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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Two-A-Days: Georgia Bulldogs

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

Each day, we've previewed two teams, and in our final post, we turn the tables a bit. Instead of asking the questions, I'll answer them. So, here are your questions about the Georgia Bulldogs, and the best answers I could come up with...

Lee: Any updates on the incoming freshmen for this summer? How are they preparing for the summer, and who will be the most likely to get early playing time, and who's headed for a readshirt now that we see how things have shaked out in the spring?

I had a post up a few weeks ago on the how the incoming freshmen prep for the summer that you can read HERE.

I haven't been talking too much with all the incoming freshmen, but if you believe Orson Charles, things are going very well. All but three of the freshmen were on hand for the G-Day game, and the excitement among them is high.

It's probably a little too early to tell on redshirts because -- other than Murray, Mettenberger and Lee -- none have played a single rep in college yet. But position needs will likely play a big role. My guess would be that, barring setbacks regarding injuries, all of the O linemen will redshirt (and we've learned that Austin Long will miss the year with a back injury already). At other positions, like wide receiver and defensive end, the needs might be immediate, which gives Rontavious Wooten or Montez Robinson a bit more of a leg up. I think we can safely guess that Branden Smith, Marlon Brown and probably Charles will get some playing time right off the bat. I think the most interesting name to watch in the fall, however, will be Washaun Ealey, who could redshirt or he could land the starting running back job. Anything seems possible for him.

Daren: Any word on when CSS will offer thier own version of the G Day coverage?

Sorry, I forgot to follow up on this, and we've already missed a couple of showings. But fear not, you still have time. It will air this Friday, May 1 at 8 p.m. everywhere, then again next week on May 8, but only in Atlanta, Athens and non-Braves TV markets.

Robert: Are they thinking about moving Richard Samuel? I'm told Samuel "doesn't get" the running back thing and would be better suited to defense.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Samuel understands the position as well as -- if not better than -- anyone on the roster. His problem last year was that he was a little too anxious to find contact, which is one of the reasons people think he's so suited for defense. He also has a pretty vertical running style, which earns some gripes from his critics, but that's no different than the complaints people had about Adrian Peterson, and he seems to manage OK. Running backs coach Bryan McClendon says there are no plans to change positions for Samuel (not that he couldn't handle it, he says) and, given Samuel's combination of size, strength and enthusiasm, I'd actually consider him the favorite for the nominal starter's job. Although, more likely, I think at least four different backs will see significant playing time next year.

Kevin: I have a few questions about the team and 2009. What do you think about Dontavious Jackson and his potential to see the field? No one really seemed to step up in Spring, so it looks like it will be up to Richard Samuel or King to really put a stamp on it when fall camp starts. If #22 still has fumbly hands, and King doesn't show consistency, what can Jackson do to move up? He'll finally be healthy and I want to see what he can do.

Ah, right, the fumbly hands. That's another knock on Samuel, but it's also something that can be remedied. We shall see. As for Jackson, he's got as good a chance as anyone. As you said, Kevin, no one put their stamp on the job this spring, and while Carlton Thomas did impress, I think there's a lot of reluctance to rely on him because coaches aren't sure how he'll hold up as a blocker. Jackson has been the odd man out since he arrived at Georgia because there's not really anything that jumps off the page about him, but he also does a little of everything well. The biggest thing for him, however, is simply to stay healthy. If he can do that, he'll get his shot this fall.

More from Kevin: I stay curious about the DE position. What are we in for when fall camp starts, with all of these injuries? Who will be back full strength? Who will be limited? Who has the inside track to get on the field? I know the coaches love to have 3, 4 players at least that they are confident can put pressure on the offense. I don't see anyone other than Houston right now, and the potential prospects are awful young. I look forward to seeing how they separate themselves for one another when the pads are back on.

I agree. There's really not much that can be said about anyone (other than Houston, who really seems to have taken a step forward) because they were all hurt. But if you remember last season, when he was healthy, Rod Battle played pretty well. If he can stay healthy in 2009 -- a BIG "if" -- I think there's every reason to believe he can be an impact player in his senior season. I also would say that there's a good chance that Willie, Fabris, Garner and Co. might try a little more scheming this year than they did a year ago to get pressure from the edge. The use of Darryl Gamble so successfully as a stand-up rusher this spring opened some eyes.

Rob Sweet: I'd love to learn more about the coaches' and leaders' perspective on team chemistry. I think this is an underrated barometer of success. I know it's never simple to measure, but usually coaches who have been around a while (especially Van Halenger, with his contact with the players) have a good sense for a team early on.

All the talk so far has been great. It remains to be seen if Joe Cox can be a great QB, but there's no doubt he's a great leader. He says all the right things. Follow that with guys like Rennie Curran and Jeff Owens on defense, and there are some really strong, vocal guys leading the way. You mentioned Dave Van Halanger, and he said that through the spring (and the early part of the "summer") that things have been exceptional from a leadership and chemistry standpoint.

Having said that, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about how important the next few months will be for the Bulldogs to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. They need to stay out of trouble, stay involved in voluntary workouts, and be more vocal with the younger guys. There's going to be a huge influx of players (between the freshmen, walk-ons and the injured guys returning to action) in June, and the leaders need to make sure that the additions go smoothly.

Tracy: Israel Troupe has been around a few years now and should be ready to contribute at receiver. I saw him on the field quite a bit last year but he seemed to be there to block (which is a good trait to have at WR). Do the coaches have a feel that Israel is ready to have a larger role in the offense this year? With Durham going down he could be needed.

Troupe doesn't lack talent, that's for sure, but he's never really gotten his opportunity. That should change this year. I know everyone is excited about Marlon Brown, and he could be special, but to assume a repeat of A.J. Green's performance a year ago is setting the bar too high. For one, Brown won't have Mohamed Massaquoi to lean on (both on and off the field) and for another, players like Green simply don't come around every year. What that means is, someone else -- and maybe several someone elses -- need to step up, and Troupe is one of those players. He got some playing experience last year, but he needs to show he can do the little things. He needs to inspire confidence from his coaches, and he's still got some work to do on that front this fall. But he'll get his chance.

Johnathan: For my question, is it just me or is there concern that our running back position might slack a little this year. I know we lost Knowshon and you can't replace Knowshon but I wish that King would take the job and run with it. Should I just relax and realize that it is spring or is there concern? I hope Ealey puts some fire under the guys we have now.

Hmmm, lots of questions about running back. And for good reason. Short answer, Johnathan: Yes, you should be concerned. There is plenty of talent at the position, no doubt, but none of them have done it before, and it's been a long time since Georgia didn't have an experienced tailback to, at the very least, play the role of mentor. The fact that Caleb King didn't grab the job and make it his own this spring was disappointing, but it's still too early to write him off. Carlton Thomas proved he can be a weapon, but he's probably not ready to be an every-down back. As we discussed, Samuel has his issues, but he might prove to be the most reliable. It's a shame you can't take bits and pieces of each of the guys in that backfield to form a Super Back (like Voltron, for those of you who appreciate an '80s reference), but for now, there just aren't any definite answers.

ROK Dawg: A couple of questions. 1. What is the deal with Akeem Hebron? 2. How is Strickland progressing? 3. Is Washington (#44) going to play some at DE? 4. How is Banks coming along? 5. Is the Owens kid from Bama going to contribute?

I'll handle these one at a time:

1. He missed all of spring with an injury. He was close to coming back by G-Day, but couldn't make it happen. The kid has talent, but linebacker is a deep, deep position in 2009, and there are probably at least three or four players ahead of him on the depth chart.

2. Tanner Strickland had a nice spring, according to Clint Boling, but who knows what that means in the fall? As Boling said, it's one thing to play well when you're guaranteed playing time (as Tanner was this spring) but how will he react when the other injured Dawgs come back? Strickland has really been a mystery since he arrived at Georgia, but the talent is there.

3. As I mentioned earlier, I think there will definitely be some Brandon Miller-esque scheming going on with either Darryl Gamble or Marcus Washington this year. I wouldn't expect to see as much of it in a standard 4-3-4 formation, but against spread offenses or in third-and-longs when the Sam linebacker leaves the field, I think you'll see one of those two on the field as a stand-up rusher, and I could see it being a very productive scheme.

4. Banks progressed this spring, but he's still not 100 percent. He was one of those injuries that really flew under the radar last year, but the Dawgs' D really missed him. It's easy to blame Willie for Reshad Jones not tackling against Georgia Tech, but you also have to wonder if Jones would have even been on the field if Willie had a hard-hitting safety like Banks to turn to in a situation like that.

5. The only Owens you probably need to keep an eye out for in 2009 is Jeff Owens, but don't be surprised if he has a very big year.

Lee: Also is it just me or does this year seem like the most up in the air of any in Mark Richt's tenure. We have good players but injuries, inexperience and other factors kind of make predicting how this team will do very difficult, at least for me, what are your thoughts on this?

This seems like a good one to end on, because at this point in the year, I think it's the most appropriate synopsis of what to expect. Who knows, really? There are still so many unanswered questions, and because of all the injuries and the low number of positional early enrollees, there weren't too many answers available by G-Day. But I know this: Georgia did not handle the expectations well last year, so perhaps the underdog role will be a big asset. Because as you said, Lee, the talent is there. It's just a matter of having the coaches put all the puzzle pieces in the right place. And that isn't something I can say I'm any more certain about now than I was back in January.

OK, folks. Hope you enjoyed the Two-A-Days series and maybe learned a thing or two. Thanks so much to the writers who helped with this project. Their insight was exceptional.

If you have more UGA questions, feel free to keep sending them in via email to and I'll do my best to find answers for you.

Two-A-Days: The SEC

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

Each day, we've previewed two teams, and today we finish with a big-picture look at the SEC. Who are the breakout candidates for 2009? Will Florida have a let-down? Who's the favorite out West? I talked to ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low, who has been to every campus in the SEC this spring, to find out some answers.

David Hale: There are three new coaches in the league this year. From what you've seen this spring, which of the new coaches do you think has the best chance of making a similar impact to what Houston Nutt was able to accomplish at Ole Miss last year?

Chris Low:
All three face tough tasks, but I'll go with Gene Chizik at Auburn. I think the Tigers will be good on defense and that the offense will be improved under first-year coordinator Gus Malzahn.

DH: Offenses around the SEC were down last year, and I was of the opinion that it started with some pretty bad quarterback play. With Matthew Stafford and John Parker Wilson now gone, it looks like that could be even worse in 2009. From what you've seen this spring, which QBs outside of Tebow and Snead do you think might have a breakout season, and which teams are in the worst shape at that position right now?

My breakout quarteback is LSU's Jordan Jefferson. My newcomer of the year at quarterback is Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. As for who's in the worst shape at quarterback, I'd have to say Tennessee. The depth has taken a hit with B.J. Coleman's exit, and neither Jon Crompton or Nick Stephens has shown that he can lead a team for a full season in the SEC. It could really get ugly at South Carolina, too, if Stephen Garcia bombs or gets in trouble again this offseason.

DH: With so many top recruiting classes among SEC teams, there will be a lot of new talent in the league this fall. But from the early enrollees you got to see this spring, are there any who stood out to you that might wow fans the way freshmen like A.J. Green and Julio Jones did last year?

I like Stephon Gilmore at South Carolina a lot. He'll probably start at cornerback and may play some at quarterback in a special package. LSU's Russell Shepard is a blur in the open field, and three tailbacks to watch are Trent Richardson at Alabama, Bryce Brown at Tennessee and Washaun Ealey at Georgia. At Florida, receiver Andre Debose will get a chance to show what he can do right away.

DH: Alabama took the SEC West last year, but loses two key linemen, its starting QB and its best running back. From what you've seen, is Nick Saban ready to reload, and if not, who do you see as the early favorite out West?

Alabama will be good again, challenge for the West crown again and will ride what will be one of the better defenses in the league, but I have Ole Miss winning the West in 2009.

DH: Florida is the defending national champs, they return nearly everyone off their two-deep, and they have the best player in the SEC at quarterback. Is another SEC title really a foregone conclusion for the Gators, or could there be some chinks in the armor? Do you see any dark horses in the mix for the conference crown?

Florida would have to get way too comfy not to win the SEC title again, and Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and Co. aren't going to let that happen. The leadership from the players is outstanding on Florida's team, and I don't see the Gators losing their edge. The best bet to unseat them is the only team that beat them last year -- Ole Miss. The Rebels, though, have to prove they can handle being the favorite and all the hype that comes with it.

DH: Having been around the SEC this spring, what teams or players have jumped out at you with the strongest performances, and what do you think might be the biggest remaining questions to be answered this fall?

Among the guys that really jumped out to me this spring were Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead, Arkansas receiver Joe Adams, Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker, Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Florida quarterback John Brantley, LSU safety Chad Jones, LSU cornerback Patrick Patterson, Mississippi State defensive lineman Pernell McPhee, Vanderbilt receiver Terence Jeffers, Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley, Auburn running back Mario Fannin, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Georgia running back Carlton Thomas. My No. 1 concern going into the fall would be how long it takes to get the three new offenses up to speeed at Auburn, Mississippi State and Tennessee. There could be some serious growing pains with all three, Alabama and Ole Miss both need to find left tackles, and is Georgia going to be able to run the ball and take some of the pressure off of Joe Cox?

* Chris Low has been with ESPN since 2007 after spending 10 years with The Tennessean. You can read his excellent SEC blog HERE.

Next up: I'll answer a handful of your UGA questions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two-A-Days: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The 14th entry in the series is the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Head coach: Dan Mullen (1st season)
2008 Record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC)
Total Offense: 274.92 (10th SEC, 113th overall)
Total Defense: 327.5 ypg (10th SEC, 35th overall)
On the docket: Mississippi State opens the 2009 season Sept. 5 against Jackson State. The Bulldogs won't play Georgia this season, but they do have a home date against Georgia Tech on Oct. 3.

At the end of 2007, Sly Croom was the SEC's coach of the year, leading Mississippi State back to a bowl game after a long postseason absence. A year later, he was fired after one of the ugliest Egg Bowl performances in years. While Croom was old school (series of tubes?) his replacement is just the opposite. So will Dan Mullen be able to recreate the same exciting offenses he had at Florida in Starkville? To find out, I went to Brad Locke of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

David Hale: It's a new regime in Starkville. What are the biggest changes Dan Mullen has implemented this spring since taking over the program?

Brad Locke:
The biggest change is the offensive scheme. Sylvester Croom's West Coast offense, which never produced, has been replaced by the spread that Mullen has worked wonders with at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He's also raised the intensity level – a reflection of his personality – in the weight room and on the practice field.

DH: Even during the successful season of 2007, Mississippi State wasn't exactly an offensive powerhouse. Things got worse last year, and from the look of the spring game, there won't be a lot of fireworks in 2009. What are the biggest keys to finding some offensive production for the Bulldogs in 2009? Does Mullen's spread offense have a chance to be successful in Year 1?

Don't count on the Bulldogs lighting it up. Year 1 will most likely be painful. Mullen picked up some good, fast receivers in the 2009 recruiting class and will have to use some of them, if not all. He also picked up a stud quarterback, Meridian's Tyler Russell, who is the future of the program but won't be handed a redshirt. Mullen's willing to be flexible and will fit the scheme around the personnel, something Croom did a poor job of.

DH: Linebacker Jamar Chaney is well known around here, having nearly ended up at Georgia. He was lost for the season last year with an injury. How much was he missed defensively for MSU last year, and what will having him back in the lineup in 2009 mean to the defense?

He wasn't missed as much as one would have thought. Dominic Douglas slid into the middle and performed beautifully, but that left a hole on the outside, so Chaney's impact had an effect. Having him back is huge, especially with K.J. Wright returning and juco transfer Chris White stepping in. Linebacker should be the strongest position on the team.

DH: Obviously Mullen had a lot of success at Florida, but the job of turning things around at MSU is a bit tougher. Still, the Bulldogs' in-state rivals made a pretty quick turnaround last year under first-year coach Houston Nutt. What's an appropriate level of expectation for MSU this year? Minor improvement, bowl game, competitive in the SEC West?

Reasonable? Four wins. Nobody's expecting a Houston Nutt-like turnaround, simply because there isn't nearly as much talent in Starkville as there was in Oxford last year. This is a complete overhaul. Fans are expecting a significant improvement within 3-4 years.

DH: After seeing the team in its first spring under Mullen, what jumped out at you about this spring in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions MSU still needs to answer before the season begins?

Positives: Mullen lets nothing slide and has brought the aforementioned intensity. He's won over most of the players and has opened up competition at every position. A healthy sense of realism has helped balance it all. Negatives: So many holes to fill. MSU was short on receivers in the spring – they had five at the most at one time – and injuries forced Mullen to use fullbacks, tight ends and late walk-ons during drills. Hard to install the spread with so few parts.

* Brad Locke has been at the Daily Journal since 2002 and began covering Mississippi State last year. You can read his Bulldogs coverage HERE or find his blog HERE. You can also follow him on Twitter HERE.

NEXT UP: We'll have the final installment of Two-A-Days tomorrow.

Wednesday Links (4/29)

We're wrapping up our Two-A-Days segments tomorrow. Don't forget to get your questions in for the Georgia entry by sending me an email at

And a note regarding the links posts: From now until football season actually begins, we will no longer link to any stories regarding A.) how good a pro QB Matthew Stafford will be, B.) how overpaid Stafford might be, or C.) What awesome things Matthew Stafford is doing right now that I'm not (unless it involves Alyssa Milano or a Lost castmember).

So, with that bit of housecleaning out of the way, on to today's links...

-- After a couple weeks of bad news on the recruiting trail, Mark Fox has finally landed his first new Bulldog.

-- Last year's College World Series loss still haunts -- and motivates -- Georgia closer Dean Weaver.

-- The AJC's Doug Roberson looks at how a handful of injuries cost some local players -- like Brannan Southerland and Dannell Ellerbe -- significantly in the NFL draft.

-- Blutarski takes Jeff Schultz down a notch.

-- Click here. Laugh. Breathe. Laugh more. Throw up in your mouth a little bit.

-- 960 the Ref has an interview with former Georgia picher (and current St. Louis Cardinal) Mitchell Boggs.

-- Tonight is your last chance to catch the Georgia softball team at home this season.

-- LSU cornerback Phelon Jones has decided to transfer to Alabama.

-- After nearly a decade of watching them sit on their hands, it's nice to actually see the Eagles making some moves to improve the talent on the roster this offseason.

-- As an Eagles fan, things have been going pretty well lately. Good draft, added some good players via trade... but Freddie Mitchell blogging? Well, that just takes the cake. "I'd just like to thank God for giving me great fingers to type with and for allowing me to be so great that I can continue to be an immense talent even while being blackballed from the NFL."

-- Deadspin reports that Bruce Pearl is potentially breaking NCAA rules in trying to recruit Layla Kiffin, if you know what I mean.

-- Are you having trouble following all the happenings on "Lost"? Well, think how this guy must feel.

-- I mentioned the movie "The King of Kong" a few weeks ago. Again, if you've never seen it, you really need to. It's fantastic. If you have, here's an update on one of the characters setting a new Donkey Kong record.

-- And finally, don't forget to head to Baskin-Robins tonight for a 31-cent scoop.

Jones Has Surgery

Georgia center Ben Jones had surgery on his left thumb last week, according to the UGA athletics department, but he is expected to have made a full recovery in time for summer workouts.

Jones joins Vince Vance, Chris Davis and Trinton Sturdivant among Georgia's injured offensive linemen, but all are expected to be ready to go by the start of fall practice in August.

Got a Question for Two-A-Days?

I'm taking your questions on Georgia for our final installment of two-a-days. So... what's on your mind? Anything that's concerning you for the upcoming season? Any players you want to know more about? Send your questions to by CLICKING HERE or just leave it in the comments section on this post.

Two-A-Days: LSU Tigers

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The 13th entry in the series is the LSU Tigers.

Head coach: Les Miles (5th season)
2008 Record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)
Total Offense: 368.08 (5th SEC, 55th overall)
Total Defense: 325.54 ypg (9th SEC, 32nd overall)
On the docket: LSU opens the season on the road at Washington on Sept. 5. The Tigers travel to Georgia on Oct. 3.

A year removed from a national championship, 2008 was a disaster for the Bayou Bengals. LSU spent most of the season trying to find a quarterback, which led to a turnover prone offense, despite a number of solid playmakers. More concerning, however, was the defense, which allowed more than 50 points in two of three games against Georgia and Florida. The Tigers finished strong, however, demolishing Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. So will LSU turn things around and build on its bowl victory? I talked to James Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune to get some answers.

David Hale: One of the biggest question heading into the spring was at quarterback. Jordan Jefferson finished up the season last year and looked decent, but Jarrett Lee and true freshman Russell Shepard are pressing him for snaps. Who has looked the best in the spring and who do you expect to have the starting gig when the season finally kicks off in the fall?

James Varney:
Jefferson is, without a doubt, the No. 1 quarterback right now. Barring catastrophe, he'll be the guy. Now the starting LSU QB has gotten hurt at some point the last two seasons so history suggests the backup will play. That's Lee right now - again, definitely. Shepard will be in several packages - he is going to play as a true freshman. But don’t expect to see him under center.

DH: While the quarterbacking concerns haunted the Tigers last year, the defense may actually have been the bigger disappointment. LSU allowed teams to top 50 on them twice, and finishing ninth in the SEC in scoring defense. In comes new defensive coordinator John Chavis along with two other new defensive assistants. What kind of changes have they implemented and have you seen a new attitude among the Tigers' D since Chavis' arrival?

Certainly the attitude is good; the energy level seems very high. The biggest changes are 1. using three linebackers more often than before and not having the chaotic substitution issues; 2. more zone as a result; and 3. making it clear to just about every player that they’re on-field time is up for grabs every practice.

DH: Speaking of the defense, LSU was virtually helpless against the pass at times. The Tigers finished 11th in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 216 yards per game through the air. What has been done to shore up the secondary and cut down on the big plays?

The new secondary coach, Ron Cooper, is more vocal than Mallory and South Carolina was No. 2 nationally last year against the pass so he's obviously got a clue. He also has many drills ending with someone throwing a ball to the defender (and one drill like that the QBs run where the defender, like a receiver, just goes on a fly and is supposed to catch it). Personnel-wise, the biggest changes are Chad Jones locked in at free safety and Harry Coleman moving from strong safety to linebacker.

(*NOTE: Since this interview, LSU corner Phelon Jones has announced he is transferring.)

DH: Keiland Williams is a guy who oozes with potential, but he's yet to really have that breakthrough season. Heading into his senior season, Les Miles has singled him out as one of the main guys who needs to step up if LSU is to get back into the thick of things in the SEC East. Has his attitude changed any this spring, and what do you expect from him in 2009?

Keiland’s off-field attitude has never been the problem. As far as I can tell, he's a great guy and quite well spoken. But, for whatever reason, he has this timidity that surfaces on some plays in game situations. Especially with Ridley getting hurt, I expect Charles Scott to be the featured back. Remember, Scott rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns last year so he’s no slouch.

DH: After seeing the team this spring, what jumped out at you in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions LSU still needs to answer before the season begins?

Judging strictly from the spring game, Shepard is an exciting player who lives up to the hype. At a minimun, I think he will assume the touches that went to Trindon Holliday (obviously if Holliday goes pro in track) and in terms of consistent positive yardage Shepard will be better. I’m not convinced the 3-linebacker scheme works as much as Chavis seems to want it to, but Coleman, a late shift, improves the speed of that unit and I think Jacob Cutrera in the middle helps if only because Darry Beckwith was hurt a lot last year. A still unanswered question is defensive line. Other than Rahim Alem, LSU has no proven players on that unit.

* James Varney is the LSU beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. You can read his LSU coverage HERE and find his LSU blog HERE.

NEXT UP: The Mississippi State Bulldogs with Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal beat writer Brad Locke.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stafford on Letterman

Matthew Stafford read the top 10 list on Letterman on Monday. You can watch the video HERE.

Here's the full top 10 in text form though...

Top 10 Thoughts that Went Through Matthew Stafford's Mind on Draft Day
10. You don't often hear, "Congratulations, you're going to Detroit"
9. Why am I the only one who came to Radio City Music Hall dressed as a Rockette?
8. If the Lions win one game this year, I'm a hero
7. Anybody dumps Gatorade on me and I'll deck 'em
6. Holy crap, I think I just pulled a hamstring
5. I didn't think anything could top the excitement of Heidi and Spencer getting married.
4. Is it me or does NFL Commissioner Goodell look like a young Larry Hagman?
3. Why am I here when I could be at that movie where Beyonce and that babe fight?
2. Why does Jessica Simpson keep calling me?
1. I'd gladly go #2 if it means not having to appear on Letterman

Two-A-Days: Arkansas Razorbacks

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The 12th entry in the series is the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Head coach: Bobby Petrino (2nd season)
2008 Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Total Offense: 373.03 (4th SEC, 49th overall)
Total Defense: 375.17 ypg (12th SEC, 72nd overall)
On the docket: The Razorbacks open against Missouri State on Sept. 5, then have a bye week before hosting Georgia on Sept. 19.

Plenty of buzz -- and controversy -- surrounded the hiring of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas last year, and his debut for the Hogs didn't exactly bowl anyone over. While his predecessor, Houston Nutt, turned around Ole Miss quickly, Petrino struggled to find consistency on offense or any semblance of a defense. There will be plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball in 2009, however, so could Petrino's second effort provide much better results than his first? I went to Alex Abrams of the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas to find out.

David Hale: The big question of the spring seems to surround the quarterbacks at Arkansas. Ryan Mallett gets his first chance to play after transferring from Michigan, so how has he looked so far? Is he capable of making a significant impact immediately?

Alex Abrams:
Mallett has shown throughout the spring that he has a cannon for an arm, something that has been lacking over the past few years. He's the type of quarterback that will allow Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino to spread out the field and run the type of pass-happy offense that he's known for. The biggest question surrounding Mallett -- and the possibility of him being the quarterback of the future -- is whether he can stay out of trouble. Petrino was disappointed when Mallett was arrested in the offseason for public intoxication.

DH: Michael Smith went down with a pretty nasty hamstring injury. Has he been able to participate at all in spring practice, and have any of the other tailbacks stepped up in his absence this spring?

Smith has been able to take part in the final week of spring practice, and he appears to be getting over the hamstring injury that sidelined him at the end of last season. The bigger concern for Petrino might be the way the backfield has been depleted lately by injuries. At the start of spring, the Razorbacks had a crowded backfield, but since then, senior Brandon Barnett has suffered a broken tibia, freshman Knile Davis broke his ankle and sophomore Dennis Johnson has been sidelined with a swollen foot. Needless to say, Smith's expected return in the fall will definitely be welcomed.

DH: Arkansas' defense returns all seven of its starters up front. Given that the Hogs finished dead last in the SEC in rush defense and scoring defense, that may not necessarily be a good thing. How has the defense looked this spring, and do you see any reasons to expect a major improvement in 2009?

Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is well aware of how bad things went for his unit last season. The coaches tried to address some of the problems in the offseason workout program. Each starting defensive lineman gained at least 10 pounds, so that might prevent opposing teams from pushing around the defensive front as much in 2009. Spring practice has helped as well. Defensive ends Adrian Davis and Jake Bequette have dominated some of the scrimmages, and middle linebacker Wendel Davis has shown that he could be a force next season. There are still questions in the secondary, but I'd be surprised if the defense isn't improved next season.

DH: While the front seven returns all its starters, three of the four starters in the secondary will be new. How has that group looked this spring, and are there any potential difference makers there?

It's hard to judge Arkansas' secondary because several players who will likely compete for starting jobs in the fall aren't on campus yet. Coaches will give a long look at five-star recruit Darius Winston in the fall for one of the cornerback positions. That said, junior Ramon Broadway has continued to make plays and show that he deserves to keep his starting cornerback job. Sophomore Tramain Thomas is pushing senior Matt Harris for the starting free safety position. But the secondary has continued to give up some big plays, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Robinson.

DH: After seeing the team this spring, what jumped out at you in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Arkansas still needs to answer before the season begins?

It became apparent early on that wide receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright could be on the verge of having breakout years. Both players showed flashes as freshmen, but with one year under their belts and the likelihood of Mallett throwing to them, both sophomores could turn out to be big playmakers for Arkansas. Meanwhile, quarterback Tyler Wilson has pushed Mallett for the starting job with his good arm and ability to throw on the run. Heading into the fall, Petrino must find some consistency with his offensive line, figure out who will play in the secondary and try to correct the special-team mistakes that cost them last season.

* Alex Abrams has been the Arkansas football beat writer for The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas since 2006. Over the past three years, he has covered two Heisman Trophy ceremonies, one coaching change and more Houston Nutt drama than anyone outside of Arkansas would want to read. His articles can be found HERE and his Hog Blog can be found HERE.

NEXT UP: The LSU Tigers with New Orleans Times-Picayune beat writer James Varney.

Tuesday Links (4/28)

Some early afternoon links for your viewing pleasure...

-- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen calls Matthew Stafford's new contract "outrageous" but Stafford's agent, Tom Condon, is fighting back.

-- The Detroit Free Press's Jamie Samuelsen isn't necessarily bashing Stafford, but he is critical of the Lions' selection of him, saying it flies in the face of the team's overall philosophy. I think it's funny to hear "Detoit Lions" and "overall philosophy" in the same sentence.

-- When you're a potential No. 1 overall pick, you get Jimmy Fallon. But once you're actually THE GUY, well then you get to the big time. (Still, feel free to sign Fallon's petition to reunite the cast of "Saved by the Bell.")

-- The AJC's Tim Tucker wonders how the hefty new deal has changed Stafford.

-- The Pride of Detroit blog offers five likes and five dislikes about the Matthew Stafford era in Detroit.

-- Georgia might be playing a game at the Georgia Dome in 2010.

-- Tons of good stuff in Marc Weiszer's notes, including news that Mark Richt won't be allowed to attend Chris Burnette's graduation and CJ Byrd has signed a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

-- A potentially valuable JuCo point guard has spurned Georgia on the recruiting trailing, choosing instead to play ball at... Charlotte? Mark Fox is supposed to be available to the media on Friday, so hopefully we'll have some more details on the Hoops team, because the secondary info that has come out over the past few weeks has not been very good.

-- Mark Richt and Mark Fox addressed fans on the topic of change at an Augusta Bulldog Club meeting.

-- Get the Picture wonders if there's some serious problems in the Pac-10 that USC is continually getting so much better talent than everyone else.

-- Recent UGA transfer Angela Puleo has landed at Vanderbilt.

-- 960 the Ref has a new interview with baseball coach Dave Perno.

-- Georgia's women's golfers will be heading to the East regional.

-- In the age of potentially catastrophic computer viruses, I've often wondered why anyone would want to take the time ane effort to create something that provides them only anonymous glory and no monetary reward. Then I see something like this and it all makes sense.

-- While ESPN's new ponies-infused redesign looks great, the verdict on the new look over at the AJC remains up for some debate.

-- The Hollywood Reporter has some potentially good news for "Scrubs" fans.

-- And some more good news for Brian Perkins: "Chuck" has a good chance to survive next season, too.

-- And finally, here's a fun quiz for you: Mental Floss has you guess whether a statement is a random Twitter post or an entry from Doogie Howser's journal.

Two-A-Days: South Carolina Gamecocks

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The 11th entry in the series is the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Head coach: Steve Spurrier (5th season)
2008 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
Total Offense: 316.54 ypg (7th SEC, 97th overall)
Total Defense: 291.92 ypg (4th SEC, 13th overall)
On the docket: The Gamecocks open on the road on Thursday, Sept. 3 against N.C. State. They then get a 10-day break before heading to Athens for their SEC opener against Georgia on Sept. 12.

Another relatively promising season went up in flames a year ago when South Carolina dropped its final three games of the year -- including blowout losses to rivals Florida and Clemson -- and finished with seven wins or fewer for the third time in Steve Spurrier's four seasons in Columbia. When Spurrier arrived, fans expected the same magic he was able to create at Florida, but now most observers are simply wondering how much longer he'll stick around. So, will this be Spurrier's best season at South Carolina, or might it be his last? I talked to Seth Emerson of The State to get some answers.

David Hale: There were some major shake-ups on Steve Spurrier's staff this offseason. How has the team reacted to the replacements, and has Spurrier's attitude changed at all this spring? Any signs that it might be his last?

Seth Emerson:
The most immediate impression is that these are younger, perhaps more hungry assistants - in the sense that all of them either moved up the ladder by coming to South Carolina, or got a promotion. So the coaches themselves are quite happy to be here, and seem to be bringing some fresh ideas to the table. As for Spurrier, there's not a hugely detectable difference in him. Maybe not as critical, which he said he would work on, but it's spring practice, how much is there really to be critical about? And as for his future, who knows. He's never going to come out and say it.

DH: Given all the success Spurrier had at Florida, it seems hard to believe he has never found a quarterback he could settle on at South Carolina. Might this finally be the year, and might Stephen Garcia be the guy? How has Garcia's first spring of work with the Gamecocks gone?

Garcia might benefit from finally being "the guy." No questions about his starting spot, at least not yet. Plus, this is his first spring practice. I think most people are looking at the situation warily, merely hoping that Garcia will lock things down and play well, but not necessarily knowing that he is the answer.

DH: While South Carolina may finally be able to settle on a quarterback (maybe), the offense will have to replace several other playmakers, including Kenny McKinley, Jared Cook and Mike Davis. Has anyone stepped up this spring who might emerge as a true offensive threat?

Lots of options, but no definite go-to guy yet. Moe Brown, who will be a senior, has had a good spring, but he has yet to develop consistency - had a huge game last year against Georgia, then was quiet the rest of the way. Jason Barnes, who will be a redshirt sophomore, is a tall receiver in the Sidney Rice mold, but he has to do it on Saturdays. Weslye Saunders has played tight end the last two years behind Jared Cook, and he'll get a shot. The running backs are wide open, with junior Brian Maddox the leader, but true freshman Jarvis Giles giving him a push.

DH: Captain Munnerlyn, Jasper Brinkley, Emanuel Cook, Carlos Thomas, Stoney Woodson... a lot of talent is gone from last year's defense. Have any of the younger players impressed enough in the spring to give some hope that there won't be a big drop off on the defensive side of the ball?

They're in a lot better shape at safety than cornerback. Chris Culliver has been hurt most of the spring, but he should be healthy by the fall, and he could have a breakout season. Darian Stewart, who played the hybrid linebacker-safety spot last year, is also back. The cornerback position is in a lot of flux, and could be the weak point of the defense.

DH: After seeing the team this spring, what jumped out at you in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions South Carolina still needs to answer before the season begins?

I like where they are at running back, and think Maddox, Giles and the other guys give them an approach they lacked last year. If the new offensive line coach, Eric Wolford, has a positive impact, the running game should be much better. As for the passing game, well, it all depends on what's going on inside Garcia's head. We'll see. Defensively there could be a drop-off because of the departures, but Eric Norwood is still around, and the defensive line looks much improved.

* Seth Emerson covers a variety of South Carolina sports for The State. You can read his Gamecocks coverage HERE or check out his blog HERE.

NEXT UP: The Arkansas Razorbacks with Northwest Arkansas Morning News beat writer Alex Abrams.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Munson Headed to Hall of Fame

Courtesy UGA Athletics...

Longtime University of Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson will be inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame during the organization’s 50th Annual Awards program scheduled May 2-4 in Salisbury, NC.

Munson called Georgia football games from 1966 to 2007. Starting at age 20, Munson began to accumulate lots of experience in sports broadcasting. He called games for major and minor league baseball, the University of Wyoming football and basketball, Nashville Vols (baseball), Vanderbilt football and basketball for 16 years and was a member of the original Atlanta Braves broadcast team when they moved from Milwaukee.

"This is an overwhelming tribute, and I am honored to be selected to this group of outstanding and accomplished professionals," said Munson. "To be elected to any Hall of Fame is quite humbling, but to be chosen to the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor."

This award will be added to his many other broadcasting accolades. Munson was recognized by the Georgia General Assembly in 1983, inducted into the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1994 and the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Munson is also the 2003 recipient of the Chris Schenkel Award, given annually by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award recognizes broadcasters with long and distinguished careers in broadcasting college football, as well as their contributions to community service. He was also named winner of the 2008 Furman Bisher Award for Sports Media Excellence presented by the Atlanta Sports Council.

Hall of Famers are nominated by an NSSA panel and then voted on by their 700 sportswriters and broadcast members. Leigh Montville from the Boston Globe/Sports Illustrated will also be inducted.

Jim Nantz of CBS will be recognized as the National Sportscaster of the Year and Bob Ryan of the will be recognized as the National Sportswriter of the Year.

Two-A-Days: Tennessee Volunteers

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The tenth entry in the series is the Tennessee Volunteers.

Head coach: Lane Kiffin (1st year)
2008 Record: 5-7 (3-5)
Total Offense: 268.75 ypg (11th SEC, 115th overall)
Total Defense: 263.5 ypg (1st SEC, t-3rd overall)
On the docket: The Vols open with Western Kentucky on Sept. 5 and host Georgia in Knoxville on Oct. 10.

Tennessee struggled without a speck of offense in 2009 and the result was the end of the line for former head coach Philip Fulmer. Fulmer made for some good jokes over the years (Krispie Kreme, the giant pumpkin, the Alabama subpeonas, etc., etc.), but his replacement, Lane Kiffin, has taken things to a new level by upsetting just about every coach in the SEC within his first few months in the league. So, how will the rest of Kiffin's first year go? I talked with Chattanooga Times Free Press beat writer Wes Rucker to find answers.

David Hale: You don't have to read the paper too often to know that Lane Kiffin hasn't made a ton of friends around the SEC in his first few months in Knoxville. What has been the overall reaction to him from his own players, and is there a concern that quite a few teams (UGA, Florida and South Carolina to name a few) will be looking for revenge when they take on the Vols in 2009?

Wesley Rucker: Kiffin certainly talks the talk, doesn't he? He's a supremely confident man, and one that knows what he wants to do with the UT program. The question, obviously, is whether he and his experienced, expensive staff can produce.

From what I've gathered, on and off the record, most of Kiffin's players respect and/or like him. He's incredibly straight-forward -- I know, shocking, right? -- but that approach has worked with most of his players.

I'm not sure if there's any concern over the bulletin-board material, honestly. The UT-Georgia and UT-Florida games are packed with more than enough intensity, anyway. And credit Kiffin for stating the obvious regarding Florida: The Gators had no bulletin-board material when they waxed the Vols the past two seasons.

I'm not sure Kiffin's words are the best approach -- and they're certainly not the most tactful approach -- but it's too soon to know whether it will be a successful or silly approach.

DH: The biggest problem for Tennessee a year ago was the offense, and that started at quarterback. Phil Fulmer never seemed to find his guy at the position last year, and the offense struggled mightily. Does Kiffin have a clearer picture of how he'd like to see the QB position play out, and what are the odds that the Vols offense can actually show a dramatic improvement in 2009 if they can find their quarterback?

WR: There's no doubt in my mind that UT can compete with everyone in the SEC East not named Florida if it gets good quarterback play. But whether UT will get good quarterback play is a huge question mark -- and one that no one in their right mind could possibly answer until after the Florida game, in my opinion.

The Vols are at least SEC-competitive and relatively proven at every offensive position except quarterback and right tackle, but those aren't ideal places to have question marks. You'd think that a competent quarterback would emerge between Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman -- three highly-rated recruits with impressive offer lists -- but who didn't think that last season, too?

Crompton has taken most of the starter's snaps this spring, with Coleman taking most of the No. 2s and Stephens battling back from a broken wrist, Coleman's statistics have been better, and his offense has scored more points, but he hasn't faced the same front four as Crompton. I envision that battle lasting at least halfway into preseason camp, but rotating similar-style quarterbacks is often a bad idea in the SEC, so these coaches would prefer to avoid another season-long carousel.

(*NOTE: This interview was done a few days before Coleman decided to transfer. You can read Wesley's coverage of the Coleman transfer HERE.)

DH: With Lennon Creer's decision to leave the team, the Vols still have a deep backfield, but after senior Montario Hardesty, it will be very young. Has Hardesty shown enough this spring to be a featured back or do you expect to see a lot of Bryce Brown, David Oku or even Tauren Poole?

WR: Hardesty's ability to be the feature back hasn't been a question since his freshman season, in my opinion. He's tough, strong, fast and has good vision. He just hasn't stayed healthy. Hardesty has just been one of those frustrating cases of a hard-working, well-respected, talented young man simply being plagued with injuries. It's not an effort or conditioning issue -- he's given himself two stress fractures by pushing through sprains too quickly -- but it's fair to question if he will ever stay healthy in a grueling league like the SEC.

Regardless, though, Hardesty has been and will continue to be pushed by a growing group of talented youngsters. Poole has probably been the Vols' most impressive runner this spring, but he's fumbled way too much for the coaches' liking. Toney Williams, who arrived in January from Alpharetta (Ga.) High School, has also shown flashes of promise the past few weeks. And obviously, Brown and Oku have been built up as tantalizing talents who will have opportunities to earn immediate playing time.

DH: Obviously Lane wasn't the only Kiffin to join the Vols' staff this year. As good as the Tennessee defense was at times last season, how much better can the unit be under Monte Kiffin and, from what you've seen this spring, can it be good enough to potentially carry the load to get the Vols back into contention in the East?

There are depth issues on UT's defense, and its linebackers -- always a major strength under former coordinator and linebacker maestro John Chavis -- will be extremely inexperienced aside from All-SEC weaksider Rico McCoy. But I think this will be a very solid defense, nonetheless (and not just because it's faced UT's offense all spring).

Safety Demetrice Morley's dismissal cost the Vols a dynamic playmaker, but there's no shortage of options to start alongside All-American Eric Berry, and many of those options are capable of executing playcalls better than the notoriously freelancing Morley. There are plenty of good options at cornerback, too.

Big freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes has been the team's biggest pleasant surprise this spring, and he looks to be at least a solid compliment to proven commodities Dan Williams and Wes Brown in the middle. Defensive end, meanwhile, could be UT's biggest strength. Juniors-to-be Chris Walker and Ben Martin have played very well this spring, and Walker has probably been the team's second-best player (behind Berry). Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is cautiously optimistic about his group, and I can see why, but tackle depth is a possible concern.

DH: After seeing the team in its first spring under Kiffin, what jumped out at you about this spring in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Tennessee still needs to answer before the season begins?

WR: I'm sure this will sound cliché, but the energy has been undeniably positive -- and not just because local media are watching full practices for the first time since 2003. Several players buried in the depth chart responded well to Kiffin's “blank slate” philosophy, and practice tempo has been a noticeably impressive upgrade.

Given time, I think this core group of coaches could compete for SEC championships. Lesser-known additions like running backs coach Eddie Gran -- who fiercely recruited South Florida for Auburn and coached six Tiger tailbacks still in the NFL -- have impressed me this spring, and the Monte Kiffin/Ed Orgeron daily tour de force is a seemingly effective, testosterone-filled spectacle.

But, as always in this league, the road to Atlanta and beyond is not an easy one. UT has gradually slipped in the SEC East since 2001. Gritty efforts to outlast the field and play in the league title game in 2004 and 2007 were solid, but the Vols haven't had a bona fide national title contender since 2001 -- regardless of what some around these parts say about the shockingly bad 2005 season.

Several programs have maintained or returned to meet their lofty standards since UT's 1998 national championship. Catching the Floridas, Alabamas, LSUs and Georgias of the league won't be an easy task but, given time, I think these Vols' coaches could do it. But will they stay together long enough to do it? Will fans and boosters allow them the time to do it? And will public opinion stay with them long enough to hold off the initial setbacks?

Those questions combined with Kiffin's supreme confidence leave several interesting possibilities for the next few seasons in the SEC, for Kiffin-lovers Kiffin-haters alike.
The worst-case scenario this season still leaves UT back in a bowl game, I think -- but I wouldn't bet a mortgage payment on it. The best-case scenario leaves them playing a bowl game near January -- where the Vols could showcase their young talent and hope to continue signing similar players and narrow their deficit to the SEC's elite.

* Wesley Rucker has coverd the Tennessee Volunteers for eight years, and is the beat writer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. You can read his Vols coverage HERE or check out his blog HERE. His wrap up of Tennessee's spring can be found HERE.

NEXT UP: The South Carolina Gamecocks with The State beat writer Seth Emerson.

UGA Lands Four on All-SEC Golf Team

Georgia golfer and Stratford Academy product Russell Henley was named to the All-SEC first team Monday. Fellow Bulldogs Brian Harman, Hudson Swafford and Harris English also earned first-team nods. Senior Adam Mitchell was a second-team All-SEC selection.

The 2009 SEC Men’s Golf Awards are listed below:

Brad McMakin, Arkansas

Mark Silvers III, South Carolina

Billy Horschel, Florida

Bud Cauley, Alabama

*Billy Horschel, Florida, Sr.
*Brian Harman, Georgia, Sr.
*Russell Henley, Georgia, So.
*Bud Cauley, Alabama, Fr.
Hudson Swafford, Georgia, Jr.
John Peterson, LSU, So.
Chris Paisley, Tennessee, Sr.
Harris English, Georgia, So.
Andrew Landry, Arkansas, Sr.

George Bryan IV, South Carolina, Jr.
Robin Wingardh, Tennessee, So.
Adam Mitchell, Georgia, Sr.
Mark Silvers, South Carolina, Sr.
Joe David, Ole Miss, Fr.
David Lingmerth, Arkansas, Jr.
Tim McKenney, Florida, Jr.
Andy Winings, Kentucky, Sr.

Joe David, Ole Miss
Sean Dale, Ole Miss
Bud Cauley, Alabama
Sang Yi, LSU
Wesley Bryan, South Carolina
Ethan Tracy, Arkansas
Hunter Hamrick, Alabama
Darren Renwick, Tennessee

Video Blog: Stafford's Selection

Want to relive the magic of Matthew Stafford being selected first overall by the Detroit Lions, only with shaky camerawork and the glitz and glamor of the back of some guy's head? Well, here ya go...

SEC Draft Day Notes

Some draft day notes, courtesy of the SEC...

* The SEC had the most selections in this weekend's National Football League player draft. The SEC had 37 of its players selected followed by the ACC with 33, the Pac-10 with 32, Big 12 and the Big Ten with 28 each and the Big East with 27. The Mountain West Conference had 16 players selected while the Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA had 10

* Eleven of the 12 SEC schools had at least one player selected in the draft. South Carolina led the SEC with seven players selected followed by Georgia and LSU with six each and Alabama and Ole Miss with four each.

* The SEC has now led or tied for the lead in the most selections in an NFL Draft in 10 of the last 12 years, including the last three drafts.

* Since 1990, the SEC has had 739 players selected in NFL Drafts, tops in the nation.

* The SEC had eight players selected in the first round, which was tied for the fourth highest in SEC history. In 2007, the SEC had 11 players selected in the first round, 2005 and 1998 had 10 each, 1999 had eight in the first round.

* Since conference expansion in 1992, the SEC has had 107 first round selections in 17 drafts, an average of 6.29 selections per draft.

And a note on the spring...

* The last of the spring football practices have just concluded in the Southeastern Conference. Excitement for the 2009 SEC football season is at a fever pitch. One example of that are the attendances at annual spring football games on the 12 institutions campuses this year. More
than 450,000 fans watched the annual spring games, with an average attendance of 37,936. Last year, the SEC spring games drew a total of 373,232 or an average of 31,103 fans per game.

Monday Links (4/27)

A few final thoughts on the draft...

-- The reaction to the deal Matthew Stafford got with the Lions has been tepid at best. I get. The truth is, Stafford isn't deserving of that much money because he's never played a down in the NFL. But Detroit is betting on Stafford's future, which looks very bright. He has the right attitude, he's embraced the challenge ahead of him, and he has all the tools to become the quarterback Detroit is betting he will be. I'll be surprised if he is the starter Week 1, but I'd bet he starts at least five or six games this coming season.

-- Denver is not going to be an especially good team in 2009, but the Broncos selection of Knowshon Moreno was a good one. Knowshon is the perfect fit for that offense, and he'll make an immediate impact in both the passing and running game. His selection came earlier than most expected (and I would have loved if he had fallen to the Eagles) but it was by no means a reach.

-- I was suprised to see Mohamed Massaquoi go quite as early as he did, but it just goes to show how much he has taken his game to a new level over the past year. It's also funny that he landed in Cleveland because he is everything the Browns' top two receivers last year -- Braylon Edwards and Donte Stallworth -- are not.

-- Georgia had not had a first-round pick since 2005, when Thomas Davis and David Pollack went in the top 17. This year, the Bulldogs had two, and five in the top 100.

-- As much criticism as Asher Allen received for leaving school a year early, I'm not sure he cost himself too much money. Yes, with a strong 2009 he might have been a high second-rounder. Instead, he was a high third-rounder. His injury last season mitigated his poor stats, but if he had a similarly disappointing 2009 he could have fallen late into the second day. Overall, he made out just fine (and he'll get a chance to try to pick off passes from Stafford in Detroit now).

-- Very happy for Corvey Irvin. He ended up going a lot earlier than most expected at season's end. He did some fine work in improving his draft stock this offseason, and the results were obvious. Plus, he'll get to stay pretty close to home with the Panthers.

-- Irvin and fellow draftee Jarius Wynn prove just how good Georgia's recruitment of JuCo players went two years ago when the Dawgs landed those two and lineman Vince Vance.

-- I'm shocked that Brannan Southerland didn't get selected. But I have no doubt he'll land a job quickly. He was widely regarded as one of the top two or three fullbacks available, but there just isn't the need for fullbacks in the NFL that there used to be. Dannell Ellerbe was also a surprise non-selection, but like Southerland, an injury filled 2009 season hurt his stock. Again, good evidence of why Allen made the right decision. Southerland, Ellerbe, Demiko Goodman and Kenneth Harris have already signed free-agent deals, according to the Banner-Herald. CJ Byrd should land a free agent deal, too.

-- Once again, the SEC led the pack with 35 selections in the draft, and Georgia was near the top of the board with six picks. That number is also a little low given how much NFL talent Florida has returning. USC led the day with 11 players taken, but two other Pac-10 teams had no one taken.

So, what about you? What did you take away from this weekend's draft?

Now, some links for the day...

-- The reaction from Detroit media hasn't been overly enthusiastic, but they have to admit, Matthew Stafford could be very, very good (and given the Lions' history, it's easy to understand why they're wary).

-- Blutarski tackles the interesting question of how the spread offense may affect QBs in the draft. This was one thing that Mark Richt pointed out Saturday: Georgia helped Stafford and Moreno by putting them in an offense that helped showcase their NFL skills.

-- There was a lot more excitement over Knowshon Moreno in Denver.

-- Josh McDaniels is pretty happy with his first-round draft choice as well.

-- Mohamed Massaquoi had good things to say when speaking with the media after being selected by the Browns.

-- 960 the Ref talks about the Falcons' draft take with D. Orlando Ledbetter.

-- The Banner-Herald's Bill Hager says that if the men's hoops team is ever going to get better, they probably need to get out of Stegeman Coliseum.

-- Georgia's women's tennis team won the SEC championship.

-- Bryce Massanari had three home runs Saturday, but Georgia's offense couldn't get going against Ole Miss on Sunday.

-- Former Georgia closer Josh Fields earned his first professional save over the weekend for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. (h/t Matthew Borenstein)

-- Desmond from "Lost" has been named in a sexual harrassment lawsuit by a former crew member on the show.

-- And finally, here's a list of the 10 most notable hangouts from TV shows. Sadly, no mention of The Max from "Saved by the Bell."

Two-A-Days: Florida Gators

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The ninth entry in the series is the Florida Gators.

Head coach: Urban Meyers (5th year)
2008 Record: 13-1 (7-1)
Total Offense: 445.07 ypg (1st SEC, 15th overall)
Total Defense: 285.29 ypg (3rd SEC, 9th overall)
On the docket: Florida opens its title defense Sept. 5 against Charleston Southern and takes to the field in Jacksonville to face off against Georgia on Oct. 31.

Florida's season in a nutshell: Tim Tebow travels the world, saving lives and circumcising babies, beat some bad teams, lost to Ole Miss, Tebow made a speech roughly equivalent to the Gettysburg Address, Florida dominates everyone else it plays, demolishes Georgia and calls two timeouts in the final minute to relish the win, won the East, came from behind to beat Alabama for the SEC championship, topped Oklahoma for its second national title in three years and earned gradulations for their hard work before meeting the president. This year, the Gators return almost everyone who had anything to do with last year's wild ride, so will they be able to repeat? To find out, I talked to Florida beat writer Jeremy Fowler of the Orlando Sentinel.

David Hale: Much was made -- and rightfully so -- of Tim Tebow's speech following the Ole Miss loss last year, and how it motivated Florida on to the national championship. This year, all eyes are on the Gators, and anything less than a repeat seems like it would be a disappointed. So how do the Gators stay motivated? Is that a concern this spring?

Jeremy Fowler:
Gators players have talked a lot about complacency and how they didn't handle the aftermath of the 2006 title as well as they should have. A sense of entitlement coupled with the losses of several key players equaled a 9-4 year in 2007. This team returns so many players that it could probably roll out of bed and go 9-3 -- games against Georgia and LSU will basically determine their season. The leadership abilities of Tebow on offense and Brandon Spikes on defense will play a huge factor on complacency.

DH: Tim Tebow is obviously the engine behind Florida's offense, but having watched the national championship game, it was clear how much of an impact Percy Harvin had. From what you've seen this spring, who might step up and take over some of the key playmaking duties Harvin handled so well the past few years?

That's probably a four-man race between running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey -- two world-class sprinters but both under 5-9 -- wide receiver Deonte Thompson and incoming freshman playmaker Andre Debose, who was recruited with Harvin in mind. He's a five-star talent, but he's still an enigma. Expect Demps to play the running back/receiver role of Harvin more after catching 14 passes to accompany 605 rushing yards in 2008.

DH: Florida's offense gets a lot of hype for good reason, but this year's defense has a chance to be very, very good. What's the mood among the Florida D this spring, and is there a sense that this unit is on the verge of becoming one of the elite units in the country?

Anything less than a top-three national defense would be a colossal disappointment. When you hold Oklahoma to 14 points in the title game and return every starter and all but one backup (Torrey Davis quit the team), the expectations are through the roof. Last year's D didn't give up a lot of points but gave up a good amount of yards. The goal this fall will be to keep both numbers low.

DH: Last offseason, Florida's players used Georgia's end-zone celebration and subsequent win in Jacksonville as motivation. This year, some of Lane Kiffin's comments about Florida seem to have struck a chord with the Gators. How much do you think any of this stuff really plays into the team's offseason preparation?

It's huge, at least from Florida's end. Georgia's end-zone celebration played in Florida's locker room all offseason. Now, Lane Kiffin's quotes are posted all over the Gators football complex. Strength coach Mickey Marotti knows how to push his guys' buttons. Make no mistake -- they want to beat Tennessee by 50. That's why the Georgia game will be tricky. They put so much effort into paying back Georgia for the end-zone stunt, and now that they've got their blowout, the Bulldogs could be hungrier.

DH: After seeing the team for the past few weeks, what jumped out at you about this spring in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Florida still needs to answer before the season begins? What could possibly prevent the Gators from playing for another SEC title?

POSITIVES: Defense has been dominant, the safety and linebacker positions are as deep and competitive as they've ever been, lots of young receivers have gotten quality reps, tight end Aaron Hernandez shows every day why he's a freak, couple of lineman have emerged (Marcus Gilbert and Sam Robey), Tebow's new throwing motion (less sidearm) has looked promising

NEGATIVES: Injuries have hampered the training of numerous key players, including lineman Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, linebacker Brandon Hicks and defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap, Justin Trattou and Terron Sanders. The offensive line as a whole has been sloppy and the reason for numerous fumbles. The running back play has been lackluster without Demps, who is running track, and Rainey still recovering from groin surgery. Tebow and backup John Brantley have thrown their share of interceptions.

* Jeremy Fowler is the Florida beat writer for the Orlando Sentinel. You can read his Gators coverage HERE or check out his excellent blog HERE. His wrap up of Florida's spring game is HERE. Jeremy also has an interesting post up in which Coach Meyers tells Gators fans they aren't allowed to criticize the team.

NEXT UP: The Tennessee Volunteers with Chattanooga Times Free Press beat writer Wesley Rucker.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Asher Heads to Minnesota

Comments from Asher Allen from his conference call after being selected in the third round by the Minnesota Vikings...

Q: Were you pleased when the Vikings made that call to you?
A: Yeah, I was really excited. I think anytime you get drafted and go through a stage like this in your life, it’s one of the most heart-pounding things, but it’s also one of the most-enjoyable things. You dream of this day. I wish it could have came earlier, but I’m happy that it came.

Q: Did your hand injury make it a tough decision to come out this year or not?
A: Well, I played with (the injury). That’s the thing about it. Toughness has never been a problem. I broke it and when that happened I had the chance of either sitting out or playing with it. But I love football way too much not to play it. I played with it and then tore it. The last game of the year I played without my cast and it felt really good. And I know my body and also being able to work out and things like that; I had full confidence in my hand. It’s been 100 percent since the last game.

Q: Do you think the injury effected your draft status with some teams, that they were concerned? Do you think it may have hurt your stock a little bit?
A: I really don’t know. I think I had a good Combine showing. I had a great pro day, running a 4.33 (40-yard dash) at my pro day and obviously doing really good at my position drills over and over again and having good character and good grades and things like that. I thought those things were going to be able to take me up a little bit higher. But you don’t know what happens in those rooms and how they come up with those decisions. I’m kind of perplexed myself about going this low. But that’s just how it is. All we can do is just move forward from here and win games up here in Minneapolis.

Q: Do you see yourself fitting in here in the Vikings defense?
A: Obviously, I’m a big fan of Antoine Winfield. I’ve always been a big fan of him and everything that he does. A guy like him, who is kind of similar to the way I play, it’s just great to be on a team with him. Hopefully I have a chance to learn. That’s pretty much, as far as the secondary as of right now that I know. But I’m sure in the next couple weeks I’ll (become) well-informed.

Q: What do you think you have to work on most?
A: The playbook. The Minnesota Vikings playbook and making sure I understand this. At Georgia, we had a very, very complex defense as far as understanding plays and reacting to different plays. I love film. I love watching film. I’m a big student of the game and just really understanding film. The faster I understand the film, the faster I can get on the field. I truly believe that will be the only thing holding me back.

Q: What do you think is your biggest strength?
A: Confidence. I think, playing cornerback, you have to have confidence being out there on those numbers by yourself. Sometimes on the backside of three-ball ones that I’ve spent my last three years at Georgia doing and just playing in the SEC, you gain experience. I played against NFL receivers that are in the NFL right now and I played against college receivers that are going to be in the NFL. Percy Harvin, he’s there right now and he’s a guy I went against for three years. It’s kind of funny that you’re kind of rival teams and you go to the same NFL team. But just that kind of experience playing in the SEC and (Harvin) also, you just gain new tools that you’re able to play in the NFL with.

Q: Did Percy make any plays on you?
A: Nah. Nah, we can go to the films. Every time he played Georgia, he made sure that he made his fair share of plays, as he did his whole year. He’s a great player and I’m happy to be a teammate with him and Phil Loadholt.

Q: You had a really good showing in the bench press at the Combine. Is physicality part of your game?
A: Oh yeah. Like Antoine Winfield, who is a strong corner. I put (225 lbs.) up 22 times. I have the bench press record as well as the power clean record at Georgia for cornerbacks. Physicality is big thing for me because I enjoy pressing. I enjoy getting into a receiver’s mouth, so to say, I think that kind of game. Knowing that you have speed and knowing that you have quickness, it just adds another weapon to you. I like playing in the run game a lot. That’s what we did at Georgia. We allowed our cornerbacks to make a lot of decisions and hopefully I can be able to do that at Minnesota.

Q: What did you think of that contract that your former teammate (Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford) got?
A: Oh wow. I hope he can throw a little bit down here to us. He deserves it. He’s been a hard worker. We came to Georgia at the same time and left Georgia at the same time. He’s been a hard worker since he’s been there, as well as Knowshon (Moreno) and Mohammed Massaquoi and Corey Irvin. Those guys, ever since they’ve been there, they’ve been extremely hard workers. Just knowing that those guys are getting their recognition, as well as myself, it’s just been a great weekend, really.

Q: In which game did you break your hand and how did it happen?
A: In the LSU game last year, I broke my hand on the second drive of the whole game. He ran a flip-toss and as a cornerback I read it. I came up and making the tackle, my hand hit his helmet, actually. I was coming at a high speed and he was coming at a high speed. I didn’t know what happened at first. I thought I sprained it and so I just wrapped it up and we just taped it and I ran back out there and played football. From I believe the LSU game all the way up to the Michigan State game, which is pretty much the second half of the football season I was playing with a cast on my hand. Having that kind of thing, probably took away from my interceptions and things like that. I think what I brought my junior year to Georgia was just shutting a side down. That’s kind of the attitude I have. I feel like I can do that. Hopefully I can do that in Minneapolis.

Q: Did playing against a quarterback like Stafford in practice, did that elevate your game, playing against someone who is better than you would face on game day?
A: Picture this for a second, this was my practice; it was Stafford throwing to Mohammed Massoqoui, who is with the Browns now and Knowshon Moreno. That was practice. That was for three years. I feel like going against those guys and how competitive we all are, there were plenty of fights out there between the guys. Just how competitive we are; by the time you got there you were ready for the game. You were looking around like, “Man, this is not the same. This is pretty easy.” I think that’s just one of the reasons why I went to Georgia. I wanted to go somewhere that was very highly-competitive, where I knew a lot of talent was going to be, because I get to prove myself. That’s the kind of person I am. Obviously, I like to do what’s best for the team, but I also I love competition. I love to prove myself.

Q: Did you come close to coming back to school?
A: After the last game I was thinking about it. This decision came up and me and my family talked about it. We just wanted to know what was the best decision for us and for myself. We talked with Coach Richt and Coach Martinez. Coach Martinez, who was my position coach, talked and after talking they obviously wanted me to stay. I’m related to Michael Irvin. Michael Irvin is a cousin of mine and he helped me out a whole lot throughout this, and Darrell Green also did. I formed a relationship with him through this whole process. We talked a whole lot. As a whole group, collectively, we made a decision to come out. We thought it would be best. Going back, I love the University of Georgia. I love everything about it, what it stands for, what the G stands for, the fans there. It was extremely hard to leave but sometimes you got to do what you’ve got to do. But that was the backbone of that decision.

Q: How did you form the relationship with Darrell Green?
A: Darrell Green actually came down for the Capital One Bowl game. He came down there and was actually outside talking to a few guys and I followed him, obviously, as a big football fan. I went up there and said, “Hey” to him and things like that and just kept in touch. He never hesitated to contact me to see how I was doing and likewise I did the same. We’re both cornerbacks and he still thinks he can probably beat me in the 40. We haven’t raced yet. I think the comparisons of both of us probably attracted us to each other. I’ll probably reach him today. He’s a great guy I met at the Capital One Bowl and kept in contact with.

Q: With the defense that Vikings run, do you feel that fits you as a player?
A: Perfectly. That kind of offense we ran at Georgia, we kind of held kind of our base thing. The kind of player I am kind of fits also. I can press, press zone. There are a lot of weapons I believe I bring to the game. That’s just one of the things I do bring. I think that defense, when run correctly, is very, very tough to beat. Hopefully I can just be a part of that wherever (I’m at).

Q: If you played in the nickel would you be more comfortable playing inside or outside?
A: I believe I can play anywhere. Playing the nickel back is something I did when I first got to Georgia. Whenever we had problems toward the field or with a certain receiver I would go to nickel. I’m very familiar with playing nickel. I’m very familiar with playing the hook zone, playing the run through, as far as playing cover two; also playing the curl flat when it comes to cover three, the quarter flat when it comes to cover four. Things like that. We do that at Georgia. Those are things that Coach Martinez really instilled in us and made sure we understood. As a player myself I’m going to make sure I understand it whether it be nickel back or one of the two corners. I’m going to make sure I fully understand it. As far as playing nickel back, it doesn’t matter where. I’ll make sure I’ll understand and I’ll make sure I come in there kind of with a prior knowledge of this defense. I think that I’ll be a quick learner, hopefully.