SEC: Tracy Rocker
On the move: Redshirt freshman Tramel Terry, who was injured and didn’t play last season, is moving from receiver to safety. Sophomore J.J. Green, who rushed for 384 yards last season as a freshman, is moving from running back to cornerback, and sophomore Quayvon Hicks is moving from fullback to tight end. A couple of outside linebackers, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson, are moving to defensive end.
On the mend: The Bulldogs will have several players who won’t participate in contact drills, and in some cases, will miss the entire spring while recovering from injuries/surgeries. Among them: running back Todd Gurley (ankle), running back Keith Marshall (knee), receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (knee), receiver Malcolm Mitchell (knee), tight end Jay Rome (foot) and cornerback Reggie Wilkerson (knee).
New faces: Quarterback Jacob Park, an ESPN 300 prospect from Goose Creek, S.C., was Georgia’s only early enrollee for the 2014 class and will go through spring practice.
Question marks: Solidifying the secondary is crucial, especially with safety Josh Harvey-Clemons being dismissed from the team. In Harvey-Clemons, the Bulldogs lost a starting safety and the "star" in their nickel package. They should be OK at cornerback, particularly if Green can make the transition. Damian Swann and Shaq Wiggins also return at corner, and heralded freshman Malkom Parrish will arrive this summer. But the Bulldogs need to be more consistent across the board on the back end of that defense next season. They also have to get better on special teams. Mistakes plagued them last season, and they were last in the SEC in punt return average and kickoff returns and next-to-last in kickoff coverage. Finding three new offensive line starters will be another priority this spring.
Key battle: Both of the safety positions are right there at the top of the list. Senior Corey Moore played better down the stretch last season, and sophomore Quincy Mauger was forced into action last season as a true freshman. Terry also could be a factor at one of the safety spots. The Bulldogs wouldn't have moved him if they didn't think he would be in the rotation. At the free safety spot, the Bulldogs need sophomore Tray Matthews on the field. He was injured for much of his freshman season and also battled some maturity issues. He's a terrific talent, and the Bulldogs need him to play that way.
Breaking out: Sophomore Reggie Carter gives the Bulldogs more speed and athleticism at inside linebacker. He didn't play a lot last season as a freshman, but could give veterans Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera a run for their money. Redshirt freshman Paris Bostick could be another player to watch at inside linebacker. Junior nose tackle Chris Mayes was one of the more underrated players on Georgia's team last season. He and senior Toby Johnson could both be primed for big seasons up front for the Dawgs defensively. Johnson wasn't completely healthy last season after coming over from junior college, but should be 100 percent in 2014.
Don’t forget about: Sophomore Leonard Floyd should be even better his second time through the league. He led Georgia with 6.5 sacks last season and is exactly what Pruitt is looking for as a pass-rusher in his 3-4 scheme. The good news for Floyd and all of the Georgia defenders is that they're not changing defenses. The system will be very similar to what they ran under Grantham, with Pruitt making a few tweaks.
All eyes on: Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, which means senior Hutson Mason finally gets his chance to be the Bulldogs' starting quarterback. Mason stepped in at the end of last season after Murray was injured, and there's no question that he has a big arm and can stand in the pocket and throw it. He also has plenty of playmakers around him. He will get a chance to show that he can lead this team over the course of an entire season.
- Former Vanderbilt wide receiver Chris Boyd says he'll explain the rape case he was involved with last year to the NFL.
- Athlon Sports unveils its SEC team recruiting classes for 2014.
- Arkansas cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson is leaving the Razorbacks to take a position at Purdue.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt displays some mad curling skills. This video is actually pretty amazing.
- New Georgia defensive line coach Tracy Rocker's arrival in Athens is better late than never.
- Auburn adds junior-college cornerback Joseph Turner to its 2014 recruiting class.
- Auburn assistant player development director takes an on-field job at Virginia Union.
- Former Alabama safety Vinni Sunseri shows how far he's come after tearing his ACL nearly four months ago.
- Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah compares Johnny Manziel to current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
- Florida coach Will Muschamp evaluated freshman defensive lineman Thomas Holley on the basketball court.
Several of your nominations were already on my list, and there were several that I hadn’t thought about.
The “Simply Saturday” series that had been running on ESPN.com wrapped up Friday with its top 10 players of all-time who were great college players, but not necessarily great NFL players. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin was No. 1.
Combining everyone’s efforts, I’ve come up with an SEC version of the top 10. One caveat is that these are guys I actually saw play. I know I’m dating myself, but that takes us back to the mid-1970s.
The players are listed alphabetically:
Reidel Anthony, WR, Florida (1994-96): He caught 18 of Danny Wuerffel’s 39 touchdown passes during the Gators’ 1996 national championship season, but was out of the NFL after only five seasons.
Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky (1996-98): Couch threw 73 touchdown passes during the 1997 and 1998 seasons and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. He lasted just five seasons in the NFL.
Eric Curry, DE, Alabama (1990-92): The tandem of Curry and John Copeland coming off the edge during that 1992 national championship season was as good you’re going to find in college football.
Major Ogilvie, RB, Alabama (1977-80): I can still hear ABC’s Keith Jackson calling Ogilvie’s name. He was a vintage Bear Bryant player in that wishbone offense and always came through in the big games. Ogilvie carried the ball just 299 times during his career, but scored 25 rushing touchdowns.
David Palmer, WR, Alabama (1991-93): The “Deuce” was one of those players I genuinely expected to score every time he touched the ball. He was that elusive and did a little bit of everything for the Crimson Tide ... and did it well.
David Pollack, DE, Georgia (2001-04): A neck injury prematurely ended Pollack’s NFL career, but he was a terror for opposing quarterbacks in college. Only two players in Georgia history were three-time, first-team All-Americans -- Herschel Walker and Pollack.
Tracy Rocker, DT, Auburn (1985-88): Rocker won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award during the 1988 season and was the model in those years for what you were looking for in an interior defensive lineman.
Chuck Webb, RB, Tennessee (1989-90): Webb remains the best and most dynamic running back I’ve ever seen play for the Vols. Had he not blown out his knee at the start of the 1990 season, he would have been a star at the NFL level.
Scott Woerner, DB, Georgia (1977-80): He was a great kickoff and punt returner and also finished his career with 13 interceptions. Woerner was one of the rocks on that 1980 national championship team. He only played in 17 NFL games and spent much of his short pro career in the USFL.
Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida (1993-96): The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner was amazingly accurate, and more importantly, always know where to go with the ball. As far as Steve Spurrier is concerned, Wuerffel will always be the measuring stick.
Obviously, there are countless other players who could have made this list.
Here’s a sampling of some others who were nominated:
- Charles Alexander, RB, LSU
- Shawn Andrews, OT, Arkansas
- Jay Barker, QB, Alabama
- Aundray Bruce, LB, Auburn
- Ed Chester, DL, Florida
- Rohan Davey, QB, LSU
- Robert Edwards, RB, Georgia
- Brent Fullwood, RB, Auburn
- David Greene, QB, Georgia
- Tommy Hodson, QB, LSU
- Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn
- Matt Jones, QB, Arkansas
- Keith McCants, LB, Alabama
- Dewayne Robertson, DT, Kentucky
- JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU
- Heath Shuler, QB, Tennessee
- Odell Thurman, LB, Georgia
- Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina
- Tim Worley, RB, Georgia
- Eric Zeier, QB, Georgia
Aundray Bruce was No. 29, Tracy Rocker No. 27 and Pat Sullivan No. 23 in the countdown of those players who had great college careers, but didn't have memorable NFL careers.
I'm going to come up with my own list later this week of the greatest SEC players of my lifetime (dating back to the early 1970s) who didn't go on to stardom in the NFL for various reasons.
I could use your help, too.
So send me your memories of those SEC players who were great at the college level, but not necessarily great NFL players.
There are a few obvious ones: Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, Georgia defensive end David Pollack, Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch and Tennessee quarterback Condredge Holloway.
That's just a start.
Send me your lists and we'll put together the SEC version of "Simply Saturday" later this week.
Only six starters return, and 35 of the players who were on the Tigers’ roster last season are no longer around.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik isn’t oblivious. He understands the challenge that awaits the Tigers in 2011 as they dive back into the SEC fray without key players like Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.
But while there has been considerable turnover among the players, there’s been very little turnover among the Auburn coaches.
In fact, only one assistant has left since Chizik took the job prior to the 2009 season, and that was defensive line coach Tracy Rocker this past February for a position on the Tennessee Titans' staff.
Chizik said there’s no substitute for that kind of stability on a coaching staff, particularly when you’re breaking in so many new players.
“The value of having our staff back is huge,” Chizik said. “There are certain things I look at when you’re looking at your football team, and we start everything with the continuity of our coaching staff. To me, that’s one of the keys.
“We don’t want our players to walk into a meeting room every two years and have to figure out who his new coach is. It hasn’t happened yet, and that’s by design.”
Several Auburn assistants received lucrative overtures following this past season and decided to stay put, most notably offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, receivers coach Trooper Taylor and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.
Chizik said there’s been a commitment to keep the Tigers’ staff in place that goes above him.
“I get great support from our administration and Dr. [Jay] Gogue and [athletic director] Jay Jacobs on the idea of having some stability and continuity on our staff,” Chizik said. “That’s No. 1 for me. To have young guys like we have now who are coming in, but they don’t have to be inexperienced and young and learn a new coach and learn a new system, is extremely important to me.
“Even though we have young guys who are going to be coming up and playing, they’ve heard the same thing going on three years now. In my opinion, that’s invaluable in trying to build a foundation and move in the right direction.”
Auburn officially named Pelton as defensive line coach Wednesday afternoon, and he replaces a guy who made quite a name for himself on the Plains as both a player and coach.
Tracy Rocker, who took a job with the Tennessee Titans, did a masterful job with Auburn's defensive line and gets most of the credit for the transformation of Nick Fairley. Of course, Rocker wasn't a shabby defensive tackle himself. He won both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy as a senior at Auburn in 1988.
Pelton was also an All-SEC defensive lineman for the Tigers in 1994 and takes over an Auburn defensive line that's losing three starters. Fairley was obviously the star of that group, but Antoine Carter was extremely productive from his end position. Tackles Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc and end Michael Goggans were also guys up front who played a lot of football for the Tigers and are now gone.
Despite the exodus of all this experience, it's not like Pelton inherits a group lacking in talent.
Rising sophomore Nosa Eguae really came on last season and wound up starting the last nine games at end. The 6-foot-2, 258-pound Eguae has a chance to be one of the breakout players in the league next season. He finished with 7.5 tackles for loss last season.
The same goes for sophomore end Corey Lemonier, who's brimming with talent. He had a tackle for loss in the BCS National Championship Game last season as a true freshman and earned SEC All-Freshman honors.
It's also a big spring for sophomore tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, who played a good bit last season as a true freshman. Lemonier and Whitaker were big pieces of that touted 2010 signing class, which was ranked in the top 5 in the country.
Developing more depth in the defensive line, especially at tackle, will be one of Pelton's stiffest challenges. Rising sophomore Kenneth Carter is another guy who needs a big spring. He played some last season at tackle as a true freshman. The Tigers also signed Gabe Wright in this class, although he won't be on campus until the summer. Wright was ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect in the country.
Clearly, Wright believes he's ready to come in and help right away. He's the one who was sporting the "Nick Who?" cap on signing day, suggesting that he'll pick up where Fairley left off.
If he's half as good as his signing-day theatrics, then the Tigers will be happy campers.
As for Pelton, he spent last season on the Vanderbilt staff and coached the defensive ends. Pelton was Gene Chizik's defensive line coach at Iowa State in 2007 and 2008 and was at Troy for six seasons prior to that, the last two as co-defensive coordinator.
"He’s a great coach, a tireless worker and an outstanding recruiter who has mentored some very good players, including NFL standouts Demarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora, both who are from Auburn," Chizik said. "Mike is very familiar with the state and region, and he knows what it takes to coach and recruit in the Southeastern Conference."
- Andy Staples of SI.com writes that the poisoning of the Toomer's Corner oak trees should enrage all college football fans.
- Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti both see big opportunities in the battle for Ole Miss' starting quarterback job.
- Former Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker says he's surprised the Tennessee Titans came after him.
- The price of Tennessee's football season tickets is going up.
- Tim Tebow altered the course former Florida quarterbacks Cam Newton and Josh Portis took to the NFL.
- Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino says there will be no politics involved in choosing the Hogs' starting quarterback.
- Marc Weiszer of The Athens Banner-Herald takes a closer look at Georgia's 2011 schedule.
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville is reporting that the Tennessee Titans have hired Tracy Rocker as their defensive line coach. New Titans coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday on WJOX Radio in Birmingham that he was pursuing Rocker and had already talked with him.
Even before Jeff Fisher stepped down with the Titans, he had targeted Rocker to replace Jim Washburn, Wyatt reported. Fisher recommended Rocker to Munchak.
Prior to Rocker's departure, the Tigers were the only team in the SEC not to have had any turnover on their coaching staff the past two years.
In fact, it’s the only staff in the SEC that hasn’t had any turnover in the last two years. The same nine assistant coaches Chizik hired heading into the 2009 season are still with him.
But that’s not to say there haven’t been some close calls. In fact, there could be a decision looming in the very near future.
New Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak is interested in hiring Tracy Rocker as his defensive line coach. Munchak said on WJOX radio in Birmingham on Wednesday that he’s already talked to Rocker and that Rocker would “be a great fit for any organization.”
When you look back on the development of 2010 Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley, it’s easy to see why NFL clubs are coming after Rocker, who’s made three different SEC stops (Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn) as an assistant and also served as an intern with the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It also never hurts when a coach was a great player. Rocker won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award at Auburn in 1988 and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
We’ll see if Chizik can keep his guys together. So far, so good.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had a chance to go to Vanderbilt and be the Commodores’ head coach, but passed on a deal that would have paid him approaching $3 million per year. Malzahn got a raise at Auburn that will take him to $1.3 million annually.
Texas came after offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, but he also elected to stay put.
Now all eyes are on Rocker.
Nobody blew up what opposing offenses were trying to do more consistently this season than the 6-foot-5, 298-pound Fairley, who emerged from the shadows to become one of the more dominant defensive forces in the college game this season.
Fairley, who started just two games as a sophomore after coming to Auburn from junior college, leads the SEC in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (10.5). He beat out Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers for the award. Bowers had won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Monday as the nation's top defender. Fairley was also a finalist for that award.
Much of the credit for Fairley's development should go to his position coach, Tracy Rocker, who was Auburn's first Lombardi Award winner in 1988. Rocker also won the Outland Trophy that season and is easily one of the most decorated defensive linemen in SEC history.
In his second season on the Auburn staff, Rocker has been equally valuable to his alma mater as a coach.
Where did this Nick Fairley guy come from?
The Tigers’ junior defensive tackle has been a terror through five games and is leading the SEC in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (11.5). He’s that dominant, playmaking presence in the middle of the defensive line Auburn didn’t have a year ago.
Fairley was around last season, but he started in just two games and finished with 3.5 tackles for loss.
He’s clearly taken his game to another level this season, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik isn’t altogether surprised.
“I felt like there was a lot of potential there, and I felt like if he continued to kind of grow and understand the college game and the work needed to put behind it to be a good player that he certainly had a chance to develop as one of our better guys,” Chizik said. “I think slowly, but surely, he’s moving in that direction.
“He’s a very talented young man and just starting to kind of understand football and the things it takes to become a different player than everybody else, and I think he’s seeing that.”
Phillips said Fairley looks a lot like his defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, back when Rocker was setting the standard for interior defensive line play in this league. Rocker won both the Outland and Lombardi trophies in 1988 while carving out a Hall of Fame career at Auburn.
“He’s been as disruptive as anybody in this league,” said Phillips, whose Wildcats have to figure out a way to block Fairley this Saturday.
“I’ve been in this league a long time, and he looks like some of the old Auburn defensive players, similar to his coach (Rocker). He’s playing with a big-time motor and with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement.”
For the record, Rocker says Fairley is “a hell of a lot better” than he was and much more athletic.
But Fairley credits Rocker for making him a more fundamentally sound player.
“I’m just doing everything he tells me and applying his knowledge,” Fairley said. “Everything that comes out of his mouth, I take to heart. He knows the game, and he played the game as well as anybody.
“A lot of what he’s taught me has to do with using my hands, having good footwork and playing with a low base. It’s made me a lot more consistent player.”
Not only that, but it’s made the 6-5, 298-pound Fairley the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year to this point.
“I think our front four as a unit has been playing great,” said Fairley, who was recruited by some teams as an offensive lineman out of high school before going to junior college for two years. “Antoine (Carter) has been getting a lot of pressure at end, and that just allows me to make plays.”
Fairley figures he will face a lot more double teams the rest of the way.
“That’s OK, because somebody else on our defense will be free then,” Fairley said. “That’s the difference in this defense. We’re playing with a swag and playing together.
“We’re celebrating each other’s success.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Antonio Coleman took what happened last season at Auburn as hard as anybody.
He says now that it was like a bad nightmare that just kept getting worse.
The Tigers were abysmal on offense. The losses started to mount, and the frustration began to take its toll on a defense that played with pride for most of the season.
But then came the Alabama debacle.
|John Reed/US PRESSWIRE|
|Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman wants to leave the Tigers on a high note.|
A few days later, Tuberville was out as Auburn's coach.
"Nobody could believe it, and I just kept coming back to everything I didn't do," Coleman said. "I put it all on my shoulders, but that's how I am."
Those shoulders had better be broader than ever next season, because Coleman figures to be the heart and soul of the Auburn defense.
He's excited about the defensive approach of the new staff and said defensive line coach Tracy Rocker has been exactly what the Tigers needed up front.
The other thing Coleman's excited about is being healthy. He was nagged by several injuries a year ago, and his production tailed off some. He still finished with 10.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks, but that's after collecting 8.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2007. When healthy, he's easily one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC.
"It's a new day for all of us, and we've got to set the tone in the defensive line," Coleman said. "We've got a lot of guys we can move around and put in there. I think the defensive line will be the strength of our team.
"We're going back to playing our style, Auburn's style of football, and I mean on both sides of the ball. We're not going to settle for less."
Coleman considered turning pro last season, but said it was a conversation with new Auburn coach Gene Chizik that really changed his mind.
"I didn't want to go out like that. I wanted to be a part of the team that gets Auburn back to where this program is supposed to be," Coleman said.
He's already earned one degree in criminology and is now pursuing a second degree in health promotions.
With 14.5 career sacks, he could also etch his name among the best sack artists in Auburn's storied defensive history with a big senior season. Quentin Groves and Gerald Robinson hold the career record at Auburn with 26 sacks apiece.
"The number I'll be looking at is wins," Coleman said. "Nobody wants to go through what we did last season."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Taking a stroll around the SEC to see what's making headlines:
- A year later, Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson feels better about his defense, which was plagued by injuries and youth last season.
- Alabama may be pretty picky when it comes to in-state offers for the 2010 signing class.
- After not signing any junior college players in 2008, Kentucky re-opens its junior college pipeline in California.
- New Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is looking forward to having a healthy Antonio Coleman back for the 2009 season.
- Florida's Tim Tebow is Mr. Popularity even at the Daytona 500. Steve Spurrier is also a regular at the race.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Once you get in this family, there's no getting out.
I keep thinking about that famous line from "The Sopranos" as I watch the assistants in the SEC change addresses within the conference at a dizzying pace.
That's not to mention the former SEC assistants, head coaches and players who have flocked back to the league this year and found their way onto different staffs.
I can't ever remember a year quite like this where jumping from one SEC port to another was this prevalent. In some cases, coaches were just looking for work. In others, coaches simply got better deals, while some jumped at the chance to reunite with guys they'd worked with in the past.
- Lance Thompson, after two years at Alabama under Nick Saban, joins Lane Kiffin's staff at Tennessee.
- Former Auburn coach and linebacker James Willis leaves his alma mater for bitter rival Alabama to replace Thompson.
- John Chavis ends up at LSU after 14 seasons as Tennessee's defensive coordinator.
- Former Alabama defensive back Lorenzo Ward, after one year at Arkansas, leaves for South Carolina to reunite with Ellis Johnson, who left Arkansas a year earlier after spending 28 days on the Hogs' staff.
- Trooper Taylor is back in the SEC at Auburn after spending last season at Oklahoma State and the previous four at Tennessee.
- David Reaves leaves South Carolina for Tennessee to work under Kiffin, who is Reaves' brother-in-law.
- Tracy Rocker leaves Ole Miss for Auburn, where he became the first SEC player in history to win the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award in 1988.
- Former Auburn defensive ends coach Terry Price replaces Rocker at Ole Miss.
- Ron Cooper, after five years at South Carolina, leaves for LSU.
- Former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron is the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach at Tennessee after spending last year with the New Orleans Saints.
- Former Tennessee running back Jay Graham, who also worked as a graduate assistant for the Vols, is now the running backs coach at South Carolina.
- Former Ole Miss assistant Frank Wilson has a cup of coffee at Mississippi State earlier this month before bolting for Tennessee.
- Tony Hughes, after a year at Southern Miss, replaces Wilson at Mississippi State. Hughes worked under Orgeron all three years at Ole Miss.
- Former Auburn assistant Eddie Gran lands at Tennessee.
- Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is back in the SEC at Auburn after spending the last two years at Tulsa.
- Carl Torbush, who last worked in the SEC as Alabama's defensive coordinator in 2002, is back in the league as Mississippi State's defensive coordinator.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has hired former Ole Miss defensive ends coach Terry Price to be his defensive line coach.
Price, who coached at Ole Miss from 1995-98 under Tommy Tuberville, replaces Tracy Rocker, who left to take a job on the Auburn staff. The irony is that Price and Rocker are first cousins, and for all intents and purposes, they swapped positions.