Tag:Spring Practice Primer
Posted on: March 22, 2011 11:59 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 12:11 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: NC 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 N.C. State , who started spring practice last Friday.


Head coach Tom O'Brien is prepared to repeat 2010's success without Russell Wilson, but are Mike Glennon and the rest of the Wolfpack ready?

For the last three years, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson has been the face of the football program on and off the field. Even splitting time and missing games due to injury, Wilson has been the favored signal-caller since his arrival on campus. In 2008 Wilson was named Rookie of the Year and selected to the All-ACC first team. In his three seasons, Wilson racked up 8.545 yards and 76 touchdowns and wrote himself into the NCAA record books by completing 389 consecutive passes. He has also served as a perfect ambassador for the program, an active member of the N.C. State community.

But #16 will not be on the field for the Wolfpack this spring. Wilson has not ruled out returning for his senior season, but for now he is playing with the Colorado Rockies organization. Wilson maintained this fall that his goal is to play major league baseball and NFL football, but his indecision is not something that head coach Tom O'Brien wants to wait on moving forward.

“We just can’t sit here and say, ‘OK, we’re going to wait for Russell to come back,’ O’Brien said. “We have to move forward.”

So now the reigns have been handed to redshirt junior Mike Glennon. Glennon, ranked a top 5 quarterback coming out of high school, is also the younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon. He spent last spring with the first-team while Wilson was playing baseball, but now enters spring practice expecting to be the man under center come September.

O'Brien has an impressive list of quarterbacks that have succeeded under his tenure, dating back to the Hasselback brothers at Boston College. Glennon hopes to add his name to that list with two years of eligibility left with the Wolfpack to prove himself as much more than "the guy after Russell."

 It takes little to no time to point out the initial contrasts to Wilson. While the 5-11 Wilson tormented defenses by extending the play, the 6-6 Glennon is much more of a traditional pocket passer. With the sightline to scan the whole field and impressive arm strength, Glennon has all of the tools to be just as successful as Wilson. The question will be whether he can still put them to use in a game after three years on the sideline.

One uphill battle that Glennon faces is the departure of Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and Darrell Davis. Wilson benefited from having big targets that he could rely on to get up and catch it over defenders. Spencer and Williams were the leading receivers in 2010, combining for 1,625 yards and 9 touchdowns.  One piece that Glennon does get back is senior tight end George Bryan. Bryan has had at least 35 receptions and 350 yards receiving in his last two seasons, and the 6-5, 265 pound Castle Hayne, NC native began to generate some draft buzz among scouts.

"I considered [declaring for the NFL draft] pretty good for a little earlier," Bryan told PackPride.com. "I talked to some people but we just felt like, my family, coach Bridge, coach O'Brien, all the coaches felt like it would be a better fit for me to come back because I still have stuff to work on. "There is no rush. I love playing for the Wolfpack, and I want to graduate as a Wolfpack."

That kind of leadership and dedication is something the 2011 Wolfpack will find necessary in 2011. Don't be surprised if Bryan becomes a frequent checkdown for Glennon if he can't get his first reads. It will only benefit Glennon's confidence knowing he has that big reliable target underneath when things get uncomfortable in the pocket.

Spring Practice Primers

But there are some fundamental differences in the way O'Brien runs his spring practice that will benefit both sides of the ball, not just the offense.

"As long as I'm the head coach, our focus in spring will be to get better as individuals," O'Brien explained. "Spring practice is still about being a better fundamental football team. Everybody can improve at something, players and coaches. The benefit of having experienced players and more depth is that you can hone in on the things that are really important, but the goal is still the same."

O'Brien does not even release an official spring depth chart. He releases what he refers to as an "organizational chart." Even then, don't expect everyone to be in the exact same position in a few months. Even with eight returning defensive starters, O'Brien will do some shifting before the season kicks off. With almost guaranteed plans of mixing things up, it only further supports his method of focusing on individual players instead of general scheming in the spring.

"We like to bring versatile people in - guys who can play multiple positions," O'Brien added. "Then as we grow as a football team and they grow as individual players, we can decide what each individual's best position is and how he can best help the team."

N.C. State's outlook for the fall is difficult to predict with no official knowledge of Russell Wilson's decision. But my assumption is that Glennon will be the man under center for the Wolfpack in September. O'Brien may prefer to focus on individual players in the spring, but only one will be held under a microscope by the fan base. This is Glennon's second spring practice with the first-string, but it has a whole new feeling with the ball coming his way in the fall.

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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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Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:37 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2011 4:39 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: North Carolina

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 North Carolina , who started spring practice last Wednesday
.

Is it possible that the suspensions of 2010 better prepared the Tar Heels for 2011?

With how publicized the program has been in the last 12 months, it is easy to forget that North Carolina head coach Butch Davis is only entering his fifth year in Chapel Hill. Davis had plans of bringing top notch talent to North Carolina, and the records show that it has worked. After going 4-8 in year one, Davis has rattled off three straight 8-5 seasons and in 2010 delivered the first bowl win for North Carolina since 2001.

But the dark cloud has not completely been lifted off the North Carolina football program. After finishing with that Music Bowl victory, too many Tar Heel fans were left saying "what if?" What if North Carolina had all of their suspended players for the whole season? Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com wrote that if all of North Carolina's suspended players had played the Tar Heels might have contended for a national championship. Obviously this claim is a little far-fetched, but with 12 Tar Heels showing their stuff in the NFL combine, it is easy to see why fans are asking the "what ifs'."

With all that talent at the NFL combine, you would think that there would be a drop-off for North Carolina coming into 2011. But the players, and those close to the program do not expect a drop-off at all. When you have a recruiter like Butch Davis you don't need to rebuild, you just reload.

With all of those players missing action early in the season (and some for the entire year), a crop of young talent got to see the field much earlier than expected. Those players are back for 2011, and are ready to form their own impressive combine group. At least 12 backups saw much more action than they ever expected in last year's season opener against LSU. The game, played in the Georgia Dome, was a real taste of big-time southern football for those players. They will take those experiences on the field, and enter spring practice hungry.

On the defensive side of the ball the Tar Heels only return six starters, but many of the reserves saw significant action on the field due to suspension and/or injury. The playmaking ability of Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant will be missed, but look this spring for significant changes in the attitudes of Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick. It will be their duty to carry on the torch from the previous two star linebackers. The line is back with even more depth, and most of the secondary got to see the field during the suspensions of Deuntae Williams (4 games) and Kendrick Burney (6 games).

Things are less certain for the offense. Most important for the Tar Heels offense will be seeing how Bryn Renner does stepping into the starting role. In his four years on the field, Yates set the school records for career and single-season passing yards, as well as single season total offense. Now he passes the torch to Renner, who has been taking notes for the last two years.

"I learned everything I knew to be a college quarterback from him," Renner said after his first practice as the starting signal-caller. "Just the way he handled himself on and off the field, and the way he conducted himself on the field, so I learned a lot from him."

Renner enters spring practice as the starter, but he will be pushed for the job. With A.J. Blue healthy, there will be an open competition for the backup spot with Braden Hanson and the highly sought-after Marquise Williams, who enrolled early. The hope being that the competition will only improve all of the quarterbacks, giving offensive coordinator John Shoop some comfortable depth at the quarterback position.

One thing that Renner does have going for him from the beginning is a talented crop of returning wide receivers. Dwight Jones, Erik Highsmith, and Jheranie Boyd are all familiar with Renner from practice in previous years and should waste no time getting their timing back. Ryan Houston, who led the Tar Heels in rushing TD's in 2009, is back after redshirting a year ago and should help take the pressure off the first-time starter.

"We are really excited to get Ryan back, that was a big help," Renner explained. "I'm really excited to see Giovanni [Bernard], I think he's going to be a great player and has great upside. I'm really looking forward to handing the ball off to those two guys."

Despite the optimism and excitement from the players, there still is an unresolved NCAA investigation. While the athletic department remains optimistic that no major sanctions will be placed on the program, there is the possibility that a punishment will be handed down from the NCAA that could hurt the Tar Heels' chances of continuing the postseason streak that Davis has established.

But until then, the expectations are the same in Chapel Hill, and the campaign to return to a bowl in 2011 has already begun.

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Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:01 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Alabama

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 Alabama , who starts spring practice today .

Spring Practice Question: Does Alabama have the offense to win another national championship? Or, alternatively, do they really need one?

As spring practice opens today in Tuscaloosa, most eyes are going to be on the revamped Tide offense, and with good reason; with no Greg McElroy, no Mark Ingram, and no Julio Jones, the Alabama attack is going to undergo a more thorough overhaul than any it's undergone since Jones and Ingram burst onto the scene in 2008.

But it's also because there's not a lot for most eyes to see on the Tide defense. With 9 or 10 starters back from a unit already ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, including the entirety of the Tide's linebacking and secondary groups with those including All-American safety Mark Barron and potential All-American linebacker Dont'a Hightower , on paper this will certainly be one of the FBS's best defenses. And the Tide may look even better on the field than they do on paper; after last year's (relative) 10-3 disappointment and occasional backbreaking defensive letdowns (as vs. Auburn and LSU), there's little doubt Nick Saban is going to be at his most firebreathingly intense (and most scrupulously detailed) this offseason.

In short, the defensive show put on this spring isn't likely to be any different from what Tide observers already saw prior to the Tide's undefeated regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. The offense, on the other hand, has several issues to resolve:

Quarterback: Certainly the most high-profile of those issues, the starting quarterback job will be contested this spring by sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron boasts the advantages of an extra year in Jim McElwain's offense and a modicum of playing time in 2010 (that's him at right in the Tide's laugher against Duke), but in the end Saban seems likely to select whichever quarterback can be safer with the ball. Opposite that defense, playmaking ability may come second in importance to not-turnover-making ability. That goes double considering the ...

Offensive line: One of college football's biggest mysteries during the 2010 season was why a previously dominant rushing attack featuring a Heisman Trophy winner at tailback and an offensive line loaded with both talent and experience wound up seventh in the SEC in total rushing in conference games. Don't expect Saban to let it happen again, Ingram or no Ingram, with new line coach Jeff Stoutland lighting a fire under talents like former five-star tackle D.J. Fluker, All-SEC guard Barrett Jones, and veteran center William Vlachos. Still, Tide fans will no doubt want to be reassured that numbers like the 2.3 yards per-carry Alabama averaged in their three losses a year ago are a thing of the past.

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Receivers: Of McElroy, Ingram, and Jones, it's easy to see how McElroy (with the McCarron-Sims duo) and Ingram (with Trent Richardson) might be replaced. With Jones, it's a different story, as projected starting seniors Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze have--to this point in their careers--been more steady possession types than Jones-style uber-athletic gamebreakers. Again, the Tide likely won't need a Jones-style gamebreaker if the defense and running game return to their 2009 form, but it will nonetheless bear close watching to see if Hanks and Maze (or fellow senior Brandon Gibson or sophomore Kenny Bell or anyone else) can add at least a little explosiveness to the passing game.

The running backs aren't nearly as much of a question mark; after biding his time for two years alongside Ingram, Richardson should be ready to fully establish himself one of the SEC's best, and even if he's not (or struggles with injuries), powerful sophomore Eddie Lacy or true freshman (and spring enrollee) Dee Hart should be able to pick up the slack. Pair them with the defense described above, and it's easy to see the Tide making a run at yet another national title if the line can get back to its road-grading ways and the passing attack can be simply competent.

How big an "if" is that? We'll start to find out these next few weeks, and there's no doubt plenty of observers across the SEC (and maybe the country) hoping it proves bigger than we expect it to be.

Posted on: March 16, 2011 1:01 pm
Edited on: March 16, 2011 1:07 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Wake Forest

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 Wake Forest, who starts spring practice Thursday
.

How will Wake Forest's recent coordinator shuffle effect the productivity of spring practice? Will they be able to take advantage of the 17 returning starters?

Wake Forest knew they had a lot to improve on from 2010. There were all sorts of issues on the field that were going to require attention during the offseason. But plans to improve were thrown off momentarily with the surprise departure of Brad Lambert to UNC-Charlotte. The former defensive coordinator had been in Winston-Salem as long as head coach Jim Grobe, and been a crucial piece to the program. He was linebackers coach of the 2006 ACC Championship team, and helped develop Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, now with the Seattle Seahawks.

So Grobe was forced to act quickly and unexpectedly to even get spring practice off on time. Grobe began by promoting from within, calling on Brian Knorr (wide receivers) and Tim Billings (outside linebackers) to be co-defensive coordinators. Knorr, who served as a linebackers coach under Grobe at Ohio University, will split both the coordinating and linebacker coach duties with Billings. The move promotes two seasoned assistants with head coaching experience, while also returning Knorr back to the defensive side of the ball.

But in filling Knorr's old role as wide receivers coach, Grobe got a chance to enhance his staff. West Virginia receivers coach Lonnie Galloway was officially announced on Tuesday as the latest hire in Wake Forest's coaching shuffle. Galloway was a four year letterman at quarterback for Western Carolina University. He graduated in 1994 second on the school's career passing list with 5,545 yards. Galloway should also help with recruiting, serving on staffs at Elon, East Carolina, and Appalachian State before West Virginia.

So now that the coaching staff is finally in line, the Demon Deacons can turn their attention towards 2011. Which is good news for Wake Forest fans, who have been looking forward to forgetting the 2010 season for some time. After the exhibition season-opener against Presbyterian and and a 54-48 footrace victory against the lowly Duke Blue Devils, Wake Forest dropped nine straight games. Thankfully, they were able to finish the season with a 34-13 victory over Vanderbilt, but it was a frustrating 1-7 ACC campaign for the Demon Deacons. They were consistently overmatched, being outscored in conference play on average 38.5-16.875.

Granted, it was a rough initiation for true freshman quarterback Tanner Price (pictured). Price, who has shown potential at times, was thrown into the mix early in the season and finished with nine starts under his belt. As expected, the consistency was lacking in the freshman's efforts. But with 1,349 yards passing and a year of experience with offensive coordinator Steed Lebotzke (one of the only coaches still in his 2010 role), Wake Forest fans are hoping that Price's growth will help improve the entire offense.

But Price's learning curve is no explanation for the poor defense. In 2010, the Demon Deacons were last in the conference in scoring defense, and only ranked higher than Duke in total defense; giving up 429.6 yards per game. Grobe sang Lambert's praises as he departed for UNC-Charlotte, but where was the proof on the field?

The difference between 2010 and Grobe teams of old came down to experience. Wake Forest finished the season staring 8 underclassmen on defense, including 3 freshmen in the secondary. The defenses during the postseason run from 2006-2008 were led by a core group of juniors and seniors. Grobe and his staff are known for their ability to develop talent, but unfortunately most of the Demon Deacons had to go through on-the-job training.

Which interestingly enough is one of the greatest strengths Wake Forest has moving towards 2011. With 17 returning starters, the Demon Deacons are the second most experienced team in the ACC. The players should enter spring practice with little/no learning curve. While the coaches might be shifting, the players are all back.

Regardless of the assistant coach jumble, Jim Grobe is still the head football coach at Wake Forest. He will have the same message and same expectations as always, and there should be no misunderstandings on the rosters with this large crop of returning players. Grobe has proven he can win with experience before, but Wake Forest fans are hoping to see that on the field sooner rather than later.

Wake Forest begins Spring Practice Thursday March 17

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Posted on: March 16, 2011 12:12 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Florida

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 Florida , who starts spring practice today.

Spring Practice Question: What's going to be drawn on the blank slate of the Florida offense?

As spring practice 2011 opens, there may be no single unit in the entire country more intriguing than the Florida offense.

It's true. Consider that just three years ago it was the envy of college football, an unstoppable force led by the Heisman-winning Tim Tebow, featuring the most explosive receiving/rushing playmaker in the college game in Percy Harvin, drawn up and play-called by one of the best spread-option gurus in the nation in Dan Mullen, positively littered with future successful pros like Maurkice Pouncey and Aaron Hernandez ... it was the kind of offense custom-built to win a national championship, and it did. And then two seasons later, in the hands of Steve Addazio,  it was a crumbling heap that finished an unthinkable 82nd in total offense. That was an offense built to go 7-5, and it did, too.

So it's hardly surprising Will Muschamp decided to scrap the entire thing and start over. It's maybe somewhat surprising, though, he'd start over with something he's familiar with but Florida hasn't run in ages: a true two-back, under-center, pro-style system as run by the newly-contented Charlie Weis.

The result of that decision is that what we know about the new Gator offense is dwarfed by what we don't, the questions at this stage far outnumbering the answers. A sampling:

Is Weis's offense going to incorporate anything left over from the Meyer era? It's not what Weis knows or what Muschamp hired him for, so don't expect much different from Weis's offenses at Notre Dame or the Kansas City Chiefs. But with a collection of personnel recruited for (and in many cases, much better-suited) the Meyer spread, there must be the temptation to include certain elements of the old scheme here and there. We'll see if Weis gives in to that temptation this spring.

Can John Brantley's career be salvaged? If there's any former Meyer recruit who might have been happy to see the offense overhauled, it would have to be the pass-first Brantley, who was asked by Addazio to fill many of the running-game holes Tebow did without only the tiniest fraction of the success. Weis's system could make Brantley a star, but whatever offense he's running, Brantley will have to be substantially more poised this spring if he's going to hold off a challenge from early-enrolled freshman Jeff Driskel.

What happens to the heirs to Harvin? What success the Gator offense had in 2010 was frequently the result of getting the ball to Jeff Demps, the diminutive sprinter who took several handoffs the distance. But a pro-style tailback job doesn't typically go to backs of Demps's (or fellow veteran blazer Chris Rainey's) size, and Demps's history of nagging injuries won't help him convince Weis and Muschamp he or Rainey will be ready to be an every-down back. With one of those injuries sidelining Demps for at least the start of spring, the larger Mike Gillislee or Mack Brown may be able to stake their claim to the position.

Will the offensive line bounce back? Much of the disappointment of 2010 started with the disappointing play up front, as a veteran line began its year with Mike Pouncey memorably dribbling snaps back to Brantley in the season opener and never seemed to truly recover. Now the Gators enter spring with a new line coach brought in from the NFL in Frank Verducci, and just one healthy 2010 starter available. But the competition for open spots and fresh voice following the departure of Addazio could lead to better results all the same.

Will any playmakers step up in the receiving positions? Yes, the receivers were a problem last year too, as the entire corps of wideouts and tight ends totaled just eight touchdown receptions and as a team the Gators averaged barely more than 10 yards a completion. Deonte Thompson led the way by netting 15 yards per-catch and 570 yards total; a big spring should establish him as the team's clearcut No. 1 and a potential All-SEC candidate. But it will also be worth watching Jordan Reed and Trey Burton, top-drawer athletes who moonlighted as Wildcat quarterbacks a year ago and have been shifted into starting roles as a tight end and slot receiver, respectively. If Thompson's ready to take the next step and Weis can find the best way to put Reed and Burton to use, the Gators could come out of spring with plenty of optimism regarding their receiving corps.

With so many questions, it seems unlikely Florida will find the right answers to all of them. But with so many potential answers at virtually any position you choose, whatever Weis and Muschamp cook up, it promises to be fascinating viewing ... and at the least, a good bit more effective than the not-even-close-to-fascinating viewing the Gators offered last season.


 
 
 
 
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