August 16, 2012

Around the SEC: Thursday, August 16

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

Versatility is the word for the week in Tuscaloosa. Second-team running back Jalston Fowler is spending some time working at tight end, and starting safety Vinnie Sunseri has played three different roles on defense. True freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper already had speed and now has been catching everything in sight and may be pushing for some playing time. Off the field, Alabama self-reported 27 NCAA secondary violations over 11 sports, with four coming from football, but the violations are minor in nature and no penalties are expected. Quarterback A.J. McCarron will be one of the five players chosen for a regional cover of Sports Illustrated's college football preview.

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Quarterback Tyler Wilson continues to light it up in practice, hitting an estimated 23 of his 30 throws for approximately 320 yards in non-tackle drills. Cobi Hamilton appears primed to step up as his No. 1 receiver, hauling in six of those tosses for 155 yards. Backup QB Brandon Allen has also been outstanding, though the second-team line has had issues protecting him. On defense, the Razorbacks will run a base 4-3 defense, but have experimented some with a 3-4, with 312-pounder Bryan Jones manning the nose.

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Kiehl Frazier still seems to be Auburn's No. 1 quarterback, especially since Clint Moseley didn't even attempt a throw until drills late into Wednesday's practice. Moseley says his shoulder is still hurting, and he's had to lower his arm slot to compensate for the pain. In his stead, three-star true freshman Jonathan Wallace has been getting some second-team reps. During the Tigers' Wednesday scrimmage, the first-team defense got the better of the first-team offense, but the offense did get a boost when starting guard John Sullen returned to full practice participation. Starting cornerback Chris Davis, hurt in a weekend scrimmage, was still out on Wednesday.

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Sophomore Odell Beckham has emerged as the Tigers' No. 1 receiver, and now that Tyrann Mathieu has been kicked off the team, Beckham will take his place as LSU's punt returner. On the subject of Mathieu, Les Miles again asserted that he won't be a part of the 2012 squad. But the junior, who is still eligible to take classes at LSU, hasn't left school yet and could return for next season in Baton Rouge. True freshman Jalen Mills and redshirt freshman Jalen Collins remain first in line to take Mathieu's spot at cornerback.

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Ole Miss
Ole Miss had two players, sophomore receiver Tobias Singleton and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Mitch Hall, leave the program on Wednesday. Hall wasn't expected to contribute, and Singleton, a former four-star recruit, never really emerged as hoped after being shuttled back-and-forth between receiver and running back. Veterans Korvic Neat and Philander Moore will see a boost in playing time as a result. The quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti continues; Wallace sat out much of Wedneday's practice with a finger blister, but coach Hugh Freeze described his play as "inconsistent."

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Mississippi State
With personnel losses at safety, coach Dan Mullen moved play-making cornerback Corey Broomfield there this summer, citing his intelligence as a big reason for the move. But Mullen said this week that he could go back and forth between safety and corner this year. How that plays out could depend on the health of starting free safety Nickoe Whitley, who's recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

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Texas A&M
Jamiell Showers seemed to be winning the three-way battle for quarterback, but sources told on Wednesday that redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the starter. The keys in the decision appear to be that Manziel has improved his mechanics and decision-making. Five-star true freshman Trey Williams continues to wow practice observers with a big-play ability that the Aggies haven't had in years. On defense, a number of new faces are helping with depth along the line, and former backup cornerback DeVante Harris appears to have stepped up and nailed down a starting spot.

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Quarterback Jeff Driskel, in a two-way battle with Jacoby Brissett, is going to miss a week of contact work with a scapula contusion. Coach Will Muschamp said that had this been a game week, Driskel would not be available on Saturday. Defensively, Muschamp has put an emphasis on creating more turnovers. He thinks an improved pass rush will help there, and in a weekend scrimmage, the Gator corners got three picks as a result in a seven-turnover scrimmage.

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With receiver Malcolm Mitchell's temporary departure to cornerback, sophomore wideout Chris Conley has stepped up in his absence. Conley caught four balls for 114 yards and a score in a Wednesday scrimmage. Mitchell has been used almost exclusively on defense so far. Reserve defensive end Ray Drew (concussion) was back at practice after missing a week. At running back, sophomore Ken Malcome is still listed as the starter with true freshman Keith Marshall backing him up, but another true freshman, Todd Gurley, is also emerging. In a pair of recent practices, Gurley combined for 13 carries and 143 yards.

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The youth movement is on in Lexington. The Wildcats have just 16 seniors vs. 35 true and redshirt freshmen, and consequently 11 freshmen and sophomores are currently projected to start. Two of those seniors are defensive ends Collins Ukwu and Taylor Windham. UK needs more production out of each; Windham failed to record a sack last year, and Ukwu had only 2.5. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter feels he'll get better seasons out of each this fall. On offense, tailback Josh Clemons is hurt again and might not be available for the season opener.

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Health along the offensive line has been an issue, and now it is at receiver, too. On Tuesday, coach Gary Pinkel remarked that, "half our receivers are out." The latest ailment is backup Rolandis Woodland's turf toe. Starter T.J. Moe has also been out. Of course, Missouri did sign the nation's No. 1 recruit in Dorial Green-Beckham, who's continuing to progress. Insiders think he won't begin the season as a starter, but could emerge as one by mid-season. The Tigers are getting a bit healthier at key positions on defense, since starting linebacker Zaviar Gooden is back to full-speed and starting corner Kip Edwards is participating in a red jersey, though starting linebacker Will Eibner (pinched nerve) is temporarily out of contact drills. Injuries on the offensive line have opened up a spot for true freshman guard Evan Boehm, who's worked with the top offensive units.

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South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore's numbers from Wednesday's scrimmage (five carries, 23 yards) didn't show it, but the All-American looks back to his old form. Kenny Miles (five carries, 18 yards) has emerged as his backup. Coach Steve Spurrier said he's beginning to figure out who the six or seven receivers who'll play should be, and one will be emerging freshman Shaq Roland, who's shown big-play ability. With the suspension of redshirt sophomore Sharrod Golightly over an academic matter, the door is open for playing time for true freshman safety Jordan Diggs, who can also play at spur.

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Mychal Rivera is one of the SEC's top tight ends, but a knee sprain is keeping him out of practice. Because of the off-season dismissal of Cam Clear, that's left the Vols thin at tight end. Sophomore Brendan Downs is now getting the first-team reps while Joseph Ayers has been moved to the position from defensive end to provide more depth. On defense, one of the top battles of camp is at strong safety between incumbent starter Brent Brewer and Byron Moore, and it's still not been decided. The Vols continue to see 370-pound nose Daniel McCullers as a big contributor. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri has praised his efforts for losing 30 or 40 pounds, but says he still needs to get into "football shape."

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Quarterback Jordan Rodgers continues to showcase much-improved accuracy, and backup Austyn-Carta Samuels has also gotten much better since the start of camp after being off with his timing earlier. Emerging youngsters like H-back Chris Kentera and running back Brian Kimbrow should give the two more weapons. Kimbrow has wowed observers, making a lot of big plays with his explosiveness and elite top-end speed. The big concerns right now are with injuries on defense. Tackle Rob Lohr, VU's best lineman, was in a walking boot on Wednesday, and starting linebacker Chase Garnham has worn a red jersey all fall. Both are expected back by the opener, but Garnham's absence has been troubling due to a severe lack of depth at the position.

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