Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Tag:Spring Practice Primer
Posted on: April 7, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 5:27 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Cincinnati

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Cincinnati , who started spring practice last Tuesday.


Can Butch Jones and Cincinnati prove that 2010 was just a fluke, and get back on track in 2011

When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati, he had the Bearcats sitting high and mighty. Coming off three-straight 10+ win seasons and back-to-back Big East titles, the thought was that new head coach Butch Jones was walking into to a dream setup. Jones, a promising young coach from Central Michigan, had succeeded Kelly at his previous job as well. He took the Chippewas to three straight postseason appearances and finished 2009 ranked 25th in the final AP Poll.

But Jones did not enter the season without doubters. With only three years of head coaching experience, Bearcats fans were worried that Jones might not be ready for a job of this magnitude yet. From a program standpoint, finishing 2010 4-8 after Kelly's success is either a fluke or disaster. Jones' job beginning in spring practice will be to prove that last season was the former rather than the latter.

Cincinnati returns all eleven defensive starters from 2010's squad. Normally, that would be an immediate sign of good things to come. But with the Bearcats' defensive performance in 2010, it only serves as a starting point for improvement this spring. Cincinnati ranked dead last in scoring defense (28.0 points per game), and next to last in total defense (369.4 yards per game). But the defense will not magically improve just by being a year older, they need to begin improving as a unit this spring.

One thing working in their advantage is another year with the same staff and scheme. Co-coordinators Tim Banks and John Jancek are back, and it will be the first time in three seasons the defense has not had to adjust to a new defensive coordinator. The front line should be strong, as evidence by Cincinnati's (relative) success against the run last season. But the secondary still is a point of major concern for Jones. In 2010 the secondary gave up 234 yards per game through the air, ranking dead last in the Big East. Keep an eye on junior college transfer Malcom Murray, who will get to see some time at safety this spring with Wes Richardson sitting out with an injury. Jones also is hoping that an open competition among a handful of corners will breed development that should benefit the position heading into fall practice.

Offensively the Bearcats aren't as stacked with returning starters, but there are enough key pieces returning and new additions to expect little drop-off from last year's production. Cincinnati did lead the conference last season with 417.3 yards per game of total offense. Much of that success can be credited to senior quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros led the Big East in passing yardage and touchdowns last season, and was unanimously selected to all-Big East first team. On paper, not a bad finish for Collaros' first full season as a starter, except for 14 interceptions and that 4-8 record. As a senior Collaros must not only improve his own turnover count, but become a leader for this offense and this team. Leadership is one of the things that many have felt the Bearcats lacked in 2010, and that can not be changed alone by a second-year coach. Collaros was on the roster for the peak of Cincinnati football, and he knows what it will take to get back into Big East title contention.

Collaros loses one of his primary weapons from a season ago, but gains a few new pieces that have turned some heads so far this spring. Gone is Armon Binns, the first-team all-conference wide receiver who was the only 1,000 yard wideout in the Big East. But back is D.J. Woods, the big-play threat who finished second in the conference right behind Binns with 898 yards on the season. But the receiver who has been making a strong impression so far this spring is Kenbrell Thompkins. Thompkins was a JUCO transfer originally signed with Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. When Kiffin left, so did Thompkins. Now after sitting out last year it is time for him to live up to the hype. Most observations from practice thus far make it sound like he is doing just that.

The Bearcats offense also gets Isaiah Pead returning at running back. Pead saw an increase in his workload in 2010, and responded with his first 2010 season. Like Collaros, he was on the roster for both Big East titles and will be a crucial extension of the coaching staff in the locker room. But one of the biggest stories this spring on offense is the return of (now) tight end Travis Kelce from his one suspension.

Formerly a defensive end, Kelce has been turning heads since making the move to tight end in the offseason. Kelce, a 6-foot-6, 252 pound junior, was recruited to Cincinnati as a quarterback to join his older brother Jason -- the Bearcats' starting center in 2010. Kelce ran the Wildcat occasionally in 2009, but was suspended for a year just before the Sugar Bowl for an off-field issue. Kelce spent the entire 2010 regular season as a member of the scout team, awaiting his return to the Bearcats.

 “He came to work every day,” Jones said of Kelce's efforts while suspended. “It’s hard for an individual when they know that they’re not going to be playing and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of times they’ll pace themselves and go through the motions. He was one of the individuals that brought it every day on the scout team. He was extremely competitive and I thought he made the most of his situation.”

Kelce has been described by his teammates as a "freak." He is physical, fast, and the coaching staff has been complimenting his ability to block and use his hands. He has honed skills all over the field, playing that defensive end position while on the scout team last season. Now making the move to tight end, Kelce has the possibility to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Even scarier? Coach Jones has not ruled out the possibility of using Kelce on the defensive end.

"Travis can be a weapon," Jones said. "He can do so many things. When we feel comfortable with him, we may cross train him to be a third-down specialist at the defensive end position."

Attention will be paid on all aspects of the Cincinnati team this spring. Normally falling from 12-1 to 4-8 would be grounds for a coaching change, and Jones knows that. Many of the players have admitted that they didn't quite buy into the new coaching staff last year, but after watching the disastrous results they have no choice. The players must buy into the toughness and attention to detail being preached in spring practice. With so many returning starters there is little learning curve necessary, and Cincinnati should be able to improve quickly. However, it also means there is less room for excuses should the win column not improve as well.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: April 5, 2011 4:25 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 4:32 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Virginia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Virginia Tech , who started spring practice on Wednesday.


With turnover at several key positions, will the Hokies be able to fill the holes and successfully defend their position atop the ACC?

After Virginia Tech started last season with losses to Boise State and James Madison in a five day span, the college football world was ready to file the 2010 Hokies into the "bust" category. But when the Hokies fell from the spotlight, they dug down and pulled off an 11-game win streak that finished with their fourth ACC Championship in seven years. As the Hokies lifted the trophy in Charlotte under a monsoon of oranges, head coach Frank Beamer spoke about the character and fight of a Hokie squad that refused to quit. At season's end, eleven players were named to either the first or second all-conference teams, and senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor was crowned the ACC Player of the Year.

But as the Hokies are preparing for 2011, things look a little different in Blacksburg. The Hokies bring back 12 starters from 2010, including five of those all-conference selections. But many of the names and faces that helped bring in three ACC Championships in the last four years are now gone, leaving those positions open for the next crop of headline-grabbing Hokies in 2011.

The most noticeable and arguably most important transition is at the quarterback position. With Taylor gone, the signal-calling responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of redshirt sophomore Logan Thomas. Don't try to hit Thomas with questions about "filling Tyrod Taylor's shoes," because the 6-foot-6 245 pound quarterback wears size-18. Thomas has spent the last two years in meetings with Taylor, watching what he watches becoming familiar with quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. Recruited by some as a tight end that could see the field right away, Thomas opted to bide his time waiting behind Taylor. His arm strength has been praised by anyone who has watched him throw, and his reported 4.6 40-yard dash makes him just as much of a threat running the ball as Taylor was before him. If Thomas can get in a rhythm with his receivers and improve his accuracy, he could prove to eventually be just as much of an offensive threat at Taylor was in 2010. He knows the history of quarterbacks under Frank Beamer, and Thomas appears to understand the importance of that leadership quality. On the first day of spring ball, he was asked if he had a mental checklist of things to improve.

“I was writing down some goals today for the spring," Thomas explained. "Just get command of the offense, get used to my players, more familiar with the playbook, get great accuracy and just get the team to feel more comfortable with me and how I play, just get the respect from the coaches and everyone around. It’s written down in the first page of my playbook.”

Virginia Tech will also suffer from the loss of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Both running backs had stellar freshman seasons, with Evans being named the Orange Bowl MVP at the end of the 2008 season and Williams earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. Last season was the first time that both backs saw the field at the same time, which combined with David Wilson's emergence made for one of the most dangerous backfields in the conference. But in that system with three all-conference caliber running backs, the responsibility was evenly spread week in and week out. With Evans and Williams taking their talents to the next level, Wilson must carry a significantly larger load in the Hokies backfield.

The junior from Danville, VA was one of the Hokies' all-conference selections for his work as a return specialist. Wilson led the ACC last season averaging 26.55 yards per kickoff return, and ran back two for touchdowns. Even sharing snaps at running back, Wilson displayed his "home-run" potential. Wilson broke at least one run of 15 yards or more in eight different appearances last season, averaged 15.6 yards per reception as a dangerous threat in the passing game.

If Wilson can maintain that level of production consistently, he will easily become one of the most important pieces to the Hokies' success. The big question for the spring will be how the rest of the depth chart shapes out behind him. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Josh Oglesby (converted from fullback) and Tony Gregory are the only other scholarship players at the position. Wilson not only will have the opportunity to shine in the running attack, it will be expected.

Virginia Tech also is dealing with depth issues on the defensive line. Starters Steven Friday and John Graves have graduated, and Chris Drager has been moved to tight end. Bud Foster's best defenses have been anchored by a solid defensive line that seems to cue turnovers by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Kwamaine Battle will return to the field after tearing his ACL in the second game of the season, as will his replacement Antoine Hopkins. But the Hokies will be putting a lot of faith in redshirt freshmen James Gayle and J.R. Collins to contribute immediately.

But even amidst the depth and development questions, you can't help but feel like the Hokies are still going to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title. Frank Beamer has led the Hokies to double-digit wins in 10 of the last 12 seasons. This is far from the first time he has entered spring practice with question marks on the depth chart, and it will certainly not be his last. Beamer knows what it will take to make a return visit to the ACC Championship Game, and being in contention is absolutely a realistic expectation for Virginia Tech fans.

A quick glance at the schedule for 2011 will show a slate that should work perfectly for a team breaking in a new starting quarterback. Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State, and Marshall will be the first opponents for the Hokies before hosting Clemson and Miami in back-to-back weeks. Their toughest road opponents will be Georgia Tech and Virginia, but those matchups don't come until the last month of the season. There may not be a lot of national hype around this year's bunch from Blacksburg, but it is not unreasonable to think that they could be back in Charlotte for a rematch with Florida State in the ACC Championship game in December.

If that happens, you can bet Logan Thomas' size-18's will be ready to do the best Tyrod Taylor impression you've ever seen.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: April 4, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Maryland

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Maryland , who started spring practice on Tuesday.


Maryland fell just short of a division crown in 2010, can Randy Edsall and the new coaching staff take the Terps over the top?

2010 was a season of historic turnaround for the Maryland football program. Just a year after going 2-10, the Terps finished the year 8-4 with a Top 25 ranking in the final polls. It was one of the biggest win-differentials in program, and head coach Ralph Friedgen was named the ACC Coach of the Year -- for the second time in his career.

But Friedgen was not the only one to collect hardware for Maryland in 2010. Redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien took the conference by storm, throwing for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns on his way to earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors. O'Brien started the season as the backup quarterback, but took control of the position while replacing injured quarterback Jamarr Robinson (shoulder). He ranked third nationally among freshman in passing efficiency (135.2) and his 8 interceptions was second fewest in the ACC for quarterbacks with at least 10 touchdowns.

But even with an 8-4 finish, Military Bowl victory, and two end of the season ACC award winners, athletic director Kevin Anderson felt there needed to be a change for Maryland football. Before the bowl game, Anderson announced that Maryland would buy out Friedgen's final year of his contract (2011) and begin searching for a new head coach. Many Maryland fans criticized the timing of Friedgen's dismissal, but it hardly compared to the sting Maryland delivered to Connecticut.

Randy Edsall had just finished coaching the Connecticut Huskies against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Despite the embarrassing loss, the BCS berth marked a peak in Connecticut's decade-long climb into the the top ranks of college football. When Edsall was named head coach in 1999 the Huskies were not even a Division I program, in 2010 they were Big East champions. Which is why it crushed Connecticut fans to hear that Edsall was accepting the open Maryland position the day after coaching the Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl.

So now Edsall begins another project in College Park. His new challenge from Kevin Anderson will be to guide the Terrapins "from good to great," and become an annual contender in the ACC. As the Terps have gotten spring practice underway, Edsall has instituted some new procedural regulations around the program.

When Anderson presented Edsall with his Maryland baseball cap at January's introductory press conference, the new head coach smiled for a few photos then quickly removed it from his head. Edsall believes in obeying his own team rules, and "no baseball caps" is one of them.

Almost immediately after he was hired, Edsall informed the team there would be no ball caps, do-rags, or earrings inside team facilities. If players do choose to grow facial hair, it is expected to be neatly kept and well-groomed. Players have already been spotted doing extra workouts as punishment for oversleeping or being late to team meetings.

"What we're trying to do is prepare these kids for life," Edsall said in a recent interview. "When you meet people for the first time, you make a lasting impression. We're trying to instill discipline and give them an advantage over other people when they leave college. I know what employers are looking for."

But the changes within the program at Maryland extend far beyond player conduct and appearance. Beginning this spring the 2011 Terps will not only be getting used to playing for Edsall, but also new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator James Franklin left to take over as the head coach of Vanderbilt's team, and Maryland now welcomes Gary Crowton from LSU. Franklin was given a lot of credit for O'Brien's development and the offense's performance in 2010, now Crowton will be counted on to continue that development in 2011.

Luckily, Crowton welcomes back several pieces to compliment O'Brien. Perhaps most important will be returning four of the five starters from an offensive line that only allowed O'Brien to be sacked 12 times in conference play, good for 3rd in the ACC. With some questions at wide receiver, it will be even more important for the offense to win the battle at the line to give O'Brien enough time to get through his progression.

Additionally Maryland returns leading rusher Davin Meggett, who racked up 720 yards as part of a two-headed rushing attack with Da'Rel Scott. He'll be counted on to be the feature back early, though keep your eye on bruising tailback D.J. Adams. Adams led all rushers in 2010 with 11 touchdowns, padded significantly by a 4 touchdown performance in Maryland's 51-20 rout of East Carolina in the bowl game. With the offensive line and backfield mostly in place, the rushing game should serve as a strong foundation for O'Brien's second season under center.

But perhaps the biggest question mark offensively is the receiver position. There were times last season where it felt like Torrey Smith was the only receiver on the field. After 67 receptions, 1,055 yards, and 12 touchdowns in 2010, Smith is seizing the opportunity to take the one-man show to the NFL. Spring practice will be the time for Crowton to figure out who will take the place of the man responsible for nearly twice as many catches and three times as many yards as any other Maryland receiver last year. The spring depth chart lists Kevin Dorsey, Quintin McCree, and Ronnie Tyler as the top wide receivers, but some have pegged Florida transfer Adrian Coxson as a name to keep an eye on at the wideout position.

After suddenly losing their head coach, Connecticut got some kind of karmic consolation by hiring Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown to the same position with the Huskies. Now, Edsall and new coordinator Todd Bradford (Southern Mississippi) must spend spring practice figuring out who will fill the holes in a yet-to-be-determined system. Bradford ran a 4-3 base defense last season with the Golden Eagles, but has said the Terps will use multiple formations and "move a lot" next season. Don Brown's multiple-look blitzing scheme highlighted the play of linebackers Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten in 2010, and Maryland fans are hoping that Kenny Tate can be that playmaker in the fall. Tate recorded 100 tackles in his junior year at safety, and will be making the jump to linebacker this spring

. But in order to put themselves in a position to compete for an ACC Championship in 2011, they'll have to overcome a rapidly improving Atlantic Division. N.C. State is coming off their best season in years, and Clemson just reloaded with a new coaching staff and nationally ranked recruiting class. Not to mention Florida State, who has already been crowned as the team to beat in the conference for 2011. The Seminoles kept Maryland out of the ACC Championship game in 2010 with a 30-16 win in College Park. If the Terps want to move from "good to great" in 2011, the road will have to go through Tallahassee.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: April 1, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 12:05 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kansas State

Posted by Tom Fornelli

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Kansas State, which starts spring practice this Wednesday.

Spring Practice Question: Anybody want to play some defense?

On a lot of levels, 2010 should be considered nothing but a success for Kansas State. A team that many people saw finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 North (RIP) ended the regular season 7-5, and should have finished the year 8-5 had it not had a win in the Pinstripe Bowl stolen from its grasp by the officials on a bogus celebration penalty.

Seriously, I have absolutely no connection to Kansas State yet I'm still bitter about the ending of that game. I was half-tempted to do this whole primer as a "Can Kansas State figure out ways to celebrate without referees noticing in 2011?"

Anyway, let's put the past in the past, and look toward the future. There are plenty of questions that Kansas State will have to answer before the season starts. Most notably, how does Bill Snyder find a way to replace both Chase Coffman and Daniel Thomas? Neither will be easy, especially when you consider that the Wildcats second-leading rusher was Collin Klein, who was a quarterback and will now play wide receiver in 2011.

Still, as important as it is to find a new quarterback and running back. If I had to make a prediction, I'd go with Justin Tuggle at quarterback because nobody loves juco transfers more than Bill Snyder. At running back I'd go with Bryce Brown, provided that Bryce doesn't transfer four more times before the season starts.

More important than either of those decisions, in my opinion, will be the Kansas State defense. More importantly, will Kansas State have a defense in 2011?

Yes, the Wildcats exceeded expectations last year, but if they are to match the success of 2010 or improve upon it, then the defense will have to have a much better season. The Wildcats had the worst defense in the Big 12 last season, and gave up more rushing yards (3,008!) than any other defense in the country. Not the Big 12, the country. It came in 120th of 120 teams.

Now I should point out that while Kansas State gave up a lot of yardage on defense last year, as far as points went, the Wildcats weren't terrible. They checked in 78th nationally with 29.1 points per game.

Still, imagine how much lower that number would have been if the Wildcats knew how to tackle.

The one area that Kansas State actually did well in was in its pass defense, where it allowed only 212.25 yards a game. Of course, the question there is was it the ability of the Kansas State secondary, or just the fact that teams didn't need to throw much considering they could just break off 10 yards on every run. I'm guessing it was a bit of both, as opposing offenses completed only 55% of their passes against the Wildcats, which was the best mark in the Big 12. Which should continue in to 2011 as two of the secondary's best, David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman, are both back.

Big 12 Primers
Where the improvement will need to come is on the defensive line and the linebacking corps. One player to keep an eye on this spring is linebacker Arthur Brown. Yes, the brother of Bryce Brown, who was also a highly touted recruit in 2008 that originally signed with Miami before transferring to Manhattan. If he can live up to the hype he was given coming out of high school, his presence could go a long way in improving the run defense. Along with Brown, the team will need to see improvement from Alex Hrebec and Blake Slaughter.

On the defensive line, Kansas State loses Prizell Brown who led the team in sacks with 5 and made 42 tackles last season, 7 for a loss. It will be up to Raphael Guidry and Brandon Harold to step up and replace Brown in 2011.

Now, obviously, you can't take a defense that gave up so many yards last season and turn them into an elite unit only a season later. If defensive coordinator Chris Cosh can pull that off, then give him a huge raise and a head coaching position somewhere else in 2012. At the same time, however, it'll be hard for Kansas State not to improve on defense.

And with an offense that has so many questions heading into the season, it's going to have to.
Posted on: March 31, 2011 12:31 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 12:04 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kansas

Posted by Tom Fornelli

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kansas, which starts spring practice on Friday.

Spring Practice Question: Can Turner Gill find a quarterback worthy of keeping the job this season?

Turner Gill's first season at Kansas was not a success. In fact, it was something that most Kansas fans have probably spent the last four months trying to completely erase from their memories. While the players did their best to adjust to the new lifestyle choices that Gill was instituting -- how does a college kid survive without a cell phone and girls, anyway? -- the results on the field showed that this is a process that is going to take some time.

It was a season that began with a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State at home, and was followed by eight more losses and only three wins. Of those eight losses, five came by 20-point deficits or more. To put that in perspective, Kansas couldn't even manage to score 20 points in nine of its twelve games.

The offense finished 111th in the country in points per game with 17.1, while the defense came in at 103rd with 34.4 points against per game. Not exactly a winning formula.

So, clearly, if you are expecting some great turnaround with Kansas this season, you should share whatever drugs you're on with everyone around you. Your world seems like a wonderful place.

Instead of focusing on winning the Big 12 this season, Turner Gill will be best suited looking to improve his team, and finding answers for the future. The first position he'll be looking to improve, however, is usually the hardest one to get right.

The Jayhawks had a bit of a quarterback carousel through 2010. Through the season, Kale Pick, Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham all got time at starting quarterback. Gill does not want a repeat of that in 2011, and he's answered part of the question a bit by moving Pick to wide receiver this season.

Unfortunately, even though spring practice hasn't even begun, the Jayhawks have already had a setback at the position.

Quarterback Brock Berglund was the biggest recruit that Kansas landed in its 2011 class. There was some thought that the 6'4 dual-threat quarterback from Colorado could come in and start his freshman season. He even graduated from high school last December so he could enroll early at Kansas. Sadly, due to what the school referenced as "personal circumstances," Berglund has returned home to Colorado and won't be around for spring practice.

Which means that April will be a two-man battle between Webb and Mecham. Neither player was fantastic for the Jayhawks in their time, but given the fact that Turner Gill is focusing on the future, I'd have to give an edge to Webb.

Big 12 Primers
He'll be a sophomore this season, while Mecham will be a senior. Normally the experience of a senior might mean something, but Mecham has thrown less passes in his first three years (102) than Webb completed in his freshman season (121).

Webb also played pretty well at times for the Jayhawks. In a four-week stretch following the opening day loss against North Dakota State, Webb completed 67 of 110 passes (61%) with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. It's just after that nice start, Webb only completed 48 of 93 passes (52%) with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. Which is the kind of swing you'd expect to see from a freshman playing in the Big 12 for the first time.

So, in that sense, while Kansas will not have its quarterback position settled by the time spring practice ends, I think the next month of practices will be very important for Webb. If he can show improvement and a greater grasp of the offense, he'll enter the summer on top of the depth chart.

Which will give him an advantage over Berglund, who will be in Lawrence this summer, and will have to make up some time if he hopes to wrestle the job away before the season starts.
Posted on: March 30, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kentucky

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kentucky, which started spring practice last week.

Spring Practice Question: Can the 'Cats find a passing game?

When all was said and done, the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were about what the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were supposed to be: good enough to scrape to a low-level bowl game (the Birmingham-based BBVA Compass Bowl) , good enough for one major upset (against South Carolina) and a couple of scares, but not good enough to make any real noise even in a watered-down SEC East (2-6 conference record), and not nearly good enough to regain the momentum and top-25 attention from the Andre Woodson glory years. Around .500 was where the Wildcats were expected to finish, and around .500 -- 6-7 following the bowl loss to Pitt, specifically -- was where they wound up.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't something of a major surprise in how the Wildcats got to "around .500" in the first year of the Joker Phillips era. The first couple of seasons following Woodson's departure, Kentucky relied heavily on their ground game as an experienced offensive line, talented rushers like Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, and iffy quarterbacking made that the 'Cats best option. Thanks to Cobb's dynamism and versatility, the Wildcat frequently became the offense's most effective form of attack.

With Cobb and Locke still around and the inefficient Mike Hartline still under center, not many expected that plan to change coming into 2010. But a strong fall camp from Hartline -- which he needed simply to keep the job away from sophomore Morgan Newton -- led to a stunningly good season; the senior increased his yards per-attempt by nearly two full yards and improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-7 to an impressive 23-to-9. The end result? The second-leading passing offense in the SEC at 269 yards a game and the 31st-best team quarterbacking rating in the country.

Of course, Hartline didn't manage it alone. There was Cobb, for starters, who made multiple All-American teams as an all-purpose player but spent most of his time at wideout and wound up with 1,017 receiving yards. He was followed closely by 6'5" Chris Matthews, who blossomed after a ho-hum junior season with 925 yards of his own. Even Locke chipped in with 318 yards out of the backfield.

So the good news for Kentucky is that after years of relying on one aspect or the other, their offense finally gained some semblance of balance. The bad news is that all the key players who made that balance possible are gone: Hartline, Matthews, and Locke have all graduated, and Cobb elected to turn pro a year early.

What's left is, on paper, less-than-inspiring. Newton will take over at quarterback after completing just 58 percent of his 43 passes in 2010 without a touchdown; he threw 135 times in 2009 but completed just 55 percent of those for a meager 5.2 yards per-attempt. But Kentucky won't have many other options, with Phillips citing grayshirted true freshman Max Smith as Newton's only competition at the moment. (Smith and Newton are, in fact, the 'Cats only scholarship quarterbacks.)

Spring Practice Primers
At receiver, junior La'Rod King returns after snaring 36 balls for 478 yards a year ago. But the next most prolific returning wideout is senior Matt Roark, who caught just 12 receptions without a touchdown, and no other wideout caught more than three. Tight end Jordan Aumiller and whoever emerges at running back -- likely sophomore Raymond Sanders -- will no doubt contribute as well, but it's nonetheless hard to see Newton getting that much help out of his receiving corps.

That doesn't mean there's not hope, though. Phillips is the same coach who coaxed the massive year-to-year improvement out of Hartline; who's to say he can't do the same with the athletic Newton? And if Newton won't get that big of a boost from his receivers, he ought to get plenty of one from his running game, one led by an offensive line with four retunring starters including all-conference junior guard Larry Warford. Then there's Phillips himself, who's guided the Kentucky offense for years and has consistently produced quality results.

But this is likely his biggest challenge yet. Without a functional passing game, even this line likely wouldn't be able to generate a game-winning rushing attack all on its own, and certainly not without the likes of Cobb or Locke. The Wildcat defense should improve, but if Phillips can't use this spring to rebuild some measure of last year's aerial success, Kentucky's school-record bowl streak may not make it to 2012.


Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Georgia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Georgia Tech, who started spring practice on Monda
y.

Will Georgia Tech be able to erase the turnovers and mental mistakes that plagued them in 2010?

Coming into the 2010 season, Georgia Tech was riding pretty high. The Yellow Jackets were fresh off an ACC Championship and a BCS bowl berth. Head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone option offense was working immediately, delivering at least a share of two Coastal Division crowns in his first two seasons at the helm. With a preseason #16 ranking, Georgia Tech held the fate of the 2010 season in their hands.

Then they dropped it, literally.

Georgia Tech fumbled the ball 20 times in 2010, more that any other team in Division I. The turnovers and mental mistakes were not the only reason that Georgia Tech finished with their worst record since 1994, but they certainly played a big role in the Yellow Jackets' struggles. A fumbling issue is particularly damaging for a team that rushes the ball an average of 57.9 times a game. For comparison, the rest of the ACC averaged 30-40 rushing attempts per game. But the Jackets not only led the conference with 323.31 yards per game, but also in yards per carry. So clearly the offense was working, as long as the Yellow Jackets were holding onto the ball.

So what was the issue for Georgia Tech? One word that has been floating around Atlanta as spring practice has kicked off is "complacency."

“I think there was a sense of complacency to a degree,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Not with everybody. But when you win nine games the first year and then you win 11 games, I think some guys just think, ‘Well, this is going to happen again.’ It doesn’t work like that.”

So for starters, the Yellow Jackets will be focusing on a new mentality this spring. According to Johnson, inspiring this bunch didn't take much extra push from the coaching staff. All any of the Yellow Jackets would need to do is think back to the horrendous 14-7 Independence Bowl loss to Air Force. With two muffed punts to compliment three lost fumbles an interception, it was the perfect microcosm of what went wrong with the Yellow Jackets last season.

“Our guys aren’t dumb, they know what happened,” Johnson said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time. We have a lot more togetherness as a group. You can see our focus, our desire. I can look out my office window [onto the practice field] and see guys working, doing things we didn’t do last year. There’s a different aura.”

The aura is different and so will be a lot of the faces in 2011. Georgia Tech only returns six offensive and five defensive starters from last year's squad. What that will mean for the Yellow Jackets in spring practice is open competition for some the most important positions on the field. If complacency was an issue for the offense, that could be eliminated as several candidates enter spring ball competing for the quarterback, A-back, and B-back positions in Johnson's flexbone option.

Junior quarterback Tevin Washington took over as the starting quarterback when Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm against Virginia Tech. At the time, the Jackets were 5-3 and in a position to knock off the Hokies for a huge division victory. Washington was inconsistent on the field, showing both flashes of brilliance and mind-numbingly bad decision making sometimes in the same drive. This spring he'll go head-to-head against Synjyn Days, a 6-2 sophomore from Powder Spring, GA. Days ran an option offense in high school and got to see some time running with the first team in practice near the end of last season. Days will have an opportunity, but according to Johnson the starting spot will remain with Washington for now.

"[Washington] is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson explained. It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. Synjyn (Days) has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It's Tevins' job."

Another concern for Georgia Tech's offense this spring is replacing B-back Anthony Allen, who led all rushers in 2010 with 1,316 yards. The position previously held by Allen and ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer before him will be up for grabs among four different backs. Richard Watson, Preston Lyons, Charles Perkins, and former quarterback David Sims will compete this spring for their spot in the rotation. With all that talent, you would think that the Yellow Jackets could benefit from a running back-by-committee approach. But as Doug Roberson points out, Johnson has rarely done that in his 14 seasons as a head coach.

At A-back, the leaders would appear to be Orwin Smith (516 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Roddy Jones (353 yards, 4 touchdowns). In Johnson's system, the A-back needs to have that home-run capability that demands attention from the the opposing linebackers and secondary. Both backs have shown the ability to do that at times, but with another year of experience spring will be the time to show improvement and earn that top spot in Paul Johnson's fluid depth chart.

Georgia Tech will also need to fill holes on the offensive line and hopefully Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton have developed as more consistent wide receivers. The wideouts don't need to catch a lot of balls each Saturday. But when the pigskin is tossed their way, they are expected to pull it in. Defensively Johnson is expecting to see some major improvements in the second season under the direction of defensive coordinator Al Groh, but does not seem to place any of the blame for 2010 on that side of the ball.

"If you look at the [defensive] stats from two years ago to last year, there really wasn't a lot of difference," Johnson explained before the first spring practice. "We probably had a few less turnovers last year and gave up a few less big plays. But the total yardage, points per game, all that was pretty much right in line with where we had been. You hope that in the second year (of the 3-4) there is a little more familiarity. The bottom line is winning and losing the game is determined on how many points you give up. That is the bottom line."

If the mentality has changed, as Johnson suggested, you might see a brand new Yellow Jackets squad in 2011. The expectations are not what they were a year ago in Atlanta, but that does not mean you can count Georgia Tech out of the Coastal Division race. There is a lot of buzz around Miami with Al Golden's arrival, and you can never count out Virginia Tech, but if the Yellow Jackets can eliminate the turnovers and special teams issues they should see significant improvement in the fall.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 28, 2011 11:25 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 11:29 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Florida State

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Florida State , who started spring practice last Monday.


Pegged as early favorites for the ACC (and possibly National) Title in 2011, are the Seminoles for real?

In a word? Yes.

From 1987-2000, the Seminoles did not have a single season without double-digit wins. From 2001-2009 Florida State only accomplished that feat once. One of the purposes for utilizing a "coach-in-waiting" is to limit the negative effects of transition in a coaching change. For Florida State, giving the head coaching seat to Jimbo Fisher was a much-needed upgrade.

Fisher has not just returned Florida State to the double-digit wins club, he has rejuvenated the entire program. For the first time since conference expansion brought Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, Florida State is entering the 2011 season as favorites to win the ACC. If you have any wonders as to why so many people are high on the Seminoles, just look at what returns from 2010.

Florida State returns eight starters on offense and defense as well as both specialists from their 2010's ACC Atlantic Division Champion squad. They won four of their last five, only losing 44-33 to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and finishing the season with a Chick Fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina. One of the main reasons so many experts favor Florida State in 2011 is the return of so many of the same players who stood on the podium in Atlanta on New Years Eve.

For example, take a look at the running back position. Florida State never put up dazzling numbers with their ground game, but their running back-by-committee attack wore teams down and consistently became a factor late in games. Junior running back Chris Thompson (846 yards, 6 TD) led the way in 2010, but Ty Jones (527 yards, 5 TD), Jermaine Thomas (490 yards, 6 TD), and Lonnie Pryor (112 yards, 4 TD) will all be back and looking to increase their workload in 2011. Thomas recently rejoined the team after serving a suspension resulting from a driving with a suspended license arrest, reuniting the group once again on the field.

"I love Jermaine to death and it just feels good to have him back," Pryor said after Thomas' return. "We need all of us again to do the same things we did last year."

Thomas may be back from suspension, but the Seminoles still have an extensive list of inactive players for spring practice due to injury. While many people have high expectations for the Seminoles in 2011 because of all the returning talent, the look of spring practice has been much different. Fisher hopes that the extra attention for the young talent will help the Seminoles in the future.

"We got a lot of issues going on," Fisher told Seminoles.com. "Hopefully, we'll develop our top 22 guys out there. We know the guys that have started that won't be in there, but develop some of these young guys and some depth."

One position that will undergo major development for Florida State this spring will be quarterback. The Seminoles may be returning 8 starters from each side of the ball, but there will be a brand new starting quarterback under center. Except, the thing is, he's not really brand new.

E.J. Manuel saw his first action on the field as a true freshman in 2009, taking over for the injured Christian Ponder for the final four games of the season. Manuel was wildly inconsistent, but finished the season 3-1 as a starter and was named MVP of the Gator Bowl. The win secured a 7-6 record for the Seminoles, avoiding the only losing record in the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State.

He was asked to do the same thing in 2010, filling in for Ponder who struggled through a nagging elbow injury all season. After falling behind early, Manuel put together one of his best individual performances against Virginia Tech in the 2010 ACC Championship Game. Manuel was not phased by the big stage, calmly completing 23 of 31 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. He carried that momentum into the Chick Fil-A Bowl against South Carolina, when he was once again asked to take over for Ponder in the second quarter because of injury. Manuel threw for 84 yards and ran seven times for 46 yards to hold off the Gamecocks.

With two bowl games under his belt, it is easy to forget that Manuel is just now completing his first spring practices. He injured his hand in his first spring practice two years ago, and missed all of 2010's spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery. Now he will have to get used to running the offense on a full-time basis with two starting tackles sitting on the sideline and new faces at guard and center.

"It's a big difference, not having Ponder there," running back Chris Thompson explained. "He was a big leader on our team. But E.J. has stepped right in on that. With him stepping up, being a leader - like when we are going through workouts and fourth quarter drills he has always been vocal with us - it's been a real help for us."

On the defensive end the Seminoles are not only returning eight starters, but also several reserves that saw quality minutes in 2010. One of the focuses on the defense hasn't been on trying to fill out a depth chart, but instead players trying to win the few starting spots available. Not a bad problem to have for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

"We got everybody coming back from last season with a lot more experience," said defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel. "Coming together as a defense, we know what it takes and the high standards. We set the bar last season, and now we know in spring everyone is going to come out ready to practice."

The high standards demanded by head coach Jimbo Fisher include constant effort and an always-present toughness. The fast-talking West Virginia native wants to practice fast and hit hard. He is never hesitant to criticize his team when he feels they deserve it, but he will also sing praises when they have been earned.

"I was very pleased," Fisher said after Florida State's first practice in full pads on Saturday. "We had toughness and we had effort today which I questioned the other day and I was very pleased. That was one of the first real practices we've had. I liked what I saw on both sides of the ball - kids competing when everything wasn't right, guys making some plays on both sides. Effort was good. I thought we had a good day on special teams. I liked the way we practiced today."

Are the Seminoles legitimate contenders in 2011? Absolutely. Unfortunately their status as national contenders could be determined before the the end of September. Before they even have to face their first conference opponent, Florida State hosts the Oklahoma Sooners in Tallahassee on Sept. 17. The Sooners are also considered to be among the top contenders in 2011, making the game a "must-win" for both teams with BCS dreams.

Florida State does not have all the tools in place to win a championship yet, but returning 18 starters and a Gator Bowl MVP quarterback is a great way to start.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com