Thursday, April 28, 2005
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- All 12 Southeastern Conference schools have wrapped up spring football practice. Here are some notes compiled by the school and the SEC office as summer workouts are quickly approaching and the start of fall camp is just around the corner as another exciting year of football in the deep south is upon us.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
By December, 2005, at least 10 Alabama football players will have earned their undergraduate degrees. Receiving diplomas in May will be center JB Closner and defensive back Anthony Madison. On track for August graduation is wide receiver Brandon Brooks, while defensive end Mark Anderson, quarterback Brodie Croyle, defensive tackle Rudy Griffin, defensive back Roman Harper, linebacker Freddie Roach, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and center Taylor Britt are scheduled for December graduation.
Senior linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has 231 career tackles, was recently named a first-team member as a 2005 Arthur Ashe, Jr., Sport Scholar.
Ryans will earn his undergraduate degree this December just seven semesters. He is also on the 2005 Lott Trophy Watch list.
Center JB Closner, who has started 24 consecutive games for the Crimson Tide, was recently picked to the Spring Remington Watch List.
He plays the same position, but his name is different. Junior linebacker Juwan Simpson was known as Juwan Garth last year, but this spring he changed his name to Simpson in memory of his father who died in November, 2004.
Senior free safety Roman Harper has 233 career tackles, 13th on the Tide's all-time list. He has a shot to become only the fifth Tide player to amass more than 300 career tackles, joining Wayne Davis (327), Thomas Boyd (324), Woodrow Lowe (315) and Marcus Spencer (303) on that elite list.
Strong safety Charlie Peprah has nine career interceptions for 214 yards to rank fifth on the Tide's career interception return yardage chart.
When Tyrone Prothro had 17 kickoff returns for 452 yards and one TD last year, he became the first Alabama player to lead the Southeastern Conference in that category. His 26.6 average per return was fourth on the Tide's all-time single season list.
Alabama returns its entire starting secondary in seniors Roman Harper (FS), Anthony Madison (RCB) and Charlie Peprah (SS) and junior Ramzee Robinson (LCB). A total of nine starters return to a defense that led the SEC in four defensive categories (total defense, pass defense, turnover margin and pass efficiency defense), was second in one (scoring defense) and fifth in another (rushing defense).
Senior quarterback Brodie Croyle suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the 2004 season. He spent the remainder of the season rehabilitating the injury, but he participated in non-contact drills during spring practice and is expected to be the Tide's starter in the season opener on Sept. 3 against Middle Tennessee. A pair of other starters from 2004 who were derailed by injuries, fullback Tim Castille and tailback Kenneth Darby are both expected to return to starting duty this fall.
Construction is underway on a north endzone expansion at Bryant-Denny Stadium that will include additional stadium seating, club area and skyboxes and expand capacity by approximately 10,000 seats. The project should be completed in time for the opening of the 2006 football season.
Arkansas ended spring practice the way it began with a three-way logjam at quarterback. Houston Nutt gave a slight edge to sophomore Robert Johnson because of his experience heading into the fall, but redshirt freshman Alex Mortensen and true freshman Cole Barthel will continue to compete for the starting job in August. The trio is competing for the spot vacated by Matt Jones. Jones was selected as the 21st overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2005 NFL Draft.
This spring marked the debut for new Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. Herring came to the Razorbacks after spending one season with North Carolina State. In 2004, Herring guided the Wolfpack to a dramatic turnaround on the defensive side of the ball. North Carolina State boasted the nation's top ranking in total defense in 2004 allowing only 221.36 yards per game. In 2003 prior to Herring's arrival, N.C. State ranked 89th in the country allowing 421.0 yards per contest.
Arkansas staged only two major scrimmages in spring practice due to an unusual amount of injuries on the offensive line. Offensive tackle Zac Tubbs (left fibula fracture) and redshirt freshman Cody Green (back surgery) missed the entire spring while recovering from surgeries.
Offensive guards Jonathan Luigs (lacerated calf) and Chase Pressley (concussion) and offensive tackle James Johnson (sprained foot) missed large portions of spring drills while reserve center Skye Peterson battled a chronic hernia injury throughout the spring. In addition, starting offensive tackle Tony Ugoh missed spring drills while competing with the Razorbacks' track and field squad.
At 6-6, Marcus Monk was sure to stand out in his first year at Arkansas. Monk obliged by leading all Southeastern Conference freshmen in receiving and setting a school record for freshman receiving along the way. Monk shattered Richard Smith's UA record (33) for receptions by a freshman when he hauled in 37 balls for 569 yards and six touchdowns. He tied for the team lead in catches and garnered freshman All-SEC honors for his efforts.
Monk, the first 6-6 wide receiver in school history, also stood out in the classroom. The Lepanto, Ark., product was honored last December in New York by the National Football Foundation and the College Hall of Fame for his academic performance in high school. He was chosen as the spokesperson to accept the award on behalf of the other three scholar-athletes honored. In the spring, he showed off even more of his talents by throwing a 40-yard touchdown pass to tailback Peyton Hillis on a flea flicker during the spring game.
Redshirt junior Anthony Brown is listed on the Razorbacks' post-spring depth chart as the starter at right defensive end. Brown started the spring at wide receiver and only switched to the defensive side of the ball in the final week of spring practice.
Much of the final month of the 2004 football season was full of passionate debate about whether Southern Cal or Auburn was the top college football team in the nation. Both posted undefeated seasons and finished at No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, respectively.
Arkansas fans will get a chance to judge both programs up close in 2005 as the Razorbacks will take on both USC and Auburn. The Hogs travel to the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sept. 17 to take on the defending national champions. Auburn will visit Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville for an SEC Western Division showdown on Oct. 15.
Sophomore Peyton Hillis will look to build on a solid freshman campaign of his own in 2005. Hillis was picking up steam logging time at both fullback and tailback before suffering a fracture of the transverse processes of vertebrate in his lower back against Florida in 2004.
Initially thought out for the season, Hillis returned to action just three weeks later. He finished the year with 63 carries for 240 yards and six touchdowns. Hillis also proved his worth in the passing game racking up 12 catches for 97 yards and two scores.
With fellow running back De'Arrius Howard sitting out the spring after surgery, Hillis got plenty of work in the backfield during the spring.
He led the Hogs in rushing racking up 79 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in two major scrimmages. He also made three catches for 50 yards and a score including a 40-yard touchdown reception from Arkansas flanker Marcus Monk in the annual spring game.
Tailback De'Arrius Howard missed the entirety of spring drills after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery. Howard is the Hogs' top returning rusher and is listed atop the post-spring depth chart at tailback. Howard rushed for 529 yards and six touchdowns on 124 carries in 2004.
Arkansas partnered with a local charity to turn its 2005 spring football game into a fundraiser for dozens of local and regional organizations assisting kids. The Razorbacks teamed with Champions for Kids to coordinate RazorFest which included the annual spring game followed by a reunion 7-on-7 flag football tournament featuring Razorback football legends of the past. Former NFL great Herschel Walker was a guest speaker for the festivities that drew an estimated 10,300 for the spring game and close to 20,000 for all of the activities.
Arkansas has made the most of its home slate since 1998, winning more games than any other SEC school in the friendly confines of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and War Memorial Stadium. The Hogs are 38-10 (.792) in the past seven seasons tops among league schools. Arkansas is 17-1 in Little Rock and 21-9 in Fayetteville in that span.
Several players missed significant practice time in the spring due to injuries. They included all three returning starters at linebacker, Antarrious Williams (wrist), Travis Williams (ankle) and Kevin Sears (hand) as well as running back Brad Lester (hamstring), center Steven Ross (knee), and guard Jarrod Britt (shoulder).
Auburn lost 10 starters and 22 lettermen from the 2004 undefeated team.
Statistically, Auburn will return in 2005 nine percent of its rushing yardage, 12 percent of its passing yardage and 79 percent of its receiving yardage. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers will return 67 percent of their tackles, 79 percent of their sacks and 44 percent of their interceptions.
Auburn's 15 seniors in 2005 will tie for the second largest class under Tommy Tuberville. Other senior class sizes under Tuberville include 18 in 2004, 13 in 2003, 15 in 2002, 10 in 2001, 14 in 2000 and 14 in 1999.
The 2005 seniors include: WR Devin Aromashodu, DS Chas Crofoot, DT Wayne Dickens, DB Kevin Hobbs, DB David Irons, NG TJ Jackson, OT Marcus McNeill, WR Anthony Mix, WR Ben Obomanu, OT Troy Reddick, C Steven Ross, FB Jake Slaughter, TE Cooper Wallace, LB Antarrious Williams, and LB Travis Williams.
Of Auburn's 15 seniors, 12 have played in 30 or more games in their career.
David Gibbs, who spent the last four years as a secondary coach with the NFL's Denver Broncos and previously served as defensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota from 1997-2000, was named defensive coordinator in early February. Gibbs has a tie to the Auburn community as he is a 1986 graduate of Auburn High School. His father, Alex was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn from 1979-81.
During his tenure with the Broncos, Gibbs coached both the safeties (2001) and defensive backs (2002-04). In 1997, Gibbs became the youngest defensive coordinator in Division I-A when he was hired by the University of Minnesota.
Coach Urban Meyer has won 16 straight games, the second longest active winning streak in the nation (second to Pete Carroll's 22-game win streak). Meyer has also won 10 straight conference games, also the second longest active streak in the nation (Carroll has won 15).
Coach Urban Meyer owns a .830 career winnining percentage, the fiifth best winning percentage among active coaches during the last four years.
A firm believer that players should be accountable to each other and not just the coaching staff, Coach Meyer established the Florida Leadership Committee. Members of the Leadership Committee were voted on by teammates and include six seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen. The Committee is charged with acting as spokesmen for the team and handling situations related to team policy issues, academic affairs, off-campus circumstances and other topics.
Just as he did at Bowling Green and Utah, Coach Meyer has made it a priority to establish a relationship between his team and the general student body on campus at Florida. He sent invitations to every campus organization leader on campus inviting them to meet individually with him. Coach Meyer organized the first-ever student pep rally for the Spring football game at the Reitz Union the night before the Orange and Blue game. The pep rally included the UF Band, Cheerleaders, Albert and Alberta, the UF Coaching staff and the Meyer family. He also worked closely with several student leaders on campus on a community service initiative surrounding the Spring game. Student leaders sold Orange and Blue spirit bands prior to the Spring game with proceeds benefiting the Children's Miracle Network. Fans who purchased the bands were then sked to assist members of the UF coaching staff and football team in the planting of more than 400 crepe myrtle trees on Radio Road on campus April 16th. Another goal for Coach Meyer is to teach everyone on campus the fight song and have the players sing it after every home victory at The Swamp. Coach Meyer has already met with the UF Director of Bands and has asked for a copy of the school fight song.
Florida held its spring game in front of 58,500 fans, which was the largest crowd for the event in school history and nearly 20,000 more fans than any of the previous contests. For the first time since the early 1980s, the event was broadcast to numerous affiliates on the Gator Radio Network.
Entering 2005 UF's returning leaders in the following departments are slated to return: passing, receiving yards, punt returns, interceptions, kick returns, total offense, punting, tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. UF also returns five of its top six leaders in tackles.
Several Gators changed positions in the spring at Florida. Brian Crum (TE), Billy Latsko (FB) and Eric Rutledge (FB) all moved to linebacker.
Linebackers Richard Brown and Javier Estopinan went to running back and defensive end, respectively. Reggie Lewis switched from receiver to defensive back, while Michael Brown traded sides of the ball going from defensive line to offensive line.
Florida enters the 2005 campaign with a streak of 17 consecutive winning seasons, the longest in the SEC. UF has also made 14 straight bowl trips, the second longest active streak among the league. UF has finished in the top 25 of the coaches poll 15 consecutive years, the third longest streak nationally.
Four members of the Florida coaching staff (Steve Addazio, Billy Gonzales, Chuck Heater, and Greg Mattison) have been a recruiting coordinator at some point in their careers.
Shockley's Team: Senior QB D.J. Shockley is the projected starter against Boise State in the 2005 season opener. It will be the first time under Coach Mark Richt, someone other than David Greene will start a Georgia game at quarterback. As a three-year backup to Greene who is now in the NFL, Shockley has played in 26 games with no starts. He's completed 67 of 133 passes for 967 yards and 10 TDs in his limited playing time. He also has 329 yards rushing on 76 attempts and three TDs. Greene ended his career as the NCAA's all-time leader in leader in wins (42-10) and SEC's all-time leader in total offense and passing.
Wishbone Option for the Running Game: For the last seven years, Georgia has had a different rushing leader at the end of the season. In 2005, the Bulldogs return all but one running back on the depth chart from 2004. Sophomores Thomas Brown and Danny Ware were the top freshman running backs in the SEC a year ago. Brown rushed for a team-best 875 yards on 172 carries and eight TDs, the third-most yards ever by a Bulldog freshman. Ware ran for 692 yards on 138 carries and four TDs.
Also, Kregg Lumpkin, Georgia's leading rusher with 523 yards and six TDs in 2003, will return in 2005 after missing last year with an ACL injury.
After not having a 100-yard rusher in a game in 2003, Georgia had eight with Brown and Ware each doing it four times. In the spring game, the Bulldogs featured the wishbone in a couple of series with Brown, Ware and fullback Des Williams filling up the backfield.
O-Line In Tact: Georgia welcomes back its entire starting lineup of tackles Daniel Inman and Dennis Roland, guards Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Jones and the center rotation of Russ Tanner and Ryan Schnetzer. During spring drills, junior guards Josh Brock and Bartley Miller, both former starters who missed the 2004 season due to injures, returned to practice. Brock has 15 career starts while Miller has nine. Jean-Gilles and Tanner have a streak of 26 consecutive starts for the Bulldogs.
Have You Seen This Pope? Junior All-SEC tight end Leonard Pope, who checks in at 6-7, 253 pounds, was a clutch target late in the 2004 season for the Bulldogs. He figures to have a big year in 2005 and was named the Best All-Around Offensive Player by the Bulldogs following spring practice. In 2004, Pope had 25 catches for 482 yards (19.3 avg.) and 6 TDs. Those numbers rival that of 2004 Mackey Award winner (nation's top tight end) Heath Miller of Virginia who had 36 catches for 475 yards and 5 TDs.
Big Hitters: With All-American Thomas Davis now in the NFL, 6-2, 214-pound senior Greg Blue moves to free safety from rover while junior Tra Battle and sophomore Kelin Johnson fill in at rover. Blue started all 12 games in 2004 and was the team's second leading tackler with 80 behind Davis' 81. Battle and Johnson saw action in all 12 games last year.
Defensive Front: Seniors Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson will anchor Georgia's defensive front in 2005. They have 41 starts between them.
Look for junior Quentin Moses to step up at defensive end with three-time All-American David Pollack now in the NFL. Moses had 6.5 sacks and 7.5 TFL in 2004. Also, senior Will Thompson is back after being granted a sixth year.
Linebackers Shared Starts and Stats: The Georgia linebacking corps started six different trios during the 2004 season and no player started every game. Danny Verdun Wheeler led all Bulldog linebackers with nine starts last year and was the only one that appeared on the SEC's list for tackle leaders among LBs. Junior Tony Taylor is the leading candidate to replace Odell Thurman who left early for the NFL. Taylor missed the 2004 season with a knee injury and ranked fifth on the 2003 team in tackles with 82 in 13 games.
Seniors Legacy: The 2005 senior class enters the year with a 34-6 career record, including 3-0 in bowl games. The best four-year record was by the Class of 1983 that posted a mark of 43-4-1 including a national championship (1980) and three straight Southeastern Conference titles (1980-82). Georgia's only senior class to go 4-0 in bowl games was the Class of 2000 under former head coach Jim Donnan. Also, this year's group of seniors could become just the second class to finish ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 four consecutive years along with the group from 1983.
Winning Percentage Among the Best: Since Mark Richt arrived at Georgia in 2001, the Bulldogs rank sixth in the country with an .808 winning percentage. They are 42-10 in this span. The only teams ahead of the Bulldogs are Miami, Fla. (45-6), Oklahoma (47-7), Boise State (44-7), Texas (43-8) and Southern California (42-9). Georgia ranks sixth in the country.
Taking Care of Business: Under the direction of Mark Richt, Georgia owns a 17-1 record against non-conference foes. The only loss came to Boston College in the 2001 Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.) by a score of 20-16. At home, the Bulldogs are 11-0 against teams outside the SEC.
2005 Staff Updates: With the departure of Brian VanGorder to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, Georgia secondary coach Willie Martinez will now call the shots as defensive coordinator. Martinez will remain in his role as coach of the Bulldogs' secondary as well. John Jancek
(linebackers) and Kirby Smart (running backs) are the latest additions to Coach Richt's staff. Jancek came to the Bulldogs from a defensive coordinator position at Central Michigan, while Smart, a former Bulldog Alll-SEC player (1995-98), was the secondary coach at LSU.
Special Teams Highlights: Georgia has blocked 10 Punts, 8 Field Goals and 2 PATs in the Mark Richt era and converted them in to 67 points.
The Kentucky defense switched to a 4-3 alignment during the spring with the goal of being more effective in stopping the run. The Wildcats played the 3-4 defensive scheme the last two seasons.
Sophomore Andre' Woodson claimed the open quarterback job during the spring. In the three spring scrimmages, Woodson completed 53 of 82 passes (64.6 percent) for 778 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. The emergence of the Woodson, blessed with 6-5 height and a strong, accurate passing arm, could make Kentucky more pass-oriented in the coming season.
One of the big position changes of the spring saw Durrell White move from linebacker to defensive end. A two-year starter at linebacker, White adapted well to the switch.
The move of Jacob Tamme from wide receiver to tight end has become permanent. Tamme got a one-game trial at tight end in the 2004 season finale and responded with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns at Tennessee. He continued to impress during the spring, including one scrimmage in which he caught six passes for 146 yards and two TDs.
Tamme has added approximately 20 pounds in order to help with the blocking responsibilities at tight end and now weighs 237 pounds.
Coach Rich Brooks praised the play of redshirt freshman cornerbacks Jarrell Williams and Shomari Moore during the spring. Moore had two interceptions during the three spring scrimmages, including a 60-yard return for a touchdown in the Blue/White Game. The progress of Williams and Moore enabled junior Karl Booker to play some at free safety in addition to his regular role at cornerback.
Junior-college transfer Fatu Turituri played well during the spring and appears to have earned a starting job at left guard. The young UK offensive line looked much-improved during the spring.
Junior cornerback Bo Smith returned to action this spring and made a strong bid for a starting job. A starter two years ago, Smith missed last season because of injury.
Wide receivers Keenan Burton and Tommy Cook, who missed most or all of last season because of injury, bounced back strong during the spring.
Burton made several spectacular catches in practice while Cook starred in the Blue/White Game by catching eight passes for 170 yards.
The Wildcats sustained one major setback in the spring. It was discovered that senior Jon Sumrall, a returning starter at middle linebacker, has a medical condition which makes him more susceptible to neck injuries. Sumrall, the team's leading tackler last season with 72 stops, must give up football.
In response to Sumrall's situation, sophomore Joe Schuler moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. Schuler does an excellent job of making defensive calls and is pleased to return to the position he played in high school.
There is a spirited battle at right guard between junior Trai Williams and sophomore Micah Jones. Coach Brooks noted that right guard would be a position to watch when the competition resumed in August.
The Tigers wrapped up their first spring practice under first-year coach Les Miles with a scrimmage before just over 8,000 fans in Tiger Stadium on April 16.
The Tigers used the spring to install a new defense under first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. LSU will continue to use the same offense, with new terminology, under sixth-year offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.
Sophomore quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn, who each shared time running with the No. 1 offense during the final spring scrimmage, combined to connect on 34 of 59 passes for 457 yards and four scores.
Russell connected 17 of 30 passes for 223 yards and four scores, while Flynn was 17 of 29 for 234 yards. Flynn threw a pair of interceptions.
Russell threw TD passes of 20 yards to Dwayne Bowe, 8-yards and 7-yards to Justin Vincent, and 8-yards to Amp Hill.
LSU coach Les Miles on the quarterback's play during the final spring scrimmage as well as the QB situation heading into the fall: "I thought the quarterbacks were good. I think there was a definite advantage to going with the first team and we tried to equal it out as best as we could. The only thing that I'm really going to be critical of were the two interceptions. One was definitely the running back's mistake. Other than that, I thought they played pretty well at times. They still have things to learn and they are still improving. I don't think we'll name who will be the starting quarterback for some time. The competition's too close to call."
The Tigers had two players split time between football and another sport during the spring. PK/P Chris Jackson emerged as LSU's starting third baseman on the baseball team late in spring practice. Many times Jackson would work with the special teams at football practice before heading off to play in a baseball game.
In addition, wide receiver Xavier Carter is a member of the LSU track team, running sprints for the Tigers. During the indoor season, Carter shattered the school record in 200 meters at the SEC Championships with a time of 20.39. Carter earned All-SEC honors during the indoor season.
LSU used the spring to move a couple players around. Former backup center Doug Planchard moved to tight end, while former running back Jason Spadoni moved to outside linebacker.
For the second straight year, LSU OT Andrew Whitworth has been named to the Playboy All-America team, while LSU C Rudy Niswanger earned the Anson Mount Scholar-Athlete Award handed out by Playboy Magazine.
LSU signee Trindon Hollyday (athlete) has the nation's second-fastest 100-meters this spring with 10.47 time, while another signee defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois has the nation's No. 3 toss in the shot put (62-0 1/2).
OLE MISS REBELS
Senior linebacker Kelvin Robinson of Jackson, Miss., was selected as the 2005 recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award. Robinson will wear the late Mullins' No. 38 during the 2005 season.
The Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame presented scholar-athlete awards to six freshmen members of the 2004 football team - defensive end Chris Bowers of Shreveport, La., fullback Jason Cook of Suwanee, Ga., quarterback Paul Eck of Andale, Kan., offensive lineman Maurice Miller of West Helena, Ark., defensive back Dustin Mouzon of Orlando, Fla., and offensive lineman David Traxler of Jackson, Miss.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bozeman of Hawkinsville, Ga., received the annual J. Richard Price Courage and Compassion Award as the rising senior lineman who, in the opinion of his coaches, has demonstrated extraordinary courage and unusual compassion in their dedication to the team and to Ole Miss.
Senior quarterback Micheal Spurlock of Indianola, Miss., received the Jeff Hamm Memorial Award for the Most Improved Offensive Player of spring drills, while junior linebacker Patrick Willis of Bruceton, Tenn., was named the Most Improved Defensive Player of spring workouts.
A major surprise of spring football drills was the emergence of sophomore linebacker Donte Reed, a non-scholarship player, who will begin August workouts as the No. 1 strong-side linebacker.
New Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron, who is also serving as his own defensive coordinator, inserted the 4-3 defensive alignment in place of the 4-2-5 of recent years. One of the biggest position changes was senior Kelvin Robinson from starting strong safety to linebacker.
The three-way battle for the starting quarterback spot will carry over into August. Senior Micheal Spurlock, junior Ethan Flatt, and sophomore Robert Lane got most of the snaps during spring drills. Lane missed the final two weeks and the Red-Blue game after sustaining a shoulder injury.
Senior defensive tackle McKinley Boykin, who is expected to be a major force on the defensive front for the Rebels this fall, missed spring drills due to knee surgery. Boykin is expected to be fully recovered by August.
Junior middle linebacker Patrick Willis was one of the most productive Rebels during spring drills and new head coach Ed Orgeron feels Willis will be an "impact player" on defense this fall.
Ed Orgeron's first Ole Miss coaching staff has combined for more than 150 years of coaching experience.
ESPN will televise the Sept. 5 (Labor Day) Ole Miss-Memphis game in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Place-kicker Keith Andrews earned the school's Newsom Award for academic achievement in football. In so doing, he was also named the school's overall winner for all men's sports. He has a 4.0 GPA in biological science.
Sophomore defensive lineman Avery Hannibal was named the team's Most Improved Defensive Player by the coaching staff, while sophomore tight end Jason Husband and junior wide receiver Will Prosser shared the Most Improved Offensive Player Award. Hannibal finished the spring second on the depth chart at defensive tackle, while Husband and Prosser were both listed first at their positions.
Senior center Chris McNeil was given the Bulldog Award following spring practice, an honor presented annually to the player who displayed the greatest work ethic, leadership ability, and character during the spring.
The Maroon and White spring game was televised live nationally by ESPN2, a game won by the Maroon, 7-0.
Redshirt freshman halfback won the back-up duty to returning all-SEC back Jerious Norwood by gaining 49 yards on 11 carries in the spring finale.
True freshman cornerback Keith Fitzhugh became the first high school senior football player to graduate a semester early at the prep level and join the MSU program for two-a-days. He capped the spring with a pass interception in the Maroon and White game.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Strauder, who came to MSU as a defensive lineman from the prep ranks, moved to offensive line late last season and earned the first-unit berth at right guard following spring drills.
Sophomore Dezmond Sherrod made a pre-spring move from tight end to fullback, and the 6-3, 236-pounder finished those four weeks atop the depth chart in the backfield.
Another pre-spring move shifted sophomore starting linebacker Titus Brown to defensive end, and despite having to rebound from minor knee surgery, he won the starting job heading into two-a-days on the left side.
Junior Quinton Culberson was on the move this spring as well. After coming to MSU as a cornerback, and starting there seven times as a true freshman, he has moved to safety, outside linebacker and now middle linebacker in the Bulldog defense.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
South Carolina's first spring practice under head coach Steve Spurrier gave sophomore defensive tackle Stanley Doughty and redshirt freshman receiver Sidney Rice a chance to surge up the depth chart heading into the summer. Doughty, who saw some action last year, was recognized as the best player on the Gamecock defense during spring drills. As for Rice, he made play after play, including a highlight-reel catch in the Garnet and Black Spring Game that made ESPN's "Top Plays". Rice redshirted last year after sustaining a leg injury in warm-ups before the second game of the 2004 season.
Fellow receiver Noah Whiteside was recognized as the top offensive performer of the spring, but suffered a serious ankle injury in the Garnet and Black Spring Game when he took a hard hit after making a reception. He underwent surgery and should be back for the fall.
Other prominent injuries that affected the spring came to sophomore rover Ko Simpson (left hand), senior defensive end Charles Silas (ankle) and junior cornerback Fred Bennett (shoulder). None of those three potential starters played in the Garnet and Black Spring Game, but all are expected to be at full strength in the fall. Running back Cory Boyd missed most of spring drills with a hamstring injury, but came back to participate in the last few practices and the Garnet and Black Spring Game.
The quarterback position remains uncertain for the Gamecocks, as there isn't much that separates Blake Mitchell and Antonio Heffner. Mitchell completed 12-of-23 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in the Garnet and Black game, with Heffner connecting on 7-of-14 passes for 129 yards.
Quarterback Mike Rathe is still awaiting final word from the NCAA regarding his appeal to gain a sixth year of eligibility. If granted his sixth year, Rathe would likely be in the mix for a starting position.
A record crowd of 38,806 turned out for the Garnet and Black Spring Game, which was televised nationally by ESPNU and ESPN2.
Running back Daccus Turman entered the spring with the expectation that he was moving to fullback, but the injury to Cory Boyd pushed Turman back to the running back position. He responded by being recognized as the outstanding running back of the spring.
With Turman moved to running back, walk-on offensive lineman Lanard Stafford was moved to fullback. Stafford went on to earn the Steve Sisk Award as the team's outstanding blocker of the spring.
Another position change of note is that of former quarterback Syvelle Newton to wide receiver. Newton originally came to Carolina as a quarterback, but played receiver in 2003 before splitting quarterback responsibilities in 2004. Steve Spurrier has indicated that Newton could still see some action at quarterback playing out of the shotgun formation in 2005, but will be primarily utilized as a receiver.
To the surprise of few, offensive tackles Na'Shan Goddard and Jabari Levey were recognized as the top offensive linemen of the spring. The two will likely both compete for All-SEC recognition in the fall.
Receiver Tim Frisby, the Gamecocks' 40-year-old wide receiver, brought the crowd to its feet when he made an eight-yard reception in the Garnet and Black Spring Game. Frisby, the retired Army Ranger and father of six who was honored with the Walt Disney World of Sports Spirit Award and the Keith Jackson Award for Excellence in 2004, also made a tackle on special teams.
The dean of Southeastern Conference coaches, Phillip Fulmer enters his 14th season fresh off a fifth Eastern Division title in eight years. The Volunteers under their native son have 123 triumphs against only 31 defeats for a winning percentage of .799. No active Division I-A coach with at least a decade in the business has such a lofty victory rate.
Fulmer is averaging better than 10 wins a season for the last 10 years with two overall league crowns. The Winchester native has guided UT to a bowl game all 13 years of his tenure. He and former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne are the only coaches to lead a team to a bowl game in their first 13 years of coaching.
Four Tennessee footballers -- two each on offense and defense -- shared 2005 spring practice honors for most improved performers. Junior center David Ligon and freshman guard Ramon Foster split the Harvey Robinson Award given to offensive players, while junior defensive back Corey Campbell and sophomore linebacker Ryan Karl claimed the Andy Spiva Award for most improved defenders.
Early preseason press releases have placed seniors Jason Allen and Jesse Mahelona on the 2005 Lott Trophy Watch List. They are two of the top 42 defensive players in the nation on the list. Mahelona also is on the Lombardi Award watch list, while tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. was named a "2005 Player to Watch" by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio.
An SEC-leading seven bowl opponents, five first-year head coaches and a daunting road slate highlight Tennessee's 2005 football schedule. UT plays seven teams that participated in bowl games a year ago to lead all SEC institutions. An eighth school, South Carolina, declined a bid after a 6-5 season. In addition, five head coaches Urban Meyer at Florida, Les Miles at LSU, Ed Orgeron at Mississippi, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and Charlie Weis at Notre Dame -- accepted new jobs after last season and will line up against the 2005 Vols.
Spring position changes were limited to Jason Allen and Jonathan Hefney switching positions in the secondary and David Ligon moving to center in place of the injured Richie Gandy. Allen is returning to his original cornerback slot after spending most of 2004 at safety. Hefney was a second-team Freshman All-America pick at corner last season but could start the upcoming campaign at safety.
Did you know that at least one former Vol has played in each of the last 14 Super Bowls and 17 of the last 18? Darwin Walker appeared in Super Bowl XXXIX this year for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tennessee maintains its standing as the winningest team in the SEC over the last 10 years in terms of victories and percentage. The Vols are 101-25 during that span for a percentage of .802, ranking them second nationally in both percentage and victories. The Volunteers also have compiled a 73-18 record in conference games during this period, winning five Eastern Division titles, two overall league crowns and the 1998 national championship. Six different SEC teams have won the championship since 1998: Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Auburn.
Tennessee All-SEC defensive back Jason Allen assumed the conference lead in tackles early in the 2004 season and never relinquished it, becoming the first Vols defender to pace the conference in that category since it became an official statistic in 2000. Allen finished with 123 total tackles for a 9.5 per-game average. A Muscle Shoals, Ala., native, Allen also became the first non-linebacker to lead the Vols in tackles since team records began in 1970. The Vols' junior captain had 88 solo stops good for sixth in Division I-A along with 35 assists. Allen garnered first-team All-SEC honors in 2004 from league coaches and second-team status from Associated Press. He also was named third-team All-America by AP.
With an uncanny ability to get into the backfields of opposing defenses and disrupt plays, defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona rapidly ascended Tennessee's defensive records book. The Sporting News All-America tallied 18.5 total tackles for loss for a total of minus-81 yards to finish sixth on UT's all-time season TFL chart. The Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, native was playing his first season for the Vols after transferring from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif. Mahelona recorded multiple TFLs in six games last season. His five TFLs vs. Notre Dame helped him earn SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors.
The Tennessee coaching staff's job of leading the 2005 football team became a group effort in the spring with the naming of six team captains. Seniors Jason Allen and Parys Haralson were selected by team vote for the second consecutive year, joining fellow upper-classmen Rick Clausen, Cody Douglas and Jesse Mahelona. Rob Smith was the only junior making the list. Allen and Haralson are the second set of two-year captains in as many years, joining former Vols Kevin Burnett and Michael Munoz with the distinction.
The Volunteers participated in a bowl and completed a winning season in 2004 for a school-record 16th consecutive year. The streak extends past the old mark of 12 established from 1965-76. Head coach Phillip Fulmer played a part of the former streak as well, both as a player and graduate assistant coach at UT from 1969-73.
Tennessee is one of only three schools to appear in a bowl game each of the last 16 years, joining Florida State and Michigan. In addition, the Vols have won at least eight games for 16 straight seasons, joining Michigan (20) and Florida State (18) as the three teams with such a streak. UT also has managed to post a winning conference mark each year during that span.
Stung by the tragic offseason shooting death of 2002 SEC Freshman of the Year Kwane Doster, the Commodores devoted much of the spring to the vacant tailback role. Two talented sophomores, Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison, exited spring drills contending for the starting role at tailback. Both Jennings and Jackson-Garrison provide the squad a more physical presence than in recent years.
As Jay Cutler prepped for his fourth year as a starter at quarterback, the coaching staff continued to mold its offense around the talents of one of the league's top signal callers. Cutler enters his final season within range of numerous school career passing and total offense marks.
Several Commodore defensive starters from a year ago worked at new positions during spring drills. Topping the list were two-year linebacker starter Herdley Harrison to defensive end; two-year safety starter Andrew Pace to cornerback; and former safety Marcus Buggs to outside linebacker.
Several redshirt freshmen made impressive strides during Spring Practice. Chris Nickson, a former Alabama Prep Player of the Year, showed a dual threat at quarterback while the efforts by athletic Reshard Langford may have earned the safety hopeful a starting role in the secondary.
The Commodores spent extra sessions this spring trying to improve its kicking game. While improvement was shown, Vanderbilt coaches are likely to continue their evaluation of both kicking roles into preseason camp.
The coaches were pleased with the progress of a relative inexperienced offensive line corps. Needing to replace two key graduates (Justin Geisinger and Brian Kovolisky), the coaches watched several players step forward to claim roles. Sophomore Chris Williams, seniors Ryan King and Nigel Seaman, and sophomore Hamilton Holliday, were among the linemen to blossom during spring. Senior Trey Holloway, the 2004 starter at center, also impressed while accepting a greater leadership role on the unit.
While senior linebacker and 2004 All-SEC Moses Osemwegie impressed at Spring Practice, junior Kevin Joyce likely earned a starting role at outside linebacker across from Osemwegie. The coaches also enjoyed outstanding competition at middle linebacker, where sophomore Jonathan Goff and senior Otis Washington competed.
After witnessing three key injuries during the 2004 Spring Practice, the Commodores escaped free of serious injury during the recent drills.
Junior Steven Bright showed his versatility. A top reserve quarterback for the last two years, Bright enjoyed some work at fullback during Spring Practice. With the departure of two-year starter Matthew Tant, the Commodores are looking to identify a new fullback. Bright's leading strength at quarterback has been an outstanding rushing ability.
While senior All-SEC hopeful Erik Davis and junior Marlon White looked in midseason form as wide receivers, Commodore quarterbacks worked to improve their timing with a number of candidates for the third receiving position, including seniors Jason Caldwell and Jason Burns, and redshirt freshmen Bryant Anderson and Sean Walker.