference already has commitments from six of the top 10 players in the country and has a real possibility of landing two more before signing day. With several key targets still remaining, here’s a look at the top remaining targets in the SEC.

Alabama
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover)
6-foot-0, 180 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 15


Humphrey is a big, athletic cornerback with great size and would be a natural fit in Nick Saban's system. FSU is also very much in the picture for the five-star defensive back, but with the Seminoles losing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia, the Crimson Tide might have a slight advantage. Alabama will have to fight to keep this dynamic defensive back from leaving the state. With his skill set, Humphrey has a chance to play early in his college career.


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SEC class rankings analysis 

January, 22, 2014
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The SEC continues to dominate the Recruiting Nation class rankings nationally, with 13 of the 14 programs in the conference ranked in the top 40. That includes four of the top five, seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 30. As expected, Alabama continues to lead the pack, and the Crimson Tide has a large lead coming down the stretch.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 20, 2014
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The dead period is over, and this was the first of three official visit weekends remaining before national signing day on Feb. 5. Several top prospects visited SEC schools, there were some commits, and there will be a few announcements this week. Here’s a closer look at the latest recruiting news from around the SEC:

Biggest commits: Georgia is already feeling the effects of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt on the recruiting trail. The Bulldogs were able to land two ESPN Junior 300 commitments, Rico McGraw (Nashville, Tenn./The Ensworth School) and Terry Godwin (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway), over the weekend.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 13, 2014
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As the last weekend before the dead period comes to an end, there is still plenty of recruiting news throughout the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt suffered through a difficult weekend, there were a few important commitments and some key prospects backed off their pledges. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news around the SEC:


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

December, 23, 2013
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We are one week into the dead period that runs through Jan. 15. While the dead period limits contact, it doesn’t stop prospects from announcing decisions. As is always the case, recruiting doesn’t stop during Christmas vacation, and that was certainly the case last week.

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