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The Oklahoma Sooners went deep into the state of Louisiana for a second time in less than two weeks, pulling out another highly recruited talent from the Bayou State. On Monday, OU secured a verbal commitment from 3-star linebacker Pernell Jefferson.
Jefferson was a beast for Warren Easton Senior High School in 2014, coming up with 115 tackles, 13 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one pick. With Jefferson leading the way, the Eagles posted a 12-3 record before falling to Neville 28-27 in a heart-breaking state championship title game.
The New Orleans-area talent has picked up 13 reported offers from some of the top programs around the region with Miami, Mississippi State, Indiana, Nebraska, TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas, ULM, UL Lafayette, Western Kentucky, UCF, and Colorado State among the programs seeking his abilities at the FBS level.
Jefferson visited UCF, Indiana and Kansas during the offseason and took a trip to Norman for Junior Day. The Sooners landed the stud linebacker over an announced top four of Nebraska, Texas Tech and Arizona State.
The Eagles were a popular stopping point during the 2015 recruiting cycle, as eight players have committed to FBS programs. Wide receiver Darrell Clark and linebacker Kendal Franklin went with Arizona, cornerback Deshawn Capers-Smith sided with Texas A&M, 5-star wide receiver Tyron Johnson went with in-state power LSU, defensive back Jeremie Francis, running back Devin Glenn, and wide receiver Dedrick Shy signed with Tulane, while Oklahoma landed prized 4-star linebacker Arthur McGinnis.
The Sooners now have 10 verbal commitments making up their 2016 recruiting class. On July 30, OU picked up safety Chanse Sylvie from Louisiana prep powerhouse Calvary Baptist Academy.
Oklahoma Sooners 2016 Verbal Commitment List
CB Maurice Chandler, 6-1, 190, NEO A&M C.C., Miami, OK
CB Parrish Cobb, 5-11, 175, La Vega HS, Waco, TX
ATH/WR Adrian Hardy, 6-3, 185, Dekaney HS, Houston, TX
LB Pernell Jefferson, 6-2, 236, Warren Easton Senior, New Orleans, LA
QB Austin Kendall, 6-2, 210, Cuthbertson HS, Waxhaw, NC
WR Ryan Parker, 6-2, 175, Tyler C.C., Tyler, TX
OG Logan Roberson, 6-5, 318, Harrah HS, Harrah, OK
FS Chanse Sylvie, 6-0-, 185, Calvary Baptist HS, Shreveport, LA
LB Jon-Michael Terry, 6-2, 225, Victory Christian HS, Tulsa, OK
LB Bryce Youngquist, 6-2, 210, Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Les Miles plans to coach LSU all the way to the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers have released their 2015 season hype video and if they play half as tough as they look in this video, everyone should be on guard. As far as hype videos go, LSU is king.
Feel the pulse of the Tigers and be very, very afraid.
Ohio State players aren't known to rock the helmet visor, but that's all about to change.
Star wide receiver Michael Thomas is switching things up and it actually works. Adding a visor to the helmet makes it look better than ever.
#Zone6 (@CoachZachSmith) August 9, 2015
News from NASCAR’s second straight fuel mileage finish took a backseat Monday as one of the sport’s kindest, most well known spokesmen saw his battle with lung cancer hit the start/finish line. Buddy Baker, 74, passed away Monday just a month after stepping away from his gig on SIRIUS XM radio following news he had an inoperable tumor. Known as the “Gentle Giant,” the 6-foot-6 Baker scored 19 career Cup victories, including the 1980 Daytona 500, then transitioned to a role as booth analyst for races televised on The Nashville Network and CBS.
These days, it’s hard to find people as genuine and nice as Baker was to all who knew him. His passion was racing; it’s one he lived and breathed long after hanging up the helmet for Cup in 1994. The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck, the family’s racing school helped train several modern drivers while bringing them up to speed for stock car racing on tracks like Atlanta Motor Speedway, Rockingham and Charlotte.
A part-time colleague of Buddy’s on SIRIUS XM Channel 90, I never got to host with him but was a frequent guest on one of his shows, “Tradin’ Paint.” What stuck with me from those appearances was always the way in which I was treated. Here was this guy, named one of NASCAR’s “50 Greatest Drivers” in 1998 and he was doting on me like I was the special one. Always well researched, he’d ask thoughtful questions, the type that made you aware he read your columns. In fact, Baker was one of the most knowledgeable SIRIUS XM personnel the channel had, up to speed on the internal workings of the sport all the way up until his death.
You never knew much about Baker’s personal life because, well, you didn’t really need to. Racing was his life and the way in which he and father Buck helped it grow will be remembered decades into the future. Who won’t remember Buddy’s soft-spoken, pointed analysis of the 1990s that was the perfect balance for Ned Jarrett in the CBS booth? Baker’s voice, just like his height remains legendary and forever available for future generations to both listen to and get hooked on the sport he loved.
“Many of today’s fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storytellers in the sport’s history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCAR’s biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly.”
One of those records still stands today as Baker won that ’80 Daytona 500 with an average speed of 177.602 miles an hour. Baker the analyst would have plenty to chat about regarding Sunday’s fuel mileage finish but the driver? He was all speed, speed, and more speed. That “go fast” mentality helped him on the superspeedways but he struggled on short tracks throughout his career, a weakness that kept him no better than fifth in the championship standings.
Perhaps the best example of Baker the person though is how he handled his death, armed with both courage and grace. While some crumble under the weight of terminal diagnoses, Baker took an optimistic approach, reminding listeners in his last SIRIUS XM radio broadcast to look on the bright side.
“What a blessed person I’ve been,” he said that night in July. “To have a long career like I’ve had, do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name.”
I can’t imagine everyone held up his or her bargain not to shed a tear today. But there’s a whole lot of people gritting their teeth and smiling through it because they know that’s what Buddy would have wanted them to do.
Through The Gears we go….
FIRST GEAR: Logano Gets Over A Hump Harvick’s Still Stuck On
Sunday’s Watkins Glen race, known as one of NASCAR’s most aggressive, instead played out as rather tame. There was over a 30-lap green-flag run to the finish, turning strategy at the front into a game of fuel mileage for a second straight week.
At Pocono, Joey Logano led the most laps but ran out of gas towards the end, handing victory over to Matt Kenseth. This time, the racing gods looked favorably on Logano when dominant leader Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel with just a few turns remaining on the road course. Logano sped by, making up for his lost opportunity last week, earning his first Sprint Cup victory since February’s Daytona 500.
“It's nice that it played out this time,” said Logano, who also earned his first weekend sweep of XFINITY-Cup events. “It feels good to break through and not be the bridesmaid anymore, and actually get to have the checkered flag and have some fun.”
Logano, second in the Cup standings to Harvick, had also earned two runner-up finishes inside the last month. That harnesses the momentum a bit in a Chase format where you only get bonus points entering the postseason for winning races. Logano may be well ahead of Jimmie Johnson during the regular season, for example, but Johnson would earn the top seed in the Chase courtesy of the No. 48 team’s four victories.
The format makes it more important to cash in on chances to win; it’s a growing problem for what has otherwise been a dominant season for Harvick. Losing out on those final turns, the third-place finish didn’t do justice for a No. 4 car that led a race-high 29 laps during the event. It was his 13th top-3 result of 2015 but only two of those have resulted in victories and the precious bonus points needed to distance one from other championship contenders.
“Our cars are faster than pretty much everybody else’s every week,” Harvick said after falling short. “The circumstances have definitely bit us quite a few times. But all in all, if you have the fastest car and you keep running in the top 5 and leading laps, eventually you’re going to wear them down.”
Harvick hopes for a repeat of 2014, when the team overcame similar bad luck, stormed into the Chase and stomped all over the competition. But if, say, a blown engine bites them within the first round in September, we’ll be pointing to races like these as extra “cushion” the No. 4 team could have used to help from being eliminated.
SECOND GEAR: Stewart’s Sticky Situation
It was an emotional weekend for Tony Stewart, fighting through the first anniversary of the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. This tragedy, which occurred when Ward was struck by Stewart’s sprint car, has irrevocably changed the life of NASCAR’s three-time Cup Series champion. While ultimately cleared of criminal charges, the Ward family chose Stewart’s return to the region as the time to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.
Stewart, who refrained comment on the case, still had it front and center in his mind. It’s a situation from which there are no winners. The driver will always face the demons of Ward’s death, as nothing will ever completely wipe out the reality of striking and killing another man. On the flip side, no amount of money given to the Wards will bring back what they ultimately desire – their son. It appears they also feel that Stewart should have faced charges, a pointed statement released Friday signifying the anger and pain they’re still going through.
"Our son was truly the light of our lives and we miss him terribly every day," they said. "Our hope is that this lawsuit will hold Tony Stewart responsible for killing our son and show him there are real consequences when someone recklessly takes another person's life."
As for the court of public opinion, it seemed the Watkins Glen locals rallied around the driver. Stewart qualified inside the top 10, racing at the track for the first time since 2012,and was introduced to cheers by the sold-out crowd. That the No. 14 team finished 43rd, the victim of a broken rear gear, was inconsequential to an owner/driver whose team is showing signs they might break out of a yearlong slump.
“[The weekend] was as good as it could be,” he said. “I’m happy to get to race here and I’m happy about the couple of weeks we have coming up.”
THIRD GEAR: Kahne’s Crash, Gordon’s Brakes Spice Up Chase Race
What in the world is going on with Kasey Kahne? On lap 50, a chain-reaction wreck that started when Sam Hornish Jr.’s car failed to come up to speed, left Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet a crumpled mess. It was the second straight crash for Kahne, now sitting 51 points outside the Chase with only four races left to make up the distance.
“I made it longer this week than last,” he deadpanned before turning a bit more serious. “At this rate, we’re going to need to win [to make the Chase]. I need to get a little better.”
Kahne claimed a great Bristol test has him highly confident he could win the night race there. Who would wind up an innocent victim should Kahne’s win knock someone else out of the Chase on points? None other than teammate Jeff Gordon, suffering through brake problems at the Glen to give him a second finish outside the top 40 inside the last three races.
“We can’t afford to have these types of finishes,” said the four-time champion, “If we are going to make the Chase.”
Gordon’s problems combined with Kyle Busch entering the top 30 Sunday (officially solidifying his status inside the postseason) makes it a tricky proposition for Jamie McMurray, Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer. All five of those winless wheelmen are currently Chase-eligible but are jammed within 23 points of each other. Should another driver like Kahne, Stewart, Kyle Larson, or Greg Biffle win – someone positioned well outside the top 16 in points – that would knock one of those five drivers out.
Will it happen? Michigan has long been a Roush Fenway Racing stronghold (Biffle) even though they’ve struggled mightily there the last few years. Kahne claims he could win Bristol. Larson has shown signs of life the last month. You never know….
FOURTH GEAR: Swing And A Miss For Road Course Specialists
Defending Watkins Glen champion AJ Allmendinger, known as a road course specialist, was hoping to fight his way into this year’s Chase once again. But the No. 47 Chevrolet, after leading 20 laps fell back through the field with handling problems. A faulty battery put the nail in the coffin of a 24th-place result that leaves them with a disappointing 2015 season.
The ‘Dinger wasn’t the only road course expert hurting, though. Stewart and Gordon had problems while Boris Said was uncompetitive driving the No. 32 Ford for Frank Stoddard. Gone are the days where a specialist can earn a one-race deal and excel with Cup veterans; equipment means too much compared to driver talent. Should Said retire at the end of 2015, the days of “ringers” slotting in regular Cup rides may be officially over.
Danica Patrick quietly earned a 17th-place finish at the Glen. It’s the first time she’s had back-to-back top 20s in Cup since April… Bowyer, sixth on Sunday now has two straight top-10 finishes since Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman purchased a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing for 2016 – promising to take Bowyer with him… Logano’s 16th-place starting spot was the furthest back anyone had come to win a Cup race at the Glen since Steve Park in 2000.
Stephen Curry never had an easy route to becoming an NBA champion. He was always undersized, had a low shooting form, and it seemed no one wanted him early on.
Obviously things have changed. Curry's an NBA MVP and a champion on top of that. He's the lead man on the cover of 2K16 and the Summer of Curry is just getting started. Spike Lee narrates Curry's journey to get to where he is now... a video game. He's come a long way.
A sneak-peak of the live gameplay is an indicator the game is going to be very life-like.
Floyd Mayweather is probably Floyd Mayweather's biggest fan.
The 48-0 boxer was asked to rank the five best boxers off all time, and his answers are of course biased. Mayweather was quick to put himself up at the No. 1 spot. The suprise was his ranking of Muhammad Ali.
"This is me just being honest," Mayweather said.
Expectations run high for USC upon the outset of Trojans fall camp. The media’s pick to win the 2015 Pac-12 Conference championship and a preseason top-10 team, USC is anticipating competing for the program's first league title since 2008.
Current head coach Steve Sarkisian was at USC as offensive coordinator for that last conference championship, and he made no bones at Pac-12 Media Days about aspiring for more of the same in 2015.
"We came here to win championships," he said. "At some point those expectations are going to be what they were."
Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Cody Kessler leads a talented and experienced roster, which also is USC's deepest in more than three years. But as fall camp opens, marking an official start to the 2015 season, questions loom that the Trojans must address if they are, in fact, to contend for the Pac-12 title.
USC’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Development of the Run Game
Once he took over as USC’s primary ball carrier midway through the 2013 season, Javorius “Buck” Allen established himself as a cornerstone of the Trojans’ offense. He led USC in rushing each of the last two seasons, last year going for 1,489 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Allen’s running mate Justin Davis returns, as does the back Allen replaced due to injury in 2013, Tre Madden. Both have shown explosive potential in their time at USC, particularly Madden, who was on pace for a 1,000-yard season before his hip injury in 2013.
But shaking off the rust of almost two years on the sideline will determine Madden’s place in the offense in the season to come, while Davis will be in new territory with a heavier share of the workload.
Kessler said, "This year [the offensive line is] going to be doing a really good job at, not only protecting me, but also in the run game."
Playing behind a front five that returns every starter should help, but fall camp will tell us quite a bit about where this facet of the USC stands without its biggest star of the last two years.
2. Wide Receiver Potential vs. Production
Not often can a wide receiver corps lose a player responsible for 104 catches, 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns, as USC does in Nelson Agholor, yet hold realistic expectations of improving. Such is the case for USC, which adds several new weapons into a group led by standout sophomore JuJu Smith.
Two of the candidates for breakout seasons are Steven Mitchell, who only played the last month of 2014, and junior college transfer Isaac Whitney. Mitchell brings breakaway speed that should give Kessler a home-run threat, while Whitney’s size makes him a possible red-zone target.
The unit’s collective depth is intriguing, but needs to establish a firm pecking order. Who will be the reliable No. 2 to Smith that Smith was to Agholor last season? That’s one question the Trojans will begin to answer at fall camp.
3. Who’s Getting Sacks?
Late into the 2014 campaign, USC blitzed less than any other Power 5 conference program in the nation. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is hardly a conservative play caller — his defense the previous year at Washington was one of the most aggressive blitzing teams in the nation — but a number of factors played into his reluctance to blitz last season.
First, the Trojans’ lack of depth precluded Wilcox from getting too aggressive. USC also played one of the youngest secondaries in all of college football; bringing too much heat would have left the youngsters exposed. Third, USC got uncanny pressure up front, thanks to All-American Leonard Williams.
Su’a Cravens playing more linebacker this year likely means more pressure, as he was one of the Trojans' most effective pass rushers when lined up there. The return of Jabari Ruffin to a deep linebacker corps also should allow the Trojans to blitz more regularly.
As far as replacing Williams' production, fall camp will give a glimpse into the prediction Cravens made at media days: "Delvon [Simmons] is poised to have a big, big year."
4. Meet the Freshmen
USC’s top-rated recruiting class embarks on its first year with much fanfare. For many of the newcomers, fall camp is their formal introduction to life in the Pac-12.
The Trojans have held informal, team-run workouts this summer, in which some of the youngsters have had the opportunity to make a splash. Cravens said linebacker Cam Smith is already establishing himself as a potential playmaker come fall.
"He's playing like a veteran," Cravens said of Smith. "He had four or five interceptions in the spring, including two on Cody [Kessler]. He's been carrying himself like a vet."
Smith is part of a linebacker class stocked with talent. Osa Masina and Porter Gustin, a pair of 5-star signees, also could find their way into the rotation.
Other ballyhooed prospects will have the potential to show out come fall camp, like defensive lineman Rasheem Green and cornerback Iman Marshall. Both arrive at USC with 5-star credentials and the potential to make immediate impacts.
5. Solidifying Special Teams
USC’s special teams play was equal parts electrifying and terrifying in 2014. On the positive end, USC had Adoree’ Jackson and Agholor returning kicks. On the negative, coverage was sometimes lacking and a bevy of injuries forced special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen to get creative with his calls.
For example, an injury at long snapper led to Kessler pooch-punting on stalled drives at or around midfield seven times. Resolving the shaky punting situation is a key element of establishing a more consistent special teams.
The biggest question mark on special teams may be replacing Andre Heidari, USC’s placekicker for the previous four seasons. Heidari was sidelined due to injury for a portion of the 2014 campaign, which gave Alex Wood live-game opportunities. Wood connected on all 12 of his extra-point attempts, but didn’t get a shot to try a field goal.
Missouri enters the 2015 season coming off back-to-back SEC East titles. Still, the Tigers seem to be the most overlooked team in the division. While many expect Georgia to be the favorite and Tennessee as a potential surprise, Missouri was picked to finish third in the East during SEC Media Days and — once again — opens the season with little hype.
But the Tigers are definitely a noteworthy team to follow leading up to their Sept. 5 kickoff against Southeast Missouri. Here are Missouri's five biggest questions that need to be answered in fall camp.
Missouri’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Will Terry Beckner Jr. replace Harold Brantley?
Head coach Gary Pinkel confirmed that Brantley will miss the entire 2015 season after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident in June. Many speculate that Beckner, a five-star incoming freshman, will fill the void at defensive tackle. The 6-foot-4, 293-pound lineman ranked as the nation's No. 13 overall prospect and No. 3 defensive tackle. Brantley will be one of several players competing for a spot on the new-look Missouri defensive line.
2. How Will Missouri’s New Defensive Line Fare?
Speaking of which, the Tigers need to replace the SEC's most dominant pass rush duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Ray was successful in replacing former SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, but it may be asking too much to expect a three-peat. Charles Harris played in all 14 games (one start) in 2014 and recorded 19 tackles, four for a loss and two pass breakups. He is expected to have a larger role as a potential heir to Ray. Otherwise, the defensive line seems to be a mystery with several positions up for grabs.
3. Will Maty Mauk Show Consistency in 2015?
In a conference full of "Jekyll and Hyde" quarterbacks Mauk may have been the least consistent. Mauk ended his sophomore season with 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 221-of-414 passing. But his numbers were inflated thanks to strong early performances in non-conference games.
Mauk threw for a combined 14 touchdowns against South Dakota State, Toledo, UCF and Indiana in his first four games. However, he went without a touchdown and was held to an average of 72 passing yards in his next three (South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) yet still went 2-1 in those games. In total, Mauk threw for 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions against SEC competition. In 2015, Missouri will need to win because of its quarterback's play rather than in spite of it.
4. Who Will Emerge as Tigers' Top WR?
Missouri's four leading receivers — including running back Marcus Murphy —are all gone. Considering Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt combined for 1,701 of the Tigers’ 2,648 yards and 19 of the 25 touchdown receptions, this is a big concern heading into the season. Google "Missouri wide receiver" and several pages about Dorial Green-Beckham still come up first. This is a huge problem when your quarterback enters his junior season facing concerns about his consistency.
5. Will Russell Hansbrough Be Among the SEC's Best Running Backs?
Hansbrough is Missouri's best returning offensive player. He rushed for 1,084 yards, good for seventh in the SEC, and scored 10 touchdowns. Hansbrough is one of 10 SEC backs named to the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list and should have an even larger role as one of three returning skill players — along with Mauk and tight end Sean Culkin — that started in 2014.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
Expectations in Fort Worth are high this season and for good reason. TCU has the talent and experience to be a national champion contender. Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin will lead a potent TCU offense that was able to score at will last season. And with a home schedule that greatly favors the Horned Frogs this could be the season TCU fans have been waiting for.
Despite the hype there are a few questions that remain entering the 2015 campaign.
TCU’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Can TCU Win in a Shootout?
There is no question TCU was able to win close games last season. The 31-30 victory at West Virginia and the late-season 34-30 win at Kansas showed the Horned Frogs were able to keep their composure. But the loss of key players on the defensive side of the ball may make those close games a little more intense this season.
2. Will Mike Freeze Make an Immediate Impact?
The post-spring depth chart showed Freeze, a true freshman, starting at one of the two linebacker spots in TCU’s 4-2-5 alignment. While Freeze is expected to make an impact, keep in mind he is being asked to play a position he has never played before. A safety in high school, he was converted to linebacker when he arrived on campus. While he may not have the experience, he appears to have the size (6-3, 220) to play in the middle.
3. Can TCU be Successful with a Young Defense?
The Horned Frogs’ defense loses its leaders in interceptions and tackles from last season. While that is not always a recipe for disaster it does raise some concerns. TCU led the Big 12 in total defense last season, but will be looking to younger, inexperienced players to replace key starters. The aforementioned Freeze is on track to start at linebacker, while fellow true freshman Alec Dunham is listed second on the depth chart behind Sammy Douglas for the other spot. Sophomore Torrence Mosley also looks to start at cornerback to replace the departed Kevin White. There is experience along the defensive front but a 4-2-5 defense needs to be solid on the back end too. Will the lack of experience show?
4. Does TCU Have an Answer Behind Boykin?
Just like last season, head coach Gary Patterson has been slow to announce who will serve as Boykin’s backup. Fortunately Boykin has shown durability, especially for a dual-threat quarterback. Senior Bram Kohlhausen currently sits in the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but he attempted just nine passes in limited playing time last season. That’s still more experience than the next options, redshirt freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, have combined.
5. Does Boykin Need to Run as Much?
There is no arguing that half of Boykin’s appeal is his ability to get out of the pocket and make a play with either his arm or his legs. Besides throwing for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2014, he also ran for 707 yards (4.7 ypc) and eight scores. However, with the return of standout wide receiver Josh Docton, along with vertical threats Kolby Listenbee and Deonte’ Grey, Boykin has the weapons to stay in the pocket. Furthermore, with the return of running back Aaron Green and the emergence of Kyle Hicks, the TCU backfield also appears to be well stocked. The abundance of offensive weapons at Boykin’s disposal could allow him to stay home more often and only running when absolutely necessary, which may not be much behind an experienced offensive line.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
Head coach Derek Mason's first season at Vanderbilt did not go well, to say the least. Coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons under former head coach James Franklin, the Commodores finished 3-9 and were beaten up and down the field with little sigh of relief. Any team that loses by 30 to Temple on its home field clearly has problems.
Yet, despite multiple blowout losses, the Commodores showed some bright spots along the way. As the season trudged along, Vanderbilt stayed within two scores of every SEC East opponent besides Georgia and Florida, proving the talent level wasn't as far behind as some thought. Now, with 18 starters returning from that team and significant coordinator upgrades, Vanderbilt hopes to return to its winning ways in 2015.
Vanderbilt's Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Relying on Ralph & Co.
Although Vanderbilt struggled to put points on the board in 2014 (17.2 ppg, 116th nationally), the Commodores did find some success running the football. Ralph Webb, one of the SEC's most underappreciated players, racked up 902 yards on the ground with four touchdowns. Webb returns this season along with backup Dallas Rivers, who rushed for 218 yards, and four starters on the offensive line. The Commodores' ground attack will be relied on early in the season as the coaching staff figures out the quarterback situation.
2. Quarterback Competition
It seemed like Vanderbilt tried out nearly every player on the roster at quarterback last season. Luckily, the guy who produced the most, Johnny McCrary, returns after throwing for 985 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Wade Freebeck is expected to be the most likely candidate to push McCrary for the starting spot. Patton Robinette, famous for his jump pass touchdown against Tennessee in 2013, ended his playing career in March, citing health concerns. Vanderbilt's quarterbacks will have a pair of proven targets to throw to in tight end Steven Scheu and wide receiver C.J. Duncan.
3. Expect an Improved Offense
After last year's pains on offense, the Commodores decided to move in a new direction. Mason hired former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who also served as the Badgers' quarterbacks coach. In 2013, Wisconsin's offense under Ludwig averaged nearly 481 yards per game, setting a new school record. Ludwig is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, with previous offensive coordinator stops at Oregon and Utah, among others. His expertise will be keen in the development of McCrary and Freebeck.
4. Solid in the Trenches
Vanderbilt is talented where it matters in the SEC — on the defensive line. The Commodores won't have the depth to compete with some of the conference's upper-echelon teams, but their front-end talent is as good as any. Defensive ends Caleb Azubike and Adam Butler are excellent pass rushers. This defense shouldn't have too difficult a time replacing nose guard Vince Taylor, as Jay Woods appears to be a perfect fit to clog gaps in the middle. Woods gained experience last season and moves to the interior after playing defensive end last season.
5. Mason Running the Show
While the defensive line appears to be a positive heading into the season, there are still questions to be answered in the secondary. Instead of hiring a new defensive coordinator, Mason decided it would be best to call the plays himself. It can't be stressed how important this move is for Vanderbilt. As Stanford's defensive coordinator before his arrival in Nashville, there really was no better option for the Commodores. His proven track record makes one wonder, why wasn't he calling the shots all along? Both of Vanderbilt's coordinators will be significant upgrades from 2014.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been known to address his team collectively in the locker room with often-critical assessments he calls "The News."
Here's "the news" following the Steelers’ performance in their first preseason game, Sunday night’s 14-3 loss to Minnesota Vikings in the Pro Football Hall of Game in Canton, Ohio.
It's hard to imagine a third-string quarterback having any significant impact on any team. The fact is if Ben Roethlisberger were to miss any significant time in 2015, Pittsburgh's Super Bowl hopes would likely be doomed.
But the longer Bruce Gradkowski is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, the more likely the quarterback who would figure to be third-string in 2015 will be only a play away from guiding the team. And Jones has shown nothing to make fans feel he can fill in capably, a la Charlie Batch.
In his last two preseason starts, Jones has produced a grand total of three points. He showed little accuracy in throwing a ball of any distance; his one completion of 35 yards to Shakim Phillips in the second quarter came only after Phillips made a spectacular one-handed catch. While a 12-yard completion to rookie Sammie Coates in the first quarter showed Jones' arm strength, as it came after the ball was tipped but still stayed on target.
One dropped pass is the fault of the receiver. Consistently dropped passes indicates the quarterback lacks touch. The latter seems to be true in the case of Jones, who only completed half of his 32 passes for just 4.2 yards per attempt.
Tomlin coached the game as if he lacked confidence in Jones; calling for a draw play on 3rd and 9 in the first quarter and initially going with Tyler Murphy, attempting to become a wide receiver/quarterback hybrid, behind center in the third quarter after the Steelers fell behind 14-3.
Tahj Boyd must play at Jacksonville on Friday. If the Steelers wish to make Murphy their third-string quarterback (having to play a third-stringer is an act of desperation in the first place; at least Murphy or fellow hybrid Devin Gardner would provide a wild card), a traditional backup must be found if Gradkowski can't begin the season. Boyd, at least, has a history with Martavis Bryant at Clemson.
Now we see a bit of what the Steelers saw in him when they picked him in the first round last year. His ability to take out the lead blocker allowed Steve McLendon to stop Minnesota running back Jerick McKinnon for a slight loss on 4th and 1 in the first quarter, and his two stops in the final minute of the first half forced a Vikings punt.
Nice performance. While there was only one sack, the front seven consistently closed the gaps and put pressure on all three Minnesota quarterbacks. This game could have theoretically been a 3-0 Steelers victory but for a breakdown when Mike Pruitt beat Sean Spence over the middle on a crossing pattern for a 39-yard touchdown pass from Mike Kafka. Another mistake came when Brad Wing outkicked his coverage on a 59-yard punt in the third quarter that led to a 62-yard return from Stefon Diggs to give Minnesota the ball on the Steelers' three-yard line.
Tomlin calls his knee injury made during kickoff coverage "potentially significant." Heinz Field has historically been murder for kickers, but just two years ago Suisham missed only two kicks all season. Suisham is a known commodity. If he is to miss any regular season time, thankfully there is still a month to find a suitable replacement.
Fast. Could have better hands. Could he find his way on the field on first and second downs, too?
Great hustle in tackling Diggs before he could score on the punt return. And the interception, though a case of being in the right place at the right time, deserves praise as Fogg was in the right place at the right time to catch the deflection. Could be a special teams ace, which often leads to bigger and better things.
No safety to pick up Pruitt on his touchdown catch shows there's still much room for improvement.
We presume he is still on the team. But after Phillips' and Coates' emergence, how much longer?
Rookie tight end dropped two passes, including a potential touchdown in the second quarter that could have put the Steelers up at the half. No matter. More Dottie West and less Wiz Khalifa over the Heinz Field loudspeaker and tailgate parties is a good thing.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Training camps are bound to get people a little excited.
The Panthers have high expectations this year and, as you can imagine, emotions are running a little high. During one play Cam Newton got into a little scuffle with cornerback Josh Norman. It seemed to come after Norman intercepted Newton's pass and hit him. As Newton was getting up from the ground he yells, "Hit me like that again," in Norman's direction.
Aftermath of Cam Newton and Josh Norman tussle pic.twitter.com/J7Pzm5fAJl— Black & Blue Review (@BlackBlueReview) August 10, 2015
Panthers fans are hoping they bury the hatchet and place that aggression towards other teams by the time the season starts.
Bob Stoops' 16th season at Oklahoma left a sour taste in the mouths of Sooner fans that has lingered for an entire offseason. Heading into his 17th campaign, Stoops is looking for a spark from new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and a return to the “Air Raid.”
Despite speculation he wouldn't return, Bob's brother Mike is back to oversee the defense. The Stoops siblings hunkered down in the last nine months to plug up a defense that leaked all across the secondary in 2014.
Finding those solutions on D and identifying a first-string quarterback highlight the biggest stories in preseason practice for the head coach and his Sooners.
Oklahoma’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who's Playing Quarterback?
Although Bob Stoops has declared the competition all but even, media insiders have already anointed Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield as OU's starting quarterback. The 2013 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year showed promise running the Air Raid in his one season in Lubbock and generated plenty of buzz in the last 18 months of workouts and practices in Norman. Stoops stunned Sooner Nation in 2013 when he named Trevor Knight the starter over heavily favored upperclassman Blake Bell, which should give Knight reason to be optimistic about his chances in this derby. Third-year sophomore Cody Thomas has an intriguing skill set that could keep him in the race all the way until the end. As of now, though, all signs point to Mayfield taking the first snap against Akron.
2. Can OU Still Run the Ball?
The Sooners boasted one of the best ground attacks in the country last season behind freshman phenom Samaje Perine, who went for more than 1,700 yards rushing in his first campaign. The talent at running back is even better in 2015 with the addition of five-star recruit Joe Mixon. Shifting from the Pistol-type scheme that OU ran the last two years to a historically pass-happy offense raises questions about how well it suits the personnel. Those concerns are compounded by the introduction of three new faces on the offensive line.
3. Tinkering With the Defense
A dearth of quality linemen in 2013 forced defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to junk his favored 4-3 alignment for a three-man front. He experimented in the spring with a 4-2-5 look. At this point, it's unclear to anyone outside the program exactly what the plan is on that side of the ball. Replacing mammoth nose tackle Jordan Phillips will be key, no matter how the Sooners line up.
4. Finding Solid Starters at Safety
A lack of quality upperclassmen pressed youngsters Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker into service on the back end of OU's defense in 2014. The Sooners paid for it in the form of busted assignments and youthful mistakes. By the end of the year, Parker was playing like a future star, so his spot is safe. Meanwhile, Thomas and junior Hatari Byrd will compete for snaps with touted newcomers Will Sunderland, Prentice McKinney and Kahlil Haughton.
5. The Kicking Game
Michael Hunnicutt caught a case the yips last year, but he and punter Jed Barnett combined to make a dependable pair in their time at OU. Heralded recruit Austin Seibert will compete with senior kickoff specialist Nick Hogsdon for placekicking duties. Seibert also has a shot to win the punting duties over Jack Steed.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
Penn State's Anthony Zettel has moved on from tree-tackling to bottle-kicking.
The defensive tackle showed off his tremendous power by kicking a water bottle, and it went straight for a teammate's head. Thank goodness for the quick reflexes of football players because the results could have been ugly.
College football’s long offseason is almost over. Kickoff for the 2015 season is less than 25 days away, and fall camps are underway across the nation. While every team is 0-0 and hopes of an undefeated season are still alive, all 128 FBS programs have key question marks to answer in fall camp. Optimism can only run high for so long. Eventually, the position concerns have to be answered this fall.
With kickoff just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at some of the biggest storylines to watch in fall camp. Whether it’s quarterback battles, new coach hires or offensive line development, every concern is under the spotlight with the season fast approaching.
Here’s what you need to pay attention to in fall camps:
College Football's Top 10 Fall Practice Storylines
1. Quarterback Battles at Top Programs
Every coach would prefer to open the season with clarity at quarterback, and fall camp is the final chance to develop a clear pecking order under center. And with some big names departing the quarterback position after 2014, several playoff contenders are looking for a new starter.
Here’s a look at some of the top quarterback battles to watch in fall practice:
1. Ohio State: J.T. Barrett vs. Cardale Jones
2. Alabama: Jake Coker vs. David Cornwell
3. Oregon: Vernon Adams vs. Jeff Lockie
4. Florida State: Everett Golson vs. Sean Maguire
5. LSU: Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris
6. Georgia: Brice Ramsey vs. Greyson Lambert vs. Faton Bauta
7. Ole Miss: Chad Kelly vs. Ryan Buchanan vs. DeVante Kincade
8. Michigan: Jake Rudock vs. Shane Morris
9. Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield vs. Trevor Knight vs. Cody Thomas
10. Texas: Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard
2. Jim Harbaugh's Work Continues at Michigan
After the summer of Jim Harbaugh, it’s time for new Michigan coach to get back to work on a team that finished a disappointing 5-7 in 2014. Harbaugh’s impact on the Wolverines should be noticeable in 2015. The Wolverines have enough talent to push for eight wins during the regular season. How quickly will Harbaugh and his staff find the right answers for an offense that generated only 20.9 points per game last year? Solidifying the quarterback spot – Iowa transfer Jake Rudock or Shane Morris – would go a long ways to helping Michigan’s offense in 2015.
Related: Michigan 2015 Fall Camp Preview
3. Taking the Next Step at Baylor and TCU
After missing out on the playoffs last season, TCU and Baylor begin 2015 among the favorites to reach the top four. And after the Bears and Horned Frogs finished 2014 with identical records in conference play, little separates these two teams this fall. Athlon picked Baylor to win the Big 12, but the Coaches Poll selected TCU at No. 2 to open 2015. How quickly can both teams answer key question marks in camp? For TCU, reloading the back seven is coach Gary Patterson’s biggest priority. A new starting quarterback (Seth Russell) takes over at Baylor, but there's little concern under center. The biggest question mark for the Bears remains on defense, as this unit has to take a step forward after allowing 29.2 points per game in conference matchups last season.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
4. Braxton Miller’s Transition, Ohio State’s Repeat Bid
Ohio State’s road to a repeat is favorable, but coach Urban Meyer’s team has a few issues to address in fall camp. The defensive end position was already a concern with the departure of Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier, and the Buckeyes won’t have All-American Joey Bosa in the opener against Virginia Tech due to a suspension. This is a critical fall for players like Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes to emerge at end. On offense, Meyer and new co-coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner are working to settle the quarterback battle, as well as sort out the options at receiver for the opener with Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson suspended. Enter Braxton Miller. The converted quarterback will play a huge role in the opener, and the transition to receiver will be under the spotlight in fall camp.
5. Separation in the SEC West?
The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, and the path to a playoff spot for any of the contenders won’t be easy. Alabama and Auburn are considered the frontrunners, but both programs have their share of concerns. Can the Crimson Tide find a replacement for Amari Cooper at receiver? How much will Auburn’s defense improve under new coordinator Will Muschamp? Ole Miss has the defense to win the SEC. However, question marks remain at quarterback and running back. Will Mississippi State quickly reload after losing a handful of key players from last year? Is LSU’s passing attack on the right path? How much will Texas A&M’s defense improve under John Chavis? The depth and overall strength of this division is no secret. However, all seven teams enter fall camp with key questions to answer.
6. On the Mend
Injuries are a big part of any college football season. Whether it’s spring practice, fall camp or in-season ailments, the injury bug will take a toll on all 128 teams. But with fall practice starting, this is a key milestone in the health of some players returning from injury. Just how healthy are the players on the mend? Fall camp should give everyone a clear picture of what to expect after recovery. Here’s a look at 12 of college football’s top returning players from injury to monitor in fall camp:
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
2. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
3. Laremy Tunsil, OL, Ole Miss
4. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
5. Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech
6. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
7. Braxton Miller, WR/QB, Ohio State
8. Tyler Johnstone, OT, Oregon
9. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
10. Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
11. Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
12. Quenton Bundrage, WR, Iowa State
7. Freshmen Emergence
The next wave of talent in the college football ranks arrived on campus this summer, and fall camp will be the first opportunity for some to impress in front of the coaching staff. Of course, some freshmen enrolled early and participated in spring practice to get early jump on staking a claim for playing time. Every season, there’s no shortage of an impact freshmen making an impression in fall practice or moving up the depth chart to see major snaps in the opener. Here’s a look at six freshmen to watch in fall camp:
1. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
2. Derwin James, S, Florida State
3. Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
4. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
5. Martez Ivey, OT, Florida
6. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
8. Impact of New Coach and Coordinator Hires
As we mentioned above, new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been in the news quite a bit this summer. While Harbaugh has dominated the buzz around new coaching hires, there are several other names that should make an impact in their new home. After a spring practice to build the foundation for their team, fall camp is the next opportunity to make adjustments and prepare a team for the upcoming season. What type of changes will the new staffs make? How quickly will the new coaches or coordinators find the right answers for the team’s biggest question marks?
Here’s a look at the top 10 coach hires for 2015, as well as the top coordinator moves:
Top 10 Coach Hires for 2015
1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
2. Gary Andersen, Oregon State
3. Tom Herman, Houston
4. Chad Morris, SMU
5. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
6. Jim McElwain, Florida
7. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
8. Mike Riley, Nebraska
9. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
10. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Best Coordinator Hires for 2015
1. Will Muschamp, Auburn (Defense)
2. John Chavis, Texas A&M (Defense)
3. Gene Chizik, North Carolina (Defense)
4. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma (Offense)
5. Barry Odom, Missouri (Defense)
6. David Gibbs, Texas Tech (Defense)
Related: Top Coordinator Hires for 2015
9. Offensive Lines in the ACC
Will an ACC team play its way into playoff consideration this year? The development of the offensive line at a few programs will be critical in answering that question. Clemson lost tackle Isaiah Battle to the supplemental draft, leaving just one starter (Ryan Norton) back for 2015. Florida State also returns just one starter (Roderick Johnson), while Louisville’s line allowed 40 sacks last season and lost three key performers. In the Coastal Division, can Miami and Virginia Tech find the right answers up front to push Georgia Tech for the title?
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
10. USC…Back Among the Nation’s Elite?
With Oregon replacing quarterback Marcus Mariota, two standout offensive linemen and a few key performers on defense from last year’s playoff run, it’s hard to pinpoint a clear favorite in the Pac-12. The Ducks are near the top, but USC, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and Stanford are all contenders for the league crown. The Trojans finished 9-4 in coach Steve Sarkisian’s debut, with three losses coming by six points or less. Can USC capitalize off a tough, but open Pac-12 title race? The necessary pieces are in place for Sarkisian, starting with quarterback Cody Kessler and a talented array of skill players. But is the defense ready to challenge for a playoff bid without star end Leonard Williams? Additionally, USC’s path to a spot among the top four isn’t easy. Road trips to Arizona State, Notre Dame, California and Oregon dot the schedule in 2015, while Utah, Arizona, Stanford and UCLA visit the Coliseum. This may not be an elite USC team, but Sarkisian has enough firepower and talent to guide this team into the top four. Will USC emerge as the clear favorite? Or will the conference simply have too many good teams and not a standout playoff contender?
Winners of 11 of the last 12 division titles, the AFC East has been dominated by New England ever since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady joined forces in 2001. However, with Brady's four-game suspension, along with the departure of several key defensive players, this prolific run could be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have new coaching staffs and has added some key pieces, while the Miami Dolphins reeled in the biggest fish on the free agent market this offseason. This division seems more up in the air than in the past several seasons. Can a new team claim supremacy, or will the Patriots find a way to hold on to their crown for a seventh straight season?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“In one of the strangest coaching developments in recent memory, Doug Marrone opted out of his contract three days after a 9-7 season and landed in Jacksonville as an assistant. The Bills went with an opposite personality and hired Rex Ryan who had been released by the Jets and he will bring his open-book, player-friendly approach to western New York."
"Since trading their 2015 No. 1 pick last year for WR Sammy Watkins, GM Doug Whaley and the organization have continued with their aggressive tactics to try and add more talent to this roster. They traded for RB LeSean McCoy and QB Matt Cassel, signed TE Charles Clay to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, inked OG Richie Incognito and also brought WR Percy Harvin into the fold."
"And yet, the question still remains, is EJ Manuel the long-term answer at QB? If he’s not, Cassel will serve as a stop-gap insurance policy, since Kyle Orton decided to retire... The OL is really ordinary to below average without a single big-time starter, although offseason reports indicate that LT Cordy Glenn is in the best shape of his career."
"Their defense is outstanding with quality players across the front, including DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, plus edge rushers Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes... Buffalo gave up LB Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade, but he missed the entire 2014 season with an ACL and the D still finished fourth overall and first in third downs (33.2 percent)."
"The corners, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin should give Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman the freedom to use their pressure packages, while they added Florida State CB Ronald Darby in the second round as a potential nickel... With Rex’s energy and ability to motivate, don’t be surprised to see the Bills pull the new pieces together and break their 15-year playoff drought.”
“Cut it any way you like, but owner Stephen Ross brought in former NY Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum to evaluate and determine the fates of head coach Joe Philbin and GM Dennis Hickey following the 2015 season."
"It’s a one-year trial for them and a huge season for QB Ryan Tannehill."
"The Dolphins wanted to make a splash and they did so in free agency by signing DT Ndamukong Suh to the richest defensive player deal in league history. He is a major league talent and the expectation is that he will help control the run game and pressure the interior of the pocket, especially against New England."
"While the front is solid, DEs Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are maybe the most underrated pair of pass rushers in the league, the linebackers are second-rate and someone has to step up at corner opposite of Brent Grimes."
"Offensively, Miami has rebuilt the offensive line in two short years, but lost TE Charles Clay as an unrestricted free agent to Buffalo. He is a significant loss for Tannehill because the Dolphins also shipped WR Mike Wallace to Minnesota and traded for the Saints’ Kenny Stills."
"WR Jarvis Landry was a nice second-round find last year out of LSU and caught 84 passes as a rookie, but the hope is that first-round pick DeVante Parker can become the complete receiver Tannehill has lacked in his early career."
"TE Jordan Cameron was added from the Browns, but he’s had documented concussion issues despite being a quality receiving target... None of their RBs scare anybody, so Boise State product Jay Ajayi could get on the field right away despite a knee issue that deflated his draft stock.”
“After ten years of tantalizing frustration, the Patriots finally pushed through for their fourth Belichick-Brady Super Bowl title and you get the sense that they are enjoying this one unlike any before. With those two at the helm, everyone else seems to respond and play above themselves."
"Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell complement each other well and became reliable targets in conjunction with TE Rob Gronkowski. It remains to be seen if Aaron Dobson can become a player, but with their offensive line in need of interior help, they added Florida State OG Tre' Jackson and Georgia Tech OG Shaq Mason in the fourth round of the draft."
"The Pats face three formidable fronts within the division as all of their opponents want to attack the base of the pocket and make Tom Brady move off his spot."
"LeGarrette Blount will miss the opener with a personal conduct policy suspension and they let Shane Vereen depart in free agency, but Travaris Cadet was signed from the Saints and there is great hope for James White to become a factor in 2015."
"NE has gotten amazing mileage out of their linebacker corps in the absence of Jerod Mayo over the past two years."
"Jamie Collins is the most versatile piece of their defensive strategy and has become a top player at his position."
"Dont'a Hightower is finally playing to his potential and reminds you of a 1980s New York Giants’ linebacker."
"Rob Ninkovich has thrived in New England because of his motor, technique and scheme fit."
"They did not exercise the Darrelle Revis option and Brandon Browner signed with the Saints, but they didn’t address the position during the offseason, so Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain are the current top four cornerbacks."
"Devin McCourty was retained as was Patrick Chung, so they are set at safety."
"One of their iconic figures in DT Vince Wilfork was allowed to walk (he went to Houston), but rarely have older players found the same kind of success elsewhere and the Pats are well-equipped to handle his loss with Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga providing some girth up front along with their past two first-round choices, Florida DT Dominique Easley and Texas DT Malcom Brown."
“After sweeping out GM John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan, the Jets embarked on a cumbersome search for new leadership. Longtime NFL executive Charley Casserly was instrumental in the selection of his former understudy Mike Maccagnan as GM and Todd Bowles as the new coach."
"In an odd twist, both should send thank you notes to Idzik for leaving plenty of cap space, because the Jets have been as active as any team in this offseason."
"Defensively, they brought back the cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, plus signed Buster Skrine from Cleveland and safety Marcus Gilchrist from San Diego. Those moves speak volumes about their faith in former first-round pick Dee Milliner as he now sits as the fourth cornerback and appears to be on the outside of their secondary plans."
"The front seven should be very good again with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and emerging LB Demario Davis as the primary playmakers up front." Editor's note: Sheldon Richardson will miss the first four games due to a suspension.
"And despite the defensive line being the strongest unit on their team, give Maccagnan credit for taking the ‘best available’ player in USC DE Leonard Williams who fell in their laps at pick No. 6."
"The fact remains that Geno Smith is the biggest unknown on this football team, and the new regime drafted an excellent developmental candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty... They traded for WR Brandon Marshall who will play for his fourth team in ten years. In spite of his career production, it’s hard to predict how this chapter will play out."
"The OL should be steady with James Carpenter being brought in from Seattle, but D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold have played their best football in the past."
"The Jets need Jace Amaro to step up as a second-year pro, because Jeff Cumberland is really just average."
"Stevan Ridley arrives from New England with a surgically repaired knee, but if healthy, he should bolster their backfield-by-committee, which also included a draft-weekend trade for the Rams’ Zac Stacy."
"Everything truly hinges on the QB play and what new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey can create with a bottom half of the league group of skill players.”
The ACC has a strong case as college football’s best conference for overall quarterback play in 2015. This league features plenty of proven options, rising stars and passers poised for a breakthrough year. In a 14-team conference, it’s rare to see few teams with concerns under center, but the ACC is relatively stable at quarterback in 2015.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson leads the way in the power rankings for the upcoming year, and he’s joined by fellow sophomore Brad Kaaya (Miami) at the top. But Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, North Carolina’s Marquise Williams and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett aren’t far behind.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the ACC for 2015.
ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2015
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Injuries derailed Watson’s freshman season, but all signs point to a full recovery and a huge performance in 2015. Watson was regarded as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2014 signing class and threw for 1,466 yards and 14 scores in eight appearances. He also added 200 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Clemson won’t have Chad Morris calling the shots in 2015, but this offense shouldn’t miss much of a beat with Watson at the controls.
Podcast: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions
2. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya was one of college football’s top freshman last season, finishing 2014 with 3,198 yards and 26 touchdown tosses. The future in Coral Gables looks bright for Kaaya, but the Hurricanes have question marks in the supporting cast for their quarterback. The offensive line returns only one starter, while running back Duke Johnson, tight end Clive Walford and standout receiver Phillip Dorsett must be replaced. Additionally, only one starter is back on the line. Will Kaaya build off his solid freshman season? Or will the supporting cast force a transition year?
Related: Miami 2015 Fall Camp Preview
3. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Thomas is a perfect fit in coach Paul Johnson’s option attack and should be one of the favorites to win ACC Player of the Year honors. En route to a Coastal Division title last season, Thomas rushed for a team-high 1,086 yards and eight scores and connected on 51.3 of his throws for 1,719 yards and 18 scores. Thomas will never post huge passing totals, but he tied for fourth among ACC quarterbacks with nine passing plays of 40 yards or more last season.
4. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
Scoring points won’t be a problem for Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels in 2015. North Carolina’s skill players and offensive line should be among the best in the ACC, and Williams returns as one of the league’s top quarterbacks after passing for 3,073 yards and 21 touchdowns and adding 783 yards and 13 scores on the ground. The senior ranked second in the ACC last season by completing 62.9 percent of his passes in league games.
5. Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Brissett might be the most underrated quarterback in the ACC. In his first season after transferring from Florida, Brissett threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns and guided NC State to a record of 8-5. Additionally, Brissett only tossed five picks and rushed for 529 yards and three scores. The senior could climb into the top three of ACC quarterbacks in 2015.
6. Everett Golson, Florida State
Golson’s place among ACC quarterbacks is tough to peg. There’s no denying his talent, but he also tossed 14 interceptions at Notre Dame last season and has to adapt to a new offense. And there’s also no guarantee he wins the starting job: Sean Maguire has spent the last three years in coach Jimbo Fisher’s system and finished spring at the top of the depth chart.
7. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
Voytik showed steady improvement in the second half of 2014 and closed the year by throwing only one interception over his final six appearances. Pittsburgh won’t deviate much from leaning on its ground attack to carry the offense under new coordinator Jim Chaney, but Voytik should benefit from the addition of the veteran play-caller. After an efficient and productive close to the 2014 campaign, Voytik is poised for an even better 2015 campaign.
8. Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville
Injuries took a toll on Louisville’s quarterback depth chart last season, as three players earned starts and none managed to play in all 13 contests. Bonnafon impressed as a true freshman, finishing second on the team with 864 passing yards, while rushing for 164 yards and five scores on the ground. Bonnafon has to hold off Will Gardner, Kyle Bolin and talented freshman Lamar Jackson, but all signs point to the sophomore taking the first snap of the year against Auburn.
9. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
Improving the offense is a priority for Virginia Tech after averaging only 19.4 points in ACC games last season. Brewer had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter for the Hokies. He guided Virginia Tech to an upset win over Ohio State but also tossed 10 interceptions through the first five games. Brewer finished 2014 with 2,692 yards, 18 scores and 15 picks.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
10. Thomas Sirk, Duke
All signs point to Sirk as Duke’s next star quarterback under coach David Cutcliffe. The junior played in 12 games last season, completing 10 of 14 passes for 67 yards and three scores. While Sirk has to develop as a passer, there’s little doubt regarding his ability to make plays on the ground. On 47 carries in 2014, Sirk rushed for 238 yards and eight scores. The junior is one of the ACC’s top breakout options at quarterback.
11. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse
Hunt never had a chance to build off a promising end to the 2013 season, as a leg injury derailed his 2014 campaign. The senior is back to full strength and is a key cog in Syracuse’s hopes to improve in 2015. Prior to the season-ending leg injury, Hunt threw for 983 yards and one touchdown and added 292 yards and six scores on the ground. With Hunt back under center, along with the promotion of Tim Lester to coordinator, the Orange are in better shape offensively than they were at the end of 2014.
12. Matt Johns, Virginia
With Greyson Lambert transferring to Georgia, all signs point to Johns as Virginia’s starter for 2015. Johns showed potential last season in limited action, completing 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,109 yards and eight scores. The junior also showed a willingness to test defenses downfield, connecting on seven passes for 30 yards or more and one of 40 yards or longer. Improving the completion percentage is a priority for Johns after connecting on 54.9 percent of his passes in 2014.
13. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Wolford was placed into a difficult role last season, as Wake Forest’s offensive line and rushing attack was a major weakness. The Demon Deacons averaged only 3.4 yards per play, while the line surrendered 48 sacks in 2014. However, with a full year in coach Dave Clawson’s system, Wolford should be more comfortable as the starter. After throwing for 2,037 yards and 12 scores in 2014, the sophomore should be better – if the offensive line holds up – in 2015.
14. Darius Wade, Boston College
Wade ranks No. 14, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the sophomore finish higher on this list by December. Under coach Steve Addazio, Boston College molded the offense to fit the strengths of Chase Rettig in 2013 and Tyler Murphy in 2014. Wade played in four games last season and completed 3 of 8 passes for 23 yards and rushed for 12 yards on two attempts. Even with a revamped offensive line, Boston College can lean on its ground attack until Wade is settled under center.
Nebraska parted ways with a coach who won 66 games in seven seasons to clear the way for Mike Riley, who appears to be a complete 180 personality-wise from his predecessor. Riley brings with him a lengthy resume and an experienced staff anxious to get Nebraska back to the top of the college football world.
Riley's job won't be easy, as he inherits a roster full of guys he didn't recruit who are accustomed to playing a style of football he doesn't coach. Nebraska fans are restless, as their historic program has failed to bring home a conference title in over 15 years. Playing in an ever-improving Big Ten that is home to the defending national champion as well as some of the most high-profile coaches in the sport certainly doesn't make things any easier. Be that as it may, the Husker faithful historically don't like any excuses for mediocrity. They demand success, and Riley may have to get creative to deliver.
Nebraska's Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Riley's Resiliency
Since being introduced as Nebraska’s new head coach, Riley has been a cool customer every step of the way. He flat out wins every press conference and interview. He says and does all the right things. He has won the fan base and has everyone on his side. That's said, he hasn't coached a game in Lincoln yet. He has never had a job where the fans, quite frankly, care so much about the results on the field. Bo Pelini and his teams were often criticized for losing composure and folding when the going got tough. How will Riley, his staff and his version of the Huskers react in similar circumstances? How much of a leash will Husker Nation give him? How will Riley respond to and address a panicked fan base if things get off to a rocky start? We could know the answers to all of those questions before the end of September.
2. Can Tommy Armstrong Run Mike Riley's Offense?
Armstrong is a throwback college quarterback — a dual-threat guy who relies as much on will as he does skill. Historically, Riley offenses rely on reads, timing and accurate throws. The coaches are going to do what they can to cater the attack to Armstrong's strengths. There may come a time, however, where he'll be asked to go outside of his comfort zone in order to win a big or even close game. Whether or not Armstrong is able to do that could be what makes or breaks Nebraska's season.
3. Depth on Defense
Nate Gerry and Maliek Collins are as good as anyone in the conference at their respective positions. However, depth and experience are concerns at all three layers of the defense. Offseason transfers have hit the linebacker and secondary corps pretty hard, and there are a couple of players who may not be fully recovered from past injuries. As a result, freshman linebacker Dedrick Young and sophomore defensive back Joshua Kalu may need to step up into more prominent roles than initially anticipated.
4. Concerns With Talent At Running Back
Terrell Newby sits at the top of a crowded depth chart for now. Sophomore Adam Taylor and senior Imani Cross figure to get a few touches as well. Then you have the recent signing of Jordan Stevenson, a 4-star talent who many think could crack the starting lineup. In a recent interview with a local radio show in Omaha, Stevenson mentioned that while being recruited by Riley, the new Husker coach said the position group was "iffy." If that is indeed the case, we could see a revolving door in terms of who is the primary ball carrier from game to game until someone separates from the pack.
5. De'Mornay Pierson-El's Role
The popular belief right now is that Pierson-El is going to be a huge factor in Nebraska's passing game in 2015. He showed flashes of brilliance in limited offensive touches a season ago, but it remains to be seen how he'll fare as an every-down offensive player in addition to his role on special teams. He has the talent to be one of the most dangerous players in the country. If he can get comfortable in the offense early and establish himself as a reliable go-to guy, it will make Riley's life much easier and make Nebraska's offense one to be feared throughout the Big Ten.
Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Von Pearson’s suspension has been officially lifted by the University of Tennessee and its football program. On April 24 of this year, Pearson was named as the sole suspect in a sexual assault investigation by the Knox County District Attorney’s Office. Subsequently, Pearson was immediately suspended indefinitely from school and the football team. It was announced on Wednesday, by Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen, that Pearson would not be charged with the alleged crime in question due to insufficient evidence.
Head coach Butch Jones made the announcement of Pearson’s re-instatement to the football team on Friday evening via a post-practice press conference offering the following sentiments on the matter:
“Von’s got a long way to go, we’re here to talk about our football team. He’s just a small piece of our football team and he’s going to have to work his way back in football shape and he’s going to have to earn playing time,” Jones stated. “There is no entitlement in our football program. Before he’s ready to go on the field, he’s going to have to earn it because we have some football players doing some very good things.”
Pearson led the Volunteers in touchdown receptions in 2014 and ranked second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards. The senior wide receiver will be allowed to return to practice with the team immediately, but he will be required to start fresh under the NCAA-mandated five practice acclimation period. Pearson will be a welcomed returnee to a wide receiver corps that was down to just eight scholarship players prior to his reinstatement. It is anticipated that Pearson will play a significant role in the Vol offense in 2015.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS
The college football fan of 2015 has unprecedented access to their favorite programs. Three major conferences operate their own television networks. Most athletic programs have in-house video content on their web sites.
There’s one area, though, where we’d like to see college teams take a cue from HBO and NFL Films. Every season, HBO provides an inside look at training camp for one NFL team. On Tuesday, the 10th season of Hard Knocks premieres with a behind-the-scenes look at the Houston Texans. The series has shown a rarely seen side of the pro game, from the personalities of players to the gut-wrenching process of cutting a player or being cut.
College football, too, should provide plenty of content for a Hard Knocks-style program. Certainly, TV networks and the schools themselves have shown glimpses, but all feel a little sanitized. Here are the schools we’d like to see get the full-on Hard Knocks treatment.
A behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the quarterbacks — the competition and the chemistry — would be compelling on its own, but Ohio State’s preseason preparation will be so much more. Whether he’s the starting quarterback or not, Cardale Jones is one of the more interesting players — or at least Tweeters — in the sport. Braxton Miller is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year moving from quarterback to H-back. Sophomore linebacker Darron Lee is a character. Defensive end Joey Bosa might be the best player in the country at any position. And this group seems to genuinely like each other. Plus there’s all the defending national champion/preseason No. 1 drama. No team’s preseason camp will be more interesting.
For the second consecutive season, coach Nick Saban has mentioned that chemistry and/or leadership was lacking as the Crimson Tide fell short of a national championship. Oh, the horror, of simply winning the SEC and entering the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed. The standards are different at Alabama, and it will be curious how the Tide respond to Saban’s concerns in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Any insight into the quarterback situation would be worth monitoring as Jacob Coker makes a second bid for the starting job, this time against redshirt freshman David Cornwell. Lane Kiffin worked wonders with this offense last season, but Amari Cooper may have had something to do with the unit’s newfound explosiveness.
No SEC coach is having more fun than Bret Bielema. With Steve Spurrier getting all defensive this week, Bielema seems like the only SEC coach having any fun. He’s self-deprecating. He has colorful ways to describe gratifying kneel downs in bowl games. His goal is to make offensive linemen famous. And he cooks. In a league where most coaches take themselves too seriously, Bielema’s freewheeling attitude is refreshing. Have we mentioned this is a team that’s on the cusp of big things after winning four of the last six last season? This is a great time to join the ride.
A trip inside the world of Les Miles would be compelling TV in any season, no question. This season at LSU is particularly interesting. The Tigers slipped a spot down the SEC standings for the fourth consecutive season, and there’s an idea that LSU is out of excuses. The defense should be back to its normal depth and talent levels, particularly with Ed Orgeron whipping the defensive line into shape. Running back Leonard Fournette is a budding star. The question, as always, is quarterback. The SEC West isn’t getting easier, and LSU will be under pressure to turn the momentum.
With the way Jim Harbaugh has attacked this offseason, perhaps a look at preseason practice in Ann Arbor will be a let down. Harbaugh is a challenging figure with the media, but he’s at home coaching football. And at Michigan, he has a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball, starting with a crowded quarterback position. No coach wants to deal with off-field issues, but if a player has to describe a petty theft to the head coach, we wouldn’t complain.
The Seminoles have lost one game during the last two seasons, but the offseason narrative seems to be what’s gone wrong in Tallahassee. Only months after the Jameis Winston era (Saga? Drama?) ended, Jimbo Fisher dismissed a freshman quarterback for hitting a woman in a bar, and is watching for his star running back face his own allegations of violence toward women. Major actions are already being taken internally. Fisher says his team decided as a group to ban themselves from bars and clubs. And while FSU tries to improve its off-field image, the Seminoles still fashion themselves a playoff contender — and one with a transfer quarterback (Everett Golson) trying to pick up a complicated offense in short order.
Art Briles is in an interesting place. His program is on top of the Big 12. Baylor has become something of an “it” program with an exciting offense, new stadium and eye-catching uniforms. Briles can also claim underdog status, all of it in his own Texas-spun way. And that’s just the coach. Shawn Oakman is an outspoken personality even if he doesn’t know the name any of his competitors for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. And he already owns a python and plans to own an octopus some day. LaQuan McGowan is a 400-pound touchdown machine. And Seth Russell is stepping into a quarterback position where Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty have thrived.
The Nittany Lions are going in the right direction in the second season under James Franklin. The question is how much improvement Penn State can make in one season. The two big questions are the offensive line, which happens to be coached by a man who was making his TV debut on Chopped this time last season. The other question is Christian Hackenberg’s headspace. The frustrations boiled over at times last season. Some of that had to do with the offensive line, a new coaching staff and untested receivers. But he is a high-level NFL prospect who needs a bounce-back year.
The Bruins have 10 returning starters on offense. The 11th starter could be the top freshman quarterback prospect or the 22-year-old son of the previous coach. And have we mentioned that this is a school where a rap mogul got into a tiff with the strength coach?
The Volunteers are on the cusp of returning to relevance in the SEC, and there’s nothing quite like watching a program making a long-awaited leap. Just ask Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas last season. The Josh Dobbs-is-an-aerospace-engineering major is dangerously close to being the SEC cliché of the year, but it’s still a compelling storyline. Linebacker Derek Barnett may be the best defensive player in the conference, and coach Butch Jones is already a rock star in Knoxville.
Hugh Freeze probably isn’t in as a great a mood as he should be even though his program is in the middle of a steady ascent. For one, his program is still smarting from a 42-3 bowl loss to TCU. His projected starting quarterback is looking to “change his story” after a short, but troubled tenure at Clemson. His most explosive wide receiver is recovering from a devastating broken leg. And his top offensive tackle is embroiled in NCAA questions after an altercation with his stepfather. That's a formula for some preseason intrigue in Oxford.
Tyner missed part of 2014 due to a shoulder injury but was a key cog in the Ducks’ run to the national championship game. The report indicates Tyner continued to have pain in his shoulder and decided to have surgery. The talented junior should have two seasons of eligibility remaining once he returns in 2016.
In 11 games last season, Tyner rushed for 573 yards and five scores. After missing the final three contests of the regular season, Tyner gashed Florida State for 124 yards and added 62 on the ground versus Ohio State.
Losing Tyner is a significant setback for Oregon. The Ducks were already sorting out a quarterback battle between Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams this fall, and the offensive line lost its top two players – Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu – from last season.
While Tyner will be missed, Oregon still has plenty of capable options in the backfield. Sophomore Royce Freeman is one of the nation’s most talented running backs, and freshmen Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin are intriguing options. Additionally, receiver Byron Marshall could shift back to running back for a few carries.
Losing Tyner doesn’t hurt Oregon’s chances of winning the Pac-12 North, but it’s a setback for one of the nation’s best backfields. Without Tyner, Freeman will have to shoulder more of the workload. And if Freeman has to miss any snaps, the inexperienced duo of Brooks-James and Griffin will have to take on the bulk of the carries.
The Ducks certainly have their share of question marks in replacing Mariota, along with new faces on the offensive line and on defense. However, the rest of the North also has their share of concerns. Losing Tyner is a setback, but Oregon is still the team to beat in the Pac-12 North.
Sydney Seau was not able to give the speech introducing her father into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Seau family was there to unveil Seau's bust, a touching moment for the whole family.
Twenty years ago Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe had a philosophy of drafting a quarterback every year. All it really did was insure the Steelers would rotate their third-string quarterbacks or develop them for other teams.
So Jim Miller, Alex Van Pelt and Anthony Wright all enjoyed success for other franchises; Mike Quinn and Pete Gonzalez got lost in a numbers game; Spence Fischer, Cornelius Benton and Andy Kelly (technically not drafted) learned they weren't good enough to play in the NFL, and the only quarterback who ever really made any kind of an impact with this strategy was Kordell Stewart. Still, it made watching preseason games fun. The battle for backup left tackle is only visible if some poor rookie allows a sack, but everyone can evaluate how well a quarterback plays.
This bit of obscure Steelers history comes to mind today because of the status of Landry Jones, who for the past two years has figuratively "held the clipboard" as Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback. He has yet to be so much as eligible for a single regular season game. In the preseason, however, Jones has twice been the Steelers' starting quarterback and figures to be so again in Sunday's Hall of Fame Game.
Ben Roethlisberger will not play and backup Bruce Gradkowski is on the Physically Unable to Perform List. The latter signal-caller didn't even throw his first pass of training camp until Thursday. That leaves Jones to play against the Minnesota Vikings, along with Tajh Boyd and Tyler Murphy and possibly Devin Gardner.
Unfortunately, Jones' performance the past two preseasons has been largely, as Myron Cope would say, "feh." Jones has lost both of his starts, even getting shutout last season in a 10-0 loss to Carolina and throwing three interceptions against the Panthers the year before. Whereas a quarterback wants to average seven yards a pass, Jones has barely averaged even five. He didn't throw a touchdown pass last summer and was sacked six times in limited play.
There was even some talk show discussion about the Steelers claiming Connor Shaw off the Cleveland Browns practice squad and cutting Jones last season, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hasn't even officially named him the starter for Sunday, stating Jones will only see "significant action." So will just about every other third-stringer in the NFL in their team's first preseason game.
To be fair, it is said Jones has been somewhat impressive in camp. He isn't waiting for the play to develop, something that may have caused him to be sacked so often historically. He also is a fourth-round draft choice out of Oklahoma, which trumps Boyd's sixth-round selection with the New York Jets last season and the free agent status of Murphy and Gardner.
There is even a school of thought Jones may wind up becoming Roethlisberger's backup if Gradkowski can't heal. Granted, if Roethlisberger went down it would figure to be catastrophic, but at least Jones would have the familiarity of three seasons of practice with the Steelers.
But if there are no signs of progress from early preseason play, what is the motivation for keeping Jones on the roster? Three summers of slumping would eliminate any promises of potential. While Jones had a great career as a four-year starter at Oklahoma, Boyd had a great career at Clemson and averaged more yards per completion than Jones did with the Sooners. Boyd-to-Martavis Bryant was a tremendous passing combination at Clemson. Murphy played quarterback at Florida and Boston College but is listed on the depth chart as a wide receiver, though some reports have him taking a few "look-see" snaps behind center against Minnesota. Ideally, he could be something of a poor man's Antwaan Randle El, which would allow the Steelers to effectively gain a roster spot in place of a third-string quarterback. So would Gardner, who played quarterback at Michigan. Gardner worked out at quarterback in June but lately has been excelling as a receiver, catching a 50-yard bomb during a practice this week.
This weekend in Canton represents the finality of Jerome Bettis' professional football career with his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. A poor game may produce the same result for Jones.
(Landry Jones photo courtesy of www.steelers.com)
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Last week’s news of BYU running back Jamaal Williams withdrawing from school and opting to redshirt in 2015 sent some shockwaves through the Cougars’ program. BYU is taking on one of the toughest schedules in program history, and many were resting the success of the Cougars this season on the dynamic backfield of quarterback Taysom Hill and Williams.
Williams is expected to return for the 2016 season according to the press release issued by BYU last Thursday, but that’s a long ways away. The Cougars have more important tasks at hand with fall practices starting this afternoon and the Sept. 5 season opener at Nebraska looming.
The question now is how will BYU fare without Williams?
In my personal view, nothing much has changed for BYU. With Williams, I had them pegged for a 7-5 or 8-4 season. Williams was recovering from a devastating ACL injury he suffered last November, and his health was a huge concern heading into camp. The thought was that Williams would be a work in progress to get back to 100 percent over the first month of the season.
When you have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Hill, 7-5 or 8-4 is still attainable. The problem now for BYU is that after losing Williams, the possibility of winning nine or more games shrinks immensely.
BYU has finished exactly 8-5 each of the past three seasons. Most of the same team from a year ago returns, but now a three-year starter at running back is gone. There isn’t enough star power on this team that isn’t named Taysom Hill to navigate this difficult of a schedule for BYU standards, and think nine or ten wins is something these Cougars can achieve at the moment. There are seven teams on the slate that BYU could be underdogs in this year. Hill is only one man.
In order for BYU to shock the nation and get to nine or ten wins, it will need a lot of players to improve this season. Otherwise the Cougars will be about where they’ve been the past few years. But now the ceiling will be lower, and the basement could fall deeper as well. This is a scary thought for a BYU program that wants to bolster its on-field resume in hopes that a Power 5 conference eventually comes calling.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.