SEC: Marsalis Teague
- Vanderbilt's punt returns fall short this season.
- Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennett plays with a chip on his shoulder.
- Justin Coleman replaces Marsalis Teague at cornerback for Tennessee.
- Punishing quarterbacks turns on Alabama's Xzavier Dickson.
- Texas A&M found a slam dunk of a catch in wide receiver Mike Evans.
- Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen are trying to make the most of their limited chances.
- Florida could be without two defensive starters against Kentucky on Saturday.
- Former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen is still throwing darts at Florida on Kentucky's behalf.
- Even without Alfred Blue, LSU still has enough talent to get the job done at running back.
- Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser impresses with arm strength and toughness.
- Ole Miss is shuffling its secondary after the loss to Texas.
- Mississippi State is looking to shore up some defensive concerns.
- With Tyler Wilson, perception at Arkansas changes.
On to the league's secondaries:
2. Georgia: The Bulldogs have some depth concerns and some players will face early-season suspensions, but the Bulldogs are loaded at the top. Bacarri Rambo is one of the nation's best safeties and he has a very solid partner in Shawn Williams, who led the Dawgs in tackles last year. Seniors Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are back, but will likely sit out the start of the year because of suspension. That leaves Malcolm Mitchell, who moved from receiver, to fill in and he's no stranger to defense. The coaches are also excited about youngster Damian Swann, who will play early.
3. Alabama: With three starters gone, this group is drawing a lot of comparisons to the 2010 unit that struggled at times. However, this batch of DBs insists it'll be more prepared this fall and shakes off the comparisons. Veteran Robert Lester is back at safety and is an All-SEC-type player. Junior cornerback Dee Milliner has 16 career starts under his belt and is an underrated talent, and the coaches are expecting to get a lot out of junior college transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. Keep an eye on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has the talent to be a star in this league.
4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs own one of the league's best corner duos in seniors Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Banks might hold the title as the league's best returning cover corner. Darius Slay is also another corner to watch, as he has some legit playmaking ability. Junior safety Nickoe Whitley is back as well and he would have had better numbers if not for a ruptured Achilles tendon that cut his 2011 season short. He grabbed four interceptions in nine games and should be 100 percent this fall.
5. Florida: This group was pretty young last year, but now has some quality experience under its belt. Safety Matt Elam is the best of the bunch and should challenge to be the league's top safety this year. Sophomore Marcus Roberson had a solid freshman season and has the makings to be a top cover corner in this league. The other corner spot is up for grabs, but keep an eye on sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy, who the staff is very excited about. Josh Evans had a good spring at free safety, but he'll have his hands full fighting off sophomore De'Ante Saunders, who started nine games last year.
6. Missouri: The star of this group is junior corner E.J. Gaines, who recorded only two interceptions, but he broke up 16 passes in 2011 and is bonafide All-SEC candidate. Across from Gaines is senior Kip Edwards, who returns for his second year as a starter and has 37 games to his credit. Edwards turned into a solid cover man toward the end of last season. Seven players return with starting experience, including safeties Kenronte Walker (four starts), who was named the team's most improved safety this spring, and Braylon Webb (four), who had a strong freshman year.
7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are down three starters, but they aren't without talent. Senior safety D.J. Swearinger, the lone returning starter, is one of the league's top safeties and is solid against the pass and the run. Vet Akeem Auguste returns after missing all of last year with a foot injury, and he's back at corner after moving to safety in 2010. The questions begin with sophomores Victor Hampton (corner) and Brison Williams (safety). Hampton has the talent to succeed, but has some maturing to do. Williams struggled in his only start last year, but the staff really likes his upside.
8. Vanderbilt: Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are gone, but the Commodores still possess some pretty good talent in the secondary, starting with corner Trey Wilson, who had a solid 2011 in Hayward's shadow. The coaches like what they've seen from junior corner Andre Hal, and safety Kenny Ladler could be a real player at free safety. Expect Eric Samuels and Javon Marshall, who have both see plenty of field time in their careers, to get into the safety rotation this fall.
9. Auburn: The Tigers' secondary took some lumps last year, but certainly has experience back there. Three veteran starters are back with 33 combined starts from a year ago. Fifth-year senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell didn't go through spring while he recovered from knee surgery, but has the talent to be a top corner in this league. Juniors Chris Davis (corner) and Demetruce McNeal are both back and sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, who had a solid freshman campaign, will get time at safety.
10. Tennessee: Tennessee gave up 7 yards per attempt last year, but things could turnaround this fall. Tennessee has a lot of game experience at corner, including senior Prentiss Waggner, who is the leader of the group. Sophomore Brian Randolph had a solid freshman campaign and junior Brent Brewer is returning to the other safety spot after suffering an ACL injury in late October. Izauea Lanier was ruled ineligible this summer, meaning Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon will compete with Justin Coleman for a corner spot.
11. Arkansas: Sophomore Tevin Mitchel had a solid first year in Fayetteville and is on course to have a true breakout year this fall. Junior Eric Bennett is holding down one of the safety sports and started 13 games in 2011 after moving from cornerback last spring. The staff is still waiting on senior corner Darius Winston to live up to the hype that followed him from high school. Freshmen Kelvin Fisher Jr. and Davyon McKinney will get their chances to play this fall and help with depth.
12. Ole Miss: The Rebels should be better against the pass this year and things start with veteran safety Charles Sawyer, who has All-SEC quality and should have had at least three more than the four interceptions he recorded last year. Former JUCO transfer corner Wesley Pendleton had an impressive year last season, but looked even better this spring. Nickolas Brassell is gone, but the coaches hope to get more out of former freshman standout Senquez Golson, and junior Brishen Mathews returns from back injury to take the hybrid Husky position.
13. Kentucky: The Wildcats must replace two starting corners, but the coaches feel good about senior Cartier Rice and redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. Caffey, who moved from running back, might have the most upside and was one of Kentucky's top players this spring. Senior starting safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton are back. Neloms had a solid spring and racked up 71 tackles last year. Behind them, the Wildcats are full of unproven youngsters.
14. Texas A&M: This is where the Aggies could really struggle. Texas A&M ranked 109th nationally in pass defense last year and could start three sophomores in its secondary this fall. Senior safety Steven Campbell can be a real playmaker for this group, but he's struggled to stay healthy during his career. Senior Dustin Harris has shown flashes on defense, but left spring as a backup to sophomore Deshazor Everett. Sophomore Floyd Raven, who was impressive this spring, has the edge over JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs at the other corner spot. The coaches are hoping this is a more athletic group in 2012.
With receiver Justin Hunter out for the season with a torn ACL, junior Zach Rogers is listed in Hunter's spot at the X position. Rogers has five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown on the season.
Freshman DeAnthony Arnett, who had a breakout game against Florida two weeks ago with his eight catches for 59 yards, is listed as the backup to starter Da'Rick Rogers. Former running back Rajion Neal, who has seven career catches, is also listed as a backup to Rogers.
On defense, sophomore cornerback Izauea Lanier is listed as the starting corner opposite junior Marsalis Teague. Freshman Justin Coleman had started two of the first three games for the Vols.
Junior linebacker Herman Lathers, who fractured his ankle in early June, isn't currently listed on Tennessee's two-deep, but was doing some jogging at practice Monday.
Here’s how the teams look:
2. LSU: No Patrick Peterson? No problem. The Tigers are once again loaded in their secondary with corners Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Both are All-SEC material and Claiborne led the Tigers with five interceptions last season. Mathieu found a way to get to the ball often last season and both should make it tough for any quarterback to throw on LSU this fall. Sophomore Tharold Simon made strong improvements at corner this spring as well. Safety Brandon Taylor is another top player at his position and he should be fine after suffering a foot injury at the end of last season. Youngsters Eric Reid and Craig Loston look like stars in the making at safety.
3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return five players who started at some point in 2010. Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley each recorded three interceptions and had 50-plus tackles last year. Broomfield should be the Bulldogs' top option at corner, while Banks can play both corner and safety. Charles Mitchell returns at safety and was third on the team with 93 tackles last season. All of Mississippi State’s defensive backs not only have a knack for making big plays down field but they can each play efficiently in the box.
4. Arkansas: This group is a little inexperienced, but there is a lot of talent to go around. Things start with safety Tramain Thomas. Thomas was fourth on the team in tackles last season and grabbed four interceptions. Thomas looked even better this spring, making play after play. Fellow senior Elton Ford should get time at safety, and converted corner Eric Bennett should get reps as well. Hybrid linebacker Jerico Nelson enhances the group when he drops back with the safeties and Isaac Madison returns at one of the corner spots and should team up with Darius Winston. The two have 27 career starts under their belts.
5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ secondary has to improve after underachieving a year ago, and South Carolina has the weapons to do it. Corner Stephon Gilmore wasn’t at his best last year, but has tremendous cover ability and speed to be tops at his position. Akeem Auguste moved from safety back to his more natural position at corner and should give the Gamecocks one of the top corner tandems in the SEC. DeVonte Holloman moved to the Spur linebacker spot, so there are still questions at safety, but D.J. Swearinger really impressed this spring and some think he’s the most gifted defensive back in Columbia. Replacing Holloman’s spot is going to be tough, and the coaches have yet to find someone to solidify that position.
6. Vanderbilt: This is the strongest part of Vanderbilt’s team. The Commodores return a heap of talent, starting with senior corner Casey Hayward, who was a second-team All-SEC pick a year ago. Hayward led the SEC with 11 pass breakups and had six interceptions. Safety Sean Richardson led the team with 98 tackles and would start on a lot of teams in the SEC. The other safety spot is occupied by Kenny Ladler, who was one of the top safeties in the league last season, even as a freshman. Junior Trey Wilson had a great spring and could move past last year’s starter Eddie Foster on the depth chart.
7. Georgia: Like most positions at Georgia, there’s no shortage of talent. However, there are still questions. Senior Brandon Boykin is solid at one of the corner spots with his natural corner instincts, great speed and is the defensive leader. Sanders Commings is talented and has the best size, but he’ll have to battle Branden Smith at the other corner spot. Smith is a total athlete, but he has to improve his coverage skills. Bacarri Rambo is solid at safety, but he needs to return to the form he had as a freshman. Finding someone to line up next to him is important. With Alec Ogletree moving to linebacker, there is a hole at safety and one of Georgia’s newcomers might have to step in this fall.
8. Florida: The Gators would have been higher on this list had it not been for the dismissal of All-SEC corner Janoris Jenkins. There’s a gaping hole at corner, and the hope is that junior Jeremy Brown can help fill it. He finally played after a severe back injury kept him out for two years, and while he struggled at times, Florida’s coaches were very impressed with his play this spring. Sophomore Cody Riggs was a pleasant surprise at corner last season and is battling unproven senior Moses Jenkins. There is nothing but youth and inexperience behind them. At safety, Matt Elam had a good spring at strong safety, while free safety wasn’t totally locked down by Josh Evans. The good news is that Florida signed six defensive backs this year.
9. Tennessee: This group could be decent, but there are so many questions. We aren’t sure if star Janzen Jackson will return after leaving school this spring. Prentiss Waggner moved from safety to corner last season, where he was an All-SEC performer, and then back to safety when Jackson left. But he might be back at corner this fall. If Waggner is a corner and there’s no Jackson, there’s an enormous hole at safety. If he stays at safety, then there’s one at corner. Fortunately, Brent Brewer, a former minor league baseball player, is a solid safety, and corner Marsalis Teague returns after converting from receiver last season. Incoming junior college transfer Byron Moore should compete immediately for time at corner.
10. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience with four senior starters returning, but the unit has to show that it can be consistent in big games. Safety/linebacker hybrid Winston Guy leads the group with his speed, strength and athleticism, and will move down into the box as the nickel linebacker. Seniors Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley are back at corner after combing for 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior Martavius Neloms began the spring as the starter at corner, but could see more time at safety this fall. Mychal Bailey will line up at safety and was second behind Guy with two interceptions last season. Inexperience behind this group is still a problem.
11. Auburn: Things started off poorly when senior safety Michael McNeil was one of the four players arrested for robbery and later dismissed this spring. McNeil, who started seven games last season, was supposed to be one of the stars of the Tigers’ defense this fall. Now he’s gone and former corner Neiko Thorpe is moving over to safety. The move actually benefits the hit-first defensive back. T’Sharvan Bell is at corner and has the speed and tight cover skills to be one of the best at his position. After that, it’s a free-for-all. Incoming freshman Erique Florence should get an opportunity to come in and play immediately at safety.
12. Ole Miss: This group had to hear about how it was the goat of last season’s 4-8 campaign after allowing 246 passing yards a game. It was a motivational tool this spring, but there’s a lot of work to do. New defensive backs coach Keith Burns was pleased with the spring progress and really liked how JUCO transfer Wesley Pendleton played at corner. He’s competing to take one of those spots from either Marcus Temple, who missed spring with injury, or Charles Sawyer, who had to be pushed at times this spring. The reliable Damien Jackson is back at safety and could line up next to Brishen Mathews, who got good playing time last season, but is still unproven. JUCO transfer Ivan Nicholas and freshman Cliff Coleman will compete for time at safety and corner, respectively.
- Don't tell Alabama coach Nick Saban that the Crimson Tide have been stockpiling talent. He said the Crimson Tide have room for "lots more."
- South Carolina officials hope to reach a resolution with the NCAA on the Whitney Hotel situation prior to next Thursday's opener against Southern Miss, but some players may face game suspensions.
- Florida will be without offensive linemen Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan in the season opener, and the Gators are looking for ways to shuffle their starting lineup.
- Recurring soreness in his left knee has slowed Auburn receiver Trovon Reed this preseason, but he's still expected to play in the opener.
- Randy Rosetta of The Baton Rouge Advocate lists his five keys for success this season for LSU.
- Kentucky is looking for more depth at receiver. Several younger players will have to step up for the Wildcats this season.
- Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Auburn has moved to the top of the list in the SEC when it comes to having the most obnoxious fans. He ranks Tennessee 12th purely as a sympathy vote.
- ESPN analyst Lee Corso predicts Florida will face Nebraska this season in the BCS National Championship Game.
- Tennessee's Marsalis Teague has taken to his shift from offense to defense this preseason and has looked like a "natural" at cornerback.
Walls, a sophomore defensive tackle, and King, a sophomore linebacker, were indefinitely suspended following the bar brawl last month that sent two people to the hospital, including an off-duty police officer. Dooley dismissed safety Darren Myles, Jr., after he was arrested in connection with that brawl.
Dooley said if there are any new developments with the Knoxville Police Department’s investigation that he reserves the right to hand down additional punishment. But at this point, he considers it a closed matter internally.
Based on the facts of the case, Dooley said he had “no qualms whatsoever bringing them back now. The only thing that could possibly change that is some new information that I don’t know is out there. I don’t anticipate that happening.”
Getting Walls and King back is crucial for the Vols. Both are projected starters, and Tennessee was already thin at defensive tackle prior to Walls being suspended.
Here are a few more tidbits from Dooley’s press conference:
- Sophomore Marsalis Teague and freshman Ted Meline will start out in the secondary when preseason practice opens Wednesday. Teague played receiver last season for the Vols, and Meline came to Tennessee as a receiver.
- Dooley said junior college defensive back Dave Clark did not make it academically and wouldn’t be the with Vols this season. They’re still waiting to hear on the eligibility of junior college defensive lineman John Brown as well as three freshmen – defensive backs Eddrick Loften and Marcques Dixon and linebacker Martaze Jackson.
- Dooley was extremely upbeat about quarterback Matt Simms and the way he’s gone about his business during the offseason. Simms, a junior college newcomer, opens preseason camp as the starter. “There’s not one player on our team who has made more of an investment and put in more time to being a good player,” Dooley said of Simms.
Strongest position: Receiver/tight end
Key returnees: Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore, Marsalis Teague, Luke Stocker
Key departures: Quintin Hancock
The skinny: The Vols’ top three pass-catchers from a year ago are all back, and that includes Stocker, one of the better receiving tight ends in the league. Stocker thought about turning pro, but elected to return for his senior season. Moore led the Vols with seven touchdown catches. The threesome of Jones, Moore and Stocker combined for 16 touchdown receptions last season and will form the nucleus of Tennessee’s passing game in 2010, although they will have to get used to a new quarterback. Moore has terrific speed and gives the Vols a legitimate deep threat. Jones is versatile enough to move around and play different spots. One of the Vols’ highest-rated signees, Da’Rick Rogers, will be difficult to keep off the field.
Weakest position: Offensive line
Key returnees: Jarrod Shaw, Dallas Thomas
Key departures: Chris Scott, Aaron Douglas, Jacques McClendon, Cody Sullins, Cory Sullins, Vlad Richard
The skinny: An already challenging situation for the Vols up front got a lot worse when Douglas went into first-year coach Derek Dooley’s office last week and asked for a release. Douglas, who had moved from tight end to right tackle the year before, was going to be the anchor of the line. But with him gone, the Vols essentially will be starting over. Shaw started three games last season at guard, all during the first part of the season. He’s the only player with any meaningful experience returning. Redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield at guard and true freshman Ja’Wuan James at tackle are both working with the first unit right now. Sophomore Dallas Thomas is the likely left tackle. As inexperienced as the Vols will be up front, depth will be an even bigger problem. They can’t afford to get anybody hurt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin takes the traditional Vol Walk before Saturday's game against Western Kentucky|
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Never mind that it was a glorified scrimmage.
And never mind that Western Kentucky was probably the most outmanned team to come into Neyland Stadium since Louisiana-Monroe limped in here in 2000 and lost 70-3.
The Lane Kiffin era kicked off Saturday with a 63-7 massacre that produced more fireworks over the Tennessee River than were shot off all of last season.
“Yeah, it was Western Kentucky. But to us, that didn’t matter,” said Marsalis Teague, one of three true freshmen to score touchdowns for the Vols. “We didn’t care who the opponent was. We were going to come out and try to take it to them regardless of who we were playing. For us to get out there and do our thing … it just makes you feel great to be a Volunteer.
“Hopefully, we can have a lot more of these days.”
For Kiffin, it was finally a chance to put a product on the field after nine months of shaking it up off the field in the SEC.
It’s a product –- regardless of how helpless the Hilltoppers were for most of the day –- that bodes well for the future of Tennessee’s program, especially when you consider how many fresh faces were on the field and making plays.
Teague led the Vols in receiving with six catches for 86 yards. He was one of 10 Tennessee players to catch passes.
Freshman tailback Bryce Brown rushed for 104 yards on 11 carries. He was one of two Tennessee players to crack the 100-yard mark. Senior Montario Hardesty, looking as healthy and explosive as ever, had a career-high 160 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Tennessee finished with 380 rushing yards, its most in a game since rolling up 406 yards on the ground in 1994 against Vanderbilt.
“This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Coach Kiffin told us all that if we came here, we were going to get a chance to play,” said Brown, who scored the first of the Vols’ nine touchdowns on a 2-yard run. “Everybody showed up and did what they do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Get ready to see a bunch of young players today for Tennessee.
True freshman receivers Nu’Keese Richardson and Marsalis Teague are both listed as starters along with senior Quintin Hancock.
True freshman Bryce Brown will be the second tailback on the field, and true freshman David Oku should also see the field sometime in the first half at running back.
True freshman Janzen Jackson will split time with Dennis Rogan at free safety. Redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas won’t start, but is expected to play some at right offensive tackle. He’s by far the best young offensive line prospect in the program.
The Vols plan to go with Art Evans and Marsalis Johnson as the starting cornerbacks against Western Kentucky.
On the injury front, junior defensive end Gerald Williams is dressed and expected to play. He missed some practice time this week with an ankle injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Tennessee won one recruiting battle with Florida on Wednesday when running back/athlete Marsalis Teague of Paris, Tenn., backed off an earlier commitment to Florida and signed with the Vols.
The Vols hope to win another one later Wednesday when receiver Nu'Keese Richardson of Pahokee, Fla., makes his college choice known. Like Teague, Richardson has been committed to the Gators for some time. But there are all kinds of reports in the state of Florida that he plans to sign with the Vols. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Richardson is rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 13 receiver prospect in the country.
Teague, a quarterback in high school, was rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 48 athlete in the country. He's a big get for the Vols for a couple of reasons. For one, he's the kind of talented in-state prospect Lane Kiffin has to consistently land if he's going to make it at Tennessee. And two, the Vols beat Alabama and Florida to get him.
Teague should be able to play just about anywhere. He scored touchdowns running and passing last season, while also scoring touchdowns on interception, punt and kickoff returns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's been a big day for Florida so far and just got even bigger with Jelani Jenkins' announcement that he was signing with the Gators.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Jenkins is the kind of explosive difference-maker that dotted the Florida defense a year ago. He's rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect in the country and will only add bulk to his frame when he gets into a college strength and conditioning program.
Jenkins, who's from Wheaton, Md., picked Florida over Penn State.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Gators landed safety Joshua Evans of Irvington, N.J., receiver Andre Debose of Sanford, Fla., and defensive tackle Gary Brown of Quincy, Fla. All three players are rated among the top handful of prospects at their position.
The Gators are still waiting on several prospects, including linebacker Jarvis Jones of Columbus, Ga., receiver Nu'Keese Richardson of Pahokee, Fla., and running back Marsalis Teague of Paris, Tenn.
Richardson and Teague have both been committed to Florida for some time, but there are rumblings that both players may change it up at the last minute and sign with Tennessee.