SEC: Jamie Bryant
Strongest position: Secondary
Key returnees: Junior strong safety Sean Richardson (84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups), junior cornerback Casey Hayward (58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions), junior cornerback Jamie Graham (27 tackles, two interceptions), sophomore cornerback Eddie Foster (17 tackles, one interception)
Key departures: Cornerback Myron Lewis (41 tackles, four interceptions), safety Ryan Hamilton (seven tackles)
The skinny: It’s hard to argue the Commodores’ strength at running back with SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman returning along with a healthy Zac Stacy. But they should be even stronger in the secondary, where Richardson and Hayward will be among the best players at their respective positions in the conference next season. Richardson has All-SEC potential after a terrific sophomore season. He’s a sure tackler who’s always around the ball and making plays. He also showed his toughness a year ago by playing through a hand injury. Hayward’s running mate at cornerback will be the versatile Graham, who spent some time on offense earlier in his career, but seems settled in now in the defensive backfield. Foster returns as the nickel back and added some size and muscle during the offseason. Jamie Bryant’s secondary has finished in the top-20 nationally against the pass each of the past three seasons and will incorporate some promising young players into the mix this fall, including redshirt freshman safety Jay Fullam.
Weakest position: Wide receivers
Key returnees: Sophomore John Cole (36 catches, 382 yards, one touchdown), junior Udom Umoh (20 catches, 267 yards, one touchdown)
Key departures: Alex Washington (11 catches, 125 yards)
The skinny: The Commodores have had some bad luck at the receiver position the last couple of years with Terence Jeffers not making it academically and Justin Wheeler suffering a serious knee injury. And even though Cole battled and scrapped his way to an SEC All-Freshman season a year ago, the Commodores simply didn’t have a lot of options in the passing game, at least the kind that are going to keep SEC defenses honest. One of the most encouraging developments of the spring was the way sophomore Brady Brown came on after playing early last season as a true freshman and then injuring his leg. He could be a nice complement to Cole, who was pretty much a one-man show a year ago. Umoh still needs to be more consistent catching the ball, and perhaps junior Tray Herndon will find his niche in this offense after doing very little last season following his transfer from Minnesota. The same goes for sophomore Akeem Dunham. Nobody on the team caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago, which isn’t all the receivers’ fault. But they do need to make more plays down the field to open up things for the offense in 2010. A pair of 6-4 incoming freshmen, Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews, won’t have to wait long to show what they can do once they get on the practice field in August.
Here’s a look at each East team’s most pressing needs:
Receiver: As we saw last season, the Gators weren’t overflowing with explosive playmakers down the field. And their most proven commodities in the passing game, receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Aaron Hernandez, are both gone. Adding redshirt freshman Andre Debose to the mix will help. He underwent hamstring surgery and missed last season.
Secondary: The numbers are still pretty good in the secondary, but the Gators need to start filling in the gaps now that cornerback Joe Haden and safety Major Wright have turned pro early. Safety Ahmad Black will be a senior next season.
Quarterback: John Brantley is going to be a junior next season, so don’t be surprised if the Gators try and add a quarterback in this class.
Defensive line: The Bulldogs lose three senior defensive tackles -- Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens and Kade Weston -- who’ve anchored the middle of that defense for the past couple of seasons. They’re also going to need guys who fit into new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.
Outside linebackers: Even though Justin Houston came on last season with 7.5 sacks, the Bulldogs are still looking for anybody who can get to the quarterback.
Offensive line: All of a sudden, Georgia’s young collection of offensive line talent has gotten older. And with the injuries the Bulldogs have had up front the last two seasons, they can’t have enough of those guys.
Defensive tackle: The Wildcats have lost two big-time tackles in each of the last two seasons, Corey Peters and Myron Pryor, and need to re-stock the middle of their defensive line.
Offensive line: Four of the five guys who started for Kentucky on the offensive line in the bowl game were seniors, so there are going to be a lot of new faces for the Wildcats up front in 2010. One of their top reserves from last season, tackle Brad Durham, will be a senior.
Receiver: Randall Cobb needs some help. As special as he is, he can’t do it alone, which means finding a big-play receiver who can not only help next season, but be the centerpiece of the receiving unit for future years, is a must for the Wildcats.
Offensive line: It’s been the root of South Carolina’s offensive struggles under Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks simply haven’t been able to match up consistently in the offensive line, which again makes that a priority this recruiting period.
Cornerback: The Gamecocks held their breath at cornerback last season. There’s no depth behind Stephon Gilmore and Akeem Auguste, so that’s a position they’re trying hard in this class to address.
Quarterback: Hard to believe, but Stephen Garcia will be a junior next season, and there wasn’t a shakier backup plan in the league last season. The Head Ball Coach has to find another quarterback.
Quarterback: It’s difficult to pinpoint the Vols’ quarterback of the future at this point. They have a junior college transfer, Matt Simms, and high school player, Tyler Bray, already enrolled in school for this semester. Both have a chance to start next season along with returning senior Nick Stephens.
Offensive line: The “veteran” for the Vols up front next season will be sophomore Aaron Douglas, who’s a terrific looking prospect, but has only played one season on the offensive line after playing tight end in high school. Tennessee is frighteningly thin in the offensive line.
Defensive line: Not only is potential first-round tackle Dan Williams gone to the NFL, but ends Chris Walker and Ben Martin will both be seniors next season.
Receiver: The Commodores never recovered after Justin Wheeler blew out his knee in the spring and transfer Terence Jeffers-Harris failed to become eligible last season. They need legitimate threats in the passing game in the worst way if they’re going to improve on last season’s anemic offensive showing.
Secondary: The defensive backfield has been the strength of Vanderbilt’s team the past two seasons under the tutelage of Jamie Bryant, but go back and look at the caliber of players the Commodores have lost back there. They already have six defensive back prospects committed in this class.
Offensive line: Anything the Commodores can do to add some firepower to their offense, they’re going to do. And that includes upgrading the quality and depth in the offensive line. Vanderbilt is losing three senior starters up front.
My colleague Bruce Feldman at ESPN The Magazine has come up with a list of the top 10 assistants nationally doing the best job this season.
The only SEC assistant to make the initial cut was Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose defense has gone eight straight quarters without allowing a touchdown. Feldman had Kiffin No. 8.
Feldman came back and revised his list to include Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong at No. 4A. Feldman said as dominant as the Gators have been this season on defense that Strong deserved to be on the initial list.
At the top of Feldman's list was Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
If he were asking me for some more candidates from the SEC this season, I'd have to go with South Carolina assistant head coach for the defense Ellis Johnson, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.
South Carolina quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus has also done a nice job with Stephen Garcia, and even though Vanderbilt has yet to win an SEC game, the defense -- and specifically -- the secondary has been excellent despite losing its leader back there, Ryan Hamilton, in the second game of the season. Bruce Fowler is the Commodores' assistant head coach for the defense, and Jamie Bryant is the defensive coordinator and heads up the secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Bobby Johnson's commitment to making Vanderbilt an upper-tier program in the SEC was never more apparent than last offseason when he said no thanks to Duke's lucrative overtures and stayed in Nashville.
His football team responded with a historic season.
The Commodores (7-6) put together their first winning season in 26 years and won their first bowl game in 53 years. That's after starting out 5-0 and garnering all sorts of national attention.
If ever the iron was going to be hot enough to strike at Vanderbilt, it was last season.
And sure enough, several of Johnson's assistants -- some of whom go all the way back with him to their Furman days -- became hot commodities.
That's what happens when you start winning at Vanderbilt.
South Carolina came after offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell. Oklahoma State showed interest in defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler, and new Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson tried to hire secondary coach Jamie Bryant as his defensive coordinator.
All three are still at Vanderbilt, a telltale sign that this is a staff that not only believes in Johnson, but believes there's much more out there for this program.
Johnson said there's no way to put a value on the staff continuity that the Commodores have enjoyed.
"It's extremely important, especially to me," Johnson said. "They're friends, too. I don't want to see them leave. They're good coaches and have invested a lot into this program. I think that's probably been the biggest thing that's held us all together. We were here when we were struggling just to win one or two. It's gotten a little better and a little better and a little better.
"When they've got that kind of investment into the program, it's harder to leave. Hopefully, we can reward them with some more good years."
For all the academic restraints that Vanderbilt faces in recruiting players and keeping them eligible, Johnson said the pluses far outweigh the minuses when it comes to the kind of kids the Commodores have been able to attract.
And that might be the most refreshing part of coaching at Vanderbilt.
"We've got great kids to work with," Johnson said. "They're motivated young men. They're motivated to be good in school. They're motivated to be good in football. You don't have to sit there and drag 'em every place they need to be and what they need to be doing and how they need to do it.
"Believe me, that's worth a lot of dollars."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Defense was the backbone of Vanderbilt's 7-6 finish last season, which means coach Bobby Johnson is making sure that he takes care of his defensive coaches.
Bruce Fowler, who's name came up at Oklahoma State during the offseason, has been promoted to assistant head coach in charge of Vanderbilt's defense. Also, defensive backs coach Jamie Bryant has been promoted to defensive coordinator. Bryant oversaw one of the best defensive backfields in the SEC last season.
The Commodores were second in the SEC in forced turnovers a year ago (30) and were fifth in sacks (30).
Johnson also announced that defensive line coach Rick Logo and running backs coach Des Kitchings would serve as co-special-teams coordinators.
Here's the official release from Vanderbilt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Having taken a look at the best coordinators in the SEC earlier today, we turn our attention to the best position coaches. Keep in mind that some of these guys may have a coordinator title or even an assistant head-coaching title.
The other thing to remember in all this is that some head coaches are more hands-on than others in calling plays on offense and making the calls on defense.
Anyway, here's our list (alphabetically) of the 15 best position coaches and/or assistants in the SEC. I'll be interested to hear your feedback:
- Shane Beamer, cornerbacks, South Carolina
- Mike Bobo, quarterbacks, Georgia
- Jamie Bryant, secondary, Vanderbilt
- Robbie Caldwell, offensive line, Vanderbilt
- Rodney Garner, defensive line, Georgia
- Chuck Heater, safeties, Florida
- Hugh Nall, offensive line, Auburn
- Joe Pendry, offensive line, Alabama
- Paul Petrino, receivers, Arkansas
- Tracy Rocker, defensive line, Ole Miss
- Randy Sanders, quarterbacks, Kentucky
- Stacy Searels, offensive line, Georgia
- Kirby Smart, secondary, Alabama
- Kevin Steele, linebackers, Alabama
- Greg Studrawa, offensive line, LSU
14:27 3rd Qtr 15 Arizona State 20 Duke 17 12:00 2nd Qtr Miami (FL) 6 South Carolina 0 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State