It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes
Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:
“The dropoff from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy might not be as much as people think. Lacy is actually bigger, I think, and he had some runs against North Texas, when we were breaking them down, where he looked like a clone of Richardson. He is very, very capable of being an 1,100- or 1,200-yard rusher next year.
They are so big and strong on defense. They can cover so much ground. They might not be the fastest, but they are all really good. They are long. Their secondary is unbelievable. They do a great job of recognizing run vs. pass, and when it is run, the safeties were awesome. The corners were awesome. Their defensive line, they weren’t great at rushing the passer; they were more middle-rush type guys and read-and-react guys. But they got the job done. And they are so well-coached.
Defensively, the just don’t make many mistakes. It’s hard to drive the ball up the field on them, but it’s also so hard to hit them with a big play.
I thought (tight end) Brad Smelley was great for them last year. Very underrated. He will be missed.
The quarterback (AJ McCarron) was underrated. Their receivers were underrated. Those guys made plays for the quarterback when they needed to make plays.
Alabama had the best offensive line in the league. They just pummeled you. They were awesome. Getting Barrett Jones back is huge. That’s like signing the No. 1 recruit in the nation, getting him to return.”
Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:
“They have a great scheme and great personnel. Losing Coach (Bobby) Petrino is a tough blow. He is a unique playcaller, has a great feel for the game and a good command of the game. They still have the players, but his loss will be felt.
They have a great one in Tyler Wilson. They have tremendous amount of speed at the skill positions and gifted tight ends.
Here’s how good they were last year on offense: They lost Knile Davis, a first-team All-SEC running back from the year before, and they still had the No. 1 offense in the league.
Wilson gets beat up a lot. They have a lot of five-man protection packages where they are getting people out in routes quickly, and he recognizes that he has to get the ball off, and he knows that he is going to get hit. That being said, I don’t think they have an upper-level offensive line. That is one area on offense that can get better.
They can spread you out all over the field and still run the ball with some success.
They didn’t play well enough on defense, so I’m not really surprised they made a move and fired (Willy Robinson). The team was good, but the defense was just okay. They didn’t do a whole lot that confused you.
They are losing two really good players on defense in the end (Jake Bequette) and the linebacker (Jerry Franklin).”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“Obviously it’s all about the coordinators and what kind of changes they make. Ted Roof is a good coordinator, but Brian VanGorder knows this league. That was a coup for Auburn, and I assume (Gene) Chizik will let him run the show. But on offense it’ll be hard for them not to have a downgrade from (Gus) Malzahn.
The guy Gabe Wright, the defensive tackle, he’ll probably have a big season this year, being his sophomore year. He made some plays last year. Their defensive ends are big and strong.
The linebacker they’re losing, (Eltoro Freeman), will be tough to replace. He was a good player.
I don’t know about the quarterback situation. I guess they don’t either. That’s never a good thing.
Their secret weapon, if it’s really a secret, could be (tight end) Philip Lutzenkirchen. I think he’ll have a big year. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, but he has the ability to make big plays.
Defensively, they’ll just be big and strong. That’s one thing I noticed last year — outside of LSU, Auburn’s defensive ends, in terms of physical presence, were the best in the league.
They definitely have a chance to make some noise in the West. They’ll be kind of a sleeper team coming off that 8–5 year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them contend. They have some really good young talent.”
Opposing coaches size up the Gators:
“Consistency at quarterback was a big problem for them last year. John Brantley got hurt and lost some mobility.
I don’t think they had a great offensive line. That was an issue throughout the season.
Scheme was also a problem because they were trying to play a pro-style offensive with spread-style players. (Former offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis never seemed to have a handle on what he could do to get the offense going.
They were maybe the fastest team that we played against, but I did not think they were tough, and I think there were some issues between some players and coaches on the offensive side of the ball.
All of their receivers have tremendous potential, but none of them were very productive. In many ways, tight ends Trey Burton and Jordan Reed were their best receivers. Those guys and the two running backs, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, scared me catching the ball more than any of their receivers.
They were better on defense than what we thought they would be, from watching them on film.
They still have good players running around. They should be better than what they were, though. They still have guys who can run, and they still have a couple of decent defensive linemen and (Jelani) Jenkins, the linebacker, is a good player. For some reason, they didn’t click defensively as much as they should have.
Will Muschamp has a good reputation. He has been with some good teams, very successful teams.”
Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:
“If you look up quarterback in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Aaron Murray. He has nice composure, good leadership and a good handle of what they want to do. They might not be as sophisticated on offense as a team like Arkansas, but Murray knows what they want. He is a winner and has all the intangibles. From their perspective, the one thing I think they would say is that he has to cut down on his interceptions. He had some bad interceptions last year.
Orson Charles and Aron White will be big losses at tight end. Charles had the unique ability to flex out and be a wide receiver and create mismatches. He improved his blocking ability, too. He was also a dominant special teams player. He covered kicks. He did so much for them that a lot of people didn’t see. He is a high-character guy, too, from what I’ve heard.
I think Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King are an underrated wide receiver duo. Those guys are pretty good. Nobody talks about them as being among the best in the league, but they are very good.
Defensively, they might be 3-4 from a personnel standpoint, but they do a lot of four-down linemen fronts, so it’s a little deceiving. They have the one guy (Jarvis Jones) who is considered a linebacker, but they like him rushing the passer a lot.
Their secondary was outstanding last year. Made a lot of plays for them.”
Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:
“I don’t think Maxwell Smith is going to be the answer long term for them at quarterback. He came in and gave them a spark late in the year, but he is not a guy who is going to be a top-flight quarterback in this league.
CoShik Williams is a lower-level SEC back. He had some moments last year, but I think his best games were against Jacksonville State (148 yards) and Ole Miss (111).
Their personnel just wasn’t very good last year. They had higher expectations for Morgan Newton, who started off the season as their quarterback. He did some good things as a freshman a couple of years ago, but just didn’t pan out, for whatever reason.
They relied so heavily on Randall Cobb two years ago. He did everything for them, and they lacked that type of playmaker last year.
From a skill perspective, they didn’t put a whole lot of fear into the defense. And from a physical standpoint, with their offensive line and tight ends, you didn’t really need to load up the box to stop the run.
(Linebacker) Danny Trevathan was a good player. I liked him. He ran well. Ran like a defensive back. He was the one guy that stuck out when you prepared for them. Now, he’s gone. Not good for them.
They do a lot of good things on defense. They don’t necessarily have the personnel that other teams do, but they try to do a lot of different things.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“They have the best secondary in college football probably, even without Morris Claiborne. They did lose their secondary coach, Ron Cooper; he went to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs with Greg Schiano, and they brought the guy from Nebraska (Corey Raymond) in. I’m not sure losing Cooper is a big deal.
They are big and very, very good up front on defense. They have so many guys who can play.
Their performance in the national title game was disappointing. They should have played better. They were a better team than they showed that day.
One thing that is amazing about what they did last year — they scored nine non-offensive touchdowns. We used that as an example to our team throughout the spring. You can score points in so many other ways than just on offense.
I’ve heard good things about Zach Mettenberger. He’s a big kid who can make all of the throws. If he settles in, watch out. If that team gets really good play from the quarterback position, I’m not sure anyone can beat them.
John Chavis always does a good job. He’s well-respected. He has great players, but he is a very good coach.
They have so many good running backs it’s ridiculous. They can come at you with so many different looks. They will go five deep this year. They might not have the one All-American, but they have five who could start for 90 percent of the teams in the country.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“The Tigers have had some nice teams in the past, but I’m not so sure ‘nice teams’ will cut it in the SEC. I think Missouri is going to experience some serious problems competing in their first year in the SEC. The offense will give them a chance to be fairly successful, but I don’t think they’ll be physical enough on defense.
My biggest question is if the Tigers can survive a conference schedule featuring South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M plus nonconference games against Arizona State and Syracuse.
Quarterback James Franklin will immediately be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, but the Tigers will need big production out of their running game. Henry Josey emerged and had a tremendous season last year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Franklin underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire spring. It looks like he’ll be fine, but I don’t know any scenario where it’s a good thing for your starting quarterback to miss spring drills.
Wide receiver T.J. Moe is the only top returning receiver, but he’s a good one. He literally catches everything thrown in his direction.
I’m interested to see how they hold up on the defensive line against some of the better offensive fronts in the SEC. Everyone is going to be watching them to see how they do in their first season in that league.”
Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:
“I look at them as scrappy. They’ve kind of had a couple down years, and they’re trying to re-invent themselves.
I’d say they’re a spread version of Georgia Tech, and that’s what they try to do. They try to run the ball. (Dan Mullen) might not have all the speed guys on the edge, like he did when he was at Florida working for Urban Meyer, but they are trying to do a lot of the same stuff. Once they get the players that fit their system completely, they could be dangerous, like Florida used to be.
They’re gonna be a well-coached team, especially with Mullen running the show. They always play hard. They’re fast.
Losing (defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox will hurt in the middle. But I think they’ll have big strong kids.
I like the linebacker, Cameron Lawrence. He’s a good player.
With (quarterback) Chris Relf gone, they’ll have an opportunity to improve. I know they underachieved, but I think they’ll be able to do something this season.
They need Tyler Russell to play well at quarterback. He came in as a pretty hyped recruit, but he was never unable to completely beat out Relf, so that right there might tell you something. There is pressure on that kid this year.”
Opposing coaches size up the Rebels:
“They turned the ball over too much and they didn’t get much out of the quarterback position. They couldn’t identify the guy they wanted to go with. They had Zack Stoudt, the junior college transfer, and Randall Mackey, and also Barry Brunetti, the kid who transferred from West Virginia.
They struggled to find an identity all season on offense, and it was because they couldn’t throw the ball.
They had two preseason all-conference guys on the offensive line (Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie). They had some good-looking guys up front.
They were inexperienced at the skill positions, and their best running back, Brandon Bolden, was hurt at times.
I like (running back) Jeff Scott. He can be really good. He is one of the leading punt returners in the conference. I think he can be a formidable upper-level SEC running back. But they need to get better on the offensive line. That is a big priority. And Scott will have to stay healthy. He was in and out of the lineup. He is one of the few playmakers they do have.
I don’t know much about the new coaching staff. I know Hugh Freeze was at Ole Miss before, and I know he did a good job at Arkansas State.
Their personnel on defense isn’t very good. That is their biggest problem.
They are near the bottom of the league from a talent standpoint. They’ve got to recruit better players.”
Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks:
“When you play South Carolina, you have to stop 21 (Marcus Lattimore). Their gameplan was to turn and hand the ball to him. So from a scheme perspective, they weren’t that hard to defend.
I have the utmost respect for them. They won with a different formula last season. They had an outstanding defense. They found unique ways to move the football. It wasn’t the pass-happy teams that we saw from Steve Spurrier at Florida in the ’90s. They utilized the strengths that Connor Shaw has, which are his feet and his mobility.
From an offensive standpoint, South Carolina was the most difficult team to prepare for. They were just so good up front. They can play guys that are defensive ends and put them in as tackles and that can really screw up your plan. You don’t know where they are going to be, so it’s hard to get a double-team on them.
(Defensive end) Jadeveon Clowney was very good. He is long, and he is athletic off the edge, and if he doesn’t get a rush he can knock a lot of balls down. He can beat you in so many ways.
I’m not so sure how much they will miss Alshon Jeffrey. The Alshon Jeffrey from 2010 was a great player. The Jeffrey from 2011, I’m not sure how much they will miss him. I thought he got a little bit out of shape. From what people tell me, (freshman) Shaq Roland will be a guy who can step in and produce.”
Opposing coaches size up the Volunteers:
“When they played hard they were good. But there were times when they just did not play hard. You can see that on film. When they play fast, they are good. But when they got down, they just shut it down.
A healthy Tyler Bray is really, really good. Just put on the Cincinnati game from early last year (Tennessee won 45–23). He was incredible in that game. He has a lot of ability. He needs to get himself straight mentally.
With (wide receivers) Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter coming back, and throw in the junior college guy they have coming in (Cordarrelle Patterson), and they are going to be scary, I think.
If you look at their offensive linemen, I think they are more athletic than tough. I think they lacked toughness up front. If you were at a combine, they are all the right height, the right size and have the right athletic ability, but I thought they lacked toughness.
You assume we will see a lot of Alabama stuff defensively with Sal Sunseri coming in as the new coordinator. It’s always nice knowing what you are going to go against. I’m sure he will have his own stuff and they will evolve, but at least we know what type of system he comes from.
They didn’t have any real strengths defensively. They were just okay across the board. I guess they were pretty good up front, but not what you would expect from them.”
Opposing coaches size up the Aggies:
“Like Missouri, they’re going to find the going gets tougher now that they’re in the SEC. First the schedule now has Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama — all of those are projected top 25 teams. Then add in former Big 12 member Missouri and trips to Mississippi State and Auburn. The Aggies will have a tough time adjusting, more so than Missouri because the Aggies lost more key players.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller formed a pretty damn good nucleus and all three are gone. Jameill Showers was Tannehill’s back-up last season, so he’ll get first shot at replacing Tannehill.
I’m glad Kevin Sumlin finally got a shot at a BCS school. He has proven he can coach, and he’ll win at Texas A&M. Hopefully they’ll be patient with him. He obviously benefitted from having Case Keenum at Houston, but he did a solid job building that program. Now he must build another with a lot tougher degree of difficulty — and a much, much tougher schedule. He’s not in Conference USA anymore. There are no off weeks in the SEC, at least not in conference play. It’s going to be an interesting season in College Station.”
Opposing coaches size up the Commodores:
“(James) Franklin came in as a recruiter, and he’s lived up to his reputation. But now that he’s getting his guys, he has to coach them up.
I love (running back) Zac Stacy. I think he is really good, one of the best in the league. I think he can be an NFL back if he continues to get better. He can catch and he can throw and he can run. He is tough guy.
Their offense improved so much during the season. Never seen anything like it. Their staff deserves a ton of credit. They seemed to re-invent themselves after the first few games.
Putting (quarterback) Jordan Rodgers in the lineup helped. He was better than anyone thought.
That receiver, Jordan Matthews, is really good. He could be an NFL wide receiver. I think he lacks flat-out speed, but if you can be an upper-level player in the this league, I would think you have a chance to be a pro football player. He creates mismatches with size and he can go up and get the ball in a crowd.
They have a few guys that can play at the next level. I think until they develop a bigger offensive and defensive line, it’ll be harder to compete with the bigger schools.”
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