Tag:NFL
Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:54 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: USC


Posted by Bryan Fischer


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at USC.

Spring Practice Starts: Wednesday, March 6.

Spring Game: Saturday, April 14.

Returning Starters: Nine on offense, eight on defense and both specialists.

Three Things To Watch For:

1. Dealing with expectations.

USC safety T.J. McDonald and quarterback Matt Barkley are easy to tell apart if you see them walking around Heritage Hall or roaming around the Coliseum but they could not be more alike on paper after a remarkable run to close out last season. Both are captains, suit up in the cardinal and gold wearing number seven, each runs half the team and, most importantly to the Trojans in 2012, Barkley and McDonald announced they would return to school for their senior seasons on back-to-back days in late December. After two years without a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, the message both talked about was so clear that it's become the program's unofficial motto as they head into spring practice: unfinished business.

In many ways, this is about where everybody expects USC to be year-in and year-out given the program's history. A No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll to close out 2011 and, with 19 starters returning and a favorable schedule, expectations are running high for the first time since Lane Kiffin took over in Los Angeles.

"I really don't think it's expectations as much as it is being free - we kind of feel like we're being let out of prison," Kiffin said. "It's normal now. It's refreshing not to have the negative distractions. People will talk about expectations and all of that but the good thing is we have practice at dealing with that from our time here before."

USC will likely end up as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country and despite scholarship limitations, will bring in ninth-ranked recruiting class with several five-star playmakers to supplement the group that will head out to Howard Jones field. It may be a return to normal with the national spotlight once again on Troy and Heisman candidate Barkley but for this group, it is something new. While the media will certainly be swarming like they did in the good old days and accolades and praise will come early and often, it's worth remembering that from the seniors to the freshman, this team hasn't faced anything like these expectations before. Will they play too loose or be wound too tight? It's something to keep tabs on.

"This is all about going out and preparing really well and practicing hard," Kiffin added. "It has been very refreshing to not deal with so much negativity and distractions, some of which was based on me and some on the sanctions."

2. New staff and new look.

For the first time in the Kiffin-era, the still youthful head coach has had to deal with some staff turnover. While the big stage the program provides has attracted more than it's fair share of coaches looking to boost their resume, the fact that two coaches left so close to spring practice definitely added a question mark or two to the team's outlook. Scottie Hazelton will take over as linebackers coach and was a surprise pick by many but he brings a solid resume that includes being the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State last season as they won the FCS national championship. It's not a flashy hire by any means and it will be interesting to see how Hazelton deals with the level of competition taking a leap but luckily for him he'll have most of last year's linebacking corps back.

USC hasn't had a full-time secondary coach since right before the 2011 season following the sudden departure of Willie Mack Garza due to NCAA issues. Kiffin took his time in landing a replacement but lured Marvin Sanders out West after he had just taken over as FAU's defensive coordinator. Mostly known for his time as Nebraska's secondary coach, Sanders has coached several top NFL draft picks and contributed to some very good Cornhuskers defenses. He'll take over a group that needs some development but is among the deepest on the team, especially at safety.

"It's going to be refreshing to have a spring with all these guys in place," Kiffin said. "There will be some growing pains but we'll be rolling by the time we get to the fall."

The final hire might have drawn the most press given new receivers coach Tee Martin's place in Tennessee lore. Though his group dealt with drops in his final season at Kentucky, Martin is known for being a good recruiter and helped turn Randall Cobb into an All-American the year before. He'll have the best group of wide receivers in the country to work with this spring, led by All-Americans Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to go along with former five-star George Farmer.

3. Line depth.

The biggest question marks surrounding the Trojans are centered on the trenches. Four of the five offensive linemen return but replacing a top three NFL Draft pick in Matt Kalil will be not be easy despite the unit becoming the biggest surprise of the team last year. The interior of the line is the strength with Marcus Martin and John Martinez solid at the guard spots and All-American candidate Khaled Holmes leading the way at center. Kevin Graf will get first shot at replacing Kaili at left tackle while Aundrey Walker will be on the other side. Both played those positions in high school and, with several starts under their belt already, should ease some concerns. Beyond that though, and depth is still an issue until the fall.

The outlook at defensive line is not so rosy, with three starters gone and the Pac-12 leader in sacks impressing everybody at the NFL Combine. Pencil in Wes Horton and Devon Kennard at the end spot but depth behind them and who takes over at tackle will be the reason Ed Orgeron is up late at night (and not just the Red Bull). Those inside the program expect a lot out of sophomore George Uko.

"I'm really looking at seeing how well these tackles, Aundrey and Kevin do," Kiffin said. "I also really want to seeing the continued development of our defense with so much experience coming back and with two new coaches. I really want to be a dominant defensive team like (USC in) '02 or '03. Big five turnover or seven sack games, the type where you have just a suffocating defense."

If the Trojans are going to live up to expectations, figuring things out along the lines will be paramount this spring.

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 3:12 pm
 

Garcia hoping "honesty" helps him to shot in NFL

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Stephen Garcia is hopeful for a shot with the NFL despite his mistake-plagued, alcohol-hampered past. And part of earning that shot may be accepting that the responsibility for that past falls entirely on himself.

"I've learned how immature I really was," Garcia told Scout.com NFL reporter Aaron Wilson in a lengthy, detailed interview. "I just didn't know exactly how important everything was until after I made all of those mistakes. I was trying to be like every other college kid, but you can't do that as a starting quarterback for an SEC team. Looking back, it sucks. I have nobody to blame but myself."

A native of Lutz, Florida, Garcia recently played in the "Battle of Florida" all-star game and said he spoke to scouts from multiple NFL teams there, including one from the Atlanta Falcons. Garcia said he was as up front as possible with the scout about his time at South Carolina.

"I went down the list and he said he appreciated the honesty," Garcia said. "He told me to stay on that track, and I will. I just wish I had changed earlier. I didn't fully understand until it was too late. I'm doing everything I can to do things the right way."

Garcia's trying to impress the pros with more than his candor, though. He said he's been working out with former Arena League quarterback John Kaleo in preparation for the Gamecocks' pro day, sharpening his mechanics and improving his accuracy.

But Garcia still faces an uphill battle to be drafted -- CBSSports.com's draft ratings call him the No. 26 QB in his class, and expect him to have to sign as a free agent -- and any prospect who admits he will have to "prove that I'm not an alcoholic" isn't going to be one teams will beat down the doors to take a flyer on.

"It's kind of stressful because I don't know where the hell I'm going to be," Garcia said. "Hopefully, I'm playing in the NFL in the fall. Nothing's guaranteed. It's a waiting game. Nobody likes waiting around, but it is what it is. My head is clear. I'm more focused, and I'm ready to take on this next step in my life."

That step may or may not prove to be the step Garcia wants it to be. But if the remorse and maturation he expresses throughout the interview is genuine, that might be a bigger step than a chance at professional football would be anyway.

For more of Garcia's comments -- on Steve Spurrier, fatherhood, his insistence that he doesn't have "a drinking problem" -- read the full Taylor interview. It's well worth your time. 

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Posted on: February 18, 2012 5:20 pm
 

Buckeyes' Sheridan leaves to become Buc DC

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Paul Chryst and the Pitt Panthers aren't the only team looking for a new assistant coach thanks to Greg Schiano's raid on the college ranks to fill out his Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff, as Ohio State defensive assistant Bill Sheridan has been tabbed as the new Buc defensive coordinator.

Sheridan's tenure with Urban Meyer's new Buckeye staff lasted just 19 days after he was hired to a non-specific defensive coaching position January 30. An Ohio State spokesperson confirmed to OSU student newspaper The Lantern (which first reported the story) that as of Friday Sheridan was no longer a member of the Buckeye staff.

Though Sheridan has a long track record of assistant coaching at schools across the Midwest, he had also spent the previous seven seasons working in the NFL, first with the New York Giants and then the Miami Dolphins. Sheridan was promoted to the Giants' defensive coordinator post in 2009 before being fired at the end of the season.

That being the case, it's hard to fault Sheridan for his decision, even given the short turnaround from his Ohio State stint--for an NFL coach given a second chance at coordinating an NFL defense, Schiano's offer had to have been far, far more appealing (and likely more lucrative) than coaching, say, safeties for the Buckeyes.

Still, Meyer will no doubt be less than thrilled to have to start searching for another new defensive assistant this close to spring practice.

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Posted on: February 13, 2012 10:25 am
Edited on: February 13, 2012 10:26 am
 

Reports: Kiffin makes two staff hires

Posted by Bryan Fischer

With Spring Practice only a few weeks away, USC head coach Lane Kiffin had three open coaching spots and little time to fill them. As of Sunday, he had filled two of the spots, hiring North Dakota State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton to coach linebackers and Florida Atlantic defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders to coach defensive backs, according to multiple reports including the LA Times.

The pair replace Joe Barry, who left to coach linebackers for the San Diego Chargers, and fill a void left after Willie Mack Garza resigned as the secondary coach right before the 2011 season.

Hazelton spent six years with the Bison, the last two coordinating the defense and won the FCS championship last season. Sanders spent only two months at Florida Atlantic, following Carl Pelini from Nebraska where he served as defensive backs coach for four seasons and sent several players to NFL. In addition to his stop in Lincoln, Sanders also served as defensive coordinator for two seasons at North Carolina.

The school has not officially confirmed the hires but numerous recruits were told during USC's Junior Day on Sunday.

The Trojans begin spring practice on March 6th. Kiffin still has to find a replacement for wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who left to take the same position with the Oakland Raiders.

Posted on: February 10, 2012 11:01 pm
Edited on: February 10, 2012 11:04 pm
 

Arizona State adds Larry Porter to staff

Posted by Bryan Fischer

It didn't take long for Larry Porter to land on his feet. The former Memphis head coach was brought on board Todd Graham's staff at Arizona State, the school announced Friday.

Porter, 39, comes to Tempe after going 3-21 over two years at his alma mater. There was no announced position for him but it is expected that he will coach running backs.

This is Porter's sixth coaching stop and first at a Pac-12 school. He is well-regarded from his five-year stint at LSU, where he was known not only for his on the field coaching job but his prowess on the recruiting trail. He also held the title of assistant head coach during his time in Baton Rouge and sent multiple players to the NFL.

Porter inherits a talented group of running backs, including senior Cameron Marshall, sophomore Deantre Lewis, incoming transfer Marion Grice and five-star freshman D.J. Foster.

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Posted on: February 7, 2012 9:27 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 9:31 pm
 

USC WR coach Gilmore headed to Oakland

Posted by Bryan Fischer

Just a few days after losing linebackers coach Joe Barry to the NFL, USC is down another staff member after wide receiver Ted Gilmore accepted the same position with the Oakland Raiders, a source told CBSSports.com.

Gilmore, 44, came to USC just a year ago from Nebraska, where he spent six years coaching receivers and four holding the role of recruiting coordinator.

A Wichita, Kansas native, Gilmore played his college ball at Wyoming before starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant there. He also had stops at Kansas, Houston, Purdue and Colorado before his stint at Nebraksa.

Under Gilmore, USC's receiving corps had a breakout year in 2011. Sophomore Robert Woods developed into a Biletnikoff Award finalist and teammate Marqise Lee was named a Freshman All-American. Whoever takes Gilmore's spot will not only have those two to work with but former prep All-American George Farmer and incoming five-star athlete Nelson Agholor.

Head coach Lane Kiffin, in addition to Gilmore and Barry's spots, is also looking for a defensive backs coach. The Trojans' Spring practice starts in just four weeks as the team likely heads into 2012 as a pre-season top two team.

The Raiders are becoming familiar with poaching Pac-12 assistants having hired former Stanford defensive coordinator Jason Tarver on Monday.

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Posted on: February 6, 2012 3:58 pm
 

NIU gains, loses new coordinator in 24 hours

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Rutgers assistant P.J. Fleck appeared to have had the softest of landings after Greg Schiano took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job--only to spurn his alma mater after less than 24 hours for what he may feel is an even softer landing.

A former star receiver for Northern Illinois, Fleck was announced as NIU's offensive coordinator Thursday after former OC Matt Canada took the same job with Wisconsin. The job would have been his first as a coordinator, and would have put him in charge one of the nation's most productive offenses in a program and city with which Fleck is highly familiar. 

But Fleck was nonetheless in the post for less than a day, as according to the Chicago Tribune, he called NIU head coach Dave Doeren Friday morning to tell him he was resigning the position. A source told the Tribune that Fleck's reasoning in the call with Doeren was that he "wasn’t comfortable with the coordinator’s role." 

But while we don't doubt that discomfort may have played a role, Fleck's reasoning may have also been influenced by the presence of a second job opportunity, one alongside his old boss in the NFL. According to reports, Fleck will instead sign on as the new Tampa Bay wide receivers coach, the same position he enjoyed in Piscataway with the Scarlet Knights. Fleck worked with Schiano for the past two seasons.

Despite putting his program back at square one, Doeren (pictured) was philosophical about Fleck's decision, at least in print.

“Everything happens for a reason and the result of this will make NIU Football even better,” he said.

We don't blame Doeren for taking that approach. But finding a candidate with Fleck's resume who's as likely to say yes at this late date will be a challenge for a program like NIU, no doubt making this kind of decision from one of their own doubly hard to take. 

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Posted on: February 6, 2012 3:22 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2012 4:06 pm
 

Report: Charges against Dre Kirkpatrick dropped

Posted by Chip Patterson

Former Alabama cornerback and 2012 NFL Draft prospect Dre Kirkpatrick did himself no favors with potential employers by getting charged with possession of marijuana less than a week after declaring for the draft. But according to the Sports Business Journal's Liz Mullen, the charges against Kirkpatrick have been dropped.

The details of the arrest indicate that Kirkpatrick claimed to be unaware of the drugs' presence when he was a passenger in a truck driven by former Alabama player Chris Rogers. The vehicle was pulled over in Bradenton, Fla. after being spotted driving on the wrong side of the road.

Kirkpatrick is listed as the No. 10 overall prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft, and Rob Rang has the Tide cornerback drafted by Dallas at No. 14 in his most recent NFL Mock Draft. Pro Football Talk's Evan Silva suggested that the arrest likely would not affect Kirkpatrick's draft stock, but the dropped charges should assist in putting this matter away and moving forward.

For all the latest player rankings and mock drafts, head over to our NFL Draft Home.

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