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Tag:Julio Jones
Posted on: November 4, 2011 4:27 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 5:05 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 4: The prediction

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 1, or the number of times -- it bears repeating -- No. 1 and No. 2 have met in a regular season SEC game as of this Saturday night. Tune in, and you'll be seeing something that quite literally has never happened before in college football. That the two teams are entirely worthy of their rankings (as best we can tell) is just the icing on the cake.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who wins?

We've spent two weeks and thousands upon thousands of words breaking down this game here at the LSU-Alabama Daily, and the only thing we feel completely certain about is that you can't be certain of a winner in a matchup like this. When nearly every advantage one team has over the other is the kind of advantage you have to split hairs in naming it an advantage at all, it's it's fair to call it an out-and-out "tossup" or "coinflip." We fully expect the game to come down to one play, and with both teams loaded to the gills with the sort of athletes who could make that play, the winner truly is anybody's guess.

But since it's no fun not making a guess all the same, we'll offer one here. We've given LSU slight edges in special teams and quarterbacking, Alabama slight edges in the running game, front seven and secondary (though we know LSU partisans will debate that last one fiercely). On paper, as you'd expect, it's just about even.

But we think one of the edges, even if slight, is worth more than others: Alabama's in the front seven. Thanks to their relative weakness at linebacker, LSU already has trouble defending the run without bringing in help from the secondary; as we've noted, nearly all of the Tigers' top tacklers are safeties and corners. Against some of the quarterbacks the Tigers have faced, this hasn't an issue, but vs. a well-drilled AJ McCarron playing at home? It easily could be.

Mark Barron of course also ranks amongst the Tide's top tacklers, but for the most part, Nick Saban is happy to let his front seven stop the run on their own. And though that's easier said than done vs. Spencer Ware and Co., the boost of adrenaline and energy provided by the home crowd should make it a more achievable goal.

In short: even if Trent Richardson doesn't have his usual gaudy day on the ground, he's almost certain to force the LSU defensive backs to cheat up and open holes for the passing game. We can't say the same for the LSU ground game, and we think Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson's greater difficulty finding those holes could prove to be the difference.

(One other minor factor worth mentioning about LSU's linebackers: they'll be the ones responsible for dealing with Alabama's screen game, bar-none the best in the country. When caught between getting stuffed on the ground and throwing into the teeth of the opponent's vicious secondary, Alabama still has the option of going to Richardson and forcing either Ryan Baker or Kevin Minter to make a play; with only seven receptions on the season [or barely a quarter of the 25 pulled in by the Richardson-Eddie Lacy tag team], Ware doesn't offer the same kind of alternative for LSU.)

There's that, and then there's simply this: we don't think anyone's beating this Alabama team in Alabama. When everything else is equal -- and we think things are ever-so-slightly unequal, in the Tide's favor -- take the home team.

So we are. Alabama 23, LSU 17.



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: By this point, there's not a whole lot left for either team to say or report. Saban himself enjoyed his usual Thursday radio call-in show but didn't have much of interest to discuss where the game was concerned. He did say that LSU has "the best special teams" in the country and "probably the best running team" since Les Miles's arrival.

Perhaps the most intriguing pre-game point? CBSSports.com RapidReporter Jim Dunn reports that Tide players have made allusions to unseen tricks still in Saban's and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's bag, since the long series of Tide bludgeonings hasn't required much in the way of schematic ingenuity. This could be a plus for the Tide--but we have no doubt LSU's equally lopsided series of wins means John Chavis and the LSU defense can say precisely the same.

Alabama's players have studiously avoided smack talk of any kind, including pointedly refusing to address Deangelo Peterson's claim that the Tide's "slow" linebackers wouldn't be able to cover him. So maybe it's fitting that maybe the most eyebrow-raising comment of the week comes from receiver Darius Hanks about ... the Tide's own former players?

"Last year, the leadership wasn't there like we needed it to be," Hanks said of the team's 2010 defeat in Baton Rouge. "This year, we have many leaders at every position." So, Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones ... you guys' thoughts on that?

Not that everyone would disagree with Hanks. An anonymous "veteran coach who's faced both Alabama and LSU this season" spoke to the Bimringham News and said the game would come down to McCarron making the throws needed to win the game--throws the coach pointedly said McElroy didn't make last year.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: It's not just the pundits who are saying the two teams are strikingly similar for a game like this: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers told reporters that after watching film, going up against Alabama is like "looking in a mirror."

Push is going to have to come to shove when it comes to coaching trends. Miles has gone a sparkling 10-3 in his last 13 games after bye weeks or in bowl games, and an even better 11-1 in road night games ... so it's too bad Saban has gone 12-0 in his last 12 vs. coaches who defeated him the year before.

We suppose this was inevitable:



Yes, that's Miles appearing in a government-sponsored advertisement for Louisiana-grown turfgrass.

"Nothing beats Louisiana-grown turfgrass," Miles is quoted as saying in the spot. "It's local, fresh and reliable. And it's the grass of champions, whether you chew it for luck or not." It's always nice when you see a celebrity endorser who you know really does use the product they're shilling for, isn't it?



SIGNING OFF: Here's hoping you've enjoyed our two-week run here with the LSU-Alabama Daily. For more, check out Dennis Dodd's take on whether the game deserves the "Game of the Century" tag, Bruce Feldman's and Brett McMurphy's predictions for the game, BCS expert Jerry Palm's take on whether we could see a rematch, and enough LSU-Alabama videos to just about take you up to gametime.
Posted on: August 24, 2011 12:28 pm
Edited on: August 24, 2011 2:41 pm
 

WR Duron Carter still not practicing at Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Typically, when you've got a roster like Alabama's -- which is to hoarded talent what a bomb shelter is to canned food -- the transcript issues of a single JUCO transfer aren't that big a deal.

But in the particular case of the Tide's 2011 receiving corps and former Coffeyville C.C.-by-way-of-Ohio State wideout Duron Carter, those issues may prove to be a very big deal indeed. Despite expectations that the transcript snafu would be resolved (and he would be approved for practice) shortly after the start of fall camp, Carter is still nowhere to be seen as he waits for academic clearance.

"We still don't know," Nick Saban said Tuesday regarding Carter's status. "Until we get the information back on Duron Carter, which I haven't heard anything on compliance (Tuesday), we do have a few more days to be able to get this done."

Carter is the the son of NFL receiving legend Cris Carter (who more than one wag has observed has been at Tide practice more than Duron has), and still boasts the kind of talent that made him a top-15 receiver in his 2009 class. (He's pictured at right in the 2009 Under Armour All-American game.) If Carter and Alabama can "get this done" before the start of the season, there's still plenty of time to make the kind of immediate impact many Tide fans expect. (It's not just the Crimson faithful carrying high expectations, either; Phil Steele named Carter preseason second-team All-SEC.)

But the longer Carter's absence drags out, the less and less likely that immediate impact becomes. Not only does it look more and more possible the issue could swallow his 2011 season whole, but as a first-year player in Tuscaloosa, Carter needed every minute of practice time he could get. Even if the opener against Kent State gives him some leeway before the Tide's schedule really gets going, Carter projects to be so far behind the curve it may be weeks before he's ready to become a full-on contributor.

Again: at any other position, this likely wouldn't be an issue. But after Julio Jones's early departure for the NFL, the receiving corps is the one area where the Tide could use some immediate help. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks were both productive last season, combining for 70 receptions and better than 1,000 yards, but neither represented the kind of vertical home-run threat that Jones was or that many expect Carter to be. (It doesn't help, either, that top tight end Preston Dial has graduated, leaving behind no TE with more than eight receptions to his name a year ago.)

With Maze and Hanks around (not to mention redshirt freshman DeAndrew White, whose praises Saban has suprisingly sung throughout camp), the Tide receiving unit is still going to be well above average, Carter or no Carter. But with a first-year starter under center that may need all the help from those receivers he can get, making another national title run could require something better than simply "above average."

And that, in turn, may require Carter.



Posted on: August 5, 2011 4:33 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 5:09 pm
 

PODCAST: Alabama WR Marquis Maze

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Though highly experienced, Alabama's wide receivers are one of the few areas of the 2011 Crimson Tide that might be considered a question mark, thanks to the early NFL departure of Julio Jones. Making sure that question is answered this fall will fall largely on the shoulders of senior wideout Marquis Maze, the Tide's leading returning receiver.

Maze recently spoke to CBSSports.com's Adam Aizer about filling Jones's shoes, expectations for the nation's newly-minted No. 2 team, and much more. Listen below:





Posted on: July 22, 2011 12:06 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 12:15 pm
 

Mark Ingram uninjured in car accident

Posted by Tom Fornelli

While all the eyes of Tuscaloosa were on coach Nick Saban at SEC Media Days on Friday morning, there was some scary news for the Alabama family as well. Former Tide running back and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was involved in a car accident with an 18-wheeler on Friday morning in Huntsville.

Police said Ingram's 2008 Infiniti was traveling southbound on Leeman Ferry Road when it collided with an 18-wheeler driven by Paul Clewis. Ingram's girlfriend was also in the car.

Police said both airbags deployed in Ingram's car, but neither Ingram nor his girlfriend were hurt, and neither was the truck driver. 

Police spokesman Harry Hobbs said the preliminary accident report indicated that alcohol or drugs were not involved in the wreck, which happened at the intersection of Leeman Ferry and Metro Circle.

Thankfully, everybody was OK, because in an accident involving a car and an 18-wheeler, many times things can turn out tragically. 

Ingram, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints this spring, was picked up at the scene by friends. He had been in Huntsville on Thursday night with former Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones for a meet and greet in which he and Jones posed for photos with fans and signed autographs.
 

Posted on: May 3, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Eye on CFB Roundtable: Draft reaches and steals

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're not NFL scouts. But we have watched most of the players taken in last weekend's draft for the past three or four years (or, in one particular high-profile case, one year). Based on what we saw during their college careers, which players do we believe were "steals" for the team that selected them? Which were "reaches" which went earlier than they should have?

Tom Fornelli: I'll start with the reach because this is an easy answer to me: the very first player taken, Cam Newton.

This is not a dig on Newton personally, or the player he was at Auburn last season. The fact of the matter is that there wasn't a single quarterback in this draft class that I felt was worth a first-round pick. Yes, there were a lot of quarterbacks in this class who were good college quarterbacks, but as we have seen through many examples before, being a good college quarterback doesn't make you an good NFL quarterback. And for me, with the first overall pick -- when I have the opportunity to pick anybody I want, and have that person help my team immediately -- Newton is not the player I'd pick. I'm not saying that I don't believe it's possible that Cam can develop into a good NFL quarterback one day, but I do feel the odds of Newton becoming a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback are pretty slim. And if I'm going to take a quarterback with the first pick of the draft, he needs to give me the impression that he has that kind of potential.

As for the steal, there were a few players who I thought were really good picks for teams in later rounds. There was Green Bay getting Randall Cobb with the final pick of the second round, Da'Quan Bowers slipping to Tampa Bay in the second, and Ahmad Black going to Tampa as well in the fifth round. The biggest steal to me of all, though, was Baltimore picking up Indiana wide receiver Tandon Doss late in the fourth round. In my opinion, Doss may turn out to be one of the most dependable receivers in what was a very deep class this season. He does not have the size and wow factor that guys like A.J. Green and Julio Jones have, nor is he a burner, but he's got great hands and he's a very polished route runner. He's the type of receiver who isn't going to end up in the Hall of Fame, but should pick up a lot of big first downs, make some plays and be dependable for a lot of years. I watch Doss, and I see a player that can be what Hines Ward has been to Pittsburgh for so many years. To get that kind of player in the fourth round is the definition of a steal.

Adam Jacobi: I think to a large degree, Tom's right. I wouldn't go so far as to say there were no first-round QBs in this class, because guys like Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and even Newton have all shown a great deal of potential. But let's be honest: this wasn't really a great draft class to begin with. I thought there were only 15-20 first round-caliber guys on the board. But the first round is still 32 picks, no matter what, and I don't think there were 32 better draft picks to make before you got to Newton (or any other quarterback).

That said, yes, Cam Newton was a reach. Right now, Carolina is not a team that has the tools to let a quarterback succeed. They have needs all over the place, and if all they do is give up on Jimmy Clausen after one year so they can plug in Cam Newton instead ... well, they're still a team that doesn't have the tools to let the quarterback succeed. (It's like the Detroit Lions drafting Chuck Long and Andre Ware as first-rounders 20-25 years ago. You really think their failures had nothing to do with the crappy players surrounding them?) I'm of the philosophy that the No. 1 overall pick should be spent on a player with the best odds of making a high-level contribution immediately and repeatedly. That means wide receivers and all but the most experienced, productive quarterbacks are out, as are safeties, guards and centers. That's why I would have preferred to see a guy like Texas A&M's Von Miller go first.

As for steals, I'm going to say Nick Fairley dropping all the way to Detroit, where he can be paired with Ndamukong Suh on the interior defensive line. There isn't an NFC North team left that isn't going to have to dramatically retool its blocking strategy now because of that setup, and even that might not be enough to avoid a franchise quarterback getting broken in half this season. How in the world does Fairley fall to No. 13, past Christian Ponder, the real reach of the first round? Fairley didn't dominate the NFL combine, but you know what? Freakish combine measurements don't really matter for defensive tackles. It's whether they can shed blocks reliably and repeatedly at the next level, and based on the way Fairley performed not only during the season but especially in Auburn's biggest games, he's got the ability to do that. If there's a character concern, you know what? Let the rest of the locker room take care of that. That's where the veteran teammates are supposed to step in, not the scouts.

Outside of the first round, I really like the Sam Acho pick in the fourth round by the Cardinals. At 6'2" and 260, Acho's sort of an OLB/DE tweener as size goes, and he's going to be playing OLB in the Cards' 3-4 system after lining up at end at Texas. But he's fast and disruptive, and was plenty productive with the Longhorns, so he could definitely end up being a James Harrison- type terror for the Cardinals in a year or two.

TF: Not to get too far off the subject, but Adam brought up something that drives me crazy when it comes to the NFL and the way teams draft. All too often it seems like NFL teams become enamored with how a player performs in the combine while wearing shorts and a t-shirt. That's the reason Ponder got taken so early; without linemen closing in on him, he's really good at throwing a football. But it seems like they forget about what these players did while they were actually on a football field.

For instance, look at Acho. NFL teams see his size and they're not entirely sure what to do with him. They don't seem to pay as much attention to the fact that Acho was a kid that did his job on the field at Texas and did it well. He made plays. It's why I think Tampa got a steal in Florida's Black. For the last few years, Black was one of my favorite players to watch because he just had that knack for making things happen. However, all NFL scouts seemed to see was that he didn't have top-notch speed. Nevermind the fact that he played in the SEC -- which I believe is the home of that ESS EEE SEEE SPEEEED -- and played well.

Jerry Hinnen: I agree that the draft over-rewards potential and underrates production, which is why I never thought I'd see the day when an NFL team reached for the occasionally erratic run-first quarterback out of the gimmicky option offense, and stole the rifle-armed pocket statue with a former NFL play-caller for a coach. But as the draft day fates of Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Mallett illustrate, there's a first time for everything.

Let me first say this about Kaepernick: as a college quarterback, he was under appreciated, having accumulated an incredible 10,000 yards passing and 4,000 yards rushing over his four years at Nevada, the only quarterback in FBS history to do so. In 2011, he joined Tim Tebow and Newton as the only players in FBS history to run and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season. Kaepernick was, simply, one of the most exciting, most fun, best college football players of his era.

But having watched him ever since he exploded onto the scene against Boise State in 2007's overtime classic, I can't say I ever saw him as a blue-chip NFL prospect. Kaepernick was always a substantially greater threat on the hoof than in the pocket, where his awkward throwing motion and come-and-go accuracy led to outings like his 12-for-23, 149-yard, two-interception clunker to open the 2009 season at Notre Dame, or the 14-for-26, 159-yard, four-turnover debacle at Hawaii that led to the Wolf Pack's only loss of 2011. The greatest strengths of Kaepernick's unique skill set -- his ball-fake jujitsu within the pistol, his surprising speed and agility as a ball-carrier, his ability to throw outside the pocket -- won't do much to make an already difficult transition from the pistol to an NFL offense any easier. Jim Harbaugh's right pinky knows more about quarterbacking in the NFL than I ever will, obviously, but I remain stunned Kaepernick went as a high second-rounder rather than a late-round flyer. (Which brings me to an aside in response to Tom: we can debate Newton all day, but if Kaepernick is the 36th overall pick, Newton -- in a different class athletically, more polished as a passer, proven in SEC competition -- is something akin to the negative-17th pick.)

But where Kaepernick never struck me as meant for NFL stardom (or even starterdom), Mallett is the sort of prospect whose very double-helixes probably unwind to spell out "PROFESSIONAL QUARTERBACK" under the microscope. 6'7", possessor of likely the strongest arm in college football, with his two years under former NFL head coach Bobby Petrino yielding better than 7,400 passing yards, better than 9 yards an attempt, and a 62-to-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Mallett couldn't have looked the part of a future NFL signal-caller any better either on the field or on paper. But of course he looked like something else in the headlines and gossip factories, thanks to those pesky drug admissions and work ethic rumors. But the facts are that Mallett was arrested just once at Arkansas (for public intoxication), was never suspended, and by all accounts enjoyed the respect of his teammates. Yes, he's a character risk, but so were plenty of players who went in the first and second rounds.

Were I in a quarterback-needy NFL team's shoes, I'd worry more about his penchant for forcing the spectacular throw when the easy one would do--but that's not the kind of worry that would have caused me to pass him up twice.

AJ: I can't say New England taking Mallett is a steal. He's on a spectrum where the high end is Drew Bledsoe and the low is Ryan Leaf, and nowhere in-between is a Super Bowl ring.

Chip Patterson: I'm not sure if it was one of the biggest "steals" of the draft, but seeing how highly rated Robert Quinn was on many boards, the Rams had to have been happy to grab him at No. 14. Quinn just got things going at North Carolina before he was suspended for his junior season during the NCAA investigation of the football program; he'd finished second in the ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting as a sophomore in 2009, just two years after battling back from brain surgery to remove a tumor. Quinn continued to impress throughout different stages of the process, but according to reports he was not cleared by several team doctors. Many teams were likely on the edge about Quinn because of the off-field activity at North Carolina, and may have just needed one more reason to bypass the budding defensive end. Battling back from brain surgery to all-conference honors seems more like a positive intangible than a negative one to me, but I'm not the one making the million dollar moves. (Yet.)

My colleagues have covered a fair share of the quarterbacks, so I'll point out the very next pick in the draft: Mike Pouncey. The Dolphins didn't want this pick, and in fact they tried desperately to trade down. Pouncey addresses a need and will likely be an immediate starter, but there's little about Pouncey's performance at Florida that makes him seem like a No. 15 pick. He was the highest drafted center since 1993, the kind of accolade that's usually placed on a uniquely talented individual. Pouncey will help the Dolphins' running game, especially with his experience as a pulling guard, but he does not stand out to me as a "unique talent." The Dolphins didn't make a huge mistake by drafting him, but it just doesn't seem like the best talent for the pick.

JH: See, I tend to think the point of a mid-first-round pick is to simply not make that "huge mistake," so I thought drafting a solid future pro (if not a future Pro Bowler) like Pouncey was a smart move. But looking back over this discussion, we're clearly all haters of one stripe or another.

Posted on: April 29, 2011 1:45 pm
 

SEC dominates first round of NFL draft

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The SEC has been dominating the college football landscape for quite a while now, as the conference has been the home of the last five national champions. So it's not exactly surprising that during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, more players who called the SEC home during their college career were taken than any other conference.

In fact, nearly a third of the players taken on Thursday night were SEC players. There were 32 picks, and 10 of them were from the SEC, including five of the first six picks. The only non-SEC player taken in the top six was Texas A&M's Von Miller, who went to the Denver Broncos with the second pick. Other than that there was a distinct SEC flavor, with the state of Alabama being able to lay claim as the best college football state in the country. Auburn saw Cam Newton go to Carolina with the first pick, while Nick Fairley went 13th to the Detroit Lions.  Then there was the Crimson Tide, who basically had their own table in the green room, and everyone who sat at it -- and even one player who didn't -- heard their name called on Thursday night.

Marcell Dareus (#3 Buffalo), Julio Jones (#6 Atlanta), James Carpenter (#25 Seattle) and Mark Ingram (#28 New Orleans) all gave Nick Saban some valuable face time on television last night. Elsewhere in the conference, Georgia's A.J. Green (#4 Cincinnati), LSU's Patrick Peterson (#5 Arizona), Florida's Mike Pouncey (#15 Miami) and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod (#32 Green Bay) were drafted as well.

Here's a look at selections by conference in last night's first round (both Nebraska and Colorado still counted for the Big 12).

  1. SEC - 10
  2. Big 12 - 8
  3. Big 10 - 6
  4. Pac-12 - 3
  5. ACC - 3
  6. Big East - 1
  7. MAC - 1

That's it. While it was a great year for the Big 12, what's somewhat surprising about the eight players drafted from the conference is that Missouri had two, Colorado had two and Baylor had another two. Not exactly your classic Big 12 powers. In fact, Oklahoma and Texas combined for none of the picks last night. Which can be looked at two ways. You might say that it's because neither school produced any top talent last season. I prefer to think of it as neither school lost any of its top talent this year.

There's a reason a lot of people think Oklahoma will start the year at #1 after all.

Then there was the Big 10, who had six picks, but it should be noted that all six players drafted from the Big Ten last night were lineman, whether offensive or defensive. Surprise! The Big Ten didn't have any top talent at the "skill" positions. Still, if you're a skilled defensive lineman in high school right now, there are worse places for you to play than the Big Ten, as Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, and Iowa all sent members of the defensive line to the NFL last night.

Then, in other not-so-surprising news, we see that the Big East had only one player taken in the first round last night. The same amount as the MAC, which was the only non-BCS conference to be noticed last night, as Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson went to the Jets with the 30th selection. The one Big East player to be taken was Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin to Kansas City at 26, which came as a bit of a surprise as most grades on Baldwin saw him as being an early to mid-second round pick.

Of course, this isn't the end of the NFL Draft by any means. There are still three days and six rounds left to get through, and who knows what the numbers will look like by Sunday night? More importantly, the true measuring stick of the conferences success on the pro level won't be known for years. It's not the amount of players you funnel into the league, it's the players who last on the next level and succeed that really tell the story.

Though that's not going to stop the "S-E-C!" chants.

Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:55 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC West

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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

ALABAMA: The two big headlines for Tide fans this spring were the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (pictured), and the unveiling of the new Nick Saban statue added to those of the school's first three national title-winning head coaches. As our own Dennis Dodd reported (and as you can hear for yourself in the reverent tone of this student news broadcast), the statue left the Tide faithful plenty satisfied; the quarterback battle, not so much, as neither McCarron nor Sims was able to create any real separation from the other. (How close were they? At A-Day, McCarron went 21-of-38 for 222 yards and one interception, Sims 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception.)

But as we pointed out in our Tide spring primer, who's at the reins of the offense isn't nearly as important as whether the offense can remain productive without Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, et al. With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower each looking like terrors this spring in the linebacking unit and All-American safety Mark Barron showing few ill effects of his postseason pectoral muscle surgery (he returned a fumble 96 yards for a score at A-Day), the defense looks poised to live up the "best in the nation, or damn close" expectations. All the offense has to do is not screw things up, and the running game -- behind Trent Richardson, a dynamo on A-Day with 167 all-purpose yards, and a loaded line with former five-star right tackle D.J. Fluker beginning to fulfill his vast potential -- appeared ready to do the job nearly by itself.

The Tide still haven't found what looks like a go-to receiver in the wake of Jones' departure (Richardson led both sides in receptions and yards at A-Day), and the McCarron/Sims derby could be a distraction lasting well into the fall. But given the help either one will receive from the running game (and line) on display Saturday, none of that might matter.

ARKANSAS: The big question before spring started was simply "can the Hogs handle losing Ryan Mallett?" And though the Red-White game certainly isn't a guarantee, it's definitely an arrow pointed in the direction of "goodness, yes." Likely new quarterback Tyler Wilson averaged 9.7 yards per his 25 attempts, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His receiving corps -- on paper, the SEC's best, hands-down -- lived up to its billing, with Jarius Wright hauling in five balls for 157 yards and two scores. The White team defense had its moments, too, holding All-SEC candidate Knile Davis to just 44 yards on 16 carries.

The Hogs' spring wasn't perfect -- backup tailback Broderick Green went down for the year with an ACL tear -- and Bobby Petrino hasn't even officially named Wilson the starter yet. But with the quarterback position looking solid and the defense boasting its best spring in years, the loss of Mallett sure hasn't put much of a dent in the Hogs' new position as West challengers just yet.

AUBURN: The Tigers entered the spring looking for playmakers to fill at least part of the colossal void left by Cam Newton's and Nick Fairley's departures. And at defensive end, they may have found some; sophomores Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae both drew positive reviews throughout the spring, and previously little-used junior Dee Ford burst into the rotation with a big camp and a pair of sacks at Auburn's A-Day game. New line coach Mike Pelton said he was impressed by -- and would use -- all three this fall.

The rest of the defense didn't have a shabby A-Day, either, as they defeated the offense 63-32 in Gene Chizik's unique scrimmage scoring system. But most of the offense's efforts went towards polishing up the passing attack (tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for just seven carries), and those efforts didn't yield much in terms in terms of finding big-play potential. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen (pictured) won MVP honors for his 65 yards receiving and catching the lone touchdown of the scrimmage, and DeAngelo Benton added one 48-yard reception. But otherwise, offensive excitement was hard to come by, and Chizik afterwards called the quarterbacking from Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley "inconsistent." (The two will compete for the starting job into the fall.)

Under Chizik, Auburn hasn't made much of an effort to put on a show in their spring game -- the reviews on Newton's debut in the 2010 version were universally ho-hum -- but there still seems little doubt Gus Malzahn will look for much more explosiveness out of his attack come fall camp.

LSU: It's the same old story on the bayou. The Tigers entered spring hoping to finally put their quarterbacking issues to rest behind someone, be it incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson or someone else ... and left it with Jefferson still the starter and still on less-than-firm ground after an ugly 4-of-14, no touchdowns, one interception performance.

Well, less-than-firm ground with the LSU fanbase , anyway. Bayou Bengal supporters seem to have universally pinned their hopes on JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger, despite Mettenberger being mired at third on the depth chart entering the spring game. But you can't blame them when Jefferson struggled the way he did, Jarrett Lee averaged all of 4.5 yards per-attempt (with a pick, of course) and Mettenberger did this:
 


None of that made any difference to Les Miles and the LSU staff, who gave Jefferson the team's "Jim Taylor Award" for his spring effort and leadership. And quarterback or no quarterback, LSU showed how formidable they'd be all the same: Spencer Ware followed up his breakout Cotton Bowl performance with a huge spring, the secondary looks as airtight as ever even without Patrick Peterson, and there's plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But unless Jefferson lives up to his coaches' faith in him -- and that spring game performance did little to assure anyone he will -- LSU's still going to have some headaches.

MISSISSIPPI STATE, OLE MISS: Despite their wildly divergent 2010 seasons, the question for both Mississippi schools was the same entering the spring: how would their defenses fare after losing several major contributors from last year?

In Oxford, that question was all the more important for last year's defense having been such a disappointment in the first place. And it got even harder to answer mid-spring when potentially the unit's best player, linebacker D.J. Shackelford, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Rebel defense had a successful spring game all the same, holding the two offenses to just 27 total points and scoring seven of their own on an Ivan Nicholas interception return. But coming against a Rebel offense in flux after seeing former JUCO Randall Mackey ascend to the likely starter's job (and former favorite Nathan Stanley leave the program), the jury will remain out despite the positive signs.

Up the road in Starkville, the news seemed more unambiguously positive: Dan Mullen said his defensive line "dominated" the Marron-White Game, producing 11 tackles-for-loss. The Bulldogs already seemed happy with their new linebackers, and that was before redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna blew up for eight tackles and a pair of sacks in the spring game. The secondary may remain a work-in-progress (State quarterbacks, including backup Dylan "Yes, That" Favre, combined to average a healthy 7.8 yards per-attempt), but the front seven looks like it shouldn't take too big a step back.

We'll cover the SEC East next week once the slowpokes at Kentucky hold their spring game this weekend.


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.

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