SEC: Jerrell Harris
Eddie Lacy, RB, So.: Lacy had a pretty productive first season on campus last fall. As the third running back, he carried the ball 56 times for 406 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad at all, but Lacy did have an issue with fumbling at times. Those errors caused coach Nick Saban to lose a little confidence in the youngster. This fall, Lacy's role will expand tremendously. He's now the No. 2 guy in Alabama's backfield and will share the carries with Trent Richardson. His responsibilities increased even more when standout freshman Dee Hart went down with a season-ending knee injury. Lacy has improved on ball security this spring and impressed his coaches with his play, so a lot will be expected from him in 2011.
Jerrell Harris, LB, Sr.: It feels like some people have forgotten about Harris. He played in seven games as a true freshman. As a sophomore that number decreased to six, after being suspended for the first six games of the season. Harris finally hit the double-digit number in games in 2010, playing in 10 and starting three. Alabama's coaches have been waiting for Harris' light to come on and they feel like it was at least flickering this spring. He seems to be buying into the program more and showcased improvements in all phases of his game this spring. There is a lot of talent at linebacker for the Tide and Harris is looking to have a more significant role on defense in his last season at Alabama.
Saban said the linebackers are moving around to different spots just about every practice.
“We want to find the right combination, who can do what and who can’t do what … and I’m going to find out now, not in the fall,” Saban said.
The Crimson Tide’s plan is for Dont’a Hightower to slide into the middle linebacker spot occupied by Rolando McClain the past two seasons. Hightower would play there in Alabama’s base defense and then move outside to the Jack linebacker spot in passing situations.
Saban’s insistent that the linebackers learn all of the positions.
For example, junior Chris Jordan worked some outside at strong side linebacker earlier this week in practice, while junior Jerrell Harris worked inside at the weak side spot. One of the best battles of the spring will be at weak side linebacker, where Harris and Nico Johnson will battle it out.
Then again, if Saban feels like Alabama is best with both Harris and Johnson on the field together, Harris has also played the strong side in the past. The Crimson Tide like his ability to cover people in the nickel package, and his overall athleticism is off the charts.
“We’ve got a lot of guys at linebacker who can run, guys who can really get to the ball,” said Hightower, who’s also worked at weakside linebacker. “We’re trying to find that right mix. It’s just like me as a freshman. I didn’t know I could rush the passer. I had no idea. But it’s something now that I look forward to.
“It’s one of Coach Saban’s strong points. He’s going to find the best of you."
It’s been an excellent start to the spring for Harris, who was suspended for the first six games last season. He’s up to 238 pounds and playing a little more instinctively every day.
Before the suspension, Saban said Harris was a potential starter in a few of the Crimson Tide’s packages. But missing the first half of the season relegated him to special teams when he returned.
Saban said Harris had an excellent offseason and has been hard to miss this spring, as the Crimson Tide look to replace three starters at linebacker.
“He’s done a really, really good job all spring,” Saban said. “He makes plays and is very instinctive.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - It looks like Alabama true freshman Nico Johnson will start at the "Will" inside linebacker position on Saturday against South Carolina.
Johnson and sophomore Jerrell Harris have been competing for that spot this week in practice. Harris returned from his suspension to give the Crimson Tide some much-needed depth at that position. Dont'a Hightower was lost for the season in the Arkansas game with a knee injury.
Harris is a little rusty from having missed so many games, but Alabama coach Nick Saban expects him to be a factor for the Crimson Tide defense once he gets his feet back up under him with some game action. Harris is expected to play some Saturday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It’s pretty clear at this point that Alabama and Florida are the class of the SEC, maybe the nation.
That doesn’t mean the race is over in the SEC. It’s never over until it’s over, but somebody is really going to have to put on the afterburners this second half of the season to prevent an Alabama-Florida rematch in the SEC championship game.
Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 7:
1. How about everybody else? We know Alabama and Florida can play. What about everybody else? The rest of the league has been referred to as a bunch of nobodies by some. Part of that has been fostered by Ole Miss’ disappointing start and the fact that LSU hasn’t been able to find itself offensively. Still, it’s a pretty big group of teams that has bunched up together behind Alabama and Florida. They’ve all had their moments, good and bad. Now let’s see if they can put together a stretch of football worthy of Top 25 consideration. If Alabama beats South Carolina this Saturday, there’s a chance the SEC will only have three ranked teams next week -- Florida, Alabama and LSU.
2. Hall of Fame credentials: A pair of future Hall of Famers meet up this weekend in Tuscaloosa. Actually, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier has already been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player, but he will follow as a coach once he’s retired. So will Alabama’s Nick Saban. Each has defined excellence in his own innovative way. Each tried his hand in the NFL and didn’t like it. Spurrier is the offensive whiz. Saban is the defensive guru. Between them, they’ve coached at four different SEC schools, won eight SEC championships and two national championships. In a league full of coaching heavyweights, their legacies will endure as coaches who changed the way they play football in this conference.
3. Linebacker pipeline: When a player the caliber of Dont’a Hightower goes down at most schools, there’s a pretty obvious drop-off. Not at Alabama. The Crimson Tide just keep churning out the talent. Sophomore linebacker Jerrell Harris is back this week against South Carolina after serving a six-game suspension. He’s been competing for Hightower’s vacated inside linebacker spot in practice along with true freshman Nico Johnson, who started there last week and played well. Saban has been looking at different combinations the past couple of weeks to make sure he gets his talent onto the field. Both Harris and Johnson would be starting for a lot of teams in this league.
4. Testing Florida’s cornerbacks: Florida cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins are coming off excellent games last week at LSU. They can do it all as cornerbacks -- cover, tackle, and in a lot of cases, take away their side of the field -- allowing Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong all sorts of flexibility. Even though Arkansas isn’t 100 percent healthy, the Hogs’ receivers should provide Haden and Jenkins with their stiffest test of the season. They know how to get open, have specialized in the big play and are extremely dangerous after the catch.
5. Mallett’s second chance: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett gets his second shot at a dominant defense. He looked rattled and confused earlier this season against Alabama and was taken out of his game. For that matter, the entire Arkansas offense was. We’ll see how much he’s learned when he goes up against Florida’s defense on Saturday. The Gators are just as talented and just as fast and will no doubt come after Mallett, who’s been red-hot ever since that Alabama game. He leads the country with 15 completions of 30 yards or longer and has thrown six touchdown passes the past two weeks.
6. Tebow a week later: The game plan last week with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was to keep him out of harm’s way as much as possible and let him ease his way back into being hit again after suffering a concussion on Sept. 26. We’ll see if he opens it back up a bit Saturday against an Arkansas defense that has played better these last few weeks. Tebow had 12 called runs last week against LSU and was held to 12 yards on those called rushing attempts. Through his first four games, he had 273 yards on 44 called running plays for an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
7. The Cobb and Locke Show: While Kentucky chooses between junior Will Fidler and freshman Morgan Newton to replace injured starting quarterback Mike Hartline, the Wildcats’ hopes the rest of the way will lie with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke making enough plays to help out whoever’s under center. They’ve both had excellent seasons to this point heading into Saturday’s game at Auburn. Cobb is lining up just about everywhere and had yards rushing and receiving last week against South Carolina while also returning kickoffs and punts. Locke, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, has been one of the most versatile performers in the league. He leads the league in all-purpose yardage with an average of 169.6 yards per game, and Cobb is fifth with an average of 130.8 yards per game.
8. Getting back to Auburn football: Auburn wasn’t as good as it looked in those first five wins, and the Tigers weren’t as bad as they looked in falling behind 34-3 last Saturday to Arkansas in their first loss of the season. The first thing they need to do is tackle better on defense and special teams, and shoring up that kickoff coverage would also be nice. It’s difficult to complain with anything Auburn has done offensively this season, but this Kentucky game at home is an absolute must. The teeth of the schedule is still to come, including a trip to LSU and home game with Alabama.
9. From bad to worse: You think it’s bad now for Georgia? Let the Bulldogs lose to Vanderbilt this weekend. The unrest in Bulldog Land would reach a boiling point unlike anything we’ve seen during the Mark Richt era. The truth is that it may already be there. The Bulldogs need to string some wins together in the worst way, and they need to prove they’re not a lost cause defensively and haven’t forgotten how to run the ball on offense. Vanderbilt has been a tough out for Georgia in recent years. The Bulldogs had to scratch out a 24-14 win in Athens last season, escaped 20-17 on a last-second field goal in 2007 and lost 24-22 in 2006.
10. Regaining the faith: If Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead doesn’t start playing with more confidence in his offensive line and his receiving corps, this season could really get away from the Rebels. Likewise, it’s on the Rebels’ offensive line and some of the skill people around Snead to play better and help get him going. He heads into Saturday’s nonconference game with UAB not even ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in passing efficiency. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions. It’s not too late, but time is running out on Snead and the Rebels if they want to make something of this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A stroll around the league to see what's making headlines:
- Asked by fans on his weekly radio show about making changes, Georgia's Mark Richt stands by his staff and says the Bulldogs aren't bailing out on this season.
- There's a lot of blame to go around on the missed call last week in the Houston-Mississippi State game, writes Rick Cleveland of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
- With Alabama's Jerrell Harris set to return this week from his suspension, he and Nico Johnson will battle for the starting part at "Will" linebacker.
- Ellis Johnson, South Carolina's assistant head coach for the defense, looks forward to his return to Alabama, where he won a national championship in 1992 as a member of Gene Stallings' staff.
- With Mike Hartline out, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks will make a choice between junior Will Fidler and true freshman Morgan Newton this week as his starting quarterback.
- Auburn senior defensive end Antonio Coleman has been next to invisible the last two games on the stat sheet.
- Vanderbilt running back Jermaine Doster has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
- Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt hasn't lost his confidence in Jevan Snead, but says backups Nathan Stanley or Billy Tapp could see action this week against UAB.
- LSU picks a bad time to announce its offensive coaches' raises, writes Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana Newspapers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Some SEC linkage for your lunch hour enjoyment:
- Tennessee's Eric Berry wants to do everything he can to beat Georgia on Saturday. But down the road, he wants to give back to his Fairburn, Ga., hometown.
- Florida is still searching for balance on offense, but the Gators are running the ball and winning despite average numbers in the passing game.
- Suspended Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris learns the hard way that it pays to be forthcoming, writes Don Kausler Jr. of The Birmingham News.
- Highly touted when he arrived at Ole Miss, sophomore tailback Enrique Davis has had a hard time getting on the field.
- The usage of the fullback is still evolving in Dan Mullen's spread offense at Mississippi State, writes Kyle Veazey of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
- Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman has been playing with a hurt wrist.
- South Carolina will field its sixth different defensive starting lineup of the season against Kentucky. Josh Dickerson will start in place of Shaq Wilson at middle linebacker.
- Florida's defense has painful memories of its last trip to Tiger Stadium.
- Georgia's A.J. Green compares to Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, says Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday that linebacker Jerrell Harris' suspension would last six games, meaning he won't be back until the South Carolina game on Oct. 17.
Harris' suspension is tied to NCAA impermissible benefits, a ruling that Saban said came down last Friday.
With linebacker Dont'a Hightower out for the season with a knee injury, Harris becomes a little more valuable to the defense. Saban said he would be a candidate to replace Hightower when he returns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Something tells me that it would suit Alabama coach Nick Saban just fine if he never hears the name "Curtis Anderson" again.
Anderson is the 56-year-old Athens, Ala., man who's now in the middle of an NCAA probe looking into a laptop that sophomore linebacker Jerrell Harris reportedly received from Anderson. If the matter isn't cleared up by Saturday, Harris won't play in the opener against Virginia Tech.
Anderson was also the guy who took Julio Jones and Mark Ingram on the Gulf Coast fishing trip in the spring. Jones and Ingram have since made restitution and were cleared by the NCAA to play this weekend against the Hokies.
But the investigation dragged out all summer, and Alabama didn't receive an answer from the NCAA until Wednesday night.
Now, it's Harris who's on the clock.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Selecting impact newcomers can really be a crap shoot. Case in point: We knew the kid had talent, but did anybody really see Knowshon Moreno breaking out in that crowded Georgia backfield and having the kind of monster season he did a year ago? On the other end of the spectrum, remember how junior college transfer Kenny O'Neal was going to swoop in and be Tennessee's deep threat in the passing game last year? Well, he caught two passes all season and is no longer in the program. So with a deep exhale, I give you the SEC's Top 10 impact newcomers for the 2008 season. Some are transfers. Some are redshirt freshmen, and some are true freshmen. One is reintroducing himself to the league after a year sabbatical. We'll check this list again in late October and see how many I hit and how many I missed:
1. Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss: Quarterback woes have haunted the Rebels ever since Eli Manning left. Not anymore, though. Snead, a gifted 6-3 transfer from Texas, finally gets to show off his arm, mobility and smarts in 2008.
2. Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Granted, it's not like the Gators are lacking in the offensive playmaker department. But even with Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin running around, Urban Meyer will find a way to get this speedy redshirt freshman the ball.
3. Demetrice Morley, S, Tennessee: He's not exactly completely new, having played as a freshman in 2006. But Morley is back after flunking out a year ago and will pair with Eric Berry to give the Vols one mean safety duo.
4. Chris Todd, QB, Auburn: It sounds like new Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is relegated to playing two quarterbacks early. If Todd's shoulder problems subside, the juco transfer is clearly the best option as a passer.
5. Raven Gray, DE, Auburn: Had it not been for the knee surgery that kept him out all spring, Gray would be even higher on this list. Tommy Tuberville called the touted juco transfer as good a defensive lineman as he's signed at Auburn.
6. Will Hill, S, Florida: With Dorian Munroe lost for the season, the Gators' depth at safety just got worse. Hill, a true freshman from Jersey City, N.J., and one of the plums of the class, will get every chance to start right away.
7. Jerrell Harris, LB, Alabama: Similar to Florida's safety issues, Alabama needs immediate help at linebacker. The 6-3, 215-pound Harris may be the answer on the strong side. Only a true freshman, Harris has great speed and pop.
8. Enrique Davis, TB, Ole Miss: Another new face Ole Miss fans will see early and often this season. Davis, one of the top prep school players in the country last year, is Houston Nutt's kind of back. He has power and speed.
9. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: The much ballyhooed Jones looks like an NFL receiver right now, even if he is only a true freshman. We know he's oozing with talent. If he's also a quick learner, SEC defenses had better beware.
10. Blair Walsh, K, Georgia: Take one look at Georgia's schedule, and it's a safe bet the Bulldogs will be in a bunch of close games this season. Walsh, a true freshman, steps in as their kicker and should get a chance early to show off his strong leg.
In closing: I reserve the right to place asterisks in front of the names of defensive tackle Jerrell Powe and outside linebacker Patrick Trahan, both of Ole Miss, and defensive end Gerald Williams and tight end Brandon Warren, both of Tennessee. All four are transfers still awaiting final word on their eligibility for this season. At this point, it appears that all four have a pretty good shot to make it, which would be good news for the Rebels and Vols. I could also pick three or four more players from Alabama's highly rated signing class that will have an immediate impact. Others to watch are safety Mark Barron, receiver Burton Scott, cornerback Alonzo Lawrence and offensive tackle Tyler Love. And, yes Georgia fans, I, too, am anxious to see freshman receiver A.J. Green play. One final name I'll leave you with is Charles Mitchell of Mississippi State. The state of Mississippi's top prospect last year will start out at safety for the Bulldogs, but is physically ready to play just about anywhere ... and play well.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
After consulting with ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill and several others around the conference, here's a look at the 15 freshmen (true and redshirt) most likely to have the biggest impact this season.
Obviously, this could change depending on injuries, academics and upperclassmen making a move this August. It's also not necessarily a list of the 15 most talented freshmen or 15 highest rated freshmen.
It's 15 guys who could have a profound impact based either on need or the fact that they're just that good. They're listed alphabetically:
Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas: After redshirting last season, Bequette was good enough during the spring that the Razorbacks were able to move Malcolm Sheppard inside to tackle. Bequette finished the spring as one of the Hogs' most improved players, according to Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
Aaron Boyd, WR, Kentucky: Boyd is the younger brother of former Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd. He had plenty of offers, but stayed home to play for the Wildcats. He fills a huge void at receiver, where just about everybody who made a play for the Wildcats last season is gone.
Enrique Davis, RB, Ole Miss: He signed with Auburn originally out of high school, but settled on Ole Miss after attending Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy last year. And why not? Davis is Houston Nutt's type of back -- big, bruising and blessed with breakaway speed. He'll get the ball early and often this season.
Aaron Douglas, TE, Tennessee: Shoulder surgery has slowed Douglas somewhat, but he's the kind of athletic tight end new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson is looking for in his West Coast offense. The Vols will use two tight ends a good bit this season if everybody's healthy.
Robert Elliott, RB, Miss. State: One of the country's top-rated running back prospects two years ago, Elliott showed flashes of brilliance last August in camp, but was held back by some fumbling problems. He's had the reshirt year to mature and will team with Anthony Dixon and Wade Bonner to give the Bulldogs a potent running game.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: One of the top receiving prospects in the nation last year, Green could quickly become one of Matthew Stafford's favorite targets. The Bulldogs are looking for more playmakers at receiver, and Green is one of those guys who stretches the field with the best of them.
Jerrell Harris, LB, Alabama: It's no secret that Alabama needs linebackers. Harris could factor in on the strong side immediately. He has great speed and finds the football. The Crimson Tide had some pretty good success with another freshman linebacker last season ... Rolando McClain.
Will Hill, S, Florida: The 6-3, 200-pound Hill is a punishing hitter who figures to get a shot right away in the Gators' secondary. They won an intense recruiting battle with Florida State and Southern California to get him and won't waste any time putting him out there.
Omar Hunter, DT, Florida: The unofficial count of how many times Urban Meyer mentioned Omar Hunter's name this spring was somewhere around double digits. The Gators need defensive tackle help, and the 6-1, 300-pound Hunter has all the tools to be a great one.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: He has the look of a five-year NFL veteran. The 6-4, 210-pound Jones was one of the crown jewels of Alabama's top-rated recruiting class. Senior quarterback John Parker Wilson will be looking for a big, athletic target this season, and Jones certainly fits that bill.
Caleb King, RB, Georgia: Get ready for a one-two punch at tailback in Athens. Knowshon Moreno was the redshirt freshman everyone couldn't wait to see at Georgia last season (and with good reason). This season, it's King, who gives the Bulldogs another explosive running threat in their backfield.
Alonzo Lawrence, CB, Alabama: Nick Saban played a lot of nickel and dime packages last season and is always looking for more depth in the secondary. Lawrence made his name by shutting down fellow Alabama signee Julio Jones in the Alabama vs. Mississippi high school all-star game.
Jarrett Lee, QB, LSU: A highly rated prospect coming out of Texas, Lee redshirted last season. But with Ryan Perrilloux gone, Lee moves to the forefront of the Tigers' quarterback race along with junior Andrew Hatch. Another one to watch is 6-5, 220-pound true freshman Jordan Jefferson, especially if he can handle the mental jump to college football.
Charles Mitchell, S, Miss. State: The state of Mississippi's top prospect last year, Mitchell is enrolled in second-session summer school classes at Mississippi State. He'll start out at safety, but could play just about anywhere -- including offense. He's one of those rare prospects who was physically ready to play college football the day he signed.
Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: The star of the Gators' spring game, Rainey received a medical redshirt last year after injuring his shoulder. Not only is he super fast, but he has moves that are even scarier for a defender in the open field. Rainey has beefed up and is now pushing 180 pounds. He has a chance to be one of the SEC's most exciting players.