Tide, Tigers Need QB To Stand And Deliver
HOOVER, Ala. -- Alabama was an overwhelming favorite over LSU to win the SEC West in preseason voting at SEC Media Days on Friday.
But the Crimson Tide and Tigers head into preseason camp next month without clear starting quarterbacks.
Whichever team settles its quarterback quandary first might have a leg up in what probably will be college football's most difficult division in 2011.
"It doesn't stand anywhere," Saban said of his team's highly watched quarterback race. "It stands like it stands."
Neither McCarron, who threw 48 passes last season, nor Sims, who was redshirted last year, could get a firm grip on the starting job during spring practice. The Tide must replace departed starter Greg McElroy, who helped lead Alabama to the 2010 BCS national championship.
Saban hasn't entirely ruled out playing McCarron and Sims in games this coming season, either.
"We have two guys that are competing for the quarterback position," Saban said. "We're going to continue to manage those guys through fall camp. Neither guy has a tremendous amount of experience. We have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in both of their abilities. It will be interesting to see who plays better in the game, because we feel like both guys have done a really good job and both guys are talented enough to be very, very successful quarterbacks for our team."
At least Miles has a few more experienced options. Jefferson, from St. Rose, La., has started 27 games during his LSU career. He threw for 1,411 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season.
Jefferson seemed to have an edge in winning the starting job coming out of preseason camp.
"Jordan Jefferson believes this is his team," Miles said. "He's a senior and this is his team."
Mettenberger, a former Georgia player who transferred to LSU from Butler County Community College is Kansas, wowed Tigers fans with his strong arm during spring practice. He threw for 2,678 yards with 32 touchdowns at Butler County last season.
"I think Zach is very talented and very capable," Miles said. "He's coming up to speed. There's competition, no question, and we'll see how it plays out."
Lee, from Brenham, Texas, has a 5-4 record as LSU's starting quarterback. He started eight games in 2008, throwing 14 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.
Miles said he expects LSU's offense to be more pass oriented under new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, a former Louisville coach.
"I think he's more aggressive," Miles said. "I think we'll have opportunities to take more shots."
Quarterback play might determine whether Alabama or LSU has a better chance at competing for an SEC championship.
Both teams will begin to find out where they stand in just a couple of weeks.
Les Provides Miles Of Smiles For Tigers
HOOVER, Ala. -- He eats grass, says weird things and loves to roll the dice on fourth down.
He's LSU coach Les Miles, and his unpredictability has become must-see TV for everybody in college football, even his players.
"It's crazy. I mean, he's a character," LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said of what it was like to play for Miles on a day-to-day basis.
The Mad Hatter is clearly a hit with his players. They love how fearless he is, whether it's calling a fake field goal when nobody else expects it or going for it on fourth down when the defense is daring you to do so.
"Some of the guys, we sit around and talk about that," Baker said. "We never know what to expect from our coach. We love it. We go into every week not knowing what to expect, but we always know that he has our back no matter what the situation."
It's not just on the field, either.
Baker said during his freshman season that Miles showed up for a team meeting in preseason camp wearing a headband and tight shorts and doing his best "Soulja Boy" dance.
Apparently, Miles has an affinity for rap. He and Snoop Dogg are boys.
Baker said he thinks Miles even listens to a little rap from time to time.
"I'll see him on the plane with his headphones, and he'll give it a head rock," Baker said.
Miles, whose Tigers are a consensus top 5 selection to begin the 2011 season, hasn't always been so popular with the LSU fans, who skewered him for well-chronicled clock management snafus in 2009 against Ole Miss and last season against Tennessee.
He's also been known to say things that make you wonder if even he knows what he's trying to say at times.
Baker said one of the players usually brings a dictionary to team meetings.
"Yeah, it's off the wall," said Baker, doing his best to keep a straight face.
One day in practice, Baker said, Miles reeled off a word that stumped everybody.
"I don't even know what the word was," Baker recounted. "It was a long word, seven or eight syllables."
Finally, one of the LSU players looked up the word and explained to everyone what it meant.
Pressed again on what the word was, Baker shrugged and said, "I really don't remember. It happens a lot."
Baker said receiver Russell Shepard does the best impersonation of Miles.
"He's pretty good, too," Baker said.
Sometimes, the LSU assistants are as lost as the players when Miles gets rolling on his Miles-isms, according to Baker.
"You can sort of tell. They look around and wonder," Baker said.
And if he goes to defensive coordinator John Chavis for a translation, Baker said he usually gets the same response.
"He's like, 'Yeah, what coach said,'" Baker said chuckling.
"He keeps us upbeat. We love it. We love playing for somebody like that."
Franklin Mints Commodore Confidence
HOOVER, Ala. -- Cornerback Casey Hayward, the latest in an increasingly long line of good defensive backs at Vanderbilt, marveled Friday morning at the confidence that new coach James Franklin has brought to the Commodores.
"Breathtaking," the senior said. "People say, 'Three years to rebuild.' His message was, 'No. It's not three years. We've got enough talent to win now.' That's bringing light to everybody."
Franklin is selling that confidence to a team that went 2-10 last year, a program that has been to one bowl in the last 28 seasons. You know all the reasons Vanderbilt supposedly can't compete in the SEC: tough academics, NFL city and limited number of walk-ons available to a private university?
Franklin, who came to Nashville after being the coach-in-waiting and offensive coordinator at Maryland, isn't trying to work around those hurdles. He is trying to use them to the Commodores' advantage.
"Four [actually, five] years ago, Stanford was 1-11," Franklin said. "You talk about the transition they were able to make."
Franklin wants impressionable 18-year-olds to think of the value of a Vanderbilt education for the next 40 years. And if the long view doesn't work, he sells the short view, too. Jobs are open at Vanderbilt as we speak.
"These guys want to play early," Franklin said. "We can offer that. We have some good players. We just don't have enough of them."
There is softness in the SEC East that hasn't been there in recent years. If Franklin can get any traction, there is room to move up. Hayward, one of eight returning starters on defense, said he believes.
"He wants to win now," Hayward said. "That makes upperclassmen believe. We don't have two or three years."
Hightower Ready To Roll For Tide
HOOVER, Ala. -- Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower wants to make sure opponents know one thing about him: Last year's performance was a fluke.
After recovering from a knee injury that caused him to miss the last 10 games of the 2009 season, Hightower returned to action last season and wasn't himself. He finished second on the team with 69 tackles, along with nine quarterback hurries and three pass breakups, but didn't display the burst that made him one of the country's most feared players earlier in his career.
"The only time I felt maybe 100 percent [last season] was against Michigan State [in the Capital One Bowl]," Hightower said. "In the A-Day game [this spring], I think I went out and set the tone, let people know that last year was a slump. They say after major knee surgery, the second year is when you pick it up."
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said he believes Hightower is closer to playing like he used to.
"Dont'a has had a fantastic offseason," Saban said. "I don't think he has completely gotten over his injury. He's got his explosive quickness back, his burst in pass rush, and is playing with a little bit more speed, which is more like he played before his injury."
Rebel With A Cause
HOOVER, Ala. -- Superman lives.
Ole Miss senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett, or "Superman" to his fans, is back and ready to exact his revenge on skittish quarterbacks around the SEC.
Lockett, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after suffering an ACL injury early last season, says he's fully healthy and ready for his last romp through the SEC.
Lockett skipped spring practice to recover more but insists he hasn't lost any quickness or mobility.
"It's a knee. A knee heals. Nothing happened to anything else," he said. "I still can tackle, still can run, still can jump, so I'm going to play ball."
Getting Lockett, who was a first-team All-SEC selection by the media, not only improves Ole Miss' defense, especially in the pass rush, but adds a crucial element in the leadership category -- an area that suffered a major blow this spring with the season-ending injury to linebacker D.T. Shackelford. Lockett's outgoing and charismatic personality instantly lifts his players up, and having him on the field this fall will be even more beneficial for the Rebels.
"Means so much to get it back," coach Houston Nutt said. "He is a tremendous leader for us. He does so much with his teammates. He's a winner. I think he's just about there. According to our doctors, he's just about 100 percent, so we expect him to be full go the first game."
Lockett said he felt game-ready late last season when he shed this crutches, and with the season just around the corner, Lockett said his knee is better than it was before he suffered his injury.
"I've made tremendous strides," he said.
"I feel like I'm myself again. I feel like I can do anything now."
LSU: Les Miles
Alabama: Trent Richardson
One Good Thing
Alabama: The Tide led the SEC with 16 players selected on the media's preseason All-SEC team. That's great for PR and means there should be some talent in Tuscaloosa this year, but neither the players nor coach Nick Saban are paying attention to us and what we think.
Good, because the last thing Alabama needs is to get caught in the hype with the goal of winning multiple championships on the line.
"From a logical standpoint, I know there's a couple other teams in our division -- forget about the league -- that have just as many returners starting, and their quarterback," Saban said to the media when asked about being picked to win the SEC. "So even though I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate, which we really can't do, I'm not capable of doing it, I don't understand how you come to the decisions that you come to."
LSU: The Tigers' offense was downright offensive to watch at times last fall, and they know it. LSU was 11th in the SEC in total offense, averaging 341.3 yards per game.
Now, under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, there is more optimism on the bayou when it comes to talking about an offense that the Tigers expect to be more pass-friendly.
"I love it," offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said of the offense. "Coach Kragthorpe brought a new intensity to the offensive side of the ball and he's injected new life in us. We can't wait to get back there during camp, start practicing, get more refined and more like a well-oiled machine. That's how an offense should work -- like a machine."
Ole Miss: The loss of linebacker and emotional leader D.T. Shackelford this spring was absolutely devastating for the Rebels. The centerpiece of the defense is gone and Ole Miss didn't find a replacement this spring.
However, prized recruit C.J. Johnson appears to have what it takes, and Houston Nutt isn't going to hesitate throwing him in the regular rotation early.
"C.J. Johnson doesn't look like a guy just coming out of high school," Nutt said. "Physically he looks the part. So I'm excited about him, getting him going. We'll give him every opportunity to get in the mix.
"Just by default because of D.T. Shackelford's injury, we lose a guy like that, he'll line up second team day one. He'll have every opportunity to play a lot of football."
Vanderbilt: The Alabama secondary is getting a ton of preseason love, and so is LSU's secondary. But Vanderbilt senior cornerback Casey Hayward says not to sleep on the Commodores' secondary when you start ranking the best defensive backfields in the league.
Hayward was a second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches and media. Senior safety Sean Richardson had 98 tackles a year ago, and his running mate at the other safety spot, Kenny Ladler, was one of the most talented freshman safeties in the league last season. Junior cornerback Trey Wilson also looks like he's coming. He was one of the Commodores' most impressive players this spring.
"We don't get a lot of credit because of our record," said Hayward, who was second in the SEC last season with six interceptions. "But production-wise, when you look at the things we did last year, not too many secondaries did that. I think we'll take it to another step this year."
Ole Miss: Kentrell Lockett
Best Of Day 3
Best quote: "It's the best of both worlds. I know I can't play football forever, but a Vanderbilt degree will stick with me for the rest of my life." -- Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith
Best interview: Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett stole the show. It only takes one question for the loquacious Lockett, and he gladly takes it from there.
He joked that ESPN college football analyst Mark May had better beware, because Lockett is gunning for May's job.
Best no-show: LSU receiver Russell Shepard was replaced by center T-Bob Hebert as one of the Tigers' players attending the SEC Media Days. LSU officials cited personal reasons for Shepard not attending, but TigerSportsDigest.com reported that Shepard was dealing with an NCAA compliance issue revolving around his off-campus apartment.
Best explanation: Alabama coach Nick Saban on the advantage of playing a 3-4 defense. "It gives you the best opportunity to play a seven-man front and play split-safety coverages rather than having to be in an eight-man front to stop the run. You have to have the right kind of players to do it. But philosophically, I think that's why you see more and more of that defense."
Best boss: Saban and his wife, Terry, spend time every summer at their home on Lake Burton in north Georgia. Saban has joked in the past that she's the one who calls the shots and said this summer was no different.
"This year, I came home for two days [to Tuscaloosa]. Of course, there's somebody there who I can tell what to do when I come back," Saban cracked. "Then I go back [to the lake house] and give an order, and it's like, 'Where do you think you are?' I just needed some place where I could tell somebody what to do."
Best advice: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson has received rave reviews for the way he threw the ball at the Manning Passing Academy. He said the best advice he received there came from ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden.
"He said he'd studied a lot of film on me and that I needed to buy into every play, even if it's a play call I don't like," Jefferson said.
Best running back: The debate will rage all season as to who's the best running back in the SEC. Alabama's Trent Richardson doesn't want to be just the best running back in the SEC, but the best running back in the entire country.
"I want to have my name remembered, be one of those players you can see on the greatest games, someone who was one of the best on the field," Richardson said.
Best friends: They may not be best friends, but Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden and Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower have been friends since they attended an Alabama football camp together in high school.
Hightower said Friday he heartily agrees that Bolden is one of the most underrated players in the SEC.
Bolden's response? "Thanks, that means a lot from somebody who's trying to hit me all the time."
Tracking SEC Media Days
LSU: Jordan Jefferson
Vanderbilt: Chris Marve
SEC Media Days: Recruiting Update
Standards And Practice
SEC commissioner Mike Slive's proposal of a higher academic standard in high school, including raising the minimum GPA, was not well received by Alabama coach Nick Saban. Dave Hooker