SEC: DeAndrew White

We continue our breakdown of each position group in the SEC on Wednesday by looking at a group that might be low on name recognition but quite high -- and deep -- on talent.

Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jordan Matthews are all off to the NFL. Now a new group of playmakers is ready to emerge.

Who will be this season’s star pass-catchers? Let’s find out.

Wide receiver/tight end position rankings

1. Alabama: Like so many on this list, all of it depends on who is throwing the football. If Jacob Coker shows he can spin it, then Alabama will have the best group of pass-catchers in the SEC -- maybe the country. It isn’t just Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard, whom you will read about later this afternoon. Howard, who was underutilized in the passing game last year, is poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign. But there’s also veteran DeAndrew White, all-purpose star Christion Jones and depth that includes a litany of former blue-chip prospects.

2. Texas A&M: Too bad Johnny Manziel didn’t stay another year because he might have really enjoyed the guys he was throwing to. Malcome Kennedy, he of 60 receptions and seven touchdowns last season, isn’t even the most exciting receiver on the field. That honor belongs to one of two freshmen. Ricky Seals-Jones, who redshirted last season, would have reminded Manziel so much of Evans, an impossibly tall target who can go up and get the ball. And then there’s Speedy Noil, the No. 1 athlete in the 2014 class, who looks like a dangerous weapon at slot receiver. With tight end Cameron Clear working the middle of the field, the Aggies should be able to stretch the field effectively.

3. Georgia: How can you not like Chris Conley? Not only did he write and direct a "Star Wars" fan film, he’s also a pretty good receiver with 45 catches for 651 yards last season. Starting opposite him, if his health holds up, should be Malcolm Mitchell. The redshirt junior has loads of potential, as he was second on the team in receiving in 2011 and 2012. Throw in Jay Rome, one of the more underrated tight ends in the SEC, and that’s a good group for quarterback Hutson Mason to work with.

4. Auburn: Nick Marshall is progressing as a passer at the right time. His receiver corps, which looked thin at times last season, is set to make a big jump. Sammie Coates, Auburn’s leading man, has the potential to become much more than a speed demon who can run a nasty post. Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis are all guys who have shown flashes of talent. Then there’s D'haquille Williams, the former No. 1 junior college receiver. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound target has all the tools to become one of the best receivers in the SEC.

5. Ole Miss: Offensive coordinators love it when they can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Laquon Treadwell, who as a true freshman trailed only Jordan Matthews for the most receptions in the SEC last season, is the type of home-run threat to keep safeties on their heels. Evan Engram, who made a positive impression as a rookie himself before succumbing to injury, gives Ole Miss a one-two punch by demanding coverage in the middle of the field because he’s simply too athletic a tight end to be covered by most linebackers in the league.

6. South Carolina: They’re on the small side. Let’s get that part out of the way. There’s not a 6-3 or 6-5 receiver Dylan Thompson will be able to lob the ball to this season. But nonetheless, he’s got some options. Damiere Byrd is one of the fastest receivers in the SEC, and Pharoh Cooper is another guy who is dangerous with the ball in space. That’s not to mention Shaq Roland, who has All-SEC type talent. Though his 6-1 frame might not excite you, he’s one of those guys who can create separation and get the ball in traffic. If there’s one spot you’d like to see the Gamecocks progress, it’s at tight end. And with Jerell Adams and Rory Anderson, there’s potential to improve.

7. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen needs to find some playmakers on offense. Outside of running back, his ability to develop talent at receiver and tight end has been somewhat of a disappointment. This year could change that. Jameon Lewis has the upside of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, someone who can take it the distance any time he touches the football. De’Runnya Wilson, a 6-5 target with a hoops background, is just the type of over-the-top threat to play off the small, speedy Lewis. With a good group of running backs and a quarterback who can extend plays, expect more from the passing game in 2014.

8. Tennessee: Butch Jones has a lot to be excited about when it comes to his receivers this season. But until the status of Pig Howard is determined, that excitement is on hold. The talented receiver was forced to miss all of the spring with “personal issues.” If he can return and join Marquez North, it would make for a formidable one-two punch. Add top signee Josh Malone into the mix and whoever starts under center should be happy with what he’s working with. That said, without a single starter returning on the offensive line, time for the quarterback to throw downfield could be a big obstacle.

9. LSU: Yes, the team’s top two receivers are gone. Jarvis Landry and Beckham were both the real deal last season, accounting for 66 percent of all receptions. And, yes, LSU is replacing its quarterback, too. But we’re betting on potential here. Travin Dural and John Diarse have the tools to be starters in this league. And then there are the freshmen. LSU signed two the top three receivers in the 2014 class -- No. 1 Malachi Dupre and No. 3 Trey Quinn -- in addition to Jacory Washington, the No. 5 tight end in the country.

10. Florida: It’s time to prove it, Florida. We’ve heard for a few years now how the receivers were getting better. But last season was the same old story with no real playmakers on the outside. Maybe new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will change that. Demarcus Robinson seems in line for a big sophomore bump, along with Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. With seniors Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose back, there’s a good amount of depth to lean on. But until we see consistent results from the Gators’ receivers, we’ll have to wait and see if this really is the year.

11. Missouri: Gary Pinkel had to let Dorial Green-Beckham go. But what a waste of talent it was. He would have easily been the most talented receiver in the SEC. Now his future, and that of Missouri’s offense, is up in the air as the Tigers fail to return any of their top three pass-catchers from last season. Seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt are back, which helps, but more receivers will need to emerge to help Maty Mauk in the passing game.

12. Kentucky: Javess Blue quietly was one of the most productive receivers in the SEC last season, despite having little consistency at quarterback. Blue, now a senior, finished 14th in the league with 43 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll anchor a group that has some potential. Ryan Timmons, a former four-star prospect in the 2013 class, could break through after playing in all 12 games as a freshman. And as far as true freshmen go, look for Kentucky to lean on its 2014 class that includes Thaddeus Snodgrass, T.V. Williams, Dorian Baker and Blake Bone.

13. Arkansas: Someone needs to take the load off of Hunter Henry this season. Henry, who caught 28 passes and four touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013, stands to make up the majority of the Razorbacks passing game now that Javontee Herndon, the team’s leading receiver in 2013, is gone. So is Kiero Small, the fourth-leading receiver. The good news: Demetrius Wilson, who missed all of last season, returns. Wilson, a big target at 6-foot-3, could be a difference-maker.

14. Vanderbilt: You don’t replace Jordan Matthews. You don’t replace the man with the most career receptions in SEC history. Vanderbilt will try, but it’s going to be difficult. And it’s going to be even more of an uphill battle considering that Jonathan Krause, the team’s second-leading receiver, also is gone. With those two no longer on campus, look for C.J. Duncan and Jordan Cunningham to step up.

Opening spring camp: Alabama

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
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Schedule: The Crimson Tide will open spring practice on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. All practices are closed and only the A-Day scrimmage at 2 p.m. ET on April 19 will be open to the public.

What’s new: The coaching staff has gone under some serious reconstruction. In fact, it looks a lot like Nick Saban’s staffs of old with Kevin Steele as the linebackers coach and Bo Davis as the defensive line coach. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart moved back to coaching the secondary to allow for Steele’s return. And let’s not forget the one new face on the staff, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. You might have heard of him.

On the move: When Saban last spoke to the media a week ago, he said there was “no news on who’s playing what position and who the quarterback is.” But there will be movement. Look for some tweaking in the defensive backfield this spring. Much like last year,when Saban asked offensive players Dee Hart, Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones to try their hand at cornerback, he might ask someone like ArDarius Stewart to see if a return to defense is in order. Considering the lack of depth at cornerback and the departure of safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, the coaching staff might need to plug some holes in the secondary with some surprise players.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Pettway
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsD.J. Pettway is back and will attempt to earn a shot at playing time at Alabama.
On the mend: One of those defensive backs coming back is Nick Perry. The safety started four games in 2012 and appeared in two more games in 2013 before suffering a season-ending injury. Though he might not be the most talented option at the position, he’s clearly the most experienced, with 30 games under his belt. And that counts for something with Saban, who needs to trust whoever starts opposite Landon Collins.

New faces: Aside from the handful of early enrollees fresh out of high school, there are four junior college transfers to watch, including the return of former Alabama defensive end D.J. Pettway. There’s also tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, who was at Georgia once upon a time and could add to the passing game behind O.J. Howard; defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who could help plug the middle at 315 pounds; and offensive tackle Dominick Jackson, who was ranked as the No. 1 player at his position and could challenge to replace Cyrus Kouandjio.

Question marks: We’ve detailed the problems in the secondary and hinted at the battle at left tackle, leaving a major unanswered question as to who replaces C.J. Mosley on defense. The former All-American linebacker was the heart and soul of the unit. We know Trey DePriest wants to take on the role, but is he ready? And who will play alongside him at inside linebacker? Reuben Foster was an immensely talented linebacker coming out of high school -- with a dramatic recruitment, no less -- but he played mostly on special teams as a freshman. He’ll have a lot of competition for playing time, with Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland hoping to emerge.

Key battle: Unfortunately, this one won’t be solved until the fall. But that makes the battle no less important. Alabama needs to find a starting quarterback to replace AJ McCarron, and until that’s resolved, it’s priority No. 1. Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer, won’t arrive on campus until May. So that leaves a bevy of unproven options under center. Blake Sims will get his shot after backing up McCarron last year, but it remains to be seen how the run-first athlete will do as a pocket passer. Beyond Sims, there’s rising sophomore Alec Morris and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod. If one stands out this spring, he’ll surely have the upper hand come fall and could challenge the presumed frontrunner, Coker.

Breaking out: It was a process started at the Sugar Bowl that many Alabama fans hope will continue right on into his sophomore season. Derrick Henry didn’t do much during the regular season, carrying the ball a total of 28 times. But all you’ll remember is the bowl game and his eight carries and one reception against Oklahoma, accounting for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He’s big (try 6-3 and 238 pounds) and he’s deceptively fast. With dreadlocks that stick out from under his helmet, picture a stretched out Trent Richardson. After losing a large chunk of practice last spring to a broken leg, he’ll have the benefit of a full offseason to climb the depth chart and nip at the heels of incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon.

Don’t forget about: Don’t sleep on Yeldon. He’s pretty darn good, with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons to start his career. But don’t forget Alabama’s depth at wide receiver. Whoever starts at quarterback will have plenty of receivers to throw to. Amari Cooper, who is among the best in the SEC when healthy, is just the tip of the iceberg. DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are two veteran pieces, and tight end O.J. Howard has the potential to be one of the disruptive offensive weapons in the league if he reaches his potential. Given the way Alabama has recruited of late, look for one or two blue-chip prospects to emerge. Chris Black has been waiting patiently, and Robert Foster seems poised to step up with a year of experience under his belt.

All eyes on: There’s going to be a quarterback competition, position battles and several new players will emerge. But keep an eye on Alabama’s attitude. Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa was shaken but not entirely derailed last season. Losing the final two games, to Auburn and Oklahoma, in such unspectacular fashion hurts. The question is how Alabama will respond. It worked out well after the 2010 season, but this isn’t the same team. There are quite a few leaders in need of replacing, and there might be something to McCarron’s criticism that a five-star sense of entitlement crept into the program. Righting the ship won’t be easy for Saban and his staff, but he will have the luxury of putting a gigantic chip on his players’ shoulders this offseason. How they respond is up to them.
Editor’s note: This is Part I of a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Alabama this spring.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a long and winding quote that really ended nowhere and didn’t reveal much at all. Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked what impact Lane Kiffin might have on the offense in 2014, and he didn’t bite. So far removed from the start of the season, he chose to play it close to the vest, answering the question in a way that gave away nothing.

“Every coach wants to create as much improvement as possible as he can with the players he coaches and the unit he's responsible for. I think Lane certainly has the knowledge and experience to do that," Saban said of his new offensive coordinator, the former USC and Tennessee head coach. "I think players sort of respect him and, from what I've seen so far, [they] have a good relationship. You're talking about offseason program and off-the-field kind of stuff, but I think from an accountability standpoint, coaches and players, that because of his knowledge and experience that would be something that he can contribute to our team in a positive way with.”

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesExpect Lane Kiffin to find new and unique ways to utilize players such as sophomore RB Derrick Henry.
If you were looking for more in the way of specifics, you were left disappointed. But it wasn't altogether unexpected. Kiffin should enact significant changes on the offense in 2014 -- just don’t expect to know what they’ll be ahead of time. Neither he nor Saban are ones to tip their hand early.

Overall, Kiffin is expected to bring more punch to Alabama’s attack. First, he’ll have to settle on a starting quarterback, of course, but beyond that he’ll bring a new flavor to Tuscaloosa, Ala., starting with a more up-tempo feel. Saban hinted at such a change last season when he told ESPN in September that, “It’s something we’re going to look at. I think we’ll have to.

“I think we need to play faster and will have to do more of that going forward,” he said at the time. “The only reason we haven't done more of it to this point is that our guys seem to play better when we don't [go fast] just because it's been our style and we've had reasonably good success moving the ball and running the ball.”

But that will change this spring. AJ McCarron is gone from under center. Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are no longer out wide at receiver. The conservative tendencies of Doug Nussmeier and Jim McElwain before him have been replaced by the more forward-thinking Kiffin.

Along with a quicker tempo, expect more playmakers to emerge under Kiffin’s rule.

Alabama has too much talent at running back to continue rotating backs on the field one at a time. With versatile weapons such as Derrick Henry and Bo Scarbrough available, Kiffin could easily split them out at receiver or shift them on the line at H-back. Just the threat of a quick pass out to a player with breakaway speed like theirs should be enough to make opponents commit a defender, freeing up a teammate in the process.

Speaking of stretching the defense thin, look for O.J. Howard to do much more in the passing game as a sophomore. The former No. 2-rated tight end in the ESPN 300 showed flashes of promise as a true freshman in 2013 but went missing at times. Whether that was the fault of his own inexperience or poor coaching is up for interpretation.

Whatever the answer, though, it won’t be an excuse in 2014. There’s no greater threat to the defense than an athletic tight end who can split the middle of the defense. Howard, at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds with receiver-like speed, fits that mold perfectly. Kiffin had great success with Fred Davis at USC and Luke Stocker at Tennessee and could find a similar payout with Howard at Alabama.

Finally, don’t forget the wealth of talent Kiffin inherits at receiver. Despite Norwood and Bell departing, there’s plenty left in the cupboard in Tuscaloosa. Amari Cooper, when healthy, is among the best receivers in the SEC. Given Kiffin’s work with Marqise Lee, Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett at USC, Cooper should be licking his chops to work with his new offensive coordinator.

Throw in DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and a slew of other young, talented receivers behind them and Kiffin has more than enough weapons to work with.

The 38-year-old's reputation as a play caller and developer of talent precedes him, according to David Cornwell, who committed to Alabama prior to Kiffin's arrival and enrolled early in January just days before the hire was announced.

"Coach Kiffin, man, he’s the guy," the No. 4-rated pocket passer in the 2014 ESPN 300 explained. "I really look forward to getting to know him. I think you all know what he can do. You look at him offensively, I think he’s going to do great things for Alabama.”

But what in particular?

“His explosiveness," Cornwell said, with a smirk. "I know he’ll bring a different kind of feel to Alabama. From what I hear, it could be a whole different offense."

While some of Alabama’s offensive inefficiencies in the recent past have been greatly exaggerated, there’s still more than enough room for Kiffin to improve upon. By upping the tempo and developing more playmakers, he stands to breathe some much-needed life into the Tide in 2014. Whether it's a David Cornwell, a Jacob Coker or an Alec Morris under center at quarterback, he'll have the keys to a potentially speedy ride.

Granted, we won’t know specifically what the offense is capable of until we see it in action. But from the outside looking in, the possibilities are great.

Hopefully we'll get a sneak peek when spring practice starts later this week, but don't count on it.

Video: Alabama WR White interview

October, 5, 2013
10/05/13
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Alabama wide receiver DeAndrew White talks about Alabama's 45-3 win over Georgia State.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama did just about everything everyone expected it to. Playing an overmatched Georgia State, the top-ranked Crimson Tide dominated every area in their 45-3 win Saturday.

These games might be snoozers, but Alabama coach Nick Saban considers them valuable learning experiences and opportunities to clean up the little things that could cost the Tide in conference games.

[+] EnlargeKenyan Drake
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKenyan Drake was among the many Tide players to see action in Alabama's rout of Georgia State.
"We executed better, and our players made some improvement," Saban said.

While Georgia State clearly couldn't touch Alabama's talent pool, this was arguably Alabama's most complete game of the season, offensively and defensively. The Tide scored on their first seven possessions of the game. The defense gave up 1.9 yards per play in the first half and 3.9 for the game. Alabama started with five straight touchdown drives to take an early 35-0 lead before heading into the half up 38-0.

Georgia State's only points came on a school-record 53-yard field goal.

Quarterback AJ McCarron was lights out, going 15-of-16 passing for 166 yards and four touchdowns. He was out of the game before halftime even rolled around. Running back T.J. Yeldon looked like his old springy self, rushing for 51 yards on six carries before his early trip to the sideline. Wide receiver DeAndrew White made a circus catch for a touchdown late in the first quarter, and Alabama had 308 yards and 19 first downs to Georgia State's 41 yards and three first downs in the first half.

The second half was all about the youngsters, as Saban sat most of his starters to give reserves some valuable time before heading deeper into SEC play.

"The experience creates the best learning opportunity for every guy that got an opportunity to play," Saban said. "Some of those things got a little sloppy at times, but the benefit far outweighs the consequence in terms of the experience that guys were able to gain."

You knew the day was for the backups when Blake Sims replaced McCarron with 4:26 remaining in the second quarter. Saban said the idea was to let Sims, who entered the game with just two pass attempts on the year, run the offense. Saban didn't want any designed QB runs; he wanted Sims to take charge and throw.

It worked, as Sims completed 14 of 18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Forget who the opponent was, that was a confidence-building performance that could go a long way the next time Sims gets into a game.

Seventy Alabama players played, including sophomore wide receiver Chris Black, who led the Tide with six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. It was the most time he had seen in a game during his career, after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury.

"I'm looking forward to improving, getting better and doing work," Black said.

Saturday was also a chance for Landon Collins and Geno Smith to get time at free safety, where the suspended Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played. It was the first time Collins had played in a game at free safety, and he said he was nervous for one play -- the first one.

It was a chance for offensive lineman Grant Hill to get in and prove that burning his redshirt for the season was worth it. And it was a chance for freshman Altee Tenpenny to carry the ball four times on Homecoming inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

These might look insignificant, but more learning experiences and more game action will go a long way for Alabama's youngsters.

"Coach isn't there to help them each and every step, like he is in practice, so it gives them more confidence," White said. "In the future, we're not going to be able to hold their hands the whole way. For us to get out of the game and them come in the game and we're not missing a beat, that's real good."

SEC Friday mailbag

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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The season is here. Finally, there's real football to talk about! Here's this week's SEC mailbag:

Daniel, via Twitter (@badger_daniel): After seeing what (LaQuon) Treadwell can do in last night's game, does Ole Miss have the best SEC receiving duo?

Sam Khan Jr.: First of all, allow me to say this: Laquon Treadwell looks like he's going to be a star, and really quickly. His size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and hands are terrific -- the one-handed catch he made was wonderful. After catching nine passes for 82 yards last night, I suspect Hugh Freeze and Co. will try to continue to get the ball in his hands. Most of his damage was done on two third-quarter drives, but those were both crucial drives because it helped Ole Miss narrow a 21-10 deficit to 28-25, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.

To answer your question, I think it's too early to definitively call Treadwell and junior Donte Moncrief the best receiving duo in the conference, because I want to see Treadwell play more and show that he can bring good production consistently, something Moncrief did last season. I think it's safe to say they'll be one of the best and if Treadwell continues to progress, they could take that title. Alabama's going to have an argument with Amari Cooper and a number of others you could fill-in-the-blank with (it could be Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White or even a newcomer). Vanderbilt has Jordan Matthews and we'll see if senior Jonathan Krause can develop into a reliable No. 2 -- the Commodores are without normal No. 2 receiver Chris Boyd, who is suspended after being indicted earlier this month in connection with the rape case that involved four other Vanderbilt players. Keep an eye on Georgia (Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett) and Texas A&M (Mike Evans, Malcome Kennedy or perhaps Ricky Seals-Jones if they break out) too. But you might be on to something, because Moncrief is already a star. If Treadwell becomes one too, look out SEC West.

Carlos, via Twitter (@catorano): Which new coach will have the most success in his first year in the SEC?

Sam Khan Jr: Personally, I think it will be Gus Malzahn at Auburn. One advantage he has is familiarity with the program, since he was with the Tigers for three seasons and helped them to a BCS title. He was only gone for a year, so he's certainly familiar with much of the personnel too. His offense is effective and the cupboard isn't bare in terms of talent; Auburn has recruited well, turning in top 20 classes each of the last four years. There's a lot of buzz about the arm strength starting quarterback Nick Marshall has and if he can get the Tigers tempo moving fast early on, I think Auburn might be able to make a little bit of noise.

Matthew, via Twitter (@MVPenergy): % likelihood we will see ALL 3 TAMU QBs when #JohnnyFootball is sat down 1/2 (way through the) 4th QTR

Sam Khan Jr.: I'm docking you points for not first asking "Who's going to start?" because that's what everyone wants to know. But you're forgiven. I think there's a decent chance we see all three of Texas A&M's scholarship quarterbacks in the Aggies' season opener against Rice. Coach Kevin Sumlin has been tight-lipped about who will get the nod and I know the coaching staff has been discussing different plans, but my hunch is that junior Matt Joeckel gets the start because he already has some game experience. True freshman Kenny Hill is the current "quarterback of the future" for the Aggies, however. I've never known Sumlin to be a two-quarterback guy or rotate them, but this could be a special case because of the circumstances. And I would not be surprised at all if it was Hill who trotted out first. Either way, once the third quarter arrives, we all know who comes in: Johnny Manziel. And I think, even if it's a blowout, Manziel will play at least a quarter.

Josh, via Twitter (@JoshAgof11): Realistic chance of (Aggies) running the table? Like what I've heard for both sides of the ball.

Sam Khan Jr.: I think it's going to be difficult, but not impossible. Of course, Texas A&M must first get through the showdown on Sept. 14 with Alabama. If they get through that, the toughest obstacles left in the regular season, in my opinion, are road games at Ole Miss and LSU. I'm sure many remember what it took for the Aggies to escape Oxford, Miss., with a win after turning the ball over six times and Death Valley is nothing to mess with, particularly for a night game (which, I suspect it would be if the Aggies were to roll into the LSU game undefeated). Then if you get through all that, you have to beat an SEC East team in the SEC title game, probably Georgia, South Carolina or Florida. It's really difficult to do. Alabama has won three of the last four national titles and two of those seasons they lost a regular season game. I won't count it out because Manziel is that special and that offense is powerful. But with a lot of youth and newcomers seeing the field on defense and whether there's improvement in the kicking game are the wild cards.
A.J. McCarron and Nick SabanRobert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsAfter initial issues with Nick Saban, QB AJ McCarron has developed a strong bond and a similar mindset.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Most players on Alabama's roster are like Anthony Steen. The veteran right guard isn't scared of his coach, necessarily, but he has a healthy fear of what happens when Nick Saban gets upset. When Saban calls you into his office and pushes a button to close the door behind you, you know something's wrong. It's a scene straight out of a B-rated thriller: Once the door locks, there's no telling if you're coming back out.

AJ McCarron, though, isn't like most players. He doesn't wait to get called upstairs. He marches there himself.

Five years ago, when McCarron was distinguished mostly by his flop of hair and spread of tattoos, he showed up to his first scrimmage at Alabama expecting a spot on the depth chart that wasn't there. Upset, he went straight to the coach's office. What happened next is burned into Saban's mind forever.

"AJ was on our team for 11 days, and he thought he should be second team and we played him on third team," Saban recalled. "He came fussing and kicking and cussing up to my office after the scrimmage because he was disappointed he didn't play with the second team."

Saban's message to his young quarterback: "We're only evaluating you on one thing today and that was leadership, and you failed dramatically."

The rest, as they say, is history.

In the past four years, coach and quarterback have become remarkably similar. Their mannerisms are often the same -- kicking dirt, slapping hands, shouting at players -- as are their attitudes. Imperfection in any form isn't tolerated, and mental mistakes are disdained.

"AJ and Coach Saban get along better than anyone else on the team," Steen said. "They have their certain jokes that I don't even get sometimes, talking straight about football, too. I just pretend and laugh with them.

"The other day we were in a meeting and he said something to Coach picking at him and he went right back at him. I know I wouldn't get into an argument with Coach."

Their bond didn't start out that way. McCarron was a lot like his fellow teammates when he first got to campus, a "results-oriented guy" who focused on scoring touchdowns and making big plays rather than the process of the day-to-day and what it meant to be a leader. Now he's matured into a guy who wants to play winning football at all costs.

When McCarron was asked at SEC media days what he thought of the seeming lack of attention he receives despite winning so many games, he responded in typical Saban form. He wanted to meet who "they" were, the ones who were saying all of these things about him.

"It's funny to me," he said. "Sometimes I feel like any other quarterback in the country wins two national championships and he's the best thing since sliced bread. And I'm still labeled a game manager.

"It's fine with me. They can call me a bench rider. As long as we keep winning, I don't care."

Saban wasn't there to hear his quarterback's response, but it's safe to say he would have enjoyed it. Maybe more than anything, it's a sign of how far McCarron has come.

McCarron is now the unquestioned leader of the two-time defending champion Crimson Tide and a safe bet to land somewhere in the early rounds of next year's NFL draft. He finished last season ranked first in the country in passing efficiency, and this year he has even more talent at receiver with DeAndrew White, Chris Black and Kenny Bell all back from injury. Amari Cooper has progressed into an All-American talent, and Kevin Norwood is as steady a target as they come in the SEC.

The offense, Bell said, has a chance to be the best in college football.

"We do, especially since we have the people we have on offense," he said. "We have a great quarterback, a great running back, great receivers, a great offensive line. We can be one of the stellar offenses in the country."

A year stronger and a year wiser, McCarron is one of the front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy. Teammates say they've noticed that his strength and accuracy are improved, and no one is asking about his commitment to the game.

"AJ gets better every day, every year," junior wideout Christion Jones said. "He's going to get better no matter if it's the passing game or better fakes."

McCarron, for his part, isn't willing to self-analyze or speculate -- yet another example of the mirror image of Saban he's become. There's still some of the hot-tempered freshman in him somewhere, but much of it has changed to reflect the coach he's followed into three national championships in four seasons.

"I'd be lying to say no, the Heisman, I've never thought of it," he said. "My mom still has a picture of me ... dressed up in a Bama football costume and [doing] the Heisman pose. It's always been a dream of mine, but at the same time I'm not going to let my personal goals come in the way of our team goals. If I achieve that, that's great. I'm happy.

"But at the same time, I'm a team-first guy. I've always been that way. You'll never hear anybody say I'm selfish in any type of way. That's when your program and team starts to fall off, when you're not team-oriented and you're more into personal goals. That's the ingredients for failure there."
Alabama starting linebacker Trey DePriest has been suspended for violation of team rules, according to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who stressed that the team's second-leading tackler from a season ago would be able to return to the field shortly if he fulfills his obligations.

DePriest, a junior with NFL potential at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, missed Tuesday's practice in Tuscaloosa. He's part of a linebacking corps that returns all four of its starters from a season ago, including All-American inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and top pass-rusher Adrian Hubbard on the outside.

[+] EnlargeTrey DePriest
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsTrey DePriest has been suspended by Alabama for a violation of team rules.
"[DePriest] played very well for us," Saban told reporters. "He made a mistake. He didn’t do the right thing. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do, and there has to be consequences sometimes when you don’t do the right things. Hopefully, he’ll learn from it, it will make him better and he’ll have a better chance to be successful in life."

Saban also announced that star wide receiver Amari Cooper would miss the next few practices with a strained foot. The preseason All-SEC selection led the team with 59 catches, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, setting nearly every Alabama rookie receiving record in the process.

Cooper wore a black no-contact jersey during practice on Tuesday.

"He’s going to be out for a few days," Saban explained, "and then he will be day-to-day. I don’t think he’s going to be hurt for a long time."

Luckily for Saban, Alabama is loaded at wide receiver. Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell all have starting experience and freshmen such as Chris Black, Robert Foster and Raheem Falkins are pushing for playing time as well.

"The receiver group has progressed very, very well from where we were at this point last year," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said at UA's media day on Aug. 4. "We have a couple of new players, a lot of returning guys, a lot of guys who've played a lot of games. Obviously we had some injury issues last year that helped us develop some younger players."

Alabama was able to welcome back tight end Malcolm Faciane on Tuesday after he finished a 30-day suspension for violation of team rules. The 6-foot-5, 267-pound redshirt sophomore was in line for more reps this season after the departure of Michael Williams, but will have an uphill battle now that backups such as Harrison Jones and O.J. Howard have begun making their case for playing time.

"I don’t like suspending players," Saban said. "If we’re going to punish any players or suspend any players, it’s going to be in their best interest to change their behavior so they have a better opportunity to be successful. If it’s not going to do that, I don’t see any reason to do it.

"It’s almost like raising your kids. If you’re going to spank them and it doesn’t change their behavior, why spank them? If you take their computer or their cell phone away from them and it changes their behavior, I’d say that’s the thing to do. We would only do it in the best interest of the player."

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
12:00
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If you haven't seen Jurassic Park in 3-D, I highly recommend it. I'm just saying it should probably be in the running for a few Oscars ...

SEC lunch links

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
12:49
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Our Tuesday stroll around the SEC:

RecruitingNation links: SEC edition

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
1:30
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DawgNation
From David Ching Insider: Among the observations from Georgia’s G-Day was an offense that didn’t quite click and a defense that has found some young and ready contributors.

From Radi Nabulsi Insider: G-Day brought some big-name recruits to Athens and the Bulldogs made the most of it.

GatorNation
From Michael DiRocco Insider: Among the observations from Florida’s Orange & Blue game was the emergence of several young stars in the making.

From Derek Tyson Insider: Capped by the addition of running back Dalvin Cook, the Gators’ spring game weekend turned into a successful recruiting outing.

GeauxTigerNation
From Gary Laney: Senior linebacker Lamin Barrow is taking on an increased role on the field and as a leader with the departure of Kevin Minter.

More from Laney Insider: With the Tigers losing at least two linebackers following the 2013 season, they are placing an emphasis on recruiting the position.

GigEmNation
From Sam Khan Jr. Insider: Even though he's already committed to Alabama, Texas and Texas A&M are charging hard after 2015 safety Deionte Thompson.

TideNation
From Alex Scarborough: Alabama’s offense was pretty successful last season despite missing some big-play receivers. Now that DeAndrew White, Chris Black and Kenny Bell are back from injuries, the Tide’s offense could be even more explosive.

More from Scarborough: Nick Saban wasn’t impressed with the effort at the Tide’s first spring scrimmage.

From Greg Ostendorf: With Mekhi Brown, Alabama added another member to the 2015 recruiting class.
The feeling coming into this spring was that this would be the deepest and most talented group of receivers Alabama has put on the field under Nick Saban, and DeAndrew White's performance last Saturday was another reminder of just how explosive the Crimson Tide should be in the passing game next season.

White, coming back from a knee injury that ended his season a year ago, caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama's first scrimmage of the spring. Quarterback AJ McCarron threw four touchdown passes. Amari Cooper had three catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Running back Kenyan Drake had a 58-yard touchdown run.

For more on the Tide's scrimmage, read here and here.

ARKANSAS

The Hogs focused on their situational running game as well as their goal-line offense and goal-line defense in Saturday's scrimmage. Jonathan Williams led the way with 85 yards on 16 carries, and coach Bret Bielema said Brandon Allen moved a step ahead of Brandon Mitchell in the race for the starting quarterback job. For more on Arkansas' scrimmage, read here and here.

AUBURN

There wasn't much separation between quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace in Auburn's first scrimmage of the spring. For more on the Tigers' scrimmage, read here and here.

KENTUCKY

The defense has been the story most of the spring at Kentucky, but the Wildcats' offense fired back last Saturday. Running back Josh Clemons was impressive and didn't show any ill effects of missing a season and a half with a knee injury. For more on the Wildcats' scrimmage, read here.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins liked his unit's aggressiveness and the way it attacked last Saturday in the Bulldogs' scrimmage. Quarterback Tyler Russell wound up having a big day with six touchdown passes. For more on Mississippi State's scrimmage, read here and here.

MISSOURI

Quarterback Maty Mauk held his own during Saturday's scrimmage with James Franklin in their competition for the Tigers' starting quarterback job. The other good news for Missouri is that running back Henry Josey continues to look closer to his old self running the ball after missing last season with a knee injury. For more on the Tigers' scrimmage, read here.

OLE MISS

The Rebels' offense regrouped in Saturday's scrimmage after a tough practice on Friday. Several key offensive players are missing this spring, including starting quarterback Bo Wallace, but coach Hugh Freeze made quarterbacks Barry Brunetti and Maikhail Miller live in the scrimmage to get a longer look at Ole Miss' option game. For more on the Rebels' scrimmage, read here and here.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Sophomore Mike Davis made a convincing statement in Saturday's scrimmage to be the Gamecocks' starting running back this fall. He had 54 yards on four carries. South Carolina held out several starters, including defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. For more on the Gamecocks' scrimmage, read here.

TENNESSEE

After being shredded a year ago on defense, the Vols were looking to regain their edge on that side of the ball this spring. They got the best of the offense in last Saturday's scrimmage with constant pressure and not allowing the offense to move the ball with any consistency. One of the stars this spring for Tennessee has been senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp, who played in a reserve last season. For more on the Vols' scrimmage, read here and here.

VANDERBILT

The Commodores' defense put together one of its best outings of the spring in last Saturday's scrimmage. Paris Head and Steven Clarke both had interception returns for touchdowns, and defensive end Kyle Woestmann continued his big spring. For more on Vanderbilt's scrimmage, read here.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
10:15
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We have a few exciting matchups in the SEC this weekend, so let's check out what to watch in Week 7:

1. Mettenberger's poise: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger just hasn't looked comfortable in his two SEC starts. Granted, they were on the road, but we all expected a lot more from him. But in two SEC starts, Mettenberger has averaged 163.5 passing yards and has completed 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and an interception. It appears his confidence has been shot, and he has to get it back or this offense will be in trouble against such a talented South Carolina defense. Expect that Gamecocks front to put a ton of pressure on Mettenberger, which is something he's struggled against all year. If LSU can't balance its offense with the run and pass, it won't beat South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
John David Mercer/US PresswireCan quarterback Bo Wallace get the Rebels a win against conference rival Auburn this week?
2. Chaney's patience: Tennessee is in must-win mode against Mississippi State, but it has the tall task of putting its offense up against the Bulldogs' vaunted secondary. If Tennessee is going to best Mississippi State's defense, it has to be able to run the ball consistently. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week that balance is the key and he has to be more patient with his running game. Rajion Neal has been very impressive during the Vols' last two games, but he'll have to be on top of his game again in order to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Tyler Bray. Chaney wants to run the ball more, but he has a tendency to get too pass-heavy at times when things get rough. His patience in the running game will be important.

3. Ending an embarrassing streak: Could this be the weekend Ole Miss finally gets over the SEC hump? The Rebels haven't won an SEC game in 16 tries and are fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M. But the Rebels host an Auburn team that has struggled in every phase of the game this year. If Ole Miss is going to turn things around in SEC play, this is the weekend to do it. Auburn is giving up 409.8 yards of offense a game and is last in the SEC in total offense, generating a little more than 300 yards a game. The Rebels have one of the league's best offenses and shouldn't have an issue scoring.

4. Slowing down Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina's running back appears to be getting stronger and healthier each week. He has rushed for 314 yards and five touchdowns in three SEC games and has to be salivating at the thought of facing an LSU defense that surrendered 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Florida's Mike Gillislee last week. Gillislee absolutely wore down the Tigers' front, and that's something Lattimore knows a thing or two about. LSU's offense kept its defense on the field and tired in the Swamp, and South Carolina's defense is capable of doing the same thing to the Tigers, so Lattimore could get plenty of chances to exhaust this unit with his pounding style.

5. South Carolina taking another step: The Gamecocks are all the rage in college football. Steve Spurrier has this team ranked in the top five, and a win Saturday might propel South Carolina into the No. 2 spot. But with all the attention on the Gamecocks, can they keep their composure? Atlanta has been the goal all along, but even this team probably didn't expect to receive the attention it has this early in the year. LSU might be wounded, but this is South Carolina's first true road test. This team will be ready for South Carolina, and the Tigers haven't lost back-to-back games since 2008. If South Carolina is going to take the next step in its SEC journey this year, it has to beat LSU in hostile Tiger Stadium.

6. Scoreboard outage in Shreveport: We know that Texas A&M can score points. The Aggies have averaged 51.5 points in four games since their opening loss to Florida. Johnny Manziel and his explosive crew have crippled defenses this year, but they might send Louisiana Tech's defense running. The Bulldogs rank 123rd nationally in total defense, giving up 531 yards a game. They are also giving up 35.8 points per game. Texas A&M has the ability to really light the scoreboard up against this team, but Louisiana Tech has a very talented offense as well. The Bulldogs actually average more yards than the Aggies and are scoring 53.2 points per game. We could have a Big 12 game on our hands.

7. Florida's focus: The Gators are riding high off that emotional win over LSU last week. Coach Will Muschamp was celebrating like a little kid, violently pumping his fists and crowd surfing in the locker room. This was a huge win for him and his team, but now it's time to get back to playing football. But this group of Gators isn't used to success. Florida is ranked No. 4 nationally and is starting to get BCS love, but all that would come to a screeching halt with a loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Commodores are feeling good after that road win against Missouri and are fighting for a bowl berth. Florida is on the road, and with South Carolina up next, the Gators can't get caught looking ahead this weekend.

8. Mississippi State's secondary vs Tennessee's passing game: You have the SEC's top passing offense taking on one of the top secondary units around with arguably the best cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Bray has an impressive set of receiving toys to play with, but he'll have his hands full against Banks and Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions and haven't allowed any touchdowns. As a whole, Mississippi State has allowed just three passing touchdowns, while Bray has tossed 14 touchdowns. He has six interceptions on the year, and has had an issue with pressing. He can't afford to force things against this secondary because it will make him pay.

9. Alabama's offensive attack: There aren't a lot of glaring issues with No. 1 Alabama, but it will be interesting to see what the offense looks like this weekend against Missouri. Injuries have Alabama down to three scholarship running backs, while the Tide is looking for another deep threat with DeAndrew White going down with a season-ending knee injury. Players have said that execution issues have hurt the offense at times, and now that this team is down some bodies, the little things have to get cleaned up. The good news for Alabama is that Nick Saban got an extra week to prep and get this offense ready with the bye.

10. An Arkansas revival: Don't look now, but Arkansas is slowly crawling out of the canyon it created with a terrible September. Bowl hopes were dashed, but last week's win over Auburn has given this team new life. You still don't know what you're going to get from coach John L. Smith, but his players showed a lot of pride last week. The Razorbacks are dealing with a ton of injuries, but face a Kentucky team riddled with injuries as well. A win for the Razorbacks would really put them right back in the bowl hunt.

Injuries hit Alabama and Kentucky

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
4:35
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The injury bug has set up shop in the SEC.

Week 6 has started with Alabama and Kentucky losing a couple of offensive players. For Alabama, the Tide will be down sophomore wide receiver DeAndrew White and redshirt freshman running back Dee Hart, after both suffered season-ending knee injuries in Alabama's win over Ole Miss this past weekend.

Tide coach Nick Saban said that both will require surgery.

Losing White takes away a deep threat for the Tide. He had only caught eight passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns this season, but he entered the season expecting to be a key part of the Tide's more downfield passing game. Now, true freshman Amari Cooper, who is coming off of his best game with the Tide (eight catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns) will move to White's starting "X" position. Junior Kevin Norwood and sophomore Christion Jones will compete for time there as well.

Freshman Cyrus Jones has the "athlete" labeled attached to his name, but has lined up at receiver this season. He'll now be expected to do more at that position going forward.

The good news for Alabama is that there are a few players to pick from at wide receiver, although they are young. Young, but talented. Plus, when you have a quarterback like AJ McCarron directing things, the passing game should be just fine.

At running back, the Tide is now down to three scholarship running backs, with Jalston Fowler being lost for the season with a knee injury earlier this season. While Hart provided a nice option in the passing game for the Tide, he wasn't exactly a between-the-tackles guy, so Alabama won't be hurt too much in that area. Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake should still be able to work just fine at running back. Expect to see even more of Drake.

Kentucky isn't so lucky when it comes to quality depth. The Wildcats have lost starting quarterback Maxwell Smith "indefinitely," coach Joker Phillips said. Smith is out after injuring his ankle against South Carolina over the weekend. Phillips said Smith will need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his ankle.

With Smith missing a game with a shoulder injury, Phillips said that the team will apply for a medical hardship for Smith if he can't return this season.

Now, the Wildcats will turn to a freshman duo at quarterback in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. Towles, who was arguably the Wildcats' most ballyhooed signee in 2012, will now burn his redshirt as he competes with Whitlow, Phillips said.

"It's going to take an effort of both of them," Phillips said. And it could be right in the middle of the series. If it's not series to series, it could be play after play after play, switching them in and out, give them things that they both can do, give them a chance to go out and play and compete."

This offense has bee inept without Smith in the lineup, so losing him is a huge blow the Wildcats. Already reeling with a 1-4 record, this team has to rally around a new quarterback -- or two. It will be important that their confidence and knowledge of the playbook are both accelerated this week before taking on No. 20 Mississippi State, which sports arguably the best cornerback duo in the SEC with Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay.

Phillips also said that starting safety Dakotah Tyler is out for the season with a torn ACL and running backs CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders are both day-to-day. Tight end Gabe Correll is also out with an injury.

Losing Tyler hurts the Wildcats with depth. Kentucky was already struggling with bodies in its secondary, so this certainly doesn't help.

TideNation links: Replacing White, Hart

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
2:45
PM ET
Scarborough/Ostendorf Insider: Alabama will turn to its talented freshmen -- the nation’s top signing class a year ago -- in the wake of season-ending injuries to starting WR DeAndrew White and reserve RB Dee Hart.

Scarborough Insider: Junior LB C.J. Mosley, the heart of the staunch Tide defense, is atop the Alabama 10 player power rankings.

Greg Ostendorf writes Insider: ESPN watch list LB Tre Williams made a visit to Saturday’s game against Ole Miss, focusing on Mosley’s play.

Ostendorf Insider: 2014 RB Racean Thomas visited Alabama for the Ole Miss game and liked the Tide’s rotation among its rushers.

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