SEC: Maurice Couch

SEC lunchtime links

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Hump Day, and, no, I'm not going to shout it like an overly eager camel in a crowded office. Instead, I'll just note that we're halfway to another exciting week of college football and only a day away from No. 3 Clemson going up against North Carolina State.
In light of recent allegations brought forth by a Yahoo! Sports report, Tennessee coach Butch Jones announced Thursday that defensive lineman Maurice Couch was ruled ineligible for Saturday's game against No. 2 Oregon.

The university is investigating allegations that Couch was one of five SEC players to receive improper benefits. The senior was the only active college player named in the report, which said Couch had received four payments totaling $1,350. The other players named in the report were former Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, former Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and former Mississippi State wide receiver Chad Bumphis.

"As of right now, the situation with Mo Couch is we've declared him ineligible for this game," Jones said Thursday during his weekly interview with a Nashville radio station. "Right now our compliance group is currently in the process of working through all the details and logistics of the situation. That's all we kind of know right now, but as of right now moving forward, he will not make the trip to Oregon."

It's a blow to Tennessee's defense days before a game against one of the nation's most explosive offenses, but it's the right move by Jones and Tennessee's compliance department. As of now, these are merely allegations, but the school is doing its own investigation and as long as there are questions, it doesn't make sense to play Couch. The risk of losing games in the future because of a potentially ineligible player isn't worth it.

Whenever you're dealing with a potential NCAA issues, it's much better to be safe than sorry.

This is a smart move by Tennessee.

Couch apologized on Twitter on Friday.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
3:17
PM ET
A little lunchtime reading from around the SEC:
The SEC prides itself on having all that talent in the trenches, and the defensive lines in this league just continue set this conference apart from everyone else. Here's how all 14 lines rank in the SEC heading into the 2013 season:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe whole nation may be familiar with Jadeveon Clowney, but there's even more power on the South Carolina defensive line.
1. South Carolina: There's more to South Carolina's defensive front than man-beast Jadeveon Clowney. While his 21 career sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss are great, he gets good help from a solid helping of depth, beginning with starters Kelcy Quarles (defensive tackle) and Chaz Sutton (end). Quarles might be one of the most underrated linemen around and should improve on his 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss from last year. Sutton was a backup last year, but still registered five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Tackle J.T. Surratt saw action in just 10 games last year, but moves into a starting role this year. Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. provide good depth at tackle and end.

2. Florida: Sure, the Gators lost All-American Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter, but Florida rotated enough guys in last year to have good experience coming back across the board. Star lineman Dominique Easley will play at his more natural position at tackle this year, but will move outside at times. He led Florida with four sacks last year and was consistently disruptive all year. Florida is loaded at end with sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard returning. Ronald Powell, who is coming off of two ACL injuries will rotate with Fowler at the hybrid linebacker/end "Buck" position, while Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings will help out at tackle.

3. Arkansas: While Arkansas featured one of the league's worst defenses last year, the Razorbacks were solid up front. Arkansas returns one of the best defensive end combos in senior Chris Smith and junior Trey Flowers. They combined for 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year. Inside, you have seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. Jones has started 29 games in his career and had 52 tackles last year. Thomas steps into a starting role this fall after recording five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. The Hogs have young reserves, the staff is excited about guys like JaMichael Winston, Brandon Lewis, Darius Philon, DeMarcus Hodge and Deatrich Wise Jr.

4. LSU: The Tigers lost a lot up front, but this team is used to reloading along the defensive line. Tackle Anthony Johnson has the meat and ability to be one of the best at his position, and excels as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He'll be helped by junior Ego Ferguson, who has all the talent to be successful but is still looking to reach his full potential. The staff is expecting big things from end Jermauria Rasco, who might be a better pure pass-rusher than Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before him. Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen should do more at end, while incoming freshman Tashawn Bower could see immediate playing time. Also, keep an eye on freshman Christian LaCouture, who played his way into the two-deep this spring at tackle.

5. Ole Miss: There are depth issues at defensive tackle, but the Rebels are stacked on the outside. C.J. Johnson should be back from the broken leg he suffered this spring, and has All-SEC talent at end. Fellow end Cameron Whigham only had 1.5 sacks last year, but started 11 games. Channing Ward got a lot of action this spring with Johnson out and has the chance to have a true breakout season. All eyes will be on freshman Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 recruiting class and is physically ready to play right now. Tackle Issac Gross should be healed from his spring grown injury and will get good help from junior college transfer Lavon Hooks.

6. Alabama: Right now, Alabama is still searching for the elite players it's used to having up front. This unit wasn't as consistent as Nick Saban would have wanted this spring, but there is a lot of potential in the trenches, starting with the versatile Ed Stinson, who can line up inside or out and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last year. Jeoffrey Pagan could be fun to watch at the other end spot. He was a big-time recruit a few years ago and will get a lot more time to shine this fall. Brandon Ivory has to replace Jesse Williams at nose guard, but showed good flashes this spring. LaMichael Fanning will also help at end. Alabama is young here, but will continuously rotate again in order to keep guys fresh.

7. Vanderbilt: End Walker May is the star of this very talented group. He isn't the biggest at his position, but he's a relentless worker and is exception at getting to the quarterback on passing plays. Junior Kyle Woestmann came on very strong during the second half of the 2012 season, registering six sacks in the final five games. Then there's sophomore Caleb Azibuke, who grabbedd 4.5 sacks last year, had a great spring and is extremely athletic. With two starters departing, depth is an issue inside, but tackle Jared Morese, who started six games last year is back after being kicked off this team this spring for violating team rules. Juniors Barron Dixon and Vince Taylor both played in 13 games last year. The Commodores also had to move offensive lineman Adam Butler to defensive tackle this spring.

8. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience, starting with seniors Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson at defensive tackle. Rumph, who is coming off of a spring shoulder injury, is the best of the bunch and recorded six tackles for loss and four sacks last year. Cobble is finally starting to reach his potential, and should improve on his three tackles for loss and two sacks from last year. Johnson started nine straight games to end last season. Alvin "Bud" Dupree has nine sacks in the last two years and is moving from linebacker to end this year. Helping him will be junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith, who had an exceptional spring. Incoming freshman end Jason Hatcher will also get a chance to play immediately.

9. Georgia: The first order of business is finding a suitable nose guard to replace the massive John Jenkins. Right now, it looks like that will happen by committee. Junior Mike Thornton left spring as the starter there, but has just one career tackle. Redshirt sophomore Chris Mayes is next in line, but hasn't recorded any stats during his career. Freshman John Atkins enrolled early this spring and junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who could be the best of them, is recovering from an ACL injury. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham cross-trained all his linemen and was very pleased with Sterling Bailey's improvement, along with senior Garrison Smith, who started eight games last year. Junior Ray Drew is also getting more comfortable up front.

10. Mississippi State: It's not like Mississippi State doesn't have the talent or potential up front, but his group really struggled to get to the quarterback last year. Senior end Denico Autry struggled through the first part of last season, but played strong down the stretch, which is really encouraging to the staff. End Preston Smith was a backup last year, but still led the Bulldogs with 4.5 sacks. The staff seems pretty excited about tackle P.J. Jones, who made some big plays late for this team last year. Of course, having vet Kaleb Eulls back helps and it looks like he's permanently moving inside. End Ryan Brown didn't blow up the stat chart last year, but had a good spring and should see plenty of playing time this fall.

11. Missouri: This unit was probably the Tigers' strongest last year, but it lost its best player in tackle Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou has to replace him by committee, and Gary Pinkel seemed pleased with his tackles this spring. Matt Hoch had a very good spring and while he isn't the same player as Richardson, he figures out ways to get to the ball and started 12 games last year. Lucas Vincent will line up at nose guard, but injuries limited him to just three tackles last year. Redshirt freshman Harold Brantley has a lot of potential at tackle and should see good time this fall. The Tigers are pretty solid outside, with Kony Ealy and Michael Sam returning. Ealy is just waiting to break out, while Sam led the team with 4.5 sacks last fall. Shane Ray provides good depth at end, while tackle Marvin Foster played in 10 games last year.

12. Tennessee: The Vols have to figure out how to move around all those pieces up front with the defense moving back to a traditional 4-3 look. Big-bodied Daniel McCullers is the top player along the line, but he has to be more disruptive up front. He has to be more than just a space eater. Senior Jacques Smith should move down to end from linebacker, while fellow seniors Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood should push for starting time at end and tackle. Senior Maurice Couch is another player with a ton of talent, but has to be more consistent inside. Junior Jordan Williams should also move down after playing a hybrid end/linebacker position last year.

13. Auburn: The Tigers just weren't good enough up front last year, ranking 11th in the SEC in sacks (22) and 12th in tackles for loss (66). Now the best player -- end Corey Lemonier -- is gone. A handful of vets return, but this group has to be tougher and more consistent. Senior ends Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae lead things up front, but only accounted for 8.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. Eguae will have his hands full trying to fend off Kenneth Carter, who moved from tackle to end this spring. Jeffrey Whitaker, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright lead the inside game, but only Blackson had more than five tackles for lass last year (a team-high seven).

14. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost quality starters like Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy and the injury bug devastated this unit during the spring. No one will replace Moore's 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, but A&M needs multiple guys to step up. Julien Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman last year, but has to stay healthy this fall, as he's the key to the entire line. He also has to generate a better pass rush. Tackle Kirby Ennis started 11 games last year, but ran into legal trouble before spring practice and was suspended, but is expected to return. Youngsters Alonzo Williams, Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor will be thrown into the mix this fall, but expect plenty of growing pains. Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams have showed flashes here and there, but will have to much more consistent this fall.

Vols starting over on defense

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
4:00
PM ET
It’s never just one thing when you’re as woeful as Tennessee was on defense last season.

The Vols allowed 37 or more points in eight games and finished 107th nationally in total defense, which is a big reason why Butch Jones is in Knoxville and will take his shot at resurrecting Tennessee’s program. He’s the Vols’ fourth head coach in the past six years, and if he’s going to be around longer than his predecessors, the first order of business will be fixing the defense.

Tennessee is shifting to a base 4-3 under new defensive coordinator John Jancek. The Vols have been poor at pressuring the quarterback each of the past two seasons, and they’ve also struggled to cover people in the secondary.

That’s a scary combination, but Jones said improving on defense starts with wreaking more havoc up front. Tennessee finished with an SEC-low 17 sacks last season, and was next-to-last in the SEC with 16 sacks in 2011.

“Playing great defense starts up front with being able to stop the run and impact the quarterback,” Jones said. “That’s where we have to make great strides.

“We certainly have to be disciplined in the secondary and not give up big plays and be fundamentally sound. We have to improve our speed across the board and our overall consistency. But you set the tone up front.”

Finding a consistent finisher off the edge will be critical, and the Tennessee coaches have high hopes for redshirt freshman LaTroy Lewis, who’s now pushing 250 pounds and recovered from the knee injury he suffered playing pick-up basketball last August.

Lewis will line up at rush end in the Vols’ new scheme after working as an outside linebacker last preseason in a 3-4 set.

“Last year, I was a little light to even play (outside linebacker),” Lewis said. “This year, I’m more comfortable with putting my hand on the ground.”

It’s also an important spring for senior tackles Daniel McCullers and Maurice Couch, both former junior college players. For Couch, in particular, the 4-3 is a better.

The Vols’ secondary should also benefit in 2013 thanks to a couple of additions. Safety Brian Randolph was Tennessee’s best defensive back a year ago until he tore his ACL in the Florida game and was lost for the season. He’s back this spring, and the Vols added junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones, who is also going through spring practice.

“Our kids have been willing and done everything and anything we’ve asked,” Jones said. “Make no mistake. We have a lot of work to do. We have to improve greatly up front defensively, whether it’s applying pressure or stopping the run.

“We’ll take it one day at a time and work to be a champion one day at a time.”
Depth charts for all 14 SEC teams are out, so let's take a look at them.

I'll handle the Eastern Division, while Chris takes a look at the West later today.

I've added some notes of my own for each team:

FLORIDA

Depth chart
  • The first thing you notice is that "Or" comes up a few times. The quarterback spot is still up for grabs, as sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will play by quarters against Bowling Green Saturday. The "X" receiver spot has three names by it with Frankie Hammond, Latroy Pittman and Andre Debose competing for that spot. Everyone is still waiting for Debose to be more of a complete player.
  • Both corner spots might appear to be up for grabs, but it would be a shocker if sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy didn't start. Roberson has the talent to be an All-SEC player at some point, while the staff thinks Purifoy is an extremely athletic player. Also, seeing Antonio Morrison behind Jelani Jenkins is impressive. He's been solid since arriving this spring.
  • You don't see De'Ante Saunders on there at free safety. Will Muschamp said he's battling a hamstring injury and will be out two weeks. Corner Jeremy Brown is also battling a wrist injury and isn't on the two-deep, either.
GEORGIA

Depth chart (Page 2)
  • It's hard to say how much we can really make of Georgia's depth chart. Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree are both listed as starters. Rambo and Ogletree could still sit out a couple of games due to their reported failed drug tests this spring and Mark Richt hasn't said if either will play Saturday.
  • Malcolm Mitchell is listed as a starter at cornerback, opposite Branden Smith, and is a third-team receiver. That sounds about right, as Mitchell has primarily played corners since the spring. He has taken some reps on offense, so you might see him on both sides of the ball Saturday.
  • Two guys to keep an eye on are center David Andrews and outside linebacker Ramik Wilson. Andrews might be the key to the offensive line. He has done very well at center and there was some worry that he might not be cut out of the position. If he had to move this line might have been in disarray. Wilson received a lot of praise from his teammates this spring and he continued to show out this fall. He won't outshine Jarvis Jones this fall, but he'll cause a stir on defense.
KENTUCKY

Depth chart
  • You can tell that the Wildcats aren't afraid to throw out some younger players this fall. Kentucky has 24 sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen listed on its two-deep for Saturday. That's a lot, especially for a team that is looking to revamp both sides of the ball. There could be a lot of growing pains for this team early.
  • Sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson and redshirt freshman receiver Daryl Collins might be currently listed as backups for the Cats, but don't let that fool you. Both have been very impressive since the spring and both will get plenty of chances to see the field Saturday. Having three senior starters at wide receiver will help bring those two along, but I expect them to breakthrough eventually.
  • You won't see sophomore Josh Clemons listed on the two-deep at running back, as he's out after his knee was cleaned up. CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders are listed as co-starters. I'm also curious to see what happens at linebacker. Four new starters are in and there were questions surrounding the weakside position. Former quarterback Tyler Brause moved ahead of Malcolm McDuffen, who exited spring as a starter. Joker Phillips has said this will be a day-to-day competition.
MISSOURI

Depth chart
  • The Tigers enter Week 1 against Southeastern Louisiana pretty banged up, especially on the offensive line. Potential starting guards Jack Meiners (knee) and Travis Ruth (triceps) are both out with injuries, and so is backup right tackle Taylor Chappell, who tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the season. Starting corner Kip Edwards and projected starting free safety Braylon Webb are listed as doubtful with knee injuries. It's probably best to rest these guys if they could aggravate their injuries before the Georgia game next week.
  • Gary Pinkel also announced on Monday that running back Henry Josey is out for the season. He hasn't recovered from his devastating knee injury, but this was no surprise at all.
  • Some good news is that four starters -- linebacker Will Ebner, nose guard Matt Hoch, wide receiver L'Damian Washington and tight end Eric Waters -- made the two-deep after they were held out of last week's scrimmage. Listed behind Waters at the tight end/"Y" receiver spot is freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. Missouri wants to use him both inside and out, so expect him to move around Saturday.
  • Sophomore Kony Ealy and junior Michael Sam are listed as the starting defensive ends, with senior Brad Madison behind Sam. Madison's shoulder has healed, but maybe it says more about how far the others have come. Madison should still get solid reps, but keep an eye on Ealy. He has breakout potential.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Depth chart
  • The first thing that stands out to me is that top signee Shaq Roland is listed as a third-team wide receiver behind Ace Sanders and DeAngelo Smith. It might say more about how the others have done, but Roland is someone this staff has been very excited about and hopes he can make an instant impact on offense. He isn't taking Sanders' spot, but he'll get on the field.
  • That secondary looks pretty green without Akeem Auguste in it. He's out after tearing a muscle in his right thigh, meaning junior Jimmy Legree, who moved from safety this spring will get the start against Vanderbilt Thursday. Legree began last season as a starter, but lost his spot after struggling during the first two games. First-time starter Victor Hampton is at the other corner spot. He's unproven, but the staff is excited about his talent and athleticism.
  • Freshman tight end Jerell Adams might be listed as a second-teamer, but the coaches have been very impressed by him this fall and he'll have every chance to get some solid playing time early.
TENNESSEE

Depth chart
  • Junior Rajion Neal did a good job of staying ahead in the running back race. After an impressive spring, he will enter Friday's opener against NC State as the Vols' starter. He edged out Devrin Young and Marlin Lane, who both made good strides this spring. He has a lot of pressure to deal with, as Tennessee was awful running that ball in 2011.
  • Tennessee is hoping to get much more out of its defensive line this fall and junior college transfers Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore could be the answers. Both came in with a ton of hype and snatched starting spots at nose guard and end, respectively. McCullers' arrival moved Maurice Couch from tackle to end. Derek Dooley has said the line is still a work in progress, but a lot is expected from Sentimore and McCullers.
  • Byron Moore and Brent Brewer are listed as co-starters right now, but Moore let it slip last week that he was named the starter. This could be another position that won't be settled right away. The secondary will get a nice test against the Wolfpack, so that could make things clearer for Week 2.
VANDERBILT

Depth chart
  • Redshirt junior Warren Norman is back, but he might have to wait his turn for reps. He's listed on Vandy's second team, but Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour are on the first team. If the Commodores line up with two backs Seymour could be out there before Norman, who is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2011.
  • The defensive side has a few guys who were banged up listed as starters. Inside linebacker Chase Garnham was limited during fall camp, but he's set to start Thursday against South Carolina. So are defensive tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter.
  • Looking at that offensive line, you'll see nothing but underclassmen on the second team. While that's a good sign for the future, it could be worrisome for this staff if a starter goes down this fall. Staying healthy up front is critical for this team.

SEC lunch links

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
12:46
PM ET
Checking on what's making headlines around the SEC:
Schedule: The Vols' first practice is on Friday, and their first day in pads is on Aug. 7. They open the season against NC State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta on Aug. 31. The game will be televised on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Returning starters: Ten on offense, seven on defense and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.

Star power: Quarterback Tyler Bray has yet to complete a full season as Tennessee's quarterback, but he has all the talent to be a star in this league. In the 16 games he's played in he has 3,832 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

New faces: Junior college transfer Darrington Sentimore was a welcome addition on the defensive line this spring, but now things will heat up as he tries to take a starting spot inside. Tennessee's staff is also very excited about the arrival of fellow juco defensive lineman Daniel McCullers, who the staff thinks can come in this fall and immediately compete for the noseguard spot. Another juco player getting a lot of attention is wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who should add another deep threat to Bray's arsenal.

Don’t forget about: Senior linebacker Herman Lathers missed all of last season after fracturing his ankle in early June. He was expected to have a true breakout year in 2011, after collecting 75 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2010. While he was held out of action last year, it didn't seem to slow him much this spring. The staff is expecting him to build off of his sophomore season, and he should be a key cog on the Vols' defense this fall.

Big shoes to fill: With defensive tackle Malik Jackson gone, Tennessee's staff is scrambling to find someone to clog the middle this fall. Stepping up in the middle will be even more important, as the Vols work more out of the 3-4 scheme. A lot was expected from Maurice Couch last year, but he didn't really get going until the end of last season. Couch enters the fall as a co-starter with Daniel Hood and Gregory Clark. Sentimore is a co-starter with Steven Fowlkes at the other tackle spot when the Vols are in the 4-3. Sentimore and McCullers should get plenty of chances this fall to push for time in the middle of Tennessee's line.

Key battles: The battle at defensive tackle is big for the Vols, but the battle at running back might be even more exciting this fall, as three backs -- Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and Devrin Young -- all left spring as co-starters. Lane didn't do much in the rushing department last year, but had a very good spring. The staff is also very excited about the potential Neal and Young have. Young could be a big-play threat for this offense. Tennessee struggled all season to run the ball, so improving in that area is key in 2012.

Rising star: Tennessee's staff was always excited about offensive lineman Antonio Richardson, but he was left to special teams duty last year. This spring, he took over the left tackle spot and should give the Vols the stability it searched for up front last year. Richardson is big (6-foot-6, 332 pounds) and athletic. He's young, but the staff isn't concerned about him holding his own against SEC pass-rushers.

Bottom line: There is no doubt that this is the most talented team Derek Dooley's has had in Knoxville. After two straight losing seasons, Dooley believes he has the pieces in place to make a run in the SEC East. The team appears much more confidence and the players have their minds on the SEC championship in Atlanta. Tennessee could have the East's most explosive passing game, while the defense returns a handful of experienced players, but is learning from four new defensive coaches, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. A strong start will go a long way for this team, but if the Vols record another losing season, it could be the end for Dooley.

Tennessee spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
7:00
AM ET
2011 record: 5-7
2011 conference record: 1-7
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners:
OG Dallas Thomas, WR Da'Rick Rogers, OT Ja'Wuan James, WR Justin Hunter, TE Mychal Rivera, QB Tyler Bray, LB A.J. Johnson, S Brian Randolph, LB Curt Maggitt, LB Herman Lathers, CB Prentiss Waggner

Key losses:
RB Tauren Poole, DT Malik Jackson, DE Ben Martin, LB Austin Johnson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Tauren Poole (693 yards)
Passing: Tyler Bray* (1,983 yards)
Receiving: Da'Rick Rogers* (1,040 yards)
Tackles: Austin Johnson (81)
Sacks: Malik Jackson (2.5)
Interceptions: Austin Johnson (4)

Spring answers

1. Tyler Bray's leadership: No one has questioned Bray's arm as he can sling it with the best of them. But his heart has been questioned, and he knew it heading into spring. He never considered himself a real leader until this year, when he decided to take his job more seriously. Bray said players listened to him more in practice and respected him more as a person, not just a player. Bray can now be looked at as someone to rally around and look up to. He's finally learning how to be a real quarterback in this league.

2. Richardson's revival: Tennessee's offensive line took a lot of heat last season and for good reason. The Vols were last in the SEC and 116th nationally in rushing. The line needed to find a spark and rising sophomore Antonio Richardson might be just that. His potential has always impressed coaches and after playing on special teams last year, he came out of the spring as the starter at left tackle. Richardson is an extremely athletic and gifted player and the coaches feel confident that he can protect Bray's blind side.

3. Lathers' and Hunter's health: Linebacker Herman Lathers and wide receiver Justin Hunter did all the right things this spring. Lathers missed the 2011 season with an ankle injury, while Hunter missed most of the season after tearing his ACL in against Florida last September. While both still aren't 100 percent, the coaches feel confident that both will be by the fall. Hunter got some good work in this spring and even flew by some players in a scrimmage. Lathers' ankle progressed more and more and thinks he'll be right on track come fall practice.

Fall questions

1. Defensive comfort: Tennessee returns eight defensive starters, but it welcomed a brand new defensive coordinator in Sal Suneri, three other new coaches and a new defensive scheme. Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but it'll take time for his players to adjust and Tennessee isn't sure if that comfort level is quite there yet. Tennessee players will also have to continuing adjusting to the new coaching faces they'll be working with this fall. It's important that this defense, which is still relatively young, get on the same page exiting camp.

2. Running the ball: Rising sophomore Marlin Lane showed nice improvement, but he finished the spring tied with Rajion Neal and Devrin Young at running back. So, the jury is still out on whether this team will be able to run the ball more consistently this season and Tennessee might have to look to its incoming freshmen for more help. While the running backs struggled last year, the offensive line was another reason for the Vols' shortcomings in the rushing department. There was a lot of movement up front and improvements need to start there before Tennessee can even think about handing the ball off more.

3. Defensive tackle: There's a lot of uncertainty and inexperience at tackle, and a lot of of players listed as co-starters on Tennessee's post-spring depth chart. Maurice Couch had an up-and-down 2011 season and now will be called to take on more responsibility now that Malik Jackson is gone. Daniel Hood, who was recovering from shoulder surgery this spring, Steven Fowlkes, Darrington Sentimore and Gregory Clark will all get chances in the middle. Also, keep an eye on incoming junior college transfer Daniel McCullers, who the coaches think can contribute immediately.
Tennessee returns a lot of young talent it had last year, but will miss one of its best leaders and players from the defensive line:

OUT: DT Malik Jackson: It was hard to find a more complete player for the Vols last year than Jackson. He was a force up front for Tennessee and led the Vols in tackles for loss (11), sacks (2.5) and quarterback hurries (10). Over the final eight games of the 2011 season, he registered 42 tackles (5.3 per game) with 9.5 tackles for loss. Jackson played most of his Tennessee career at defensive tackle, but was athletic enough and versatile enough to play defensive end -- the position he started out in. Jackson clogged the middle in the run game and had the strength and speed to make quarterbacks miserable as well. Outside of being a tremendous defender for the Vols, he was a very outspoken leader for the team. He commanded respect with both his play and his words, which will be hard to replace.

IN: Maurice Couch, Darrington Sentimore, Marlon Walls or Daniel McCullers: With Tennessee moving to a 3-4 defense, the Vols will be looking for a handful of players to make impacts up front. Jackson probably could have played at multiple spots up front in a 3-4, so it will take a collective effort to fill his shoes. Couch was supposed to come in and make an immediate impact for Tennessee at tackle, but didn't really turn things on until the end of the season. Now, he'll be asked to play the nose tackle position, where Tennessee is hurting for depth at them moment. He's hoping his 6-foot-2, 295-pound frame helps him jam up the middle. Nose tackle Daniel Hood underwent offseason shoulder surgery and is non-contact this spring, so Tennessee will have to move people around. Sentimore, who transferred from Alabama and played at the junior college level, will get more time at one of the end spots up front. The staff is very excited about he could do for this defense and the hope is that his impact is felt very early. It seems like Walls has been on campus forever and while he didn't have a great year in 2011, he entered spring atop one of the defensive end spots. He's big and athletic, but it's time for him to become a more complete player. McCullers won't be on campus until the summer, but the staff thinks he can come in and immediately compete for that nose tackle spot.

Opening spring camp: Tennessee

March, 26, 2012
3/26/12
10:45
AM ET
Schedule: Tennessee begins spring practice Monday and concludes with the Orange and White Game on April 21.

What's new: There was a lot of movement on coach Derek Dooley's staff this offseason. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville this spring. Sal Sunseri arrives as the Vols' new defensive coordinator after serving as Alabama's linebackers coach the previous three seasons. After being a defensive assistant at Alabama from 2010-11 and the defensive backs coach at Central Florida for a couple months, Derrick Ansley joined Tennessee's staff to coach the Vols' cornerbacks. Charlie Coiner is Tennessee's new special teams/tight ends coach. Josh Conklin left The Citadel to coach Tennessee's safeties, and Jay Graham left South Carolina to return to his alma mater to coach running backs. John Palermo and Sam Pittman round out Tennessee's new hires. Palermo will coach the Vols' defensive line, and Pittman will coach the offensive line. Tennessee also welcomed seven early enrollees -- Cody Blanc (wide receiver), Alden Hill (running back), Justin Meredith (tight end), Nathan Peterman (quarterback), Darrington Sentimore and Trent Taylor (defensive line), and Tino Thomas (defensive back).

On the mend: Wide receiver Justin Hunter and defensive back/linebacker Brent Brewer are both coming off of ACL injuries from last fall and will be limited during the spring. Linebacker Curt Maggitt, nose guard Daniel Hood and defensive back Prentiss Waggner all had offseason shoulder surgery and will be non-contact this spring. Offensive lineman Zach Fulton will be limited this spring as he tries to recover from a stress fracture suffered a couple of weeks ago during offseason workouts. Offensive lineman JerQuari Schofield and defensive lineman Corey Miller will not be practicing for academic reasons.

On the move: Dooley plans to move a few players around this spring. With Tennessee moving to a 3-4 defense, the team is adding to its linebacker depth. Brewer (defensive back), Channing Fugate (fullback), Jacques Smith (defensive lineman), and Willie Bohannon (defensive lineman) are all working at linebacker this spring. Smith and Bohannon will compete at the Jack linebacker spot. Maggitt is also moving to inside linebacker. Rajion Neal is moving exclusively to running back after playing both wide receiver and running back last season. Waggner is moving back to cornerback after playing safety last season. James Stone, a center last season, will play some guard and tackle this spring.

Questions: The Vols return a lot of bodies on defense, but with a new coordinator, new scheme, and several position changes, there will be starting jobs available. With the 3-4 coming in, Tennessee will be in search of a reliable nose guard. Maurice Couch played there more as last season progressed, but Tennessee's staff thinks very highly of incoming junior college noseguard Daniel McCullers, who will be on campus this summer. Having Hood limited also means depth is an issue there this spring. There is still a little uncertainty in Tennessee's secondary. Waggner moving to cornerback will help with boundary play, but it takes a solid player out of the safety spot. Redshirt senior Rod Wilks takes over at free safey, but has no career starts. The running back position also enters the spring with questions surrounding it. The Vols were last in the SEC in rushing last season, and lose starter Tauren Poole. Only three lettermen return, and none are proven. Neal and Marlin Lane will start spring getting the majority of reps, but they combined for just 414 rushing yards on 102 carries last season.

Key battle: Injuries to Hunter and quarterback Tyler Bray certainly hurt Tennessee's offense last season, but being unable to run the ball effectively really kept the Vols from overcoming their struggles in the passing game. There is no question that Tennessee's run game, which ranked 116th nationally (90.1) last season, needs a major upgrade. Lane and Neal will get the first shots at earning the job this spring, but having Hill on campus early will definitely add some depth, and he should push both this spring. Sophomore Devrin Young, who rushed for 25 yards last season, will also compete for time this spring. Tennessee can't go another season without having much of a running game to speak of if it wants to take a step forward and compete for an SEC East title.

Don't forget about: Tennessee will get back a familiar face on defense this spring when linebacker Herman Lathers returns. After fracturing his ankle last June, Lathers missed all of the 2011 season, but will be full go this spring. Tennessee needs more linebackers, and adding a veteran like Lathers will help. Tennessee's staff is also excited about what Sentimore can bring to the defensive end spot. He played one season at Alabama before going the JUCO route in 2011. He's on campus now, and is listed on the Vols' two-deep at one of the end spots. Sentimore has a good shot at earning a starting spot this spring.

Breaking out: The staff has high expectations for offensive lineman Antonio Richardson. The sophomore spent 2011 playing on special teams, but after being such a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, the coaches are expecting him to compete for playing time even though the Vols return all five starters. With Fulton limited this spring, Richardson will get his chance to impress. Also, Lane is a player who has the physical tools to make a big jump this spring. He was a top high school prospect, and now has a chance to claim the running back spot for himself. He's a big body with pretty good speed, but Lane needs to work on his consistency.

All eyes on: Bray has yet to play a full season at Tennessee. A thumb injury kept him out for half of the 2011 season, but he appears to be back to full health. He wasn't great when he returned at the end of last season, but rust will do that to a quarterback. Now is a chance for Bray to get back into the swing of things and get more comfortable after his injury. It's also time for him to improve his leadership skills. Those have been called into question during his two years in Knoxville, but now that he's officially a veteran, it's time for him to take hold of this team. He has weapons around him to help his passing numbers, but Bray should look to improve this team as a whole by leading by both example and with his words.
Everyone is looking for the next Nick Fairley.

Everyone would love to have their own Cam Newton.

So as we look around the league at some of the newcomers from either the junior college ranks or who have transferred in from other schools, we'll try to find them.

Could Georgia noseguard John Jenkins be the beast in the middle that Fairley was? Does Barry Brunetti have what it takes to have a Newton-like impact at Ole Miss?

Here is a look at some of the new athletes around the league to keep an eye on this fall:

ALABAMA
  • Duron Carter, WR: Carter could be a big-time playmaker for the Tide, but he has yet to enroll because of transcript issues. The former Ohio State and juco wideout is the son of star former NFL receiver Cris Carter.
  • Quinton Dial, DL: Dial could play both inside and out, but is currently getting quality reps at defensive end for Alabama. The former juco standout has made quite the impression on his head coach and he seems to be in line for a starting spot.
  • Jesse Williams, DT: Like Dial, Williams transferred in from the juco ranks in January and has also performed well in practice. He's gotten reps all around the line, but could also be in contention for one of the end spots. He's a massive lineman at 6-foot-4 and 319 pounds.
ARKANSAS
  • Alonzo Highsmith, LB: The juco transfer is an extremely athletic linebacker and has really impressed since his arrival. He stepped in at the starting weakside linebacker spot on Day 1 of preseason camp and appears to have the edge there heading into the season.
  • Robert Thomas, DT: Speaking of athleticism, the Razorbacks might have found their most athletic defensive lineman in Thomas. The juco transfer got a ton of reps this spring with Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones out with injuries, and is currently competing for a starting spot.
FLORIDA
  • Dan Wenger, C: He earned an extra year of eligibility after concussions cut his Notre Dame career short. He's reuniting with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci and is not only competing for the starting spot at center but has become a leader on the offensive line.
GEORGIA
  • John Jenkins, DT: He was a giant gem of Georgia's 2011 class and was expected to snatch the starting noseguard position. However, the juco standout has had injury issues and hasn't been in the best shape. At 6-foot-4, and 340 pounds, people are hoping he can be a force in the middle this fall, but he's currently behind Kwame Geathers.
  • Jarvis Jones, LB: Jones transferred in from USC last year and takes over as the starting strongside linebacker. Georgia's coaches feel that with his speed and athleticism he could be a more versatile player than former stud Justin Houston.
LSU
  • Zach Mettenberger, QB: If Jordan Jefferson is indeed punished for his alleged involvement in a horrific fight outside of a Baton Rouge bar, Mettenberger's time could be now. He matches his cannon of a right arm with tremendous accuracy and might have the best skill set of any of LSU's current quarterbacks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Brandon Maye, LB: Maye transferred from Clemson and with the Bulldogs looking to replace three starters at linebacker, Maye is expected to make an immediate impact at middle linebacker. He had a slow start to fall camp, but improved throughout.
OLE MISS

  • Barry Brunetti, Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt, QBs: All three are vying for the starting quarterback spot and all have done well since the spring. Brunetti transferred from West Virginia, while Mackey and Stoudt are former juco athletes. Brunetti has the edge at quarterback, but Mackey was on top this spring and won't make things easy for the sophomore. Stoudt isn't as athletic as the other two, but has been very sharp with his passing ability.
  • Uriah Grant, Gilbert Pena, DT: Both players were brought in to add some beef in the middle of Ole Miss' line and both could end up starters for opening day. Both have dealt with injuries, but that really hasn't slowed their on-field production in practice.
  • Wesley Pendleton, CB: Pendleton had an impressive juco career and has really caught on in Ole Miss' defense. He's in the thick of it for one of the starting cornerback spots and has shown that he might be the Rebels' most athletic defensive back.
TENNESSEE
  • Alex Bullard, OG: He transferred from Notre Dame and was granted a hardship in order to play this fall. Bullard has moved all along the line this preseason, but it looks like he could be in the running for one of the starting guard positions.
  • Maurice Couch, DT: A lot is expected from Couch, who hopes to fill one of the spots in the middle of Tennessee's line. It hasn't been an easy preseason for Couch, who suffers from asthma, but he has made improvements. He'll contribute at noseguard and the three technique this fall.
  • Izauea Lanier, CB: Though he made his mark playing safety in junior college, Lanier is competing for time at corner. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he's a bigger corner, which coach Derek Dooley likes.
  • Byron Moore, DB: Moore appears to be a "tweener" on defense. He could play safety or corner for the Vols. With Tennessee running a lot of nickel formations, Moore should see the field in some capacity this fall.
VANDERBILT
  • Jordan Rodgers, QB: Rodgers missed the 2010 season and missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, but is No. 2 at quarterback. The younger brother to Super Bowl champ Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Rodgers is a player coach James Franklin has been especially excited about seeing.

Lunch links

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
12:45
PM ET
Checking out some links around the SEC.
Today we look at the big uglies that cause all the mayhem in the trenches. The SEC consistently spits out nasty defensive linemen and this year has more of an athletic feel.

Here's how the teams stacked up:

1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a defensive line that would make any offensive line shutter. Plus, incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney comes in as the top high school player in the country and could be one of the best ends in the league this fall. Devin Taylor leads the group at end and was second on the team with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. Helping on the outside is Melvin Ingram, who plays inside on passing downs, and led South Carolina with nine sacks a year ago. Senior Travian Robertson, who came off injury to get four sacks last year, is solid in the middle as well.

[+] EnlargeDevin Taylor
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDevin Taylor made a habit of harassing quarterbacks last season.
2. Arkansas: The Razorbacks might have the best pass-rushing group Arkansas has seen in a while. Things revolve around defensive end Jake Bequette, who was one of the more unheralded players in the league last year, despite having seven sacks. On the other side of the line is Tenarius Wright, who will make up the second part of a formidable outside duo in Fayetteville with his speed and athleticism. In the middle, there are plenty of options. Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones missed spring due to injury, but will be back this fall and there’s a wealth of depth behind them. Junior college transfer Robert Thomas might be the best and most athletic option in the middle is primed to break out.

3. LSU: There are some questions about the experience the Tigers bring back, but no one will question the talent and athleticism in Baton Rouge. Sam Montgomery is back at defensive end, after suffering a serious knee injury. He hasn’t played much, but the coaches believe he’s got what it takes to be a top end in this league. Kendrick Adams started 11 games last year at end, while Lavar Edwards filled in for Montgomery. Ego Ferguson redshirted last year, but should get a ton of playing time in the middle this fall. He is already one of the most athletic tackles in the SEC. Don’t forget about five-star early enrollee Anthony Johnson, who made very strong impressions on his coaches this spring and will be in the rotation inside.

4. Florida: This unit was criticized for lacking toughness last season, but will be full of that and even more athleticism in 2011. Jaye Howard is returning from spring ankle surgery and is already considered a top defensive tackle prospect in next year’s NFL draft. Alongside him are youngsters Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley. Floyd was the most consistent of the much-ballyhooed freshman class last fall, while Easley struggled with attitude problems. Easley has rebounded and both excelled this spring. Omar Hunter is finally healthy and will share time with Floyd at noseguard and senior William Green will occupy an end spot. This group is even better when Ronald Powell lines up at end in the 4-3.

5. Alabama: On paper, there are a few questions with this group, but it’s hard to drop Alabama very far on this list. The 3-4 scheme will have senior Josh Chapman at noseguard. Chapman started 12 games in the middle last fall, totaling 31 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Damion Square will compete for time on the outside, and since returning from his ACL injury, he’s gained a lot more playing confidence and could be a budding star in the league. Junior college transfers Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams will compete for time on the line as well, while sophomore Ed Stinson will stay at end after starting last season at Jack linebacker.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have arguably the top returning tackle tandem in the SEC. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are the behemoths in the middle who combined for 53 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks last year. Finding any sort of inside running game against Mississippi State will be extremely tough. Developing a pass-rusher is the next step for the Bulldogs’ staff. Sean Ferguson occupies one side, but the other is still up for grabs. Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell battled for the spot this spring, but neither has really pushed ahead.

7. Georgia: There is a lot of talent in Athens, but there could be a lot of movement on the line. JUCO transfer John Jenkins is the big -- and we mean big -- name up front and he’s yet to play a down in the SEC. He arrives with a ton of hype, but is perfect at noseguard in Todd Grantham’s 3-4. DeAngelo Tyson moves to his natural position outside after playing noseguard last year. Kwame Geathers played in the middle this spring, but could be usurped for Jenkins this fall and move outside. Abry Jones is still maturing after moving to end and recording 34 tackles including 3.5 for loss last season and had a 16-tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

8. Auburn: The Tigers must replace three starters this season. Inside, Auburn is talented but inexperienced with Kenneth Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker having 13 combined tackles from a year ago. There’s less concern on the outside with lone returning starter Nosa Eguae on one side and sophomore Corey Lemonier on the other. Eguae might have more experience with 11 starts, but Lemonier appears to be more athletic and should be near the top of the defensive end pool this year. After that, the Tigers are young across the board.

9. Tennessee: The Volunteers’ line will grow with senior Malik Jackson running things in the middle. He had 48 tackles and five sacks a year ago and some think he’ll be even better this fall. A lot will also be expected from incoming JUCO transfer Maurice Couch. He’s pretty athletic at 6-foot-4, 327 pounds and he’ll be greatly needed, considering the dismissal of Montori Hughes. Jacques Smith has All-SEC potential and will hold one of the end spots. After that, Tennessee has some young, but encouragingly talented bodies at each position.

10. Ole Miss: Some of the best news of the spring coming out of Oxford was the return of Kentrell Lockett at defensive end. Lockett was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and will not only be the Rebels’ top lineman but possibly their best defensive player. After that, the questions roll in with four tackles gone and youth coming in. Tackle Justin Smith has yet to really emerge as the All-SEC talent he was expected to be and Ole Miss is smaller up front. JUCO transfer Gilbert Pena could add some size in the middle. Gerald Rivers returns to get time at end, but has played in just 15 career games in two years.

11. Vanderbilt: This was supposed to be a strength for the Commodores last year until injuries hit. Still, Vanderbilt returns three starters. Experience is there, but this unit has to continue to improve, especially in the pass-rushing department where the Commodores had just 20 sacks in 2010. Rob Lohr led Vanderbilt with four sacks a year ago and had 35 tackles. T.J. Greenstone is coming off of injury and will line up inside. Tim Fugger was one of the Commodores' most consistent players at end, playing in every game and registering three sacks and four forced fumbles.

12. Kentucky: End Collins Ukwu and tackle Luke McDermott return with the most experience on Kentucky’s line. Ukwu improved not only on the field but in the weight room this spring and is expected to be a more consistent pass-rusher. McDermott is a walk-on currently ahead of Donte Rumph, who has the talent to be one of Kentucky’s top defenders, but has yet to fully buy in to the program. The coaches are also waiting for tackle Mister Cobble to finally break out of his funk and be a regular contributor. The rest of Kentucky’s linemen have some developing to do and are inexperienced.

Vols need Couch to be impact player

June, 9, 2011
6/09/11
11:59
AM ET
Banking on junior college players to come in right away and provide a quick fix in college football is a lot like playing the lottery.

Sometimes you hit it big. But more times than not, you don’t.

With the news Thursday that Tennessee coach Derek Dooley had booted junior defensive tackle Montori Hughes from the team, Maurice Couch joins John Jenkins at Georgia as two of the most important junior college additions in the SEC this season.

They both just happen to be interior defensive linemen, as if that’s any coincidence.

The Bulldogs are counting on Jenkins to step right in at noseguard and be a dominant presence in their 3-4 defense.

The Vols need any help they can get in the middle of their defensive line, and if Couch isn’t what they think he is, they’re going to struggle to stop anybody from running the football this season.

While the 6-foot-4, 327-pound Hughes didn’t exactly conjure up memories of Reggie White (except for his size), he was at least a big, athletic body who had showed flashes when he wasn’t suspended for academic reasons or getting into trouble off the field. The writing had been on the wall for some time that Hughes wasn't going to make it, meaning Couch was already a key piece to the Vols' defensive puzzle.

Not only are the Vols thin in numbers at defensive tackle, but they’re also undersized, which makes the 6-2, 305-pound Couch even more valuable.

Tennessee would be ecstatic if Couch could come in and have the kind of impact another junior college tackle did earlier this decade. The late Jesse Mahelona came to Tennessee from Orange Coast College in California and earned All-America honors from The Sporting News in 2004. Mahelona had 18.5 tackles for loss that season and was one of the driving forces in the Vols reaching the SEC championship game.

Nobody’s expecting Couch to come in and be an All-American his first season, but the Vols desperately need him to come in and be an impact player and solidify the middle of that defensive line.

The linebacker corps is already going to be inexperienced, particularly with the injury to Herman Lathers. True freshmen Curt Maggitt, Christian Harris and A.J. Johnson will all figure prominently into the rotation.

That’s a lot of new faces in the front seven, but nobody in that group will be more important for the Vols this season than Couch.

SPONSORED HEADLINES