SEC: Shawn Elliott

SEC lunchtime links

July, 28, 2014
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Here we go. Football practices are about to start at campuses across the SEC, meaning we'll have actual football stuff to discuss for the next several months. Let's take a quick spin around what's happening in the SEC as camp approaches.

• AL.com gives us five storylines to know heading into preseason camp at both Auburn and Alabama.

• Benardrick McKinney was hardly a major prospect, but he's making the most of his opportunity at Mississippi State.

• USA Today's Dan Wolken explores how private gurus such as Ken Mastrole and George Whitfield seem to be growing their influence among college quarterbacks.

• In a weekend speech before the Houston A&M Club, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin addressed some of the team's offseason disciplinary issues -- as well as the scheduling criticisms lobbed by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

• LSU's quarterback competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris should be a hot topic once the Tigers open camp in a week.

• Tennessee coach Butch Jones is fine with the prospect of fielding a team of unknowns.

• South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott knows his group has the experience and skill to rank among the SEC's top lines, but he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

• Former Mississippi State quarterback Dylan Favre is aiming to have a big season at Tennessee-Martin this fall.

• Darrion Landry hopes to become the next Kentucky receiver to experience success immediately after joining the Wildcats as a junior college transfer.

• Adding Korliss Marshall to last season's highly productive tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas has three strong options at running back.

• Florida players like Jeff Driskel, Clay Burton, Latroy Pittman and Demarcus Robinson shared their knowledge with campers at the Brantley Quarterback Camp over the weekend.

• Davin Bellamy's weekend arrest will shuffle the deck for Georgia's outside linebackers early in the season.
Shawn Elliott was still buzzing about last weekend's dramatics. South Carolina's co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach recounted the Gamecocks' come-from-behind victory at Missouri.

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Mary Ann Chastain/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott felt the momentum shift at Missouri last Saturday.
"It was an exciting environment, especially there in the fourth quarter," he said. "You could feel the momentum change. Our defense started getting a lot of stops and we started putting some drives together. You could feel the momentum building and building and building."

South Carolina knocked off undefeated Missouri in overtime. Now the SEC East race is wide open with No. 14 South Carolina nipping at the Tigers' heels. The focus in Columbia, S.C., is on avoiding a hangover this weekend.

"We don't want to put it all on our quarterback's shoulders, so to speak," Elliott said. "We need a good team effort offensively and we need our defense to stay playing well.

"All in all, we just need to keep our heads on straight and keep looking forward."

Elliott was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his team and the challenge of facing Mississippi State on Saturday.

You've seen Connor Shaw do things like that for years now. What did that game say about his toughness and his competitiveness to be able to lead you guys back?

Elliott: I think Connor Shaw is one of the best leaders college football has these days. His grittiness, his toughness, his determination, his competitiveness; it all fuels our team and our university. It's just exciting. Our players gear up and go to battle for a guy that they know when he goes out there he's going to lay it all on the line. Just a special, special young man. I'm just excited we get the opportunity to spend a few more weeks with him at South Carolina.

What's Connor been like this week as far as health. Do you expect him to start?

Elliott: Yes, he's out there practicing with us. He had a little stomach bug with us earlier in the week and his knee injury from the previous week against Tennessee, but it's more or less the trainers holding him out. This guy would be out there at every practice had it not been for our trainers. He certainly wanted to be out there throwing the football. When he hurt his knee against Tennessee ,he said there's nothing wrong with my arm so I can go out here and toss the ball around a little bit. He's always working to get better and try to develop into a better quarterback every week.

How do you all rebound and refocus after a dramatic win like the one last week at Missouri? It's got to be hard to hit reset.

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AP Photo/John RaouxSouth Carolina co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott wants to give running back Mike Davis some more help.
Elliott: You know, I don't think it does. We just got punched in the stomach the week before. And we know how easy it is to get knocked off the pedestal, so to speak. Not that we're on a pedestal, by any means. But we come off an Arkansas win and we go to Tennessee and lay an egg. So I don't think our players, nor us as coaches, are going to be sitting here on the high horse saying how good we are. We know we have to play and play to the best of our ability.

Is that something you've been staying on them about, avoiding that letdown by reminding them of the Tennessee game?

Elliott: We don't have to. Our team it wasn't just two weeks ago that that happened to us. It's still clear and fresh in their minds to keep us on track. We don't' have to remind them about what potentially could happen.

Mike Davis had some trouble holding on to the football against Missouri. What have you seen from him this week?

Elliott: It's certainly a point of emphasis. Anytime you put the ball on the ground, you have a concern of why it's going on the ground. You know, Mike's a good back. He just needs to hold on to the ball a little bit tighter and firm it up. He's trying to get some extra yards on one of those attempts and we've got to block better for him up front. We can't have him being touched a yard in the backfield before he's got his bearings. We as a team have to do a better job of protecting him off the line of scrimmage and then, of course, he has to do a better job of maintaining possession of the ball.

As far as Mississippi State is concerned, what challenges do they present?

Elliott: They're big and strong and physical up front. They've got a good defense. They're kind of middle-of-the-pack statistically, but there's not a lot of points being put up on them. They're going to come in here and play hard and we'll have to keep our heads on straight. The good thing about it is we'll be playing at home in front of these great fans at South Carolina. That gives us a little momentum going into the game with the early kickoff. We just need to play sound football and eliminate our turnovers and play a solid game.

Are there a couple guys on Mississippi State's defense that you're focused on stopping?

Elliott: I'll say what I've said about a lot of defenses; there's not really a big headline guy, so to speak, for them. They all play really well together. They field-tackle, they gang-tackle, they get themselves to the ball very quickly. There's not one particular player that is above and beyond the rest of them. They're just a good, sound football team.
Anybody ever heard that you win up front in the SEC? Here’s how we rank the offensive lines in the league heading into the 2013 season.

 Ja'Wuan James/Antonio Richardson
Icon SMIJa'Wuan James and Antonio Richardson make for formidable bookends to Tennessee's offensive line.
1. Tennessee: The Vols might have lost most of their offensive firepower at the skill positions from a year ago, but they return some serious muscle in the trenches. The tackle tandem of Antonio “Tiny” Richardson and Ja’Wuan James is one of the best in the country. Senior guard Zach Fulton ranks among the best interior linemen in the SEC, and senior center James Stone is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Award. The Vols enter the 2013 season with 123 combined starts in the offensive line and are as talented as they are experienced.

2. Alabama: Yes, the Crimson Tide lost three players to the NFL draft, but don’t feel sorry for them. Junior Cyrus Kouandjio might be the best left tackle in college football. Senior right guard Anthony Steen is one of the SEC’s more underrated offensive linemen, and sophomore center Ryan Kelly could be the next star center in the league. The battle for the right tackle job will be interesting, and Mario Cristobal is in his first season as the Tide’s offensive line coach. But when’s the last time these guys haven’t been lights out up front?

3. Texas A&M: One of the biggest recruiting scores for the Aggies this offseason was Jake Matthews bypassing the NFL draft and returning for his senior season. He’ll shift from right tackle to left tackle and take over for the departed Luke Joeckel, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Junior Cedric Ogbuehi will move from guard to right tackle and is receiving some preseason All-SEC mention. Junior Jarvis Harrison returns at left guard, and another member of the Matthews family -- sophomore Mike Matthews -- will take over for Patrick Lewis at center.

4. Georgia: Not only do the Bulldogs return all five starters, but they return their top eight offensive linemen from a year ago. Senior guard Chris Burnette is the anchor of the group, but there’s enough depth that offensive line coach Will Friend could have some options. Right tackle John Theus was a Freshman All-American last season, but was listed No. 2 on the post-spring depth chart behind sophomore Xzavier Ward. Senior Kenarious Gates can play guard or tackle. Junior David Andrews is back at center, and senior Dallas Lee has started each of the past two seasons at guard.

5. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is hard to please, but this offensive line has a chance to be the best one the Gamecocks have had since he arrived in 2005. One of the keys will be how well redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop fills the shoes of T.J. Johnson at center. Junior left guard A.J. Cann is All-SEC material, and sophomore right tackle Brandon Shell has matured and is poised for a big season. Some of the best news for the Gamecocks was that offensive line coach Shawn Elliott decided to stick around after being wooed by Alabama.

6. LSU: The Tigers were forced to shuffle people around up front last season after tackle Chris Faulk went down with an injury, and the lack of continuity showed in pass protection. They appear to be set going into this season. Junior La’el Collins is moving from guard to left tackle and has star potential. Vadal Alexander returns at right tackle, and senior Josh Williford and sophomore Trai Turner are back at the guard spots. True freshman Ethan Pocic had an impressive spring after enrolling early and will push for playing time at center.

7. Florida: The problem a year ago was pass protection, but the Gators are banking on D.J. Humphries making a big difference at left tackle. The entire left side should be better with the addition of Maryland transfer Max Garcia at guard. Another transfer, Tyler Moore, will step in at right tackle after starting as a true freshman at Nebraska. Senior center Jonotthan Harrison and senior right guard Jon Halapio have combined for 60 career starts. This should be the best offensive line the Gators have put on the field under Will Muschamp.

8. Mississippi State: Four of the Bulldogs’ five starters return. Guard Tobias Smith is also eligible to return after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, but given the state of his aching knees, he’s likely to take on the role of a student coach. Senior guard Gabe Jackson is one of the best interior linemen in the country, and junior Dillon Day is a menacing blocker at center. Justin Malone filled in when Smith was unable to go last season and is the likely starter at right guard. The Bulldogs allowed just 19 sacks in 13 games last season.

9. Ole Miss: Any time an offense puts up the kinds of numbers the Rebels did last season, that means somebody’s doing something right in the offensive line. Four of the five starters are back from a year ago, including 11 lettermen in the offensive line. Junior left guard Aaron Morris was sidelined this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, but has All-SEC potential. Both starting tackles, Pierce Burton and Emmanuel McCray, are back, although they will be pushed by incoming freshman Laremy Tunsil, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the country.

10. Vanderbilt: The Commodores were able to redshirt all of their freshmen on the offensive line last year and head into the 2013 season with the most depth they’ve had up front in some time. There’s no substitute for having a player as versatile as senior Wesley Johnson, who returns at left tackle. Vanderbilt welcomes back six linemen with starting experience, and Andrew Jelks is one of several redshirt freshmen who could step in and play right away.

11. Auburn: The Tigers return four of their five starters from a year ago and several others who played. And while there wasn’t much to like about anything Auburn did on offense last season, this is a group that has a chance to make significant improvement in Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up offense. Center Reese Dismukes is entering his third season as a starter, and sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson is probably the most talented of the bunch.

12. Arkansas: Go back and look at some of Bret Bielema’s rugged offensive lines at Wisconsin. Moreover, new offensive line coach Sam Pittman has a pretty impressive track record of his own. They inherit an Arkansas offensive line in transition. It’s a unit that will be anchored by senior center Travis Swanson, who’s shown up on some preseason All-America teams. Brey Cook and Mitch Smothers have moved inside to guard, and the Hogs like the extra punch they provided in the spring.

13. Missouri: Injuries decimated the Tigers up front a year ago. But with so many different players stepping in and having to play, Missouri should be better equipped to handle any adversity that comes its way this season. It’s always nice to be strong in the middle, and sophomore Evan Boehm will move to center after starting all 12 games at left guard last season as a true freshman. The Tigers need senior left tackle Justin Britt to stay healthy. He tore his ACL last season.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats want to play at a faster pace under new offensive coordinator Neal Brown, so there will be a natural transition. Replacing All-SEC guard Larry Warford won’t be easy, and there’s very little proven depth. Junior left tackle Darrian Miller will be the anchor of the group, and Zach West and Kevin Mitchell are also back after starting last season. But once the Wildcats get past their first four, they’ll have to lean heavily on redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.

Shawn Elliott staying at South Carolina

February, 15, 2013
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South Carolina has managed to hold onto one of its most valuable assistant coaches.

Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott informed South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on Friday that he would be staying in Columbia after interviewing with Nick Saban for the Alabama offensive line job.

Elliott, who'll be entering his fourth season at South Carolina, has been a big part of the Gamecocks' success. He's provided stability for South Carolina's offensive line and also brought the zone read package with him from Appalachian State that the Gamecocks have used so much of the past three seasons.

Being able to keep Elliott says something about where South Carolina's program is right now. He's obviously a commodity, and his name has come up a couple of different times the last two years in job searches.

But he's a Camden, S.C., native and grew up attending South Carolina games at Williams-Brice Stadium with his father, who was a South Carolina state highway patrolman.

Elliott obviously feels at home at South Carolina even when a powerhouse like Alabama comes calling.

Here's something else to consider: If you're looking for legitimate candidates to replace Spurrier when the Head Ball Coach does decide to step aside, Elliott would (and should) be in that conversation.

He's a superb coach and an excellent fit at South Carolina.

With Elliott out of the picture at Alabama, Miami associate head coach/tight ends coach Mario Cristobal is the latest candidate to reportedly interview for the Crimson Tide's offensive line job. Cristobal was the head coach at Florida International for six seasons before being fired following this past season.

Two other names connected to Alabama's search for an offensive line coach were former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill and UCF assistant head coach/offensive line coach Brent Key.

Kevin Steele returns to Alabama

February, 14, 2013
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Kevin Steele is back at Alabama, this time as the Crimson Tide's director of player development.

Alabama's defensive coordinator during the 2007 and 2008 seasons under Nick Saban, Steele will direct the Crimson Tide's recruiting efforts in his new role. Steele was most recently Clemson's defensive coordinator from 2009-11 and was an administrative aide and consultant to his longtime friend, John Chavis, at LSU last season.

What the Tide are getting in Steele is one of the best recruiters in the business and a guy who has a wealth of football experience. He has coached in the NFL. He was the head coach at Baylor, and he's made assistant-coaching stops at such places as Nebraska, Florida State and Tennessee.

With the new NCAA recruiting rules that are slated to go into effect Aug. 1, Steele will be a huge asset for the Tide, who had already assembled one of the most effective recruiting machines in college football.

Saban also announced Thursday that Kerry Stevenson had joined the staff as the team's director of player development. Getting a former high school coach with ties to the Mobile, Ala., area should also come in handy for the Tide, who lost Jeremy Pruitt to Florida State as defensive coordinator. Pruitt had done a bang-up job of recruiting the Mobile area for Alabama.

Saban is also in the process of trying to replace Jeff Stoutland as offensive-line coach. Former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill is somebody to keep an eye on. Hill was the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line coach this past season and coached with Saban on the Cleveland Browns' staff in the early 1990s. Also, South Carolina offensive-line coach and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott was scheduled to interview with Saban on Thursday.

Welcome to the Bayou

October, 13, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Greetings from Tiger Stadium. We have a big one between LSU and South Carolina.

Two top-10 teams and two very, very talented defenses will be going at it under the lights Saturday in one of college football's best environments.

The Tigers are limping in after that 14-6 loss to Florida, but interesting things happen under the lights in this place, and something tells me The Hat will have a few new things in store for the Gamecocks. It will be interesting to see how South Carolina deals with not just the crowd noise but with its own emotions after last week's blowout victory over Georgia.

This is South Carolina's first real road trip and the Tigers have their backs against the wall.

It'll be interesting to watch both of these offenses tonight. The Gamecocks have been very balanced and have one of the SEC's most efficient quarterbacks in Connor Shaw. That fractured shoulder hasn't been much of an issue at all. The Gamecocks will face their toughest test up front, and that is a concern for offensive-line coach Shawn Elliott. His line has been shaky at times this year, and the tackle spots are key. Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell will have their hands full with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo going at them.

For LSU, the Tigers were already without top offensive lineman Chris Faulk and will now be without starting left tackle Alex Hurst, who continues to deal with personal issues. Josh Dworaczyk will start at left tackle, where he has really struggled. Trai Turner will also start for the injured Josh Williford at right guard, while Vadal Alexander will start at right tackle; both are freshmen. LSU will have three underclassmen starting on the offensive line ... with Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles to battle.

Talk about a lot of pressure up front ...

Who will transform tomorrow?

October, 12, 2012
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Before the season, he was considered one of the SEC's best defensive ends. He had all the physical tools and the resume to back it up, so it was only a matter of time before we started hearing his name week in and week out.

Yet, the only mention of him to start the year was the news that he had been benched to open the season.

It wasn't exactly the start that LSU's Sam Montgomery wanted, but being the team guy that he is, Montgomery took to opportunity to teach those around him -- especially Lavar Edwards, who started in his place against North Texas.

Montgomery has since regained his starting spot and has 18 tackles on the season, including six for loss and two sacks. Still, we expected more from the junior. In two SEC games, Montgomery has 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack, all of which came against Auburn.

It's time for Montgomery to, as Atlanta Falcons so joyously say, "Rise up."

Saturday's game against No. 3 South Carolina is the perfect chance for everyone to see the Montgomery we expected from the beginning of the season. And the good news for Montgomery is that visiting South Carolina has had its own issues along the offensive line.

Offensive-line coach Shawn Elliott hasn't exactly been thrilled with his line's performance, and has had to change the lineup here and there. The Gamecocks have given up 14 sacks this season, with eight coming in their three SEC games.

That has to make Montgomery feel good. He's the heart and soul of not just LSU's defensive line but that the defense in general. If he can get this unit going, it could be a long day for South Carolina's offense. He has to bring pressure to the Gamecocks' backfield and make quarterback Connor Shaw's day as unpleasant as possible. South Carolina's offense thrives on the read option, so disrupting that is key for this defense.

Montgomery has the size, strength and speed to frustrate South Carolina's tackles all night long, and he will. We've been waiting to see Montgomery have a big game and with the stage so big, he'll show up. He'll have South Carolina's tackles scrambling and Elliott shaking his head all night long Saturday.

SEC assistants poised to make the jump

September, 26, 2012
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A year ago, five assistants in the SEC moved on to be head football coaches.

Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain took over at Colorado State. Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee took the UAB head job. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was hired as the Arkansas State head coach. Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis landed at Kansas, and South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson got the job at Southern Miss.

Who are the next five?

Here’s a look at five of the most promising head coaching candidates in the SEC?:

Todd Grantham, Georgia associate head coach and defensive coordinator: His fiery approach has made a huge difference with Georgia’s defense, and Grantham also brought a mental toughness with him from the NFL coaching ranks that has helped to re-energize the entire program. He has 11 years of NFL coaching experience and was the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator for three years. Grantham also has extensive college experience has worked under a who’s who of coaches during his career, including Nick Saban, Frank Beamer, Wade Phillips, Dom Capers and Richt. The players love Grantham's passion and love playing for him. He's going to get a shot somewhere.

Shawn Elliott, South Carolina co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach: When Steve Spurrier does decide to step down as the Gamecocks’ head coach, don’t be surprised if Elliott gets serious consideration. He’s been a big part of the Gamecocks’ success since coming over from Appalachian State and has helped Spurrier re-invent himself a little bit offensively with the zone read package. This is Elliott’s third season at South Carolina, which has finally found some continuity in the offensive line after struggling up front in the early years under Spurrier. It’s also no coincidence that the Gamecocks are 24-7 since Elliott joined the staff.

Brent Pease, Florida offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach: Granted, it’s only four games into the season, but that Florida offense looks night and day better than it did in either of the last two seasons. Pease obviously deserves most of the credit. The Gators are balanced, more physical and more disciplined, and it’s all resulted in a 4-0 start. This is just Pease’s first season at Florida after coming over from Boise State, and he was also a guy Alabama’s Nick Saban had his eye on while looking for McElwain’s replacement. A former NFL quarterback, Pease has worked with both quarterbacks and receivers during his career. If he gets this Gators’ offense turned around for good, he’s going to be a hot commodity.

Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator and linebackers coach: One of the hottest names among SEC assistants for the past couple of years has been Smart, who’s in a position to be picky. He’s already had a couple of opportunities come his way, but wants to be sure it’s the right fit. He’s certainly been a great fit at Alabama and knows that defense inside and out. It’s always going to be Nick Saban’s defense, but Smart is the one who puts the plan together each week and has Saban’s absolute trust. Smart is now making just under $1 million, and in addition to being a top-notch tactician, he’s also an excellent evaluator of talent and one of the best recruiters on Alabama’s staff. It’s just a matter of time. Smart’s going to get a head job, and it’s going to be a good one.

Frank Wilson, LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator: When you start talking about the premier recruiters in the country, Wilson’s name is right there at the top of the list. Obviously, being a successful head coach requires a lot more than just being able to recruit. But when you’re as good at it as Wilson is, it’s the great equalizer. Plus, look at the job he’s done with the LSU running backs. Wilson has also coached at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Southern Miss, and he was a successful high school coach in New Orleans. So he has strong ties in the south and has made quite a name for himself in a short period of time. Wilson turns 40 next year and is sure to start showing up on a lot athletic directors’ short lists over the next few years.
We're always looking for the next best thing. The coaching world isn't any different.

Who's the next Urban Meyer? The next Chris Petersen? What about another Brady Hoke?

Who's that next great assistant who rises up the ranks and takes over a major program ... and succeeds?

I'm not completely sure, but I have a few ideas. Here are some coaches lurking in the SEC who could be on their way to bigger and better things or are ready to take the next step with their current teams:

Head coaches
  • James Franklin, Vanderbilt: Franklin became the only first-year coach in Vandy history to guide the Commodores to a bowl game. He surpassed the program's win totals in each of its previous two seasons and signed arguably the school's best recruiting class in 2012. He brought attitude, confidence and a bit of swagger to the program. He could have left after one year but is really looking to turn things around at Vanderbilt.
  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: Bulldogs fans probably don't like hearing this, but Mullen is becoming a hot name among the coaching ranks. In his three seasons in Starkville, he has guided Mississippi State to two straight bowl wins. In 2010, he led the Bulldogs to nine wins for the first time since 1999. Mullen says he is happy in Starkville, but if he continues to win, bigger schools won't hesitate to go after him.
Assistants
  • Shawn Elliott, South Carolina offensive line coach/running game coordinator: Steve Spurrier has raved about Elliott's impact on offense and bringing in the zone read package. Elliott has done wonders for South Carolina's offensive line, which was a continual sore spot in Spurrier's early years at the school. Elliott is also a dogged recruiter. Having grown up in Camden, S.C., Elliott is somebody to watch when Spurrier hangs it up. If he doesn't get that job, somebody is going to snap him up.
  • Rodney Garner, Georgia defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator: He has been at Georgia for a while and has been wooed several times by other schools. LSU went after him several years ago, and Lane Kiffin was interested in bringing him to Tennessee. In the past 12 years, he has coached plenty of NFL talent, including four first-round draft picks. He has consistently been one of the league's best recruiters as well.
  • Todd Grantham, Georgia defensive coordinator/associate head coach: He could start getting more looks for head-coaching gigs. He has vast NFL experience, including being a defensive coordinator at that level, and more schools are looking for coaches with NFL experience. Grantham has proven himself as a recruiter and worked under two of the best in the college ranks -- Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech and Nick Saban at Michigan State. He has made a tremendous difference in turning around Georgia's defense and has an edge about him that successful head coaches possess.
  • Chris Kiffin, Ole Miss defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator for defense: He is one of the bright young names among the assistant ranks. As the defensive line coach at Arkansas State, he coached up Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Joiner, who tied for third in the nation in sacks and 10th in tackles for loss. Arkansas State also led the conference and ranked eighth nationally in tackles for loss (7.62 per game) and tied for 15th in sacks (2.69 per game). He is a tremendous recruiter and helped bring in a solid defensive class in a short amount of time this spring.
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M offensive coordinator: After being a standout quarterback at Texas Tech, he is considered one of the top young assistants in college football. He came over with Kevin Sumlin from Houston, where he helped guide the Cougars' offense to its record-setting year in 2011. Houston led the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring in 2011 behind quarterback Case Keenum. The Cougars averaged 599.1 total yards per game, including 450.1 through the air, while scoring more than 49 points per game.
  • Paul Petrino, Arkansas offensive coordinator: He came over to help run Arkansas' offense with his brother, but after Bobby Petrino was fired this spring, Paul Petrino assumed the role as primary playcaller. In 2010, he guided an Illinois offense that broke school records for total points (423) and points per game (32.54). The Illini averaged 42.1 points and 448.9 total yards over the final seven games of the season. If he can keep Arkansas' offense going this year, his phone might start ringing a little more.
  • Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt defensive coordinator/safeties coach: He has been a head coach at Columbia and is innovative on defense, playing the kind of attacking style that attracts great players. He helped orchestrate one of the most impressive defensive turnarounds in the country last year, as Vanderbilt ranked ninth nationally in pass defense efficiency and 18th in total defense. Vandy's defense also ranked among the nation's top units in interceptions, points allowed and rush defense.
  • Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator: He is one of the best defensive coordinators around, and it seems like only a matter of time before he is a head coach somewhere. Smart has already passed on a few head-coaching opportunities. He is making $950,000 a year and is in a position to be picky with coaching jobs.
  • Trooper Taylor, Auburn wide receivers coach/assistant head coach: He is one of the hottest and most successful recruiters in the SEC. He brought in and trained some elite receivers at Oklahoma State and Tennessee before making his way to Auburn. He is continuing that trend and has turned Emory Blake into one of the SEC's best pass-catchers. He was co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and if Auburn's receivers make another jump, Taylor could be waving his towel elsewhere soon.
  • Frank Wilson, LSU running backs coach/recruiting coordinator: He has emerged as one of the sport's top recruiters. As a running backs coach, he has done a tremendous job with the Tigers. Last season, LSU averaged 202.6 rushing yards per game and tied a school record with 35 rushing touchdowns. Three backs eclipsed the 500-yard rushing mark. Wilson commands tremendous respect from his players.
  • David Yost, Missouri offensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator: He has been at Missouri for 11 years, but he has to start getting more attention as an exceptional playcaller. He has a great eye for talent and pointing out mismatches in his spread scheme. In 2011, Mizzou ranked ninth nationally in rushing (244 yards per game) and had one of the most balanced offenses, as Mizzou was one of only two schools in the country to average at least 230 yards rushing and passing in each game.

Holding onto Elliott a coup for Gamecocks

February, 14, 2012
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Earlier this month, South Carolina reeled in its second straight top 20 recruiting class nationally.

But the biggest acquisition this offseason for the Gamecocks may have been who they kept.

Offensive line coach/running game coordinator Shawn Elliott was mentioned in connection with the Gators' offensive line job after Frank Verducci suddenly left the Florida staff.

Elliott had just recently been given a raise of more than $100,000 by South Carolina, taking him to $300,000 annually. There was a chance he could have earned even more money at Florida, although Florida coach Will Muschamp said he never offered Elliott the job nor talked to him about the job.

Either way, it's big on several fronts for South Carolina that Elliott is staying put.

For one, he’s done an excellent job with the Gamecocks’ offensive line and given them some stability up front after Steve Spurrier went through offensive line coaches for a period there the way most of us do socks. This past season was the first time since 2008 that South Carolina had gone into a season with the same offensive line coach two years in a row.

Elliott has also been instrumental in South Carolina’s development of the zone read offense and is a big reason the Gamecocks have run the ball so much better over the last two seasons.

“I’ll tell you what. I hired Shawn Elliott two years ago, and I tell people that he’s the winningest coach in South Carolina history,” Spurrier said. “He’s averaging 10 wins a year.

“He’s been very helpful. He’s the run game coordinator and knows that stuff inside and out. He gives me the running plays during the course of the game and makes a lot of suggestions.”

Spurrier said the fourth-and-6 play near the end of the Nebraska game in the Capital One Bowl was Elliott’s idea.

“We’re on the 40 with about three and a half minutes left, and the TV boys are saying that we’re going to punt it down in there,” Spurrier recounted. “But we had a 10-point lead, and there was no sense in giving them the ball if we didn’t have to. So we got in a funny formation and ran a quarterback sweep. Shawn suggested the play. We didn’t even have it in the game plan.

“Connor (Shaw) came out of there and was running down the field and nobody was within 10 yards of him in either direction at one point. It was sort of neat how wide open that thing popped. That put the game away.”

Elliott’s name also came up for the Coastal Carolina head coaching job following this past season. He’s the kind of coach other programs are going to keep coming after. And sooner or later, he’s going to get an offer he can’t refuse.

Still, it’s refreshing to see a guy remain loyal.

Elliott grew up in Camden, S.C., and used to attend games with his father, Charles, who worked games at Williams-Brice Stadium as a state highway patrolman. Before coming to South Carolina in 2010, Elliott had spent his entire coaching career at Appalachian State.

Now that he’s back home in South Carolina, Elliott is clearly a keeper for the Gamecocks.

Coaching 'em up: South Carolina

July, 11, 2011
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Today, we delve deeper into the South Carolina coaching staff.

Coach: Shawn Elliott

Position: Running game coordinator and offensive line

Experience: He's entering his second season on the South Carolina staff. Elliott, 38, had spent his entire coaching career at Appalachian State before coming to South Carolina in 2010. He was the Mountaineers' offensive line coach from 2001-09, and they won three straight national championships from 2005-07. During that same three-year span, Elliott coached three consecutive Southern Conference Jacobs Trophy recipients as the best blocker in the league. After earning his bachelor's degree from Appalachian State in 1996, Elliott worked for two seasons as a defensive assistant and then for two seasons as the Mountaineers' tight ends coach.

Of note: This will be the first time since 2008 that South Carolina has gone into a season with the same offensive line coach two years in a row. Elliott replaced Eric Wolford, who left following the 2009 season to become the head coach at Youngstown State. Wolford replaced John Hunt, who was let go by Steve Spurrier following the 2008 season. ... Elliott brought with him from Appalachian State his version of the zone-read package to the South Carolina offense, a blocking scheme that paved the way for Marcus Lattimore to set a South Carolina freshman rushing record with 1,197 yards. ... The Gamecocks averaged 154.4 rushing yards last season after averaging 112.5 yards over the previous three seasons and never averaging more 121.2 yards on the ground in any of those three seasons. ... Elliott grew up in Camden, S.C., and used to attend games at Williams-Brice Stadium as a kid with his father, Charles, who worked the Gamecocks' home games as a state highway patrolman. ... Elliott played collegiately at Appalachian State and was a co-captain and all-league player as a senior on the Mountaineers' 1995 team that finished 12-1.

His challenge: South Carolina's offensive line play had been a sore subject with Gamecocks fans ever since Steve Spurrier arrived in 2005, but Elliott stepped in last season and added a degree of toughness and consistency that had been missing up front. Of course, it also helps to add a talent like Lattimore to the backfield. The bottom line is that the Gamecocks were much better at running the ball last season and also did a better job of protecting the quarterback. In addition to coaching the offensive line, Elliott oversees the Gamecocks' running game, which looked like a real-life SEC running game a year ago. Defenses will key on Lattimore more than ever this coming season, and the offensive line will also include some new faces. Redshirt freshman A.J. Cann was impressive in the spring at left guard. Junior college transfer Kaleb Broome will also push for playing time at both guard and tackle, and the Gamecocks need a big senior season out of Kyle Nunn, who returns at left tackle. The same goes for Rokevious Watkins on the right side. He's kept his weight down and will enter fall camp as the starter at right tackle, but could also slide inside to guard. Junior T.J. Johnson is one of the better centers in the league. It's an offensive line that should again be solid when it comes to run blocking. The challenge could be pass protection.

Clowney's impact should be immediate

March, 18, 2011
3/18/11
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, isn’t necessarily trying to temper expectations for Jadeveon Clowney when he arrives this summer.

After all, Johnson recruited him and knows the caliber of athlete the Gamecocks are getting in the country’s top-rated overall prospect.

But what are realistic expectations for the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Clowney in his first season?

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
David Allio/Icon SMIExpectations are already through the roof for incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney.
“I think it’s realistic for him to come in and be a starter, but I think it’s also realistic not to assume that,” Johnson said. “But once a kid gets the kind of attention and hype he did in the national media and all the recruiting services, he can never do as much as everybody expects him to. So I won’t even go there.

“But, physically, he could have put on a football uniform for the Carolina Panthers last year and played three games, and nobody would have known that he shouldn’t have been in there. That kid is physically ready to go, but there’s a difference in this league and high school. There are going to be some things he doesn’t do well.”

Other than his freakish athletic ability, the other thing about Clowney that jumped out to Johnson was how hard he played.

“There are a lot of big, tall, physical and fast kids in high school, and they don’t play like he did because they don’t have to,” Johnson said. “Jadeveon played like a reckless train.”

Big spring for Cann: It’s been a rarity under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina to see the same offensive line coach back for a second year in a row, but Shawn Elliott is going through his second spring.

The Gamecocks played much more consistently up front under Elliott last season and proved that they could run the ball in big games -- Florida and Georgia.

Elliott has a couple of holes to fill this spring and feels like redshirt freshman A.J. Cann may be the key to how everything comes together.

“If he can come in and we can insert him at one of those guard positions, then I think we’ve got something going,” Elliott said. “If he can’t step it up a notch, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board, but I think he’s going to do a good job this spring. He’s as physical looking a character as you ever want to see up front. He’s 6-3 and 310 pounds. I’m going to put the pressure on him to be that guy.”

The other thing Elliott plans to do this spring is see if senior Rokevious Watkins can move over from guard and be the Gamecocks’ starting right tackle.

“Watkins has changed his attitude,” Elliott said. “He wasn’t out of shape a year ago, but was a heavier guy. He’s leaned up and starting to do the right things. He’s in the weight room when he’s not supposed to be in there. He’s starting to do a little more than what’s expected of him. We’re going to experiment with him at right tackle because he’s so fluid. He could really be a strong right tackle and solidify us.”

Senior Kyle Nunn returns at left tackle and junior T.J. Johnson at center. Senior Terrence Campbell is the favorite to win the other guard spot.

“Terrence is a big, strong guy who filled in at guard in the bowl game,” Elliott said. “I’ve got to see if he can play in a full-time role.”

(Read full post)

Checking in on South Carolina

March, 17, 2011
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- I'll be in Gamecock Land the next couple of days checking in on the defending Eastern Division champions.

Sort of seems weird to write that after all those years of seeing South Carolina wallow in mediocrity.

But not anymore.

The Head Ball Coach has this program on the move, and the Gamecocks are my favorite to win the East again in 2011.

They opened spring practice on Tuesday and will practice again today and tomorrow.

The big story around here is that senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has been suspended (again) for the first part of the spring.

We'll see how he responds from that suspension, which stems from some late-night partying in his hotel room that turned rowdy the week of the bowl game last season.

More importantly, we'll see how Steve Spurrier responds from what is another issue with his senior quarterback.

It's obviously a big spring for Connor Shaw. If he plays well this spring and does what Spurrier asks him to do, I believe there's a very good chance that he will be the Gamecocks' starter next season.

I doubt that Garcia's just going to stand around and let that happen. However it shakes out, he once again finds himself on double-secret probation.

I'll catch back up with everybody later today after visiting with Spurrier and some of the players. The Gamecocks practice at 4 p.m. ET today.

If everything falls right defensively, this has a chance to be the best defensive line the Gamecocks have put on the field in a long time, and they were pretty stout up front last season with a league-leading 41 sacks. It will be interesting to hear what assistant head coach for the defense Ellis Johnson has to say.

One of the unsung heroes last season for the Gamecocks was first-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who once again is looking for the right combination up front this spring.

Hey, just having the same offensive line coach for the second year in a row is a win for the Gamecocks when you consider the way they've gone through those guys under Spurrier.

I think Elliott is a keeper. I like the edge he brought to that group last season.

South Carolina's pre-spring depth chart

March, 8, 2011
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South Carolina has released its pre-spring depth chart. The Gamecocks open spring practice next Tuesday.

There's sure to be some shuffling in the offensive line this spring while second-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott tries to find the right combination. Redshirt freshman A.J. Cann is listed No. 2 at left guard behind senior Terrence Campbell, but Cann is a player the Gamecocks' coaches expect to make a move this spring. Also, sophomore Ronald Patrick is listed No. 2 at right guard behind senior Rokevious Watkins. Patrick was the backup to T.J. Johnson at center last season as a true freshman.

Look for Elliott to experiment with several different combinations this spring. The idea is to get the best five guys on the field. Junior college signee Kaleb Broome is listed behind redshirt freshman Cody Gibson at right tackle going into the spring, and heralded high school signee Brandon Shell won't be on campus until this summer.

Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia is listed as the starter going into the spring, but coach Steve Spurrier has already said that it will be an open competition at that position with sophomore Connor Shaw. Spurrier said the same thing this time a year ago. But with a year's experience and this being his second spring, it will be interesting to see if Shaw can make it more of a battle this spring.

Garcia was more consistent last season and had some big games, but he played poorly in the Gamecocks' last two games when he threw five interceptions.

Defensively, junior Shaq Wilson is back in the starting lineup at weak side linebacker after being plagued by hamstring problems and redshirting last season. He was the Gamecocks' leading tackler in 2009.

Senior Akeem Auguste has moved back to cornerback after playing safety last season. Auguste and junior Stephon Gilmore are listed as the starters at cornerback. The Gamecocks had recurring problems a year ago when it came to covering the pass.

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
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Our SEC spring preview continues with a look at the Eastern Division:

FLORIDA

Start of spring practice: March 16
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Stamp of Muschamp: All eyes will be on Will Muschamp as he sets foot for the first time on a practice field as a head coach. He takes over for Urban Meyer, who won two national championships in six seasons at Florida, but let it get away from him last season. Muschamp’s first order of business is restoring that edge to the Florida program that made the Gators so successful under Meyer. It was a disjointed bunch a year ago with some obvious chemistry problems, but the talent is in place for Muschamp to come in and win right away if he can get everybody on the same page.
  • New life for Brantley: With Charlie Weis taking over as the Gators’ offensive coordinator, he plans to install a pro-style offense, which fits senior quarterback John Brantley a lot better than the spread attack the Gators tried to run with Brantley rotating in and out last season. Tim Tebow was a hit in that offense. Brantley was woefully out of place. But in this new offense, he gets a chance to do what he does best -- throw the ball from the pocket. He’ll also have true freshman Jeff Driskel pushing him every step of the way. Driskel, ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, enrolled early and will go through spring practice.
  • Second time around: Remember that freshman class the Gators signed last year that was being hailed as perhaps the most talented ever? We start to find out a lot more about those guys this spring, and the Gators will need a lot more production out of that crowd, too. We’re talking about defensive linemen Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd, running back Mack Brown, receiver Chris Dunkley, safety Matt Elam and cornerback Joshua Shaw, to name a few. It’s time for some of the Gators’ younger talents to make their presence felt.
GEORGIA

Start of spring practice: March 10
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Murray’s ankle: There was a collective sigh of relief across the state of Georgia when it was learned that Aaron Murray’s ankle injury wasn’t more serious than it was. The Bulldogs’ sophomore quarterback sprained his ankle playing soccer this past weekend and says he will be ready to go for spring practice. Still, don’t look for him to overdo it, particularly early, which means sophomore Hutson Mason may get some increased reps with the first unit. This will be Murray’s third spring at Georgia, and he’s going to get plenty of work. Something says, though, that his soccer days are over.
  • Elevating the O-line’s play: Most Georgia fans would readily tell you that the Bulldogs’ play in the offensive line each of the past two seasons has been disappointing. There’s a new guy calling the shots up there this spring, former Alabama All-SEC performer Will Friend. Look for Friend to move some guys around and try to settle on the best combination. Cordy Glenn will get a shot at tackle, and Kenarious Gates may, too, after playing some at right guard last season as a true freshman. However it shakes out, the Bulldogs need to play with more consistency up front next season.
  • Lining up linebackers: Losing outside linebacker Justin Houston early to the NFL draft was a big blow. He was Georgia’s finisher on the edge in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense and was second in the SEC in sacks last season. Jarvis Jones, a talented transfer from Southern California, is probably the closest thing the Bulldogs have to Houston, which means he’ll probably start out on the outside. Jones also worked some on the inside last season. Senior Richard Samuel needs a big spring and could really help fill the void inside.
KENTUCKY

Start of spring practice: March 30
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Moving to the 3-4: Rick Minter came aboard as Kentucky’s new defensive coordinator prior to the bowl game last December and will continue the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 this spring. The Wildcats still need to recruit to this defense, in particular find a bigger nose guard, before going full scale to the 3-4. But Minter would like to create a hybrid position where he can take a linebacker and play him some at end, thus giving the Wildcats more flexibility. Kentucky isn't short on talent at linebacker, and junior Ridge Wilson could be a candidate for that hybrid role.
  • Newton’s law: Mike Hartline’s eligibility has run out, and Ryan Mossakowski is transferring. That leaves Morgan Newton as the Wildcats’ quarterback of record. Heading into his junior season, he needs a big spring with the focus clearly being on becoming a more consistent passer, while also establishing himself as a leader. He needs to prove it to the coaches. But more importantly, he needs to prove it to his teammates that he’s the guy to lead this team.
  • Finding the end zone: Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews combined for 22 touchdowns last season, but they’re now gone. Derrick Locke, when healthy, was one of the more dangerous breakaway threats in the SEC at running back. He’s also gone. The good news is that Kentucky returns four offensive line starters, but one of the priorities this spring will be identifying guys who can get the ball into the end zone, which is where Raymond Sanders, Brandon Gainer, CoShik Williams and La'Rod King all come in. Getting junior receiver Gene McCaskill back will help, too. He missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in preseason practice.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Start of spring practice: March 15
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Shoring up the pass coverage: Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant coach for the defense, is determined to get to the bottom of the Gamecocks’ issues covering the pass last season. They’re plenty talented in the secondary, but were beaten way too often and gave up far too many big plays. One change is Akeem Auguste moving back to cornerback from safety. Auguste played cornerback two years ago. The Gamecocks also hope redshirt freshman Victor Hampton can provide some coverage help when they go to extra defensive backs.
  • Retooling up front: Gone are four senior offensive linemen who started at some point last season. Of course, some of the best news for the Gamecocks is that they’re going to have the same offensive line coach for the second year in a row. When Shawn Elliott arrived last year, he was the third different offensive line coach at South Carolina in as many years. He did a nice job with the Gamecocks’ offensive line in his first season and was able to mix and match when guys were injured. Redshirt freshman A.J. Cann will have a chance to win one of the starting guard jobs, while junior college signee Kaleb Broome is already on campus and will vie for the right tackle spot.
  • Sustaining success: The Gamecocks made history last season by playing in their first SEC championship game. They’re likely to be favored in the East race again in 2011, but are they ready to embrace that role and properly manage those expectations? The leaders need to take charge of this team this spring and make sure there’s no complacency from simply having gotten to Atlanta last season. The goal now is getting there and winning a first-ever SEC championship. The Gamecocks have the returning talent to make that happen, but do they possess everything else it takes to win a title in this league?
TENNESSEE

Start of spring practice: March 22
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Growing as an offense: The Vols were so young on offense last season that a lot of the time they were merely trying to keep their heads above water. But with the three true freshman offensive line starters a year older and quarterback Tyler Bray going through his second spring practice and being able to get his timing down that much more with receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee has a chance to really have its offensive attack humming by the fall. Having everybody together this spring and working under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney should only expedite the process.
  • Living in limbo: Janzen Jackson, the Vols’ star junior safety, will not be around for spring ball. He’s withdrawn from school this semester to deal with personal problems. Tennessee hopes to get him back for the fall, but there are no guarantees. Brent Brewer, a former minor league baseball player who really came on at safety the latter half of last season, is suspended indefinitely from all team activities following his arrest on a domestic assault charge. The Vols signed two junior college defensive backs, Byron Moore and Izauea Lanier, but they won’t be on campus until this summer.
  • Beefing up the front: The Vols really like promising defensive ends Jacques Smith, Corey Miller and Willie Bohannon and will be looking to bolster their pass rush with those three coming off the edge. Senior Malik Jackson will likely stay inside after moving from end to tackle last season and leading the Vols in tackles for loss (11) and sacks (5). But there’s still a huge need for more muscle inside. Junior college signee Maurice Couch will certainly help, although he doesn’t arrive until this summer. Montori Hughes is coming off a disappointing 2010 season. The Vols will be looking for all the bodies they can find inside this spring.
VANDERBILT

Start of spring practice: March 18
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Franklin’s debut: With the exception of offensive line coach Herb Hand, Vanderbilt will have an entirely new coaching staff running the show this spring. It will be the first collective look that new coach James Franklin has had at his team. It’s also his first chance to evaluate his returning talent, not to mention the returning players’ first chance to get a feel for Franklin and the new assistants on the practice field. Franklin has vowed that he won’t be afraid to take some risks and that the Commodores will be aggressive.
  • Smith’s time to shine: As quarterback Larry Smith enters his senior season, his slate is wiped clean with this new staff. He won’t stray too far from new quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne this spring and gets a chance to take an early lead in the quarterback battle before the three true freshmen arrive this spring. Jordan Rodgers will be limited this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery last year, but will also get a chance to prove to the new staff that he’s the guy to pump some life into a passing game that finished 105th nationally last season.
  • Identifying playmakers: The Commodores need to generate more big plays in 2011, and that goes for all three areas of the game. This is a big spring for younger receivers Jordan Matthews, Jonathan Krause and Chris Boyd. And on defense, Vanderbilt needs to find a few more finishers in terms of getting to the quarterback. The Commodores were last in the SEC with 20 sacks last season and were also last with 15 forced turnovers. Creating more short fields for the offense and making more happen on special teams will be a must next season.

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