Tag:Spring practice
Posted on: March 24, 2011 1:48 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Notre Dame

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 Notre Dame, which started spring practice on Wednesday.

Spring Practice Question: Can Notre Dame finally establish a running game?

When it comes to the way that Notre Dame finished its 2010 season, there are a lot of positives to talk about. Four straight victories against teams like Utah, USC and Miami that came as a bit of a surprise considering the Irish did it without starting quarterback Dayne Crist and starting tailback Armando Allen.

Instead the team was led by backup quarterback Tommy Rees, and a defense that played better than any unit the folks in South Bend have seen in quite a while.

So, it's no surprise that going in to the spring, the questions most people seem to be asking about Notre Dame have to do with the quarterback competition and the defense. Does Tommy Rees have a chance to keep the starting job? Will someone else emerge to replace both Rees and Crist? Can this defense maintain its late-season play, and can Manti Te'o get even better?

All are good questions to ask, and will definitely have a large impact on where Notre Dame goes in Brian Kelly's second season. Still, these aren't questions that can really be answered this spring. For the second year in a row, Dayne Crist is coming off of knee surgery and will be limited in the spring. Te'o is coming off of knee surgery as well, and won't be at full-speed either. So while we may see hints of things to come in those two areas, the answers will not come until later this summer.

One area that not many people are talking about, and also played a huge role in the late season turnaround that will definitely have a huge impact on the Irish in 2011 as well, is the running back position.

Since Charlie Weis replaced Tyrone Willingham in 2005, the running game that Notre Dame was once built upon has disappeared. The team hasn't had a featured tailback that could produce or be counted on since. Armando Allen had the talent, but through his first three seasons the results were inconsistent, and he was marred by injuries.

After having his senior season end early due to an injury, Allen is no longer in South Bend, though it turns out that Allen's absence may have been a blessing in disguise. With both Allen and Dayne Crist out, Brian Kelly placed a greater emphasis on the running game over the last month of the season.

The best friend that both a quarterback and a defense can have is a good running game. It takes pressure off of the quarterback, and time off of the clock, which allows a defense to rest on the sidelines.

The majority of the work replacing Allen went to Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes. Wood ran for at least 80 yards in four consecutive games, while Hughes played a large role in Notre Dame's victory over USC. Of course, like Allen, Hughes is gone. That leaves Cierre Wood as the team's top option, and this spring the Irish hope to find out whether he's ready to carry the load full-time.

The team feels he can, but Wood still has a bit to learn. While it's hard to deny the talent and explosiveness that Wood holds, he did show a tendency to dance a bit with the ball during his first season. There's no doubt that two words will be drilled into Wood's brain this spring: "north" and "south." If Wood can learn to hit the hole instead of dancing around and trying to run away from everybody, he definitely has the speed to break some huge runs for the Irish this season.


More Notre Dame

Wood won't be alone, however, as Notre Dame has other backs behind him on the depth chart. Jonas Gray is a senior that hasn't had much of a chance to prove himself during his first three years, but the Irish would like to see the 230-pound running back take on the role that Robert Hughes had last season, and be a short-yardage back. There's also Cameron Roberson, who redshirted in 2010, but has a lot of the qualities that Kelly and company are looking for.

He has the size to run between the tackles, and though he doesn't have great speed, he is a north-south runner. If Wood and Gray fail to meet expectations, Roberson could see himself climb up the depth chart.

Then there's Theo Riddick. Riddick came to Notre Dame as a running back before being moved to wide receiver. He could be the best running back that the Irish have on the roster, and Brian Kelly has hinted about moving him back to the position in 2011.

Which back will emerge as the team's starter, nobody knows yet. What we do know is that Brian Kelly saw how important having an effective ground game could be for his team at the end of last season, and that he'll look to keep it going in 2011.

It'll be up to one of these players, or maybe all of them, to see that it does. After all, it could be the difference between another lackluster season in South Bend, or waking up those echoes they talk so much about.
Posted on: March 23, 2011 3:43 pm
 

Broken feet sideline Longhorn, Badger stars

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As far as injury woes go, no one at Texas or Wisconsin is going to do too much complaining in the light of the injury plague affecting already-shorthanded USC.

But there's probably going to be at least a little griping after potential all-conference performers at both schools had surgery this past week to repair a broken foot, sidelining them for the duration of spring practice.

At Texas, the player in question is outside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who Longhorn officials confirmed via Twitter has broken his right foot. A consensus five-star megarecruit and prep All-American in the class of 2010, Hicks got his feet wet with 21 tackles as a true freshman and is expected to become a major contributor to the Longhorn linebacking corps this fall under aggressive new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. But those expectations may have to be dialed back with Hicks forced to miss the rest of spring, and no doubt falling behind his teammates in adjusting to Diaz's schemes.

At Wisconsin, wide receiver Nick Toon -- son of New York Jets great Al Toon, though you probably knew that already -- is taking on a very different role this spring after breaking a bone in his left foot:
The Badgers football team started spring practices on Tuesday, with Toon on crutches and his left foot in a boot after surgery last week to repair a fracture to the fifth metatarsal.

So instead of running routes and working on his timing with new quarterback Jon Budmayr , Toon is relegated to helping the team's young receivers grow up as fast as possible.

"I'll be out here coaching up these young guys," Toon said after practice, which was closed to the media. "It's a great opportunity for me to spread my knowledge among the young cats around here, get those guys on track so they can help me out in the fall."

Unlike Hicks, the senior Toon has enough experience that the missed practice won't hurt him too badly. But who it might hurt is Budmayr, who could certainly benefit from working on his timing with his future No. 1 receiver and gaining the confidence that comes with throwing to a steady, veteran hand like Toon.

The good news for both Texas and Wisconsin -- other than that neither is USC -- is that both Hicks and Toon should be 100 percent by the time fall camp rolls around. But for one team looking to atone for a 5-7 disaster and one trying to preserve their precarious perch atop the Big Ten, even relatively minor setbacks like these can prove crucial come the crucible of the season.


Posted on: March 23, 2011 2:48 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Texas A&M

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 Texas A&M, who started spring practice on Tuesday. 

Spring Practice Question: How exactly does a team go about replacing Von Miller?

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about 2011 in College Station. After starting the season with a pedestrian record of 3-3, the Aggies reeled off six straight victories before falling to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. Those wins weren't over pushovers, either, as they included victories against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. The Aggies were also a team that could win in a multitude of ways.

If they had to outscore an opponent, they did, as in a 42-30 win over Baylor. Then there were the defensive struggles like the 9-6 barnburner against Nebraska.

What's even better for the Aggies? Seventeen returning starters -- nine on offense, eight on defense -- which is more than anybody else in the Big 12 can lay claim to. All of which means that 2011 should be a good season for Texas A&M, but even though seventeen players return, there is one glaring absence in the Aggies defense that ranked second in the Big 12 with points allowed last year.

How exactly does a team replace a player like Von Miller?

Many eyes will be on Ryan Tannehill this spring as he enters practice as the team's starting quarterback after supplanting Jerrod Johnson last season, but I don't see any possibility of Johnson taking the job back barring injury this year. To me, the big thing to watch with the Aggies this spring will be on the defensive side of the ball where the team looks to maintain the momentum it regained last season.

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter did an excellent job of re-establishing the Wrecking Crew in 2010, and ignored flirtatious advances from Tulsa during the offseason. Still, this year will prove to be a tougher task since he no longer has a talent like Miller around.

Miller was one of those talents that doesn't come around very often. Playing the Joker position, Miller could sometimes be found at defensive end or outside linebacker. He probably could have kicked extra points if the team had asked him to. The truth was, no matter where he lined up, all you had to do to find Miller was follow the football. He'd be there sooner rather than later.

Spring Practice Primers
The key for Texas A&M will be to make sure it realizes it can't just plug somebody in Miller's place and expect them to produce the same type of results. Which is what Damontre Moore, Miller's likely replacement, will have to tell himself as well.

Of course, there's the possibility that Moore will be used exclusively as a defensive end. Entering his sophomore season, Moore is already 6'4 and 248 pounds. Should he continue to grow into his frame, he may end up too big to play linebacker.

Which is where guys like Dominique Patterson and Kyle Mangan will come in to play as well. Mangan didn't play all that well during the Cotton Bowl when he was forced into duty, but with an entire spring to work and months to prepare for the season, he may grow into the role.

As for Patterson, like Moore, he'll be a sophomore in 2011. Is he ready to make an impact this quickly? He may have to. After all, Miller isn't the only linebacker that the Aggies lose, as Michael Hodges has moved on as well.

Odds are that in order to replace Miller, it's not going to take one player. Instead the entire Aggies defense will have to step up its game to replace its leader.

Whether it can do that will likely go a long way in determining whether the Aggies are bound for another nine-win season, or if they'll be hoisting up a Big 12 Championship trophy come the end of the year.

College Station starts to learn the answers to these questions this week.
Posted on: March 23, 2011 2:08 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 2:44 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: USC

Posted by Bryan Fischer

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 USC, who started spring practice last Friday.


Spring Practice Question: Is there depth on both sides of the ball in year two of the Lane Kiffin era?

At a time when most college students were just waking up for their first class of the day, quarterback Matt Barkley lofted a beautiful deep ball to wide receiver Robert Woods to wrap up USC's first spring practice. The perfectly thrown post route was one of the few things the Trojans looked sharp at during their first early morning workout, which began at 7:30 a.m.

"Kiffin always wants to end on a bang," Barkley said. "We're just getting used to it. There should be better tempo in the days to come."

Many USC players arrive at the football facilities at 5 a.m. to stretch and get taped before heading to meetings at 6 a.m. The practices are similar to how Pac-10 rival Oregon operates but Kiffin's idea switch to the early practices was not a result of what the Ducks have been doing.

"It's actually something, over the last couple of years, that I wanted to do," Kiffin said. "Because of class schedules you have to do it a year in advance because of registration and to block these hours. At Tennessee we wanted to do it but we weren't there for a full year before spring. It's something I want to look at in the spring and could be a possibility for the fall."

Although Kiffin hasn't made up his mind on the practice schedule this fall, he is hoping several of his players are able to get some playing time in before the spring ends. After battling a general lack of numbers and several injuries throughout last season, the Trojans will limit full contact drills and do more 7-on-7 in place of full team periods.

“The scary thing is, we’re 19 short and we just started," Kiffin said. "Usually you’re short at the end of spring. Hopefully we don’t add to that list, and possibly get some guys back.”

A 20th player, tailback Marc Tyler is likely to be added to the list after aggravating his hamstring muscle while stretching out for a pass on the first day. One young player who could use the opening to get into the mix at running back is redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan. Fully recovered from knee surgery his senior year in high school, Morgan is reportedly the fastest player on the team and could be a nice change of pace back to pair with a bruiser like Tyler. Also in the mix is Dillon Baxter, who hopes to rebound from a disappointing freshman campaign and translate some of the talent that made him a YouTube sensation in his first season.

Paving the way for the backfield is a talented but limited group of offensive lineman. Starting left tackle Matt Kalil is healthy and is looking to build on a very solid debut season protecting Barkley's blind side. Returning starter Khaled Holmes will receive snaps at both guard and center but will be limited the first few weeks with a neck stinger. Center Abe Markowitz and guard/tackle Kevin Graf will sit out some or all of spring practice due to injuries. Some reinforcements have arrived in junior college transfers David Garness and Jeremy Galten. The two should provide added depth but they must quickly get up to speed with the offensive terminology.

Things aren't much better, depth-wise, across the trenches on the defensive line. Tackle Christian Tupou will be limited while recovering from a knee surgery last season and defensive end Wes Horton will also miss part of spring practice with a foot injury. Defensive end Armond Armstead is being held out after being hospitalized for a heart condition and hopes to be cleared by doctors by the end of the month. Position coach Ed Orgeron is looking to get the most out of the group that is practicing, including talented defensive end Nick Perry and defensive tackle DaJohn "Juicy" Harris.

Linebackers Chris Galippo, Devon Kennard and Shane Horton will also watch most of spring practice from the sideline. Though all three are expected to start in the fall, their vacant positions will allow many of the younger players to receive extra repetitions and build a bit of depth at a position that has had it lacking for several years. Marquis Simmons, Hayes Pullard and safety-turned-linebacker Dion Bailey are three of the players the coaching staff has high hopes for and expects to get better with the added practice time.

"Even though it's a bummer that those guys missed, it's kind of a blessing in disguise that we can get the young guys a bunch of work," linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "At linebacker, it's all about reps and seeing things 1,000 times. The only way you can see things 1,000 times is if you get snaps. The young guys are getting a bunch of work so it's actually good for us."

The secondary is probably the healthiest of any of the position groups and has several players who should compete for playing time. Safeties Marshall Jones, T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Demetrius Wright are a talented, physical group that gives defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin a lot of flexibility on the back end. Though senior starter Shareece Wright is off to the NFL, Nickell Robey, Tony Burnett and Brian Baucham all have experience at cornerback and redshirt freshman Anthony Brown has looked good in practice as well.

The defensive backs usually has their hands full going against a fast group of wide receivers every day. A freshman All-American, Woods has easily become the number one option on offense and is - quite simply - a playmaker with the ball in his hands. Brandon Carswell, De'Von Flournoy and Markeith Ambles should all contribute for new receivers coach Ted Gilmore but red zone target Kyle Prater will be sidelined with a foot injury. Senior tight end Rhett Ellison will be an integral part of the offense and don't be surprised to see youngsters Christian Thomas, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer involved in two tight end sets.

With a deep group of weapons on offense, USC is looking to experiment with more of a spread-based attack this spring. The coaching staff is hoping that Barkley's third year of spring practice and an offense that relies the quarterback making plays translates into an even better season this fall.

"He needs to take the next step from being a really good quarterback to a great quarterback," Kiffin said. "Last year he improved a lot on his decision making and you saw his touchdown to interception ratio increase dramatically. Now he needs to do that again and take a leadership role and put everything on his back. He did that at times last year but now he just needs to be more consistent with that."

Spring Practice Primers
While Kiffin is looking for Barkley to take his game to the next level, he also has to worry about who is backing him following the departure of senior Mitch Mustain. Two early enrollees, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, and redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins will battle things out for the number two quarterback spot. Barkley has taken on the role of mentor to the young players, helping them with their playbook and giving lessons from when he was a freshman going through spring drills for the first time.

Left somewhat unsaid by the coaches and the players however, is the status of USC's NCAA infractions appeal. The Trojans are hoping to play in a bowl game this upcoming season and have asked for several scholarships back from their original penalties stemming from the Reggie Bush case. It has been nine weeks since USC argued their case in front of the Infractions Appeals Committee and it's very likely that the team will have to deal with a decision coming in the middle of spring practice.

"I haven't thought about it in awhile," Barkley said. "It's not affecting how I'm playing right now. We're obviously hoping for the best in whatever comes out of that situation but it's not affecting how we're getting ready for the season."

In the mean time, the work in and around Heritage Hall continues. There's no new system to learn on either side of the ball and the coaching staff returns mostly intact so the Trojans' focus this spring is mostly on themselves. Kiffin hopes to find some depth in his second year as head coach and there's certainly some talent on the roster. 

Despite being down in numbers, there's some depth this season for USC. Only time will tell how much there really is though.

Posted on: March 23, 2011 12:06 pm
 

A new Gabbert claims the Mizzou throne

Posted by Tom Fornelli

In my Spring Practice Primer on Missouri earlier this month, the focus of the preview was Missouri finding a quarterback to replace the departed Blaine Gabbert, who some feel may be the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft this spring. The candidates were James Franklin, Ashton Glaser and Tyler Gabbert, the younger brother of Blaine.

Well, it seems that the Missouri quarterback position is becoming a bit of a family affair. After a very strong performance in in Mizzou's lone scrimmage this spring, Tyler Gabbert took the reins as the Tigers' quarterback during practice on Tuesday. Of course, this is still just spring practice, and there's a long way to go before the season starts.

Gabbert can lose the job and then win it back four more times before that happens, which he realizes, and says that a bad day here or there won't shake his confidence.

“You have to [stay confident],” Gabbert told the Kansas City Star. “At the same time, you have to stay humble and stay hungry. But if you get an opportunity, you have to go out and capitalize. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

That being said, the fact Gabbert was able to take over from the "favorite" James Franklin so quickly is a strong indication of what's likely to happen this fall.


Posted on: March 22, 2011 4:17 pm
Edited on: March 22, 2011 4:25 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Oklahoma

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 Oklahoma , who started spring practice on Monday . 

Spring Practice Question: Will Oklahoma replace DeMarco Murray with a committee of backs, or will one man emerge with the job? 

There are going to be a lot of expectations on the Oklahoma Sooners heading into 2011. Though we're a long time away from the first preseason polls of the year, and we all know that preseason polls are utterly useless, a lot of folks seem to think that Oklahoma will begin the season as the top-ranked team in the country. Which makes sense.

The Sooners are coming off another Big 12 title and a win in the Fiesta Bowl, and they're also getting back two of the best offensive players in the country in quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Ryan Broyles.

A nice duo for new co-offensive coordinators Josh Huepel and Jay Norvell to have at their disposal as the replace Kevin Wilson, who took the head coaching job at Indiana. What won't be so easy for them to do is find a replacement for running back DeMarco Murray.

In his four years with the Sooners, Murray produced 5,256 yards and 63 touchdowns rushing and receiving. That's not the kind of production you can just replace. So who will be the man to pick up where Murray left off?

Well, odds are that it won't be just one back doing so, but rather a committee. Roy Finch did a nice job backing Murray up in 2010 as a freshman, but also had to miss the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture. Considering he's only 5'8 and 180 pounds, durability has to be a concern for Finch. Odds are that he won't be able to carry the load by himself, which will open the door for one of Oklahoma's other backs.

Going in to camp Brennan Clay is listed at number one on the running back depth chart, but he only carried the ball 36 times for 127 yards as a freshman. There's also Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Iowa transfer Brandon Wegher who could take some carries this season.

Spring Practice Primers
Still, if I had to place money on who I think would emerge from all these backs as the featured guy, it wouldn't be any of those players I've already named. What's incredibly telling about what the Sooners would like to see happen this spring, incoming freshman Brandon Williams, who just enrolled this semester, is listed behind Clay on the depth chart.


Williams, a 6'1 188-pound running back out of Royal High School in Brookshire, Texas, may have been the crown jewel of Oklahoma's 2011 recruiting class. He'll also get a chance to win the starting job this spring, which is why he enrolled early.

During his junior and senior seasons at Royal, Williams rushed for 4,253 yards and 47 touchdowns. He also caught 47 passes for 656 yards and 6 more touchdowns. That's some DeMarco Murray-like production right there.

Of course, there's a difference between the Big 12 and high school football, even in the state of Texas, so whether or not Williams is able to handle the job at Oklahoma remains to be seen. Especially when you consider that it's national title or bust in Norman.

Whether or not he'll be able to handle it we'll begin to learn this spring. So while there are plenty of things to keep an eye on with the Sooners this spring, I have a feeling that most eyes will be on Williams.
Posted on: March 22, 2011 3:14 pm
Edited on: March 22, 2011 4:19 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Tennessee

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 Tennessee , who starts spring practice today .

Spring Practice Question: Can Tennessee make enough strides along the line of scrimmage to threaten the teams at the top of the SEC East?

There was a time when Tennessee fans would have greeted a 6-7 overall record featuring one SEC win over a team that wasn't Vanderbilt or Kentucky -- and that one coming over an utterly mediocre Ole Miss outfit -- with as much hostility as a Gator frigate or Tide destroyer attempting to take sail alongside the Vol Navy. But that time came before the decline of Phil Fulmer and the abbreviated reign of Lane Kiffin, the combination of which turned what had been one of the nation's most feared programs into a smoking orange crater when Derek Dooley was hired in early 2010. Given the major headaches Dooley inherited, the bottom-of-the-barrel expectations for 2010, and the infamous victories against LSU and North Carolina that got yoinked away after the final whistle, 6-7 really wasn't so bad ... and so it's no surprise that rather than looking for a rail on which to run Dooley out of town, Vol fans enter 2011 with a healthy amount of optimism regarding both their head coach and the program's direction.

But steadying the Vols' ship is one thing. Bringing it safely into port alongside Florida or Georgia or now South Carolina atop the SEC East standings is something else entirely. And though no one will blame Dooley for not bringing home a divisional title in 2011, there will undoubtedly be some disappointment in Knoxville if the Vols aren't more competitive against the aforementioned trio; even with the Gators and Dawgs fielding their weakest teams in a decade or more, Tennessee fell to each by a combined 41 points. Though a second-half comeback made the Vols' contest against the division-winning Gamecocks more interesting, ultimately that game ended in a 14-point UT loss, too.

So how does Dooley close the gap? The easiest answer will be getting an entire season out of quarterback Tyler Bray , the true freshman who took over from the erratic Matt Simms at midseason and sparked a startling offensive resurgence, leading Tennessee to 335 or more yards of offense in its final six games despite the team not crossing that threshold once in its first seven.

But as starry-eyed as Vol fans might be regarding Bray's future, even Dooley's not expecting him to be a finished product this fall. "If he doesn't understand something, he doesn't care. He's just going to do something else," Dooley said at a pre-spring media luncheon Monday. "We'll be the ones throwing our hats because he throws it to the wrong guy and it's a touchdown."

Spring Practice Primers
Getting Bray to understand something and rely less on throwing it to the wrong guys -- touchdown or not -- will be one of the primary focuses of the Volunteers' spring. But maybe more important is the place where even more improvement is needed for the Vols to take the next step in their recovery--the line of scrimmage.

It wasn't a surprise, of course, that the Vols struggled with an entirely new offensive line and new starters at both defensive tackle positions. But struggle they did: dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed, dead last in both total rushing and yards per-carry, ninth in yards per-carry allowed, ninth in sacks in conference play. However you sliced it, the Vol lines weren't pretty.

But they were also some of the youngest in the country, and there's reason to think they'll be substantially better this year. On offense, NFL-sized (6'7", 320 pounds) true freshman tackle JuWuan James earned a starting job in fall camp, started all 13 games, and landed first-team Freshman All-SEC honors. Fellow freshmen James Stone, Zach Fulton, and JerQuari Schofield had all likewise entered the starting lineup by season's end, with sophomore Dallas Thomas also making a name for himself. Assuming the five of them take the leap forward expected of rising sophomores (and a rising junior) who have their first year of serious action already under their belt, the Vol line could go from a position of obvious weakness to a borderline strength.

It's much the same story along the defensive front. Ends Gerald Williams and Chris Walker may have graduated, but there's plenty of talent left in their place. The new defensive tackle pairing of Montori Hughes and Malik Jackson had its positive moments as well as its struggles (Jackson led the team with five sacks) and should be much-improved in their second year in the starting lineup. On the ends, yet another true freshman -- Jacques Smith -- came on late in the year and landed on the league all-freshman team. Fellow true frosh Corey Miller was almost as impressive in limited time, and the two look set to serve as sophomore bookends this season.

Overall, the Volunteers will remain so young on both lines that neither can be expected to join the ranks of the SEC's best just yet. But with burgeoning talents like Bray, running back Tauren Poole, wide receiver Justin Hunter, and corner Marsalis Teague (not to mention Janzen Jackson, the troubled safety who withdrew from school with personal issues but who Dooley says is "on pace" to return), as long as there's improvement up front, there should be improvement on the scoreboard as well.

Some of that improvement is likely. But we'll find out this spring how much the Vols can actually expect ... and if it's Dooley or the Gators, Dawgs, or Gamecocks who need to be sweating once spring is done.


Posted on: March 22, 2011 9:21 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: Arizona

Posted by Bryan Fischer

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 Arizona, who started spring practice Monday.

Spring Practice Question: Who will emerge and help restock the offensive and defensive lines?

If starting quarterback Nick Foles takes his lineman out for dinner this spring, he might be doing so more to get to know them than he is to get some dinner after practice. That's the state of the Arizona offensive line, which loses all five starters to graduation and needs to be sorted out if Foles is going to have any time to throw to one of the most talented group of wide outs in the Pac-12.

A rebuilding job is nothing new for head coach Mike Stoops. Entering his eighth spring practice with the Wildcats, Stoops has taken the once downtrodden program and turned it into a consistent winner, with the team coming off their third straight winning season for the first time in over a decade. The colorful (usually a bright shade of red) Stoops will use spring practices to help forget last year's disastrous ending however, when the team lost their last five games of the year after a promising start.

Attention is primarily on the offensive line and learning to mesh with new offensive coordinator/line coach Robert Anae. The former offensive coordinator at BYU for the last five years, Anae won't have to change too much of the terminology of the offense and can instead focus on who meshes well along the line. Vaughn Dotsy figures to be the front runner at guard having previously been a starter but injury issues have held back his playing time. Kyle Quinn had a solid audition for the center spot after playing well in the bowl game last year and as the primary backup for the past two seasons. Outside of those two however, the rest of the line will be quite green. Redshirt freshman Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele figure to be in the mix for the other spots and are talented enough to play early in their careers.

If the line can gel during the spring and protect Foles, the Wildcats' offense could be one to watch. Foles' primary backup Matt Scott is expected to redshirt during the season so the spring will be a time for senior Bryson Beirne to get significant playing time to prepare for the fall. Early enrollee Daxx Garman will get a few looks but he didn't play his senior year in high school due to transfer issues.

Any of the quarterbacks on the roster will certainly like what the weapons they see around them. Running back Keola Antolin is back as the starter and Greg Nwoko should see his fair share of carries at the position this spring as well. Juron Criner headlines a talented group of wide receivers that may be the best returning group in the Pac-12. Eligible for the fall is Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who provides a big target for Foles in the red zone and caught 45 passes with the Longhorns as a true freshman. Freshmen Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin will also try and push for playing time this spring.

Though the defensive line won't have to replace the entire front four, they do need to find two new starters at defensive end to replace the terrific and underrated Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed. Dominique Austin, Mohammed Usman and Dan Pettinato will all get a shot but it will be hard to match the productivity Elmore and Reed had during their time in Tucson. Luckily, they'll have several quality defensive tackles rotating in next to them, led by redshirt sophomores Justin Washington and Sione Tuihalamaka. Washington racked up six sacks last season and will be key in getting a strong pass rush going. Keep an eye out for Aiulua Fanene and Saneilla Fuimaono at defensive tackle to provide the big bodies the Wildcats need in the trenches.

However the defensive line shapes up, the linebacker unit playing behind them returns all three starters and figure to mix in several younger players this spring to provide depth. The secondary will need to replace both safeties but has impressive, young talent at corner looking to hone their skills this spring. You can probably pencil in Adam Hall as one of the safeties this spring and Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight figure to make the battle for the corner spots interesting.

There's a lot of talent on Arizona's roster for this spring and it's up to Stoops and several of his new staff members to figure out what to do with it and correct some of the issues that plagued them down the stretch last season. Things are always made easier when most of your skill position talent returns but that won't mean anything if the offensive line doesn't get sorted out this spring. 

Luckily (or unluckily depending on your point of view) for Stoops, he'll be able to conduct business under the radar as almost all the attention in Tucson is on the basketball team's run in the NCAA tournament.

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