Tag:Tyler Bray
Posted on: May 12, 2011 4:11 pm
 

Eye on CFB Roundtable: preseason top 25

By Eye on College Football Bloggers

Each week, the Eye on CFB team convenes Voltron- style to answer a pressing question regarding the wild, wide world of college football. This week's topic:

We've already talked about No. 1, but the end of spring has also meant a revision of the rest of the preseason top 25, like our colleague Dennis Dodd's. What teams do you feel like might deserve a better ranking at this stage (or one at all)? What teams do you feel like might be ranked too highly?

Jerry Hinnen: There always seems to be one team from the SEC that comes from outside the preseason polls and surprises--think Mississippi State last year, Ole Miss in 2008, etc. But Dennis's 25 already includes every SEC team but Ole Miss, Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and I'm not sold on any of those teams as poll material. (There's a case to be made for the Vols, but only if Tyler Bray takes a major step forward, and his 5-for-30 spring game suggests that step may not be imminent.)

So I'll look elsewhere for a sleeper and mention how much I like San Diego State. The Aztecs have absorbed some heavy losses in their pair of NFL-bound wideouts and, of course, the head coach-offensive coordinator pairing of Brady Hoke and Al Borges. But Ronnie Hillman is an All-American running back waiting to happen, and senior Ryan Lindley is easily the best MWC quarterback this side of Kellen Moore. Together, they're one of the nation's best RB-QB combos, and new OC Andy Ludwig (the man behind Utah's undefeated 2008 attack) should know how to get the most out of them.

Defensively, the Aztecs should be much more comfortable in the second year of Rocky Long's unorthodox 3-3-5 scheme, and the schedule also offers the opportunity for two huge statement wins since TCU and Boise State travel to San Diego. Put it all together, and I don't think the departures of Hoke and Borges will be nearly enough to stop the program's momentum towards the polls.

Bryan Fischer: One team I think is a bit under the radar is Georgia. The Dawgs get the other division favorite, South Carolina, early in the schedule--that could be key if the Gamecocks are breaking in Connor Shaw, who has all of 33 passes to his name. I'm concerned about Georgia's running game but they have a good quarterback and the defense should be markedly improved in year two under Todd Grantham.

West Virginia is another team that can really make a move. They lose a lot from last year on defense but should be solid nevertheless. They might have one of the best offenses in the country with Geno Smith running the show and get their big non-conference game against LSU at home.

Chip Patterson: I agree with Bryan that West Virginia is a team that could cause some problems this fall. Dana Holgorsen might have done the coaching job of the year in 2010 with Oklahoma State's offense; the Cowboys did not return a single offensive lineman and his scheme resulted in the third-most productive offense in the nation anyway. Now he gets a stable full of athletes that, in many people's opinions, have been underperforming under Bill Stewart. Smith is the type of quarterback who can be a threat in Holgorsen's spread, especially once he gets familiar with the reads and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. The toughest challenge on the Mountaineers' slate is an early-season battle with LSU in Morgantown (as Bryan mentioned). I think that game is winnable, and could give them confidence headed into the back-loaded conference schedule.

Virginia Tech, though, is a huge question mark in my opinion. While I'm not sure whether they will end up higher or lower than 17, there's as much of a chance of them finishing the season unranked as getting to 10 wins. Their schedule does set up extremely well, with Clemson, Miami and North Carolina coming to Blacksburg and Florida State, Maryland and N.C. State avoided completely. But Logan Thomas needs to prove himself in a game situation, and running back David Wilson will have to work without Darren Evans or Ryan Williams to compliment him. Even if the Hokies finish the season strong, the eye test does not have them as "Top 20 good" just yet.

Adam Jacobi: After the first, oh, eight teams, I've got some major concerns about nearly every team on the list. Spring is the season for questions, of course, but it's like, "Michigan State at 11? Really? Wisconsin at 12? Really? Arkansas at 13? Really?" But you look at that list, and yeah, that's about right.

The one team that stands out to me is Notre Dame, who sort of creeps in under the radar at 19. I don't expect that sterling recruiting class to make much of an impact in Year 1, but there's a lot of talent coming back for Brian Kelly to build on. They have options at quarterback with Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, the passing game basically only lost tight end Kyle Rudolph (who was injured for the second half of the season anyway), and four of five starting linemen return. The defense, meanwhile, is still led by Manti Te'o and returns its top eight tacklers. There's some retooling to do up the middle of the front seven, but the leadership and experience are there for the D to take a big step forward this year.

Lastly, I really like the Irish's schedule. The only truly worrisome game is the season finale at Stanford; the rest of the games are winnable. That's not to say the Irish are definitely going 11-1 in the regular season -- that's not happening without a ton of luck -- but it's a nice very-best-case scenario.

BF: I think the top 10 is pretty much standard for everyone. Sure, you can change the order and move teams around, but you can't argue with those 10 teams much.

After that, I have an issue with Auburn at 15. I know they're the defending champions, but they lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and the Tigers have a very tough schedule where they could take some losses. I'm also not sold on Utah after watching them collapse down the stretch last year, and they've had a ton of guys sit out this spring with injuries. I'd swap them in the rankings with USC -- who has depth issues but also has Matt Barkley and Robert Woods throwing the ball around -- or UCF.

AJ: Here's something I want to know -- what do you do about Ohio State if you're a voter? Do you ding them since the Buckeye Five are suspended for five games? Do you un-ding them when they come back? How many spots does Jim Tressel's situation cost them? What's the protocol here?

Tom Fornelli: I would have them lower on my rankings, personally. Losing some of your best players and your head coach for five games is a big deal, even if those games are against MACifices that shouldn't prove much of a test to the Buckeyes. Either way, those players and Tressel aren't there to start the season, so we should treat Ohio State as if they're not there. And do you see Ohio State being a top-25 team with Joe Bauserman?

JH: Disagree. I don't think there's a "protocol" on how to deal with the Buckeyes' current (unprecedented) situation as it relates to preseason polls; your guess is as good as mine is as good as anyone else's. But I don't think dropping them out of the top 25 all together is fair. Until we hear otherwise from the NCAA, the Buckeye Five and Tressel won't miss any more than the first (mostly winnable) five games. Dropping them entirely -- under the mere assumption Tressel, Pryor, et al are a dead team walking -- seems to put the cart before the horse.

TF: Seriously, though, I need somebody to explain to me why Arizona State is suddenly the cool team to vote for. Do people just really like their new uniforms? Is Vontaze Burfict sitting over their shoulders as they fill out their brackets? This is a team that won six games last year, with those six wins coming against Portland State, Northern Arizona, Washington, Washington State, UCLA and Arizona. Arizona is the only impressive win on that list, and it was a one-point victory in double overtime. This is a team that may have a lot of returning starters this year, but they're returning starters from a team that wasn't exactly a world-beater last season. Also, after losing quarterback Steven Threet to injury, the guy who has to lead that returning-starter-filled offense is still new.

JH: You didn't even mention their plague of torn ACLs this spring. I wish I could disagree -- the Sun Devils have had a ton of bad luck the last couple of seasons -- but they strike me, too, as a prime candidate to disappoint.




Posted on: May 3, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 2:31 pm
 

Where should Russell Wilson land?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

He's not exactly Curt Flood,   but all the same Russell Wilson may wind up serving as a college football landmark: the sport's first legitimate free agent. Cut loose from N.C. Stateeligible to play virtually anywhere thanks to his early graduation, "95 percent" likely to take advantage of that eligiblity, and -- most importantly -- a bona fide all-conference candidate with three years of starting experience and a 76-26 career touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

So Wilson represents uncharted waters for college football; while other players have been eligible to transfer without penalty, none have offered such tantalizing immediate benefits. But which school is going to be the lucky one to sail into those waters? 

We don't know. No one does, Wilson included; he's still got months of baseball ahead of him. But we can say which programs would be the best fit should Wilson decide to take a look. Here's our guesses for the comfiest landing spot for Wilson in each BCS conference, judging by both which team would benefit most by Wilson's arrival and which team Wilson would benefit most by joining. Enjoy:

SEC: TENNESSEE. Yep, we're saying the Vols, despite most of the early Wilson speculation centering on South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Auburn. But multiple reporters covering the Tigers have said they won't be interested; it makes sense considering that 2012 shapes up as a much more likely championship campaign for Auburn than 2011, and Gene Chizik won't want to spoil that with a first-year starter under center. Steve Spurrier will certainly give Wilson a ring if Stephen Garcia is finally dismissed, but if Garcia sticks around, neither he nor Wilson will want the controversy his arrival would bring. And though we have little doubt Houston Nutt would welcome Wilson with open arms rather than ride with the untested Randall Mackey or Barry Brunetti, Wilson can probably find a team with higher expectations.

Enter Tennessee. Yes, the Vols have a starter already, promising sophomore Tyler Bray. But Bray's boom-or-bust results late last season and ugly 5-for-30 spring game performance suggest that he might need more seasoning before taking the reins for a full SEC season. Bringing in Wilson lets the Vols redshirt and groom Bray for three solid seasons to follow, without taking a step back at the position; going to Tennessee lets Wilson play for a high-profile team in the nation's toughest conference, one with plenty of playmakers at his disposal. It's a win-win.

BIG TEN: WISCONSIN. An easy call: the perpetually consistent Badgers have the defensive playmakers, the ball-carriers and the receivers to put together another fine Big Ten team if they can hold the line on the offensive line ... and if they can find a quarterback. The results at the Badgers' spring game  suggest they don't have the latter yet. The stodgy Badger attack won't make much use of Wilson's mobility, but no other team in the conference offers Wilson the chance to waltz in as the unquestioned starter for a top-25 program.

BIG 12: MISSOURI. After years of Chase Daniel and then Blaine Gabbert spearheading the Tigers' aerial attack, Gary Pinkel has to feel a little spoiled when it comes to quarterbacks. But that may be changing, as Mizzou comes out of spring without a clearcut starter and with neither candidate (Tyler Gabbert, younger brother of Blaine, or James Franklin) having looked quite in the Daniel/Gabbert class. Wilson would short-circuit any potential quarterback-platoon talk immediately upon arrival and give the Tigers one of the best trigger-men their spread could ask for. Wilson, meanwhile, would have the benefit of having the ball in his hands 40 to 50 times a game, for a team whose underrated defense should make them top-25 contenders.

PAC-12: UCLA. Let's face it: the 3-9 Bruins maybe don't have a heck of a lot to offer in terms of football glory. But after their seemingly endless quarterback carousel of the past few seasons, no program would be more appreciative -- no coach more thankful -- than UCLA and Rick Neuheisel. If Wilson can salvage a winning season out of 2011 and potentially turn around the flagging tenure of Neuheisel, the gratitude aimed his way from the Westwood faithful would likely dwarf anything he'd receive anywhere else. (Besides, most of the other Pac-12 contenders -- Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, Cal, even ineligible pseudo-contender USC  -- have fairly established quarterbacks.)

ACC: FLORIDA STATE NO ONE

[This section originally discussed the "far-fetched" possibility that Wilson could transfer to the Wolfpack's intra-division rivals in Tallahassee, but it's more than far-fetched; it's impossible, since Wilson's release -- originally, erroneously reported as "unconditional" -- specifies that he may not transfer to an ACC school or any school on NCSU's schedule. In retrospect, this is a common sense precaution. Apologies.]

BIG EAST: WEST VIRGINIA. We're kidding, mostly; Geno Smith enjoyed an excellent spring game and will be the Mountaineers' 2011 starter. And given Wilson's unwillingness to give up on a "football dream" that likely includes the NFL, he would likely pass on Dana Holgorsen's Mike Leach- inspired  "Air Raid" offense anyway, which has struggled putting its passers in the pros. But an offense like Holgorsen's, as helmed by a talent like Wilson? We can dream of those kinds of pinball games, can't we?



Posted on: April 27, 2011 5:49 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC East

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:06 pm
 

SEC Post-Spring Conference Call Recap

Posted by Bryan Fischer

All twelve SEC head coaches jumped on board a conference call to talk about their Spring Practices. Here's a few notes on what each coach said.

Les Miles, LSU

On senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson:

"He gets it out of his hand so quickly now and goes through his reads much quicker," Miles said. "There's much less hesitation in his decision-making process. I also think going into your senior year, there's a want to have a great senior year, and the leadership position is something your quarterback must embrace.

Miles also said that new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has been a major help for all of the quarterbacks on the roster. Backups Zach Mettenberger and Jarrett Lee pushed Jefferson this spring and will continue to do so in the fall, which makes the team better.

Will Muschamp, Florida

On quarterback John Brantley this spring:

"I’m really pleased with his poise, leadership and habits off the field studying what we need to do to be successful,” Muschamp said. “He’s got the ability and we’re very pleased.”

On Brantley's tough spring game:

“I don’t think in the spring game John had much of a chance,” Muschamp said. “I was behind him and saw it coming pretty fast, too.”

Muschamp made Florida's policy on grayshirting very clear, in that they don't do it period. He also mentioned that Javares McRoy transferred because he wants to play with his brother and Chris Dunkley left because, "sometimes things don't fit." All the injured Florida players should be healthy and ready to go this summer.

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

On oversigning:

"Well, we like the way the rule is now because we actually sign four or five guys that are on the bubble of qualifying. This year we've got about five that haven't quite done it and probably three that won't make it," Spurrier said. "We could not sign all of our guys which was embarrassing for us a little bit and for them. Sometimes time heals a lot of wounds. It appears that one guy in particular will be able to sign and come with us when all the freshmen report. Our state education is.. a lot of them are borderline of qualifying or not. It's helpful for the University of South Carolina to be able to oversign."

Spurrier touched on suspended quarterback Steven Garcia, which you can read more about here. It's the Old Ball Coach's 66th birthday today and he said he was teeing off with Boo Weekley at a pro-am this afternoon. Spurrier was upbeat on current quarterback Connor Shaw, even joking he "is from our planet," in contrast to Garcia.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt

On the challenge at Vandy:

"I love the word daunting. To me, it's an opportunity, it's a challenge," Franklin said. "Just like everything else in life, it's how you look at it and perceive the situation. The way myself, this staff and this program looks at it, we have a chance to really do something special."

Franklin said the team stayed healthy for the most part this spring which was key because of depth issues. The spring was mainly about laying a foundation and the head coach felt they did that.

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

On the fan base being more united with some stability in the program:

"I hope fans see a coach who wants to be here and appreciates the tradition and the history of Tennessee football and has a good systematic approach on and off the field," Dooley said.

The head coach also said his honeymoon was over with the fans and that it ended at kickoff of last season. Dooley dismissed some of the struggles of quarterback Tyler Bray in the spring game because of the way he performed throughout the spring. He briefly touched on the 'Dooley Rule' that was implemented requiring a runoff of time in the last minute of a game on a penalty and said that it makes the game better.

Nick Saban, Alabama

On meeting with players to evaluate their progress:

"We go over a player's strengths, weaknesses, things he needs to work on, academic circumstance, personal issues, problems, leadership things he can contribute," Saban said. "It's pretty comprehensive to sit down and talk, sort of develop a plan for what that person needs to do to be successful personally, academically and athletically." 

Saban discussed the quarterback battle between Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron, including the possibility of playing both. Saban mentioned walk-on defensive back Ranzell Watkins as one player who is in the competition for a starting job because of his hard work this spring.

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas

On the QB battle between Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell:

"I think they still have a long way to go," Petrino said. "They both have great leadership qualities but they have a ways to go to do their job well so they can lead by example first."

Petrino said the Spring Game was one of the most attended in history and was a big deal because it was televised. He was pleased with figuring some of his offensive line out this spring and thought his defense showed off the veteran unit's maturity. Petrino mentioned having four good receivers will help the offense tremendously no matter the quarterback.

Houston Nutt, Ole Miss

On QB Randall Mackey's spring:

"I thought Randall Mackey had an outstanding spring," Nutt said. "You can see why he was a junior college All-American quarterback. He can really spin the play and buy some time, he has some escapablity and is very accurate. We knew he could be in the shotgun but he got up under center much better."

Nutt said Mackey was ahead in the quarterback derby but nothing is finalized until this fall. He thought the few seniors on the team really stepped up and showed great leadership. Nutt also liked the way the defensive tackles got better as the spring went on and felt they also became more physical. He labeled Wesley Pendleton as the surprise of the spring.

Mark Richt, Georgia

On spring practice overall:

"I think we got better, we practiced with the right amount of intensity," Richt said. "We competed well, guys were competing for jobs, competing in offense versus defense."

Richt said the offensive tackle situation is fluid and still up in the air and the third guy could end up playing both left and right tackle. Richt said he wouldn't ban social media for his players because he knows it's such a big part of their lives. "They sacrifice enough with the amount of time they put in," he said. Richt did mention that it would be an issue if a guy is irresponsible with it. Richt wouldn't comment on the locker room thefts that occurred a few weeks ago.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

On the quarterback position:

“The competition, to me, is wide open right now,” Mullen said. “Chris Relf, obviously, did a great job this spring. I don’t know if he separated himself from all the other guys but he also has the experience and has played in the game and has done nothing to not be our top quarterback at this point going into the summer.”

Mullen didn't comment on any of the injuries on the team. He mentioned that since there were so many young players, it was good to get some practice time with them and they did a great job. He said the defense won't really change with the departure of Manny Diaz but that they would try a few new things. Mullen said he doesn't have a top-flight wide out but the group overall is very solid.

Gene Chizik, Auburn

On the all the distractions around the program:

"We only focus on one thing and that's what we can control,' Chizik said. "We know we're doing everything the right way and feel good about the direction of the program. We don't pay attention to any outside distractions."

Chizik thought there was an eagerness to learn from the younger players on the team but they have a long ways to go. He wanted the quarterbacks to be more consistency and will be a battle into the fall. Incoming quarterback Kiehl Fraizer will be in the mix as well.

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

On what he's gotten out of spring football:

"I've really been pleased with the progress of our team defensively," Phillips said. "I'm really pleased after 14 practices that we're getting the best personnel on the field and we're unitizing some of our better people."

Phillips liked the development of the quarterbacks and feels they can be a better passing team in the fall. He said they're in "desperate need" of somebody stepping up on the perimeter at wide receiver and being a playmaker.

Posted on: April 18, 2011 4:51 pm
 

Tyler Bray's spring game did not go very well

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

When Tennessee's coaches assigned starting quarterback Tyler Bray and most of the starting offensive talent to the "Orange" squad for their Orange-White spring exhibition, what they probably had in mind was letting the Vol fans get a good, positive look at their 2011 offense doing good, positive things.

Thanks to an outing by Bray we're going to charitably call "terrible," it didn't exactly work out that way. The Orange side was throttled by the lesser-regarded White team 24-7, with Bray completing just five of his 30 passing attempts against a Tennessee pass defense that ranked 81st in the country last year.

Derek Dooley said the White's physical dominance of the Orange side was "fun to watch," and for a coaching staff that needs a bigger boost from their running game this fall, seeing tailbacks Tauren Poole and Raijon Neal have big days probably was. But Dooley also didn't hide the fact that Bray's day had been a disappointment:
“You know what I said Thursday — if Tyler would have gone 27-of-30 for 300 (yards) I would have said, ‘Yeah, we’re doing good,’ ” Dooley said. “If he would have gone 5-for-30, which is what he did, ‘It’s just the spring game, it doesn’t matter.’

“There were a lot of reasons he wasn’t on, and it starts with him. I think he went in a little bit confident, feeling good about the matchups, and when you’re not on edge, you’re never going to perform. There were some serious mismatches in protection that I think affected him early, and then once it gets going bad early you’ve got to get that run-game settled in.”
Still, there's bad, and then there's 5-for-30 bad. Bray had a nice finish to the season, but much of his success came against the defenses of teams like Memphis and Vanderbilt; a full season's worth of battles against the likes of Alabama and Georgia will be something else entirely. If Bray's already feeling "a little bit confident" about his own abilities -- to the point of completing 16.6 percent of his passes in a spring game -- Tennessee can only hope Saturday's pratfall will do its deserved part to keep that kind of confidence in check.

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: December 31, 2010 2:12 am
Edited on: December 31, 2010 2:16 am
 

Bowl Grades: Music City Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

North Carolina uses a blocked extra point, three personal fouls, and two overtimes to knock off Tennessee 30-27 in the Music City Bowl.


NORTH CAROLINA

Offense: The gift North Carolina fans got for Christmas was a healthy Shaun Draughn. Draughn has been battling an ankle injury since early November, but returned to make his first start of the season against Tennesee. The senior from Tarboro, N.C. had his second best outing for the season - rushing 16 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. Knowing that Tennessee was weak against the run, and both Elzy and Johnny White would be out, there was doubt as to if the Tar Heels would be able to take advantage of the weakness. Clearly they did, and clearly it worked out okay. GRADE: B

Defense: While North Carolina did give up 312 passing yards to Tyler Bray, they did limit the entire Vols offense to just 27 yards rushing. Forcing Tennessee to become one dimensional allowed the Heels to drop linebackers into coverage, particularly in overtime. Linebackers like Quan Sturdivant, who picked off Bray in overtime to set up the game winning field goal. The most impressive defensive performance might have come from Donte Paige-Moss. Paige-Moss returned from a busted nose he received from making a helmet-less sack to block the extra point to keep the score at 20-17 late in the fourth quarter. If that kick sails through and Tennessee claims a 21-17 lead, Barth's clutch leg would not have been an option. Big play after big play (not to mention Zach Brown's interception return), and this is a defensive squad lacking 3 future NFL draft picks. GRADE: A

Coaching: North Carolina head coach Butch Davis admitted after the game that the too many men on the field penalty was his fault. The offense had been told to clock the ball after Draughn's run, while the field goal team hustled out to try and kick it before time expired. The confusion was epic and the result, while the right call, will haunt Tennessee fans for a while. If anything, this was another example of Davis getting this team to battle back. It may be from suspension, it may be from injury, or in this case it was facing an impossible deficit in a not-so-neutral stadium. Somehow, the Tar Heels got it done this season - the newest Music City Miracle was just another example. GRADE: B

TENNESSEE

Offense: I know it stings for Tennessee fans right now, but there is plenty of good things to take away from the Music City Bowl. More than anything, the future is very bright with Tyler Bray under center. The freshman quarterback lived up to his late season charge against a tough Tar Heel defense and had a field day. Bray completed 27 passes to nine different receivers for 312 yards and four touchdowns. The deficiency in the running game (27 net yards) has to be a concern, and the three interceptions (particularly the last one) weren't fantastic, but there is plenty to be hopeful for with Tyler Bray leading the offense. GRADE: B-

Defense: Any positive things the defense did before the end of regulation will be completely forgotten thanks to some brutal decision-making in the final minutes. From Janzen Jackson's penalty on Harrelson to defensive end Gerald Williams' unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that set up North Carolina on the 12 yard line to start overtime. Additionally, giving up the touchdown drive before halftime was another huge momentum swinger, but after the way the game ended it seems like a moot point. GRADE: F

Coaching: It was mentioned earlier, but Derek Dooley will probably never want to play the end of close games ever again. After suffering this and the LSU clock debacle earlier this season, Dooley will lead the charge for a rules overhaul in regards to the punishments for substitutions I'm sure. But the blame will have to fall on Dooley as well for the penalties that cost them the game. Discipline issues in the college game will fall on the coaches as much as the players, and those three personal fouls in roughly a minute of gameplay changed the game entirely. GRADE: D

FINAL GRADE: Are you kidding me? Not to go all "standardized test," but if this game is graded in comparison to it's peers it is easily an A++. Not many games before today have carried this kind of impact on the entire college football community. Not to blow anything out of proportion, but this may the spark that gets the last minute run-off instituted in college football for offensive penalties. It does not belittle what North Carolina did in any way (the rule isn't in place), but it may be the last time it occurs ever again in college football. At least you have that kind of potential for historic significance. GRADE: A
Posted on: December 30, 2010 12:33 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2010 4:04 pm
 

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Music City Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

UPDATE: Shaun Draughn, who has been dealing with an ankle injury since early November, will start for North Carolina at running back.  Draughn is the team's second leading rusher and was a starter in 2009 until suffering a season ending shoulder surgery. 

The Basics: North Carolina
(7-5) takes on Tennessee (6-6) in the Music City Bowl in Nashville at 6:40 p.m. on Thursday.

Why to watch: Earlier in the season, Tennessee made headlines by dropping their home-and-home agreement with North Carolina from the 2011 and 2012 schedule. North Carolina fans were upset to miss the opportunity to square off with their neighboring flagship university, and the Vols were upset to see a BCS opponent leave the non-conference slate. Both sides are coming in ready to make a statement, with the Volunteers fans looking to pack Nashville's LP Field for the Music City Bowl. Both teams have undergone major transformations since the preseason. North Carolina had the much-publicized agent and academic issues that saw as many as 13 starters missing time throughout the season. In addition to the suspensions, the Tar Heels have caught no breaks with personnel. Starting linebacker Bruce Carter, starting guard Alan Pelc, and the top three rushers, among others, are all out for the Music City Bowl.

Tennessee has undergone major changes as well, most notably at the quarterback position. True freshman Tyler Bray finally hit his stride in the second half of the season, helping lead the Vols to four straight victories to become bowl eligible. Bray began sharing snaps with starter Matt Simms in the middle of the season, but head coach Derek Dooley's gamble paid off when he gave the frosh the keys to the offense. In those final four games, Bray through for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns. North Carolina won't be guaranteed to see the Vols in the future, but they will get to see the future of the Vols on Thursday.

Keys to victory for North Carolina: Tennessee has a pretty poor rushing defense, giving up over five yards per carry. This would be a great time for Johnny White, Anthony Elzy, or Shaun Draughn to help set up T.J. Yates and the passing game by pounding the ball on the ground. With White and Draughn hurt, and Elzy scratched for academics, the running responsibilities will fall on Hunter Furr. That puts even more pressure on Yates, who will continue to pad his lead in the UNC record books in several major categories. The Volunteers defense does not give up the long ball often, but they also do not get a lot of interceptions. Yates performs well when he can pitch and catch the ball down the field, and they will need him to do it in order to score with a limited rushing game.

Keys to victory for Tennessee: Once Tyler Bray got in sync with his receiving corps, everything changed for the Volunteers. Tennessee finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC in passing, and several receivers all capable of making the big play. North Carolina's secondary, though loaded with talent, has not delivered the same shut-down performances from years past. Virginia Tech and North Carolina State exposed North Carolina's weaknesses in the pass defense, and Bray will be looking to exploit that. Another major opportunity for the Volunteers will present itself in the special teams play. North Carolina, mostly due to a shortage of players, has been weak in the special teams department all season. If they can get one or two game-changing plays out of special teams, it could mean a victory for the in-state underdogs.

The Music City Bowl is like: A MTV/VH1/Bravo reality series. Both Tennessee and North Carolina are "big names" in college athletics, but neither team has been able to stand out on the field this season.  But off the field?  Oh man, the storylines! Obviously there is plenty of juicy scandal in Chapel Hill, and Tennessee still has some lingering bitterness towards their ex (Kiffin).  Imagine the Derek Dooley confessionals as he defends his support for "the new guy" Tyler Bray.  Butch Davis hitting the Nashville streets to GTL?  Okay, we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com