SEC: T'Sharvan Bell

Auburn with a new sense of urgency

October, 4, 2012
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Gene Chizik is hoping that his Tigers used their bye week to their full advantage.

With all the issues Auburn had through the first four weeks of the season, Chizik made sure players and coaches saw all the glaring mistakes that put his team in bad situations. He wanted them to see those mistakes and learn from them before the bye was over with.

[+] EnlargeChizik
AP Photo/Dave MartinFollowing his team's 1-3 start, Gene Chizik said there's an "urgency to win" around Auburn.
Changes and tweaks were made, and Chizik hopes they work on Saturday, especially against an Arkansas team that really has nothing to lose with its 1-4 record.

Chizik said his team knows where it stands with its own 1-3 record. Auburn is on the verge of being on the outside when it comes to the postseason. Chizik said neither he nor his team are running from the realization of how big Saturday's game against the Razorbacks is.

"There's an urgency around Auburn, without question, when you're 1-3," Chizik said. "And there's an urgency to win."

With a loss, Auburn will likely miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2008 and it doesn't help that the Tigers own the SEC's worst offense (297.8 yards per game) and the third-worst defense (419.3).

But the defense looked much better against LSU last week, holding the Tigers to just 12 points and forced LSU into a handful of mistakes.

Chizik said his team was more than energized in that game, and the hope is that it carries over to this weekend.

"Our kids are hungry and they want to win," he said. "That's the expectation this Saturday as well."

He's even seen an increase in leadership. Guys like Corey Lemonier, Jeff Whitaker, Onterio McCalebb and T'Sharven Bell have all stepped up to guide this team. Having these vets step up will go a long way if they can really take hold of their teammates.

Even with all the issues Auburn has had, the Tigers have to feel confident facing the SEC's worst defense. Arkansas is allowing more than 500 yards and 40 points a game. Even Auburn's offense should be able to do something with that.

And a fast start against a reeling team is what Chizik said his team needs if it's going to pull out a must-win on the Plains. Arkansas' offensive talent can't be forgotten, and Chizik doesn't want to have to play catchup with the Hogs.

"Certainly for us, forget about the opponent, we need to have a great start," he said. "We need to have something good happen. We need to be able to get a little bit of momentum for our football team."

Chizik, Tigers vow to push forward

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
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Auburn might be 0-2 for the first time since 2003, and the mood on the Plains might not be the best right now, but coach Gene Chizik hasn’t seen any quit in his players this week in practice.

“You are who you are by the way you respond to adversity,” Chizik said. “We’ve had a great week, and our team has responded really, really well.”

Auburn, coming off losses to Mississippi State last week and Clemson in the opener, plays its first home game of the season on Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell was outspoken earlier this week and said the coaches were having to do too much cheerleading and that the players weren’t generating enough energy and also weren’t giving “championship effort.”

Chizik said he was glad to see some of his veterans stepping up and vowed that the Tigers would continue pressing forward and would not get down on themselves.

“That’s how men respond, and they’ll respond like that the rest of their lives,” Chizik said. “Any other response is not acceptable.”

Auburn has now lost four of its past five SEC games dating back to last season, and those four losses have all been by at least 18 points.

As Louisiana-Monroe proved last week in Little Rock, the Warhawks are plenty capable of pulling the upset. It doesn’t get any easier the next week with No. 3 LSU coming to town.

SEC lunch links

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
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Making the rounds on a Wednesday:
We continue to rank all the positions in the SEC and turn our attention to groups of defensive backs the conference has to offer.

Past rankings:
On to the league's secondaries:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTyrann Mathieu is a force to be reckoned with in the LSU secondary.
1. LSU: The Tigers bring back a load of talent here. Tyrann Mathieu and his Honey Badger persona return, but he might not be LSU's best pure corner. While Mathieu has a true knack for finding the ball, no matter where he is, junior Tharold Simon, who replaces Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, might have the best cover ability on the team. Junior safety Eric Reid takes the back end of the field away and will challenge to be one of the nation's top safeties this fall. The coaches are still waiting for safety Craig Loston to break out, and his solid spring was an encouragement. Keep an eye on safety Micah Eugene, who turned heads this spring.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs have some depth concerns and some players will face early-season suspensions, but the Bulldogs are loaded at the top. Bacarri Rambo is one of the nation's best safeties and he has a very solid partner in Shawn Williams, who led the Dawgs in tackles last year. Seniors Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are back, but will likely sit out the start of the year because of suspension. That leaves Malcolm Mitchell, who moved from receiver, to fill in and he's no stranger to defense. The coaches are also excited about youngster Damian Swann, who will play early.

3. Alabama: With three starters gone, this group is drawing a lot of comparisons to the 2010 unit that struggled at times. However, this batch of DBs insists it'll be more prepared this fall and shakes off the comparisons. Veteran Robert Lester is back at safety and is an All-SEC-type player. Junior cornerback Dee Milliner has 16 career starts under his belt and is an underrated talent, and the coaches are expecting to get a lot out of junior college transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. Keep an eye on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has the talent to be a star in this league.

4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs own one of the league's best corner duos in seniors Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Banks might hold the title as the league's best returning cover corner. Darius Slay is also another corner to watch, as he has some legit playmaking ability. Junior safety Nickoe Whitley is back as well and he would have had better numbers if not for a ruptured Achilles tendon that cut his 2011 season short. He grabbed four interceptions in nine games and should be 100 percent this fall.

5. Florida: This group was pretty young last year, but now has some quality experience under its belt. Safety Matt Elam is the best of the bunch and should challenge to be the league's top safety this year. Sophomore Marcus Roberson had a solid freshman season and has the makings to be a top cover corner in this league. The other corner spot is up for grabs, but keep an eye on sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy, who the staff is very excited about. Josh Evans had a good spring at free safety, but he'll have his hands full fighting off sophomore De'Ante Saunders, who started nine games last year.

6. Missouri: The star of this group is junior corner E.J. Gaines, who recorded only two interceptions, but he broke up 16 passes in 2011 and is bonafide All-SEC candidate. Across from Gaines is senior Kip Edwards, who returns for his second year as a starter and has 37 games to his credit. Edwards turned into a solid cover man toward the end of last season. Seven players return with starting experience, including safeties Kenronte Walker (four starts), who was named the team's most improved safety this spring, and Braylon Webb (four), who had a strong freshman year.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are down three starters, but they aren't without talent. Senior safety D.J. Swearinger, the lone returning starter, is one of the league's top safeties and is solid against the pass and the run. Vet Akeem Auguste returns after missing all of last year with a foot injury, and he's back at corner after moving to safety in 2010. The questions begin with sophomores Victor Hampton (corner) and Brison Williams (safety). Hampton has the talent to succeed, but has some maturing to do. Williams struggled in his only start last year, but the staff really likes his upside.

8. Vanderbilt: Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are gone, but the Commodores still possess some pretty good talent in the secondary, starting with corner Trey Wilson, who had a solid 2011 in Hayward's shadow. The coaches like what they've seen from junior corner Andre Hal, and safety Kenny Ladler could be a real player at free safety. Expect Eric Samuels and Javon Marshall, who have both see plenty of field time in their careers, to get into the safety rotation this fall.

9. Auburn: The Tigers' secondary took some lumps last year, but certainly has experience back there. Three veteran starters are back with 33 combined starts from a year ago. Fifth-year senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell didn't go through spring while he recovered from knee surgery, but has the talent to be a top corner in this league. Juniors Chris Davis (corner) and Demetruce McNeal are both back and sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, who had a solid freshman campaign, will get time at safety.

10. Tennessee: Tennessee gave up 7 yards per attempt last year, but things could turnaround this fall. Tennessee has a lot of game experience at corner, including senior Prentiss Waggner, who is the leader of the group. Sophomore Brian Randolph had a solid freshman campaign and junior Brent Brewer is returning to the other safety spot after suffering an ACL injury in late October. Izauea Lanier was ruled ineligible this summer, meaning Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon will compete with Justin Coleman for a corner spot.

11. Arkansas: Sophomore Tevin Mitchel had a solid first year in Fayetteville and is on course to have a true breakout year this fall. Junior Eric Bennett is holding down one of the safety sports and started 13 games in 2011 after moving from cornerback last spring. The staff is still waiting on senior corner Darius Winston to live up to the hype that followed him from high school. Freshmen Kelvin Fisher Jr. and Davyon McKinney will get their chances to play this fall and help with depth.

12. Ole Miss: The Rebels should be better against the pass this year and things start with veteran safety Charles Sawyer, who has All-SEC quality and should have had at least three more than the four interceptions he recorded last year. Former JUCO transfer corner Wesley Pendleton had an impressive year last season, but looked even better this spring. Nickolas Brassell is gone, but the coaches hope to get more out of former freshman standout Senquez Golson, and junior Brishen Mathews returns from back injury to take the hybrid Husky position.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats must replace two starting corners, but the coaches feel good about senior Cartier Rice and redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. Caffey, who moved from running back, might have the most upside and was one of Kentucky's top players this spring. Senior starting safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton are back. Neloms had a solid spring and racked up 71 tackles last year. Behind them, the Wildcats are full of unproven youngsters.

14. Texas A&M: This is where the Aggies could really struggle. Texas A&M ranked 109th nationally in pass defense last year and could start three sophomores in its secondary this fall. Senior safety Steven Campbell can be a real playmaker for this group, but he's struggled to stay healthy during his career. Senior Dustin Harris has shown flashes on defense, but left spring as a backup to sophomore Deshazor Everett. Sophomore Floyd Raven, who was impressive this spring, has the edge over JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs at the other corner spot. The coaches are hoping this is a more athletic group in 2012.

Lunchtime links

December, 20, 2011
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Making the SEC rounds on a Tuesday.

Gamecocks make wardrobe change

October, 1, 2011
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Usually, teams like to make last-minute game plan or personnel changes.

For South Carolina, the Gamecocks decided to make a costume change as they came out in their regular black uniform tops instead of the Wounded Warrior tops. Outside of the fact that the names on the backs were replaced with the "core values" the camo design inside the numbers made them pretty hard to read all the way up here, so figuring out who was who was pretty tough just before kickoff.

It was probably pretty hard for the TV people as well.

For whatever reason, the Gamecocks decided to change out of them. It hasn't hurt them as they lead Auburn 6-3 after a 50-yard reception by Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery just manhandled Auburn's T'Sharvan Bell on the play and there might have been a little bit of a push off, but it's hard not to get a little physical when you're a monster like Jeffery.
The preseason SEC accolades just keep coming.

On Tuesday, six SEC players were nominated for the 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for their distinguished community service contributions. There were a record 132 nominees this year.

According to the award's website, it "recognizes the selfless contributions to volunteerism and community service made by college football athletes."

This year marks the program’s 20th year honoring players who stand out for their “good works” in the community.

Here are the SEC nominees:
The off-the-field work includes White volunteering at an organization that saves dogs from euthanasia and puts them up for adoption, Lewellen befriending a 3-year-old cancer patient in Lexington, Ky., and visiting him frequently, and Jones reading to students at local elementary schools.

Demps earned his nomination by visiting sick children at a local hospital, while Miles served food to needy children over Thanksgiving and Bell played baseball with handicapped youths and adults in Opelika, Ala.
We head into high-flyer mode as we discuss defensive backs today. They are athletic as ever this season, and some teams return a bevy of secondary talent in 2011.

Here’s how the teams look:

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMark Barron decided to return to Alabama instead of making himself eligible for the NFL draft.
1. Alabama: This was an area of the team that was a problem and it wasn’t so much the yardage given up but the lack of consistency, especially in big games (see the Auburn game). This year, the Tide should have one of the best defensive backfields in the country. Safety Mark Barron could have entered the NFL draft, but stayed. And while he was in a non-contact jersey this spring, he’ll be one of the top safeties around this fall. Robert Lester is another solid safety who is also making everyone’s short list of top safeties for next year’s draft. At corner, everyone knows Dre Kirkpatrick, but DeQuan Menzie could be Alabama’s best weapon in the secondary. Dee Milliner is still in the mix at corner and there is a lot of good young talent as well.

2. LSU: No Patrick Peterson? No problem. The Tigers are once again loaded in their secondary with corners Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Both are All-SEC material and Claiborne led the Tigers with five interceptions last season. Mathieu found a way to get to the ball often last season and both should make it tough for any quarterback to throw on LSU this fall. Sophomore Tharold Simon made strong improvements at corner this spring as well. Safety Brandon Taylor is another top player at his position and he should be fine after suffering a foot injury at the end of last season. Youngsters Eric Reid and Craig Loston look like stars in the making at safety.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return five players who started at some point in 2010. Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley each recorded three interceptions and had 50-plus tackles last year. Broomfield should be the Bulldogs' top option at corner, while Banks can play both corner and safety. Charles Mitchell returns at safety and was third on the team with 93 tackles last season. All of Mississippi State’s defensive backs not only have a knack for making big plays down field but they can each play efficiently in the box.

4. Arkansas: This group is a little inexperienced, but there is a lot of talent to go around. Things start with safety Tramain Thomas. Thomas was fourth on the team in tackles last season and grabbed four interceptions. Thomas looked even better this spring, making play after play. Fellow senior Elton Ford should get time at safety, and converted corner Eric Bennett should get reps as well. Hybrid linebacker Jerico Nelson enhances the group when he drops back with the safeties and Isaac Madison returns at one of the corner spots and should team up with Darius Winston. The two have 27 career starts under their belts.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ secondary has to improve after underachieving a year ago, and South Carolina has the weapons to do it. Corner Stephon Gilmore wasn’t at his best last year, but has tremendous cover ability and speed to be tops at his position. Akeem Auguste moved from safety back to his more natural position at corner and should give the Gamecocks one of the top corner tandems in the SEC. DeVonte Holloman moved to the Spur linebacker spot, so there are still questions at safety, but D.J. Swearinger really impressed this spring and some think he’s the most gifted defensive back in Columbia. Replacing Holloman’s spot is going to be tough, and the coaches have yet to find someone to solidify that position.

6. Vanderbilt: This is the strongest part of Vanderbilt’s team. The Commodores return a heap of talent, starting with senior corner Casey Hayward, who was a second-team All-SEC pick a year ago. Hayward led the SEC with 11 pass breakups and had six interceptions. Safety Sean Richardson led the team with 98 tackles and would start on a lot of teams in the SEC. The other safety spot is occupied by Kenny Ladler, who was one of the top safeties in the league last season, even as a freshman. Junior Trey Wilson had a great spring and could move past last year’s starter Eddie Foster on the depth chart.

7. Georgia: Like most positions at Georgia, there’s no shortage of talent. However, there are still questions. Senior Brandon Boykin is solid at one of the corner spots with his natural corner instincts, great speed and is the defensive leader. Sanders Commings is talented and has the best size, but he’ll have to battle Branden Smith at the other corner spot. Smith is a total athlete, but he has to improve his coverage skills. Bacarri Rambo is solid at safety, but he needs to return to the form he had as a freshman. Finding someone to line up next to him is important. With Alec Ogletree moving to linebacker, there is a hole at safety and one of Georgia’s newcomers might have to step in this fall.

8. Florida: The Gators would have been higher on this list had it not been for the dismissal of All-SEC corner Janoris Jenkins. There’s a gaping hole at corner, and the hope is that junior Jeremy Brown can help fill it. He finally played after a severe back injury kept him out for two years, and while he struggled at times, Florida’s coaches were very impressed with his play this spring. Sophomore Cody Riggs was a pleasant surprise at corner last season and is battling unproven senior Moses Jenkins. There is nothing but youth and inexperience behind them. At safety, Matt Elam had a good spring at strong safety, while free safety wasn’t totally locked down by Josh Evans. The good news is that Florida signed six defensive backs this year.

9. Tennessee: This group could be decent, but there are so many questions. We aren’t sure if star Janzen Jackson will return after leaving school this spring. Prentiss Waggner moved from safety to corner last season, where he was an All-SEC performer, and then back to safety when Jackson left. But he might be back at corner this fall. If Waggner is a corner and there’s no Jackson, there’s an enormous hole at safety. If he stays at safety, then there’s one at corner. Fortunately, Brent Brewer, a former minor league baseball player, is a solid safety, and corner Marsalis Teague returns after converting from receiver last season. Incoming junior college transfer Byron Moore should compete immediately for time at corner.

10. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience with four senior starters returning, but the unit has to show that it can be consistent in big games. Safety/linebacker hybrid Winston Guy leads the group with his speed, strength and athleticism, and will move down into the box as the nickel linebacker. Seniors Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley are back at corner after combing for 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior Martavius Neloms began the spring as the starter at corner, but could see more time at safety this fall. Mychal Bailey will line up at safety and was second behind Guy with two interceptions last season. Inexperience behind this group is still a problem.

11. Auburn: Things started off poorly when senior safety Michael McNeil was one of the four players arrested for robbery and later dismissed this spring. McNeil, who started seven games last season, was supposed to be one of the stars of the Tigers’ defense this fall. Now he’s gone and former corner Neiko Thorpe is moving over to safety. The move actually benefits the hit-first defensive back. T’Sharvan Bell is at corner and has the speed and tight cover skills to be one of the best at his position. After that, it’s a free-for-all. Incoming freshman Erique Florence should get an opportunity to come in and play immediately at safety.

12. Ole Miss: This group had to hear about how it was the goat of last season’s 4-8 campaign after allowing 246 passing yards a game. It was a motivational tool this spring, but there’s a lot of work to do. New defensive backs coach Keith Burns was pleased with the spring progress and really liked how JUCO transfer Wesley Pendleton played at corner. He’s competing to take one of those spots from either Marcus Temple, who missed spring with injury, or Charles Sawyer, who had to be pushed at times this spring. The reliable Damien Jackson is back at safety and could line up next to Brishen Mathews, who got good playing time last season, but is still unproven. JUCO transfer Ivan Nicholas and freshman Cliff Coleman will compete for time at safety and corner, respectively.

Video: Auburn DB T'Sharvan Bell

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
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Chris Low talks with Auburn DB T'Sharvan Bell.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Gene Chizik didn’t flinch when the masses were howling back in December 2008 about Auburn hiring somebody with a 5-19 career head-coaching record.

He had a plan.

Fresh off Auburn’s first national championship since 1957, Chizik isn’t flinching now, either, when he looks at his 2011 roster and sees 35 names missing -- including those of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Lombardi Award winner -- from the team that captured the crystal trophy out in the Arizona desert in January.

You see, he still has the same plan.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
AP Photo/Dave MartinGene Chizik had a plan for Auburn's program when he became coach and being the reigning champs does not change the plan.
“My whole thing since I got here was that I wanted to make sure we dig deep and build a foundation so we can do this for a long time,” Chizik said. “That’s been our goal since we got here. We haven’t changed. We haven’t changed course, and we’re not going to.

“We know we have to rebuild some numbers, but our expectation here is to go back out and again compete for championships. Just like I said two years ago, I can’t put a timetable on any of that. I have no idea. But that’s what our goal will be again down the road, and we feel confident we will do that.”

Given what he’s accomplished in a little more than two years on the Plains, who’s doubting him?

The Tigers followed up their national title by reeling in the nation’s No. 3 signing class in February, according to ESPN Recruiting. That’s after pulling in a class that was ranked No. 4 nationally in 2010.

“You ride around here and see, 'Auburn, 2010 national champions.' That’s big,” sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “It’s something that hasn’t happened around here a lot, but we’re trying to go out there and do it again.

“We want to win championships, not just a championship.”

If the Tigers are going to make another run, they will have to do it with one of the SEC’s most inexperienced teams next season.

Freshmen and sophomores will dominate the two-deep, and it’s going to be critical that the 2010 signing class lives up to its billing.

Guys like defensive end Corey Lemonier, defensive end Craig Sanders, defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, linebacker Jake Holland, receiver Trovon Reed, offensive guard Ed Christian and running back Mike Dyer need to make this their team.

Several players from the 2010 class showed flashes of brilliance a year ago. In fact, Dyer was the offensive star in the 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game.

This coming season, it’s imperative that they become the backbone of this team if the Tigers are going to keep their elite status in the SEC.

“It’s our time,” Whitaker said. “Those other guys showed us the way. We got a taste of it and like the way it tastes. We know what everybody is saying about us, that all of our good players are gone. We hear it every day from our coaches. They scream it out on the practice field, pushing us and motivating us.

“The thing is that we did lose a lot of great players, but we still have a lot of great players here. People just haven’t seen them.”

Chizik isn’t downplaying the challenge that awaits the Tigers this coming season.

He’s also not conceding anything.

After all, it’s not as if Auburn was everybody’s choice to win a national championship this time a year ago.

Still, losing a player the caliber of Cam Newton is ominous enough when you look at everything he did for Auburn. But four of the five starters in what was the best offensive line in the league are also gone, not to mention the Tigers’ most productive receiver the last two years -- Darvin Adams.

Defensively, Eguae is the only returning starter up front, while cornerback T’Sharvan Bell and converted safety Neiko Thorpe are the only other two defensive starters from the BCS National Championship Game who are back.

“We’re going to have to have a lot of young guys step to the plate,” Chizik said. “A lot of our young guys are going to have to grow up fast, and that’s just the way that it is, starting with our offensive line all the way back to our secondary. I also think it’s going to be important that they experience some success and understand what it’s like to be successful early, especially with our schedule.”

The Tigers face road trips to Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU during the first eight weeks of the season and also have home games against Mississippi State and Florida during that stretch.

Whereas six of the Tigers’ first eight games were at home last season, there won’t be many opportunities to catch their breath in 2011.

“It’s not that we won’t have talent. We just won’t have experience,” said Chizik, who also expects several true freshmen to play key roles next season. “Experience is a huge part of the puzzle. I don’t want to use the word ‘rebuild.’ That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that we’re going to have to have some guys mature, and they’re going to need some success early.”

SEC lunch links

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
12:05
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A few SEC links to munch on:

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