SEC: Mychal Rivera

The NFL Combine is in full swing, and after some chatting, running and lifting, prospects are starting to see their draft stocks rise and fall.

The SEC had 79 players invited to Indianapolis, and a few really turned some heads over the weekend.

Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg might have really helped his chances in this year's draft after posting the fastest 40-yard dash time among tight ends with a time of 4.50. He blew away the competition, as the second-fastest time for a tight end was Maryland's Matt Furstenburg and his 4.62. He also led all tight ends with a vertical jump of 37.5 inches and a broad jump of 125 inches. Florida's Jordan Reed was sixth among tight ends with a time of 4.72, while Tennessee's Mychal Rivera was 10th with his 4.81 time.

Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, who could be the top pick in April's NFL draft, bench pressed 225 pounds 27 times, ran a 5.3 in the 40, had a vertical jump of 28.5 inches, had a broad jump of 106 inches and was clocked at 7.4 seconds in the three-cone drill.

SEC skill position players showed off some pretty good speed on Sunday. Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb was clocked at an unofficial time of 4.21 in the 40, which beat Chris Johnson's record-setting time of 4.24 in 2008. His official time was 4.34, which led all running backs and is still a little faster than what I could churn out. Arkansas' Knile Davis was second to McCalebb with a time of 4.37. He was also second in the bench press among running backs (31 reps), while Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy and Texas A&M's Christine Michael tied for four with 27 reps.

Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope was the fastest of the SEC receivers and was third among wideouts with a time of 4.34. Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson ran a 4.42. Fellow Vols wide receiver Justin Hunter was clocked at 4.44 in the 40.

South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders, who shocked many with his decision to leave school early, didn't exactly help himself with his 40 time or his bench press. He ran a 4.58 40 and had just seven reps on the bench.

Missouri receiver T.J. Moe ran only a 4.74 in the 40, but led all receivers with 26 reps in the bench press.

You can check out how all the former SEC players did over the weekend at NFL.com.

Flying under the radar in the SEC

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
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Hard to believe there are only two weeks left in the regular season.

So before we get to the end of the year and everybody starts talking about All-SEC selections and Player of the Year candidates, let’s take a moment to recognize some of the most underrated players in the SEC this season.

Here’s our look at 10 guys who’ve had outstanding seasons and have maybe flown under the radar to some degree:

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt: Throughout his career, Johnson has been Mr. Versatile for the Commodores on their offensive line. He settled in at left tackle this season, but moved over to right tackle last week against Ole Miss and also played a few snaps at center.

Patrick Lewis, C, Texas A&M: The Aggies have the best offensive tackle tandem in the country in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, but everybody on that offense will tell you that it all starts with Lewis in the middle of that offensive line. He makes all the calls and is as smart as he is tough.

Craig Loston, S, LSU: A fourth-year junior, Loston has avoided the injuries that plagued him earlier in his career and been an integral part of an LSU defense ranked third nationally in total defense. He’s fourth on the team in tackles with 41 and has two interceptions, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown last week in the 37-17 win over Mississippi State.

Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss: While the recruiting spotlight has been on his younger brother, Robert Nkemdiche, Denzel Nkemdiche has emerged as one of the most productive freshman defenders in the country. He’s second on the team with 66 total tackles, including a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss, and has also forced four fumbles.

Ross Rasner, S, Arkansas: It hasn’t been a season to remember for the Hogs, and they’ve taken their lumps on defense. But Rasner has played his heart out. He leads the Hogs with 74 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and also has a team-leading three interceptions to go along with two forced fumbles.

Mychal Rivera, TE, Tennessee: One of the more polished pass-catching tight ends in the league. Rivera is third on Tennessee’s team with 30 catches for 485 yards and four touchdowns. He’s averaging 16.2 yards per catch and has proven to be a tough matchup for defenses.

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida: Everybody talks about Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks when the subject of the league’s best cornerback comes up, but don’t forget about Roberson. He’s tied for second in the league with 11 passes defended.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: Even though he doesn’t have big numbers in terms of catches (25), Sanders is still tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions. He also returned a punt for a touchdown against Georgia and is third in the SEC in punt returns with a 13.9-yard average.

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M: While he’s not the Aggies’ leading receiver, Swope is the guy who makes the tough catches and makes the clutch catches. He does lead the team with six touchdown receptions and put on a show last week in the win over Alabama with 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Shawn Williams, S, Georgia: He might not have the name recognition of a Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree or Bacarri Rambo, but Williams is the enforcer on that Georgia defense and leads the team with 66 total tackles. His words obviously mean something, too, when you consider how this defense has played ever since he spoke up just prior to the Florida game.
One thing Missouri couldn't afford heading into its first season in the SEC was to be down in the trenches.

Well, the Tigers received some not-so-good news Tuesday, as they lost two offensive linemen, including projected starter Travis Ruth.

Ruth, who was expected to start at left guard this fall, has been diagnosed with a torn left triceps tendon and will undergo surgery Thursday. He'll start rehab soon after. Ruth brought good experience and versatility to Missouri's line after he started seven games at center in 2011.

Missouri also lost redshirt freshman offensive lineman Taylor Chappell, who tore the ACL in his left knee. He's set to undergo surgery within the next two weeks. Chappell entered fall camp as the team's No. 2 right tackle, but was taking most of the snaps in practice with the first-team offense because of starter Justin Britt's broken foot.

Through a release from the school, head trainer Rex Sharp wasn't calling either injury season ending, but that there's no timetable for either's return.

The Tigers were already working with an undersized line compared to the ones they'll face each week, but that wasn't really of much concern to the team heading into the fall. What was a concern was losing bodies up front, and now Mizzou has lost two for an unknown amount of time. The Tigers were already without their projected starting right tackle in Britt, who is expected to be back for the start of the season.

The good news is that Missouri has some bodies to throw in along the line, but it's pretty inexperienced.

Georgia focuses on special teams

The Bulldogs' special-teams unit certainly wasn't great last year. More kicks were missed and more coverage was busted than expected. Well, the coaching staff is looking to make sure those mistakes don't happen again.

Things really got underway on Tuesday when the Bulldogs went through their first two-a-days session of the fall. The morning was devoted to special teams, where the coaches got a look at a handful of kickers and punters, including freshmen Marshall Morgan and Colin Barber. Both were a part of the Bulldogs' 2012 recruiting class and will compete for starting jobs this fall.

While place-kicking duties still need some work, coach Mark Richt said he was pleased with how Barber punted the ball.

“I thought our extra points and field goals were not what they need to be yet,” Richt said. “When they hit it really good it looked great, but there was a little inconsistency and not as deadly accurate as you want. A lot of it is getting used to going full speed with the live rushers and new holder and just being in Sanford Stadium.

“As far as the punting, I thought Colin had some balls with some outstanding hang time. I think he understands that part. His operation time was pretty good.”

It's important that Georgia find a consistent kicker, as the Bulldogs missed 15 field goal attempts, including 14 by Blair Walsh.

Tennessee TE Rivera hurts knee

Vols coach Derek Dooley said tight end Mychal Rivera could be out a few days after injuring his knee. The good news for the Vols is that Dooley doesn't think the injury is too serious.

With Rivera temporarily out, junior defensive lineman Joseph Ayres is helping out with depth by working with the tight ends. The Vols had already moved freshman Justin King from linebacker to tight end, which will help with numbers as well.

“With Rivera out, we’re thin at that position,” Dooley told reporters. “We have a lot of defensive lineman. Just like Justin King, I think Joe Ayers can give us a little value, especially as a bigger, physical guy to help us block.”

Bama's Black injures shoulder

Alabama is without one of its top freshman receivers, after early enrollee Chris Black went down with a shoulder injury Sunday. Coach Nick Saban told reporters Tuesday that Black is "very, very questionable" at this point. Black has been on the field lately, but hasn't participated in drills.

"He's going to be re-evaluated by a doctor tonight," Saban said. "We're not sure about what his status is."

For more on Alabama's Tuesday practice, check out ESPN.com's TideNation.

Ranking the SEC tight ends

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
5:05
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Now that we've ranked the top 10 wide receivers, it's time to check out the top tight ends.

Past rankings
Here are our top 10 SEC tight ends:

[+] EnlargePhilip Lutzenkirchen
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesPhilip Lutzenkirchen will be Auburn's go-to guy for game-winning scores this season.
1. Chris Gragg, Sr., Arkansas: Gragg is a big, fast target who can cause mismatches for defenders. He has great hands and with the loss of three NFL wide receivers he'll be one of Tyler Wilson's top targets this fall. Expect him to improve on his 41 catches and 518 yards from last year.

2. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Sr., Auburn: He only caught 24 passes last year, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. He's a big-time threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker as well. The addition of fullback Jay Prosch will give Lutzenkirchen a chance to be even more active in the receiving game.

3. Jordan Reed, Jr., Florida: There's no doubt that Reed is extremely athletic, but he can lose focus at times on the field. Still, when he's on the ball, he can make plenty of plays. He's the Gators' top returning receiving target and with two young quarterbacks throwing this year, Reed has the chance to rack up receptions as a close-to-the-line safety net.

4. Mychal Rivera, Sr., Tennessee: Rivera is a very reliable and consistent weapon for the Vols. Even with Justin Hunter coming back and Cordarrelle Patterson jumping into the receiving mix, Rivera might not see his production drop too much if Tyler Bray can stay health. This team will throw it around as much as possible.

5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.

6. Malcolm Johnson, So., Mississippi State: He was once a receiver, but has now found a home at tight end. He averaged 18.7 yards on his 11 catches last year and scored three touchdowns. The Bulldogs have a lot of receiving options, but Johnson should have plenty of chances to improve on last year's production.

7. Justice Cunningham, Sr., South Carolina: He'll continue to have Rory Anderson playing on the other side of him, but Cunningham's a bigger, more experienced target in the Gamecocks' passing game and will likely get more looks this fall with Alshon Jeffery gone. He's a solid blocker and will even line up as a fullback in two-back sets.

8. Chase Clement, Sr., LSU: He's on the John Mackey watch list, but has just nine career catches, with seven coming last season as a backup. Clement will be used to block often, which is needed with a team that runs the ball as much as LSU does. And with an offense that's expected to be more pass-friendly, Clement could see the ball thrown his way more often.

9. Nehemiah Hicks, Jr., Texas A&M: The Aggies have three tight ends they can use in their offense, but Hicks might be the most gifted of the bunch. He started seven games last year and is coming off of shoulder surgery, but if he's healthy he'll be a nice looking target for whichever quarterback takes the field for A&M this fall.

10. Jamal Mosley, Sr., Ole Miss: While he only caught 12 passes last year, Mosley is expected to be used more often in Ole Miss' new spread offense. He's another one of those more athletic tight ends and should help the Rebels with their depth issues in the passing game.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
The SEC has seven players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding tight end.

Here are the seven SEC players who made the Mackey watch list:
For the full Mackey watch list, go here.

The SEC leads the nation with 10 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding center.

Here are the 10 SEC players:
For the full Rimington watch list, go here.
Tennessee has suspended sophomore tight end Cameron Clear indefinitely after his arrest on a felony theft charge involving a laptop stolen from a Volunteers' baseball player.

Tennessee associate athletic director for communications, Jimmy Stanton, announced the suspension on Wednesday and said university officials were continuing to gather information.

Jail records show Clear was arrested Tuesday on a felony charge of theft between $1,000 and $10,000. Bail was set at $2,500. Clear posted bond late Tuesday night.

Clear, a rising sophomore, left spring listed as No. 2 on the depth chart at tight end behind senior Mychal Rivera, who caught 29 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown in 2011.

Tennessee spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
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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.

Top performer: Tight end

May, 10, 2012
5/10/12
3:30
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Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with tight ends.

Past producers:
The SEC returns six of the top 10 statistical tight ends this season. Orson Charles led all tight ends in yardage with 574 yards and had five touchdowns on 45 catches. The No. 2 tight end returns this fall, and this race might be the most wide open of all the top returners by position.

Here's the conference's top returning producer at tight end:

Chris Gragg, Arkansas: He was second among tight ends in catches (41) and receiving yards (518) last season, and had two touchdowns. Gragg also averaged 12.6 yards per catch last season. In an offense obsessed with throwing the ball, there was no way Gragg wouldn't get a good amount of passes thrown his way. But it's not like Gragg didn't deserve all the attention. The 6-foot-3, 236-pounder is an ideal target for any quarterback, and while he's a big body, he has good speed and is quite agile for his position. With all the receiving talent leaving Fayetteville, Gragg should get even more looks from quarterback Tyler Wilson, and there probably aren't too many people around that program upset by the thought of that.

The SEC returns five more of the top 10 statistical tight ends from a year ago:

Mychal Rivera, Tennessee: He caught 29 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown, and averaged 11.9 yards per catch.

Jordan Reed, Florida: He caught 28 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, and averaged 11 yards per catch.

Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn: He caught 24 passes for 238 yards, and led all tight ends with seven touchdowns. He averaged 9.9 yards per catch.

Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State: He caught 11 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns, and averaged 18.7 yards per catch.

Michael Williams, Alabama: He caught 16 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and averaged 11.9 yards per catch.

This race really is wide open. While Gragg is probably the most physically gifted of the returning tight ends, it's not a foregone conclusion that he'll take home prize of top SEC tight end. Reed, who is a freak athlete, is someone who the coaches at Florida think will be a major factor in the Gators' offense this fall because young quarterbacks tend to shorten throws, and Reed is a solid underneath target. Williams will get more attention with Brad Smelley gone, and Johnson, who won't share time with Marcus Green this year, drew comparisons to past Mackey Award winner Aaron Hernandez in spring camp.

Keep an eye on South Carolina rising senior Justice Cunningham. He played alongside fellow tight end Rory Anderson, who had more yards and touchdowns, but Cunningham doubled Anderson's catch count last season, and gained 142 yards and one score. With Alshon Jeffery gone, expect Cunningham to get more looks this fall.

If Missouri's Eric Waters comes back 100 percent from his MCL injury this spring, he could have a pretty productive season in that offense. Waters is replacing one of the best in Michael Egnew, but one reason Egnew was so successful was because Mizzou loves using its tight ends.

Texas A&M uses its tight ends a lot as well. Nehemiah Hicks is probably the most gifted tight end for the Aggies and started seven games, but is recovering from shoulder surgery. Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau combined to catch 28 passes for 244 and four touchdowns last season.

At the half: Georgia 6, Tennessee 6

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
8:45
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Georgia and Tennessee played a game of field goals in the first half Saturday at Neyland Stadium and went into halftime tied 6-6.

Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: Georgia led 6-3 and looked like it would go into the half with a three-point lead after a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Vols backed them up to their own 39 with less than a minute to play. But on second-and-25, Marlin Lane gathered in a screen pass and rambled 27 yards for a first down. Tennessee capitalized with a 43-yard Michael Palardy field goal to tie the game on the final play of the half.

Stat of the half: The four scoring drives were all eight plays or longer, but neither team could get the ball into end zone. Three of the four scoring drives were 11 plays or longer.

Stat of the half II: The Vols had almost as many penalty yards (23) as they did rushing yards (29).

Player of the half: Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera caught four passes for 66 yards.

Best call: Georgia went for it three times on fourth down and converted all three. Tennessee also converted its only fourth down.

Vols' running game nonexistent

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The running game has been missing all season for Tennessee, and it's letting the Vols down again in this game.

The Vols have had success throwing the ball against Georgia, but have repeatedly bogged down when they've tried to run.

After a fourth-and-8 conversion, Tennessee had it first-and-goal from the 7, but Tauren Poole lost 3 yards on first down, and the Vols ended up having to settle for a short field goal to tie the game at 3-3.

The Vols have just 22 rushing yards on 12 carries, and Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray has had time to throw, too.

At this point, you wonder if the Vols don't just spread it out, ditch the run and take their chances throwing the ball.

Georgia hasn't covered Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera all night, as he's had a field day down the middle.

Tennessee waiting on Justin Hunter MRI

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said he'll wait for an MRI on the knee of sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter, but the thought is that the injury could be serious.

"Every indication that it's not OK," Dooley said.

Hunter, who entered the game with a team-high 16 catches for 302 yards and had two touchdowns, was injured on the fourth play of Tennessee's opening drive.

Hunter went into the locker room during the second quarter and came back out on crutches and in warmups. Without Hunter in the game, the Vols lost a major weapon in their passing game and lacked another true deep threat outside of Da'Rick Rogers, who had five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.

The immediate affects of Hunter's absence was in Tennessee's confidence. The Vols looked drained during the first couple of drives after he left.

"It was clear that it was a break in your spirit when you saw it happen," Dooley said. "The whole team saw it happen. You have to move on. I could tell when he went down that it had an effect on our team. It is an effect and you have to come out of it and play out of it because it is part of the game.

"It is very unfortunate, but that is the way it is."

Tennessee showed that it has some weapons at wide receiver, with freshman DeAnthony Arnett having a game-high eight catches for 59 yards. Tight end Mychal Rivera also had five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Those were nice stats, but none of Tennessee's other receivers are as talented as Hunter and if he is out for a significant amount of time, it could really hurt this offense. Quarterback Tyler Bray, who is very gifted, now faces the challenge of making some of those unproven receivers better in a hurry.

Ranking the SEC tight ends

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
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The tight end and H-back spots can be very important positions for teams. If you can find the right athlete, he can be a true mismatch for defenders -- too fast for linebackers and too strong for cornerbacks.

The fun thing about the H-back is that your more athletic tight ends can line up in the backfield to add yet another dimension to an offense.

This year’s crop is a little younger, but could contain budding stars in the league.

Here’s a look at some of the top players at these positions:

1. Orson Charles, Georgia, Jr.: Charles has the nice combination of strength and speed to give defenders fits and could flex out to wide receiver if needed. He’s elevated his game throughout each of his two seasons with the Bulldogs and should be a star in the league this fall. He’s not as fast as receiver Tavarres King, but should eat into his production.

2. Brandon Barden, Vanderbilt, Sr.: Barden was Vanderbilt’s leading pass catcher a year ago. He hauled in 34 catches (nine more than the leading wide receiver) for 425 yards and three touchdowns. He’s easily the best option in the passing game for the Commodores and should continue to put up solid numbers at the tight end position.

3. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn, Jr.: He didn’t have the most exciting stats a year ago, but he’ll be a major factor in the Tigers’ offense this fall. He took over as a leader for the young offense this spring and will be used in and out of the backfield as an H-back. He’ll be a very reliable target for whomever takes over at quarterback.

4. Jordan Reed, Florida, So.: Reed did most of his damage last fall at quarterback, but people around Gainesville think he could be the Gators’ most athletic offensive weapon now that he’s back at tight end. He’s a big target, at 6-3, 237 pounds and he doesn’t lack speed. In fact, he used most of the offseason working on becoming more fleet-footed.

5. Deangelo Peterson, LSU, Sr.: Like Charles, Peterson has the athleticism to flex out to wide receiver as well. He grabbed 16 passes for 198 yards in 2010, but had a solid spring and should get more attention in the offense this fall.

6. Chris Gragg, Arkansas, Jr.: Gragg actually moved from receiver to tight end, so he’s already a headache for linebackers with his speed. Backing up D.J. Williams, Gragg only caught eight passes last season, but one of them went 57 yards for a touchdown.

7. Trey Burton, Florida, So.: Florida was short on offensive playmakers last year, but Burton definitely made that short list. He’s no longer lining up at quarterback, but will be Florida’s H-back. Burton caught 32 passes as a freshman and has good speed and a little elusiveness to continue to be a reliable target for quarterback John Brantley.

8. Marcus Green, Mississippi State, Sr.: Injuries have been his downfall, but if he’s healthy, he’ll be a valuable weapon for quarterback Chris Relf. He was only healthy enough to catch three passes last year, but hauled in 27 catches for 306 yards in 2009, so the talent is there.

9. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee, Jr.: There’s no secret that Tennessee is going to air it out this fall. Rivera backed up Luke Stocker last season, so his numbers weren’t great, but the staff is confident that he’ll be a reliable target in the offense. He’ll be a good third option with the talent at receiver.

10. Michael Williams, Alabama, Jr.: Williams was overlooked because he was staring up at Preston Dial on the depth chart. But he’s far from inexperienced. Williams has appeared in 27 games, making 14 starts. He’s a good run blocker and is athletic enough to challenge most linebackers opposite him.

SEC position rankings: WRs/TEs

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
9:16
AM ET
Today we take a look at the wide receiver/tight end positions in the SEC. This one gets tricky since we’re basing rankings on two different positions.

Let’s take a look at what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs
AP Photo/April L. BrownJoe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs combined for 2,260 yards last season.
1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks could have the best wide receiver corps in the country. Making things even better for Arkansas is that each member of its tremendous trio is a senior. First, there’s Greg Childs, who would have taken part in the NFL draft this year had he not suffered a knee injury late in the season. Childs is Arkansas’ best receiver when he’s healthy. Joe Adams really came on strong last year, especially after Childs went down. He’s the best when he gets the ball in open space and will command the slot. Then there’s Jarius Wright, who is the fastest of the three and got even stronger this spring as well. The three have 324 combined career receptions for 5,404 yards and 41 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have lost Terrence Toliver, but they’ll still have weapons at receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is expected to be the go-to guy in LSU’s offense and is coming off a season where he caught 33 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Russell Shepard was right behind him last season, catching the same amount of balls, but only totaled 254 yards and one touchdown. He looked sharper this spring and is looking to break out this fall. Tight end Deangelo Peterson should also get more attention this fall. He only caught 16 passes, but that number should increase.

3. South Carolina: For starters, the Gamecocks have the league’s best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound freak snatched just about everything that came his way last fall and registered 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s nearly impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Senior Jason Barnes didn't make a major impact in 2010, but he does have 60 career receptions under his belt. The smaller Ace Sanders should be even better after bursting onto the scene with 25 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. D.L. Moore, who caught 17 passes in 2010, should have a more expanded role as well.

[+] EnlargeTavarres King
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWith A.J. Green in the NFL, Tavarres King should become the Bulldogs' main receiving threat.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are still looking for a few playmakers at receiver, but there is definitely talent in Athens. Junior Tavarres King has moved into A.J. Green’s flanker spot and while he’s not Green, he proved this spring that he’s ready to be the Bulldogs' main receiving threat. Tight end Orson Charles is the best at his position and can flex out to receiver if needed. His 26 catches for 422 yards should increase this upcoming season. Marlon Brown also made strides this spring and should be the No. 2 receiver.

5. Tennessee: Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers had a ton of catches last fall, but that will change with a strong passing game in 2011. Hunter caught 16 passes, but registered 415 yards and seven touchdowns in the process. He’s a solid deep threat and playmaker. Rogers also only caught 16 passes, and while he didn’t have the yardage Hunter had, he made tremendous strides this spring. Tight end Mychal Rivera caught 11 passes in 2010 and with Luke Stocker gone he takes over as the Vols’ weapon at tight end.

6. Alabama: There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the Crimson Tide, but receiver isn’t Alabama’s best area. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks should get the brunt of the catches. They combined for 70 catches for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is a long list of other inexperienced players who should grab some catches as well and former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, who just transferred in, could be a factor this fall.

7. Florida: The Gators have talent at wide receiver, and Florida should have a more pass-friendly offense, but the group is very unproven. Frankie Hammond Jr. could be Florida’s best weapon at receiver with his speed and athleticism. Omarius Hines has the size and speed to be a major mismatch for defenders in the slot and on the outside. Freshman Quinton Dunbar was Florida’s top deep threat this spring and should get ample playing time. At tight end, Jordan Reed was called Florida’s best athlete and could end up being the Gators’ top playmaker. Trey Burton should catch a few more passes as well.

[+] EnlargeChad Bumphis
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMississippi State's Chad Bumphis caught 44 passes for 634 yards and five touchdowns last season.
8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a ton of depth at receiver, starting with Chad Bumphis. The junior has yet to really break out, but this could be the year he finally puts it together. Alongside him, Mississippi State has Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark, who all had solid springs. Those four combined for 115 catches last fall. The Bulldogs also have a host of young receivers who appear ready to compete.

9. Auburn: There is still some talent left on the Plains at receiver. Sure, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are gone, but the Tigers will look to Emory Blake and Trovon Reed to make up for their departures. Blake is the leading returning receiver, while Reed will be used all over the field by Auburn’s coaches. He can be a threat in the slot and on the outside. Philip Lutzenkirchen will be more of a staple in the offense as the Tigers’ trusted H-back.

10. Ole Miss: Athletically, the Rebels are fine. However, this group is very inexperienced and was inconsistent this spring. The incoming freshmen will have every opportunity to take a starting spot and Tobias Singleton could be the best option of Ole Miss’ youngsters. Of the returners, Melvin Harris did the most in 2010, catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will also get a chance to heavily contribute after making strong strides this spring.

11. Vanderbilt: Four of Vanderbilt’s five receiving leaders return, but the group wasn’t tremendously productive last fall. The Commodores didn’t have a receiver go over 320 yards last season and tight end Brandon Barden caught a team-high 34 passes for 425 yards. Vanderbilt's top two wideouts -- John Cole and Jonathan Krause -- are back, but the Commodores might have to turn to their youngsters for help.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn’t get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it’s back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky’s baseball team.

SEC lunch links

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
12:05
PM ET
Making the rounds on a Tuesday in the SEC:

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