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Path: /college-football/minnesota-unveils-alternate-helmet-2014
Body:

Minnesota became the latest team to unveil an alternate helmet for the 2014 season, as the school released photos of a gold design slated to appear a few games this year.

The traditional “M” logo appears on the sides, and there’s a stripe down the middle featuring the Ski-U-Mah slogan.

Check out a for 2014:

Teaser:
Minnesota Unveils Alternate Helmet for 2014
Post date: Monday, August 18, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-15-must-see-games-2014
Body:

Many believe that the Big 12 is a two-horse race in 2014.

 

While that is likely true, the rest of the conference is going to be extremely entertaining. Kansas State, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State all believe they can step into that two-horse race and — because of the beauty of a true round-robin schedule — all five will get to face each other this fall.

 

It means that fans nationally should be paying attention to the Big 12 every Saturday. Here are the top 15 must-see Big 12 games in 2014.

 

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 8)

The Bears have never won in 11 tries in Norman and the Big 12 title likely hangs in the balance on Nov. 8 when Art Briles brings his squad into Memorial Stadium. This was a 29-point blowout in favor of Baylor last year in Waco but both teams will be different this fall. Bryce Petty will have to be near perfect and the BU defense must develop before November if it wants to win this marquee showdown.

 

2. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 11, Dallas)

The Red River Shootout (no, I don’t call it the Rivalry) enters a new era with a new chapter as Charlie Strong takes part in his first Cotton Bowl showdown. Texas won this game inexplicably a year ago and the Sooners should be plenty motivated to get revenge against a first-year coach. For better or worse, Strong’s work with the offensive line will be on full display.

 

3. Baylor at Texas (Oct. 4)

The Bears topped both Texas and Oklahoma at home last year but to repeat as Big 12 champs, Briles’ bunch must top both conference powers on the road this fall. The Bears have won in Austin before but this isn’t Mack Brown's Longhorns anymore. As far as early-season conference games go, this one is fascinating.

 

4. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Arlington)

UCLA has Pac-12 South Division title hopes and possibly more as Brett Hundley enters his third season under center. Texas will be three weeks into the Charlie Strong Era in Austin and will provide a nasty early-season test for the Bruins on a “neutral" field in Dallas. Both teams have outside chances at landing a spot the College Football Playoff and an early-season slip up must be avoided for both programs.

 

5. Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)

Gus Malzahn's offense led by Nick Marshall and a deep receiving corps faces Bill Snyder's defensive wizardry on the road on a Thursday night. Both teams will have extra time to prepare for the primetime mid-week meeting and both will be contenders for their respective conference championships. From a coaching standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Malzahn vs. Snyder.

 

6. Kansas State at Oklahoma (Oct. 18)

Many people believe that Kansas State could be the top challenger to the Sooners and Bears. However, the Wildcats must face both on the road. This was a 41-31 home loss for Bill Snyder a year ago and it was KSU’s only loss in the final seven games of the season. Going on the road will be even more difficult.

 

7. Kansas State at Baylor (Dec. 6)

Everything written above about KSU at Oklahoma applies to the trip to Waco as well. Kansas State had the Bears beat through three quarters but allowed Bryce Petty to bring Baylor back in the final period and secure a key road victory (35-25). Again, Snyder will have to be at his best to win on the road against Briles.

 

8. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Dec. 6)

This was a fantastic game a year ago and normally is one of the best in the league. With Oklahoma State taking a small step back into rebuilding mode this fall, the Bedlam Series doesn’t carry the same national weight as usual. But this is still an intense in-state rivalry and Mike Gundy would love nothing more than to knock the Sooners out of playoff contention with a road win over Bob Stoops.

 

9. Texas at Kansas State (Oct. 25)

The Wildcats were more than just a thorn in Mack Brown’s side, Kansas State owned the Longhorns. Before last year’s 31-21 win in Austin, the Wildcats had won five straight and seven out of nine against mighty Texas. So going to Manhattan, Kan., in October will be a huge moment in Strong’s first season.

 

10. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (No. 15)

The Red Raiders host both Texas and Oklahoma this fall and Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch is more than capable of pulling off an upset (or two). This offense is electric and nearly beat the Sooners in Norman last fall. Expect plenty of fireworks late in the season out in Lubbock.

 

11. BYU at Texas (Sept. 6)

A revenge opportunity for the Burnt Orange players and a chance for Strong to land his first big win as the head coach. Especially, the way quarterback Taysom Hill and the Cougars abused the Longhorns' rushing defense a year ago.

 

12. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 4)

The Horned Frogs played in a lot of close games last season, including a narrow loss to the Sooners in Norman. Now, Oklahoma has to come to Fort Worth to face a much-improved TCU squad.

 

13. Texas at Texas Tech (Nov. 1)

Just like Oklahoma, Texas must travel to Lubbock in November to take on what could be the league’s top passing attack. This has upset alert written all over it.

 

14. Oklahoma State at Baylor (Nov. 22)

Revenge should be on the mind of Baylor when they welcome the Pokes to new McLane Stadium in the penultimate game of the year. Ok-State won 49-17 over Baylor last fall.

 

15. Baylor vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 29, Arlington)

If you like points and passing games, then look no further than this late-season matchup in Arlington. Davis Webb and Bryce Petty will be on full display. These two scored 97 points last meeting.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

16. TCU at Baylor (Oct. 11)

17. Kansas State at TCU (Nov. 8)

18. Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Nov. 1)

19. Arkansas at Texas Tech (Sept. 13)

20. TCU at Texas (Nov. 27)

21. Texas Tech at Kansas State (Oct. 4)

22. Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (Sept. 25)

23. Oklahoma State at TCU (Oct. 18)

24. Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 25)

25. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 13)

Teaser:
The Big 12's Top 15 Must-See Games of 2014
Post date: Monday, August 18, 2014 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/comparing-all-2014-preseason-college-football-rankings-and-picks
Body:

For Athlon Sports, the offseason is one of our favorite times of the year.

Of course, we enjoy the season as much as any crazed college football fan, but the bread-and-butter for Athlon since 1967 has been helping readers prepare for the season, helping them get to know the teams and players they need to watch.

This is the time of year we get to share our preseason annuals, our national edition and regional previews for five conferences. Countless hours of study and work from dozens of individuals went into the 2014 editions, and we still have room for debate on the outlook for every team.

Of course, Athlon isn’t the only publication out there. And just like anyone we like to compare how everyone evaluates the season ahead. Here’s how the top 25 and conference champions shook out in the various publications.

We’ll continue to update the grid as more rankings are released through the offseason.

 

 2014 Preseason College Football Rankings
 
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3
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5
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7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
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18
19
20
21
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23
24
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2014 Conference Champion Picks
 
ACC
Atlantic

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)
ACC
Coastal
AAC
Big 12
Big Ten
East

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)
Big Ten
West
C-USA
East

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)
C-USA
West
MAC
East

(champion)

(champion)
MAC
West

(champion)
MW
Mountain

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)
MW
West
Pac-12
North

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)
Pac-12
South
SEC
East
SEC
West

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)

(champion)
Sun Belt

 

Teaser:
Comparing All 2014 Preseason College Football Rankings and Picks
Post date: Monday, August 18, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning, NFL, Monthly
Path: /nfl/peyton-manning-running-out-time
Body:

The one thing Peyton Manning wanted most is the one thing he didn’t do. He broke so many records, shattered so many expectations last season. Then the Seattle Seahawks defense shattered his championship dreams.


When the 43–8 beat-down in Super Bowl XLVIII was over, and the Seahawks had lowered their “Legion of Boom” defense on what might have been the best offense the NFL has ever known, Manning was left with an empty feeling, despite all he had accomplished. He set records for, among other things, single-season passing touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477). The 76 touchdowns and 606 points scored by the Broncos were NFL records, too.


Peyton ManningBut at age 38, it remains all about the ring for the man who is arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation. And after the devastating way last season ended, it’s left some wondering if there’s any way he can do it again.


“If it was anyone else, you’d say there’s no way, especially after the way it ended,” says one NFL executive. “But do you really want to bet against Peyton Manning?”


The Broncos are attempting to do what no team has done since the 1972 Miami Dolphins — win the Super Bowl one year after losing it. No Super Bowl loser has even made it back to the Super Bowl the following year since the 1993 Buffalo Bills.


“You have to kind of re-establish your identity of the 2014 team,” Manning says. “The 2013 team, it was a good season in a lot of ways. There is no question it did not end the way we wanted it to, but we have to find a way to build off that and take a step further — try to finish.”


Manning’s legacy is secure, but even he knows what another championship could do. His Super Bowl — in which he went 34-of-49 for 280 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — added fuel to his critics’ fire. That’s why even though John Fox lauded Manning for “maybe the most productive season in the history of the league a year ago,” he made sure to add that for the Broncos, “all the eggs are in the basket for ’14, and we’re doing everything we can to bring that championship back here to Denver.”


“With Peyton, there is no question, you never know how much longer he’s going to be around,” adds Broncos VP John Elway. “So in the mind, there is some urgency.”


That’s why they need Manning to produce another miracle. He led the Broncos to the Super Bowl just two years after neck surgery nearly ended his career prematurely. Now he needs to do it again, before his career finally runs out of time.

 

—by Ralph Vacchiano

Teaser:
The one thing Peyton Manning wanted most is the one thing he didn’t do. He broke so many records, shattered so many expectations last season. Then the Seattle Seahawks defense shattered his championship dreams.
Post date: Sunday, August 17, 2014 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, High School
Path: /caviezel
Body:

Playing an iconic coach in a sports movie isn’t an easy task, especially if that coach happens to be in the audience.

 

Just ask actor Jim Caviezel, 45, who spent months in front of the camera capturing the emotions and dedication of legendary high school football coach Bob Ladouceur in the new movie “When the Game Stands Tall.” 

 

From 1979 until his retirement in 2013, Ladouceur, now 60, built a machine at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle High School. Although Ladouceur stressed teamwork over winning, his teams achieved an astonishing national record of 151 consecutive wins from 1992 through 2004.

 

To get inside the coach’s mind, we made Caviezel — best known for portraying the title role in 2004’s “The Passion of Christ” — an honorary reporter for Athlon Sports and had him interview Ladouceur.

 

Here are the highlights from their conversation:

 

Jim Caviezel: You’re not the type of person to say you’re going to win this many games in a row. Winning games was not something you stressed. The world does it completely different. How did you form your approach to coaching?

 

Bob Ladouceur: I played on teams in high school and college that were good role models. They were team-oriented. I was trained by coaches who said this is a team sport and you shouldn’t be overly concerned about who is getting credit or if you’re the star. It’s mostly what can you contribute to a team.

 

Caviezel: When I talked about playing the De La Salle football coach, people said they remembered when the win streak happened. When did the win streak get to a point where you knew that people were tracking it week to week?

 

Ladouceur: I really blocked it out. I never talked about the streak to the kids. I rarely talked about winning to the kids. I did when we got close to the state record or the national record, maybe a couple of games before. There were probably only four weeks in the whole thing that I really paid attention to it.

 

Caviezel: How did you feel when you learned there was going to be a movie about your career and your life?

 

Ladouceur: I have to admit that I wasn’t really excited about it. I always preach to the kids about humility and not singling yourself out or not making a show of your accomplishments. I like the movie. Hopefully, it will be taken as, these guys approach (the game) in a different way. These guys are looking for more than wins. They’re looking for a band of brothers.”

 

Caviezel: The hardest movies to make are the ones where the guy you’re playing is alive because you know there’s a foundation outside (the film). There’s a script outside. The most important question I’m leading to is: Did I do OK?

 

Ladouceur: I always thought — in any sports movie — that whoever takes on the role of playing the coach has a lot of guts. That’s a tough role to play and to make it believable and not schmaltzy or choreographed. Everybody who has seen the film said you did a good job of playing me. They said you stayed true to the character. That’s a great compliment because I feel like I’m a hard guy to play. All coaches are complex in some way. They’re hard to figure. There’s a lot of angst and a lot of other things in a coach’s life in the way he does business. What a hard role to play, and I think you did a good job.

Teaser:
Actor Jim Caviezel chats with the coaching legend he portrays on film.
Post date: Saturday, August 16, 2014 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Monthly
Path: /mlb/tips-how-hit-softball-out-park
Body:

Almost every has one guy who seems to swing effortlessly and drive the ball over the fence. Well, it’s time for you to be that guy. To help you become your team’s “Sultan of Swat,” we talked to Team USA Softball star (and power hitter) Brian Wegman to get his advice on how to hit the long ball.

 

Tips to Hit a Softball Out of the Park

Biceps are Overrated

“When I first started playing, I wanted the beach muscles, so my workout plan was all about the biceps, triceps and chest. By my fourth year, I switched to core training with more deadlifts, squats, lower back and abs. The total body strength has really helped me with my power.”

 

Body Control

“Being able to use your body weight and the explosion of your swing together is what separates a good swing from a great one. My hips will start to go forward before my hands move. By the time I start my swing, I’ve already transferred approximately 65 percent of my body weight from my back leg to my front leg.”

 

Even Keel

“Swinging up at a high-arc pitch is a common error. If you miss the center of the ball and hit the top half of it, the ball will go down. However, if you keep a line drive swing you can more easily hit the bottom half of a softball, which creates backspin, distance and carry.”


Wait for It

“I have no problem swinging at the first pitch, but it has to be my kind of pitch. If it’s not, I will let it go by, even if I take an outside strike.”

 

—By Billy Brown

Teaser:
Tips on How to Hit a Softball Out of the Park
Post date: Saturday, August 16, 2014 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Buffalo Bills, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-2014-team-preview-and-predictions
Body:

Many NFL teams adopt a “playoffs or bust’’ mentality, but how many actually live it? With the franchise for sale and its future uncertain following the death of team founder Ralph C. Wilson Jr., in March, the Buffalo Bills seem to be going for broke.

 

How the front office, coaching staff and players want to honor their departed patriarch is clear. “It’s one word: win,’’ president and CEO Russ Brandon says. “The only thing Mr. Wilson was focused on was winning.’’

 

Unfortunately for the franchise and its fans, the Bills have missed the playoffs for a league-high 14 consecutive seasons.

 

Employing an aggressive attitude to pay tribute to Wilson and stop this dubious streak, Brandon and general manager Doug Whaley made a series of bold free-agent moves and trades, none larger than sending a 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland to move up five spots in the draft and select the top wide receiver available in Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.

 

OFFENSE

The Bills have made it clear that they are all in with EJ Manuel as their starting quarterback. Not only did they hand him the top playmaker in the draft in Watkins, but they also added blocking depth and didn’t draft another quarterback to compete with him.

 

Manuel, the only first-round QB in 2013, set a Bills rookie record with 11 touchdown passes. But he missed six games with knee injuries, raising questions about his durability. If he’s not healthy, he won’t have a chance to fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback. With his size, arm strength and work ethic, all the tools are there.

 

Manuel and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will have a true No. 1 receiver in Watkins. The Bills did not have a player in the NFL’s top 50 in receptions as veteran Stevie Johnson, since traded to San Francisco, proved incapable of giving Manuel a dominant game-changing target. Watkins, who had 240 career receptions and set 23 school records at Clemson, has the potential to be that guy. He has elite ability to go up and snare passes and make things happen after the catch, and he instantly upgrades Buffalo’s 28th-ranked passing game.

 

With Watkins drawing coverage, Robert Woods, the first Bills rookie with 40 catches since Lee Evans in 2004, figures to blossom, as does second-year pro Marquise Goodwin. The wild card is former Buc Mike Williams, who is looking to salvage his career under Doug Marrone, his college coach at Syracuse. Former Orange star Rob Moore is Marrone’s new receivers coach.

 

Tight end remains a pedestrian position with no real playmakers, but Buffalo continues to field one of the NFL’s most potent rushing attacks, led by Fred Jackson’s between-the-tackles power and C.J. Spiller’s speed to the outside. They combined for 1,823 yards. A draft weekend trade with Philadelphia for Bryce Brown was a major upgrade in depth.

 

Buffalo’s line is led by top center Eric Wood and left tackle Cordy Glenn, who figures to be better in his third season in the league. Overall, however, things regressed in 2013 with Buffalo allowing 48 sacks and converting just 34 percent of its third downs. That’s thrown some jobs open for competition. St. Louis free agent Chris Williams will get a chance to win the starting left guard spot from Doug Legursky, and giant-sized rookies Cyrus Kouandjio (second round) and Seantrel Henderson (seventh round) will push veteran Erik Pears at right tackle.

 

DEFENSE

The Bills lost highly respected coordinator Mike Pettine, who was hired by the Browns as their head coach. But Marrone reacted quickly, signing Jim Schwartz, the ex-Detroit Lions head coach, to run his defense and hiring two other strong defensive assistants in Pepper Johnson (defensive line) and Fred Pagac (linebackers). Pettine ran a hybrid 3-4 scheme, which failed to solve Buffalo’s run-stopping problems but greatly improved its pass rush. Led by three players with 10 sacks or more, the Bills set a club record with 57 sacks and led the AFC. On the back end, Buffalo recorded 23 interceptions, second-most in the league.

 

Schwartz favors a 4-3 alignment but won’t try to fix what’s not broken and will incorporate some of Pettine’s ideas that favored Buffalo’s personnel so well. The Bills had 41 sacks from defensive linemen, led by Mario Williams (13), Kyle Williams (10.5), Jerry Hughes (10) and Marcell Dareus (7.5). In Schwartz’s scheme, strong-side linebacker Manny Lawson (4.0 sacks) will play end while solid backups Alan Branch and Corbin Bryant kick inside to tackle. Their value to the team will rise depending on the fate of Dareus, who is facing a league suspension after being arrested in Alabama on felony drug charges.

 

A big part of Buffalo’s pass-rush success is solid cover corners, and the team returns two strong ones in Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, two former first-round picks. ­McKelvin justified his four-year, $17 million deal with his best season. Free agent Corey Graham from Baltimore adds great depth and versatility.

 

The big loss was letting Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd ($54 million deal with Saints) depart in free agency. Byrd is one of the NFL’s great ball-hawks and will be missed. Da’Norris Searcy has talent and will have his first chance to start full time. Aaron Williams, converted from corner, found a home at strong safety and returns to man that spot.

 

The Bills need greatly improved play from their linebacker corps, especially considering the season-ending ACL injury Kiko Alonso suffered during a workout in July. Alonso led the team with 159 tackles and added four interceptions last season in a sparkling rookie debut. Nigel Bradham, Alonso's potential replacement as a starter, will miss the season opener for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. Free agent Brandon Spikes, one of the game’s best run-stoppers, will man the middle. Spikes, who signed a one-year, $3-million deal, wore out his welcome in New England and is motivated to land a long-term contract. Giants free agent Keith Rivers will get a chance to nail down an outside position. 

 

SPECIALISTS

Former Dolphin Dan Carpenter, who signed as a free agent, turned one of the best seasons in Bills’ kicking history into a four-year, $9 million contract. Carpenter converted 33-of-36 field-goal attempts, including 4-of-6 from beyond 50 yards. In a surprising move, the Bills retained career punting leader Brian Moorman, 38, who rejoined the club last October. Moorman averaged just 36.6 net yards, and his 41.2-yard average ranked among the worst in the league. He’ll have to hold off Jake Dombrowski to win the job in camp. Goodwin returns to man kickoff return duties — he averaged 21.9 yards — and McKelvin will handle punts again.    

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Flipping 6–10 to 10–6 will take more consistency from the offense and better run play by the defense. Ultimately, it’s on Manuel to take this opportunity, stay healthy and prove he’s the franchise quarterback the team needs so desperately. With no first-round pick in 2015 and a future new owner to impress, there is immense pressure on Manuel and the front office to win now.

 

PREDICTION: 3rd in AFC East

Teaser:
Buffalo Bills 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, St. Louis Rams, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-2014-team-preview-and-predictions
Body:

In their first two years on the job, coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have brought the Rams back to respectability, a commendable achievement in itself given the sad state of the franchise when they arrived in 2012. All along, they’ve pointed to Year 3 of their rebuilding project — the 2014 season — as the year to get over the hump. The year to end what is now a string of 10 straight seasons without a winning record. The year the blockbuster “RGIII Trade” with Washington would bear its last fruit. Well, here we are. The selection of offensive lineman Greg Robinson represented the last piece of property gained in return for giving the Redskins the right to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III. It’s time to see results in St. Louis.

 

OFFENSE

The Rams were forced to start a backup quarterback for more than half of the 2013 season and played nine top-10 defenses, yet they still scored their most points since 2006. But the bar has been set pretty low. They need to find another field goal here, another touchdown there to push their way into the postseason. The approach to that task involves two potential risks — sticking with Sam Bradford at quarterback and standing pat at wide receiver in a draft in which Sammy Watkins was there for the taking. Those are the kinds of decisions that can lead to contract extensions if they work, but pink slips if they don’t. 

 

Bradford was headed to a career year statistically when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 7 at Carolina. He was nearly at full strength during OTAs, so his status for the regular-season opener is not in question. His group of pass-catchers — wideouts, tight ends and running backs included — needs to provide more help by minimizing drops and doing a better job of creating separation. Chris Givens failed to make a leap after a strong rookie season. He caught only 34 passes for 569 yards last season. Tavon Austin, a 2013 first-round pick, needs to polish his craft in every area, and the coaching staff must do a better job of utilizing his skills. Brian Quick is talented but has yet to catch more than 18 passes in a season. Kenny Britt, signed as a free agent, had flashes of brilliance during his five years with the Titans but lacked consistency and had difficulty staying out of trouble. Tight end Jared Cook, another former Titan drafted by Fisher, had a career-high 51 catches in his first season with the Rams, but he too needs to be more consistent.

 

The Rams are well stocked at running back, with third-round draft pick Tre Mason, the former Auburn star, joining Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, and Isaiah Pead. The addition of Robinson in the draft provides power to an offensive line that must grind out yards on the ground and keep Bradford from hitting the ground.

 

DEFENSE

The Rams already had arguably the best defensive end tandem in the league in Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Now they’re adding the best interior pass-rusher in the 2014 draft in tackle Aaron Donald. And let’s not forget what could be the biggest offseason addition of all — Gregg Williams as the Rams’ new defensive coordinator. This was supposed to happen a couple of seasons ago when Fisher first took the job. But less than two months after being hired by Fisher during the 2011-12 offseason, Williams was suspended by the league for a year for his role in the “Bountygate” scandal in New Orleans. That led to a falling out between Fisher and Williams, one that included Fisher’s ouster of Williams’ son Blake after the ’12 season. But the two long-time friends patched things up in January, and two years later Williams finally gets to work his magic on the St. Louis defense.

 

The cornerstone will be that defensive line, which also includes two solid tackles in Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, plus a superb utility man in end William Hayes. The Rams have five first-round picks in their front seven.

 

The linebacker corps returns all three starters in James Laurinaitis (middle), Alec Ogletree (weak side) and Jo-Lonn Dunbar (strong side). Ogletree had a strong rookie year and has big-play potential. Laurinaitis remains dependable, durable and productive.

 

Williams will earn his pay trying to get the secondary up to snuff. The entire unit has only 71 games’ worth of NFL starting experience. Starting corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson remain raw and mistake-prone. And at safety, starters T.J. McDonald (strong) and Rodney McLeod (free) are far from finished products. It’s not going to work unless the entire secondary cuts down on mistakes and does a better job avoiding big plays. Rookie LaMarcus Joyner, who will play nickel back, must make an instant contribution.

 

SPECIALISTS

The Rams are close to becoming one of the best special teams units in the league. Fewer penalties and a little more juice in the return game can make that happen. Austin has flashes of brilliance on punt returns as evidenced by a long TD against Indianapolis and a TD called back against Dallas last year. He’s a slithery change-of-direction demon who needs just a little daylight to make a lot happen. Meanwhile, the Rams have been searching for a dynamic kickoff returner since the days of Tony Horne and the Greatest Show on Turf. There is no clear-cut favorite for that job, and it’s a certainty there will be auditions throughout the preseason. Cunningham, a backup running back, doesn’t look or run like a classic kickoff returner, but he has shown a knack for at least providing decent field position.

 

Punter Johnny Hekker and placekicker Greg Zuerlein are developing into a consistent, productive pair. Hekker has that rare combination of hang time, distance and directional skill, setting an NFL record for net punting (44.2 yards) a year ago. Zuerlein was nearly automatic in ’13, avoiding the midseason slump of his rookie campaign. He’s got one of the league’s strongest legs.    

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Improvement is needed at wide receiver and tight end. An offensive line that includes three players with recent injury histories — Jake Long, Rodger Saffold and Scott Wells — needs to stay healthy. It’s shaping up as a make-or-break year for Bradford, who’s had injury issues of his own in two of his four Rams seasons. There’s nothing but inexperience in the secondary and next to no depth at linebacker. OK, the D-line has the makings of “great.” Still that’s a lot of “ifs” for what figures to be the youngest team in the NFL for the third consecutive season. And in case you’ve forgotten, the Rams reside in the toughest neighborhood of all, the NFC West. Throw in a non-division schedule that includes Denver, Kansas City, and Philadelphia — all playoff teams from a year ago — and the Rams may need more than a GPS tracker to find the postseason.

 

PREDICTION: 4th in NFC West

Teaser:
St. Louis Rams 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/top-40-impact-freshman-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch this fall?

 

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

The conversation about 2014's top freshmen not only in the SEC but in the nation begins with the No. 1 prospect in the class. From a power and speed standpoint, Fournette might be the closest thing college football has seen Adrian Peterson began his career at Oklahoma over a decade ago. He is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sure thing and is likely a front-runner for national freshman of the year.

 

2. Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama

The mammoth 6-foot-6 freshman from West Monroe (La.) High School was the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the nation. He enrolled early and has already been working with the first team offense for most of the summer. How many national title contenders will have a true freshman anchoring the left tackle position?

 

3. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

The uber-recruit from Immokalee (Fla.) High redshirted a year ago and is ready to fulfill his lofty recruiting expectations. He’s gained some weight and will be charged with protecting the back end of a defense littered with seniors.

 

4. Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State

After experiencing some speed bumps in the recruiting process, Thomas is finally ready to contribute in Tallahassee. He has freakish ability and is slated to start alongside Terrance Smith. Jimbo Fisher has proven he will ask big things of first-year starters and Thomas is the next in line.

 

5. Adoree Jackson, ATH, USC

For lack of a better term, Coach Steve Sarkisian adores his true freshman, do-everything dynamo. Jackson is penciled in as the star kick returner but will also get carries as a running back, catch passes as a receiver and could even get reps as a defensive back. Coach Sark will use Jackson in any and all ways this fall because it looks like the freshman can handle it.

 

6. Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

This list has to begin with the Charles Woodson clone in Ann Arbor. He will begin his career as the nickelback but could easily work into a starting role on defense. Peppers, in true Woodson fashion, is a dynamic return specialist and don’t be surprised if he gets some snaps on offense as well. He was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2014 class for a reason.

 

7. Khaliel Rodgers, OL, USC

Rodgers, a four-star member of the 2013 class, has been through two springs and was considered the best center in the nation two years ago. He is penciled in at the pivot currently. Toa Lobendahn was a four-star early enrollee this spring and is currently holding the starting left guard position. The Trojans' front line is extremely talented, but also extremely inexperienced.

 

8. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

The five-star safety from Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside is slotted to start the moment he steps onto a college field for the first time. He has veterans to learn from but the 6-foot-4, 210-pound dynamo could be a savior at the back end of the Cavaliers' defense.

 

9. Ricky Seals-Jones | Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Seals-Jones was a five-star top 25 prospect in the 2013 class. He redshirted last year after catching three passes in two games early in the year. His massive frame is a mismatch nightmare for most SEC defenses. Packaged with the smaller, more explosive and versatile Noil, this duo could easily develop into one of the SEC's best.

 

10. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

A man among boys, McDowell has rare size (6-6, 295) and quickness for such a young player. With an injury to Damon Knox, Pat Narduzzi needs McDowell to be ready to start sooner rather than later. He may not start the opener but he will be major factor for the Spartans this fall.

 

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11. Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

There was a reason Henry was the No. 1-rated player in the state of Pennyslvania last year. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety has been working with the starters at free safety before camp even opened. He can cover a lot of ground and has proven he should be on the field as much as possible early on in his career.

 

12. Myles Garrett | Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M

The only player rated ahead of Garrett in the national recruiting rankings was Fournette. The freakish 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is set to carve out a critical role for a defensive line in desperate need of development. Garrett and former four-star redshirt freshman Justin Manning are two names who should establish themselves as future All-SEC types in 2014.

 

13. Damian Prince | Derwin Gray, OL, Maryland

Both Prince and Gray are in the heat of two position battles for starting time up front for the Terps. Prince (6-5, 295) was recently moved to guard and is the odds-on favorite to earn the starting job. Gray (6-5, 295) is battling Ryan Doyle for the starting right tackle spot. Both Prince and Gray are dramatically more talented options but need to catch on quickly to start all year.


14. Ermon Lane | Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

There is plenty of space in the offense behind senior Rashad Greene and both Lane (6-3, 205) and Rudolph (6-2, 185) have been exceptional in fall camp. Greene and quarterback Jameis Winston have had glowing things to say about the two tall playmakers.

 

15. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation is a tall, pocket passer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain. The 6-foot-3 signal-caller is a student of the game and is battling Kenny Hill for full-time starting duties in College Station. Many believe Allen is the future and will eventually wrestle the starting job away from Hill permanently.

 

16. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

The star tailback from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom is currently sitting on the sidelines in Norman but was the top-rated recruit in the Big 12 for a reason. He has special ability and would figure into the starting running back situation if he can get onto the field. He has been suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into an altercation that took place in late July.

 

17. Jamal Adams, S, LSU

In just a few trips to the practice field, Adams already has Les Miles raving about his overall ability. The big-time defensive back prospect is already working with the starting defensive unit for coordinator John Chavis and is set to become the next in a ridiculously impressive run of elite secondary players for LSU.

 

18. Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

The Nashville product is every bit of 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and he stands out on Tennessee's practice field. He's dealt with some health issues during his outstanding prep career, but if he can stay on the field, his rare combination of size and speed makes him an instant impact player for Butch Jones — both as a runner and pass-catcher.

 

19. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The No. 2-rated recruit in the Big Ten was the top inside linebacker in the nation and he is already pressing for starting reps in Columbus. The 242-pounder is breathing down Curtis Grant’s neck at MLB and should see plenty of snaps all year long. The early enrollee is the next great tackling star for Ohio State.

 

20. Jermaine Kelly, DB, Washington

Baker is the highest-rated member of the 2014 Husky class and has already earned a spot in the two-deep at safety. Kelly, a redshirt freshman, is slotted to start at cornerback for new coach Chris Petersen and his reworked secondary. Look for both Kelly and true freshman Budda Baker to lead a group of defensive backs that could feature half a dozen young contributors.

 

21. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

Arkansas State head coach and former UNC assistant Blake Anderson told me last week that Hood is as ready made as any true freshman in the ACC. There is a crowded backfield in Chapel Hill but the 220-pounder might be the most talented of the bunch.

 

22. Jalen Tabor, DB, Florida

Both enrolled early in January and both will compete for the starting spot opposite All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. The loser of that battle will likely be the top nickelback — a position that is almost a starter in the modern SEC. Tabor is slightly more talented and fits better as a corner, while the more physical Duke Dawson has the ability to make plays around the line of scrimmage. Florida is the LSU of the East in terms of producing defensive backs.

 

23. Chikwe Obasih | Alec James, DL, Wisconsin

The Badgers could feature two redshirt freshman starting defensive ends in Week 1 against LSU. Obasih (6-2, 245) and James (6-3, 239) are undersized but both bring a quickness off the edge Wisconsin hasn’t had in years. Obasih was the starter throughout spring camp and James, a converted outside backer, has risen quickly into a starting role. There will be a rotation up front this fall but expect both Obasih and James to finish the year as the starters.

 

24. JuJu Smith, ATH, USC

Who knows what side of the ball it will be on but Smith appears to be earmarked for a large role as just a true freshman. He’s already gotten rave reviews as a wide receiver but rumors are swirling about the electric player switching to defensive back to start at nickelback. Wherever he lines up, keep an eye on the explosive youngster.

 

25. D.J. Calhoun, LB, Arizona State

One of three ASU early enrollees, Calhoun has shot up the depth chart to earn a potential starting spot at outside linebacker. His quickness and size allows him to be moved all over the formation. He will battle all fall camp to hold onto that starting spot and will undoubtedly be a long-term contributor for Todd Graham.

 

26. Oren Burks, S, Vanderbilt

The redshirt freshman moved from linebacker to safety when new coach Derek Mason took over. Mason wants his size (6-2, 215) at the back end of his defense. He has a chance to be one of the most imposing playmakers in a totally rebuilt secondary.

 

27. Brandon Harris, QB, LSU

He is battling with Anthony Jennings but the 6-foot-2, 195-pound dual-threat signal-caller brings a new dimension to LSU's offense. He may not win the starting job right away but all signs are pointing to this dynamic freshman as the future for Cam Cameron and Les Miles in Baton Rouge.

 

28. Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky

The massive 6-foot-7, 350-pounder (depending on the time of day) is already entrenched as a starter for Mark Stoops' defensive line. The head coach can barely hide his excitement about injecting this talented in-state product into the heart of his developing defensive front. Elam will go through growing pains but has the astounding quickness and agility that NFL scouts drool over when it comes to guys his size.

 

29. Gyasi Akem, LB, Oklahoma State

The Pokes are thin at linebacker after the departure of Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey but Akem figures to help fill the void. The quick but undersized (6-1, 201) freshman is eyeing a starting spot right out of the gate alongside veteran Ryan Simmons. He uses his speed well both as a pass rusher and dropping into coverage. Look for Akem to see time very early and possibly start against Florida State.

 

30. Andrew Nelson, OL, Penn State

One of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten this fall is the Nittany Lions' O-line. Herb Hand is going to try everything to counteract the concerning lack of depth and that likely means a lot of young players getting reps this fall. Nelson is already slotted to start at right tackle and pretty much any other player on the roster should expect to see time for the depleted Lions.

 

31. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

He is one of (if not the) highest rated players to ever sign with Iowa State and apparently he is worthy of the hype. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wideout is already working with the second unit and will undoubtedly be a starter in no time. His talent is obvious and he could be a historic player for the Cyclones.

 

32. Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU

The Horned Frogs normally are known for having tenacious and talented defensive backs and this redshirt freshmen fit that bill. Texada is already penciled in as the starter opposite All-Big 12 pick Kevin White while fellow redshirt Cyd Calvin is listed as the top backup to both. Look for Gary Patterson to develop these talented youngsters into the next wave of great TCU cornerbacks.

 

33. KC McDermott, OL, Miami

The Hurricanes have plenty of holes to fill and one should be plugged by the monster (6-6, 315) in-state blocker. He has been worked at right tackle with the first team and he could be just one of a few first-year blockers who contribute in a big way for Miami.

 

34. Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina

Few teams took a bigger hit at one position like the Gamecocks did at cornerback. Which is why Steve Spurrier signed five defensive backs in this class. Green and fellow freshman Chris Lammons will get every opportunity to land starting roles in Lorenzo Ward's secondary.

 

35. Chad Thomas, DL, Miami

It’s hard to hide Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s excitement about having Thomas on the roster. The local product checks in at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds with excellent burst and great agility. He is the type of South Florida defender the Canes have been sorely lacking.

 

36. Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

The former standout from famed Bishop Gorman High School has been taking most of the first-team reps and appears to have a leg up on Jerrard Randall and Jesse Scroggins. His skill set fits Rich Rodriguez’ offense perfectly and he’s had a year to sit and learn the playbook. He was a big-time winner in high school and is one of the highest-rated QB recruits to ever sign at Arizona.

 

37. Tony Brown | Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama

One of the few weaknesses for Alabama is at cornerback where graduation and the NFL Draft have finally caught up with Nick Saban. Brown (6-fooot, 190) enrolled early and will be fighting for one of two open corner sports all camp long. He was the top defensive back signee in the SEC and was considered the No. 9 overall prospect in the nation. Humphrey is no less talented and he brings an equally impressive 6-foot-1 frame to a secondary in need of quick help (relatively speaking).

 

38. Curtis Samuel, AP, Ohio State

Fans have been pointing to Dontre Wilson as a guy who could fill the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. And while Wilson is going to have an excellent sophomore season, it’s actually Samuel who is drawing the brightest reviews. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is listed as a wideout but has been getting plenty of carries out of the backfield. Look for Samuel to play a lot in a variety of roles this fall.

 

39. Tyree Robinson, S, Oregon

While twin brother Tyrell will be suiting up for Fresno State after being dismissed from Oregon, Tyree is set to take over as the starting strong safety. The long, rangy athlete has put in the work this offseason and is in line to become a breakout defender in his redshirt freshman season in Eugene.

 

40. Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa

The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder recently was moved into the starting lineup at left guard for Kirk Ferentz. Surrounded by seniors and juniors, the Ohio native is proving quickly that he belongs on the field for Iowa.

Teaser:
Top 35 Impact Freshman to Watch in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-15-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 15:

 

• In honor of Shark Week, enjoy .

 

.

 

• The opening day of the SEC Network gave rise to .

 

with his useless answers to their useless questions. Speaking of Foster, remember never to share a hot tub with the guy. .

 

.

 

• The star of college football's offseason has been Bo Pelini. .

 

, from Eminem to the Buttfumble.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

• I'm as sick of the Ice Bucket Challenge as anyone, but what Paul Bissonnette did with it is impressive.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 10:45
Path: /nascar/tony-stewart-out-jeff-burton-nascar-weekend-michigan
Body:

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, as the circuit hits Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400, Tony Stewart will sit for second straight race, rule changes under caution take effect, Jimmie Johnson looks to sweep and Roush Fenway Racing looks to rebound.

 

 

Tony Stewart remains out as Jeff Burton fills in

Jeff Burton will race Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, marking the second race in a row that the three-time series champion will have stayed on the sidelines.

 

You know the story. You know exactly why.

 

Is it the right move for Stewart to continue to stay away from the intense heat that his return (and we’re assuming he does return) will bring to major auto racing? It’s truly impossible to know. There just isn’t a playbook for this. There aren’t points on the line in tragedy. 

 

The situation merely demands doing everything with the best intentions in mind, and a cognizant awareness of how every move will be perceived. And it’s about doing the best thing possibly that encourages the most healing.

 

Kevin Ward Jr.’s family is still grieving. That’s a pain that will never cease. The sheriff’s office in upstate New York is still investigating. They hope to wrap everything up within the next 10 days. And Stewart? Who knows how he is faring? It’s probably a decade’s worth of Daytona 500s from anything resembling the emotion of fine.

 

All of this creates a paralyzing situation for Stewart because no amount of charity, generosity or “business as usual” will make anything better. Even logging laps in his (or any racing drivers’) most cherished space — that spot right behind the steering wheel — is no longer sacred. The reminders are too fresh, the memories are too real.

 

Stewart won’t race this weekend. He may not for the considerable future. In the meantime, the sport will continue its attempts to churn on — dragging an eight trillion-pound gorilla along with it.

 

 

Post-crash rules could introduce massive gray area

In the wake of last week’s gut-wrenching tragedy, many short tracks across the country adopted immediate rules barring drivers from getting out of crashed race cars until safety members are on the scene — with only an exception granted for life-threatening situations like a car fire.

 

NASCAR, in a scheduled press conference Friday morning at MIS, announce something similar.

 

On their face, the rules seem smart. They aim to prevent the exact thing that happened Saturday night when an angry driver lost his life in the name of expressing rage toward the driver in another moving vehicle. Tracks are threatening fines, expulsion and suspension for offending drivers.

 

They make sense, and they seem to the logical next step.

 

But they also introduce a litany of gray area in the rulebook to a sport already preoccupied with governing complexities at every level. Who makes the judgment call about when a car is and isn’t safe to get out of? How can it be applied evenly? Will drivers then simply wait to show anger and aggression once legally out of the car? Or will that element be banned, too? Should a sport derived for entertainment purposes make that call?

 

And what if a driver simply wants to emerge from his car, far from harm’s way and without ill intent? Just imagine if NASCAR’s new Chase system was substantially changed when a driver with a blown engine exits the car too early in the view of officials, but in a completely safe manner. It won’t go well for any group.

 

Certainly, something needs to change. You have to think the disaster is in the front of every racer’s mind in North America, if not the world. Drivers will naturally change and hopefully gauge reactionary situations in a much safer way.

 

 

Jimmie Johnson can bookend his summer slump

Just like the period between the green and checkered flags last weekend at Watkins Glen, talking about NASCAR stories and trends not related to the New York tragedy will feel a bit awkward for all involved this weekend.

 

But of course, the sport is continuing on. As it does, Jimmie Johnson is one guy hoping that he may have inadvertently flipped some magical switch in Michigan’s victory lane in June — back when he won his first career race at the track. Since then, the finishes of his No. 48 have fallen drastically.

 

The June win was Johnson’s third of the season and third in four races. Since, he has but one finish better than 10th (he was seventh at Sonoma) and has three DNFs in the seven-race span.

 

“We have had some really bad luck these past few weeks,” Johnson said in a team release this week. “I’m looking forward to getting back on track this weekend. The team needs a good run and I really like the track in Michigan – it’s in Chevrolet’s back yard – and it would be nice to get a sweep.”

 

 

Watch early-race pit strategy for late-race impact

The still-new pavement at Michigan has led to high speeds and a conservative approach by NASCAR’s tire supplier Goodyear with its rubber selection. As a result, changing four tires has become more rare during MIS pit stops as gas-only and two-tire stops have come in vogue. The varied pit road selection led to substantially different strategies early in the June race.

 

Take, for example, early race leaders Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon. Combined, the two led 65 of the race’s 100 laps but when the end of the race neared both were off sequence from Johnson and others based on a mid-race decision that saw the No. 22 and No. 24 cars take two tires while many other leaders took fuel only.

 

Gordon and Logano were then stuck back in the pack, amid the dreaded dirty air, and simply never made a the full rebound. 

 

“In June, we qualified well, ran well and had a strong car,” Gordon said. “But it was all about track position, track position, track position. We lost it, and it was tough to get back.”

 

Gordon wound up sixth and Logano finished eighth.

 

 

Roush-Fenway expecting better “home” track run

The roots of Jack Roush’s motor racing operations came not far from MIS in Livonia, Mich., outside of Detroit. A segment of his business still resides there despite the entirety of the Roush-Fenway Racing operation now being housed just a few miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

 

For whatever reason, the former proximity long seemed to play a role in Roush’s teams having success at Michigan. Perhaps it was a sense of local pride and increased effort from the shop. Maybe it was a top-level demand in order to impress Detroit executives who would stop by NASCAR’s closest race to the automotive hub. Or maybe it was just a setup discovery that led to a long-term advantage.

 

No matter the reason, things are different now. RFR has struggled heavily in 2014 and they came to a head in June at Michigan when the best RFR finisher was Greg Biffle in 20th, just ahead of the soon-to-be departing Carl Edwards in 23rd. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 27th.

 

The poor finishes led to RFR opting for a full-team test in late July at the two-mile track to both sort handling issues and to hopefully get closer to that former edge on the competition. All three team drivers participated in the test that — should it work to perfection — could suddenly vault Biffle or Stenhouse to the Chase if a strong car manufactures an unexpected win.

 

That’s probably more of a pipe dream than anything, but at the very least the team will expect improvement come Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see if it can find it.

 

 

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Teaser:
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, as the circuit hits Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400, Tony Stewart will sit for second straight race, rule changes under caution take effect, Jimmie Johnson looks to sweep and Roush Fenway Racing looks to rebound.
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 09:49
Path: /nfl/nfl-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-nfc-north-teams
Body:

Historically known as the domain of defenses like the Monsters of the Midway and the Purple People Eaters, the NFC North may be changing its image. Now home to Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler and a host of explosive playmakers, the division boasted three of the NFL’s top offenses in 2013. The Packers have been the top dog the past three seasons and are considered the favorites again this year. But both the Bears and Lions are hoping offseason changes will allow them to close the gap. And then there’s Minnesota, which has the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson and is hoping it drafted its next franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater.

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of how the four NFC North teams are shaping up heading into the 2014 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings.

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff. 

 

Chicago Bears

 

“The Bears saw the results of hiring offensive-minded Marc Trestman when Jay Cutler was having a productive year before a series of injuries occurred and Josh McCown stepped in and actually played even more efficiently.” …

 

“Chicago has an excellent set of offensive skill players with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside with Martellus Bennett at TE and Matt Forté in the backfield.” …

 

“Their line got a huge boost from rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills after they had signed Jermon Bushrod in free agency.” …

 

“If they can get any sort of improvement from the defense, the Bears should compete for NFC honors. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is well respected around the league, but in all honesty, his statistics at Cleveland, Jacksonville and last year, have left some wondering about his future as a potential NFL head coach.” …

 

“Still, they were derailed by injuries and have since released Julius Peppers. However, a full makeover is underway with the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. Allen has plenty left in the tank and Houston was often overlooked as a dependable starter in Oakland.” …

 

“DTs Ego Ferguson (LSU) and Will Sutton (Arizona State) were picked in the second and third rounds and the linebackers have to stay healthy despite their age (D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs).” …

 

“Tim Jennings has coaxed a ton out of his body to become a long-time pro, while [Charles] Peanut Tillman is nearing the end as a starting corner. Hence, the selection of CB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) in the first round.” …

 

“The safeties won’t strike fear in anybody, so this entire secondary will need to be overhauled over the next two years.” …

 

“In a sentence, the Bears should be spectacular on offense, and if Tucker and Co. can turn things around defensively, this team has a chance to have a special year.” …

 

Detroit Lions

 

“After the Lions faltered down the stretch of the 2013 season with the division title in sight, the organization fired Jim Schwartz and hired Jim Caldwell. Caldwell has two tasks: to improve the consistency of Matthew Stafford and eliminate the on-field discipline issues that have plagued this team over the past five seasons.” …

 

“Stafford and Calvin Johnson have posted bigger numbers than any tandem since 2008, but they still added Golden Tate to the mix as an alternative, different style of receiver than Megatron. Kris Durham is a favorite of Stafford, despite his lack of all-out speed and athleticism.” …

 

“Brandon Pettigrew was retained, but that didn’t keep them from taking Eric Ebron with the No. 10 pick. The Lions got great mileage out of undrafted free agent Joseph Fauria who caught 10 touchdown passes as a rookie.” …

 

“Reggie Bush was everything advertised as a runner and receiver and the club likes the idea of pairing him off with Joique Bell.” …

 

“The offensive line is adequate with Riley Reiff at left tackle, Dominic Raiola in the middle and Larry Warford coming off a very secure rookie campaign.” …

 

“Teryl Austin takes over as the defensive coordinator and Detroit certainly has one of the best fronts in the entire league. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones all have significant talent and watch for Devin Taylor to reveal himself as a quality young prospect this year.” …

 

“The linebackers are undersized with Stephen Tulloch leading the way as a tackler.” …

 

“Austin recruited James Ihedigbo from the Ravens, but between he and Glover Quin, not sure they are good enough back there.” …

 

“On the corners, Rashean Mathis returns for another year, despite Detroit drafting Darius Slay in the second round a year ago.” …

 

“Chris Houston’s toe injury has been problematic during the offseason [Editor’s note: Houston was released by the team in June], so they also drafted Nevin Lawson (Utah State) to add depth on the edge.” …

 

“Turnovers and the ability to make critical plays at critical times will determine if Caldwell is a successful hire.” …

 

“Caldwell is charged with turning this group of underachievers into division winners, and for that to happen, he will need stellar performances from Stafford and a defense that will be tested at all levels in the NFC North." ...

 

Green Bay Packers

 

“Somehow without Aaron Rodgers for seven games, the Packers made the playoffs. Give credit to coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson who have both quietly put together a solid record of leadership and success.” …

 

“Rodgers is at the top of his game and has performed through quite a bit of adversity over the past two seasons. Neither the offensive line nor receivers are what he had earlier in his career, but the running game is better with Eddie Lacy.” …

 

“Some Alabama insiders felt Lacy had more talent than Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and they were proven right with his 1178 yards as a rookie.” …

 

“Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are both very good players and they added Davante Adams from Fresno State in the second round.” …

 

“David Bakhtiari is just OK as the left tackle, so they need Bryan Bulaga to return from injury in order to bolster their edge protection. J.C. Tretter projects well to center, but actually played LT at Cornell and spent most of 2013 on IR. All-Pro guard Josh Sitton can help him in that transition.” …

 

“On defense, Dom Capers seems to have lost some of his 3-4 magic, however, that may be more of a talent issue.” …

 

“Mike Daniels has become a dependable pro and they need Datone Jones to make big progress in his second year. B.J. Raji was brought back on a one-year deal, but he has to play better.” …

 

“A.J. Hawk has never made the splash plays of a top 5 pick and Brad Jones is only an adequate NFL starter. Clay Matthews is the best player on their D and the Packers signed Julius Peppers to rush from the opposite side, but no one has any idea how Capers will plug him into their system.” …

 

“Sammie Shields was deservedly extended in March, but Tramon Williams is on the other side of it, so Casey Hayward or Micah Hyde could push for a starting role this year.”…

 

“The safety play was atrocious last season and was their biggest need in the offseason. The Packers selected Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick of the first round and he is an athletic centerfielder.” …

 

“As long as Rodgers is healthy, this team will always have a chance to compete, but if Green Bay wants to talk Super Bowl, they must get production from Peppers and play at a much higher level along both lines of scrimmage.” …

 

Minnesota Vikings

 

“The Vikings are the NFC version of the Bills in that they have put together a solid, playoff-contending roster, but the QB position is the big issue here. GM Rick Spielman has at least a partial miss with Christian Ponder, but that didn’t prevent them from taking Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round.” …

 

“They hired Mike Zimmer to fix an underachieving defense.” …

 

“Offensively, they literally have a blue-chip caliber talent in every position group except QB. Adrian Peterson is still the best RB in the game, Matt Khalil is one of the best young tackles in the league, Kyle Rudolph is a quality TE and Cordarrelle Patterson has incredible upside. With that said, Zimmer hired Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator to either fix Ponder and/or Matt Cassel and develop Bridgewater.” …

 

“Jared Allen moved to the Bears after the Vikings opted to retain a younger Everson Griffen and sign DT Linval Joseph from the Giants. Shariff Floyd is a major key to a defensive turnaround, he has to be more consistent and provide an interior pass rush against the QBs in this division.” …

 

“The linebackers are good enough when healthy, but Chad Greenway, Matt Mauti and Gerald Hodges have all missed time in the past, therefore, their original first round pick, UCLA’s Anthony Barr, will be expected to play and contribute this year.” …

 

“Maybe the weakest part of this roster is the secondary. Chris Cook signed with the 49ers, but Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson are the incumbent returners who will compete with Panthers’ signee Captain Munnerlyn.” …

 

“The safeties are just ordinary with SS Jamarca Sanford and FS Hunter Smith patrolling the deep part of the field…

 

“If this organization can figure out the QB and Zimmer can fix the D, the Vikings may in fact have a positive future after all.” …

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The SEC Network will be in 91 million homes.

 

It will be the fourth-most accessible sports cable network (ESPN, ESPN2, FOX Sports 1) and will dwarf the launch of every other college sports channel.

 

The list of personalities is impressive. The ESPN-driven documentary-style programming will be second to none. There will be 45 live football games broadcast in the first four months of the channel’s debut alone.

 

Needless to say, the SEC Network is going to be a rousing success.

 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a few suggestions. Here are some of our favorite new show concepts we’d like to see developed on the SEC Network:

 

Real World SEC

What happens when you throw one lunatic fringe fan from all 14 SEC teams — seven men and seven women — into a house for the entire football season with nothing but booze and flat screens and lock the door? No jobs, no responsibility, no holds barred.

 

Hard Knocks: SEC

This one is pretty straight forward. Both the Big Ten Network (The Journey) and the Pac-12 Network (The Drive) have done something similar, and, generally, fans can’t get enough of behind the scenes stuff when it comes to their favorite team. Rotate to a different team every year and turn the cameras loose on practice, training camp, gameday and more.

 

Spurrier’s Foursome

Each Sunday afternoon, cameras will follow Steve Spurrier’s foursome around whatever golf course he's playing that day. The Head Ball Coach reading menus would be hilarious so I can’t imagine what fun would ensue on the links with his buddies after a big win (or, better yet, a loss).

 

Les Miles Reads the News

The big broadcast networks get their nightly newscast and so too does the SEC Network. Every evening at five o'clock, LSU head coach Les Miles will deliver the world news to SEC fans. It could be the Gaza Strip, a U.S.-Mexico border crisis or Kim-K's latest marriage fiasco. Frankly, it doesn't matter what the topic is because Miles will have something extraordinary to say about it. It might be the highest rated show on the network.

 

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10 Seconds or Less

The newest and hottest game show on television hosted by Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn where contestants have 10 seconds or less to answer SEC trivia questions. The winner gets tickets to an SEC game against an FCS opponent and an autographed copy of “The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy.”

 

Huntin' For Croots

Guns and high school football. That's what Texas does. Modeled after the late great Steve Irwin, this reality show docu-drama features Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin taking the viewer deep into the infested waters of Texas High School recruiting. The biggest croc on the block shows fans from across the Southeast what luring talent is all about. Think Hard Knocks meets Crocadile Hunter.

 

Iron Bowl Fan Cave

Similar to the MLB Fan Cave, an Alabama fan and an Auburn fan are locked in a room for Iron Bowl week and forced to watched the Iron Bowl on the same couch. They will be provided all the drinks and food they want and are only allowed to watch Iron Bowl reruns until the kickoff of the big game. In a perfect world, it would be Harvey Updyke and Charles Barkley.

 

Friday Nights with Mark

On Friday nights — when the SEC takes a breather — the Georgia head coach will sit down in front of his fireplace, chardonnay in hand, and read parables to the fans of the SEC. He will speak to their soul. Occasionally, good friend Hugh Freeze stops by.

 

Hog vs. Food

The SEC has some of the best BBQ and down-home country cooking in the world and most of us enjoy large quantities of it — just like Adam Richman. In this Man vs. Food spin-off, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema tries to achieve digestive success at some of the Southeast’s hottest and most delicious eateries.

 

Hotel Tuscaloosa

Every Wednesday night, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Eagles frontman Don Henley breakdown a different Eagles track. From the writing to the vocals to the live performances, Saban critically analyzes each classic Eagles jam throughout their five-decade run of "rock stardom."

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The running back position is full of talent for 2014, headlined by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. And talented rushers like South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Miami’s Duke Johnson aren’t far behind.

 

While the individual talent is important, depth and the No. 2 option – especially in the era of committee approaches – are also key factors to consider when ranking a team’s backfield.

 

Ranking the individual units among each conference is no easy task. However, determining where each team stacks up among its conference peers for each of the position groups is critical to determining potential strengths and weaknesses on the roster and potential landmines to a league title.
 

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2014 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams like are ranked largely due to one player, some may lack a superstar this year but have no shortage of depth.

 

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

 

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

 

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 14th annual Athlon Awards. 

 

College Football's Top 30 RB Units for 2014

 

1. Alabama

T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry headline a Crimson Tide backfield that features six four- or five-star recruits. Yeldon led the team with 1,235 yards and 14 scores last season, while Henry finished with 382 yards and three touchdowns. Henry’s role increased late in the season, and he is expected to earn a larger share of the carries in 2014. Kenyan Drake (694 yards in 2013), Jalston Fowler, Altee Tenpenney and Tyren Jones provide depth and plenty of big-play ability for new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

 

2. Georgia 

This unit was hit hard by injuries last year, but with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall back at full strength, combined with the addition of talented freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Bulldogs have one of the top backfields in the nation. In two years at Georgia, Gurley has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and rushed for 27 touchdowns. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 but was limited to 246 yards last year due to a torn ACL. Michel and Chubb were both five-star recruits and should be future stars in Athens.

 

3. Wisconsin 

Melvin Gordon surprisingly turned down the NFL for one more year in Madison. In 2013, he was one of only two players to record 200 carries and average over seven yards per attempt, and his 1,609 yards ranked second in the Big Ten. With James White gone to the NFL, Gordon’s new sidekick in the Badgers’ backfield will be sophomore Corey Clement, who shined in a limited role last fall. Clement led the Big Ten by averaging 8.2 yards per rush on 67 attempts as a true freshman.

 

4. Nebraska 

Ameer Abdullah headlines a Nebraska backfield that returns players responsible for 94.2 percent of the team’s rushing production from last season. Abdullah led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards last year and had eight rushes of 30 yards or more. Imani Cross, a 230-pound junior, is a valuable asset on short-yardage situations. He led the Cornhuskers with 10 rushing scores and ranked second on the team with 447 yards in 2013. Terrell Newby (298 yards in 2013) is expected to fill the No. 3 role with Adam Taylor out indefinitely due to an ankle injury.

 

5. South Carolina 

Steve Spurrier was known for his passing offenses at Florida, but his South Carolina teams have been effective on the ground, averaging at least 190 yards per game in two out of the last three seasons. Mike Davis shined in his first year as the starter, averaging 5.9 yards per carry in SEC play. Davis is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014. The Gamecocks have plenty of depth behind Davis, as Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds both rushed for over 200 yards last year. Redshirt freshman David Williams is a name to watch.

 

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6. Oregon

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is short on proven targets at receiver, but the Ducks’ offense has a bevy of options at running back. Byron Marshall returns after recording 1,038 yards last year, and he will be pushed for time by talented sophomore Thomas Tyner (711 yards in 2013). True freshman Royce Freeman (229 pounds) is a bigger option than Tyner or Marshall and should help the Ducks in goal-line and short-yardage situations.


7. Miami

Assuming Duke Johnson returns to full strength, the Hurricanes should have the ACC’s top running back corps for 2014. Johnson rushed for 920 yards prior to a season-ending leg injury against Florida State. The junior is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014. Backing up Johnson will be touted true freshman Joseph Yearby (No. 7 running back in 247Sports Composite) and sophomore Gus Edwards (338 yards in 2013). Dallas Crawford finished No. 2 on the team with 558 yards last season, but he was moved to defensive back in the spring.


8. USC 

New coach Steve Sarkisian plans to install an up-tempo offense, but the former Washington coach isn’t going abandon the run. Buck Allen returns after leading the team with 785 yards and 14 scores last season. Allen finished 2013 by recording four 100-yard efforts over the final six games. He will be pushed for time by converted linebacker Tre Madden, who recorded four 100-yard games in the first five weeks of 2013. Justin Davis is expected to claim the No. 3 job.


9. Arkansas 

Bret Bielema needs time to rebuild Arkansas into the smashmouth, run-first team he had at Wisconsin. The pieces are starting to come together though, as the Razorbacks have three potential standouts at running back. Alex Collins led the team with 1,026 rushing yards as a freshman and is expected to share carries with Jonathan Williams (900 yards in 2013) this year. Korliss Marshall was a spring standout and brings a big-play element to the backfield after averaging 8.6 yards per touch in 2013.


10. Florida State 

Despite the departures of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., there’s very little reason to expect a drop-off in performance for Florida State’s backfield. Coach Jimbo Fisher has assembled an embarrassment of riches here, starting with Karlos Williams. The converted safety averaged eight yards per carry last season and is expected to be one of the ACC’s top breakout players in 2014. In addition to Williams, true freshman Dalvin Cook and sophomores Ryan Green and Mario Pender will see snaps in the backfield.


11. Michigan State

The emergence of Jeremy Langford and quarterback Connor Cook was a big reason why Michigan State won the Big Ten title last year. Langford recorded eight 100-yard games over the final nine contests and finished with 1,422 yards and 18 scores on 292 attempts. Nick Hill (344 yards in 2013) and Delton Williams (238 yards) are expected to spell Langford in 2014. 
 

12. LSU

Freshman Leonard Fournette could have a monster season behind one of the nation’s top offensive lines. Fournette is expected to share carries with Terrence Magee (7.3 ypc in 2013) and Kenny Hilliard (310 yards, 7 TDs last year) in 2014.

 

13. Auburn

Tre Mason will be missed, but Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense still has options at running back. Corey Grant averaged 9.8 yards per carry on 66 attempts last year and will team with Cameron Artis-Payne to handle a bulk of the carries. Freshmen Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber also factor into the rotation.
 

14. Texas 

If Johnathan Gray returns to full strength from an Achilles injury, the Longhorns should rank much higher on this list by the end of 2014. Gray rushed for 780 yards and four scores in nine games last season. If healthy, Gray could be the best running back in the Big 12. Malcolm Brown returns after rushing for 904 yards and nine scores last season, but depth is a question mark after Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet were dismissed.

 

15. Ohio State 

Carlos Hyde is gone, but the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for options. Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is in for a breakout season after averaging 8.8 yards per carry as a backup last year. Elliott is expected to be the leading rusher, but Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Curtis Samuel and Warren Ball will each see their share of opportunities.
 

16. Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel led the team in rushing over the last two seasons, but it’s likely the focus on the ground shifts to the running backs with a new quarterback under center. The Aggies have an underrated trio of backs, headlined by two transfers Tra Carson (329 yards in 2013) and Brandon Williams (269 yards). Trey Williams is a big-play threat (7.0 yards per carry last year) and should see more carries after recording only 58 last year. Redshirt freshman James White rounds out the backfield.
 

17. Penn State

New coach James Franklin inherits a backfield that returns two players (Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton) that combined for 1,792 yards last season. Zwinak scored 12 rushing scores in 2013, while Belton averaged 5.1 yards per touch. Akeel Lynch recorded 358 yards in his freshman campaign last year and should work in the No. 3 role once again in 2014.  
 

18. Baylor

Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be missed, but thanks to improved recruiting under Art Briles, the Bears are in good shape in the backfield. Sophomore Shock Linwood headlines the rushing attack after recording 881 yards (6.9 ypc) in 2013. Linwood will have plenty of competition for carries, including sophomore Devin Chafin and freshmen Terence Williams and Johnny Jefferson.

 

19. West Virginia 

Considering coach Dana Holgorsen’s track record of high-powered offenses and quarterback play, it seems odd to suggest the Mountaineers will be a run-first team in 2014. However, West Virginia’s offense could lean more on its ground attack this year, as Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell is eligible after sitting out 2013, and Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith return after combining for 715 yards last year. Freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams is another name to watch in 2014.

 

20. BYU 

Quarterback Taysom Hill led BYU in rushing yards with 1,344 yards last season, but Jamaal Williams wasn’t far behind with 1,233 yards. Williams will miss the opener against UConn due to suspension. However, Williams is ticketed for another 1,000-yard season. Backing up Williams should be Paul Lasike, Algernon Brown and Adam Hine. Each of those three backs accumulated at least 200 rushing yards last year.
 

21. Boise State 

Depth is a concern, but the Broncos have an All-America candidate in Jay Ajayi. He rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 scores last season, averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per touch. With Aaron Baltazar leaving the team, Jack Fields and Devan Demas are the top backups to Ajayi.


22. Virginia

The strength of Virginia’s offense rests with its ground attack. Senior Kevin Parks has rushed for at least 700 yards in three consecutive years, including a 1,000-yard effort in 2013. Sophomore Taquan Mizzell was the No. 60 overall recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and should take on a bigger role in the offense after rushing for 184 yards last season. Senior Khalek Shepherd rushed for 304 yards in 2013 and will factor into the backfield mix once again.


23. North Carolina

The Tar Heels might have one of the nation’s most underrated group of rushers. True freshman Elijah Hood is too talented to sit on the bench and should push sophomore T.J. Logan (533 yards) for snaps. Romar Morris and Khris Francis also return after combining for 532 yards in 2013.


24. Stanford

The Cardinal probably won’t have a clear No. 1 back in 2014, but a committee approach should work behind a deep group of options. Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale, Remound Wright, Kelsey Young and true freshman Christian McCaffrey will all factor into the backfield.

 

25. Oklahoma

The Sooners are a hard team to rank. There’s talent, but also a lot of question marks. Will Joe Mixon play in 2014? Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine are a capable trio if Mixon is out indefinitely.


26. Notre Dame

Three of the Fighting Irish’s top four leading rushers from 2013 are back, and former top 50 recruit Greg Bryant returns after redshirting due to injury. Sophomore Tarean Folston should see a bigger role in the offense after rushing for 470 yards on just 88 carries last year.


27. Louisville

Yes, Bobby Petrino likes the forward pass, but don’t forget about the successful running attacks during his Louisville and Arkansas tenures. Dominique Brown is back after rushing for 825 yards last year, while Michael Dyer is poised to make an impact in his senior season.
 

28. Iowa

The Hawkeyes go four-deep at running back. Mark Weisman led the team with 974 yards last season, but Jordan Canzeri should see more carries after averaging 6.5 yards per carry in 2013. Damon Bullock (467 yards last year) also returns, while sophomore LeShun Daniels is another promising option for coordinator Greg Davis.

 

29. Florida

Kelvin Taylor had a promising freshman campaign, rushing for 508 yards and four scores. He should see an increased role in 2014, while Matt Jones and Mack Brown contribute as the No. 2 and No. 3 backs.


30. Bowling Green

Travis Greene could be one of the best all-purpose backs in the nation after recording 1,749 yards in 2013. Greene is the unquestioned starter, but he will be spelled by backups Andre Givens (255 yards last year) and Fred Coppet (214 yards).


The Next Five


31. Tennessee
32. UL Lafayette
33. Pittsburgh
34. Arizona State
35. UCLA

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College Football's Top 30 RB Units for 2014
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The ACC preseason talking points were pretty clear.

 

“We are the champions and we broke a record by sending 11 teams to a bowl game.”

 

Unfortunately, conferences don’t win championships, teams do. So while Florida State is the defending champ, it means very little for the rest of the ACC. The rest of the league needs to win marquee non-conference games against both the SEC and Notre Dame to start bragging during the offseason.

 

Within the league, however, there are more than half-a-dozen (mostly, from the Coastal Division) teams who feel like they have a shot to reach Charlotte. So crossover play and home-and-road splits will play a huge role in shaping the ACC Championship Game matchup.

 

So which ACC team has the toughest schedule in 2014?

 

1. Virginia

Crossover: Louisville, at Florida St

Non-con: UCLA, Richmond, at BYU, Kent St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 102-54 (65.4%, 2nd)

 

Not only does Virginia play the toughest schedule in the Coastal (because they don’t get to face themselves) but it will also play two elite non-conference games and two of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division as well. Mike London is squarely on the hot seat and this schedule is one of the worst in the nation.

 

2. Miami

Crossover: at Louisville, Florida State

Non-con: Florida A&M, Arkansas St, at Nebraska, Cincinnati

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 96-60 (61.5%, 14th)

 

Sort of like Virginia, Miami plays two really tough non-conference games and two nasty crossovers in ACC play with the Seminoles and Cardinals. The divisional schedule is slightly easier with the Wahoos on the slate, but Miami has the toughest path to the Coastal championship of any contender in the division.

 

3. Boston College

Crossover: Pitt, at Virginia Tech

Non-con: at UMass, USC, Maine, Colorado St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 95-61 (60.9%, 15th)

 

USC and Colorado State won’t be easy non-conference tilts but at least both come at home and a split is likely. In fact, BC should get halfway to a bowl (3-1) in the non-con. Facing the Hokies on the road and Pitt at home is going to be tough in crossover and the trio of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville within the division doesn’t offer too many chances for wins. This team will need to sweep the bottom half of the Atlantic to reach the postseason.

 

4. Syracuse

Crossover: Duke, at Pitt

Non-con: Villanova, at CMU, Maryland, Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 96-57 (62.8%, 8th)

 

Maryland and Notre Dame in the non-conference is going to be very tricky for the Cuse and living in the same division with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville will always be extremely tough. And while most aren’t facing any of the top three picks in crossover play, facing the defending Coastal champs in Duke and a trendy sleeper pick in Pitt won’t be easy. 

 

5. Clemson

Crossover: North Carolina, at Georgia Tech

Non-con: at Georgia, S. Carolina St, Georgia St, South Carolina

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-65 (57.8%, 28th)

 

Clemson should face at least three top 15 opponents this fall, two of which bookend the season against the top two teams in the SEC East. Toss in road trips to always pesky Georgia Tech and the defending national champs and the Tigers have one of the tougher slates in the league.

 

6. Wake Forest

Crossover: Virginia Tech, at Duke

Non-con: at UL Monroe, Gardner-Webb, at Utah St, Army

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 97-58 (62.6%, 9th)

 

The non-conference slate may not look like much but a road trip out to Utah State is likely a loss. Crossover with Virginia Tech and Duke won’t be easy either. And being the worst team in the Atlantic Division always means facing the toughest schedule within that half of the ACC. Missing Notre Dame is huge but the Demon Deacons will likely face at least nine bowl teams this fall.

 

7. North Carolina

Crossover: at Clemson, NC State

Non-con: Liberty, San Diego St, at ECU, at Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 92-62 (59.7%, 20th)

 

Having to face an in-state “mid-major” program that regularly upsets quality ACC teams is no easy task. And visiting South Bend could be ugly as well. Crossover play features a road game against the second-best team in the division and a much-improved in-state rival. That said, the key for the Heels is navigating a mid-to-late season stretch from Oct. 18 to Nov. 20 that features five straight divisional foes (three on the road).

 

8. NC State

Crossover: Georgia Tech, at North Carolina

Non-con: Ga. Southern, Old Dominion, at USF, Presbyterian

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-61 (59.3%, 23rd)

 

The non-conference should feature plenty of wins with the toughest test coming on the road against a team that lost 10 games last fall (USF). Crossover play is tough at UNC and Georgia Tech at home but could be worse. Road trips to Clemson and Louisville will be nasty but important swing games — ones key for bowl eligibility — against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech will come at home.

 

9. Louisville

Crossover: Miami, at Virginia

Non-con: Murray St, at FIU, at Notre Dame, Kentucky

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 75-76 (49.7%, 80th)

 

In two odd twists, Louisville will play both crossover games with the Coastal Division by Week 3 with six straight divisional games to end ACC play. Then the Cardinals will play back-to-back non-conference games against Big 5 opponents to end the season. And in between, Bobby Petrino will have to face Clemson (road) and Florida State (home) in a four-week span to end October. There are wins to be had but some marquee showdowns as well.

 

10. Georgia Tech

Crossover: at NC State, Clemson

Non-con: Wofford, at Tulane, Ga. Southern, at Georgia

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-67 (55.6%, 43rd)

 

Playing at Georgia has been a miserable way to end the season for the Jackets for more than a decade but a 3-1 record in non-conference play feels like a low-water mark. Having to face Pitt, Virginia Tech and both UNC and NC State on the road is pretty tough in conference. In fact, crossover play will feature two of the top four teams from the Atlantic Division. This is a manageable but tricky slate for Paul Johnson in an important season.

 

11. Florida State

Crossover: Virginia, at Miami

Non-con: Oklahoma St, Citadel, Notre Dame, Florida

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 83-68 (54.9%, 47th)

 

First, it’s pretty clear FSU will be a double-digit favorite in probably every game it plays this fall. But Notre Dame, Clemson, Louisville and Florida will all make for interesting matchups. The non-conference slate is among the best in the nation but both Florida and Oklahoma State have seen better days. Crossover shouldn’t be an issue despite a road trip to archrival Miami. Look for another 13-0 mark from the Noles.

 

12. Virginia Tech

Crossover: Boston College, at Wake Forest

Non-con: William & Mary, at Ohio St, ECU, W. Michigan

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 83-71 (53.9%, 55th)

 

Facing BC and Wake Forest is one huge reason the Hokies are picked to win the Coastal by Athlon Sports. A road trip to Ohio State will be brutal but a great test for Frank Beamer's squad before three straight home games. Back-to-back road trips to North Carolina and Pitt to begin October might be the most important stretch of action. The final month could be a breeze for Virginia Tech.

 

13. Pitt

Crossover: at Boston College, Syracuse

Non-con: Delaware, at FIU, Iowa, Akron

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 78-75 (50.9%, 74th)

 

A win over Iowa at home would be a nice feather in the cap for Paul Chryst’s squad, which should finish non-conference play no worse than 3-1 (if not 4-0). Crossover games with BC and Cuse features two bowl teams but neither is as good as it was last fall. The key for Pitt will be the final six games — all of which feature bowl teams and the five other Coastal contenders.

 

14. Duke

Crossover: at Syracuse, Wake Forest

Non-con: Elon, at Troy, Kansas, Tulane

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 69-82 (45.7%, 101st)

 

The Blue Devils got one of the few likely 4-0 non-conference slates and are facing two teams it should be beat in crossover play. That leaves road trips to Miami, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Cuse in a five-game span as November arrives that will define Duke’s Coastal title defense. If the Blue Devils survive, the two best teams in the Coastal will have to come to Durham (Virginia Tech, North Carolina) late in November.

 

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The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the Big 12 this fall?

 

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

He is one of (if not the) highest rated players to ever sign with Iowa State and apparently he is worthy of the hype. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wideout is already working with the second unit and will undoubtedly be a starter in no time. His talent is obvious and he could be a historic player for the Cyclones.

 

Steven Parker | Jordan Thomas, DB, Oklahoma

Thomas has received rave reviews from Bob Stoops and the coaching staff for his work in camp thus far. He is in a battle with Julian Wilson for a starting cornerback spot. Parker, meanwhile, is also getting positive grades for his work at safety. He is trying to earn playing time opposite Quentin Hayes. Neither may start but both will play a huge role this fall.

 

Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

There was a reason Henry was the No. 1-rated player in the state of Pennyslvania last year. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety has been working with the starters at free safety before camp even opened. He can cover a lot of ground and has proven he should be on the field as much as possible early on in his career.

 

Derick Roberson, DL, Texas

After Cedric Reed, Charlie Strong has little in the way of pass rushers on his roster. This is why fans in Austin should expect prized recruit Roberson to get plenty of snaps this fall. He isn’t likely to start and needs to bulk up (6-3, 235) but has elite up the field ability that this team desperately needs.

 

Ranthony Texada | Cyd Calvin, CB, TCU

The Horned Frogs normally are known for having tenacious and talented defensive backs and these redshirt freshmen fit that bill. Texada is already penciled in as the starter opposite All-Big 12 pick Kevin White while Calvin is listed as the top backup to both. Look for Gary Patterson to develop these talented youngsters into the next wave of great TCU cornerbacks.

 

Gyasi Akem, LB, Oklahoma State

The Pokes are thin at linebacker after the departure of Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey but Akem figures to help fill the void. The quick but undersized (6-1, 201) freshman is eyeing a starting spot right out of the gate alongside veteran Ryan Simmons. He uses his speed well both as a pass rusher and dropping into coverage. Look for Akem to see time very early and possibly start against Florida State.

 

KD Cannon | Davion Hall, WR, Baylor

He doesn’t have the same skillset or size of Lazard — he stands just six-feet tall and weighs under 170 pounds — but Cannon could have a similar impact on Baylor. The state 4A 100-m champion in Texas brings elite speed to a position that has developed into a marquee role. It shouldn’t shock anyone if Cannon, as well as equally touted wideout Davion Hall (6-3, 186), gets plenty of early playing time. This duo compliments each other extremely well.

 

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

The star tailback from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom is currently sitting on the sidelines in Norman but was the top-rated recruit in the Big 12 for a reason. He has special ability and would figure into the starting running back situation if he can get onto the field. He has been suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into an altercation that took place in late July.

 

James Washington | Ra’Shaad Samples, WR, Oklahoma State

There is one name drawing the headlines in Cowboys camp when it comes to freshman and Washington is the guy. Coaches and players are raving daily about his raw physical talent. He and the smallish redshirted Samples are on a team that runs four wide receivers regularly and should find their way onto the field this fall.

 

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

The South Carolina native enrolled at Oklahoma State early and has developed enough confidence with the coaches to earn 25-percent of the reps in fall camp. Odds are J.W. Walsh is the starter for the first half of the season but fans can bet on a quick hook should he struggle. If that happens, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder may have a chance to steal the starting job.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

Jah’Shawn Johnson, DB, Texas Tech

Darius James, OL, Texas

Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State

Kyron Watson, LB, Kansas

Kamari Cotton-Moya, S, Iowa State

Nigel Bethel II, CB, Texas Tech

Colin Dowling, P, Iowa State

Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech

Foster Sawyer | Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU

Jerrod Heard, QB, Texas

Teaser:
The Big 12's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/tennessee-names-justin-worley-its-starting-qb
Body:

Tennessee’s three-man battle for the quarterback job is officially down to one. Coach Butch Jones picked Justin Worley as the team’s starter, edging sophomores Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs.

Worley played in eight games in 2013, throwing for 1,239 yards and 10 scores. He also tossed eight interceptions and completed just 55.6 percent of his throws.

In three years at Tennessee, Worley has 1,977 career passing yards and 10 starts under his belt.

Worley has a talented supporting cast at his disposal, including talented sophomore Marquez North and freshman Josh Malone. The running back tandem of Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd should be solid, but the offensive line has five new starters.

While Worley won the starting job this fall, it will be interesting to watch what transpires over the season. Can Dobbs or Peterman surpass Worley for the top spot if he struggles?

Tennessee’s passing offense ranked seventh in the SEC with 211.1 yards per game last season. With more consistency from Worley, along with development on the offensive line, the Volunteers have a chance to take a step forward on offense. 

Teaser:
Tennessee Names Justin Worley its Starting QB
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 17:08
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-official-2014-predictions
Body:

The 2014 season is upon us and the guys make all of their official predictions for each of the Big 5 conferences as well as who will win the first College Football Playoff.

 

Managing Editor Mitch Light joins Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan to make picks, conduct a Coaching Hot Seat fantasy draft, discuss bathroom etiquette and remember a legendary comedian.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven and @AthlonMitch

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Official 2014 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 16:25
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, NFC, NFC East, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-2014-team-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The Cowboys lost two of the best players off a defense that was one of the worst in NFL history. Their quarterback underwent a second back surgery in eight months. They named a third offensive play-caller and a third defensive coordinator in three years. Their head coach is in the final year of his contract.

 

Rebuilding? Did someone say rebuilding?

 

“You don’t rebuild with (Tony) Romo,” owner Jerry Jones says. “The firepower we have on offense and where we are with our running backs and our receivers, you don’t rebuild with an offense that’s got the capability we’ve got.”

 

The Cowboys’ attack will feature Romo, tight end Jason Witten, receiver Dez Bryant, running back DeMarco Murray and a much-improved offensive line. They give Jones his hope. The Cowboys, however, have retooled their defense out of necessity. They believe that gives them a chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Although the Cowboys went only 30–34 combined the past four seasons, they haven’t stopped believing at the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters.

 

OFFENSE

Romo missed the win-or-go-home season finale against the Eagles. But the Cowboys expect their franchise quarterback, whom they guaranteed $55 million before the start of last season, to fully recover from the herniated disc he played through against Washington in Week 16. Dallas still is building its title hopes around Romo, who they consider younger than his 34 years since he didn’t play much his first two seasons. The Cowboys signed Brandon Weeden, the No. 22 overall pick of the Browns two years ago, as a backup plan more than as a developmental prospect since he turns 31 this season.

 

Murray finally became the workhorse the Cowboys thought he could be when they drafted him in the third round in 2011. He rushed for the third-most yards in the NFL in the final eight games of last season and finished the year with 1,121 yards and his first Pro Bowl berth. The Cowboys love Lance Dunbar’s explosiveness, but at 5'8", 188, he hasn’t shown he can withstand the punishment of consistent work. He played in only nine games last season because of injuries. The Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle in the fifth round last year to be Murray’s primary backup, but his development was delayed by thumb surgery in the offseason.

 

Witten, 32, continues to rank as one of the league’s best at his position. The Cowboys used a second-round pick on Gavin Escobar in 2013, but coaches said all season he needed to get bigger and stronger before he could help. James Hanna was used more.

 

Bryant enters a contract year after catching 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. Dallas selected Terrance Williams in the third round last year, with plans to groom him eventually to start opposite Bryant. That time is now. After Williams caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns, the Cowboys felt comfortable in releasing Miles Austin. Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley and 2014 fifth-round draft pick Devin Street will compete for time.

 

The offensive line was much improved, allowing only 35 sacks and paving the way for a rushing attack that averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Left tackle Tyron Smith became the team’s first Pro Bowl offensive lineman since 2010 and the team rewarded him handsomely with a massive eight-year contract extension that includes $40 million in guaranteed money and locks him up through 2023. The Cowboys shored up the interior by drafting center Travis Frederick in the first round last year, and he became one of the best in the league at his position as a rookie. The Cowboys also were satisfied with the play of left guard Ron Leary in his first season as a starter, and veteran right tackle Doug Free improved from 2012. They expect to replace right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau with versatile 2014 first-round pick Zack Martin.

 

DEFENSE

Dallas released defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the club’s all-time sack leader, because his production no longer matched his salary. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who led the team last season with 11 sacks, left for Washington in free agency. End Anthony Spencer did re-sign with the Cowboys, but he could struggle to regain his form after undergoing microfracture knee surgery. George Selvie, a street free agent signed last July when Spencer first injured his knee, returns at left end after recording seven sacks last season. Free-agent signee Jeremy Mincey and second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence were scheduled to compete for the right end spot, but that was before the rookie broke his foot early in training camp. He is expected to miss the first month of the regular season, at minimum. Newcomer Henry Melton, who had 15.5 sacks in four seasons in Chicago, replaces Hatcher at the three-technique. Nick Hayden, who had 44 tackles and 16 quarterback pressures, returns at the nose, although Tyrone Crawford, who missed last season with a torn Achilles, will compete for the job.

 

When Sean Lee is healthy, he is one of the top inside linebackers in football. Staying on the field, however, has been a problem, as evidenced by the 18 games he has already missed in his four-year career. Unfortunately, he will only add to this total due to a torn ACL Lee suffered during OTAs in late May. The Cowboys sent a sixth-round pick in next year's draft to Baltimore for linebacker Rolando McClain in hopes of filling Lee's spot. The eighth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Alabama, McClain has been a disappointment to this point and hasn't played a down since the 2012 season. Released by Oakland last offseason, McClain signed with Baltimore only to announce his retirement a month later. Back in the game, Dallas hopes the best is yet to come from the former unanimous All-American and Butkus Award recipient.

 

Kyle Wilber started the year at defensive end, but he found a home at strong-side linebacker. The move was necessitated by veteran linebacker Justin Durant’s hamstring injury in a Nov. 10 game. The Cowboys want more production from the weak-side spot, where Bruce Carter was a major disappointment in his third season.

 

The Cowboys thought they shored up their cornerback position before the 2012 season when they signed free-agent Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million deal, and traded up in the draft to select Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. But Carr struggled and Claiborne lost his starting job to nickel back Orlando Scandrick last season. Claiborne has missed seven games in his two seasons because of injuries, and he has failed to show much playmaking ability. He could get a chance to re-establish his status as a starter, however, since Scandrick will have to sit out the first four games due to a violation of the league's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Cowboys drafted B.W. Webb in the fourth round last year, but he had a forgettable rookie season. Dallas likes its safeties, believing it has long-term starters in free safety Barry Church and strong safety J.J. Wilcox.

 

SPECIALISTS

Kicker Dan Bailey has become Mr. Reliable, converting 90.8 percent of his field goals in three seasons with eight game-winners. Chris Jones stayed healthy and completed his first full season as the team’s punter, averaging 44.8 yards on 77 punts with a 39.1 net. Harris has solved the Cowboys’ return game, becoming one of the game’s most dangerous specialists.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Dallas has played for the division title in the final game each of the past three seasons, losing all three win-or-go-home finales to finish 8–8 each time. Jones, the ever-optimistic owner, believes the Cowboys have upgraded their defense enough to make them a contender this season. It’s hard to see on paper. They lost Hatcher and Ware and added Melton via free agency and Lawrence in the draft. Coach Jason Garrett likely will need to reach the playoffs to save his job, and it’s hard to envision this team getting to the postseason. 

 

PREDICTION: 3rd in NFC East

Teaser:
Dallas Cowboys 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Houston Texans, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/houston-texans-2014-team-preview-and-predictions
Body:

There are collapses, and then there are the 2013 Texans, whose supposed offseason fine-tuning of the roster disintegrated into 14 consecutive losses and the NFL’s worst record at 2–14. Head coach Gary Kubiak didn’t survive to season’s end. The coaching staff was overhauled with Penn State’s Bill O’Brien hired as the new boss. O’Brien knows something about picking up the pieces after taking over for Joe Paterno in 2012 amid the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Quarterback Matt Schaub’s decline prompted a March trade to Oakland for a sixth-round draft pick. Injuries and a lack of mental toughness in close games — nine losses by a touchdown or less — victimized the defending two-time AFC South champions. The upside is that the Texans can’t get much worse. They’re healthy and still have talent. The rebuild began with several free-agent signings and 10 draft choices, most notably No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

 

OFFENSE

The addition of free-agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick provides a veteran presence, but the reality is this is his third team in as many years and fifth in a 10-year career. He’ll provide experience, but the Texans will need him to groom an heir apparent, possibly rookie Tom Savage, a fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick will be asked to make the smart plays, not turn it over and rely on the run game. Turnovers are the concern. He’s averaged 16.5 interceptions the past four seasons.

 

O’Brien is also listed as offensive coordinator. Expect to see some wrinkles from his New England days as an assistant to Bill Belichick, formations with multiple tight ends and no fullbacks. Four of the O-line starters return, including two-time Pro Bowl tackle Duane Brown, but pass protection was an issue. Expect a combination of zone and man blocking schemes under new offensive line coach Paul Dunn. The obvious emphasis will be to get the most out of running back Arian Foster, who played just half of last season and underwent back surgery. He’s still just 28, so there’s no reason to believe he can’t revert to 2012 form, when he produced a league-leading 17 touchdowns. Free-agent signee Andre Brown, who has had his share of injuries, was believed to be the leading candidate to serve as the No. 2 tailback, but he and Dennis Johnson were cut a few weeks into training camp. This opens up an opportunity for either Dennis Johnson, who was the team's third-leading rusher last season, or sixth-round pick Alfred Blue to seize the backup job. The team also signed veterans Ronnie Brown and William Powell to add to the backfield competition during camp. 

 

Seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson turns 33 before camp, but he delivered 109 catches for 1,407 yards and five TDs in 2013. The problem is, without another capable receiver — at least one with speed — opposing teams will double Johnson to minimize his production. Last year’s No. 1 pick, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, had 52 catches for 802 yards but didn’t finish strong. Look for Hopkins’ numbers to improve and for him to be a more frequent target in the red zone. That would take a lot of the pressure off of Johnson. Too often in the past, opponents could sit on fade routes to Johnson inside the 20-yard line. Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey provide depth, and both will be given every opportunity to contribute more. The Texans will use three tight ends, sometimes on the field at the same time. Garrett Graham has the potential for a breakout season. He and Ryan Griffin are talented pass-catchers. Third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz is a solid blocker with decent hands.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was replaced by Romeo Crennel, a five-time Super Bowl winner who inherits a defense that generated a league-low seven interceptions and recovered just four fumbles. Crennel will change the 3-4 scheme by asking linemen to play two gaps. The previous expectation was to cover one gap and get up the field. The Texans were No. 3 in pass defense, but just 23rd in stopping the run and tied for 24th in points allowed. Crennel has one of the NFL’s best defensive ends in J.J. Watt, who has 36.5 sacks in his three-year career. But that number dropped from 20.5 to 10.5 last season as teams forced him to beat constant double-teams. Houston tied for 29th with just 32 sacks. Expect Watt to line up at different positions. The other end likely will be Jared Crick, a third-year pro who plays with a high motor. Rookie Jeoffrey Pagan is coming off shoulder surgery but could push Crick. Rookie third-round pick Louis Nix III will be counted on at nose tackle.

 

Clowney has the kind of freakish athleticism and pass-rush skills to make life easier for Watt. Clowney’s official position will be outside linebacker, but Crennel will use him in a variety of ways depending on the game situation. Whitney Mercilus had seven sacks in his first season as a starting outside linebacker. Brooks Reed moves inside next to Brian Cushing, a defensive leader who has missed 20 games the past two seasons due to injuries. Keeping Cushing on the field as an every-down linebacker is vital.

 

Cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson return for their fourth season starting together. Joseph typically covers the opponent’s best receiver but has been inconsistent. Jackson has made strides but still gets hit with too many penalties. Depth is a concern. Former second-round pick Brandon Harris has yet to live up to his selection. He likely will become the nickel back. Strong safety D.J. Swearinger and free safety Shiloh Keo are back, but expect them to be pushed by free-agent additions Chris Clemons and Kendrick Lewis.

 

SPECIALISTS

Punter Shane Lechler turns 38 during camp but is still one of the NFL’s elite with a 47.6-yard average last season and 34 punts inside the 20. Placekicker Randy Bullock made 26-of-35 field goals in his first season, though four of the misses were from 50 yards or more. Martin is an excellent kickoff returner with a 26.3-yard average, but he managed just 8.8 yards per punt return, primarily because of bad blocking. The Texans need to improve on kick coverage. They were 28th in both kickoff return average (25.7) and punt return average (12.3).

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

The lack of a quality quarterback in a league that requires superior play at the position will hold this team back at times. Fitzpatrick will show flashes, but with the great plays come the demoralizing ones. Still, Foster, Johnson, Watt, Cushing and hopefully Clowney give this team building blocks to bounce back to respectability. If healthy, Foster is too talented to have another subpar season. Clowney and Watt should be a headache for opposing offensive lines. Teams that run the ball and can play defense are always competitive. There will be more close games, and expect Houston to win its share of them this time.

 

The Texans are fortunate to be in the AFC South, where Tennessee and Jacksonville are also in rebuilding modes and have similar quarterback concerns. It’s a bit too optimistic to expect a worst-to-first rebirth and unseating of defending champion Indianapolis. But Texans fans have reason to expect progress. As far-fetched as it may seem, considering last year’s debacle, finishing around .500 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

 

PREDICTION: 3rd in AFC South

Teaser:
Houston Texans 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-14-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 14:

 

, like Matt Harvey's GF Ashley Haas.

 

. Someday soon, this will be a holiday in the states of the old Confederacy.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

• Apparently, telling a woman you're a New York Jet doesn't work too well at the clubs, cause .

 

• I'm immature enough to find this funny: .

 

• Weird celebrity dating news: .

 

.

 

• Or, .

 

• There was a scary collision last night involving top Twins prospect Byron Buxton.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 10:49
Path: /nfl/nfl-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-afc-north-teams
Body:

For the first time in five seasons, the AFC North sent just one team to the playoffs in 2013. Cincinnati is the reigning division champion, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh both have won Super Bowl titles within the last six seasons. Can the Bengals hold off the Ravens and Steelers again in 2014? And what about Cleveland, which hasn’t made the postseason since 2002 and has had a revolving door at both head coach and starting quarterback since rejoining the NFL in 1999?

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC North looks heading into the 2014 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers.

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff. 

 

Baltimore Ravens

 

“Very few teams enjoy more dependable, consistent leadership at the top than the Ravens. Despite their disappointing 8-8 record in 2013, head coach John Harbaugh was extended through 2017 during the offseason and GM Ozzie Newsome soldiers into his 19th year as the final decision-maker in Baltimore.” …

 

“Gary Kubiak takes over as offensive coordinator and his task will be to make QB Joe Flacco a more consistent performer. When Flacco is protected and ‘hot,’ he throws it as well, if not better, than anyone in the league. When the protection is not there, he looks uncomfortable, will force the football into coverage and does not have much mobility in trying to escape the pocket.” …

 

“RB Ray Rice ran into some legal problems stemming from a physical altercation with his fiancée (now wife) back in February, but it sounds as if he will be given another chance to demonstrate his ability to be the lead back for another season.” …

 

“The Ravens love Torrey Smith on and off the field, and with the addition of veteran Steve Smith from the Panthers, they may have found the ideal compliment to his game.” …

 

“The Ravens were derailed offensively almost from the outset of last year when TE Dennis Pitta went down with a fractured hip.” …

 

“Offensive line play was ineffective at the line of scrimmage and the team averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry for the season. Baltimore gave up multiple mid-round picks for LT Eugene Monroe and then was able to re-sign him in March to a long-term deal. During free agency, the club also acquired OC Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay who will replace Gino Gradkowski after his struggles in 2013.” …

 

“Defensively, Baltimore had its lowest statistical rankings since 2002, but remember they lost both LB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed, two of the most iconic modern-day players in recent history. Leadership was an obvious issue and LB Daryl Smith returns after he stepped into the huge void left by Lewis.” …

 

“Other than hybrid Terrell Suggs, the Ravens really do not have a legit pass-rusher on the opposite side. Without that consistent pressure, the secondary is young and mentally inexperienced.” …

 

“FS Matt Elam and CB Jimmy Smith both have talent and upside, but need better attention to detail and more in-game focus to improve.” …

 

“Baltimore drafted with the intent of shoring up the middle of its defense with LB C.J. Mosley, DT Timmy Jernigan and FS Terrence Brooks, but can only hope Rice returns to previous form and they are not left with Bernard Pierce as the lead back.” ...

 

Cincinnati Bengals

 

“The Bengals have one of the most balanced rosters in the entire NFL.” …

 

“Marvin Lewis has been in place for 12 years and don’t discount the impact that Duke and Bill Tobin have had on their personnel decisions. They actually have a scouting philosophy, do their homework and pick good players in every draft.” …

 

“There is no question this team will win again in 2014, but the pink elephant in the room is Andy Dalton, is he good enough to win a Super Bowl? His regular season numbers are as good as any that have played the game in their first four years, but his performances in the playoffs have been so bad, that this has been a constant topic of conversation around the league during the offseason.” …

 

“Dalton has weapons galore with A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and the backfield combo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard.” …

 

“the offensive line is solid in four places and they picked Russell Bodine from North Carolina as a potential fourth-round rookie starter.” …

 

“Defensively, with the return of Geno Atkins, they should be more disruptive on the inside.” …

 

“Vontaze Burfict has emerged as a legit ILB after his character/work ethic was crushed coming out of Arizona State. Rey Maualuga can flash, but the inconsistency is always a concern.” …

 

“The Bengals would love to see Dre Kirkpatrick elevate his play and become a bona fide starting corner this year, but they also drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round to address the age issues of Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones.” …

 

“Danieal Manning was signed in free agency to provide Chris Crocker-like insurance to Taylor Mays and Reggie Nelson.” …

 

”in a tough division, the Bengals have the most complete team, but need Dalton to respond to the pressure in order to end all of the talk by advancing in the playoffs and to the Super Bowl. Barring another rash of injuries, this team is a favorite again in the AFC.” …

 

Cleveland Browns

 

“No organization in all of professional sports has gone through as much upheaval over the past decade as the Browns. Since 1999, they’ve had 20 different starting quarterbacks, eight head coaches and seven general managers, just incredible.” …

 

“After one year with Rob Chudzinski as head coach, CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi dumped him, went on a 25-day coaching search and settled on Mike Pettine, the former Jets’ and Bills’ defensive coordinator as their best option. Ten days later, Banner and Lombardi were both shown the door and Ray Farmer was elevated to the top football decision-making spot by owner Jimmy Haslam.” …

 

“That’s all the bad news, the good news is that this roster has been piecemealed together over time by different regimes and there is some talent on hand.” …

 

“The biggest question mark has been and will be the QB position and the Browns maneuvered themselves into position to take Johnny Manziel in the first round. The Johnny Cleveland era will begin sooner rather than later, so maybe ‘21’ will be the magic number for them. Brian Hoyer was expected to serve as the ‘bridge’ QB, but that is up in the air now.” …

 

“In addition to QB, after Banner/Lombardi traded former first-round pick Trent Richardson last September, there was a huge void at RB. They signed Ben Tate from the Texans and he will be reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. If healthy, he can provide a downhill run threat, but they also added Terrance West from Towson in the third round to provide some insurance.” …

 

“Tight end Jordan Cameron, had a Pro Bowl season in 2013 and should continue to progress as a player. He can threaten the seam vertically and stretch the field horizontally with his speed and athleticism.” …

 

“Josh Gordon had a breakout year despite catching 87 passes from three different QBs last fall. He has an incredible mix of size, speed and skill, and when he is ‘on,’ he is a big-time player, but the immaturity off the field has never gone away, as evidenced by his potential one-year suspension in 2014.” …

 

“Greg Little has been a major disappointment in terms of his development, so this WR corps is depleted without Gordon.” …

 

“Joe Thomas has been a Pro Bowl-level mainstay since being the No. 3 pick in the 2007 draft and the Browns first tagged than eventually signed center Alex Mack in order to retain continuity on the OL.” …

 

“Mitchell Schwartz had some struggles athletically at right tackle, but the Browns addressed that side of the line by taking Joel Bitonio from Nevada in the second round.” …

 

“Defensively, the core elements for a 3-4 are in place with Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant on the interior with Paul Kruger and last year’s first-round pick Barkevious Mingo as the outside linebackers. Kruger was a high-priced disappointment in ’13 and Mingo has to develop a better repertoire of pass rush moves to go along with his outside speed.” …

 

“Cleveland released D’Qwell Jackson, but signed Karlos Dansby from the Cardinals as his replacement.” …

 

“Joe Haden made the Pro Bowl, but people around the league see him as an up-and-down player.” …

 

“The Browns selected Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State ahead of Manziel in the first round because CB was such a huge need for them. Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden are only backups at this time.” …

 

“Safety T.J. Ward tested free agency and landed in Denver, but they brought Donte Whitner ‘home’ from the 49ers and Tashaun Gipson returns, so they are probably OK back there.” …

 

“Three things have plagued this franchise since its return in 1999: no leadership stability at the top with multiple owners, coaches and GMs, solving the QB riddle and competing in a very difficult division. Two of those three can be answered this season, but the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are not going away anytime soon.” …

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

 

“The Steelers are caught betwixt-and-between as a team with enough aging ‘stars’ to win now, but not enough youthful talent to go into a full rebuilding mode.” …

 

“Pittsburgh has gone 8-8 the past two seasons and some are beginning to wonder if Mike Tomlin is part of the problem. The traditional strong running game has disappeared and the defense is a shell of its former self.” …

 

“On offense, ‘Big Ben’ Roethlisberger always gives them a chance because of his size, ad-lib ability and will to win. Word has it that he and OC Todd Haley are in a better place as they head into 2014.” …

 

“RB Le’Veon Bell began to emerge down the stretch of his rookie campaign and Pittsburgh added LeGarrette Blount in the offseason as an alternate ball-carrier.” …

 

“The wide receiver group is led by a big-time playmaker in Antonio Brown and the organization is looking for Markus Wheaton to take a big step forward this season. In order to protect their defense, the Steelers signed former Saint Lance Moore and are hoping to get one more solid season from TE Heath Miller.” …

 

“the offensive line is the concern, not necessarily Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro on the interior, but on the edges with Kelvin Beachum (who has an OG build) and Marcus Gilbert (who has never lived up to his second-round draft status).” …

 

“Unless you are in an NFL personnel department, you probably couldn’t name more than one DL in this front. Cameron Heyward is a former first-round choice, they inked Cam Thomas from the Chargers during free agency and drafted Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) and Daniel McCullers (Tennessee). People are intrigued about NT Steve McClendon, but he is off the field when the Steelers are in sub packages.” …

 

“Lawrence Timmons is one of the most underrated defenders in the league and, in many ways, it’s his defense now. Jarvis Jones recorded one sack as a rookie and that in and of itself probably forced the Steelers to tag OLB Jason Worilds, just to make sure they will have some kind of pressure from the corner in 2014. Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) was their first-round pick and he can fly.” …

 

“Troy Polamalu has had an unbelievable career, but it’s almost over, especially where his durability and range are considered. Mike Mitchell comes in from Carolina, but he’s only an average pro.” …

 

“The corners are past their primes when looking at Ike Taylor and William Gay and Cortez Allen has been more tease than player thus far.” …

 

“Everything needs to go right for the Steelers to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and with so many aging vets, I’m not sold that it can happen, which will turn up the temperature on Tomlin.” …

Teaser:
NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About AFC North Teams
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/northwesterns-offense-suffers-setback-transfer-rb-venric-mark
Body:

Northwestern’s offense suffered a major setback on Wednesday, as running back Venric Mark decided he would transfer from the program, and receiver Christian Jones was ruled out for the year due to a knee injury.

Mark was one of the Big Ten’s most explosive playmakers in 2012, rushing for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns and was a key weapon on special teams.

The senior plans to transfer to a school closer to his home in Texas.
 

With Mark out of the picture, expect senior Trevyon Green to handle the bulk of the carries, with Warren Long and Stephen Buckley providing depth.


Jones led Northwestern with 668 receiving yards last season and was slated to push for All-Big Ten honors in 2014.

 

While losing Jones is a big blow to the receiving corps, the offense does have experienced options on the depth chart. Junior Miles Shuler is a key transfer from Rutgers, and senior Kyle Prater was a top recruit coming out of high school. Senior Tony Jones and junior Cam Dickerson also return after combining for 66 catches in 2013.

Northwestern is a popular sleeper pick to watch in the Big Ten West Division in 2014, but the Wildcats will definitely miss Mark and Jones this season. 

Teaser:
Northwestern's Offense Suffers Setback With Transfer of RB Venric Mark
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/how-james-franklin-rebuilding-penn-state-football
Body:

Players weren’t quite ready for James Franklin when he took over Penn State’s football program in January, fresh off a remarkable three-season run at Vanderbilt. It was nothing personal. Truth is, they might not have been ready for anybody.

 

Everything had changed at Penn State during the previous two years. Its reputation as one of the NCAA’s upstanding citizens had been shattered by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the imposition of major sanctions in 2012. The football coaching staff, once a model of stability, had been in constant flux ever since Joe Paterno’s dismissal. The Nittany Lions had had three head coaches from November 2011 to January 2014, four if you counted longtime defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who was tasked with holding the program together after Bill O’Brien’s departure following the 2013 season.

 

After so much upheaval in such a short period of time, a particular kind of defensiveness had set in among players. Senior linebacker Mike Hull calls it “an us-against-the-world mentality.” So when Franklin showed up, bringing with him another set of assistants, schemes and expectations, those players did not rush to embrace the program’s new direction. Says Hull, “I think there was a wall there.”

 

Franklin sensed it, too. How could he not? A self-professed “relationships guy,” he might have come to town preaching solidarity but, as he later acknowledged, players weren’t going to trust him just because he wanted them to. “A lot of them came here to play for Joe,” he says. “Then Joe leaves and there are hurt feelings associated with that. Then Billy comes in, and then Billy leaves, and there are hurt feelings associated with that, too.

 

“We’ve talked about that, that the players had a little bit of a wall when we first got here, which is natural. But for us to get where we want to go, they have to let us in. They can’t do it by themselves, and we can’t do it by ourselves. We have to do it together.”

 

Togetherness has been the theme of Franklin’s tenure with the Lions, and not just in the locker room. In addition to gaining the players’ trust, he has talked about building relationships between the football program and Penn State fans and alumni throughout the region. He’s talked about packing 107,000 fans into Beaver Stadium on a regular basis, something the Lions haven’t come close to achieving in recent years. He’s promised to do speaking engagements and blow up balloons at birthday parties — whatever it takes to bring back all those people who’ve drifted away.

 

“We’re going to sell out every single game next year,” he says. “I believe that. I’m going to keep pounding the table on that because we need to do it from a recruiting perspective. We need to do it from a financial perspective. I truly believe once we get everybody pulling the rope in the same direction that we can build something really special here.”

 

There are places, no doubt, where that kind of off-the-charts positivity might seem overbearing or naive. Those places are not Penn State. This is a school that is still coping with the post-Sandusky fallout, a school that remains under NCAA sanctions and whose fans, alumni and trustees continue to spar over Paterno’s complicated legacy. At Penn State, all positivity is welcome, and Franklin is doling it out not with an eyedropper but with a fire hose.

 

So far, it seems to be working. After much lobbying from Franklin, Penn State drew 72,000 fans for the team’s spring game, an improvement of nearly 50,000 from last year. The weather was certainly a factor; last year’s game was marred by a snow squall, while this year’s was played under sunny skies and in temperatures approaching 70 degrees. But the turnout may also have had something to do with the esprit de corps that Franklin is trying to foster. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that (Penn State) is special,” he says. “And one of the big reasons we’re special is the support we get from the community.”

 

Players, too, have been buying in. If there was a wall in January, it was crumbling by April. “I think we’ve been able to break it down as a team,” Hull said midway through spring practice. “We’ve made a lot of progress.”

 

Crucially, it isn’t just current players who have responded. Recruits, too, have embraced Franklin’s upbeat vision. Before wrapping up his first spring practice with the Lions, Franklin and his staff had secured verbal commitments from 10 four-star prospects, two of whom joined the Class of 2014 following his hiring and eight of whom had committed to join the Class of 2015 as of mid-April. As of mid-August, the Nittany Lions have 12 four-star prospects committed for 2015. To put that number in context, those 10 four-star commitments (as rated by Rivals) are as many as Penn State recruited in its classes of 2011, ’12 and ’13 combined. They are two more than Franklin recruited in his three seasons at Vanderbilt. 

 

It comes as little surprise that Franklin and his assistants have been able to make inroads with top prospects, particularly those in Pennsylvania and nearby states. Seven members of the new staff are originally from the Northeast, and four had coached in Pennsylvania before being hired by Penn State. The list begins with Franklin himself, who grew up in Langhore, Pa., and attended East Stroudsburg University in the Poconos. It also includes former Penn State wide receiver Terry Smith, who previously coached at Gateway High near Pittsburgh and has deep roots in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

 

Franklin and his coaches have seized on recruiting as the key to rekindling Penn State’s championship aspirations. They are confident in their ability to sign the kind of blue-chip prospects that the Lions used to get with regularity but who began turning away during the waning years of the Paterno era. That confidence stems in large part from everyone’s faith in the guy in charge. Says Smith, “He’s high-energy. He’s got a youthful spirit. He relates to players today, and he attacks recruiting. That’s a priority.”

 

For now, the goal is to ride out the sanctions and work toward the better days that Franklin and his staff insist are coming. Penn State is only allowed 75 players on scholarship this year, and Franklin has told the incoming freshmen to show up ready to play.

 

The other goal is to create an atmosphere of trust. Trust in the staff, in the schemes, in the idea that Penn State is headed in the right direction, even if there are detours along the way. “I think it’s naturally going to happen over time,” Franklin says. “I think it’s getting better, and I’m very, very confident that by the first game of the year, our chemistry will be as good as any in the country, because that’s a focus of our program.”

 

Written by Matt Herb () of  for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big Ten Football Preview Editions. 

Teaser:
How James Franklin is Rebuilding Penn State Football
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-freshmen-watch-2014
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The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the Big Ten this fall?

 

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

This list has to begin with the Charles Woodson clone in Ann Arbor. He will begin his career as the nickelback but could easily work into a starting role on defense. Peppers, in true Woodson fashion, is a dynamic return specialist and don’t be surprised if he gets some snaps on offense as well. He was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2014 class for a reason.

 

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The No. 2-rated recruit in the Big Ten was the top inside linebacker in the nation and he is already pressing for starting reps in Columbus. The 242-pounder is breathing down Curtis Grant’s neck at MLB and should see plenty of snaps all year long. The early enrollee is the next great tackling star for Ohio State.

 

Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

A man among boys, McDowell has rare size (6-6, 295) and quickness for such a young player. With an injury to Damon Knox, Pat Narduzzi needs McDowell to be ready to start sooner rather than later. He may not start the opener but he will be major factor for the Spartans this fall.

 

Damian Prince | Derwin Gray, OL, Maryland

Both Prince and Gray are in the heat of two position battles for starting time up front for the Terps. Prince (6-5, 295) was recently moved to guard and is the odds-on favorite to earn the starting job. Gray (6-5, 295) is battling Ryan Doyle for the starting right tackle spot. Both Prince and Gray are dramatically more talented options but need to catch on quickly to start all year.

 

Chikwe Obasih | Alec James, DL, Wisconsin

The Badgers could feature two redshirt freshman starting defensive ends in Week 1 against LSU. Obasih (6-2, 245) and James (6-3, 239) are undersized but both bring a quickness off the edge Wisconsin hasn’t had in years. Obasih was the starter throughout spring camp and James, a converted outside backer, has risen quickly into a starting role. There will be a rotation up front this fall but expect both Obasih and James to finish the year as the starters.

 

Mason Cole, OL, Michigan

Most offensive linemen need to time to develop but Cole is proving he is ready to play right out of the gate. The Florida native checks in at 6-foot-5 and a slighter 285 pounds but has great athleticism and is already working with the first team in camp. Both David Dawson and Logan Tuley-Tillman could see playing time as well up front for a team in desperate need of stability on the O-line.

 

Gelen Robinson, DE/LB, Purdue

The hybrid Purdue freshman has already been moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder was an end in high school and is at his best coming off the edge. The physical player should force his way into the starting lineup by the end of September.

 

Andrew Nelson, OL, Penn State

One of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten this fall is the Nittany Lions' O-line. Herb Hand is going to try everything to counteract the concerning lack of depth and that likely means a lot of young players getting reps this fall. Nelson is already slotted to start at right tackle and pretty much any other player on the roster should expect to see time for the depleted Lions.

 

Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan

Canteen has already earned high marks from quarterback Devin Gardner and figures to be a big contributor in the slot this fall. He had an excellent spring and has outplayed more highly touted freshman and plenty of upperclassmen. Once Drake Harris is healthy, he also figures to play a role this fall as well.

 

Chris Goodwin | De’Andre Thompkins, WR, Penn State

James Franklin and his staff attacked depth at the wide receiver position on the recruiting trail and landed a quartet of athletic playmakers. Goodwin and Thompkins are the two names that continue to stand out. Thompkins (6-0, 175) is the speedster who can fly while Goodwin (6-2, 205) brings a physical frame and maturity to the position. Both Troy Apke and Saeed Blacknall could see playing time as well.

 

Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa

The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder recently was moved into the starting lineup at left guard for Kirk Ferentz. Surrounded by seniors and juniors, the Ohio native is proving quickly that he belongs on the field for Iowa.

 

Curtis Samuel, AP, Ohio State

Fans have been pointing to Dontre Wilson as a guy who could fill the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. And while Wilson is going to have an excellent sophomore season, it’s actually Samuel who is drawing the brightest reviews. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is listed as a wideout but has been getting plenty of carries out of the backfield. Look for Samuel to play a lot in a variety of roles this fall.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

Demetrius Cooper, DE, Michigan State

Dominique Booth, WR, Indiana

Jeff Jones | Berkley Edwards, RB, Minnesota

Corey Clements, OL, Purdue

Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

George Rushing | Natrell Jamerson, WR, Wisconsin

Derrick Willies, WR, Iowa

Enoch Smith, DL, Michigan State
Shane Jones | Jon Reschke, LB, Michigan State
Sebastian Joseph, DL, Rutgers
Myles Nash, LB, Rutgers

Teaser:
The Big Ten's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2014
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 08:30

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