August 20, 2012

Around the SEC: Monday, August 20

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

Alabama may be No. 2 in the preseason poll, but there's one big concern for Nick Saban's team heading into the season: experienced depth. One place where that could be an issue is at quarterback, where nobody except starter A.J. McCarron has taken a college snap. All three backups struggled in a Saturday scrimmage. One youngster who will likely provide early depth is freshman running back T.J. Yeldon, who carried 16 times for 60 yards and two scores in 'Bama's final August scrimmage on Saturday. On the injury front, backups Amani Cooper (receiver) and Ryan Kelly (offensive line) are sidelined with what look to be minor injuries, as is starting tailback Eddie Lacy, who could miss 5-6 days.

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In a Saturday scrimmage, the No. 1 offense gained 372 yards on 68 plays, though defense was missing starters Tenarius Wright, Alonzo Highsmith and Eric Bennett. All three should return Monday. One of the offense's stars was true freshman running back Jonathan Williams, who carried 18 times for 116 yards and two scores. No. 1 tailback Knile Davis continues to look good in practice, but still hasn't faced live contact.

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Coach Gene Chizik used words like "disappointing" to describe the Tigers' quarterback play in practices so far, and also said nobody's "stepping up" to take the starting job. However, it looks like Kiehl Frazier will probably be the guy behind center. Frazier is taking first-team reps while Clint Moseley, the guy who was supposed to challenge him, just can't seem to get his arm healthy. True freshman Jonathan Wallace has been the backup. Another true freshman, Jovon Robinson, has been ruled ineligible for this year. It was recently revealed that the four-star recruit's guidance counselor improperly changed a grade to make him eligible. He'd probably have helped the Tigers this fall, but will now likely head to a JUCO or a prep school.

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With dismissed cornerback Tyrann Mathieu now in a drug rehab facility, the puzzle as to who'll replace him continues to come together. Freshman defensive back Micah Eugene is now the starter at nickel, where Mathieu often excelled last year. Freshmen Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills continue to battle at corner. On offense, quarterback Zach Mettenberger continues to shine, completing 15-of-26 throws for 170 yards and five scores in a Thursday scrimmage.

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Ole Miss
It appears that true freshmen I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton will be too good to redshirt this fall. In a Saturday scrimmage, Mathers carried 13 times for 100 yards and three scores, and Walton added 42 yards on eight attempts. Converted quarterback Randall Mackey is also doing well at tailback, rushing four times for 45 yards. The battle at quarterback between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti continues, with coach Hugh Freeze indicating that play at the position is getting "better." Wallace completed 14-of-25 throws for 83 yards, one touchdown and one pick, while Brunetti was 6-of-12 with a score in a Saturday scrimmage.

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Mississippi State
MSU receivers coach Angelo Mirado abruptly resigned for personal reasons over the weekend. In his first year as an assistant last season, Bulldog receivers set a school record with 19 touchdown catches. Coach Dan Mullen closed Saturday's scrimmage to the media, but singled out receiver Jameon Lewis, running back Derrick Milton, and defensive backs Dee Arrington and Jamerson Love for playing well. The Bulldogs took Sunday and Monday off to prepare for the start of school.

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Texas A&M
Starting offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi has an undisclosed foot injury, and speculation is that it could keep him out for the opener vs. Louisiana Tech. True freshman receiver Thomas Johnson, a four-star recruit, has impressed enough that he's now running with the first team. The battle for one starting defensive end spot continues between junior Gavin Stansbury and true freshman Julien Obioha. Obioha was a three-star recruit whose quickness and ability to be around the football have opened some eyes in College Station.

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Quarterback Jeff Driskel returned to practice earlier than expected last week, and remains in competition with Jacoby Brissett for the starting job. So far, Gator coaches aren't hinting as to which one has the edge. Brissett seems to throw a better deep ball, but Driskel seemed to have better accuracy on shorter throws and also performed better in the one-minute drill in a Saturday scrimmage. With tight end Jordan Reed out with a twisted knee, backup Omarius Hines is getting more reps. He also ripped off a 61-yard touchdown run from the running back spot on Friday. On defense, true freshman BUCK linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., a five-star recruit, has dominated portions of practice lately. Coach Will Muschamp says he'll play this fall.

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Receiver-turned-cornerback Malcolm Mitchell hasn't seen any time with the offense in August practices yet. Mitchell has moved to defense to help with depth issues due to mass suspensions in the UGA secondary. Now, Georgia currently has a few issues at receiver because starter Tavarres King and reserve Rantavious Wooten are both out with leg injuries. Coach Mark Richt doesn't know how long each will be out, but it's not believed to be for long. Offensive lineman Kolton Houston is still working with the second unit, but hasn't been cleared to play. He's been suspended since April 2010 after testing positive for Norandrolone, a performance-enhancing drug.

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The UK staff says it will name a starting quarterback soon. Incumbent starter Maxwell Smith seemed to help himself by leading a 98-yard touchdown drive in a Saturday scrimmage. The day's offensive star may have been La'Rod King, who caught a pair of scores. Last year's starter at tailback, CoShik Williams, sprained a foot over the weekend. Backup safety Glenn Faulkner has also suffered a foot injury, and will be out 6-8 weeks.

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Finally, some good news for the Tigers' banged-up offensive line: starting right tackle Justin Britt participated in his first practice this August. Britt had fractured his left foot, but is now practicing at full speed. The Tigers were already without starting left guard Travis Ruth, who tore a bicep and is done for the year. One positive outcome from the injuries is that the shifting around to cover for injuries seems to have given Missouri more depth and flexibility along the line. Meanwhile, two freshmen are making a move towards playing time. One was expected - that's the nation's No. 1 recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, who led the team in catches and receiving yards in a scrimmage last Thursday - and the other is tailback Russell Hansbrough, who's worked some with the first two teams. Bad news for the defense: starting safety Braylon Webb is out 7-10 days with a torn meniscus.

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South Carolina
Coach Steve Spurrier pronounced All-American running back Marcus Lattimore as "100 percent" compared to where he was before - and then some. Spurrier said that the junior's upper body is "stronger than it's ever been." The news isn't as good for starting corner Akeem Auguste, who in his first practice back after pulling a groin last week, aggravated the injury. That makes his status for the opener vs. Vanderbilt uncertain. The defense dominated Saturday's closed scrimmage as it forced five turnovers. One was an interception by freshman spur Jordan Diggs, which seemed to cement his already-excellent chance of playing this year. Walk-on sophomore cornerback Jesse Dukes also had two interceptions.

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Tennessee's woes at tight end continue. Starter Mychal Rivera is one of the league's best, but he's been limited with a knee sprain. His backup, Branden Downs, suffered a serious knee injury last week and looks to be gone for part of the season. Fullback Ben Bartholomew will see some time there now, as will reserve linebacker Greg King. In another position move, Channing Fugate has moved from fullback to linebacker, where he has quickly emerged as a guy who should get playing time. Fugate was a beneficiary of an injury to incumbent starter Herman Lathers, who's been out with a minor quad injury. Lathers is now back, but not participating in contact portions.

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Coach James Franklin said that three freshmen - running back Brian Kimbrow, defensive end Caleb Azubike and linebacker Darreon Herring - will definitely play this fall. The Commodores are still looking for a reliable No. 3 receiver, and Jonathan Krause made his mark with a nice performance in the last day that practice was open to the media last week. Krause was a significant contributor as a true freshman two years ago, but had regressed to where he rarely saw the ball at the end of last year. VU had serious issues along the offensive line a year ago at the start of last season before improving markedly late in the season. That momentum has carried over, as that unit looks to be the team's most-improved. True freshmen, Andrew Jelks and Adam Butler have helped the unit, and Franklin said they might play as well.

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