Tag:Ben Jones
Posted on: December 29, 2011 10:11 am
 

Outback Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Bryan Fischer


A look at the key matchup that could decide the Outback Bowl. 

Georgia's interior offensive line vs. Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy

Though it wasn't the grueling grind of past years, Georgia still made it through the SEC schedule and saw plenty of good defensive linemen. Outside of games against South Carolina and LSU however, they haven't seen anybody playing at the level that Jerel Worthy has been for Michigan State this season. Named a first team All-American, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior racked up 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks but the numbers don't show how dominating he was during games. His play is one reason why CBSSports.com draft experts have him pegged as a first round pick should he decide to leave school early.

The Bulldogs offensive line has come together better than expected after dealing with injuries and other issues at the beginning of the year. They had their issues with good defensive lines from Boise State, South Carolina and LSU and better buckle up to face another big test in Michigan State. The group gave up just over two sacks a game on the season, good (bad?) enough to rank 80th in the country in that category. Ben Jones is an experienced and battle-tested center who will likely be part of plenty of double-teams of worthy with young guards Kenarious Gates and Chris Burnette. The ability to contain worthy and keep quarterback Aaron Murray upright to deliver a few throws will be key for the offense to move the ball at all down in Tampa.

It's not all about the passing game either, as the Spartans allowed just 104 yards per game on the ground thanks in large part to Worthy. The UGA run game is a bit of a mystery at the moment but they no doubt need all the backs healthy and for the offensive line to get some push up front. Don't expect this to be a high scoring game given the way both teams are constructed but the ability for the Dawgs to break big plays comes down to their offensive line creating holes and time to throw.

This should be a great battle in the trenches but based on how Georgia has fared in other games this season, expect Worthy and his defensive teammates to get plenty of pressure. Don't be surprised if a running back is kept back to pass block more than usual and, given the amount of time between games, expect Mark Richt and the coaching staff to develop an offensive game plan that avoids Worthy as much as possible. In a matchup of two 10-3 teams, this one should go to the group who controls the line of scrimmage the best.

Posted on: December 7, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 11:53 pm
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the SEC.

Awards

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. No SEC player was more electrifying to watch on a weekly basis than the Tide workhorse, whose raw strength and unmatched determination could turn an average four-yard gain (usually into the teeth of half the opposing defense) into must-see TV. Of course, the elusive, explosive 70-plus-yard bursts -- like his showstoppers against Ole Miss and Auburn -- weren't too shabby, either. Few have ever combined those gifts like Richardson, and no one in the SEC was any better this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Claiborne wasn't just the best one-on-one man-coverage corner we saw this season, bar-none, SEC or elsewhere--he might have been the best defender we saw this season, SEC or elsewhere. By erasing his side of the field (except for those lone occasions when he was tested and -- as AJ McCarron found out -- usually ready to make a pick), Claiborne set the tone for the best secondary in the country and played arguably the biggest role of any LSU defender in getting the Tigers to the national title game.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Les Miles, LSU. James Franklin 
has earned legitimate consideration for his work at Vanderbilt. But when you look at not only the juggernaut constructed by Miles in Baton Rouge but his ability in steering it through the storms of the preseason bar fight incident, suspensions, and quarterback controversy, there's not really any other choice to make in this slot.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Brad Wing, P, LSU. A punter, over a running back like Isaiah Crowell? When we're talking about the nation's third-best net punting average for a No. 1-ranked prfect-record team that thrived on field position, you bet. That Wing's best two games came at the best possible times -- at Alabama and vs. Georgia in Atlanta -- makes his selection even easier.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Tyler Wilson, Jr., Arkansas. It was far from a banner year for quarterbacking in the SEC -- only three teams were even able to keep the same starter for all 12 games -- but you wouldn't know it from watching Wilson, whose 3,422 passing yards led the league by nearly 600 yards. No team in the conference was more dependent on their quarterback, but despite taking frequent poundings behind a suspect line Wilson repaid that faith to the tune of a 10-2 record.

Honorable mention: Georgia's Aaron Murray led the league with 33 touchdowns and was the East champions' clearcut best offensive player, but his 12 interceptions were also an SEC high. AJ McCarron struggled for Alabama in the LSU showdown but still finished the year with an SEC-best QB rating and that spot in the BCS title game.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama. It won't win him the Heisman Trophy, but Richardson's brilliant 2011 season -- 1,583 yards, 23 total touchdowns, an eye-popping 6.0 per-carry average despite a league-high 263 carries, and more highlight-reel runs than any running back in the country -- deserves to have cemented his status among the SEC's all-time backfield greats. Not even his predecessor Mark Ingram was ever better.

Michael Dyer, Soph., Auburn. The only back besides Richardson to average more than 100 yards per SEC game, Dyer was often the only thing the sputtering Auburn offense had going for it--and he still finished with 1,242 yards while averaging better than 5 yards a carry.

Honorable mention: Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy quietly enjoyed a breakout season as the league's second-most explosive back behind Richardson, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards a carry.

WIDE RECEIVER

Jarius Wright, Sr. Arkansas. Though not the most heralded of the Hogs' star-studded receiving corps entering the season, Wright quickly established himself as Wilson's go-to receiver and arguably the league's top wideout, finishing in the SEC's top two in receptions (63), yards (1,029), touchdowns (11), and average per reception (16.3).

Da'Rick Rogers, Soph., Tennessee. Like Wright, Rogers was supposed to take a back seat to fellow Vol wideout Justin Hunter. But when Hunter went down with an ACL injury in Week 3, Hunter stepped forward to lead the SEC with 1,040 receiving yards and 67 receptions--despite often being the woeful Volunteer offense's only threatening playmaker.

Rueben Randle, Jr., LSU. Rather than take a tight end, we're promoting a third receiver to our first team to make room for the SEC's biggest downfield threat. Randle caught "only" 50 passes (fourth in the conference) but saw eight of them go for touchdowns and averaged 18.1 yards per completion, making him one of only three BCS-conference receivers nationally to clear both 50 total catches and 18 yards a reception.

Honorable mention: If we'd gone with a tight end, Georgia's Orson Charles (44 receptions, 572 yards, 5 TDs) would have been an easy choice. Alshon Jeffery didn't have anything like the All-American season expected of him at South Carolina, but he was still the only receiver outside Wright, Rogers, and Randle to finish in the league's top seven in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

OT/OG Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama. Whether at guard or tackle, Jones was hands-down one of the nation's best offensive linemen and a deserving All-American who's about to become quite the wealthy individual in the NFL. An easy selection.

OG Will Blackwell, Sr., LSU. The league's best prototype guard this season, Blackwell punished opponents in run blocking and played a major role in LSU's weekly second-half bulldozings on the ground.

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama. The SEC's best center, Vlachos put both his considerable strength and veteran guile to use in leading Alabama to the SEC's most productive rushing attack.

OT Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU. As effective as the LSU ground game was, the line also had to give Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson time to uncork those bombs to Randle. And thanks in large part to senior tackle Hurst, they did; the Tigers allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC.

OT Rokevious Watkins, Sr., South Carolina. Even without Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks averaged more yards per-carry and scored more rushing touchdowns than any team in the league outside of Alabama and LSU, and the much-improved Watkins was a huge reason why.

Honorable mention: Both Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones had strong senior campaigns (following) iffier junior seasons and have strong arguments for first-team inclusion. Kentucky never got anything going on offense, but guard Larry Warford was a bright spot.

ALL-PURPOSE

PR/WR/KR Joe Adams, Sr., Arkansas. Instead of reading this comment or looking up his stats, just watch this video:
 

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Melvin Ingram, Sr, South Carolina. His 13.5 sacks and 8.5 sacks -- both among the SEC's top five totals -- might have been enough anyway. Add in his two defensive touchdowns, critical fake punt touchdown rumble vs. Georgia, and skill at kick-blocking, and he's a total no-brainer.

DT Josh Chapman, Sr., Alabama. When you're the nose tackle that anchors a run defense that not only finishes No. 1 in the nation but allows an unbelievable three rushing touchdowns all season, yes, you've had quite the campaign.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. Don't hold the Vols' poor team numbers (or record) against Jackson; the ever-active veteran finished with 11 tackles-for-loss (second among SEC tackles) despite receiving constant attention from opposing offensive lines.

DE Sam Montgomery, Soph., LSU. Picking the best LSU defensive lineman is like picking which cast member of Arrested Development How I Met Your Mother is your favorite, but we'll go with Montgomery, who combined incredible disruption (9 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss) with stout down-to-down run defense.

Honorable mention: Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox led all SEC tackles in tackles-for-loss with 12.5 and Auburn's Corey Lemonier led all SEC ends with 9.5 sacks; both deserve a tip of the cap.

LINEBACKERS

Jarvis Jones, Soph., Georgia. Todd Grantham's 3-4 system made a star out of Justin Houston a year ago, but it paid even bigger dividends for Jones, who led the SEC in both tackles-for-loss and sacks and his Georgia defense -- one of the nation's best -- in tackles overall.

Courtney Upshaw, Sr., Alabama. Of the many terrors in the Tide linebacking corps, Upshaw may have been the biggest, collecting 17.5 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks, and as much general havoc caused as any player in the country.

Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. No SEC player filled the whirling-dervish tackling-machine middle linebacker role better than the veteran Wildcat, who led the league in tackles for a second straight year and seemed to be three or four places at once late in the season.

Honorable mention: We're pretty sure that Crimson Tide inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower makes the first team in any other league in the nation; given the Tide's unreal rushing defense numbers and Hightower's role in them, we won't argue if you want to put him first in this league, too.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr., Alabama. Much as we've talked up Alabama's run defense, the Tide's pass defense was No. 1, too, and Kirkpatrick was the best player in pass coverage Nick Saban had in 2011--quite the accomplishment considering the competition.

CB Morris Claiborne, Jr., LSU. As much as we admire Claiborne's mustelid teammate in the LSU secondary, Claiborne's outrageous cover-corner skills means that if forced to pick one or the other to build our secondary (or team) around, we don't even have to think very long before taking Claiborne.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. Ho-hum, just another All-American season as the leader of the nation's top pass defense and the second-leading tackler on the nation's top rush defense.

CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU. The Honey Badger is a tad overrated as a corner--which is why he wound up playing safety late in the year when Eric Reid suffered an injury. But it's pretty much impossible to overrate his nose for the ball or knack for the big play, which stands alone as the best in the nation.

Honorable mention: Casey Hayward and his five interceptions (and outstanding ball skills) for Vandy could and maybe should have him in the All-American discussion ... but since this is the SEC secondary we're talking about, he's here. The same goes for Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and LSU's Reid, and though not quite in that class, Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks had a season worth mentioning as well.

SPECIALISTS

P Brad Wing, rFr., LSU. We're assuming the Ray Guy Award voters left him off because they expected to simply hand the thing over each of the next two seasons.

PK Caleb Sturgis, Jr. Florida. His 21-of-25 season was a rare positive for the Gators in difficult season.
Posted on: September 27, 2011 3:13 pm
 

SEC RapidReport roundup: Auburn WR Reed out

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the current news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters (and others).

AUBURN. After last week's decidedly ho-hum display against FAU, it's safe to say the Tigers will need every offensive weapon they can get facing South Carolina this Saturday in Columbia. But one weapon they won't have is redshirt freshman receiver Trovon Reed, who Gene Chizik said yesterday was doubtful for the game with a shoulder injury suffered vs. the Owls. He then confirmed today that Reed will not play against the Gamecocks. Reed has collected 13 receptions so far this season for 91 yards, making him Auburn's second-most productive receiver to date.

The matchup against Carolina will be broadcast on CBS at 3:30 ET Saturday. The Tigers will likely stick with the simplified cover 2 defensive schemes that led to (somewhat) better results against FAU. The inexperienced Tiger offensive line doesn't have its chemistry perfected yet, says senior guard Jared Cooper--potentially a major issue confronting the Gamecocks' beastly defensive line.

ALABAMA. The Tigers' cross-state rivals have their own injury worry with linebacker C.J. Mosley "questionable" for the Tide's showdown with Florida (8 p.m. ET Saturday, also on CBS). Nick Saban said Mosley would be replaced by committee, with Dont'a Hightower adding that no one would be "the equivalent" of Mosley, but that he has confidence in the Tide's linebacking depth.

The game is a homecoming of sorts for Florida native Trent Richardson, whose high school team's nickname was the Gators. Richardson said he raced against Gator speedster Jeff Demps in high school. "For the first 40 meters we were going at it. After that, it wasn’t a race. I think after 80 meters he was 10 meters, maybe 20 meters in front of me," he said.

FLORIDA. The story of the Gators' season so far has been the revitalization of the Jeff Demps-Chris Rainey tag team, but Will Muschamp says there's still more to see. "They’re going to touch the ball," Muschamp said Monday. "The touches we get them could be different and not as conventional as we’ve seen." But Muschamp said that despite those tweaks, the strength of Alabama's run defense meant John Brantley would throw the ball more often as well.

Muschamp said he knows former mentor Saban well--but that it won't help the Gators' preparation, since Saban knows him just as well.

GEORGIA. Bulldog center Ben Jones clipped Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox during the two teams' 2010 meeting, and revealed in advance of this week's rematch that he felt poorly enough about it to write Cox a letter of apology. "I felt bad when I got home," Jones said. "I was like, `Man, that’s wrong.’ "

On the Dawg injury front, linebacker Christian Robinson could return from the foot injury that's kept him out the past two weeks, but lineman Chris Burnette may be out longer than initially thought with his knee injury.

ELSEWHERE: Arkansas senior corner Isaac Madison left the Alabama game with a minor injury, but will return against Texas A&M. Fellow senior defensive back Tramain Thomas also left the game, but for reasons Bobby Petrino said were performance-related ... Despite his strong start to his career (team-high four sacks, five tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles), Jadeveon Clowney still won't start just yet. Melvin Ingram (the SEC's reigning Defensive Player of the Week ) and Devin Taylor remain the team's bookend DEs in their base defense ...

Tennessee
all-purpose back Raijon Neal will focus on the wide receiver position for now ... Injured Vol teammate Herman Lathers was able to jog for 20 minutes at practice Monday. The veteran linebacker is working his way back from breaking his ankle in the spring ... While acknowledging that Texas A&M's move to the SEC was "great for the Southeastern Conference and great for us," Les Miles also added that he found the splintering of the Big 12 "inconceivable." "It's hard for me to figure this," he said. "You're taking the traditional rivalries and throwing them out the window" ... None of the four players who left the West Virginia game with injuries have been ruled out of this Saturday's game against Kentucky ...

Mississippi State is reshuffling its offensive line in advance of their trip to Georgia, with former left tackle James Carmon working at right guard after his recent MCL injury ... Last year, Ole Miss ran for more yards in one game against this week's opponent -- Fresno State -- than they have this year in all four games combined ... One bright spot for Kentucky as they get ready for their trip to Death Valley: senior defensive tackle Mark Crawford will return from a four-game suspension.

Posted on: August 10, 2011 11:49 am
 

SEC RapidReport Roundup, 8/10: Dooley unhappy

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the day's news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters.


TENNESSEE: Derek Dooley was less-than-thrilled with the Volunteers' first scrimmage of fall camp, saying of the offense "they just weren't working together, they looked like 11 individuals out there." And though quarterback Tyler Bray had his moments, Dooley wanted more out of his sophomore signal-caller.

"He made some throws, made a couple of big plays," Dooley said. "But the consistency was nonexistent, it's enough to drive you crazy." For the scrimmage, Bray went 13-of-29 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Former blue-chip receiver Da'Rick Rogers had a productive scrimmage, catching six balls for 77 yards and a touchdown.

GEORGIA: The Bulldogs have named their three new starters on the offensive line, joining senior holdovers Cordy Glenn at tackle and Ben Jones at center: sophomore guards Kenarious Gates (left) and Chris Burnette (right), and senior left tackle Justin Anderson. Of thre three, only Gates made a start in 2010; Anderson was playing on the defensive line.

Two names impressing in the early going are converted linebacker Richard Samuel at running back -- at 6'2, 243 now a much more imposing physical presence than in his first stint at RB -- and wide receiver Marlon Brown. "“Coach (Mark) Richt asked me the other day if I could name one receiver that’s caught my eye," said quarterback Aaron Murray. "I said Marlon. He’s having a tremendous camp. He’s making plays, looks fluid and is real consistent.”

But the highlight of yesterday's practice? 6'4", 330-pound nose tackle Johnathan Jenkins taking an interception back for a score. Also, starting CB Brandon Boykin and potential starting S Jakar Hamilton continue to be held out of practice with hamstring inuries.

AUBURN: Gene Chizik confirmed yesterday that after offseason shoulder surgery, five-star linebacker signee Kris Frost will miss the entirety of the season. Frost likely would have began his Auburn career on the two-deep at outside linebacker. He becomes the second five-star Tiger recruit in as many seasons to miss his freshman year, following tackle Shon Coleman's leukemia diagnosis in 2010.

It doesn't sound like fan favorite fullback Ladarious Phillips will be a major contributor anytime soon for the Tigers; Chizik said he hasn't "bought any stock in his development yet" and that Phillips "has a long way to go."

ALABAMA: To hear wide receiver Brandon Gibson tell it, the rest of the Tide offense isn't taking sides in the QB battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims. " “They both come out with a great attitude, they help each other out, and they're both competitive," Gibson said. "So with either one of them, we're going to be fine.”

As for third quarterback Blake Sims, Nick Saban said he could see the field as the Tide's designated Wildcat quarterback, or even at tailback. After missing Monday's practice with a leg injury, backup offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio (brother of five-star Tide tackle signee Cyrus Kouandjio) participated in drills Tuesday.

AND ELSEWHERE: Starting senior guard Grant Cook was held out of Tuesday's Arkansas practice with a leg injury, but Bobby Petrino doesn't believe the injury is serious. True freshman Brey Cook (no relation, we think) is filling in with aplomb ... At South Carolina, No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney returned to practice after a one-day absence due to a "personal matter." Clowney ran with the Gamecocks' first-team line in practice ... The Florida offensive line wants under-fire quarterback John Brantley to know they've got his back. And though we're not sure about the thoughts of speed-backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey on the switch, Gator powerback Mike Gillislee likes the move to a pro-style scheme ... Sixth-year defensive end Kentrell Lockett sat out Tuesday's practice as Rebel coaches exercised caution with their oft-injured star. Houston Nutt also praised JUCO quarterback transfer Zack Stoudt, saying that after his spring game suspension he had done what he needed to do over the summer.

Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: July 21, 2011 12:33 pm
Edited on: July 21, 2011 2:25 pm
 

Georgia's Mark Richt at SEC Media Days

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

For a coach expected by many to be shown the door at the end of the 2011 season, Georgia's Mark Richt didn't exactly seem consigned to his fate during an upbeat appearance at SEC Media Days.

"If you go in to [athletic building] Butts-Mehre," he said, "there's not one sense of doom or gloom ... Expectations are just as high as they've ever been going into any season. Our goal is to win the Eastern division. That's just the way we think, every single season, and we believe we've got just as good a chance as anybody to do that."

The rest of the highlights from Richt's time at the podium, organized by topic:

The first two games. The Bulldogs start the year off with the most challenging of bangs, playing Boise State in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic and hosting SEC East favorite South Carolina in Week 2. About agreeing to play the Broncos, Richt said "What better way to send a surge of energy through our program than to schedule a game like that? There's risk in playing a team that can whip your tail. Because they might whip your tail. But to get back where we want to be -- highly ranked and highly thought of -- we need to play this game."

About the Broncos themselves, Richt called them "a special football team in the way they approach it ... I've probably never seen anyone play any harder than they do as a team, down after down."

As for Carolina, Richt said understanding the challenge the Gamecocks represent "energized the program in a big way ... everybody understands what it's going to take, preparation-wise."

Recruiting. The most animated Richt became was discussing the Bulldogs' efforts to recruit in-state, which he says was hampered by opponents willing to hand out scholarship offers they don't intend on honoring right away.

"That's our biggest problem at Georgia, is trying to make those evaluations properly," he said. "Because I'll say this: when we offer a kid at Georgia, we mean it. If we offer a kid and he wants to accept that offer, we're not gonna tell him 'Well, we offered you, but we don't want you to commit right now.' If we offer a guy and he commits, he's in ...

"Some out-of-state schools, they'll go blazing through the state offering everybody--not everybody, but a lot of guys. And so the high school coach is like 'Well so-and-so offered him, why didn't you offer him?' It does put pressure on us to offer a guy a little sooner than you'd like to."

Richt also criticized teams that would take an early commitment, and then sever ties with the recruit once they saw a prospect they liked better. "At Georgia, if he commits to us," he said, "we're not dumping him."

The 3-4. Richt expects a big step forward in his team's performance in second-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's system, for two reasons. One is the Bulldogs' familiarity with the defense. ""Our guys were spending a lot of time last year trying to figure out what to do, [asking] what's my assignment," he said, "and maybe not enough time on 'How do I do my job well.'"

But he also said the arrival of jumbo-sized JUCO nose guard Johnathan Jenkins would make a major impact, both in terms of Jenkins' ability and in motivating holdover Kwame Geathers into his spring MVP performance. "We think [Jenkins] can really do a great job of making the 3-4 go," Richt said. "If you don't have a nose guard that demands double-teams and maybe a triple team once in a while, you're not going to free up your linebackers to do the things that you want them to do."

Crowell? On Signing Day, Richt said that incoming five-star running back Isaiah Crowell might take the first handoff of the season against Boise. But Richt said little (if anything) specific about Crowell at Media Days, choosing instead to focus on running back-turned-linebacker-turned-runni
ng back Richard Samuel when asked about the Bulldogs' diminished running back depth.

"We're really only one guy shy of where we thought we'd be," Richt said. "[Samuel] knows the system, knows the plays, knows how to play the game. And he's a more mature man than he was a couple years ago ... I think we have plenty of depth at that position right now. Question is how productive will we be."

That Richt declined to discuss Crowell could be a signal that he's less confident in Crowell's abilities than he was at Signing Day ... or he could just be trying to keep a lid on the hype that's described Crowell as the next Knowshon Moreno.

SEC Media Days
Offensive line. Another area of offseason panic for Georgia fans has been the injury- and transfer-ravaged line. Richt offered a classic reponse when asked about it: "I think the depth is fine if we don't get anyone hurt."

Richt did add that the "starting lineup gives me a lot of confidence" and that he thinks center Ben Jones "is going to win the Rimington." He even got to reiterate that stance when Jones himself entered the media room to take the mic and ask if Richt "trusted" the offensive line. (Rich said he did.)

Jersey change. The Bulldogs already have a history with uniform experiments and will go to the well again against Boise, donning a set of Nike "Pro Combat" uniforms (as will the Broncos) the players saw for the first time this week.

"I think jersey change is a great idea if you win, and I think it's a bad idea if you lose," Richt said. "Our players are excited about it. A lot of energy in the room [on their debut] and a lot of excitement. They're going to enjoy wearing those jerseys .... Is that going to help us win the game? I promise it won't win the game for us. Boise's going to be wearing theirs too.

"But it's fun ... College football is a grind. A grind for the coaches, a grind for the players. We're not complaining. But any time you can have some fun with your guys, I think it's good to do that."

Muschamp. Richt drew a laugh with this reponse to a question about new Florida coach Will Muschamp, a Georgia graduate: "I'm sure he's going to tell everyone in Florida he's Florida through and through, but I guarantee there's a little bit of red and black in his veins."

Tenure. Asked about the difficulties of being at one SEC school for 11 years: "It's not difficult if you win."

Posted on: May 19, 2011 6:21 pm
 

Rimington Watch List released

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Like Christmas decorations at your favorite mall, college football award "watch lists" always seem to arrive earlier than you expect them to ... but that doesn't mean they're not welcome.

So we're happy to note that first out of the gate this year is the Spring Watch List for the Rimington Trophy, released today with 42 names. The Rimington is awarded annually to the nation's top center, as determined by four major posteason All-American teams.

The full list (with photos!) is here, but here's 10 names (in alphabetical order) it will pay to keep an eye on this season:

Mike Brewster, Ohio State. Third straight year on Rimington Watch List for former finalist and freshman All-American.

Thomas Byrd, Boise State.
Redshirt senior and two-time Watch List member has started every game of Boise career.

Mike Caputo, Nebraska.
Honorable mention All-Big 12 after starting all 14 games for league's leading rushing game.

Garth Gehart, Arizona State.
With only three returning centers in conference, a favorite for 2011 All-Pac-12 honors.

Tyler Horn, Miami.
Started all 13 games in 2010 for ACC's No. 3 rushing attack.

Ben Jones, Georgia.
Senior and mutiple Watch List member has started 35 games for Bulldogs.

Peter Konz, Wisconsin.
2010 Watch List member and 2009 freshman All-American.

David Molk, Michigan.
Redshirt senior was named Rimington finalist and first-team All-Big Ten in 2010.

William Vlachos, Alabama. 2010 second team All-SEC center has 27 career starts.

Scott Wedige, Northern Illinois. 2010 First team All-MAC center on nation's No. 7 rush offense.




Posted on: April 27, 2011 5:49 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC East

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC East, team by team. In alphabetical order:


FLORIDA: When spring began, we said the Gators might have the most interesting offense in the country. Urban Meyer's former spread-option death machine, destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, by none other than Charlie Weis, in the image of the steady no-frills pro-style attacks Will Muschamp saw work for old boss Nick Saban, as piloted by 2011-or-bust quarterback John Brantley? That's quite the storyline they've got going there.

But the Gators will have to hope it's a story that will be rewritten come the fall. While no one was expecting the offense to look like Weis's old New England Patriot attacks after three weeks of practice, no one was expecting it to put on a 13-10 spring game universally panned as a hideous eyesore, either. Brantley went an ugly 4-of-14 after missing his first six passes, the leading rusher was a walk-on defensive back, and the entire offensive output for the game amounted to 340 yards.

Much of that can be pinned on a wicked rash of injuries that took out most of the offensive line, an entire stable of running backs, multiple receivers, etc.; encouragingly, much of it can also be pinned on a rampaging defensive line led by Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell, all members of Meyer's loaded 2010 class and all looking posied to make good on their five-star hype. But the bottom line is that much of it can also be pinned squarely on Brantley, who Muschamp and his other coaches universally lauded for an excellent spring but who showed little of that alleged improvement when playing in public.

Does it matter? Give him a solid summer and a solid fall camp, and it may not. But until Brantley proves he's something other than what he's appeared to be since the moment Tim Tebow left -- in over his head -- skepticism is in order.

GEORGIA: The biggest question entering the most critical spring of Mark Richt's spring tenure concerned the Bulldogs' biggest players: could their offensive line bounce back? When you have Aaron Murray, Orson Charles, a fleet of talented (if still unproven) receivers, and eventually Isaiah Crowell, if you have a line, you're going to have a heck of an offense.

There was good news and bad news on that front, the latter a devastating torn ACL suffered by fifth-senior and projected starting tackle Trinton Sturdivant. But there were positives, too, namely a terrific spring from potential All-SEC  center Ben Jones and guard-to-tackle position switch Cordy Glenn. G-day primary tailbacks Ken Malcome and Caleb King combined for 69 yards on 12 carries, a not-so-shabby 5.8 yards per-carry. Overall, the line was impressive enough this spring that senior Justin Anderson -- billed as a potential starter on the OL -- has been moved to defense.

The Dawgs had themselves a fine spring on the defensive front as well, with newly bulked-up nose tackle Kwame Geathers the talk of the Bulldogs' spring camp and converted safety Alec Ogletree providing a big boost the linebacking corps. The secondary is unsettled and one of those aforementioned receivers needs to emerge as a go-to target for Murray, but if the improvements in the front seven and offensive line aren't mirages, the Bulldogs wil be back in the thick of the East race all the same.

KENTUCKY: Consider it a successful second spring for Joker Phillips and the Wildcats. We noted that with nearly all of the major players from 2010's surprisingly effective Wildcat passing game gone, Phillips would want to make rebuilding that passing attack around junior quarterback Morgan Newton priority No. 1 in spring camp. And though we'll have to wait until fall to see the finished results, for now it looks like Mission Accomplished: Newton had a terrific spring, capped by a 23-of-44, 256-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Wildcats' Blue-White Game.

Things weren't perfect: the Wildcat receivers were plagued by drops, and a defense still adjusting to new co-coordinator Rick Minter's aggressive schemes paired several big plays with several breakdowns. But with Newton cementing himself as a reliable option under center and a veteran line paving the way for new tailback Raymond Sanders to average better than 7 yards a carry, there's far more optimism for the Wildcat offense coming out of spring than going in.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Whatever storyline you might have constructed ahead of time for the Gamecocks' spring, it was always going to overshadowed by the continuing Stephen Garcia circus. Until Carolina receives a definitive word one way or the other on Garcia's return (though as we wrote earlier today, that return seems likely), the team is going to be in something close to suspended football animation.  The lack of developments aside from Garcia was only enhanced by the fact that so many of Carolina's key players -- Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, an offensive line with four returning starters -- are known commodities.

That said, the Garnet-Black Game showed that if Garcia doesn't come back, the Gamecocks won't be totally lost at quarterback. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson combined to go a productive 23-of-40 for 344 yards (though Thompson threw a pair of picks), and on an offense with weapons like Lattimore, Jeffery, and tailback Kenny Miles (43 yards on just 6 carries in the spring game), "productive" should be enough.

The downside: those passing numbers came against a Gamecock secondary that got routinely torched in 2010 (FBS 97th in pass defense). Garcia or no Garcia, more improvement in that secondary will be necessary to take Carolina back to Atlanta.

TENNESSEE: Entering spring, the road to improvement for the Volunteers was clear: get stronger, more physical, better along each line of scrimmage, then let the Vols' cadre of up-and-coming skill position stars -- led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray -- do the rest.

The Vols made plenty of headway on the first part of that equation; the White team earned a dominant victory over the more starter-heavy Orange in the Vol spring game thanks in no small part to a bruising run game led by second-string tailback Raijon Neal; defensive linemen on both squads were able to get consistent quarterback pressure; and offensive lineman Alex Bullard and defensive tackle Daniel Hood won the team's top awards for spring performance. Both lines remain so young that there's still a long way to go to SEC dominance, but it seems unlikely they'll be pushed around the way they were at times in 2010, either.

But as for the other part of the equation, stay tuned. Bray went a miserable 5-for-30 quarterbacking the defeated Orange side, with Derek Dooley suggesting afterwards that perhaps Bray had been overconfident. Bray is expected to take a major step forward in his first full season as the Vols' starter, but if that step winds up as minor as the spring game proposes it might be, all the line improvement in the world won't push the Vols back into relevance in the SEC East.

VANDERBILT: When you finished last season dead last in the conference in both total offense and total defense -- and you are Vanderbilt -- any kind of improvement in any area will be music to new coach James Franklin's ears. But fortunately for the 'Dores, they saw some green shoots in two positions that have been partocularly troublesome the past few seasons.

One is quarterback , where previously scattershot senior Larry Smith completed 16-of-26 for 233 yards and a touchdown, leading his Black side to a 19-7 win over the Gold. The other is the defensive line , where defensive tackle Colt Nichter recorded a pair of sacks and defensive end Kyle Woestmann collected a sack and an interception. But when you're Vandy, you'll take whatever you can get.

"The big thing," Franklin said, "is that we stayed healthy."

For the same review of the SEC West, click here.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com