ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
By December, 2005, at least 10 Alabama football players will have earned their undergraduate degrees. Receiving diplomas in May will be center JB Closner and defensive back Anthony Madison. On track for August graduation is wide receiver Brandon Brooks, while defensive end Mark Anderson, quarterback Brodie Croyle, defensive tackle Rudy Griffin, defensive back Roman Harper, linebacker Freddie Roach, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and center Taylor Britt are scheduled for December graduation.
Senior linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has 231 career tackles, was recently named a first-team member as a 2005 Arthur Ashe, Jr., Sport Scholar. Ryans will earn his undergraduate degree this December just seven semesters. He is also on the 2005 Lott Trophy Watch list.
Center JB Closner, who has started 24 consecutive games for the Crimson Tide, was recently picked to the Spring Remington Watch List.
He plays the same position, but his name is different. Junior linebacker Juwan Simpson was known as Juwan Garth last year, but this spring he changed his name to Simpson in memory of his father who died in November, 2004.
Senior free safety Roman Harper has 233 career tackles, 13th on the Tide's all-time list. He has a shot to become only the fifth Tide player to amass more than 300 career tackles, joining Wayne Davis (327), Thomas Boyd (324), Woodrow Lowe (315) and Marcus Spencer (303) on that elite list.
Strong safety Charlie Peprah has nine career interceptions for 214 yards to rank fifth on the Tide's career interception return yardage chart.
When Tyrone Prothro had 17 kickoff returns for 452 yards and one TD last year, he became the first Alabama player to lead the Southeastern Conference in that category. His 26.6 average per return was fourth on the Tide's all-time single season list.
Alabama returns its entire starting secondary in seniors Roman Harper (FS), Anthony Madison (RCB) and Charlie Peprah (SS) and junior Ramzee Robinson (LCB). A total of nine starters return to a defense that led the SEC in four defensive categories (total defense, pass defense, turnover margin and pass efficiency defense), was second in one (scoring defense) and fifth in another (rushing defense).
Senior quarterback Brodie Croyle suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the 2004 season. He spent the remainder of the season rehabilitating the injury, but he participated in non-contact drills during spring practice and is expected to be the Tide's starter in the season opener on Sept. 3 against Middle Tennessee. A pair of other starters from 2004 who were derailed by injuries, fullback Tim Castille and tailback Kenneth Darby are both expected to return to starting duty this fall.
Construction is underway on a north endzone expansion at Bryant-Denny Stadium that will include additional stadium seating, club area and skyboxes and expand capacity by approximately 10,000 seats. The project should be completed in time for the opening of the 2006 football season.
Arkansas ended spring practice the way it began with a three-way logjam at quarterback. Houston Nutt gave a slight edge to sophomore Robert Johnson because of his experience heading into the fall, but redshirt freshman Alex Mortensen and true freshman Cole Barthel will continue to compete for the starting job in August. The trio is competing for the spot vacated by Matt Jones. Jones was selected as the 21st overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2005 NFL Draft.
This spring marked the debut for new Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. Herring came to the Razorbacks after spending one season with North Carolina State. In 2004, Herring guided the Wolfpack to a dramatic turnaround on the defensive side of the ball. North Carolina State boasted the nation's top ranking in total defense in 2004 allowing only 221.36 yards per game. In 2003 prior to Herring's arrival, N.C. State ranked 89th in the country allowing 421.0 yards per contest.
Arkansas staged only two major scrimmages in spring practice due to an unusual amount of injuries on the offensive line. Offensive tackle Zac Tubbs (left fibula fracture) and redshirt freshman Cody Green (back surgery) missed the entire spring while recovering from surgeries. Offensive guards Jonathan Luigs (lacerated calf) and Chase Pressley (concussion) and offensive tackle James Johnson (sprained foot) missed large portions of spring drills while reserve center Skye Peterson battled a chronic hernia injury throughout the spring. In addition, starting offensive tackle Tony Ugoh missed spring drills while competing with the Razorbacks' track and field squad.
At 6-6, Marcus Monk was sure to stand out in his first year at Arkansas. Monk obliged by leading all Southeastern Conference freshmen in receiving and setting a school record for freshman receiving along the way. Monk shattered Richard Smith's UA record (33) for receptions by a freshman when he hauled in 37 balls for 569 yards and six touchdowns. He tied for the team lead in catches and garnered freshman All-SEC honors for his efforts.
Monk, the first 6-6 wide receiver in school history, also stood out in the classroom. The Lepanto, Ark., product was honored last December in New York by the National Football Foundation and the College Hall of Fame for his academic performance in high school. He was chosen as the spokesperson to accept the award on behalf of the other three scholar-athletes honored. In the spring, he showed off even more of his talents by throwing a 40-yard touchdown pass to tailback Peyton Hillis on a flea flicker during the spring game.
Redshirt junior Anthony Brown is listed on the Razorbacks' post-spring depth chart as the starter at right defensive end. Brown started the spring at wide receiver and only switched to the defensive side of the ball in the final week of spring practice. Much of the final month of the 2004 football season was full of passionate debate about whether Southern Cal or Auburn was the top college football team in the nation. Both posted undefeated seasons and finished at No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, respectively.
Arkansas fans will get a chance to judge both programs up close in 2005 as the Razorbacks will take on both USC and Auburn. The Hogs travel to the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sept. 17 to take on the defending national champions. Auburn will visit Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville for an SEC Western Division showdown on Oct. 15.
Sophomore Peyton Hillis will look to build on a solid freshman campaign of his own in 2005. Hillis was picking up steam logging time at both fullback and tailback before suffering a fracture of the transverse processes of vertebrate in his lower back against Florida in 2004. Initially thought out for the season, Hillis returned to action just three weeks later. He finished the year with 63 carries for 240 yards and six touchdowns. Hillis also proved his worth in the passing game racking up 12 catches for 97 yards and two scores.
With fellow running back De'Arrius Howard sitting out the spring after surgery, Hillis got plenty of work in the backfield during the spring. He led the Hogs in rushing racking up 79 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in two major scrimmages. He also made three catches for 50 yards and a score including a 40-yard touchdown reception from Arkansas flanker Marcus Monk in the annual spring game.
Tailback De'Arrius Howard missed the entirety of spring drills after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery. Howard is the Hogs' top returning rusher and is listed atop the post-spring depth chart at tailback. Howard rushed for 529 yards and six touchdowns on 124 carries in 2004.
Arkansas partnered with a local charity to turn its 2005 spring football game into a fundraiser for dozens of local and regional organizations assisting kids. The Razorbacks teamed with Champions for Kids to coordinate RazorFest which included the annual spring game followed by a reunion 7-on-7 flag football tournament featuring Razorback football legends of the past. Former NFL great Herschel Walker was a guest speaker for the festivities that drew an estimated 10,300 for the spring game and close to 20,000 for all of the activities.
Arkansas has made the most of its home slate since 1998, winning more games than any other SEC school in the friendly confines of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and War Memorial Stadium. The Hogs are 38-10 (.792) in the past seven seasons tops among league schools. Arkansas is 17-1 in Little Rock and 21-9 in Fayetteville in that span.
Several players missed significant practice time in the spring due to injuries. They included all three returning starters at linebacker, Antarrious Williams (wrist), Travis Williams (ankle) and Kevin Sears (hand) as well as running back Brad Lester (hamstring), center Steven Ross (knee), and guard Jarrod Britt (shoulder). Auburn lost 10 starters and 22 lettermen from the 2004 undefeated team. Statistically, Auburn will return in 2005 nine percent of its rushing yardage, 12 percent of its passing yardage and 79 percent of its receiving yardage. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers will return 67 percent of their tackles, 79 percent of their sacks and 44 percent of their interceptions.
Auburn's 15 seniors in 2005 will tie for the second largest class under Tommy Tuberville. Other senior class sizes under Tuberville include 18 in 2004, 13 in 2003, 15 in 2002, 10 in 2001, 14 in 2000 and 14 in 1999.
The 2005 seniors include: WR Devin Aromashodu, DS Chas Crofoot, DT Wayne Dickens, DB Kevin Hobbs, DB David Irons, NG TJ Jackson, OT Marcus McNeill, WR Anthony Mix, WR Ben Obomanu, OT Troy Reddick, C Steven Ross, FB Jake Slaughter, TE Cooper Wallace, LB Antarrious Williams, and LB Travis Williams.
Of Auburn's 15 seniors, 12 have played in 30 or more games in their career.
David Gibbs, who spent the last four years as a secondary coach with the NFL's Denver Broncos and previously served as defensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota from 1997-2000, was named defensive coordinator in early February. Gibbs has a tie to the Auburn community as he is a 1986 graduate of Auburn High School. His father, Alex was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn from 1979-81. During his tenure with the Broncos, Gibbs coached both the safeties (2001) and defensive backs (2002-04). In 1997, Gibbs became the youngest defensive coordinator in Division I-A when he was hired by the University of Minnesota.
Auburn participated in four full scrimmages this spring. The following are the cumulative statistics from the spring:
Brandon Cox: 35-72, 477 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Calvin Booker: 18-45, 215 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
Blake Field: 11-29, 121 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Kenny Irons: 55 att., 294 yards, 0 TD
Carl Stewart: 52 att., 273 yards, 1 TD
Tre Smith: 55 att., 243 yards, 2 TD
Ben Obomanu: 7 rec., 120 yards, 2 TD
Courtney Taylor: 9 rec., 106 yards, 1 TD
Maurice Anderson: 4 rec., 78 yards, 1 TD
Tre Smith: 4 rec., 70 yards, 0 TD
Lee Guess: 5 rec., 51 yards, 0 TD
John Vaughn: 10-13
made-29, 36, 37, 37, 37, 37, 38, 46, 22, 46
missed-37, 47, 47
Matt Clark: 5-6
made- 28, 37, 37, 29, 36
Stanley McClover: 17 UT, 9 A, 26 TT, 10 sacks (-60 yards) Quentin Groves: 15 UT, 11 AT, 26 TT, 9 sacks (-47 yards) Merrill Johnson: 6 UT, 17 AT, 23 TT, 1 sack (-8) Eric Brock: 11 UT, 10 AT, 21 TT Kevis Burnam: 8 UT, 10 AT, 18 TT, 1 FR
The Tigers wrapped up their first spring practice under first-year coach Les Miles with a scrimmage before just over 8,000 fans in Tiger Stadium on April 16.
The Tigers used the spring to install a new defense under first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. LSU will continue to use the same offense, with new terminology, under sixth-year offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.
Sophomore quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn, who each shared time running with the No. 1 offense during the final spring scrimmage, combined to connect on 34 of 59 passes for 457 yards and four scores. Russell connected 17 of 30 passes for 223 yards and four scores, while Flynn was 17 of 29 for 234 yards. Flynn threw a pair of interceptions. Russell threw TD passes of 20 yards to Dwayne Bowe, 8-yards and 7-yards to Justin Vincent, and 8-yards to Amp Hill.
LSU coach Les Miles on the quarterback's play during the final spring scrimmage as well as the QB situation heading into the fall: "I thought the quarterbacks were good. I think there was a definite advantage to going with the first team and we tried to equal it out as best as we could. The only thing that I'm really going to be critical of were the two interceptions. One was definitely the running back's mistake. Other than that, I thought they played pretty well at times. They still have things to learn and they are still improving. I don't think we'll name who will be the starting quarterback for some time. The competition's too close to call."
The Tigers had two players split time between football and another sport during the spring. PK/P Chris Jackson emerged as LSU's starting third baseman on the baseball team late in spring practice. Many times Jackson would work with the special teams at football practice before heading off to play in a baseball game.
In addition, wide receiver Xavier Carter is a member of the LSU track team, running sprints for the Tigers. During the indoor season, Carter shattered the school record in 200 meters at the SEC Championships with a time of 20.39. Carter earned All-SEC honors during the indoor season.
For the second straight year, LSU OT Andrew Whitworth has been named to the Playboy All-America team, while LSU C Rudy Niswanger earned the Anson Mount Scholar-Athlete Award handed out by Playboy Magazine.
LSU signee Trindon Hollyday (athlete) has the nation's second-fastest 100-meters this spring with 10.47 time, while another signee defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois has the nation's No. 3 toss in the shot put (62-0 1/2).
Eric Andolsek Leadership Award: LB Cameron Vaughn, SNP Gant Petty, CB Ronnie Prude
Mike Miley Leadership Award: RB Justin Vincent, FB Kevin Steltz, C Rudy Niswanger, OT Andrew Whitworth
Ralph Norwood Performance Award: RB Alley Broussard, WR Craig Davis
Most Improved Award: WR Amp Hill, OT Brett Helms, DE Chase Pittman, QB JaMarcus Russell, QB Matt Flynn
Jimmy Taylor Spring Award For Outstanding Leadership, Effort and Performance: RB Joseph Addai, DT Kyle Williams
OLE MISS REBELS
Senior linebacker Kelvin Robinson of Jackson, Miss., was selected as the 2005 recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award. Robinson will wear the late Mullins' No. 38 during the 2005 season.
The Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame presented scholar-athlete awards to six freshmen members of the 2004 football team – defensive end Chris Bowers of Shreveport, La., fullback Jason Cook of Suwanee, Ga., quarterback Paul Eck of Andale, Kan., offensive lineman Maurice Miller of West Helena, Ark., defensive back Dustin Mouzon of Orlando, Fla., and offensive lineman David Traxler of Jackson, Miss.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bozeman of Hawkinsville, Ga., received the annual J. Richard Price Courage and Compassion Award as the rising senior lineman who, in the opinion of his coaches, has demonstrated extraordinary courage and unusual compassion in their dedication to the team and to Ole Miss.
Senior quarterback Micheal Spurlock of Indianola, Miss., received the Jeff Hamm Memorial Award for the Most Improved Offensive Player of spring drills, while junior linebacker Patrick Willis of Bruceton, Tenn., was named the Most Improved Defensive Player of spring workouts.
A major surprise of spring football drills was the emergence of sophomore linebacker Donte Reed, a non-scholarship player, who will begin August workouts as the No. 1 strong-side linebacker.
New Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron, who is also serving as his own defensive coordinator, inserted the 4-3 defensive alignment in place of the 4-2-5 of recent years. One of the biggest position changes was senior Kelvin Robinson from starting strong safety to linebacker.
The three-way battle for the starting quarterback spot will carry over into August. Senior Micheal Spurlock, junior Ethan Flatt, and sophomore Robert Lane got most of the snaps during spring drills. Lane missed the final two weeks and the Red-Blue game after sustaining a shoulder injury.
Senior defensive tackle McKinley Boykin, who is expected to be a major force on the defensive front for the Rebels this fall, missed spring drills due to knee surgery. Boykin is expected to be fully recovered by August.
Junior middle linebacker Patrick Willis was one of the most productive Rebels during spring drills and new head coach Ed Orgeron feels Willis will be an "impact player" on defense this fall.
Ed Orgeron's first Ole Miss coaching staff has combined for more than 150 years of coaching experience.
ESPN will televise the Sept. 5 (Labor Day) Ole Miss-Memphis game in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Place-kicker Keith Andrews earned the school's Newsom Award for academic achievement in football. In so doing, he was also named the school's overall winner for all men's sports. He has a 4.0 GPA in biological science.
Sophomore defensive lineman Avery Hannibal was named the team's Most Improved Defensive Player by the coaching staff, while sophomore tight end Jason Husband and junior wide receiver Will Prosser shared the Most Improved Offensive Player Award. Hannibal finished the spring second on the depth chart at defensive tackle, while Husband and Prosser were both listed first at their positions.
Senior center Chris McNeil was given the Bulldog Award following spring practice, an honor presented annually to the player who displayed the greatest work ethic, leadership ability, and character during the spring.
The Maroon and White spring game was televised live nationally by ESPN2, a game won by the Maroon, 7-0.
Redshirt freshman halfback won the back-up duty to returning all-SEC back Jerious Norwood by gaining 49 yards on 11 carries in the spring finale.
True freshman cornerback Keith Fitzhugh became the first high school senior football player to graduate a semester early at the prep level and join the MSU program for two-a-days. He capped the spring with a pass interception in the Maroon and White game.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Strauder, who came to MSU as a defensive lineman from the prep ranks, moved to offensive line late last season and earned the first-unit berth at right guard following spring drills.
Sophomore Dezmond Sherrod made a pre-spring move from tight end to fullback, and the 6-3, 236-pounder finished those four weeks atop the depth chart in the backfield.
Another pre-spring move shifted sophomore starting linebacker Titus Brown to defensive end, and despite having to rebound from minor knee surgery, he won the starting job heading into two-a-days on the left side.
Junior Quinton Culberson was on the move this spring as well. After coming to MSU as a cornerback, and starting there seven times as a true freshman, he has moved to safety, outside linebacker and now middle linebacker in the Bulldog defense.