Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Razorbacks among SEC teams looking to reload
By Chris Low
As signing day approaches, Chris Low takes a look at the recruiting needs for each team in the SEC:
The Crimson Tide lose three of their top wide receivers in D.J. Hall, Matt Caddell and Keith Brown. There's very little returning experience at receiver, which means Nick Saban is looking hard for guys who can make things happen on the perimeter. The biggest need defensively for Alabama is at linebacker. The Crimson Tide weren't very deep to begin with last season at the position and had to play some guys who probably weren't completely ready. Alabama could also use some safety help right away.
Talk about losing the farm. Arkansas' running back corps took a huge hit when Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis announced their intention to take their acts to the NFL. The Hogs need to replenish their backfield and would like to find a big back in the mold of Hillis. The Hogs' offense scored 56 touchdowns last season, and the players who scored 41 of them are gone. With Bobby Petrino taking over as coach, the Razorbacks need to find a quarterback who is comfortable with his system. Wide receiver is another immediate need. Arkansas was also gutted in the secondary. Matterral Richardson, Kevin Woods, Michael Grant and Matt Hewitt are all gone. Cornerback is where the Hogs need the most help.
One of the areas the Tigers targeted heavily this recruiting period was defensive back. Cornerback Patrick Lee departs, as does safety Eric Brock. With new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin on board, he'll no doubt be looking for a quarterback to run his version of the spread offense. Defensive tackle Pat Sims decided to leave school early, meaning the Tigers lose three of their four starters on the defensive line. Anybody who's followed Tommy Tuberville's teams very closely knows he's always looking to stock up on defensive linemen.
Quarterback Tim Tebow wants to still be walking when he's 50, which means the Gators are searching for running backs to take some of the load off the Heisman Trophy winner in the running game. Tebow was the Gators' running game this past season. The Gators' undoing in 2007 wasn't on offense. Defense was the problem, specifically stopping the pass. With defensive end Derrick Harvey leaving early for the NFL, it underscores the need for more pass-rushers and guys who can get to the quarterback. Florida started a pair of freshmen in the secondary, but the leader of that unit, strong safety Tony Joiner, is gone. The Gators will gladly take all the help they can get in the secondary after finishing last in the SEC in pass defense (258.5 yards per game).
Tailback Knowshon Moreno was the rage last season in the SEC and the best freshman in the league. But with Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin departing, a deep Georgia running back stable has thinned. The Bulldogs will be looking for depth to go around Moreno. The Bulldogs had one of the youngest offensive lines in the SEC last season. But its anchor, center Fernando Velasco, is departing along with right tackle Chester Adams. The Bulldogs would like to add some more young talent up front offensively. There appears to be some budding stars in the Georgia secondary, but the Bulldogs are still looking to bolster both the cornerback and safety positions. Safety Kelin Johnson was a big loss for the Bulldogs.
The obvious loss for Kentucky was Andre' Woodson at quarterback. But even more pressing is finding some guys who can catch the ball and make plays. Gone are wide receivers Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, not to mention tight end Jacob Tamme. Even though the Wildcats were relatively young on their defensive line, they will look to bring in more depth. In particular, they would like to find a dynamic pass-rusher. Center Eric Scott is the lone departing senior starter, but the Wildcats will pay particular attention to adding depth on their offensive line.
The Tigers have been able to stockpile talent over the past few years at several different positions. But offensive line is probably where they need the most help. They were thin there this season and not particularly strong on the right side. Some of the best news for LSU following the BCS national championship game was that defensive end Tyson Jackson and middle linebacker Darry Beckwith were staying in school. Nonetheless, the Tigers would like to build their depth at linebacker. Weakside linebacker Ali Highsmith was a big loss.
Like most teams, Ole Miss needs to add some depth on its defensive line, particularly at tackle. It's an issue that could really jump up and bite the Rebels in two years. The Rebels lose two senior quarterbacks in Seth Adams and Brent Schaeffer. Jevan Snead, a transfer from Texas, will make his highly anticipated debut at Ole Miss next season after sitting out last year. But the Rebels are still thin at the position. The Rebels' top two rushers from a year ago, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bruce Hall, are both gone and take a combined 1,371 rushing yards with them. It's no secret that new coach Houston Nutt likes to run the ball, which makes running backs a priority.
Soon after winning the Liberty Bowl back in December and completing an 8-5 season, Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said the next step for the program was getting more speed and more playmakers on offense. That's been a priority for the Bulldogs this recruiting period, especially at receiver. Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs lose both of their tight ends -- Jason Husband and Dezmond Sherrod -- and will be looking for their future replacements. The Bulldogs lose both of their starting defensive ends, including All-SEC performer Titus Brown. They're looking for more depth at both tackle and end.
One of South Carolina's biggest needs is defensive backs. The Gamecocks signed several last year, and most of those never made it to campus. They may end up signing as many as five or six players in this class who are destined to play in the secondary. Cory Boyd, the Gamecocks' Mr. Do-It-All at running back, has moved on, and Mike Davis will be a senior next season. Rest assured that South Carolina will be looking for help at running back, particularly guys versatile enough to be effective in both the running and passing game. Steve Spurrier is always looking for quarterbacks. He never seemed completely comfortable with Blake Mitchell and Chris Smelley last season. He's counting on redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia to be the answer. But with Mitchell gone, the Gamecocks could use some more insurance at a position that's never quite set with Spurrier.
Dominant defensive line play was how Phillip Fulmer managed to take the Vols' program to a national championship level when he stepped in as head coach in 1993. Things have changed, though, and defensive line depth is the Vols' most glaring need as they look to 2008. They're especially thin at tackle. Jerod Mayo's decision to turn pro was a big loss for the Vols. He's the kind of linebacker who has excelled in John Chavis' system. The Vols will be looking for a few more like him this recruiting season.
The Commodores could use some immediate help on their offensive line, especially with the loss of tackle Chris Williams, who has a chance to become the first Vanderbilt offensive lineman to go in the first round of the NFL draft since Will Wolford in 1986. All five offensive line starters from 2007 are gone (161 career starts). Vanderbilt finished 15th nationally in total defense in 2007, but took some heavy graduation hits in its front seven. Gone are three starters up front, as well as big-play linebackers Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs. Defensive linemen and linebackers will be at a premium. Now that record-setting receiver Earl Bennett has decided to take his shot at the NFL a year early, Vanderbilt needs to find some more playmakers on the outside.
Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.