Depending on your point of view, spring practice is either a respite from the football-free months of winter and a taste of things to come in August. On the other hand, it’s only appealing to the hardcore football fan.
Sure, there’s the same questions every year -- is my team’s defense really good or is the offense really bad, or vice versa. But there’s also plenty of news and notes.
Spring practice has ended for every team across the country. Athlon Sports takes a quick snapshot at the nation, cutting through some of the minutiae for the top 25 things you need to know from spring football.
25 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW FROM SPRING FOOTBALL
Braxton Miller airs it out
Urban Meyer seems intent to prove Braxton Miller can command a two-dimensional offense. The junior quarterback completed 16 of 25 passes for 217 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game for a passing performance that would have been one of his best during the 2012 season. Miller threw more than 25 passes in a game once last season and topped 200 yards four times.
Oregon’s offense is just fine
No Chip Kelly, no Kenjon Barner, but the Oregon offense rolls on. Take it for what it’s worth, but the two offenses in the spring game combined for 802 yards and nine touchdowns with Marcus Mariota going 13 of 15 for 169 yards and two touchdowns in four series against the second-team defense. Beyond Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, wide receiver Bralon Addison (243 yards, 11 yards per catch in 2012) and running back Byron Marshall (447 yards, 5.1 yards per carry last season looked like potential breakout players for Mark Helfrich’s first season.
ACL injuries claim Michigan’s top linebacker, backup quarterback
Michigan has aspirations to win the Big Ten Legends Division, but the Wolverines may have to do it without their leading tackler and backup quarterback. Jake Ryan (88 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss) and Russell Bellomy both went down with torn ACL since March, putting both of their seasons in doubt. The most decorated defensive player for Michigan last season, Ryan is the bigger loss, though the Wolverines are hopeful he could return by mid-October. Without Bellomy, who threw four interceptions in 21 attempts last season, Michigan may look to incoming freshman Shane Morris to handle backup QB duty.
Jameis Winston’s emergence at Florida State is West Virginia’s gain
The redshirt freshman is looking the part as the starter at the quarterback position, where Florida State has produced more first-round draft picks (EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder) in recent years than All-ACC first-teamers. Winston was 12 of 15 for 205 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game while Jacob Coker went 11 of 19 for 153 yards and a score. Winston’s rise was enough to convince veteran Clint Trickett to transfer to West Virginia, where he’ll compete with Ford Childress and Paul Millard to replace Geno Smith. Trickett was 66 of 106 for 947 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions the last two seasons.
Banged up at South Carolina
South Carolina tried to calm the masses after defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the top defensive player in college football, missed the end of spring with neck and back pain and a possible concussion. He’s expected back for the fall, and the injuries aren’t out of the ordinary. But Clowney is the presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014 and a Heisman contender. Meanwhile, starting quarterback Connor Shaw missed the spring to nurse a foot injury sustained in the Outback Bowl. As he did last year, backup Dylan Thompson looked capable of taking over if needed.
Arrest clouds Jeremy Hill’s season at LSU
Running back is traditionally a spot where LSU has plenty of depth. That may be put to the test with leading rusher Jeremy Hill (755 yards, 12 touchdowns) indefinitely suspended. Hill was arrested on charges of simple battery early in the morning April 27 after an altercation in a Baton Rouge bar. The Tigers still return Kenny Hilliard (463 yards, six touchdowns) and Alfred Blue (6.8 yards per carry), but Hill will be missed if his suspension leads into the opener against TCU or longer.
Florida putting together a puzzle
For a team that returns only four defensive starters, the Gators don’t have much to worry about on defense. Will Muschamp spent most of the spring figuring out where to play his top players on defense. Spring drills ended with Dominique Easley at tackle (he started at end last season), Dante Fowler at the “buck” end/linebacker position, Ronald Powell at strongside linebacker (his natural position is “buck”) and Jaylen Watkins at safety (he started last year at corner). Meanwhile, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy spent time on offense to boost a lackluster wide receiver position.
Penn State will start from scratch at quarterback
Steven Bench, who threw a total of eight passes last season, elected to transfer after the spring, meaning Penn State will have no experienced quarterbacks vying for the job in spring. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson appeared to take the lead in the race during the spring, but he’ll be joined in the fall by freshman Christian Hackenberg, the No. 13 prospect in the Athlon Consensus 100.
Dominique Brown at tailback for Louisville
The former quarterback is preparing for his first full season at running back after missing all of last year with an injury. Brown rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries in the spring game, adding six catches for 30 yards. His emergence will be key for a run game that field to produce 100 yards in a game after the season-ending injury to Senorise Perry.
Oklahoma State’s competition goes on
A year ago, Mike Gundy named then-freshman Wes Lunt his starting quarterback during the spring. This decision won’t be quite so easy. Gundy first said Clint Chelf was his frontrunner but then backtracked to say J.W. Walsh and Lunt were neck-and-neck-and-neck. Doesn’t seem like he could go wrong with any, but it will be interesting to see if there are any bruised egos come Aug. 31.
Oregon State still choosing
Like Oklahoma State, Oregon State has multiple qualified quarterbacks who won games last season. Neither Sean Mannion nor Cody Vaz won the job in the spring, meaning Mike Riley will wait until fall to choose between his veteran QBs.
Not so fast on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell and USC’s Max Wittek
Two quarterbacks who saw spot duty at national powers aren't assured of starting in 2013. Athlon Sports still thinks Bell is a player on the rise for 2013, but Bob Stoops isn’t saying as much. He’s the most experience quarterback on the roster, but almost all of that is running in short-yardage situations. Sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight gave him competition in the spring for Oklahoma’s first quarterback battle since 2007. At USC, Wittek went down for a week with a knee injury opening the door for Cody Kessler and freshman Max Browne, one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2013.
Pachall returns to TCU
Gary Patterson has been guarded in his comments about Casey Pachall’s return to TCU after leaving the team after four games to deal with substance abuse. Pachall is the odds-on favorite, but Trevone Boykin, who went 3-6 as a starter against nine bowl teams, can’t be ignored. How Pachall fits into the offense in his return will be a storyline worth watching as TCU hopes to contend for a Big 12 title.
Texas linebackers get a makeover
The Longhorns’ run defense was a mess last season, allowing 200 yards or more five times and giving up 4.6 yards per carry. Spring indicated there may be some help with a new-look linebacker corps. Jordan Hicks, who was injured for most of the season, will return healthy along two promising sophomores, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens.
Virginia Tech still limping on offense
The Hokies were in the bottom four of the ACC in passing, scoring offense and total offense, but Virginia Tech didn’t have its usual performance in the run game, either. Virginia Tech’s 3.7 yards per carry was its worst since 2007, and the returning cast might not have a lot of hope to improve. Michael Holmes is facing a felony charge after a fight in Blacksburg two weeks ago, and Tony Gregory missed the spring with a rib injury. The pair were among the Hokies’ top four rushers, but failed to top 300 yards.
Arizona loses top receiver
The Wildcats are starting over in the passing game, first with Matt Scott exhausting his eligibility and now with a torn ACL for wide receiver Austin Hill. The junior was as second-team All-Pac-12 performer with 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. The injury leaves David Richards (29 catches, 264 yards, three touchdowns) as the top returning wide receiver.
Rushel Shell bolts from Pittsburgh
It wouldn’t be a Pittsburgh offseason without a little bit of turmoil. As the Panthers moving into the ACC, they’ll do so without a rising star at running back. Expected to take over for Ray Graham, Rushel Shell transferred to UCLA. Shell was one of Pittsburgh’s top recruits in the 2012 class, rushing for 641 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett, who combined for 191 yards and 41 carries last season, will take over ball-carrying duties.
Wisconsin’s David Gilbert calls it quits
Recurring foot injuries caused Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert to end his career before spring practice. After recording 9.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season, Gilbert was expected to anchor the Badgers’ pass rush in coach Gary Andersen’s first season.
Georgia’s defense is going to be OK
With a handful of injuries and suspensions, Georgia ranked 12th in the SEC in rush defense and sixth in total defense despite two first-round picks in the front seven and seven overall draft picks on the defense. With early enrollee Tray Matthews and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons shining in spring practice, Georgia hopes for better results with less name recognition.
Johnny Manziel played actual football during the spring and did OK
The defending Heisman winner worked to trademark his nickname, spent some time on vacation, got courtside seats for NBA games and had a love-hate relationship with Twitter. He also played actual football, passing for 303 yards and three touchdowns in his spring game against the second-team defense.
James Franklin’s job is in jeopardy at Missouri
As a sophomore, Missouri quarterback James Franklin looked ready to step into a the Tigers’ quarterback lineage of Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. After an injury-plagued junior season and a lackluster spring practice, Franklin may have trouble hanging onto his job as a senior. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk impressed during the spring as the Tigers have had a changing of the guard of sorts on offense with longtime Gary Pinkel assistant David Yost leaving for Washington State.
Notre Dame finds replacement for Manti Te’o
The early returns on Jarrett Grace replacing Te’o at middle linebacker were positive, though no one expects the junior from Cincinnati to duplicate Te’o’s season. He’ll have the advantage of playing behind Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Despite an uneventful spring game, George Atkinson III impressed during spring practice, now that he could be Notre Dame’s primary back.
Boise State’s Joe Southwick continues to improve
Southwick didn’t throw an interception in Boise State’s final four games, all wins, after throwing seven picks in the first nine. In his second spring as the starter, Southwick completed 79 percent of his passes in team drills, for what that’s worth. The senior also showed more willingness to run after rushing for 121 yards last season.
Stanford’s Josh Nunes retires after freak injury
Nunes, who was beat out by Kevin Hogan for the quarterback job at midseason, ended his career after a painful weight room injury resulting in a torn right pectoral muscle. His departure will cut into Stanford’s depth at quarterback beyond Hogan.
Nick Saban is unhappy
Alabama has won back-to-back national titles and is likely the No. 1 team in the preseason. So, of course, Nick Saban is a little cranky on his tour of Alabama alumni groups, saying: “They all want me to make a comparison between this year’s team and last year’s team and the team before that and the team before that. I wasn’t happy with any of those teams at this point. If I was happy with them, we wouldn't have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, we wouldn't have 30 practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We'd just pack it in and say, 'All right, let's go to Atlanta and play the game.' We're not there yet."
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