August 5, 2012

Around the SEC: Monday, August 6

Our daily look around the SEC through the eyes of the network of sites.

According to coach Nick Saban, his players didn't rest on their laurels after winning the national title in January. Saban said last week that his team out-performed any of his previous Crimson Tide squads in off-season conditioning tests, with defensive tackle Jesse Williams and his 600-pound bench-press leading the way. However, 'Bama will be without receiver Duron Carter, who never qualified and has now transferred to Florida Atlantic, and 350-pound offensive line recruit Brandon Hill still hasn't been cleared by the NCAA.

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Arkansas hits the field for its first full practice in pads on Monday, but Razorback coach John L. Smith is unsure whether he'll let All-SEC running back Knile Davis, who is practicing after missing last year with an ankle injury, participate in contact drills immediately. Starting linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, a second-team All-SEC player last year, has also been sidelined with a hamstring injury though it doesn't appear to be serious.

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Auburn coaches are still non-committal with regards to the front-runner of the quarterback competition between sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley. Frazier earned limited playing time as a third-teamer between the backup Moseley due to his running, but he wasn't ready as a passer. He's made strides in that department this year and sounds like the favorite to win the job. That's in some part because Moseley had shoulder issues in the spring that kept him from playing anywhere near full-strength, but Moseley said on Saturday that it's getting better.

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LSU should have a dominant defense again this year, but the concern going into camp was at linebacker, where Kevin Minter is really the only returnee with a resume of much note. That's why coach Les Miles signed five linebackers this winter, including a pair of four-star recruits. However, it's three-star Deion Jones of New Orleans who's standing out among the group. Jones has been praised for having the quickest feet of anyone at the position and is getting second-team reps on the strong side behind Tahj Jones. Another three-star true freshman, Ronnie Feist, is backing up Minter in the middle. True freshman corner Jalen Mills is also getting second-team reps.

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Ole Miss
With the pads finally going on in Oxford, four-star freshman I'Tavius Mathers looks like a guy who can contribute at running back, where the Rebels certainly have a void behind Jeff Scott. Of course, the big question is at quarterback, where Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace battle for the starting job. On Sunday, Brunetti seemed to have an edge on Wallace, but both had mistakes on Sunday. The Rebels have also been hit with the injury bug early in camp. Reserve wide receiver Collins Moore dislocated his shoulder, and Charles Sawyer, one of the league's best safeties, seems to have a minor leg injury.

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Mississippi State
The biggest news of camp is that tight end Marcus Green has received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Green immediately goes to the top of the depth chart, and was targeted often by MSU's quarterbacks on Saturday. Things have perhaps been a bit easier through the air with starting cornerback Corey Broomfield being limited in parts of practice with a shoulder injury. Senior receiver Chad Bumphus has also been making a number of big plays.

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Texas A&M
All eyes in Aggieland will be on who replaces quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who's now in the NFL. This weekend, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingbury said that the three candidates -- Johnny Manziel, Jameil Showers and Matt Joeckel - said all three had the leadership, intelligence and accuracy he's seeking. He said that Showers has the best arm of the bunch, Manziel had the best release, and Joeckel was the most accurate. Manziel, a redshirt freshman, also appears to have shortened his throwing motion since last year.

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The big news in Gainesville so far was the resignation of receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Aubrey Hill on Friday. Hill was implicated in Yahoo! Sports' report of the University of Miami scandal in connection to rogue booster Nevin Shapiro, and Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease had also been less-than-pleased with the development of the Gators' receivers. First-year graduate assistant Bush Hamdan will take over there this season. He coached tight ends at Sacramento State and also for Maryland's 2010 bowl game. On the field, according to coach Will Muschamp, neither sophomore Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett has an edge for the quarterbacks job as camp started in Gainesville on Friday.

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Cornerback Branden Smith was supposed to be suspended to start the season after failing a drug test, but coach Mark Richt retracted the decision on Saturday, saying, "We've got peace we're doing the right thing." Still, UGA's secondary is in a heap of trouble already with Sanders Commings (domestic violence and battery) suspended for the first two contests, and safety Baccari Rambo (drug-related) suspended for potentially four contests. Meanwhile, four different running backs have auditioned with the first team as UGA tries to replace last year's SEC Freshman of the Year, Isaiah Crowell, who was kicked off the team last month.

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If Kentucky is going to improve its offense from 2011, it'll need help from its most efficient tailback from last year, Josh Clemmons. The sophomore tore his meniscus last October and hasn't played since, and coach Joker Phillips is planning to sit him out every other practice in an attempt to keep him healthier for the start of the season. Meanwhile, eyes will be on a pair of freshman cornerbacks in Cody Quinn and Johnathan Reed if for no other reason than the hype UK's media guide has given them: it reports that both have run sub-4.4 40s.

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Quarterback James Franklin had shoulder surgery this spring, but early reports are that the junior is making all the throws he needs to make early in camp. Running back Henry Josey (1,161 yards, 8.1 ypc last year) is back out on the practice field with his teammates doing light work. He said late last week that he's feeling better after tearing two knee ligaments and his patellar tendon near the end of last season, but there's no timetable set for a possible return. Coach Gary Pinkel has said that Josey had an uphill battle to play this season.

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South Carolina
The Gamecocks have suffered a few injuries early in camp. True freshman Rico McWilliams went down with a knee injury on Saturday, but the severity is unknown. Backup center Kyle Harris sprained an ankle and is in a walking boot. The better news for Carolina is that starting corner Akeem Auguste appears 100 percent recovered from last year's foot injury and the other starter, sophomore Victor Hampton, has drawn rave reviews early in camp.

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Strong safety Brent Brewer pronounced his knee "100 percent" on Sunday. Brewer tore his ACL against South Carolina last season and should start again this year. He said he ran a sub-4.5 40 earlier in the summer. Early reviews on all-conference candidate Justin Hunter were also positive. Hunter was becoming a star at receiver for UT before tearing his knee in the Florida game last season. Meanwhile, the Vols are hoping to improve their running attack from last year, and coach Derek Dooley said after the team's third practice that he's happy in what he'd seen from his backs and line so far.

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Vanderbilt figured to be set at tailback with Zac Stacy (1,193 yards, 5.9 ypc) returning, but it may be more than a one-man show this year. Former SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman, who last played late in 2010, is looking more like his former self in training camp, and Jerron Seymour is looking more like the potential difference-maker he was at times earlier last year. The 'Dores figure to get quality reps from four-star recruit Brian Kimbrow, one of the fastest freshmen in the country, as well.

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