SEC: Mikel Horton

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 1

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
10:00
AM ET
video

The SEC appears to be loaded with true freshmen who will make immediate impacts with their teams this season. Let's take a look at five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the first weekend of the fall.

NICK CHUBB, GEORGIA

What he did: Chubb ran like a grown man against Clemson, particularly on a 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that essentially put away the Bulldogs' victory. Chubb took a pitch right and burst through a pile of Tigers -- literally dragging linebacker Stephone Anthony for 5 yards after Anthony grabbed him by the left ankle -- before breaking into the open field and outrunning all defenders. Chubb finished the day with four carries for 70 yards.

What it means: Chubb and Sony Michel proved against Clemson why they generated preseason buzz, with both freshmen making plays that helped the Bulldogs earn a key opening win. Chubb is going to be a superb complement to Todd Gurley in Georgia's backfield, as both players have shown the ability to run with speed and power. Gurley might be the nation's top tailback, but the freshmen have proven that the Bulldogs have more than one dynamic weapon in the backfield. -- David Ching

MYLES GARRETT, TEXAS A&M

What he did: The five-star defensive end showed why he has received so much offseason buzz, having an immediate impact in the Aggies' win over South Carolina. Garrett had a sack and two quarterback hurries and came close to hitting Dylan Thompson several more times. Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said Garrett's stat line didn't show his total impact, and forcing Thompson into errant throws is “as good as sacks.”

What it means: He has the look of an All-SEC Freshman Team selection right out of the gate. The Aggies had virtually no pass rush last season (they were last in the SEC in sack percentage), but the addition of Garrett remedies that immediately. Combined with returning defensive end Daeshon Hall, the Aggies have speed on the edge to pressure quarterbacks and Garrett looks poised to live up to his lofty status as the No. 4 player in the 2014 class. -- Sam Khan Jr.

JALEN HURD, TENNESSEE

What he did: Freshman running back Hurd enjoyed his introduction to the Neyland Stadium faithful, scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 15-yard screen pass from Justin Worley. Hurd struggled to find much running room out of the backfield, rushing 11 times for 29 yards, but his touchdown pushed the Volunteers' lead to 31-0 in a momentum-building 38-7 victory against Utah State.

What it means: Tennessee needs to develop a more dangerous running game, so the shifty moves Hurd displayed on his touchdown might be a positive sign of things to come. He was a U.S. Army All-American and former Mr. Football in Tennessee in high school, so Vols fans expect big things from the freshman back. Last Saturday provided just a small taste of his capabilities, but he looked awfully natural slipping tacklers and exploding into the end zone for his first career touchdown. -- David Ching

SPEEDY NOIL, TEXAS A&M

What he did: Noil didn't have quite the explosive start that some expected, but still performed well in his collegiate debut. He caught five passes for 55 yards and served as the team's primary punt returner. He did drop a pass, but that's easily corrected, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. Spavital said he was impressed with Noil's physical ability as a blocker when the Aggies ran the football.

What it means: As long as drops don't become a trend, Noil should be an impact receiver for the A&M offense. The Aggies have plenty of receivers to go to and Kenny Hill threw to 12 different players on Thursday night, but Noil's speed and physicality are going to make him a factor in the Aggies' offense. He won a starting job for a reason, so while Thursday didn't blow anybody away, expect him to prove his worth sooner rather than later. -- Sam Khan Jr.

CAM ROBINSON, ALABAMA

What he did: He had his freshmen moments -- at one time Blake Sims had to literally move him into the proper position -- but Robinson more than held his own against West Virginia. Neither he nor the entire Alabama offensive line allowed a single sack in Atlanta, helping the offense stay balanced with 288 yards rushing and 250 yards through the air.

What it means: The former five-star prospect showed all the tools that earned him the job of starting left tackle: ideal size, great feet and good hands. Granted he'll make some mistakes this season, but his ceiling is off the charts. As he begins to play with more confidence, he could become a real road grader for the Tide. -- Alex Scarborough

Other notables:

Leonard Fournette, LSU: Ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards (23.4 ypr, with a long of 33 yards) against Wisconsin.

Mikel Horton, Kentucky: Ran seven times for 45 yards and scored touchdowns of 18 and 14 yards against UT-Martin.

Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran six times for 33 yards, caught three passes for 20 yards and made two tackles on special teams against Clemson.

J.K. Scott, Alabama: Only punted twice, but one of them was a booming 62-yard effort that led to West Virginia taking over at its own 7-yard line. That helped the freshman average 50.5 yards per punt in the win.

Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Started at safety and had an interception, two pass breakups and three tackles in a win over South Carolina.

Kentucky spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
8:30
AM ET
Three things we learned this spring about the Kentucky Wildcats:

1. Depth in the backfield: Running back is an area of strong depth for Kentucky and it showed this spring. Four running backs -- Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Josh Clemons and Mikel Horton -- combined for 308 rushing yards in the spring game, led by Clemons (93 yards) and Kemp (90 yards). With no quarterback starter set and not a lot of experience at the position, having veteran runners should help.

2. Stamps boosts secondary: Junior college transfer safety A.J. Stamps had a strong spring, drawing praise from the coaching staff for acclimating himself quickly and for his playmaking ability. That's good news for the Wildcats secondary, because Kentucky was tied for the fewest interceptions in the country in 2013 (three).

3. There is optimism: It's always tough coming off a 2-10 season, but Mark Stoops & Co. believe the Wildcats are better now than they were at this time a year ago and the fan base still appears excited -- 35,117 showed up for the spring game -- so there is hope for brighter days ahead in Lexington.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who's the quarterback? The Wildcats' spring ended with three players competing for the job: sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker. Maxwell Smith, who started four games last season, sat out spring practice recovering from a shoulder injury. Towles started the spring game and was solid (11 of 15 passing for 126 yards). Stoops hasn't indicated a clear timetable for naming a starter, but Towles appears to have the edge currently.

2. Can Demarco Robinson continue to bounce back? Robinson was suspended for the final two games last season and coach Stoops said he could return if he "meets some requirements we put on him." So far, it looks like Robinson is doing that. He had eight catches for 115 yards in the spring game and Stoops said he's "very proud of the effort that he has made off the field." The Wildcats were thin at receiver this spring.

3. How impactful will Heard be? Braylon Heard, who transferred from Nebraska, turned in a solid performance in the Wildcats' spring game with 55 yards on 18 carries while working with the first-team offense. While sitting out last season, per NCAA transfer rules, he showed plenty of improvement. "He took as much advantage of a redshirt year as anybody I've seen," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. The coaching staff likes the junior's explosiveness and maturity, but the backfield is deep.

One-way-too-early prediction:

The Wildcats will win a game they aren't supposed to this fall. They still have a long way to go to get to where Stoops wants them to be, but they're better and continue to increase their talent level in recruiting. Finding the right quarterback will be key.
One of the last memories Braylon Heard had of his time at Nebraska was a 9-yard touchdown run in the 2012 Big Ten championship game. He took the handoff, sprinted to the opposite side of the field and left the defense in the dust as he waltzed into the end zone.

It was a play that likely won’t register with Cornhuskers fans as their team trailed Wisconsin 63-17 at the time, but it’s a play that will stay with Heard because not only did he score, but it also turned out to be one of his final carries in a Nebraska uniform.

[+] EnlargeBraylon Heard
AP Photo/Dave WeaverFormer Nebraska running back Braylon Heard is hoping for a fresh start -- and a starting spot -- at Kentucky.
Heard rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns during his first two seasons in Lincoln. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a sophomore, but he found himself stuck behind Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah on the depth chart. He believed it was in his best interest to transfer, as he needed a fresh start.

At the same time Heard was trying to rejuvenate his career, first-year head coach Mark Stoops was looking to rejuvenate a Kentucky football program that had just two conference victories in 2011. It was the perfect match.

“At Kentucky, I just saw a great opportunity, and it was closer to home,” Heard said.

The Youngstown, Ohio, native played his high school ball at Cardinal Mooney, the same school that Stoops and fellow Kentucky assistant coach Vince Marrow attended back in the day. At Kentucky, he's close enough to home that his mother can drive to games instead of flying.

The only downside to the transfer was that Heard had to sit out a full season before he could suit up in a game for the Wildcats.

“It wasn't too bad because I knew the next year I would be out there with the guys,” he said. “Any guy sitting out is a little frustrated watching the games and everything, but you've got to keep a level head and know that your time will come next year.”

Heard did keep a level head. He was still able to practice with the team. He took reps with the scout team and worked hard on improving his own game. He impressed the coaches with his progression and showed that he could be a big-time back once he became eligible.

“He took as much advantage of a redshirt year as anybody I've seen,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “He was a little stiff in his hips and in his movements, and he went to work and did a great job with our strength and conditioning guys, became more flexible and looks a whole lot different than he did when he was at Nebraska.”

Heard is no longer just a speed back. He can run it inside just as well as he can run it outside. He’s improved his pass-catching abilities and his pass protection, and he’s a guy the coaches believe can do everything they’re going to ask their running backs to do.

As the team looks to replace starter Raymond Sanders this spring, Heard is very much in the mix to win the job once the season rolls around.

“He knows it's real now,” Brown said. “He knows that he's competing for a starting job. He knows that what he does every day at practice will determine how many times he carries the ball. There's maybe a little more at stake.”

The other competitors include JoJo Kemp, the team’s leading rusher from last fall; Mikel Horton, a power back who arrived in January; and Josh Clemons, who is finally healthy after missing the past two seasons because of injury.

“They're great guys,” Heard said. “We're all working hard as a group. There are a lot of characters in the room, and I've really enjoyed competing with those guys.”

The Kentucky spring game is Saturday, and ultimately, Heard wants to win the job. It’s why he transferred from Nebraska in the first place. He doesn’t want to get buried on the depth chart again. But whether he’s starting or next in line, he still just wants to do his part to help the team win.

“[My goal is] to be successful and just help out the team as much as I can,” he said. “If we're winning, then I'm happy.”

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