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After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December, Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Berry has been deemed healthy enough to resume his football career. The Chiefs open up their training camp today, and everybody will surely be excited to have him back. Berry had finished treatment in June, and some testing yesterday cleared him for the football field.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Berry has been among the top safeties in the league, after a storied career at the University of Tennessee. Although his transition back will be filled with caution, early indications say that he is in strong shape, even after chemotherapy. This has to be one of the best feel-good stories of the year.
See how the Chiefs announced his return:
UPDATE: After several rounds of thorough tests, Eric Berry has been cleared for Wednesday morning’s #ChiefsCamp practice.— Kansas City Chiefs (@KCChiefs) July 29, 2015
LSU enters the 2015 season ranked No. 15 in the nation by Athlon Sports with a lot of question marks on both sides of the ball. Beyond the amount of returning starters and gifted players stretched across the roster, LSU has a very favorable schedule all things considered, which could make them a contender to reach the College Football Playoff this season.
The Tigers will take the field with one of the best running backs in the nation in sophomore Leonard Fournette. Three starting offensive linemen return along with a highly underrated receiving unit, which should help win tight games. On defense the Tigers are strong up the middle on the line and at linebacker, and also in the secondary, leaving just a couple of holes that need to be filled. If some consistency is found under center and at outside linebacker – watch out for the Tigers in 2015.
LSU will have to gel quickly after getting a warm-up game against McNeese State before traveling to Starkville to face a potentially dangerous Mississippi State team. Being just the second game of the season, head coach Les Miles must keep his team focused on the goal at hand and not allow the Tigers to overlook the Bulldogs with a Week 3 home date against Auburn looming.
The other Tigers in the SEC West will be no picnic but getting them early in the season helps. One negative against LSU in this matchup: Auburn opens against Louisville but then gets Jacksonville State in Week 2 to make any necessary adjustments before jumping into a conference play.
The next five games on LSU’s schedule are all winnable games; at Syracuse, vs. Eastern Michigan, at South Carolina, vs. Florida, and vs. Western Kentucky. Game 9 starts what could upend a 7-1 or 6-2 potential season in SEC play. The Tigers travel to Alabama, host Arkansas, travel to Ole Miss, and then return home to face Texas A&M.
Gearing up for Alabama has never been a problem for LSU, especially under Les Miles. What favors LSU in this matchup this time around is Bama’s schedule prior to facing LSU. Alabama’s schedule is brutal in October starting with a road trip to Georgia, and followed by games against Arkansas (home), Texas A&M (road), and Tennessee (home). The Crimson Tide could be a battered and worn out wave of exhausted players by Nov. 7.
Even if Arkansas has faltered and fallen below expectations by Nov. 14, the Hogs always play better in the second half of the season under head coach Bret Bielema. LSU will not take the Razorbacks lightly this season after being blanked 17-0 last year in Fayetteville.
Arkansas will be in the middle of a difficult month by the time the Razorbacks come to Baton Rouge. A date with Ole Miss precedes LSU, and is followed by back-to-back home games against Mississippi State and Missouri. The Tigers just might catch the Hogs at the right time.
Last season Ole Miss jumped out to a 7-0 record but then injuries and a lack of depth started to take their toll. LSU stopped the Rebels' winning streak at seven games in Death Valley. The Rebels will be out for revenge in 2015 but face a lot of questions on offense that will have to be answered before Nov. 21 if this team is to be taken seriously.
LSU gets lucky again, if possible, with the placement of the Ole Miss game. Game 3 of the Rebels’ season starts at Alabama, followed by Vanderbilt, at Florida, vs. New Mexico State, at Memphis, home against Texas A&M, at Auburn, host Arkansas, and then LSU. Ole Miss has a bye before facing LSU but that bye comes on the heels of an eight-game stretch, seven of which should be tough contests.
The final game of the regular season welcomes back the one-time beloved, but now surely to be hated, John Chavis. Chavis was in Baton Rouge for six seasons helping LSU get to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game as the team’s defensive coordinator.
If anyone knows how to defend a Les Miles team, other than Nick Saban, Chavis would be the man. The big question is how quickly will the Aggies defense respond to Chavis’ way of doing things on the field?
The Aggies have a great passing attack but then again LSU is “DBU.” A&M has trouble running the ball, which could play into the Tigers’ hands.
Of all the SEC West squads Texas A&M may have it the easiest with a very home-friendly schedule. The contest in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 28 will be just the third time the Aggies will have left the state of Texas in 2015. The one positive for LSU is this game is on the backside of a two-game road trip for the Aggies, with game one being at Vanderbilt.
If LSU can upset preseason ranked No. 4 Auburn, the other Tigers team will have a full head of steam entering their road contest against Alabama. Arkansas might be Miles and company's last tough game of the season depending on how Ole Miss shapes up on offense.
A 10-2 season could very easily be had, which could be good enough to tie for first place in the SEC West.
LSU gets South Carolina and Florida in crossover play, in what should be down years for both programs, and avoids preseason SEC East favorite Georgia and an upstart Tennessee team during the regular season. Georgia is a mirror image team of LSU with inexperience under center, a potential All-American at tailback, and an All-SEC-caliber offensive line. The other similarity is a great secondary.
Should the two teams get to square off in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game, talk about a matchup for the ages, getting to watch Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette take turns working their magic.
Oddly, LSU is projected to go 4-4 in SEC play but only three teams are ranked ahead of them in the preseason poll. Swap Arkansas for Ole Miss, leaving the must-win games as the Alabama and Auburn matchups or at minimum a split for any shot at getting into the College Football Playoff.
This Tigers’ team could be 10-2 on the high end, 9-3 in the middle, or 8-4 as projected by season’s end. Everything depends on the play under center and how new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele works the outside of his front seven.
— 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.
The New York Jets couldn’t do much right last year, highlighted by lackluster quarterback performance and a good defense that gave up a lot of points. However, the Jets look to start over again, having flipped their coaching staff. The vocal Rex Ryan is out, and Todd Bowles is getting his first full season at head coach. With the old regime out, can the Jets make a significant leap to a playoff contender?
5 Burning Questions for the New York Jets in Training Camp
Will the quarterback play improve?
Last year, Geno Smith really struggled to establish himself as a franchise quarterback. While he started the majority of the season, Michael Vick got a few starts and was always looming around. Now, Ryan Fitzpatrick will backup Smith, and the Jets clearly are not afraid to make a quarterback change if Smith doesn’t play well. This may be Smith’s last chance, so he certainly must play better than last year. With a strong defense, they don't Smith to be a superstar; he just needs to be consistent and keep them in better position to win games. However, there are some silver linings: The Jets acquired Brandon Marshall to be the premier wide receiver, and Smith threw for a perfect passer rating in his last game last season.
How will Brandon Marshall help the offense?
Geno Smith only had one true wide receiving target in Eric Decker in 2014, but the Jets significantly upgraded this corps by trading for Brandon Marshall. This move provides a much-needed player to a depleted group and weapon-less quarterback. Marshall now gives them two solid redzone threats, an area in which they struggled to get passing touchdowns. Instead of having one option, there are now two outside options to attack the endzone. It’s also important to note that they drafted speedster Devin Smith, who can also help stretch the field.
What will the Jets running game look like?
The Jets don’t have a true, great primary running back. They do have plenty of depth at the position, with five currently on the roster. After splitting time last year, Chris Ivory will probably get the starting job. However, with his inconsistency, there will be a mix of backs playing. At the top of the backup options will be Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley, who is recovering from an ACL and MCL tear. They will both get plenty of carries, but will any of the running backs separate from the rest of the field? With obvious questions at quarterback, similar questions at running back have to be concerning. The Jets need something on offense to be successful to carry this team, but which will it be?
What will the impact of Sheldon Richardson suspension be?
The Jets have some great talent on defense, and Sheldon Richardson is among the best players on the entire team. Well, they’ll have to play without him for the first four games, serving a suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. The Jets still have a great defense, but losing a player of Richardson's caliber has to have a fairly significant impact. Richardson gets to the quarterback quickly and had among the most quarterback knockdowns last year. Muhammad Wilkerson and Richardson formed a great tandem on the outside of the defensive line, but Wilkerson will be doing it without him for some time. The Jets need a great start to the season, but losing Richardson will hurt.
How will the Jets fare under new coaches?
It was time for the Jets to change their coaching staff, especially as Rex Ryan never lived up to his extremely high expectations. Now they’re handing the reins of the team to Todd Bowles, who has never been a full-time head coach. However, he was among one of the league’s top coordinators the past few years and won't bring the kind of unnecessary attention that Ryan garnered. The Jets outfitted Bowles with Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator and Kacy Rodgers as defensive coordinator. While Rodgers was a solid choice, Gailey is a head-scratcher for sure: He hasn’t coached since 2012, when he was fired as the head coach of the Bills. And his stint before that in 2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs ended shortly after a lackluster year. The offense needs to improve the most, but they didn’t hire a strong candidate for the job.
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Coordinator changes in college football can have an immediate impact on either side of the ball. Every year, it seems a handful of teams show significant improvement in the win column or on the stat sheet as a result of a coordinator change.
Last season, TCU’s offense improved to one of the best in the nation after the hire of Doug Meacham as the team’s play-caller. Which teams will see the biggest jump from a coordinator hire in 2015? Texas Tech’s David Gibbs (defense), Texas A&M’s John Chavis (defense), Auburn’s Will Muschamp (defense) and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley are just a few names to watch this fall.
Here’s a look at some of the top coordinator hires to watch in 2015 from the Power 5 and Group of 5 teams in college football:
Top Coordinator Hires from Power 5 Programs
Tim Beck/Ed Warinner, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Beck and Warinner have big shoes to fill in 2015. This duo is tasked with replacing Tom Herman after he left to be the coach at Houston. Urban Meyer is always involved prominently with the offense, but the Beck/Warinner combination should be a good setup for the Buckeyes. Beck and Warinner worked together at Kansas from 2005-07, helping to guide a Jayhawk offense that averaged 42.3 points per game in 2007. Warinner is regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches.
Tom Bradley, Defensive Coordinator, UCLA
Bradley was a long-time assistant at Penn State from 1979-11 and departed Happy Valley prior to Bill O’Brien’s arrival in 2012. After sitting out the 2012-13 seasons, Bradley resurfaced at West Virginia as a defensive assistant in 2014 and was hired by coach Jim Mora to call the defensive signals in 2015. Under Bradley’s watch, the Nittany Lions led the Big Ten in fewest points allowed in 2009 and 2011.
Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator, Baylor
Briles inherits the play-calling duties after Philip Montgomery left to be the head coach at Tulsa. Briles has worked on his father’s staff since 2008 and guided the Bears’ offense to an average of 7.9 yards per play in the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State.
Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
Chaney is on his fourth stop in the FBS ranks as a play-caller, joining new coach Pat Narduzzi’s staff after a two-year stint in Arkansas. Chaney also called the plays at Purdue and Tennessee prior to joining the Razorbacks. The Missouri native has a versatile background, which includes experience with the spread and power rushing attacks.
John Chavis, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
Defense has been Texas A&M’s biggest issue since joining the SEC in 2012. The Aggies gave up 36.5 points in SEC contests in 2013 and 36.6 in 2014. However, improvement should be noticeable in 2015. Chavis is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation and has worked as a play-caller in the SEC since 1995. The South Carolina native was a huge hire for coach Kevin Sumlin, and the Aggies are starting to trend in the right direction on defense.
Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina
Chizik returns to the sidelines for the first time since he was fired as Auburn’s head coach at the end of the 2012 season. Even though Chizik’s stints as a head coach were mixed – he did win a national championship with the Tigers and spent two years as the head coach at Iowa State – he is regarded for his work as a defensive coordinator. Chizik has previously called the plays at Texas, Auburn and UCF. He’s tasked with improving a defense that allowed 6.5 yards per play and surrendered 39 points a game last season.
Geoff Collins, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
The “Minister of Mayhem” should keep Florida’s defense near the top of the SEC. Despite a sluggish offense under former coach Will Muschamp, the Gators never finished lower than sixth in the SEC in points allowed from 2011-14. Mississippi State’s defense was a big reason why the Bulldogs won 10 games in 2014, and Collins inherits a solid core of defensive talent in Gainesville.
Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
Conklin is a rising star in the assistant ranks and was picked by defensive guru Pat Narduzzi to call the signals for Pittsburgh’s defense. The Wyoming native started his coaching career in 2003 and was hired at Tennessee in 2012, before landing his first FBS coordinator position at FIU in 2013. The Panthers ranked third in Conference USA in scoring defense and generated 33 turnovers last season.
Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Mississippi State
Diaz was considered a rising star when he was hired by Mack Brown at Texas in 2011. However, the Longhorns regressed on defense after a promising 2011 season, and Diaz was removed as the coordinator in 2013. Even though his tenure in Austin was a disappointment, Diaz bounced back at Louisiana Tech in 2014, as the Bulldogs led the nation with 42 turnovers and held opponents to 24.7 points per game. The Miami native returns to Starkville after working as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2010.
D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan
The play of Florida’s defense was overlooked during the Will Muschamp era due to the struggles of the offense. Although Muschamp played a huge role in developing the defense, Durkin also deserves a lot of credit. The Ohio native is a highly-regarded assistant and is reunited with Jim Harbaugh after working at Stanford with the former Michigan quarterback from 2007-09.
Dan Enos, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Enos’ decision to leave his position as head coach of Central Michigan for a coordinator job came as a surprise. However, the Michigan native was a good hire for an Arkansas’ offense hoping to increase its passing output in 2015. Enos worked as a quarterback coach from 2004-05 at Cincinnati and 2006 at Michigan State. And at Central Michigan, the Chippewas averaged at least 25 points per game in MAC contests from 2011-14.
David Gibbs, Defensive Coordinator, Texas Tech
Defense has been a major issue at Texas Tech in recent years. Since 2010, the Red Raiders have never ranked higher than seventh in the Big 12 in scoring defense and allowed a whopping 41.3 points per game in 2014. Gibbs takes over in Lubbock after coordinating an aggressive, turnover-driven Houston defense from 2013-14. The Cougars also limited opponents to 20.6 points per game last year. This should be one of the nation’s top hires in 2015.
Danny Langsdorf, Offensive Coordinator, Nebraska
Langsdorf is back in the collegiate ranks after a one-year stint with the Giants. Prior to 2014, Langsdorf worked as Oregon State’s coordinator from 2005-13 and also has stops on his resume from the CFL (Edmonton) and in the NFL (Saints). Langsdorf was a valuable assistant for coach Mike Riley in developing quarterbacks and passing attacks at Oregon State. The Beavers led the Pac-12 in passing offense in 2013 and finished second in 2012.
Jim Leavitt, Defensive Coordinator, Colorado
Leavitt is back in the collegiate ranks after a four-year stint as an assistant with the 49ers. The Texas native previously worked as the head coach at USF from 1996-09 and made a stop as a co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State from 1992-95. Leavitt has a wealth of experience on defense, which is a huge asset to Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre as he looks to improve a defense that allowed 43 points per game in Pac-12 action in 2014.
Will Muschamp, Defensive Coordinator, Auburn
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Auburn in coach Gus Malzahn’s two-year tenure. However, the defense allowed 32.8 points per game in SEC contests in 2014 and surrendered 29.6 points per contests in 2013. Muschamp’s arrival should pay huge dividends for the Tigers this season, as he’s regarded as one of the top defensive minds in college football. Muschamp didn’t work out at Florida as a head coach, but he should have more success calling the defensive signals for Auburn.
Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
Memphis showed significant progress under Justin Fuente’s watch over the last three seasons. Fuente has been instrumental in the turnaround, but he also hired a good staff, including Odom as the defensive coordinator. The Tigers gave up 19.5 points per game in 2014 and limited opponents to 4.7 yards per play. As a former Missouri linebacker and Gary Pinkel assistant, Odom should provide Missouri with a seamless transition from Dave Steckel at coordinator.
Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
After last year’s disappointing 8-5 record, Bob Stoops wasted no time in overhauling Oklahoma’s coaching staff. Riley plans on implementing an Air Raid attack similar to the one he coordinated at East Carolina and learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. The Sooners want to jumpstart their passing attack after ranking eighth in the Big 12 last season, but Riley won’t abandon the rushing game, especially with talented sophomore Samaje Perine leading the way. Under Riley’s watch (2010-14), East Carolina averaged at least 30 points a game in three out of the last four seasons.
Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Sanford is considered a rising star among coordinators and has been on a fast track through the assistant ranks. Sanford worked as a graduate assistant with UNLV in 2005-06 and later spent two seasons with Stanford from 2007-08. After one season at Yale, the former Boise State quarterback spent a year at WKU and returned to the Cardinal to work under David Shaw from 2011-13. Sanford coordinated Boise State’s offense last year, guiding the Broncos to an average of 39.7 points per game.
Kalani Sitake, Defensive Corodinator, Oregon State
Gary Andersen inherited a rebuilding project at Oregon State, but future looks bright in Corvallis with the former Utah State and Wisconsin head coach leading the way. Andersen also hired an outstanding staff, including Sitake as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Hawaii native was hired away from Utah after spending 10 years with the Utes, including six as the play-caller on defense. In 2014, Utah ranked No. 4 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense.
Top Group of 5 Coordinator Hires
Kent Baer, Defensive Coordinator, UNLV
A veteran coordinator like Baer is a huge asset to UNLV, as new coach Tony Sanchez makes the transition from the high school ranks. Baer was hired to Las Vegas away from Colorado after a two-year stint with the Buffaloes. In addition to his last job, Baer has worked as the defensive coordinator at San Jose State, Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, California, Idaho and Utah State.
Brian Borland, Defensive Coordinator, Buffalo
Buffalo made one of the offseason’s top hires with the addition of Lance Leipold from Wisconsin-Whitewater, and a few coaches followed Leipold to the FBS level. Borland worked as Wisconsin-Whitewater’s defensive play-caller from 2002-14, with the Warhawks holding opponents to just 12.2 points per game last season.
Kevin Clune, Defensive Coordinator, Utah State
Clune coached at Utah State from 2009-13 before leaving for a season to coordinate Hawaii’s defense in 2014. The Rainbow Warriors defense showed significant improvement under Clune’s direction, allowing 26.8 points per game in 2014 after giving up 38.8 in 2013.
Brent Key, Offensive Coordinator, UCF
Key is known for his work on the recruiting trail but now has a chance to call the plays for UCF’s offense in 2015. The Birmingham native has worked as a full-time assistant at UCF since 2006.
Todd Orlando, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Houston
Orlando is part of a solid staff pieced together by new coach Tom Herman. The Pennsylvania native has worked as a defensive coordinator in the FBS ranks since 2005, including the last two with Utah State. The Aggies limited opposing offenses to 19.7 points per game last year.
Tyson Summers, Defensive Coordinator, Colorado State
Summers was picked by new Colorado State coach Mike Bobo to coordinate the Rams’ defense after a successful one-year stint as UCF’s defensive signal-caller in 2014. Under Summers’ watch, the Knights held opponents to 19.2 points per game.
Don Treadwell, Offensive Coordinator, Kent State
Treadwell struggled as a head coach at Miami (Ohio), but the Ohio native is regarded for his work as a play-caller, especially during a four-year stint at Michigan State from 2007-10.
Bryant Vincent, Offensive Coordinator, South Alabama
Vincent returns to South Alabama after one season at UAB. In 2014, Vincent guided the Blazers to an average of 33.2 points per game and ranked fourth in Conference USA with 17 plays of 40 yards or more.
Brian Ward, Defensive Coordinator, Bowling Green
Bowling Green’s defense struggled mightily last year, giving up 33.5 points per game in coach Dino Babers’ first season. Ward returns only four starters, but the Falcons should be better on this side of the ball in 2015. Under Ward’s direction, Western Illinois ranked seventh nationally in total defense in 2013.
Bill Young, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Tulsa
Young is sharing the co-defensive coordinator title with former Baylor assistant Brian Norwood, and the veteran assistant should be a huge asset for new coach Philip Montgomery. Young has a wealth of experience as a coordinator, including recent stops at Oklahoma State (2009-12), Miami (2008) and Kansas (2002-07).
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Baltimore: Who makes plays on offense?
Baltimore’s offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. But what will his supporting cast look like in 2015? Justin Forsett broke out last fall but is still undersized and one year removed from journeyman status while Lorenzo Taliaferro acts as the primary backup with just 68 career NFL carries. The receiver corps is led by a 36-year-old Steve Smith and two rookies in first-rounder Breshad Perriman and second-round tight end Maxx Williams. There are major questions about Perriman’s ability to play right away but both have loads of upside. It will be interesting to see who steps up into a primary playmaker role around Flacco.
Cincinnati: Can Andy Dalton take the next step?
This Bengals team has all of the pieces to win a Super Bowl. The offensive line, skill players, defensive line and secondary are among the best in the NFL. But Andy Dalton, despite four playoff appearances in four years, is under the microscope. He’s 0-4 in the postseason and posted career lows in yards (3,398) and touchdowns (19) last year. If A.J. Green is fully healthy, those numbers should be better but Dalton needs to prove he’s a championship-caliber quarterback sooner rather than later before the Bengals' title window begins to close.
Cleveland: What role does Johnny Manziel play?
The Browns began the year 7-4 last year behind the play of Brian Hoyer before the offense fell flat on its face and lost five straight to end the year. Johnny Manziel entered the NFL with huge fanfare and bright spotlights and it eventually landed him in rehab. Cleaned up and focused, Manziel is set to push free-agent signee Josh McCown for the starting job in Cleveland. Manziel, when good, is a sight to behold, making plays all over the field and he could resurrect the Browns offense. But with so many ifs surrounding his second season, fans are left wondering what role Manziel will play in 2015.
Pittsburgh: What will life after Dick LeBeau be like?
The Steelers were aging quickly on defense but will enter 2015 with lots of new faces and young blood. Dick LeBeau is now coaching the Titans defense, Troy Polamalu has retired and the average age of the Steelers' starting 11 on defense is just 26.5 years old. The core 3-4 philosophy won’t change much under new coordinator Keith Butler and the starting linebacker corps could feature four first-round picks. The Steelers' defense has tons of talent but this group is young and inexperienced. If this unit gels quickly and plays up to the same level as the Pittsburgh offense, the Steel City could easily win the division and push for a deep playoff run. Otherwise, this could be a one-sided franchise once again.
The Chicago Bears are looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They have a shiny new head coach, who has a track record of taking teams to the Super Bowl after he comes into the fold. They have Jay Cutler, who despite throwing 28 touchdowns, was benched during the regular season. They have a defense that desperatly needs saving, and will be making the transition to a 3-4 scheme. Can all this change cultivate into a winning culture sooner than later for the team from the Windy City?
Hree are some storylines to follow as the Bears open training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.
Can John Fox right the ship?
Fox takes over a Bears team that went 5-11, as head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were both relieved of their duties. Fox has his work cut out for him, but this isn’t the first time he has stepped into a difficult situation. Fox turned a Carolina Panthers team from bottom-dwellers to NFC champions in under 24 months. Fans hope that Fox can get the Bears team back on track and compete in the meat grinder that is the NFC North. On the bright side, the Bears do have two Pro Bowlers, and neither is named Alshon Jeffery.
Is Jay Cutler the answer at quarterback?
If the Bears are going to have success, they will have to rely on Cutler to not turn the ball over as much. Cutler, while he threw a career-high 28 touchdown passes last season, also threw 18 passes that ended up in the defense’s hands. Popular belief is that under a new system, Cutler should find success with weapons like Jeffery, first-round pick Kevin White, and Pro Bowl-caliber tight end Martellus Bennett. If Cutler can return to his Pro Bowl form, the Bears will contend for a playoff spot in a division that many analysts have multiple teams getting into the postseason.
How much did the Bears' defense improve?
With a new head coach, also comes a new defensive coordinator. Vic Fangio makes his way over to Chicago from San Francisco where he was the architect of a defense that finished in the top 10 in the NFL in both yards and points allowed all four seasons. The 49ers also played in three straight NFC Championship Games from 2011-13. Now with the Bears, Fangio takes over a defense that will be making a change to a 3-4, a switch that should eventually produce positive results. That being said, it isn’t that hard to improve from being the second-worst defense in points allowed. Then again, things don’t get any easier when you have to play prolific offenses that feature quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford (as well as the emerging Teddy Bridgewater) two times each.
Do the Bears have the best WR duo in the division?
It would take two individuals who have exceptional talents to overtake the duo of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as the best wide receiver tandem in the NFC North. That said, Jeffery and White might be the two to take the title away from the Packers' productive pairing. Rookie wide receivers were the toast of the NFL last season, and White might be the best one out of this year’s draft class. If Cutler can adapt quickly to and thrive in Fox and cooridnator Adam Gase's offense, White and Jeffery could put up big numbers in a pass-happy division.
Is Matt Forté going to slow down at all?
Forté is the definition of consistency at the running back position in the NFL. The man has rushed for over 1,000 yards all but twice in his career, and both of those seasons he was within 100 yards of getting there. In 2014, he broke the record for catches in a season by a running back and scored a total 10 touchdowns. The question is, can he continue to do what he has done both rushing and receiving? Forté will turn 30 years old towards the end of the season. That age has been a death sentence for running backs, and Forté has logged tons of time on the field over the past eight seasons. Cutler has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but none have been as durable or reliable as Forté.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is a part of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.
Georgia will enter the 2015 season with a lot of momentum coming off a 10-win season, a bowl win against Louisville and playmakers at almost every key position. During SEC Media Days, the Bulldogs were picked to win the SEC East and have Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, returning after a record-setting freshman season, and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell leading the way on offense.
Jeremy Pruitt will enter his second year as defensive coordinator with returning starters Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins as well as highly touted freshman defensive tackle Trenton Thompson. The Bulldogs look to take back the SEC reigns and de-thrown whomever survives the SEC West. Mark Richt will enter his 15th season at Georgia with one of the most talented teams he has ever had and should be a championship contender in the SEC.
Three Reasons Why Georgia Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall and Sony Michel
After Todd Gurley was suspended prior to him tearing his ACL after playing just six games, freshman Nick Chubb came in and wowed everyone with his physical running style. Chubb finished off his freshman year by rushing for 100 yards or more in the final eight games for Georgia, including his 266 yards against Louisville in the Belk Bowl. Georgia leaned on Chubb heavily last year, as he topped the 30-carry mark at least three times last year. Georgia must find a way to get Michel and Marshall the ball more to keep Chubb fresh and healthy. Michel rushed for 413 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 and should see more carries this fall. Marshall, who is coming off of an ACL injury, looks to get back to his freshman form when he rushed for more than 700 yards. With four starters returning on the offensive line, Georgia will again lean heavily on the run. The Bulldogs led the SEC in scoring last year with 41 points per game. They will try to duplicate that again this year.
In Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator he had eight returning starters as the unit had an up-and-down season. Pruitt’s defense showed promise in games against Missouri, shutting them out 34-0, and Auburn, defeating the Tigers 34-7, but struggled at times as well, allowing Florida and South Carolina both to score 38 points. This season, Pruitt has six starters returning, but the defense should be better. Linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins passed on the NFL to come back to Athens and will head up a talented front seven that will include sophomore Lorenzo Carter, freshman Trenton Thompson and UAB transfer Jake Ganus Sr., a linebacker who was a second-team All-CUSA selection last season. The secondary returns three of the team’s top returning tacklers from a group whose longest pass play allowed last season was just 38 yards. Pruitt and his defense will surely be a force in 2015.
3. Good History
In 14 years at Georgia, Richt has never finished lower than third in the SEC East. He has led Georgia to five SEC Championship Game appearances, and most would agree the Bulldogs blew their chances the last two years to play in Atlanta. The SEC East is still very weak overall and Georgia is considered the clear-cut favorite for this season, receiving 166 first-place votes in the SEC Media Day preseason poll. Tennessee finished a distant second with only 36 first-place votes. Georgia has been the favorite in the East for the better part of Richt's tenure at Georgia and that will not change in 2015.
Georgia’s 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank
|Sept. 5||UL Monroe||115||5-8|
|Sept. 12||at Vanderbilt||79||3-9|
|Sept. 19||South Carolina||37||7-5|
|Oct. 10||at Tennessee||22||8-4|
|Oct. 31||vs. Florida*||11||9-3|
|Nov. 14||at Auburn||4||10-2|
|Nov. 21||Georgia Southern||77||8-4|
|Nov. 28||at Georgia Tech||18||8-5|
*Game in Jacksonville, FL
Three Reasons Why Georgia Won’t Make the College Football Playoff
1. Too Many New Parts on Offense
With the departure of former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and quarterback Hutson Mason, the Bulldogs are left with new play-caller Brian Schottenheimer, who hasn’t coached in college since he was a tight ends coach at USC (Southern Cal) and has never been an OC in college, and either Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta or Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert under center. Ramsey has been a disappointment after coming to Athens as a finalist in the 2012 Elite 11 competition and was outplayed in this year’s spring game by Bauta. Lambert still has two years of eligibility and showed some flashes last season for the Cavaliers, but he was never able to put it all together. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs. Maybe he just isn’t that good. But Georgia will struggle if the signal-caller can’t make some things happen and take the pressure off of Chubb and the backfield contingent. It doesn’t matter how great your running game is if the opponent is allowed to stack the box with eight or nine guys because they don’t fear the passer.
2. A Brutal Schedule
Even though Georgia only has three true road games, not counting the yearly trip to Jacksonville, the Bulldogs will have to navigate one of the toughest months in college football in October. The Bulldogs open October with a home game against SEC juggernaut Alabama followed by a trip to Knoxville the very next week. Georgia is back home for Missouri on the 17th, has an open date and then plays Florida in Jacksonville. Things don’t get much easier after that as they take a trip to Auburn on Nov. 14, have a home date against 2014 Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern the following week and then travel to Atlanta to face in-state rival Georgia Tech to end the season. Georgia should enter the Alabama game undefeated. After that, all bets are off.
3. Bad History
For as good as Georgia has been under Richt, his Bulldog teams just can’t seem to put a full season together. Richt had early success at Georgia, but hasn’t won an SEC title since 2005. His best chance came in one of the most memorable title games in 2012 when his Bulldogs fell to Alabama in what most thought was a much better game than the actual national championship game that year. Georgia seems to slip up yearly against South Carolina and last season let a inept Florida offense put up 38 points in a game where the Gators gashed the Bulldogs for 418 yards rushing in what ended up being a 38-20 rout. The Bulldogs simply cannot get out of their own way. The 2015 schedule leaves little to the imagination, as Georgia cannot afford any slip ups.
If Georgia can enter Oct. 3 against Alabama undefeated, Athens will be what SEC writers and historians talk about when they talk about the atmosphere of the conference’s tradition. Georgia will have revenge on its mind and will know that if anyone is to take these Bulldogs serious, they must compete with Alabama throughout the game. Nick Chubb and the other 12 returning starters give Georgia a more than capable roster to compete in the talent-laden SEC. But with a new offensive coordinator and a question mark at the most important position on the field, along with a very tough schedule, history says Georgia will have a hard time making it back to Atlanta, let alone make a strong case for getting into the College Football Playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 10
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 10-3
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.
Rivalry games are a huge part of college football, but recent conference realignment has changed the outlook for some of these annual matchups. Missouri-Kansas and Texas-Texas A&M aren’t scheduled to play anytime soon, and Pittsburgh-West Virginia – known as the Backyard Brawl – is also in hiatus.
The Backyard Brawl is among the best rivalries in college football, but it’s future is up in the air.
New Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi was asked about the future of the rivalry when the ACC coaches visited ESPN this week:
Pat Narduzzi responding to Dana Holgorsen’s “we’re begging to play Pitt” comment: “I never beg"— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 28, 2015
Pat Narduzzi on WVU series: “I’d love to play WVU someday but our instate rivalry (Penn State) is bigger than an out-of-state rivalry”— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 28, 2015
After Narduzzi’s comments were circulated, Holgorsen took to Twitter to issue a (rather perfect) response:
Mountaineers don't back out of a Brawl! #SweetCaroline...— Dana Holgorsen (@Holgorsendana) July 28, 2015
While the back-and-forth between the two coaches makes for excellent offseason discussion, there’s no reason for either program to avoid scheduling the other to renew the rivalry. After all, scheduling this game would meet two criteria: Better non-conference games and selling tickets.
Sounds like a win-win proposition doesn’t it?
Let’s get this game scheduled as soon as possible.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down his decision on Tom Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension for Deflategate Tuesday, upholding Brady's full punishment and setting the stage for him to either accept sitting out the first quarter of the 2015 season, or take the NFL to court.
In his 20-page ruling, Goodell reveals that Brady had destroyed his cell phone on March 6, the very day he was to meet with investigator Ted Wells. Brady said it was common practice, but for the commissioner this was the final nail in Brady's coffin. This was the only new revelation of the appeal ruling, but it's a big one.
The rest rehashes Goodell's support for the initial findings of the Wells Report, while also dismissing all arguments made by Brady and his attorneys that might've poked holes in the extensive document released on May 6. This includes rejecting popular issues with the Wells Report such as the use of the logo vs. non-logo gauge and the measurement of the Colts' footballs taking place after they had warmed up in the official's locker room during halftime of the AFC Championship Game.
The commissioner also rejected the AEI study that concluded the deflation for the Patriots' footballs was within the Ideal Gas Law range.
Goodell reinforced what he sees as the key elements to Brady's punishment — text messages from Patriots employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski that included McNally referring to himself as the "deflator," a sudden increase in communication between Brady and Jastremski after the AFC title game, and the discussion of gifts that Brady had given to both men in charge of preparing and handling the footballs.
The commissioner also justified Brady's four-game ban by focusing on what he saw as Brady's deliberate attempt to circumvent a rule that affected the integrity of the game.
Now Brady must choose whether to put this behind him and start preparing for the Colts on Oct. 18, or to take the NFL to court, which would have no guaranteed outcome.
If Brady wants to continue the fight, his first order of business must be to have a court issue a stay on his punishment until his case is decided. While that is possible, Brady will be taking the chance that he could lose in court and end up serving his suspension at a more critical time in the Patriots' season.
Or he could get lucky and the issue won't get decided until 2016. Still, the Deflategate cloud would continue to hang over him, with no end in sight.
Did the NFL nail Brady with any cold, hard proof? Not really. But there was enough circumstantial evidence from the Wells Report to make it seem possible Brady was orchestrating a ball-deflating scheme. The destruction of the cell phone was the cherry on top and one that could be a real problem for Brady in court, complicating a case that seemed much more of a slam dunk before this ruling.
Should Brady be required to turn over his cell phone to the NFL at all is a question worth debating, but the NFL feels he should and that is all that matters right now. Certainly that would be one of the main points of contention in a court of law.
The ball is in Brady's hands once again and historically he's best when the pressure is on him.
This might be his most interesting last drive yet.
Tom Brady has authorized the NFLPA to appeal his case in federal court, per source.— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) July 28, 2015
Urban Meyer will live on forever... in our arteries.
The Ohio State coach has his likeness in butter at the Ohio Expo Center. In the Dairy Building there are sculptures of Meyer, Brutus Buckeye, the national championship trophy, and two Ohio State football helmets.
"It humbles you, and it's a great honor," Meyer told the American Dairy Association Mideast.
The Patriots have been a part of the NFL’s ruling class for the better part of the last 14 seasons, winning 12 AFC East titles, six conference titles and four Super Bowls. The AFC has long taken aim at Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Co., and it appeared the Patriots were on the ropes last season at 2–2 after a 41–14 dismantling in Kansas City. Brady looked old, Rob Gronkowski wasn’t 100 percent, the offensive line was in disarray and the defense was below average.
But New England rose from the dead, won its sixth straight division title and captured its fourth Super Bowl title in thrilling fashion against the Seahawks. The Patriots remain an upper-echelon team, but free agency took a serious toll on the defense. And perennial Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh (Dolphins), LeSean McCoy (Bills), Brandon Marshall (Jets) and Darrelle Revis (Jets) all joined division rivals in the offseason. The Pats are AFC East favorites, but the gap is narrowing.
Brady, the three-time Super Bowl MVP, will turn 38 in the preseason. His dedication to fitness has allowed him to maintain his elite level of production and has even improved his one major weakness — mobility. Brady picked up 11 first downs on the ground in 2014, his second-highest total of the last six seasons, and he was more willing to scramble than in previous years.
With Brady's four-game suspension upheld by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Patriots should at least prepare for the likelihood that Jimmy Garoppolo, the team’s second-round pick in 2014 who threw 27 passes as a rookie, will start the season. Another possible option could be veteran Matt Flynn, who was signed in June.
If Brady is the No. 1 piece to the Patriots offense, Gronkowski stands firmly at 1A. The big tight end from the University of Arizona has had an enormous effect on the team — when healthy. The best illustration of his impact may have been last fall. Gronkowski played less than half the snaps in the first four games of the season as he continued to recover from knee surgery, and he sat out the season finale against Buffalo when the Patriots had wrapped up the No. 1 seed. In those five games, the Patriots averaged 17.8 points and went 2–3. In their other 14 games, including the playoffs, the Patriots averaged 34.8 points and went 13–1.
The threat of Gronkowski makes the receiving corps of Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola much more dangerous than it would otherwise be, as defenses dedicate multiple linebackers and/or safeties to him. The Patriots added another receiving tight end in the offseason, signing Scott Chandler from Buffalo. Tim Wright (released in June) never emerged as the second receiving tight end Belichick likes to feature after the Pats traded Logan Mankins for him, so look for Chandler to get that chance.
The offensive line will have to replace one starter, as Dan Connolly, who started at guard but also saw time at center, has decided to retire. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer and center Bryan Stork are all plus-players at their positions. Guard play is a bit of an issue.
At running back, the Patriots lost Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in free agency. Vereen emerged as a critical piece of the offensive arsenal, outgrowing his third-down role and becoming an every-down contributor. He played three times the snaps of any other running back on the team in the regular season and 50 of the 74 snaps in the Super Bowl, according to ESPNBoston. James White is the early candidate to be the pass-catching, third-down back, while LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden will handle the work between the tackles.
Three key starters departed in free agency, leaving some significant questions as the season approaches. Revis (Jets) and fellow cornerback Brandon Browner (Saints) will need to be replaced, and the defensive philosophy the Patriots employed the last three seasons will likely be altered as well. With Revis last season and Aqib Talib in 2012 and ’13, the Patriots had a lockdown corner who allowed them to play man-to-man on the opponent’s best receiver and let the rest of the secondary handle the remainder of the field. Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler are not in the class of Revis or Talib, so expect much more zone. The Patriots did invest in safety Devin McCourty with a five-year contract, and fellow safety Patrick Chung was also re-signed, but the cornerback situation bears watching.
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the third starter who needs to be replaced after he departed for Houston after a highly successful 11-year run in New England that included five Pro Bowls. The 325-pounder bounced back from a ruptured Achilles in 2013 and played 74 percent of the defensive snaps, far and away New England’s leader along the line. First-round draft pick Malcom Brown will be given an opportunity to step right in and compete with veterans Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch. Second-year pro Dominique Easley will be expected to take a larger role at the other defensive tackle spot. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are back at defensive end, two players who have had their moments but can also disappear for stretches.
The Patriots’ starting linebacker corps is loaded after Jerod Mayo decided to restructure his deal and return to the team after the second of his two injury-shortened seasons. With Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots have one of the finest starting trios in the NFL. Hightower was tremendous after Mayo went down after six games, and the athletic Collins continues to improve all aspects of his game and appears on his way to a Pro Bowl very soon.
The Patriots are in very good shape in all aspects of their special teams. Stephen Gostkowski has been incredibly accurate the past two seasons, connecting on 73-of-78 field goals (including 6-of-7 from beyond 50). Edelman is the NFL’s active leader in punt return average at 12.3 yards per return, and Amendola proved to be a serviceable kickoff return man when he took over halfway through last season (24.9-yard average). The Patriots were 11th in net punting with left-footed Ryan Allen at the controls.
On paper, the Patriots do not appear to be as good as last season’s Super Bowl champions, but no AFC team can safely be called an overwhelming favorite. Brady has shown no signs of slowing down, and his top receiving targets will all be back except for Vereen. Expect the offense, with a healthy Gronkowski, to continue to produce at a high level. The question is whether the defense can be championship-quality. After ranking 25th or worse in total defense every year from 2010-13, the Patriots improved to 13th last season with the addition of Revis. Will they regress without him, or will a strong linebacking corps continue the improvement? It will be Belichick’s challenge to try to win without a shutdown corner. The goal for the Patriots should be to secure a first-round bye for the sixth straight year and be in the mix for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Prediction: 1st in AFC East
As the NFL announced that they would uphold Tom Brady's four game suspension for his role in deflating footballs, Twitter users reacted to the situation. The suspension allegedly remained in part due to Tom Brady destroying his cell, a key piece of evidence during the investigation. Take a look at some of the best Tweets:
Tom Brady to league investigators "Here's my evidence" pic.twitter.com/R4T2gsRRNX— Dylan (@DylanTheMan37) July 28, 2015
BREAKING: Tom Brady's 4 game suspension is upheld. Patriots sign Free Agent quarterback Matt Saracen. pic.twitter.com/vvtoAsJ4fT— Tim Riggins (@Real_TimRiggins) July 28, 2015
Roger Goodell showed no mercy in the Tom Brady ruling pic.twitter.com/Wla29XM6Qm— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 28, 2015
Goodell: Let me see the phone, Tom. Tom Brady: pic.twitter.com/vsxjWl6qZH— NIGris Elba (@hosienation) July 28, 2015
Thoughts/prayers with Tom Brady who must sit out 4 games in a mansion with his supermodel wife. You are in our hearts pic.twitter.com/KOUAvbg3BP— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 28, 2015
STILL awaiting RSVPs from Lev Bell, L.Blount, Tom Brady & Simmons on my invite to drive around Gillette & listen to PITvNE on the radio.— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) July 28, 2015
Tom Brady be like pic.twitter.com/Xa5MlIKzj5— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) July 28, 2015
I heard Tom #Brady had to destroy his phone because Donald Trump gave out his phone number.— jay svoboda (@jaysvoboda) July 28, 2015
Tom Brady didn't directly order his cell phone to be destroyed. He just wisely asked Gronkowski "Hey - hold this." pic.twitter.com/NXrXlJoU6f— nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) July 28, 2015
A little more than a month separates us from the start of the college football seasons. The weather is still unbearably hot at Athlon Sports HQ, but the signs of the fall and football season are in the air as preseason practice takes the place of media day season.
Our series previewing each major conference starts today with the Big 12 in perhaps the most heated race at the top of the league. Our staff agrees Baylor and TCU are a step ahead of the competition right now, but don’t agree with the consensus No. 1. After Baylor and TCU a host of teams could contend to be the surprise team in the league like the Horned Frogs were last season.
On this edition of the Cover 2 College Football Podcast:
• The big question: Does the Big 12 champion need to go undefeated to reach the College Football Playoff? We’re divided.
• Why is Baylor the right choice in the Big 12 when almost everyone else is picking TCU?
• Who has reason to be optimistic in the bottom of the league — Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech?
• Which team has the best chance to get into the top two? Our three hosts state cases for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and — perhaps the biggest surprise of them all — West Virginia.
• We take the pulse of Texas and why 2016 might be the season to watch for the Longhorns.
• Finally, we all believe Kansas State will take a step back in 2015, but we firmly believe Bill Snyder will ruin someone’s season.
Entering 2015, the race for the No. 1 overall pick appears to be as wide open as it has been in recent years, thanks in part to Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, which upon appeal was reduced to two games. Pittsburgh’s All-Pro running back led all non-quarterbacks in fantasy points, but there’s a pretty big difference when it comes to the possbility of missing three games to the reaility that he will miss just two.
How big of a difference you ask. Big enough that a number of Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors weren’t in complete agreement when they were asked who they would take with the No. 1 overall pick.
Le’Veon Bell for No. 1
A strong argument can be made for a couple of RBs at the No. 1 spot, but I have to go with Bell. Sure, the early suspension limits his value and will require a little patience from fantasy owners. However, the All-Pro finished second in the league with 1,361 rushing yards last season and ranked No. 2 among running backs by catching 83 passes. He also totaled 11 overall scores in 16 games.
While Bell is going to miss a couple of games, the third-year back is only getting better, and Pittsburgh’s offensive line has improved significantly over the last few seasons. Additionally, the Steelers will have to lean on their offense even more in 2015, as the defense is still a unit in transition. Yes, the schedule is difficult, and Bell’s suspension has to be taken into account. However, Bell might be the league’s best all-around back, and the overall versatility is a huge bonus in PPR leagues. I’ll take the risk on the suspension for an All-Pro RB entering the prime of his career with the opportunity to still play 14 games in 2015. — Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Le’Veon Bell for No. 1
Who’s No. 1 this year? I hope I’m not drafting in that spot. But if I need to pick someone ... it’s still Le’Veon Bell. In PPR leagues, Bell finished among the top 24 running backs every single week last season. He’ll remain Pittsburgh’s workhorse and one of the league’s best receiving backs when he takes the field this year, so a repeat in that category seems possible. Thirteen fantasy-starter weeks would have still beaten every other back in the league last year besides DeMarco Murray and Matt Forté. So why not favor those guys? Murray moves to Philly, where he’ll probably fall well short of 300 carries. (Chip Kelly has said he doesn’t want to over-work Murray.) Forté loses Marc Trestman’s reception-heavy scheme, which threatens to reveal an aging back who gained just 3.9 yards per rush last year.
Rob Gronkowski looked like a No. 1 candidate before Tom Brady’s suspension. Eddie Lacy sits closest to Bell on my board but isn’t as good a weekly bet for touches. He averaged 2.7 fewer carries and 2.6 fewer catches per game than Bell last year. Give me the latter, in a strong offense and perhaps fresher at playoff time after his early-season break. — Matt Schauf, DraftSharks.com
Eddie Lacy for No. 1
If not for the two games that Le’Veon Bell will sit out at the beginning of the season, he would be my no-doubt No. 1. As it is, instead I’ll go with Bell’s 2013 draft classmate, Eddie Lacy. Last season, Lacy finished seventh in rushing with 1,139 yards. What’s more important, however, is that he raised his yards per carry average from 4.1 as a rookie to 4.6 in 2014.
Lacy also improved his receiving numbers, reeling in 42 catches for 427 yards. His 13 total TDs were tied for fifth in the NFL, and only two backs (Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles) had more. Since Bell won’t be able to play a full season, I’ll take my chances on another young, do-everything back entrenched in a lead role in an explosive offense. — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Eddie Lacy for No. 1
Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension alone doesn’t scare me off, but it has to be considered. His receiving production was also off the charts last season; it nearly matched his rushing total from the year before. That’s unlikely to happen again.
So looking elsewhere, I find myself down to two Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy.
Rodgers is a sure thing, the best quarterback in the game with all kinds of weapons around him in a system which has brought him success. Thing is, there are plenty of quarterbacks who can get you numbers; if you wait until the end of Round 2 to take a back, you might not like what’s left.
So I’ll take Lacy. The Packers seemed to find a way to keep him fresh last season without cutting into his production, and there are going to be plenty of scoring opportunities on perhaps the league’s best offense. — John Gworek, Athlon Sports
Adrian Peterson for No. 1
In 2015 with the No. 1 pick I am going with Adrian Peterson. I am a Vikings fan but that isn't the only reason. We all know what AP can do when healthy, and the year off did not leave him out of shape or behind the curve. His work ethic is phenomenal. Add to it that He's happy with his new contract and has an underrated offensive line, and that makes me excited about this season, and feeling safe about Peterson's fantasy prospects. The only other close option for me would be Antonio Brown. — Chris Meyers, AthlonSports.com fantasy football contributor
Adrian Peterson for No. 1
With the first pick in a 2015 fantasy football draft, I am going to take Adrian Peterson. Let me preface my rationale by saying that I understand the arguments for at least three other guys, however, give me Peterson. Yes, he missed last year, but it was not because of injury. He's as healthy as he could be (and reportedly in great shape at training camp), he's motivated to show the league how good he is, and he is on a team that can put together a high-powered offense.
In the six seasons where Peterson played at least 14 games, he has had at least 1,200 rushing yards. If you add up the rushing yards from Peterson, Joe Banyard, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon in 2014, they total 1,271. That's to say that the four backs are equal to one back, but when that one running back is Peterson, with a year of experience behind Teddy Bridgewater, barring injury, he should come close to 2,000 rushing yards again. He's one of the few backs in the league that will be an every-down back, and he is poised to put up No. 1 numbers in 2015. — Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com fantasy football contributor
Adrian Peterson for No. 1
If I had the No. 1 pick in my fantasy football draft I would choose Adrian Peterson in 10 milliseconds. Why? Because he’s fresh after a year off and he wants to remind people why he's one of the best running backs of all time. I know he’s now the dreaded running back age of 30, but I’ll take a pissed-off, take-no-prisoners Adrian Peterson any day. If the Vikings are going to do anything this year, it will be on the shoulders of Peterson. His backups are Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, who both had a chance to show their stuff last year and what showed was that the Vikings need “All-Day” on the field. Which is why the word coming of out Vikings land is that AP might not come off the field. I’ll take close to 300 touches, 1,500 total yards and over 12 touchdowns all the way to the bank. — Michael Horvath, AtlhonSports.com fantasy football contributor
Jamaal Charles for No. 1
Looking at some of the top running backs from 2014, it’s relatively easy to come to the conclusion that Charles should be the No. 1 overall pick again in 2015, much like I said last year. DeMarco Murray changed teams. Le’Veon Bell is automatically out a few games from suspension. Charles, meanwhile, runs behind an offensive line that is still jelling, and he was still able to rush for 5.0 yards per carry last season.
Charles also scored more total touchdowns (14) than any RB but Marshawn Lynch (17). Lynch is a year older than Charles, and he has 50 percent more career touches. Eddie Lacy might be the only option other than Charles. But I like Charles’ gamebreaking ability better, and the Chiefs added some weapons in the passing game around him, which should keep defenses more honest. — David Gonos, FanDuel/SoCalledFantasyExperts.com
Jamaal Charles for No. 1
This has been one crazy summer, and there’s no Bobcat Goldthwait. There also is no clear No. 1 pick in fantasy football, in all honesty. Adrian Peterson is coming off a lengthy absence and has reached the dangerous age of 30. Le’Veon Bell is coming off a late-season knee injury and is suspended for the start of the season. Marshawn Lynch had back issues last year and is now 29. DeMarco Murray heads to Philly, where LeSean McCoy struggled last year and where Ryan Mathews might also be sharing touches.
Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles have fewer question marks. I just flipped a coin and went with Charles at No. 1, but you might just be best off picking in the middle of Round 1 and not having to make the choice yourself. — Eric Mack, FanDuel
Marshawn Lynch for No. 1
This is the most wide-open race for No. 1 that I can remember. Every player in the conversation has massive upside, but all have question marks as well. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss two games due to suspension. Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Arian Foster and DeMarco Murray have injury concerns. And there is too much depth and value to take a quarterback.
My debate falls to the most talented runner on the planet who also is extremely rested, Adrian Peterson, and the most durable player with the highest floor, Marshawn Lynch. I’ll take Lynch over Peterson because he will be force-fed the ball as Seattle runs all of the tread off his tires over the next few seasons. — Braden Gall, Athlon Sports
Rob Gronkowski for No. 1
Gronkowski checks all the boxes for factors that could lead to his being selected No. 1 overall. If the tight end can only be used as such, he is head and shoulders above the rest of his position mates in the league, and you crush at the position. He was tops in targets (130) and yards (1,124) and tied for most touchdown receptions (12) among TEs last season. If a TE can be started as a flex, he’s going to dominate that spot as well. He would have scored as either a top-10 RB or WR last season. PPR leagues only amplify his value. He was 21st in the entire league in catches, was tied for fourth in TD receptions, and was 15th in receiving yards. Simply put: Gronk. Scores. Points. — Corby Yarbrough, Athlon Sports
Many will never get the chance to play college football, but Oregon is trying to give fans a close experience.
The video department released a pretty cool 360 video to give people the feeling of how electric it is to be a Duck on game day. Using the arrows in the top left, you can pan the camera to any direction. This video will make you feel like you're in the famous Autzen Stadium.
As the 2015 fantasy football season is quickly approaching, it is important to know which players have changed teams and how that affects their outlook. While sometimes a change in scenery decreases a player's fantasy value, sometimes change is a good thing. Here's a look at five players, who should improve on last year's numbers, to keep in mind on draft day.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Year after year, fantasy owners shy away from Gore, saying he's too old, he's going to break down, there's no way he's going to last the season, etc. Well, he's played all 16 games the past four seasons. He's 32 years old, but that doesn't mean that you should give up on him just yet. Of all running backs, Gore sees the biggest uptick in fantasy value with a change in scenery.
In San Francisco, Gore constantly saw eight men in the box, and yet, in each of the past four seasons, he's rushed for over 1,000 yards. His reception totals have decreased over those seasons, but that may change in Indianapolis as well.
The backfield will belong to Gore. Andrew Luck will work with him, use him for check-downs and allow him to run the ball more effectively than he did in San Francisco. It is hard to trust a 32-year-old back with plenty of mileage on him as your RB1, but if you have solid talent at the other positions, you could do much worse. Gore is currently being drafted at the beginning of the third round. This is about right. His situation has improved, but the risk is still there.
Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins
Currently being drafted in the 11th round, Stills has the potential to be a solid WR2 on your fantasy team. He'll be an outside receiver, with Jarvis Landry filling in the slot, but Stills has shown that he has the speed and ability to succeed in that position. He is 23 years old, with only two years in the league.
Last year, he improved on his rookie numbers, posting a 63/931/3 stat line. He was very boom-or-bust, which made him hard to trust in fantasy. However, he was at least third in line for receptions, if not fourth with the Saints. In Miami, he becomes the second target for Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill, with an improved offensive line, has the potential to be a top-tier quarterback this year, and part of that hinges on Stills. We haven't yet seen the best of either player, but this an opportunity for the two of them to click and put up good fantasy numbers. Keep an eye on Stills on draft day; he's a late-round receiver that may be in your weekly starting roster sooner rather than later.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
Okay, Cooks didn't change teams. However, he watched as most of the offense on his team left him. In 2014, Drew Brees had many mouths to feed. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Tavaris Cadet were all in the picture, just to name a few. Now, only Colston and Ingram remain from that list.
Look for Colston to be slowly phased out of the game plan. Brees has trusted him, so Colston will still be involved, but Cooks also earned his quarterback’s trust last season. With far fewer options, Brees should look to Cooks early and often. Ingram will clearly be the No. 1 back in New Orleans, but he only had 29 receptions last year. He's a running back, not a pass-catching back.
Yes, the Saints brought in C.J. Spiller, who has not had more than 43 receptions in a season. The reports are that he'll see more than that, which is certainly possible. Last season, Thomas and Cadet combined for 83 catches. However, the Saints are a passing team. Brees is a passing quarterback. He'll check down, sure, but he wants to sling the ball. Who better to sling it to than Cooks?
Last season, in his rookie year, Cooks had 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns. He added 73 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown as well. While the rushing touchdown may not happen again this year, look for his receiving totals to double. Sure, that may sound far-fetched right now, but it is a very real possibility. Cooks is currently going at the beginning of the fourth round, as the 15th receiver off the board. Don't be afraid to grab him at the end of the third round, especially in a PPR league.
Andre Johnson, WR, Indianapolis Colts
A talented receiver with Andrew Luck now throwing to him? Sign me up. Yes, I know Johnson is 34 years old. He had some of his worst numbers ever last year. Taking out his 2011 season where he was injured and only played in seven games, he had his lowest touchdown total and yards per game since 2005. It's always hard to promote a player that is older and coming off a down year.
But it's also hard to ignore the, well, Luck factor. Luck threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns last season. Luck also loved working with Reggie Wayne, who became relevant with Luck throwing to him. If Johnson can put up the numbers that Wayne had in 2012 (106 receptions for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns), he's a solid WR2.
Johnson was the No. 1 receiver in Houston with far less talented quarterbacks throwing to him. Now, he gets to be the No. 2 receiver, with T.Y. Hilton drawing most of the defensive attention. He's reportedly already in sync with Luck, and as long as he can stay injury free, his value will exceed his (current) fourth round ADP.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Miami Dolphins
It's no secret that I'm high on Ryan Tannehill this year. This is evident based on my love for Kenny Stills and now, throwing some love Cameron's way. The risk factor with Cameron is his injury history. His history of concussions is concerning, however, the upside on Cameron may be worth the risk (as long as you don't reach for him).
In 2013, Cameron had 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Fantasy owners drafted him last year hoping that he would repeat or improve on those numbers. Instead, they ended up with 24 receptions for 424 yards and two touchdowns.
The Dolphins love using their tight end in the red zone. Now they have a big target to throw to whn they get there. Cameron is currently being drafted in the eighth round, as the ninth tight end off the board. He is a TE1, but in the second tier of tight ends. His value increases because his quarterback situation improves. Be aware that his injury history does make him a risk, so don't reach on him, but don't be upset if you get him in the middle rounds of your draft.
(Brandin Cooks photo by Michael C. Hebert, courtesy of neworleanssaints.com)
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Adrian Peterson returns after a year off for the Vikings. Minnesota is widely considered to be a sleeper, but does that mean this will have enough to catch up to Green Bay and Detroit? Chicago, meanwhile, turns to John Fox to try and clean things up after a five-win season in 2014. In the coming years, this will be a three-team race with the Vikes moving into contention.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 7 wins +120, Under 7 wins -140)
Record Last Year: 5-11
Offense: Brandon Marshall is gone although the team replaced him with rookie Kevin White. Between White and Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler has weapons to go to if he gets time. Eddie Royal is an underrated addition to play the slot, as he just knows how to get open. The offensive line hopes for better health than last year. The new regime will use do-everything running back Matt Forte a little less then Marc Trestman did.
Defense: The majority of the changes took place on this side of the ball. Lance Briggs, Chris Conte, Stephen Paea, Charles Tillman and D.J. Williams all depart, as this unit tries to get younger. Among those being shuttled in are Mason Foster, Jarvis Jenkins, Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle.
Schedule: Chicago's road games are bunched up with three back-to-backs this season. It could be a long year if the Bears lose their first two contests at home against Green Bay and Arizona.
Prediction: The under is the play here. Chicago's rebuilding and in this division you can't afford to do so and contend. The Bears have road games at Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City which won't help. It could be a long year for Bears fans.
(Over 8.5 wins +135, Under 8.5 wins -155)
Record Last Year: 11-5
Offense: It's pretty much status quo for the Lions offense. The only major change occurred with Reggie Bush going to San Francisco. He'll be replaced by Ameer Abdullah, who will fit in nicely with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. An already solid offensive line added Manny Ramirez and rookie Laken Tomlinson. The key as always will be Calvin Johnson's health and Matthew Stafford's accuracy.
Defense: A big hole in the middle opened up when Ndamukong Suh moved on to Miami. It got even bigger when Nick Fairley also left in free agency, but Haloti Ngata was brought over to help out. This was the best team against the rush in the NFL last year. That may be hard to duplicate without Fairley and Suh. Ziggy Ansah will be asked to pick up the slack on the outside along with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch.
Schedule: Detroit plays three of the first four on the road with trips out west to Seattle and San Diego early. The Lions have two three-week homestands on the schedule, Weeks 5-7 and 11-13.
Prediction: No real lean on this one. The defense will struggle to maintain its success from last year while the offense will be expected to score a little more. The Lions need to improve on the league's 28th-ranked rushing offense.
(Over 11 wins -115, Under 11 wins -105)
Record Last Year: 12-4
Offense: As usual the Packers didn't bring in a ton of new faces through free agency and instead relied on improvements through the draft. The offense should keep rolling along with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. He has an embarrassment of riches with Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson on the outside while Eddie Lacy patrols the backfield.
Defense: Several players on this side of the ball departed with A.J. Hawk, Davon House, Tramon Williams and Jamari Lattimore all finding new homes. Teams were able to run on this unit in 2014 despite the presence of B.J. Raji inside and Clay Matthews outside. Who knows if the Packers will get the same production from Julius Peppers, who is 35 years old.
Schedule: Green Bay can start fast with four of its first six at home before the Week 7 bye. The two road games over that span are winnable, coming at Chicago and San Francisco. Road games at Denver and Carolina await the Pack after the bye.
Prediction: Eleven wins is on the money as far as I'm concerned. This team is solid all the way around and should continue to be the front-runner in the division. As long as Rodgers is healthy, the playoffs are in Green Bay's future.
(Over 7 wins -270, Under 7 wins +230)
Record Last Year: 7-9
Offense: Adrian Peterson is back and there's two schools of thought on how well he will do. One school says he'll be rested and ready to rush the ball well, while the other says he'll be a year older and not as effective. Whatever AP can do will be a big help to Teddy Bridgewater, who was pretty solid as a rookie starter for Minnesota. The Vikes added Mike Wallace this offseason to go with Charles Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Defense: This is a very young group that continues to grow and improve. Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith and Everson Griffen are all under 28 years old and the building blocks for a good defense. Trae Waynes was drafted to beef up a secondary that will be under fire in this division. This unit more than held its own against the pass last season, finishing seventh in that category.
Schedule: The Vikings will be in the spotlight in Week 1, as part of the later "Monday Night Football" game in San Francisco. Minnesota hosts Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City while the Vikings have to play at Denver and Atlanta.
Prediction: The money move is right as the Vikings are primed to make a move up in the NFC North. The defense has pieces in place while the offense figures to be more successful with Peterson back. Minnesota will win this division in either 2016 or '17.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
The conference now known as the Pac-12 became a regular home for the Heisman Trophy in the 1960s. In that decade, USC's Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson, UCLA's Gary Beban and Oregon State's Terry Baker all brought the most celebrated individual award in the sport out West.
In the years since, the Heisman has made just a few return trips. In fact, barring USC recipients, John Heisman's bronze likeness was persona non grata in the Pac-12 after Jim Plunkett's 1971 win.
That changed last year with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota receiving the award. Mariota's victory symbolized a change evident throughout the conference, as collective improvements throughout virtually the whole league have brought newfound national recognition.
With the Pac-12 playing it's best collective football in 50 years — if not ever — the conference has a strong case to bring a second straight Heisman into its trophy case. The following are the Pac-12's 10 most likely Heisman Trophy candidates heading into 2015.
1. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Kessler put up Heisman-caliber numbers in 2014, tying the USC single-season record with 39 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. He was far from a dual-threat quarterback, but he also demonstrated just enough mobility to add a new dimension to the Trojans’ offense when necessary.
What Kessler lacked in a season punctuated by Heisman-like statistics were the so-called Heisman moments. He’ll get his chances to make big-time plays in high-profile games this season. USC is a contender for the Pac-12 championship, and its schedule is loaded with several marquee matchups.
Given the spotlight the Trojans will command against opponents like Stanford, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA, Kessler has the most logical path to New York City.
2. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Keeping the Heisman in the Pacific Northwest could be as easy as feeding Freeman the ball and letting the powerful running back build on his impressive freshman season.
Freeman, a highly touted prospect from Imperial, Calif., is a back one might expect to see in the traditional crimson-and-white of Alabama, rather than the flashy and ever-changing duds sported at Oregon. And indeed, Nick Saban tried to recruit Freeman away from the West Coast.
Instead, Mark Helfrich landed the bulldozer back, and it's a good thing for the Ducks he did. Freeman gives Oregon a cornerstone around whom to build its Mariota-less offense, in much the same fashion the offense was centered around 2010 Heisman finalist LaMichael James previously.
3. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
History proves that playing defense exclusively is a good way to guarantee a player doesn’t win the Heisman, but Wright has unique buzz heading into the 2015 season. The Wildcats’ star junior linebacker broke into the Heisman conversation last fall with his nation-leading output for tackles, tackles for a loss and forced fumbles.
With national attention already on him, Wright is ahead of the game. The hard part now is replicating his otherworldly play of a season ago, which might be asking more than even expecting Heisman voters to cast ballots for a defensive player.
Still, in terms of past production and sheer name recognition, Wright may be the conference's most recognized player heading into 2015. That goes a long way in pursuit of the coveted award.
4. Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes opted to turn over his pass-happy “Bear Raid” offense to a true freshman in 2013. That freshman took his lumps early, but Goff flourished as a result in his sophomore campaign. Goff has quickly matured into a favorite quarterback of NFL draftniks. His size and pocket presence make him the quintessential pro prospect.
But more importantly for the Golden Bears’ chances in the Pac-12 North — and Goff’s own pursuit of the Heisman — his ability to spread the ball around the field effectively fills the stat sheet. Goff could produce some eye-popping numbers in 2015. He’ll get the chance to break the 40-touchdown barrier.
5. Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Perkins went from second on UCLA’s depth chart at running back, to first in the Pac-12 in rushing yards over the course of the 2014 season. The next surprise this dynamic, junior playmaker might have in store is representing the Bruins in New York City.
Perkins is an elusive ball carrier, but he can be equally effective catching passes on the periphery. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone used him primarily in that pass-catching role in 2013, but continued to showcase Perkins’ receiving abilities last season. Contributing to the Bruins’ offense in two ways gives Perkins even more opportunities to touch the ball and impress Heisman voters in the process.
With UCLA starting a new quarterback this season — more on that in a moment — the Bruins could lean on Perkins’ production early. He’ll get the opportunity to pile up numbers in both facets. Should UCLA contend for the Pac-12 championship, Perkins will also be front and center in the Heisman race.
6. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
Booker's Heisman campaign started in earnest in the spring when Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said the running back is capable of putting up numbers worthy of the award. Not bad for a player who wasn't even the projected No. 1 a year ago at this time. Now, Booker fuels the entire Ute offense.
Because of Utah's sometimes shaky passing game, Booker will get plenty of carries and thus, chances to rack up impressive stats. The bad news is he'll need the Utes to improve through the air to keep defenses honest.
7. Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC
The Heisman campaign for Jackson started in USC’s last game of 2014. His two-touchdown performance in the Trojans’ 45-42, Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska invoked memories of Charles Woodson, the do-everything Michigan cornerback/wide receiver/punt returner who claimed the 1997 award.
Jackson's versatility allows him to play in all three phases without a decline in production in any.
8. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
Before the start of the 2014 season, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said just one back replacing Ka’Deem Carey was unlikely. Whether Rodriguez was playing his hand close to the vest, or if he didn’t know just what he had in Wilson, but the Wildcats barely missed a beat without the record-setting Carey.
Now after a spectacular freshman debut, Wilson can one-up his predecessor, who was never a Heisman finalist despite two monsters seasons in 2012 and ‘13. He'll be given more opportunities to run in his sophomore campaign.
9. Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State
Richard has two-way playmaking ability out of the backfield in much the same vein as former Sun Devil running back Marion Grice. Before a leg injury ended his 2013 season early, Grice was making a case for the stiff-armed trophy when he tied legendary Whizzer White as Arizona State’s single-season touchdown leader with 22.
Arizona State will rely less on designed quarterback runs with Mike Bercovici taking over for Taylor Kelly, but the Sun Devils are unlikely to run less. That means Richard should see a steady diet of carries in coordinator Mike Norvell's high-octane offense, while also serving as an invaluable safety-valve option in the passing game on swing routes.
10. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen is the wildest of Heisman wild cards. He’s yet to take a snap at the college level, unless you count his appearance in the Bruins’ spring game in April. He’s not even UCLA’s official starting quarterback yet, if at all, but buzz about the 5-star prospect is palpable. He’s drawn comparisons to two-time Heisman finalist Andrew Luck of Stanford.
Before Luck became one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, however, he spent a season learning the ropes as a redshirt and another deferring to fellow Heisman contender, running back Toby Gerhart. Rosen would be jumping straight into the fray if he’s named the Bruins’ starter, and entering the Heisman mix just one year removed from high school would be unprecedented.
Of course, a true freshman contending for the award is the next, natural progression. Just eight years ago, before Tim Tebow won it, no sophomore had claimed the Heisman. Johnny Manziel became the first redshirt freshman to do so in 2012, only to be immediately followed by Jameis Winston.
If a true freshman wins the award, he’ll need a lot of veteran experience around him to ease his transition. Rosen has just that at UCLA, which returns the most veteran roster in the Pac-12.
Others to consider: Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona; D.J. Foster, WR, Arizona State; Mike Bercovici, QB, Arizona State; Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon; Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford; Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford; Myles Jack, LB, UCLA; JuJu Smith, WR, USC
If you are the athletic director of a sports program that raked in over $161 million in 2014 and is part of a university that receives $3.45 billion in endowments what do you tell your athletic staff at meal time? If you are University of Texas AD Steve Patterson you tell your coaches to pay up!
Several reports have emerged criticizing Patterson’s bottom-line CEO narrative with Longhorn coaches leaving their positions over the $10 per meal fee now charged to eat in the athletic dining hall.
In fairness to Patterson (above right, with football head coach Charlie Strong and former University of Texas president Bill Powers) each coach is given 30 free visits to the athletic dining hall each year, or 2.5 meals per month, to sit with other coaches and players bonding outside a group’s given sport. Patterson’s rationale is to shave $300,000 a year off the budget, the estimated cost of feeding the various Longhorn coaching staffs throughout a given year.
Another possible point in Patterson’s favor is the $7.50 discount each coach receives per paid meal. The cost of each meal is valued at $17.50. A mark against Patterson is the $0.50 price increase from last year. They do not take credit cards and per the memo sent out by Dave Marmion under Patterson’s orders on Aug. 11, 2014, “Like any cash business, if you show up without cash you will need to go find some (cash) or eat somewhere else that day.”
Generally speaking when one thinks about coaches coupled with money many relate to the million dollar contracts head coaches receive in football and basketball. Those types of salaries do not translate to other sports like tennis, swimming and diving, and so on. The greater impact of charging for meals are met at the lower coaching levels where video coordinators, assistant strength coaches, and graduate assistants essentially work for free or next to nothing to get experience on their resume to start the tough climb up their coaching ladders. In the long run this negative effect works its way back up to the hierarchy of the coaching staff.
The rumblings from Patterson’s underlings have made their way above his head with new Texas President Greg Fenves giving his AD a directive to change his ways in mid-July.
Patterson’s personality has not just rubbed his subordinates wrong but has also upset donors and alumni as well. A report from HornsDigest.com cited a story by Sally Lehr, an alumni member in Austin for a 50th reunion celebration, saying Patterson asked for $25 from each of the 158 people in town for the celebration to step foot on the field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Lehr explained the run-in stating, “He (Patterson) said it was expensive to allow people on the field. They had to turn on the lights. They had to have people leading the tour and a groundskeeper (on hand). He said if athletics had to pay for all of that, they might have to cut the donation they made to the UT library. I was stunned by his arrogance and avarice.”
The bad publicity from the occasion gets worse when Lehr adds that the initial cost was supposed to be $15 per person but was then raised to $25. To make the ill will between Lehr, who attended the celebration with former Longhorns’ athletes in the mix, and Patterson a notch worse, Lehr’s stepfather was the sports information director for the Longhorns from 1961-83.
One might think the 57-year-old Patterson would have more of a soft spot for other alumni being a graduate of Texas himself.
Patterson has little support from the fans after he raised football ticket prices. After the Longhorns posted a 6-7 season in 2014, ticket prices saw an average increase of 21.5 percent. Because of the jump in prices fans said thanks but no thanks. The total number of 2014 season tickets who did not renew was in the neighborhood of 10,000 for the 2015 schedule.
One would think Patterson would have a better pulse on the fanbase and Texans in general, as he and his family have been deeply intertwined in Texas sports for decades. His father, Ray Patterson, was the general manager for the Houston Rockets from 1972-90. Steve succeeded his father as the Rockets' GM, holding the position from 1989-93. After leaving the Rockets he was the Governor, President and General Manger of the Houston Aeros (hockey) and then became the Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer for the Houston Texans (1997-2003). In 2003, Patterson returned to the NBA as President of the Portland Trailblazers. On March 28, 2012 he was hired as the Vice President for University Athletics and Athletics Director for Arizona State. When DeLoss Dodds retired as AD, Patterson was hired to replace him at Texas on Nov. 5, 2013.
With Patterson in control of the athletic department for nearly two years the Longhorns have won one national championship (Swimming and Diving) and notched eight Big 12 Conference Championships (Golf – 2, Swimming and Diving – 2, Baseball – 1, Tennis – 1, Track and Field Indoor – 1, and Track and Field Outdoor – 1).
Banners in big-money sports like basketball and football will be the determining factors on how long Patterson maintains his position. For now his seemingly tenuous grip on that role is a big question mark with two new coaches in Austin, men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart (formerly at VCU) and second-year head football coach Charlie Strong (Louisville).
Both Strong and Smart are rightfully lauded as winning coaches due to their resumes, which should give Patterson some breathing room. If Strong and Smart grow tired of Patterson’s antics while producing winning teams a change at the top of the Longhorns' athletics hierarchy could potentially come much sooner than expected.
— 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.
It's worth mentioning that all of these players come with some kind of issues, which explains why they're available. Even so, each player included on this list could help a team fill a roster need, as preparation for the 2015 season goes into full gear.
1. Junior Gallette, DE/OLB, 27
The Saints made a surprising move last week when they decided to part ways with DE/OLB Junior Galette just over a year after signing him to a six-year, $45.3 million contract that included $23 million guaranteed.
Galette has done himself no favors with his off-the-field behavior and calling out members of the franchise since his release, but there's no question that he has been a very productive player on the field in recent years.
If a team ends up feeling comfortable with the type of personality it’s bringing into its facility, then it could be getting a solid pass rusher for the 2015 season.
In 2014, Galette appeared in all 16 games for the Saints and recorded 45 tackles, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles, two safeties and two passes defended. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 4 4-3 defensive end out of 59 qualifying players.
2. Evan Mathis, G, 34
Mathis is by far the best available free agent offensive lineman and our No. 2 player overall based on how well he's performed for the Eagles over the past few years.
While many expected Mathis to have a decent market for his services, there really has been a surprisingly limited amount of buzz since he was cut loose by the Eagles.
The Bills, Dolphins, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, Chiefs, Patriots and Vikings have all come up as potential options in recent months.
Last year, Mathis appeared in nine games for the Eagles after he dealt with an MCL injury. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 2 guard out of 78 qualifying players.
3. Jake Long, OT, 30
Any serviceable offensive tackle shouldn't have a hard time finding an opportunity to, at the very least, compete for a roster spot in training camp at this point in the year.
Long was cut loose by the Rams and has visited with the Giants, but it appears as though his rehab from a second torn ACL could be holding things up.
Assuming that things check out with his knee, Long should have a respectable market for his services.
In 2014, Long was limited to appearing in seven games and playing a total of 449 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Long ultimately graded out as the No. 36 offensive tackle out of 84 qualifying players in 2014.
4. Red Bryant, DT, 31
Given where we are in the NFL calendar, there isn't any marquee talent available, so teams are likely to be looking at players who can fit certain roles.
Bryant fits this description about as well as any available free agent, as he offers very little in terms of pass rush, but he has been a stout run-defender.
Since being cut by the Jaguars, there hasn't been any reported interest in Bryant. However, I wouldn't be shocked to see him take a visit, especially if someone loses an interior defensive lineman.
In 2014, Bryant appeared in all 16 games for Jacksonville and recorded 22 tackles, a half sack, and a forced fumble. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 31 defensive end in a 4-3 defense out of 59 qualifying players.
5. Pierre Thomas, RB, 30
Every year there are a number of notable free agents still available as training camp nears, but Thomas stands out among the group of veteran backs for his balanced production and effectiveness out of the backfield.
The Redskins and Ravens have both come up as speculative landing spots for Thomas since the Saints cut him loose, but it looks like it will likely take an injury for him to get a serious look.
In 2014, Thomas ran for 222 yards on 45 carries (4.9 ypc) to go along with 45 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 9 running back in the league out of 57 qualifying players.
6. Brandon Spikes, ILB, 27
Spkies' inclusion on this list should be prefaced by pointing out that he comes with obvious off-the-field concerns, as he pled guilty to leaving the scene of a car collision that resulted in a personal injury a few months ago.
After signing with the Patriots in May, New England subsequently released the linebacker, who is facing one year of probation stemming from the incident, less than a month later.
In the event a team is comfortable giving him another opportunity and happen to be in the market for inside linebacker help, Spikes has been a solid run-stopper in recent years.
In 2014, he appeared in all 16 games for the Bills, recording 54 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and three passes defended. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 13 inside linebacker out of 60 qualifying players due in large part to a very solid rating as a run-defender.
7. Lance Briggs, OLB, 34
Briggs' advanced age and overall mileage has likely played a role in him being skipped over for opportunities this offseason.
The 49ers actually brought him in for a visit after they lost Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to retirement. However, San Francisco wound up going in a different direction.
Despite playing for an underwhelming Bears defense last year, Briggs was still a productive player. It goes without saying that he's likely a stop-gap option at best right now.
In 2014, Briggs appeared in eight games and recorded 35 tackles, one interception, a forced fumble and three pass defensded for Chicago. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 10 outside linebacker in a 4-3 system.
8. Chris Myers, C, 33
It's actually fairly surprising that Myers doesn't have a team right now. Since being released by the Texans, Myers has visited with the Broncos and Seahawks, but there really hasn't been any indications that he will land with a team in the near future.
Myers has been a consistent contributor for a number of years and would be a very solid addition for any team in need of help at center.
Myers was rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 16 center in the league last season out of 41 qualifying players. It's worth mentioning that he hasn't missed a single game in the last nine years.
9. Zach Miller, TE, 29
As previously mentioned, there are a number of teams who could use some depth at tight end, but even though Miller has been available for several months, there has been little to no reported interest in him.
The Seahawks released him in a move that cleared $2,390,625 in cap space. His 2014 season was cut short after he sustained an ankle injury that resulted in him being placed on season-ending injured reserve.
In 2014, Miller was limited to appearing in three games due to injury and caught just six passes for 76 yards.
10. Anthony Collins, OT, 29
Collins' inclusion in the list has more to do with the position he plays and the one good season he had a few years ago than his recent performance.
It's just extremely hard to find offensive tackle at this point in the year, and while you could argue that Collins' doesn't offer very much at this pivotal position, he was a solid option for the Bengals in 2013. On top of that, he's still just 29 years old and wouldn't require much in terms of salary.
The Buccaneers signed him to a five-year, $30 million contract that included $15 million guaranteed, only to cut him loose just a year into the agreement.
Pro Football Focus has Collins rated as the No. 63 offensive tackle out of 84 qualifying players. Although, he was rated as a decent run-blocker.
Life as a Texas A&M fan can either be viewed from an optimistic or pessimistic stance with no in between. In 2014 the Aggies either exceeded expectations in Year 1 after Johnny Manziel, going 8-5 overall, or floundered after winning their first five games, jumping to sixth in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll, only to post a 3-5 mark from the start of October through a season-salvaging 45-37 Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia.
Year after year A&M really should be one of the top teams in the nation given all the recruiting talent in the Lone Star State. The Aggies have recruited well, if rankings mean anything, but the signed letters of intent from 4- and 5-star recruits over the past three years have not produced the desired results on the field since Kevin Sumlin’s first season in College Station. That was when the Aggies won 11 games, including a resounding 41-13 drumming of former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Expectations are high once again for Texas A&M, as the Aggies enter the 2015 season No. 20 in Athlon Sports’ preseason poll. This team has a solid mix of six starters returning on offense and six on defense along with a lot of highly regarded but inexperienced talent on the roster.
If Texas A&M is to make a push to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and aim for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the football gods will have to be on the Aggies’ side throughout the 2015 season.
Three Reasons Why Texas A&M Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. New Defensive Coordinator John Chavis
Cue the harps and heavenly music of the football gods! When the 2014 season was finished Sumlin wisely parted ways with Mark Snyder luring Chavis away from LSU. No other defensive coordinator in the SEC has Chavis’ background or experience, meaning an immediate upgrade on the defensive side of the ball is expected in College Station.
Since heading to Knoxville in 1989 as Tennessee’s linebackers coach, Chavis has effectively stopped opposing offenses around the league, establishing a reputation as the best of the best. His ability to recruit top talent to LSU made the Tigers one of the most feared defensive units in the SEC during his tenure in Baton Rouge.
A&M has recruited well on both sides of the ball but the big question is, can Chavis make a dramatic of enough change in one season to give support to Sumlin’s offense?
2. A&M’s Passing Attack
The roller-coaster ride under center last year between Kenny Hill (2,649 yds., 23 TDs, 8 INTs) and Kyle Allen (1,322-16-7) still produced the SEC’s top passing attack and one that finished 12th nationally at 305.5 yards per game. Hill is gone (transferred to TCU) and Allen is expected to earn the starting spot even though true freshman Kyler Murray is coming to College Station. Murray left Allen High School a high school legend, never losing a game and winning three consecutive state championships.
The key to the attack is the high quality of depth at receiver. Malcome Kennedy is gone but big-play target Josh Reynolds (52 rec., 842 yds., 13 TDs) is back along with Ricky Seals-Jones (49-465-4) and game-changer Speedy Noil (46-583-5). Add incoming 5-star freshman Christian Kirk from Saguaro (Ariz.) High School and this unit might be the best in the nation.
3. Defensive Line
As bad as the A&M defense was in 2014 the one group that played well was the defensive line. The Aggies have two senior starters returning in defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and defensive end Julien Obioha, but the headliner of the group is Myles Garrett. Garrett had 53 tackles last year as true freshman, including 14.0 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks.
The big question about Garrett is can he produce the same big numbers in SEC play? As is the case with most true freshmen, he worn down as the season went on. He picked up two sacks against Lamar, 2.5 against Rice, 3.0 against Louisiana Monroe, and 0.5 against West Virginia. But in SEC play he had three sacks in eight games. Tough to needle his superb freshman All-American season but a bigger presence in tough SEC games will be needed by Garrett if the Aggies’ defense is going to be successful.
Texas A&M's 2015 Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Athlon Projected Rank|
|Sept. 5||vs. Arizona State*||13||9-3|
|Sept. 12||Ball State||94||6-6|
|Sept. 26||vs. Arkansas^||16||8-4|
|Oct. 3||Mississippi State||21||7-5|
|Oct. 24||at Ole Miss||11||9-3|
|Oct. 31||South Carolina||37||7-5|
|Nov. 14||Western Carolina||—||—|
|Nov. 21||at Vanderbilt||79||3-9|
|Nov. 28||at LSU||15||8-4|
*Game to be played in Houston; ^Little Rock, AR
Three Reasons Why Texas A&M Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. The Defensive Back Seven
Preseason expectations for the Aggies making a run in the SEC West are largely predicated on the “Chavis Effect.” The reality is A&M allowed 216 rushing yards (109th nationally) and 234.8 passing yards (80th) per game. This defense gave up 28.1 points per game (75th), and finished 102nd in FBS in total defense.
A one-year wonder turnaround can happen, just look at Arkansas’ defense. The Razorbacks finished 76th in total defense in 2013, but skyrocketed all the way to 10th last season under new coordinator Robb Smith. The rub for the Aggies is their style of offense and how quickly the back seven can adjust to Chavis’ style of play.
A&M is an up-tempo, quick-strike offense, which means more time on the field for the defense. This unit might need a year or two before becoming a true Chavis defense.
2. The Running Backs
Recruiting for the Aggies at the running back position has been up and down under Sumlin. In 2012, the recruiting class included 5-star running back prospect Trey Williams. In 2013, Sumlin signed 3-star James White, but no ball carriers were in the 2014 class. Two backs were part of the 2015 class — 4-star Kendall Bussey and 3-star Jay Bradford.
Williams is gone after a disappointing career at A&M, leaving seniors Tra Carson, last year’s leading rusher with 581 yards, along with Brandon Williams (379 yards) as the team’s only truly experienced backs. This lack of proven depth puts even more pressure on underclassmen to step up and become key contributors.
The good news for the Aggies is that running back is a position in the SEC where other young players have been able to have an immediate impact recently. Look no further than what LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb were able to do for their respective teams last season.
3. Offensive Line
For the running backs to have a good season the offensive line has to do a better job of run blocking. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has worked under some of the better offensive minds in the college game (Gus Malzahn, Dana Holgorsen, now Sumlin) but has to put a greater emphasis on the offensive line in both run and pass blocking.
Hill and Allen were sacked a combined 27 times in 2014, the fourth highest total in the SEC behind Tennessee (41), Kentucky (36) and Ole Miss (31). This also tied for No. 64 in the nation.
The sacks could be overlooked if the running game was not so anemic. A&M averaged 149.9 rushing yards per game (82nd in FBS), but this production dropped dramatically in conference play to just 107.2 ypg.
Third down conversions also hurt the Aggies all year, as the offense was unable to extend drives, especially in short-yardage situations. Auburn (.525) and Alabama (.515) led the conference and were in the top four in the nation in third down conversions. A&M converted just 40.8 percent of its third downs, placing the Aggies 63rd in FBS.
Texas A&M’s schedule, while difficult, could not be laid out any better. Sumlin’s team does not leave the state of Texas for a game until Oct. 27 to play Ole Miss. That’s the seventh game of a 12-game slate. The only other two games outside the state are at Vanderbilt and LSU.
The toughest stretch of the season begins when the Aggies travel to Houston to meet Arkansas. After playing the Razorbacks, A&M welcomes Mississippi State and Alabama then heads off to Ole Miss. The Aggies return home to face a humbled South Carolina team and a tough Auburn squad. The four swing games that A&M must split for a shot at winning the SEC West and staying in the Playoff hunt are Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. The other games on its slate should be winnable.
The Aggies also can make a very strong opening statement by defeating Arizona State in their season opener. But a loss doesn’t mean the end to A&M’s Playoff hopes either; as all could be forgotten if it goes on to win the SEC West and the championship game in Atlanta.
Finesse offenses can work in the SEC and on the national level if the defense can win a few games, pitching near shutouts or in A&M’s case holding a team to two scores. An 8-4 regular season finish for A&M seems like a fair projection until the nation can see the Chavis Effect.
If a running game is found, a little more toughness is instilled (especially up front), and the Aggies embrace Chavis’ defensive mindset, this team could win as many as 10 games and open a few eyes along the way.
— 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.
Projecting college football’s breakout players for any given season is no easy assignment. After all, each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races.
The SEC lost some big names at quarterback, which opens the door for new stars to emerge like Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s no shortage of talent for college football's No. 1 league in 2015. Texas A&M’s Otaro Alaka is a rising star in the sophomore ranks, while true freshman defensive tackle Trent Thompson is poised to be a key part of the line rotation for Georgia.
Predicting the SEC's Breakout Players for 2015
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Adams was an impact freshman for coach Les Miles in 2014, and the expectations are even higher for the Texas native in 2015. In 13 games last season, Adams recorded 66 tackles, one sack and five pass breakups. The sophomore is expected to start this year and help anchor a secondary that is among the best in college football.
Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M
New coordinator John Chavis inherits a defense that allowed 28.1 points per game last season but has promising young talent to build around. Alaka is one of the players for Texas A&M’s core on defense, as the Houston native had an underrated debut with the Aggies in 2014. As a true freshman, Alaka recorded 33 tackles in 12 games and also forced two fumbles. After earning Defensive MVP honors in the Liberty Bowl, Alaka is poised to push for All-SEC accolades this year.
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
Talented true freshman Kyler Murray is going to see some snaps this season, but Allen is expected to hold onto the starting spot this fall. Allen was one of the top quarterbacks in last year’s signing class and eventually replaced Kenny Hill as the Aggies’ starter. The Arizona native played in nine games and finished the year with 1,322 yards and 16 scores. Allen’s best performance came against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, tossing four scores in a 45-37 win by the Aggies.
Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia
Georgia’s receiving corps is a question mark, but the concerns over this unit could be eased if Blazevich is more involved in the passing attack in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Blazevich caught 18 passes for 269 yards and two scores. The North Carolina native should be in the mix for All-SEC honors in 2015.
Tony Bridges, CB, Ole Miss
The Rebels’ pass defense was among the stingiest in college football last season. While there’s a few personnel tweaks coming to the secondary in 2015, this unit should once again rank among the best in the nation. Bridges was a key pickup on the recruiting trail for coach Hugh Freeze, ranking as the No. 7 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer was a first-team NJCAA All-American last year and is penciled in as one starter at cornerback this season.
Nate Brown, WR, Missouri
There’s no shortage of available playing time in Missouri’s receiving corps in 2015. The Tigers must replace their top four statistical options in the passing game from 2014, with tight end Sean Culkin (20 catches) as the team’s most proven option. Brown played in nine games as a true freshman last season and caught five passes for 45 yards. He could emerge as the go-to target for quarterback Maty Mauk this fall.
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
If Dobbs picks up where he left off in 2014, Tennessee should be in the race to win the SEC East. Over the final six games of last season, Dobbs threw for 1,206 yards and nine scores and rushed for 469 yards and eight touchdowns. After posting big numbers against South Carolina and Kentucky in 2014, Dobbs is tasked with increasing his production against some of the SEC’s top defenses this year.
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
LSU isn’t hurting for talent at receiver, but the success of the passing attack heavily depends on the development of quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Dupre was a five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and played in 12 contests last year. The New Orleans native caught 14 passes for 318 yards and five scores in his first season on campus and could easily double those totals in 2015.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Foster is known for his punishing hits, but the junior could be much more than a highlight-reel player in 2015. The Alabama native played in 11 contests last year and recorded 22 stops and one sack. Foster is expected to push for a starting job on the interior of the Crimson Tide’s linebacking corps and is primed for his best season in Tuscaloosa.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2015
Robert Foster, WR, Alabama
Alabama’s passing attack has to be retooled this offseason. Quarterback Blake Sims has expired his eligibility, and the Crimson Tide must replace the top three receivers from last year, including No. 1 target Amari Cooper (124 catches in 2014). Foster could be the new go-to receiver for coordinator Lane Kiffin after catching six passes for 44 yards in nine games last season. The former five-star recruit is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have to replace some key pieces from last year’s defense, starting with star linebacker Benardrick McKinney. However, the linebacking corps has plenty of talent in place, and coordinator Manny Diaz has to be excited about the potential of Green and fellow freshman Leo Lewis. Green redshirted in 2014 and should push for a starting job in the fall.
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
Even though Shane Ray and Markus Golden have departed, there’s not a ton of concern at defensive end for Missouri. After all, the Tigers continue to produce standout ends under line coach Craig Kuligowski. All signs point to Harris as the next star off the edge. The sophomore played in all 14 games as a reserve last season and recorded 19 tackles and two sacks.
Jason Hatcher, LB/DE, Kentucky
With Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith off to the NFL, Kentucky is replacing two key members from a pass rush ranked No. 9 in the SEC in sacks last year. Needless to say, Dupree and Smith leave big shoes to fill, but there’s promise in the form of Hatcher. As a sophomore last year, Hatcher recorded 28 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. The hybrid end/linebacker is due for his best statistical year for coach Mark Stoops.
Bijhon Jackson, DT, Arkansas
With the departure of standouts Trey Flowers and Darius Philon, the Razorbacks are looking for new players to emerge up front. This group may not have a star performer in 2015, but Arkansas has solid depth and plenty of talent for coordinator Robb Smith. Jackson is a name to watch after playing in all 13 games as a true freshman last season. The Arkansas native finished 2014 with nine tackles and one pass breakup and will be a bigger part of the rotation in the trenches this year.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Johnson’s mention in this column should come as no surprise. The junior has received plenty of offseason hype, and all signs point to Johnson emerging as an All-SEC quarterback in 2015. In limited action over the last two seasons, Johnson has passed for 858 yards and nine scores.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Jalen Hurd returns after leading Tennessee with 899 rushing yards in 2014, but the Volunteers’ backfield will be even deeper with the addition of Kamara from the junior college ranks. Kamara started his career at Alabama and transferred after one year in Tuscaloosa. In nine games in 2014, Kamara rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 scores with Hutchinson Community College. Expect Kamara and Hurd to share the workload in Tennessee’s backfield, which has the potential to emerge as one of the best in the SEC this season.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s receiving corps was already one of the best in the nation, and the rich are about to get a little richer in 2015. True freshman Christian Kirk is expected to push for a starting job at one of the inside spots in Texas A&M’s receiver lineup. The Arizona native ranked as the No. 25 recruit in the 2015 247Sports and is expected to be one of the SEC’s top freshman performers in 2015.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2015
Marquavius Lewis, DE, South Carolina
Improving the performance of the defensive line is a huge priority for new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke this offseason. The Gamecocks registered only 14 sacks last year and surrendered 212.2 rushing yards per game. Lewis is expected to be an impact junior college recruit for Hoke after two standout years at Hutchinson Community College. The South Carolina native was the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year and registered 11 sacks in 2014.
Alex McCalister, DE/LB, Florida
The strength of Florida’s team in coach Jim McElwain’s first year clearly rests on a defense that allowed only 21.1 points per game in 2014. Seven starters are back for coordinator Geoff Collins, but standout end Dante Fowler must be replaced. However, the drop in pass rush may be minimal with McCalister’s emergence last year. The North Carolina native recorded 23 tackles and six sacks in 12 contests and is due for a bigger role in the trenches this fall.
Markell Pack, WR, Ole Miss
With Laquon Treadwell returning to full strength from a leg injury by the fall, along with the return of proven targets Cody Core and tight end Evan Engram, the Rebels should boast one of the top receiving corps in college football. This group could get even deeper if Pack continues to develop. As a true freshman in 2014, Pack caught 14 passes for 173 yards, with four of those coming in the bowl against TCU. After a strong finish to 2014, bigger things are expected of Pack in 2015.
Jamal Peters, S, Mississippi State
Mississippi State’s cornerback duo of Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond should be among the best in the SEC in 2015. But there’s some uncertainty at safety entering fall camp. Peters is a touted true freshman, ranking as the No. 58 recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite. The Mississippi native will compete for a starting job in the fall.
Ross Pierschbacher, OG, Alabama
Alabama must replace three starters on its line, but this unit already has two of the better building blocks in the SEC with the return of left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly. Pierschbacher is penciled in as a starter at one of the guard spots, and the Iowa native is ready to be a key contributor for Alabama’s offensive line after a redshirt year in 2014. Pierschbacher ranked as the No. 74 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite.
Brandon Powell, WR, Florida
The Gators are looking for a spark on offense after averaging 24.9 points in SEC games last season. Redshirt freshman Will Grier is the favorite to start at quarterback and could be another breakout candidate to monitor. However, Powell is an intriguing player for new coach Jim McElwain. A foot injury sidelined Powell for part of spring practice, but the sophomore made a successful transition from running back to receiver. He should be a solid No. 2 option in the receiving corps behind Demarcus Robinson.
Jovon Robinson, RB, Auburn
The Tigers have good depth at running back, but Robinson is likely to handle the bulk of the carries this season. The Memphis native ranked as the No. 1 junior college prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and rushed for 2,387 yards at Georgia Military College in 2013. Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber are expected to spell Robinson, but the junior college recruit will be tough to unseat at the top.
Related: SEC Football 2015 Predictions
Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State
Mississippi State already has one of the SEC’s top receiving corps, and this unit is going to benefit from the continued emergence of Ross this fall. In 13 games last season, Ross grabbed 30 passes for 489 yards and five scores. The 16.3 yards per catch average also ranked ninth among receivers in the SEC. Ross caught only nine passes as a freshman but showed steady progress as a sophomore and finished with 11 receptions over the final two games. Expect the junior to be more involved in the offense in 2015.
Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Pharoh Cooper is one of the SEC’s top playmakers, but South Carolina lacks proven options outside of its star receiver. Samuel is pushing for a starting spot after a redshirt year in 2014, and the South Carolina native finished spring by catching three passes for 94 yards in the final scrimmage.
Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas
The Razorbacks hope to upgrade their passing attack after managing only 188 yards per game last season. New coordinator Dan Enos needs more targets to emerge in the passing game to help quarterback Brandon Allen, and Sprinkle is a name to watch after a strong spring. Sprinkle caught seven passes for 84 yards and one score last year and should be more involved with the offense in 2015.
Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia
Thompson ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is expected to play a key role in Georgia’s defensive line rotation this fall. At 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, the Georgia native is a good fit as the anchor for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme.
Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt
Second-year coach Derek Mason is taking over the defensive play-calling after Vanderbilt allowed 33.3 points per game in 2014. Weatherly is one player for Mason to build around after the Georgia native recorded 55 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks last season. Mason needs edge rushers to emerge for the 3-4 approach to succeed this year, and Weatherly has the potential to double his sack total this fall.
Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky
If last season’s finale against Louisville was any indication of what to expect from Williams in 2015, the sophomore is in for a huge year. On 18 carries against the Cardinals, Williams recorded 126 rushing yards and two scores and caught three passes for 13 yards. Williams only received 74 carries, but he averaged a healthy 6.6 yards per carry and accumulated 115.9 all-purpose yards a game in 2014.
Jim Harbaugh posted a 44–19–1 record in four years in San Francisco, never had a losing record and took the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game three times. John Fox went 46–18 in four years in Denver, never had a losing record and took the Broncos to a Super Bowl. Yet, when Harbaugh and Fox parted ways with their teams after last season, the NFL reacted with a collective yawn.
“I’ve seen it too many times,” Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian says. “Who knows why these things change. There’s always internal dynamics that you can’t really put your finger on. That’s the way it looks. But it’s been done before, and I’m sure it’ll be done again.”
Harbaugh and Trent Baalke went through a messy divorce, with the coach claiming it was not nearly as mutual as the general manager depicted. Philosophical differences sent Harbaugh to the University of Michigan, leading to the 49ers’ elevation of little-known assistant Jim Tomsula to head coach.
Fox became the first Broncos coach in 30 years not to have final say in all football matters. And he and general manager John Elway eventually reached a point where they agreed to disagree, parting ways when the Broncos failed to get over the hump in three years with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. Fox moved on to Chicago, and Elway hired good buddy Gary Kubiak as the Broncos’ new head coach.
“In any relationship, whether it be player-coach, coach-GM, you’re always going to have bumpy patches,” Elway said at the press conference announcing Fox’s departure. “I think the main thing between John and I was we disagreed on how to get to the next level. We accomplished so much, four AFC West championships. But I think the biggest miss between us was how we can take that next step and what it was going to take to get to that next step. I think that’s where the disagreement came from.”
Why can’t they all just get along?
More than 21 years have passed since Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson parted ways. Yet, they continue to play tug-of-war over credit for the back-to-back Lombardi Trophies the Cowboys won with them. Their five-year relationship ended after a public feud, with Johnson claiming his “girlfriend knows more about football” than Jones, and Jones countering that “any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls.”
Johnson walked away with a $2 million payoff, and Jones’ Cowboys won another Super Bowl two years later with Barry Switzer as the coach. They haven’t won one since.
The coach Johnson succeeded in Dallas, Tom Landry, lasted 29 years with president/general manager Tex Schramm. Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo says his research revealed that the Landry-Schramm union stands as the only one in the modern era to last its whole tenure.
“Nobody was jealous of who got the credit,” says Gil Brandt, player personnel director for Dallas from 1960-89. “We got along even though we didn’t always agree. The funny thing is we all lived within a mile of one another. But I’ll say this: It was just a lot easier then than it is now with the salary cap and everything else that goes into it.”
The ugly divorces have become far more common than the long marriages. The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14–2 season and a one-and-done playoff exit in 2006, citing a “dysfunctional situation” between the coach and general manager A.J. Smith.
Sometimes the coach loses the battle; other times it’s the general manager who goes. The Titans fired Floyd Reese after the 2006 season to end a power struggle between the general manager and coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher worked with general managers Reese and Mike Reinfeldt and president/CEO Jeff Diamond during his 16 seasons in Houston/Tennessee. He enters his fourth season with Les Snead as his general manager in St. Louis.
“It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of trust,” Fisher says. “Communication is important. The responsibilities are so different. You have to share those responsibilities and respect those responsibilities. It starts from Day 1. There are going to be issues and disagreements.”
One of Bill Parcells’ most memorable lines came during his departure from the Patriots after the 1996 season when he said, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
Yet, Parcells’ Super Bowl titles came with George Young as his general manager.
Mike Holmgren, seeking more power, left Green Bay after the 1998 season despite going 75–37 with two Super Bowl appearances and a Vince Lombardi Trophy. With Ron Wolf having final say concerning personnel, Holmgren went to Seattle for the dual role. Yet, Holmgren ended up being stripped of his general manager title in Seattle, going 86–74 with one NFC title in his tenure as head coach.
It’s the reason few owners allow the coach to have control over all football decisions.
Bill Belichick, of course, wields the power in New England, with those around him understanding their roles. Nick Caserio, Belichick’s trusted right-hand man, recently signed a contract extension with the team through the 2020 season. Caserio enters his 15th season with the organization, including his eighth as the director of player personnel, apparently comfortable with Belichick getting most of the credit.
The Eagles became a coach-driven franchise this offseason when they gave coach Chip Kelly all-encompassing power. Howie Roseman lost his title of general manager, which included authority over the draft.
The Cowboys have operated the other way since Johnson left in 1994, with owner Jones also carrying the GM title and having final say. But most organizations split the duties between the general manager and the coach.
“I’ve never wanted the GM to have the authority to hire the coach,” Texans owner Bob McNair says. “I think that puts too much power in the hands of the GM. That’s still my responsibility. The GM and coach have to appreciate each other’s responsibility. They have to understand how we operate, and that they’ve got to get along with each other and respect each other and listen to each other.”
Breakups aren’t always over power. Sometimes, like in Dallas with Jones and Johnson, it comes down to credit.
“Ego,” says Angelo, who spent 11 seasons as the Bears’ general manager. “That’s what it is. It comes down to ego. Who’s getting the credit? The funny thing is, there is so much credit to go around when you’re winning. Everybody is getting the credit. But somebody always thinks they are getting the short straw. That’s unfortunate, because great teams, great organizations win it. It’s not a great coach or a great player or a great owner or a great general manager. It’s a combination of all those things. When one feels like he should be treated more special than the others, that’s when we have a problem.”
The friction between Jon Gruden and Rich McKay began almost the moment the Buccaneers acquired the coach in a trade with the Raiders. The Bucs won a Super Bowl in their only full season together, but Gruden ripped McKay’s personnel decisions and deactivated receiver Keyshawn Johnson. It led to a split in the middle of the 2003 season, with McKay leaving for a division rival, the Falcons, where he remains as their president/CEO.
Both Gruden and McKay continue to take the high road in discussing the fallout.
“It’s as simple as one word — trust,” McKay says. “I don’t think you need to go too far beyond that word. If you trust each other and your agendas are the same — and they’re always the same — then you have a great opportunity for success. As soon as it becomes clear to one of them, whether real or not, that there are different agendas, they can’t necessarily trust them in the way their message is being conveyed to some other party — whether it’s the media, another coach or whoever that may be — then you’ve got a problem. Trust has to be built. The way trust is built up is you work together, and you make concessions together. You don’t go in and say, ‘We’ve got to have this defensive end.’ You go in and say, ‘We want this defensive end. This is why I like him. This is the case for him.’ Then, when I give you a counter-case, you’ve got to take that into account, and you have to reach a joint decision. Trust will go away if one or the two of you decides to become the unilateral decider of fact.”
Sometimes the general manager and coach have different outlooks. Coaches, who generally don’t last long with one team, have a goal of winning now. They rarely are promised next year. General managers, who often have longer leashes, might look more toward the future. They build with a long-term plan in mind.
“There are a lot of dynamics,” Snead, the Rams’ general manager, says. “…You’re trying to come up with the best solution to a problem, so you talk through the different points of view. Often, it’s the head coach going to his staff and the general manager going to his staff to get other points of view and trying to mesh those together to make the best decisions for the organization.”
Most view the Steelers as the model organization. They have had only three head coaches since 1969, and since owner Dan Rooney gave up his general manager duties after the 1970 season, the Steelers have had only three general managers or de facto general managers.
Bill Walsh served as head coach/GM during his 10 years with the 49ers, winning three Super Bowls. In his book, Building a Champion, Walsh wrote of the relationship between general managers and coaches: “The advantage of having a coach and a general manager is obvious: You have two people with clearly defined responsibilities who can concentrate on their individual areas of expertise. There’s certainly enough work for two men.”
If the team wins, there’s credit enough to go around, too.
“Everyone has to check their egos at the door,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid says, “and they have to do what it takes to work together.”
-By Charean Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
All work and no play makes the Buckeyes some very dull boys.
The national champs, including Cardale Jones, were pranked by a fake mannaquin in the team's practice facility. Ohio State will be sure to stay on their toes this season.