SEC: Washaun Ealey

Signing day booms and busts revisited

February, 6, 2013
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There are always surprises and disappointments in every signing class.

It’s just the nature of the business, although I’m not sure it’s politically correct to refer to recruiting as a business. At least, not in the SEC.

Anyway, with most of the hay in the barn from national signing day 2013, keep in mind that it’s impossible to evaluate prospects only hours after their letters of intent are faxed in. So much can happen -- both good and bad -- over the next couple of years.

If you don’t believe so, here’s a look back at the “best surprises” and “biggest disappointments” for all 14 SEC teams going back four years ago to the 2009 signing class.

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Chance Warmack developed into one of college football's top offensive linemen.
Best surprise: OG Chance Warmack (Atlanta)

Warmack was not an ESPN 150 prospect, and 34 other players were ranked ahead of him that year in the state of Georgia. The home-state Bulldogs didn’t recruit him, but he landed at Alabama and became a three-year starter for the Tide and established himself this past season as the most dominant interior offensive lineman in college football.

Biggest disappointment: WR Kendall Kelly (Gadsen, Ala.)

Ranked as the No. 7 receiver in the country by ESPN, Kelly moved to defensive back, experienced some health issues and wound up taking a medical hardship.

ARKANSAS

Best surprise: WR Cobi Hamilton (Texarkana, Texas)

Unranked among the top 40 receivers nationally, Hamilton didn’t get an offer from Texas until two weeks prior to signing day. He stuck with the Hogs and blossomed in Bobby Petrino’s offense. Hamilton led the SEC this past season with 1,335 receiving yards and caught 18 career touchdown passes.

Biggest disappointment: CB Darius Winston (Helena, Ark.)

Winston was the most coveted in-state prospect since Darren McFadden and ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 cornerback in the country. But he never developed into a full-time starter at Arkansas and struggled with consistency. He was injured for part of this past season, his final one in a Hogs uniform.

AUBURN

Best surprise: WR Emory Blake (Austin, Texas)

Blake was ranked as the No. 73 receiver in the country by ESPN and chose Auburn on signing day over Texas Tech and Colorado. He finished his career as Auburn’s fifth all-time receiver with 128 catches and 16 touchdown receptions.

Biggest disappointment: QB Tyrik Rollison (Sulphur Springs, Texas)

Rollison was a Parade All-American and considered one of the Tigers’ prized signees in the 2009 class. He redshirted his first season, and after being suspended for the Outback Bowl, transferred to Sam Houston State that next spring and then to Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

FLORIDA

Best surprise: OG Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The Gators got Halapio as the No. 144-ranked offensive guard in the country, and when he committed in May, he had very few offers. Now heading into his senior season at Florida, Halapio has 33 starts under his belt and is one of the leaders of the Gators' offense.

Biggest disappointment: DT Gary Brown (Quincy, Fla.)

Brown was ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country by ESPN, but reported to school overweight and redshirted his first season. He was dismissed that next February without ever playing a down at Florida following his arrest for allegedly slapping a woman at a party.

GEORGIA

Best surprise: S Shawn Williams (Damascus, Ga.)

Williams was not ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia. He made his mark initially on special teams and then emerged as the Bulldogs’ enforcer in the secondary from his safety position. He was second on the team with 98 tackles this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga.)

Ealey was an ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 8 running back in the country. He led the Bulldogs in rushing each of his first two seasons, but a pair of suspensions landed him in hot water with coach Mark Richt. Ealey was encouraged to move on following his sophomore season and wound up transferring to Jacksonville State.

KENTUCKY

Best surprise: OG Larry Warford (Richmond, Ky.)

Not ranked among the top 50 guard prospects in the country, Warford established himself as one of the top guards in the SEC the past two seasons and earned All-SEC recognition as a senior.

Biggest disappointment: QB Morgan Newton (Carmel, Ind.)

An ESPN 150 prospect, Newton made the SEC All-Freshman Team his first season. But his career never took off from there, and he was plagued by a shoulder injury in 2011. He served mainly as a backup this past season and finished his career with 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

LSU

Best surprise: DT Bennie Logan (Coushatta, La.)

Logan was ranked as the No. 72 defensive end in the country, and LSU initially offered him as a grayshirt. But a firm offer came in the weeks leading up to signing day, and Logan blossomed into one of the SEC’s top defensive tackles each of the past two seasons.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield, La.)

Davenport was one of 10 ESPN 150 prospects LSU signed in 2009, and he was ranked as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country. Some had him ranked as a five-star prospect, but he was never able to crack the defensive line rotation at LSU and eventually moved to offensive line. He transferred to Tulane after this past season without ever starting a game at LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

[+] EnlargeJohnthan Banks
Spruce Derden/US PresswireJohnthan Banks went from unnoticed out of high school to arguably the nation's top defensive back.
Best surprise: CB Johnthan Banks (Maben, Miss)

Banks’ only scholarship offer was to Mississippi State. He was from a tiny town in Mississippi and flew under the radar, but wound up being a four-year starter and won the Jim Thorpe Award this past season as the top defensive back in college football. He finished with 16 career interceptions to tie the Bulldogs' all-time record.

Biggest disappointment: RB Montrell Conner (Monroe, La.)

Conner had offers from USC, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee and was ranked as the No. 7 running back prospect in the country by ESPN. He redshirted his first season and left the program in August of that next year. He attended junior college in 2010 and then signed with Troy.

MISSOURI

Best surprise: RB Kendial Lawrence (Rockwall, Texas)

Lawrence picked Missouri over SMU, Louisville and Iowa State and was ranked by ESPN as the No. 100 running back in the country. He capped a solid career at Missouri this past season by rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: QB Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.)

A dual-threat quarterback and one of the top prospects in the state of Missouri, Dalton enrolled in school early. But he was arrested twice in less than four months and dismissed from the team before he ever played in a game.

OLE MISS

Best surprise: LB Mike Marry (Largo, Fla.)

Ranked as the No. 94 prospect in the state of Florida and unranked in the ESPN 150, Marry has been one of the leaders of the Ole Miss defense the past two seasons from his middle linebacker position. He had 10.5 tackles for loss this past season to finish second on the team. A three-star prospect, Marry picked Ole Miss over Duke, Iowa State and South Florida.

Biggest disappointment: WR Pat Patterson (Macon, Miss.)

Ole Miss beat several big-name teams, including Alabama, to get Patterson, an ESPN 150 prospect and widely considered the top prospect in the state of Mississippi that year. He showed flashes as a true freshman, but couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field and was dismissed prior to his sophomore season after catching just 12 career passes.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Best surprise: S D.J. Swearinger (Greenwood, S.C.)

A three-star prospect, Swearinger was originally committed to Tennessee, but backed off that pledge after Phillip Fulmer was fired and signed with South Carolina. Swearinger ended up being a three-year starter for the Gamecocks and finished second on the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-SEC selection this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla.)

An ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 6 running back in the country, Giles left the team early during his sophomore season after plummeting down the depth chart behind Marcus Lattimore and a few others.

TENNESSEE

Best surprise: WR Zach Rogers (Nashville, Tenn.)

Even though he wasn’t nearly as heralded as most of the signees in the Vols’ 2009 class, Rogers emerged this past season as one of the more underrated receivers in the SEC with 32 catches, including seven touchdowns, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch.

Biggest disappointment: RB Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan.)

Brown has some serious competition for this dubious distinction. There were multiple disappointments in the Vols’ 2009 class. But as ESPN’s No. 2-ranked running back prospect in the country, Brown gets the nod. He rushed for 460 yards as a freshman, but sat out that next spring practice and never played again for the Vols after Lane Kiffin left for USC.

TEXAS A&M

Best surprise: WR Ryan Swope (Austin, Texas)

Swope was more of a running back coming out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the No. 116 athlete in the country. He carved out a splendid career at Texas A&M in becoming the Aggies’ all-time leading receiver. In his last two seasons, he caught 161 passes, including 19 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Henderson (Dallas)

Henderson was ranked by ESPN as the No. 16 defensive tackle in the country, but failed to qualify academically and didn’t make it to campus.

VANDERBILT

Best surprise: RB Zac Stacy (Centerville, Ala.)

Alabama and Auburn both passed on Stacy, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 98 running back prospect nationally. He finished his Vanderbilt career this past season by rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight year and set the Commodores’ all-time rushing record in the process.

Biggest disappointment: WR Brady Brown (Argyle, Texas)

Brown was ranked among the top 60 prospects in the state of Texas, and the Commodores were hoping he could add some punch to their passing game. He suffered a leg injury as a freshman and wound up leaving the program following the 2011 season without catching any career passes.

Gurley and Marshall are a reliable duo

September, 19, 2012
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Todd Gurley and Keith MarshallAP Photo, Getty ImagesGeorgia running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been a breath of fresh air at the position.

ATHENS, Ga. – To say that Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is relieved to see the work true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have put in is downplaying the significance of their contributions.

For a position that has been so snake bitten the last few years, these two have brought encouragement back to the running back position with their play and their attitudes.

“Relieving is a bit of an understatement,” McClendon said with an enormous smile.

Through three games, they’ve combined for 458 rushing yards and five touchdowns, with Gurley leading the team with 276 of those yards and four scores. But as their fame grows, so does their humility, which is very refreshing to McClendon.

It’s also helps that they’re perfectionists. Their individual skill is unmistakable, but their obsession with correcting and improving the small things has tremendously helped their development.

“Being consistent with all the small stuff is one thing that’s helped those guys to get in the position to make those big runs,” McClendon said. “Obviously, their ability takes over, but their attention to detail is uncanny for the being as young as they are.”

It can be difficult for young players to grasp the importance of fundamentals, especially when they’re used to just grabbing the ball and going. But Gurley and Marshall are different. Their willingness to excel in all areas have helped them become that much more reliable at a position that has seen a truckload of talent disappear over the years.

With former starters like Washaun Ealey, Caleb King and Isaiah Crowell leaving the program within the last year because of off-field issues, there was fear that Gurley and Marshall would become statistics instead of players.

Fortunately for Georgia’s staff, the freshmen had other plans.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing and hope none of that happens to us,” Gurley said.

So, for the first time in a while, Georgia has a backfield it can completely rely on. With Ken Malcome, who opened the season as the starter, banged up, more has been put on the freshmen, and they’ve responded without nerves or hesitation.

“There’s nothing to really be nervous about because we know what to do,” Marshall said.

Center David Andrews has been thoroughly impressed with the kids, as well. He said blocking for them is much easier because they’re both smart and talented.

This offense has seen a significant increase in big plays from the backfield with Gurley and Marshall. Last year, the longest run from a true Georgia running back was a 29-yarder by Crowell.

This year, Gurley and Marshall have combined to rush for seven runs of 20-or-more yards. Gurley has runs of 55, 44 and 38 to go along with a 100-yard kickoff return that went for a touchdown.

“They’re two special guys. There’s no doubt about it,” Andrews said. “We just need them to stay healthy because they’re definitely reliable guys.”

They’re also good friends and roommates, which Gurley said helps them become even better players. Even though they’re fighting for the starting spot at the same position, Gurley said their time together away from the field helps them on it. They pick each other’s brains, give advice and go over technique.

“We have a good relationship, which is hard to come across for people at the same position and are competing (for the starting spot),” Gurley said.

When they have down time, they lighten the mood by playing H.O.R.S.E. in their dorm with a mini basketball hoop, which Gurley says he dominates regularly.

While Gurley has the edge in mini-ball, he wouldn’t be the same without Marshall on the field. The two complement each other with their running styles, as Gurley is the pounder and Marshall is the speedster. It not only frees them up for breathers, but it helps the offense, expanding what it can do.

Both still have a ways to go, but for the first time in a while, the Bulldogs can rely on their backfield to help guide this offense.

SEC lunch links

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
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Welcome to our Thursday lunch links:
Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon has an exact number for the amount of running backs he’d like to use against No. 5 Boise State on Saturday.

“I would like to suit up every stinking one of them,” McClendon said without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

That would be five -- Richard Samuel, Isaiah Crowell, Ken Malcome, Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis. Suspended Carlton Thomas would have made it six.

[+] EnlargeRichard Samuel
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiRichard Samuel, with his six career starts, is the veteran of Georgia's running back corps.
On one hand, it’s nice to have five bodies in the backfield. On the other, those five have a combined six starts in 22 games; all coming courtesy of Samuel, who moved back to running back after a short stint at linebacker. The other four have no game experience.

This isn’t an ideal situation for a team with SEC championship aspirations that must face a Broncos defense that ranked seventh nationally against the run (103.77 yards per game) last year.

The Bulldogs were supposed to return the shifty but troubled Washaun Ealey and senior Caleb King. Ealey left the team in May and King was ruled academically ineligible.

But all is not lost.

Samuel, who will be the Bulldogs’ bruiser at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, has become a teacher for Georgia’s young runners, and the indications from Athens are that Crowell, the No. 1 running back coming out of high school last year, is legit.

Samuel said his time at linebacker can help him as a running back because of his ability to read defenses faster and know where holes will form. He’s bestowed that knowledge on Crowell and has seen him pick things up faster than he imagined.

“I feel like I can point out things that people who haven't played in this league or haven't gotten any snaps against an opponent and tell them what to look for,” Samuel said.

What he can’t teach is dealing with hype, something Crowell says he’s ignored, but there’s still some diva in him.

Tuesday, Crowell blew the media off, myself included, for close to three hours before Georgia’s sports communication personnel tracked him down at a tutoring appointment and brought him back for interviews just after 10 p.m.

Crowell admitted his time management is an issue, but feels his nerves won’t be Saturday. He’s ready for his first game to be over “as soon as possible” so he can get into the rhythm of the season.

“That’s what I came here for, really, just to play and play early and do whatever I can do to help my team win,” Crowell said.

Numerous fans greet him more than the media, putting more pressure on his plate. He tries to shut it out, and his coaches feel he’s done a good job of focusing on football.

“He has a very, very good understanding of that,” McClendon said. “We have to make sure we keep preaching that to him.”

While five running backs are available, Samuel and Crowell will get the brunt of the carries.

With their different running styles, Samuel expects that he and Crowell will be dynamic together. He envisions his power and Crowell’s speed and elusiveness complementing each other well, forcing Boise State to adjust more on defense, throwing its rhythm off.

For McClendon, it isn’t so much about using two different types of runners, it’s about finding players who can operate the offense best.

“Styles aside, you want two guys who are going to be productive,“ McClendon said. “You want the production that those guys give you, it doesn’t matter what style it is, whether it’s small or big. You want guys who are going to be productive and running your every-down offense.”

Saturday is almost here and McClendon's group is getting restless. It’s out to prove its doubters wrong, but McClendon has stressed to his players to focus on helping the team before helping their reputations.

The image of the running game won’t matter if the Bulldogs get the victory, McClendon said.

“I’m very excited, but the biggest thing is that we have to get there,” he said. “Everyone around is getting a little itchy and ready to play, but you have to make sure you’re doing all the things in the process right in order to get the result that you want on Saturday.”
Georgia is getting some help at running back.

After the departure of Washaun Ealey and the academic ineligibility of Caleb King wrecked the Bulldogs’ running back depth, Georgia's coaching staff is bringing back a familiar face to the position in linebacker Richard Samuel, coach Mark Richt announced Thursday.

Samuel played both linebacker and running back in high school, but wanted to play running back in college, so Georgia signed him as one. In his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Samuel played in 22 games, including starting six in 2009, and carried the ball 114 times for 528 yards and three touchdowns.

After failing to move up on the depth chart, Samuel moved to linebacker last season, but redshirted due to injuries. He exited this spring in the thick of the competition at one of the middle linebacker spots.

But Georgia is hurting too much at running back and the Bulldogs' staff felt it would benefit this team greatly if Samuel moved back to his first position.

"After discussions with Richard, his family, and our coaches I'm excited that Richard wants to make the move," Richt said. "He's one of our fastest and most powerful players, is very mature, has a strong character and is a man we can count on. I'm proud of him for always putting the team first and I look forward to seeing what he can do."

The Bulldogs need Samuel in the backfield. The top two running backs are gone and outside of incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell, there isn't much excitement at the position. Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome dealt with injuries this spring and even after having a solid spring game, Malcome was moved to fourth on the depth chart entering the offseason.

Crowell has reported to campus, but it will take him some time to adjust. Remember, he just graduated from high school and he has to deal with a boatload of hype. Not to mention it will take him some time to get into college playing shape. Crowell will probably end up being the guy at some point this season, but having Samuel back there to push him will greatly help his development.

"I'm excited about the opportunity at tailback," Samuel said. "I'm ready to do anything that will help the team win."

It might take Samuel some time to adjust back to running back, but having an extra experienced body in the backfield is a relief for Georgia.
Historically, you don't want to be on the losing end of the Georgia-South Carolina matchup.

Since 1992, the loser of this game has failed to make it to the SEC championship game. Surely, Georgia fans remember the 11-2 season in 2007 that featured an early heartbreaking 16-14 loss to the Gamecocks, and South Carolina might have tasted its first SEC championship game in 2005 if not for a 17-15 loss to the Dawgs.

This fall, both teams have the talent to make a title run, and this game should be a major factor in that.

South Carolina, the East's defending champ, will enter the season as the East favorite and returns a solid defensive unit that should feature one of the most ferocious pass-rushing groups in the league. Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are back on offense and if troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia stays focused, the Gamecocks shouldn't miss a beat.

Georgia coach Mark Richt's seat is hot in Athens and a rash of injuries and transfers this offseason didn't help. The offensive line is hurting and the departures of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King at running back means Georgia will rely on incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell even more.

Compared to the rest of the East, these two teams will have relatively easier championship roads. Neither plays Alabama nor LSU and the Bulldogs don't play Arkansas. Florida and Tennessee, who have even more questions surrounding them, play both Alabama and LSU -- back-to-back.

If Richt wants to cool down his seat, he'll have to make a real run to Atlanta, and that means getting past Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. An early SEC win should give Georgia the confidence and momentum to attempt that.

On the move in the SEC

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
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We’re starting to see the normal attrition across the league, players leaving on their own accord or being asked to leave.

If you toss in a few of the injured players who aren’t expected to play next season, you could put together a pretty decent team of those SEC players who have either moved on or won’t be on the field this fall for various reasons.

Here’s a sampling:

OFFENSE
  • Nathan Stanley, QB, Ole Miss
  • Washaun Ealey, RB, Georgia
  • Broderick Green, RB, Arkansas (injured)
  • Mike Blakely, RB, Florida
  • Eric Smith, H-back, Auburn
  • Shaun Kitchens, WR, Auburn
  • Trinton Sturdivant, OL, Georgia (injured)
  • Brent Benedict, OL, Georgia
  • A.J. Harmon, OL, Georgia
  • Seth Oxner, OL, Arkansas
  • Alex Smith, TE, Kentucky
DEFENSE
  • Chris Martin, DE, Florida
  • Kerry Murphy, NG, Alabama (injured)
  • Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee
  • D.T. Shackelford, LB, Ole Miss (injured)
  • Clarence Jackson, LB, Ole Miss
  • Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
  • B.J. Scott, CB, Alabama
  • Mike McNeil, S, Auburn
  • Robby Green, S, Alabama

On the move in the SEC

June, 9, 2011
6/09/11
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Coaches refer to it as attrition, while another name for it might be roster management.

Every team in the SEC has lost at least one player since the end of last season for a variety of reasons. Some have been kicked off the team for getting into trouble. Others were unhappy with playing time and opted to transfer elsewhere. Academics and injuries have also played a role.

Here's a team-by-team list of some of those players who've left prematurely since the end of last season or were injured and won't be on the field in 2011:

ALABAMA
ARKANSAS
  • TE Ryan Calendar
  • PK Eddie Camara
  • OG Cam Feldt
  • LB Austin Moss
  • C Seth Oxner
  • WR Lance Ray
AUBURN
FLORIDA
  • RB Mike Blakely
  • WR Chris Dunkley
  • CB Janoris Jenkins
  • WR Javares McRoy
GEORGIA
  • LB Marcus Dowtin
  • RB Washaun Ealey
  • WR Logan Gray
  • DE Jeremy Longo
  • S Nick Williams
KENTUCKY
LSU
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • LB Michael Hunt
  • S Dennis Thames
OLE MISS
  • WR Jesse Grandy
  • LB Clarence Jackson
  • DE Delvin Jones
  • QB Nathan Stanley
SOUTH CAROLINA
TENNESSEE
  • DT Montori Hughes
  • CB Ted Meline
  • RB David Oku
  • C Cody Pope
  • OL Kevin Revis
VANDERBILT

SEC lunch links

June, 3, 2011
6/03/11
12:05
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A Friday stroll around the SEC:
Last season, South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery exploded onto the SEC scene. He nabbed 88 receptions for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns.

He was, and remains, a matchup nightmare for defenders and the fans think he'll continue to push the Gamecocks by selecting him in our poll last week to have the biggest impact in 2011.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Jeremy Brevard/Icon SMIAlshon Jeffery's size and strength create a matchup nightmare for opponents.
It was a pretty close race. At last count, Jeffery had 28 percent of the vote, with nearly 16,900 people voting.

Jeffery's impact this fall could be even bigger if senior quarterback Stephen Garcia doesn't return. Having a young quarterback like sophomore Connor Shaw taking over the responsibilities at quarterback will make getting the ball in Jeffery's hands that much more important. If there is a target out there that will make a young quarterback comfortable, it's Jeffery.

At 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, Jeffery can out-muscle just about any defender he faces. And with that height, even I could just chuck the ball up in his direction and have him go up and snatch my duck of a pass.

Now, if Jeffery isn't able to duplicate last season's production, that could put a lot of pressure on both Shaw and South Carolina's running game. Marcus Lattimore is a beast in the backfield, but if you take the Gamecocks' top receiving target out, that will allow teams to bear down on the run more and could complicate things for South Carolina's offense.

But the player I would have gone with is Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell. Yes, he hasn't taken a college rep and is just finishing up high school, but things are setting up for him to get a bunch of carries for the Bulldogs this fall. Crowell has tremendous speed and athleticism and if he quickly catches onto the offense, I wouldn't be shocked if the starting spot was his by the midway point in the season.

Former starter Washaun Ealey left the team earlier this week and Georgia has a stable of unproven runners in its backfield. Crowell could be the key to the Bulldogs' running game.

Crowell came in fourth, with 17 percent of the vote.

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower placed second, with 22 percent of the vote, and Arkansas running back Knile Davis was third, with 21 percent.

Hightower, who is finally healthy, will be called upon to make the Crimson Tide's defense much more aggressive, especially in the pass rush. He'll also be looked at as one of the leaders of the unit.

Most of the attention at Arkansas has been on the passing game, but Davis' impact will surely be felt. Though redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Wilson isn't expected to miss a beat filling in for Ryan Mallett, having Davis in the backfield will make him that much more effective.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray took 13 percent of the vote. Bray really came on strong toward the end of the 2010 season and has the tools to make the Volunteers' passing game imposing this fall.

Georgia spring wrap

May, 12, 2011
5/12/11
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2010 overall record: 6-7

2010 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Aaron Murray, OL Cordy Glenn, C Ben Jones, WR Tavarres King, TE Orson Charles, LB Christian Robinson, CB Brandon Boykin, S Bacarri Rambo

Key losses

OG Clint Boling, OT Josh Davis, WR A.J. Green, WR Kris Durham, DE/LB Justin Houston, DE Demarcus Dobbs, LB Akeem Dent, LB Darryl Gamble

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Washaun Ealey (811 yards)

Passing: Aaron Murray* (3,049 yards)

Receiving: A.J. Green (848 yards)

Tackles: Akeem Dent (126)

Sacks: Justin Houston (10)

Interceptions: Bacarri Rambo*, Brandon Boykin*, Sanders Commings* (3)

Spring answers

1. Murray’s team: There’s no question that this is Aaron Murray’s team. He developed a ton of respect from his teammates and coaches last season, but this spring he really took hold of the Bulldogs. He spent more time meticulously studying film and came away with improved footwork and better timing on his passes. He also spent more time working with a group of unproven receivers this spring attempting to not only enhance his play on the field but he wanted to better his teammates as well. Without a target like A.J. Green out there to take some of the pressure off, things won’t be easy for Murray, but the coaches don’t seemed concerned. Murray is the leader this team needs going forward.

2. Strong linebacker corps: Georgia has one of the fastest, most athletic groups at linebacker. The Bulldogs added USC transfer Jarvis Jones to the strong side, while converted safety Alec Ogletree is the new face in the middle. The loss of outside linebacker/defensive end Justin Houston hurt, but Jones helped ease the stress of not having him by being a force on the outside this spring. Some even think Jones might have more physical ability than Houston. Ogletree adds tremendous speed to the unit and should be able to fly all around the field for the Bulldogs. Christian Robinson is back in the middle as well and has the mindset of the perfect leader for this defense.

3. New flanker in town: A.J. Green is gone, but Tavarres King did a pretty good job of filling that void this spring after moving into Green’s flanker spot. Obviously, King doesn’t have the outright talent of Green, but he should be Murray’s go-to-guy this fall and he’s ready to step up and accept that responsibility. Having King step up is certainly a good thing for Murray. There aren’t any other proven receivers for Murray to throw to. Coaches are hoping King will draw some double-teams, which should open the offense up for other players to get involved. There’s talent at the position, but King is the only one who seems immediately ready to make an impact.

Fall questions

1. Finding a running back: Things became more complicated for the Bulldogs when junior Washaun Ealey decided to transfer Monday. Ealey was equipped with the most skill to be the feature back, but his off-the-field issues finally caught up with him. Caleb King is a senior, and while he had a solid spring, he has never taken hold of the position. Ken Malcome and Carlton Thomas dealt with injuries this spring, but Malcome had a solid spring game. The one who should get most of the attention when he arrives this summer is freshman Isaiah Crowell. He was one of the top running back prospects in the country and head coach Mark Richt made it well known that he won’t hesitate to immediately give Crowell the ball on Day 1.

2. The right side: The Bulldogs suffered a major hit to its entire offense this spring when senior Trinton Sturdivant suffered his third severe knee injury. He’s expected to miss the 2011 season, so converted guard Cordy Glenn has moved to left tackle. Glenn should be fine there, but the right side could be an issue. Guard Justin Anderson, who moved from the defensive line, and tackle A.J. Harmon split reps at right tackle this spring, but neither surpassed the other. Tackle Austin Long could also play there, but dealt with a shoulder injury this spring. Guard Kenarious Gates could play tackle if needed as well. The Bulldogs will have to cross-train linemen at guard and tackle and will have to accelerate the development of a handful of incoming freshmen.

3. Championship mindset: Every year it seems like Georgia has the talent to compete for the SEC East crown, but the Bulldogs haven’t made it to Atlanta since 2005. Richt’s seat in Athens is hot and it won’t cool down anytime soon if the Bulldogs don’t get over the hump of underachievement. With the East in disarray at the moment, this is the perfect opportunity for the Bulldogs to strike. Finding a running back and at least one more wide receiver will be crucial, but this team has to escape the habit of not getting the most out of its players. If Georgia doesn’t make a strong run this fall, Richt might be out of chances to get something done in Athens.
Washaun Ealey doesn't sound like someone who's broken up about leaving Georgia.

In an interview Tuesday with Gentry Estes of Dawgs247.com, Ealey said he knew about two weeks ago that he wouldn't be playing for the Bulldogs next season.

[+] EnlargeWashaun Ealey
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWashaun Ealey gained 1,528 yards and rushed for 14 touchdowns in two seasons at Georgia.
"I just wasn't feeling the vibe, I guess," said Ealey, who was given his unconditional release from the program on Monday by Georgia coach Mark Richt, who called it a mutual parting of ways.

"I just feel like, I guess, the University of Georgia wasn't right for me. I'm just looking out for my family back home and thinking about my future and where I want to be in 10 years. ... I just felt like I want to be able to stay focused. For me to be successful, I probably need to go somewhere I can focus."

Ealey led the Bulldogs with 811 rushing yards last season and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, but he'd also been suspended twice during his career. He conceded that he would have done a better job of avoiding trouble if he had it to do over again, but added, "I feel like everything happens for a reason, so I probably wouldn't change anything."

With heralded true freshman Isaiah Crowell joining an already crowded backfield in the fall, Ealey said he wasn't interested in sharing carries with that many different backs. Senior Caleb King, junior Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome all return for the 2011 season.

"I'm a person where I want to be a premier back," Ealey said. "If I was to play here, I would have had to share the backfield with Caleb and Carlton also. Then they were going to try to give the freshman, Isaiah, his chance. He probably was going to get some carries at the beginning of the year, too. I just felt like I didn't want to be in that mix of things anymore."
I’d like to think that the departure of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey comes as a surprise, but it doesn’t.

Monday night, the school announced that the junior, who has two years of eligibility left, had been granted his conditional release to transfer to another school for next season.

"Washaun and I have had several conversations in recent weeks," coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "We both have come to the conclusion that a transfer to another institution would be in his best interest."

[+] EnlargeWashaun Ealey
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWashaun Ealey has been cleared to transfer to another school.
Letting go of Ealey the athlete wasn’t easy, but letting go of the person might have been another story.

Off-the-field issues have clouded the 1,528 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his two seasons at Georgia and have made his school-record five rushing touchdowns he had against Kentucky last season a mere afterthought.

Ealey was suspended for the 2010 season opener after he was arrested for driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident. In February, he was banned from offseason activities after failing to show up for disciplinary running.

Richt lifted the suspension less than three weeks later, but Ealey was almost a nonfactor during spring practice. A nagging hamstring kept him limited and he missed the spring game. Then, in late April, Richt called out Ealey at the Augusta Bulldog Club meeting.

“Washaun has a ways to go still to show me that he deserves to start or even play right now,” Richt said during the question-and-answer portion of the gathering. “He has a ways to go in my book. We’ll see. I love him, though.”

It looks like Ealey never escaped from Richt’s doghouse, and now he’s without a home at the University of Georgia.

Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for both sides is yet to be seen, but Ealey’s departure now leaves the Bulldogs in a bind at running back.

Even with Ealey (hardly) around this spring, Georgia didn’t exactly have the most intimidating stable of running backs. Senior Caleb King, who has dealt with his own discipline issues in the past, was solid during practices, but has yet to show that he’s ready to take over as the feature back in Georgia’s offense. In three seasons, King has 1,271 yards and 10 touchdowns, but has yet to break 600 yards in a season.

Redshirt sophomore Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome dealt with injuries this spring. Malcome returned for the spring game, scoring the game-winning, 12-yard touchdown and finishing with 39 yards rushing.

Still, none of the aforementioned players broke away from the pack. Each has the talent to be a factor in Georgia’s offense, but none have the skill set or game-changing ability that Ealey had.

But all is not lost. The Bulldogs have one more pup entering the stable this summer. Incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell, who was the nation’s No. 1 running back coming out of high school last fall, could immediately be handed the keys to Georgia’s offense.

He’s that good.

Richt made it clear after Crowell signed that he wouldn’t hesitate to put the ball in Crowell’s hands in the season opener against Boise State in September.

While that’s a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, especially at a position like running back, Crowell has the ability to be an impact player in Georgia’s offense once he steps on campus. He’s explosive out of the backfield, has deadly moves in space and has great vision.

As a senior, he rushed for 1,721 yards and 18 touchdowns on 147 carries.

With Ealey out of the mix, Georgia’s coaching staff will instantly accelerate Crowell’s development to get him ready to compete for the No. 1 spot. That’s a lot to put on a freshman, but if the Bulldogs want to compete for the East title, they have to find a running game.

At this point, Crowell could be their best option.

Hope and concern: Georgia

May, 6, 2011
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Georgia yet again has the talent to win the SEC East, but will everything come together to get coach Mark Richt off the hot seat?

Biggest reason for hope: Quarterback Aaron Murray and talented linebacker unit

Murray is arguably the most talented quarterback in the SEC. He's got a huge arm and has great touch on his passes. He went through a few growing pains during his freshman season and endured a 6-7 season, but this spring he really took hold of his team. He stepped up as a leader and made it a point to not only improve his own game but tried to improve the guys around him as well. Georgia's coaches found Murray hanging out in the film room a lot more this spring and could see the subtle changes he was making that made him a much more efficient passer this spring. On defense, Georgia's linebacker unit could be the most athletic in the league. Losing Justin Houston hurt, but two names to remember are Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Jones was praised countless times for his play this spring and should shine at strongside linebacker, while Ogletree, a converted safety, will play in the middle. Ogletree will be able to fly all over the field to make plays. Christian Robinson will also be very good in the middle with Ogletree.

Biggest reason for concern: Unproven offensive skill players

The Bulldogs have a ton of offensive talent, but only Murray, wide receiver Tavarres King and tight end Orson Charles have really made any sort of impact. Those three are reliable, but the rest of the group has yet to prove themselves. The Bulldogs haven't found that elite running back. Washaun Ealey's future is unknown and senior Caleb King was solid this spring, but has yet to really break out. Ken Malcome and Carlton Thomas struggled with injuries this spring. Incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell will have a ton of expectations to live up to when he arrives and he will immediately be in the thick of the running back competition. At receiver, King will be the go-to-guy, but after him there is a cloud of uncertainty. Marlon Brown seemed to come along at times this spring, but was inconsistent. Rantavious Wooten might be the most athletic receiver, but he, too, was inconsistent this spring and didn't play in Georgia's spring game. The rest of Georgia's group hardly has any experience.
Georgia assistant coaches Tony Ball and Bryan McClendon received significant pay raises, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ball, Georgia’s wide receivers coach, has been on coach Mark Richt’s staff since 2006 and is set to make $200,000, which is up from the $165,480 he made last year.

McClendon, who joined the Bulldogs' staff as the running backs coach in 2009, was previously one of the lowest-paid SEC assistants. His salary was $90,000 a year, but he will now make $200,000 each year.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said the raises were results of other schools reaching out to Ball and McClendon. McGarity declined to get into what schools contacted the coaches, but did say that the raises were approved in February and March.

“All I can say is they were legit offers,” McGarity told the AJC. “I think the key is continuity. We had already lost two coaches to other schools. Continuity of staff is important to me and to Mark and we thought it was important to maintain stability, especially.

“They’re well-deserved. Both of these men are tremendous coaches who work very hard and were underpaid, in my opinion. We had some momentum going after recruiting and they had a lot to do with that. All signs are pointing up and we needed to be proactive. We will always be proactive.”

The news of Ball's raise comes just days after the Bulldogs had two wide receivers drafted in the 2011 NFL draft. Junior A.J. Green went fourth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals and senior Kris Durham went in the fourth round to the Seattle Seahawks.

Green, who was arguably the best receiver in the draft, caught 57 passes for 848 yards and nine touchdowns in his shortened 2010 season. He finished his career at Georgia with 166 receptions for 2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Durham was second on the team with 32 catches for 659 yards and three scores. He finished his college career with 64 receptions for 1,109 yards and four touchdowns.

McClendon has a chance to really earn his new paycheck this fall. He has the responsibility of coaching up a talented but unproven receiving group. Junior Tavarres King returns as the most experienced wideout and moved to Green's flanker position this spring. He and quarterback Aaron Murray developed good chemistry this spring and King figures to be the go-to-receiver in Georgia's offense.

Behind him, it's a bit of a mystery. Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten could have the most pure talent of the bunch, but neither has yet to make much of a contribution at Georgia. Brown caught just 11 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown last year, while Wooten snatched seven balls for 41 yards and a score.

The good news for Ball is that both seemed to have their internal light bulbs come on during spring, but the next step is having that carry over to fall.

As for McClendon, he's got a stable of running backs, but inconsistency is an issue. Senior Caleb King made vast improvements in practice, but never really broke away from the rest of the running back pack. Washaun Ealey is easily the most gifted runner, but off-the-field issues have him crammed in Richt's doghouse. For now, we don’t know where Ealey fits in with the running backs.

Next you have Ken Malcome, Carlton Thomas and incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell. Richt didn't hesitate when Crowell signed to say that he could be the guy this fall. Crowell brings great speed, athleticism and strength to the position, but he's young. Malcome and Thomas battled injuries this spring, but Malcome impressed in Georgia's spring game.

Both coaches have their work cut out for them this fall, but getting strong numbers out of their groups will make them well worth the recent investment.

Of note: “Salary actions” were also completed for new offensive line coach Will Friend, who will earn $200,000 this year, and new linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who will earn $250,000.

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