East Football Notes

Following spring football practice at all 12 Southeastern Conference member schools, the SEC asked the media relations directors at each school to provide notes from spring practice. Here are notes from the six Eastern Division schools–Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.

FLORIDA GATORS

Florida Coach Urban Meyer has won 16 straight games, the second longest active winning streak in the nation (second to Pete Carroll's 22-game win streak). Meyer has also won 10 straight conference games, also the second longest active streak in the nation (Carroll has won 15).

Meyer owns a .830 career winnining percentage, the fiifth best winning percentage among active coaches during the last four years.

A believer that players should be accountable to each other and not just the coaching staff, Meyer established the Florida Leadership Committee. Members of the Leadership Committee were voted on by teammates and include six seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen. The Committee is charged with acting as spokesmen for the team and handling situations related to team policy issues, academic affairs, off-campus circumstances and other topics.

Just as he did at Bowling Green and Utah, Coach Meyer has made it a priority to establish a relationship between his team and the general student body on campus at Florida. He sent invitations to every campus organization leader on campus inviting them to meet individually with him. Coach Meyer organized the first-ever student pep rally for the Spring football game at the Reitz Union the night before the Orange and Blue game. The pep rally included the UF Band, Cheerleaders, Albert and Alberta, the UF Coaching staff and the Meyer family. He also worked closely with several student leaders on campus on a community service initiative surrounding the Spring game. Student leaders sold Orange and Blue spirit bands prior to the Spring game with proceeds benefiting the Children's Miracle Network. Fans who purchased the bands were then sked to assist members of the UF coaching staff and football team in the planting of more than 400 crepe myrtle trees on Radio Road on campus April 16th. Another goal for Coach Meyer is to teach everyone on campus the fight song and have the players sing it after every home victory at The Swamp. Coach Meyer has already met with the UF Director of Bands and has asked for a copy of the school fight song.

Florida held its spring game in front of 58,500 fans, which was the largest crowd for the event in school history and nearly 20,000 more fans than any of the previous contests. For the first time since the early 1980s, the event was broadcast to numerous affiliates on the Gator Radio Network.

Entering 2005 UF's returning leaders in the following departments are slated to return: passing, receiving yards, punt returns, interceptions, kick returns, total offense, punting, tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. UF also returns five of its top six leaders in tackles.

Several Gators changed positions in the spring at Florida. Brian Crum (TE), Billy Latsko (FB) and Eric Rutledge (FB) all moved to linebacker. Linebackers Richard Brown and Javier Estopinan went to running back and defensive end, respectively. Reggie Lewis switched from receiver to defensive back, while Michael Brown traded sides of the ball going from defensive line to offensive line.

Florida enters the 2005 campaign with a streak of 17 consecutive winning seasons, the longest in the SEC. UF has also made 14 straight bowl trips, the second longest active streak among the league. UF has finished in the top 25 of the coaches poll 15 consecutive years, the third longest streak nationally.

Four members of the Florida coaching staff (Steve Addazio, Billy Gonzales, Chuck Heater, and Greg Mattison) have been a recruiting coordinator at some point in their careers.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Senior QB D.J. Shockley is the projected starter against Boise State in the 2005 Georgia season opener. It will be the first time under Coach Mark Richt, someone other than David Greene will start a Georgia game at quarterback. As a three-year backup to Greene who is now in the NFL, Shockley has played in 26 games with no starts. He's completed 67 of 133 passes for 967 yards and 10 TDs in his limited playing time. He also has 329 yards rushing on 76 attempts and three TDs. Greene ended his career as the NCAA's all-time leader in leader in wins (42-10) and SEC's all-time leader in total offense and passing.

Wishbone Option for the Running Game: For the last seven years, Georgia has had a different rushing leader at the end of the season. In 2005, the Bulldogs return all but one running back on the depth chart from 2004. Sophomores Thomas Brown and Danny Ware were the top freshman running backs in the SEC a year ago. Brown rushed for a team-best 875 yards on 172 carries and eight TDs, the third-most yards ever by a Bulldog freshman. Ware ran for 692 yards on 138 carries and four TDs. Also, Kregg Lumpkin, Georgia's leading rusher with 523 yards and six TDs in 2003, will return in 2005 after missing last year with an ACL injury. After not having a 100-yard rusher in a game in 2003, Georgia had eight with Brown and Ware each doing it four times. In the spring game, the Bulldogs featured the wishbone in a couple of series with Brown, Ware and fullback Des Williams filling up the backfield.

Georgia welcomes back its entire starting lineup of tackles Daniel Inman and Dennis Roland, guards Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Jones and the center rotation of Russ Tanner and Ryan Schnetzer. During spring drills, junior guards Josh Brock and Bartley Miller, both former starters who missed the 2004 season due to injures, returned to practice. Brock has 15 career starts while Miller has nine. Jean-Gilles and Tanner have a streak of 26 consecutive starts for the Bulldogs.

Junior All-SEC tight end Leonard Pope, who checks in at 6-7, 253 pounds, was a clutch target late in the 2004 season for the Bulldogs. He figures to have a big year in 2005 and was named the Best All-Around Offensive Player by the Bulldogs following spring practice. In 2004, Pope had 25 catches for 482 yards (19.3 avg.) and 6 TDs. Those numbers rival that of 2004 Mackey Award winner (nation's top tight end) Heath Miller of Virginia who had 36 catches for 475 yards and 5 TDs.

With All-American Thomas Davis now in the NFL, 6-2, 214-pound senior Greg Blue moves to free safety from rover while junior Tra Battle and sophomore Kelin Johnson fill in at rover. Blue started all 12 games in 2004 and was the team's second leading tackler with 80 behind Davis' 81. Battle and Johnson saw action in all 12 games last year.

Seniors Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson will anchor Georgia's defensive front in 2005. They have 41 starts between them. Look for junior Quentin Moses to step up at defensive end with three-time All-American David Pollack now in the NFL. Moses had 6.5 sacks and 7.5 TFL in 2004. Also, senior Will Thompson is back after being granted a sixth year.

The Georgia linebacking corps started six different trios during the 2004 season and no player started every game. Danny Verdun Wheeler led all Bulldog linebackers with nine starts last year and was the only one that appeared on the SEC's list for tackle leaders among LBs. Junior Tony Taylor is the leading candidate to replace Odell Thurman who left early for the NFL. Taylor missed the 2004 season with a knee injury and ranked fifth on the 2003 team in tackles with 82 in 13 games.

The 2005 senior class enters the year with a 34-6 career record, including 3-0 in bowl games. The best four-year record was by the Class of 1983 that posted a mark of 43-4-1 including a national championship (1980) and three straight Southeastern Conference titles (1980-82). Georgia's only senior class to go 4-0 in bowl games was the Class of 2000 under former head coach Jim Donnan. Also, this year's group of seniors could become just the second class to finish ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 four consecutive years along with the group from 1983.

Since Richt arrived at Georgia in 2001, the Bulldogs rank sixth in the country with an .808 winning percentage. They are 42-10 in this span. The only teams ahead of the Bulldogs are Miami, Fla. (45-6), Oklahoma (47-7), Boise State (44-7), Texas (43-8) and Southern California (42-9). Georgia ranks sixth in the country.

Under the direction of Richt, Georgia owns a 17-1 record against non-conference foes. The only loss came to Boston College in the 2001 Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.) by a score of 20-16. At home, the Bulldogs are 11-0 against teams outside the SEC.

With the departure of Brian VanGorder to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, Georgia secondary coach Willie Martinez will now call the shots as defensive coordinator. Martinez will remain in his role as coach of the Bulldogs' secondary as well. John Jancek (linebackers) and Kirby Smart (running backs) are the latest additions to Coach Richt's staff. Jancek came to the Bulldogs from a defensive coordinator position at Central Michigan, while Smart, a former Bulldog Alll-SEC player (1995-98), was the secondary coach at LSU.

Special Teams Highlights: Georgia has blocked 10 Punts, 8 Field Goals and 2 PATs in the Mark Richt era and converted them in to 67 points.

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

The Kentucky defense switched to a 4-3 alignment during the spring with the goal of being more effective in stopping the run. The Wildcats played the 3-4 defensive scheme the last two seasons.

Sophomore Andre' Woodson claimed the open quarterback job during the spring. In the three spring scrimmages, Woodson completed 53 of 82 passes (64.6 percent) for 778 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. The emergence of the Woodson, blessed with 6-5 height and a strong, accurate passing arm, could make Kentucky more pass-oriented in the coming season.

One of the big position changes of the spring saw Durrell White move from linebacker to defensive end. A two-year starter at linebacker, White adapted well to the switch.

The move of Jacob Tamme from wide receiver to tight end has become permanent. Tamme got a one-game trial at tight end in the 2004 season finale and responded with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns at Tennessee. He continued to impress during the spring, including one scrimmage in which he caught six passes for 146 yards and two TDs. Tamme has added approximately 20 pounds in order to help with the blocking responsibilities at tight end and now weighs 237 pounds.

Coach Rich Brooks praised the play of redshirt freshman cornerbacks Jarrell Williams and Shomari Moore during the spring. Moore had two interceptions during the three spring scrimmages, including a 60-yard return for a touchdown in the Blue/White Game. The progress of Williams and Moore enabled junior Karl Booker to play some at free safety in addition to his regular role at cornerback.

Junior-college transfer Fatu Turituri played well during the spring and appears to have earned a starting job at left guard. The young UK offensive line looked much-improved during the spring.

Junior cornerback Bo Smith returned to action this spring and made a strong bid for a starting job. A starter two years ago, Smith missed last season because of injury.

Wide receivers Keenan Burton and Tommy Cook, who missed most or all of last season because of injury, bounced back strong during the spring. Burton made several spectacular catches in practice while Cook starred in the Blue/White Game by catching eight passes for 170 yards.

The Wildcats sustained one major setback in the spring. It was discovered that senior Jon Sumrall, a returning starter at middle linebacker, has a medical condition which makes him more susceptible to neck injuries. Sumrall, the team's leading tackler last season with 72 stops, must give up football.

In response to Sumrall's situation, sophomore Joe Schuler moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. Schuler does an excellent job of making defensive calls and is pleased to return to the position he played in high school.

There is a spirited battle at right guard between junior Trai Williams and sophomore Micah Jones. Coach Brooks noted that right guard would be a position to watch when the competition resumed in August.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

South Carolina's first spring practice under head coach Steve Spurrier gave sophomore defensive tackle Stanley Doughty and redshirt freshman receiver Sidney Rice a chance to surge up the depth chart heading into the summer. Doughty, who saw some action last year, was recognized as the best player on the Gamecock defense during spring drills. As for Rice, he made play after play, including a highlight-reel catch in the Garnet and Black Spring Game that made ESPN's "Top Plays". Rice redshirted last year after sustaining a leg injury in warm-ups before the second game of the 2004 season.

Fellow receiver Noah Whiteside was recognized as the top offensive performer of the spring, but suffered a serious ankle injury in the Garnet and Black Spring Game when he took a hard hit after making a reception. He underwent surgery and should be back for the fall.

Other prominent injuries that affected the spring came to sophomore rover Ko Simpson (left hand), senior defensive end Charles Silas (ankle) and junior cornerback Fred Bennett (shoulder). None of those three potential starters played in the Garnet and Black Spring Game, but all are expected to be at full strength in the fall. Running back Cory Boyd missed most of spring drills with a hamstring injury, but came back to participate in the last few practices and the Garnet and Black Spring Game.

The quarterback position remains uncertain for the Gamecocks, as there isn't much that separates Blake Mitchell and Antonio Heffner. Mitchell completed 12-of-23 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in the Garnet and Black game, with Heffner connecting on 7-of-14 passes for 129 yards.

Quarterback Mike Rathe is still awaiting final word from the NCAA regarding his appeal to gain a sixth year of eligibility. If granted his sixth year, Rathe would likely be in the mix for a starting position.

A record crowd of 38,806 turned out for the Garnet and Black Spring Game, which was televised nationally by ESPNU and ESPN2.

Running back Daccus Turman entered the spring with the expectation that he was moving to fullback, but the injury to Cory Boyd pushed Turman back to the running back position. He responded by being recognized as the outstanding running back of the spring.

With Turman moved to running back, walk-on offensive lineman Lanard Stafford was moved to fullback. Stafford went on to earn the Steve Sisk Award as the team's outstanding blocker of the spring.

Another position change of note is that of former quarterback Syvelle Newton to wide receiver. Newton originally came to Carolina as a quarterback, but played receiver in 2003 before splitting quarterback responsibilities in 2004. Steve Spurrier has indicated that Newton could still see some action at quarterback playing out of the shotgun formation in 2005, but will be primarily utilized as a receiver.

To the surprise of few, offensive tackles Na'Shan Goddard and Jabari Levey were recognized as the top offensive linemen of the spring. The two will likely both compete for All-SEC recognition in the fall.

Receiver Tim Frisby, the Gamecocks' 40-year-old wide receiver, brought the crowd to its feet when he made an eight-yard reception in the Garnet and Black Spring Game. Frisby, the retired Army Ranger and father of six who was honored with the Walt Disney World of Sports Spirit Award and the Keith Jackson Award for Excellence in 2004, also made a tackle on special teams.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

The dean of Southeastern Conference coaches, Phillip Fulmer enters his 14th season fresh off a fifth Eastern Division title in eight years. The Volunteers under their native son have 123 triumphs against only 31 defeats for a winning percentage of .799. No active Division I-A coach with at least a decade in the business has such a lofty victory rate. Fulmer is averaging better than 10 wins a season for the last 10 years with two overall league crowns. The Winchester native has guided Tennessee to a bowl game all 13 years of his tenure. He and former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne are the only coaches to lead a team to a bowl game in their first 13 years of coaching.

Four Tennessee footballers -- two each on offense and defense -- shared 2005 spring practice honors for most improved performers. Junior center David Ligon and freshman guard Ramon Foster split the Harvey Robinson Award given to offensive players, while junior defensive back Corey Campbell and sophomore linebacker Ryan Karl claimed the Andy Spiva Award for most improved defenders.

Early preseason press releases have placed seniors Jason Allen and Jesse Mahelona on the 2005 Lott Trophy Watch List. They are two of the top 42 defensive players in the nation on the list. Mahelona also is on the Lombardi Award watch list, while tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. was named a "2005 Player to Watch" by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio.

An SEC-leading seven bowl opponents, five first-year head coaches and a daunting road slate highlight Tennessee's 2005 football schedule. UT plays seven teams that participated in bowl games a year ago to lead all SEC institutions. An eighth school, South Carolina, declined a bid after a 6-5 season. In addition, five head coaches Urban Meyer at Florida, Les Miles at LSU, Ed Orgeron at Mississippi, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and Charlie Weis at Notre Dame -- accepted new jobs after last season and will line up against the 2005 Vols.

Spring position changes were limited to Jason Allen and Jonathan Hefney switching positions in the secondary and David Ligon moving to center in place of the injured Richie Gandy. Allen is returning to his original cornerback slot after spending most of 2004 at safety. Hefney was a second-team Freshman All-America pick at corner last season but could start the upcoming campaign at safety.

Did you know that at least one former Vol has played in each of the last 14 Super Bowls and 17 of the last 18? Darwin Walker appeared in Super Bowl XXXIX this year for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tennessee maintains its standing as the winningest team in the SEC over the last 10 years in terms of victories and percentage. The Vols are 101-25 during that span for a percentage of .802, ranking them second nationally in both percentage and victories. The Volunteers also have compiled a 73-18 record in conference games during this period, winning five Eastern Division titles, two overall league crowns and the 1998 national championship. Six different SEC teams have won the championship since 1998: Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Auburn.

Tennessee All-SEC defensive back Jason Allen assumed the conference lead in tackles early in the 2004 season and never relinquished it, becoming the first Vols defender to pace the conference in that category since it became an official statistic in 2000. Allen finished with 123 total tackles for a 9.5 per-game average. A Muscle Shoals, Ala., native, Allen also became the first non-linebacker to lead the Vols in tackles since team records began in 1970. The Vols' junior captain had 88 solo stops good for sixth in Division I-A along with 35 assists. Allen garnered first-team All-SEC honors in 2004 from league coaches and second-team status from Associated Press. He also was named third-team All-America by AP.

With an uncanny ability to get into the backfields of opposing defenses and disrupt plays, defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona rapidly ascended Tennessee's defensive records book. The Sporting News All-America tallied 18.5 total tackles for loss for a total of minus-81 yards to finish sixth on UT's all-time season TFL chart. The Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, native was playing his first season for the Vols after transferring from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif. Mahelona recorded multiple TFLs in six games last season. His five TFLs vs. Notre Dame helped him earn SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors.

The Tennessee coaching staff's job of leading the 2005 football team became a group effort in the spring with the naming of six team captains. Seniors Jason Allen and Parys Haralson were selected by team vote for the second consecutive year, joining fellow upper-classmen Rick Clausen, Cody Douglas and Jesse Mahelona. Rob Smith was the only junior making the list. Allen and Haralson are the second set of two-year captains in as many years, joining former Vols Kevin Burnett and Michael Munoz with the distinction.

The Volunteers participated in a bowl and completed a winning season in 2004 for a school-record 16th consecutive year. The streak extends past the old mark of 12 established from 1965-76. Head coach Phillip Fulmer played a part of the former streak as well, both as a player and graduate assistant coach at UT from 1969-73.

Tennessee is one of only three schools to appear in a bowl game each of the last 16 years, joining Florida State and Michigan. In addition, the Vols have won at least eight games for 16 straight seasons, joining Michigan (20) and Florida State (18) as the three teams with such a streak. UT also has managed to post a winning conference mark each year during that span.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Stung by the tragic offseason shooting death of 2002 SEC Freshman of the Year Kwane Doster, the Vanderbilt Commodores devoted much of the spring to the vacant tailback role. Two talented sophomores, Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison, exited spring drills contending for the starting role at tailback. Both Jennings and Jackson-Garrison provide the squad a more physical presence than in recent years.

As Jay Cutler prepped for his fourth year as a starter at quarterback, the coaching staff continued to mold its offense around the talents of one of the league's top signal callers. Cutler enters his final season within range of numerous school career passing and total offense marks.

Several Commodore defensive starters from a year ago worked at new positions during spring drills. Topping the list were two-year linebacker starter Herdley Harrison to defensive end; two-year safety starter Andrew Pace to cornerback; and former safety Marcus Buggs to outside linebacker.

Several redshirt freshmen made impressive strides during Spring Practice. Chris Nickson, a former Alabama Prep Player of the Year, showed a dual threat at quarterback while the efforts by athletic Reshard Langford may have earned the safety hopeful a starting role in the secondary.

The Commodores spent extra sessions this spring trying to improve its kicking game. While improvement was shown, Vanderbilt coaches are likely to continue their evaluation of both kicking roles into preseason camp.

The coaches were pleased with the progress of a relative inexperienced offensive line corps. Needing to replace two key graduates (Justin Geisinger and Brian Kovolisky), the coaches watched several players step forward to claim roles. Sophomore Chris Williams, seniors Ryan King and Nigel Seaman, and sophomore Hamilton Holliday, were among the linemen to blossom during spring. Senior Trey Holloway, the 2004 starter at center, also impressed while accepting a greater leadership role on the unit.

While senior linebacker and 2004 All-SEC Moses Osemwegie impressed at Spring Practice, junior Kevin Joyce likely earned a starting role at outside linebacker across from Osemwegie. The coaches also enjoyed outstanding competition at middle linebacker, where sophomore Jonathan Goff and senior Otis Washington competed.

After witnessing three key injuries during the 2004 Spring Practice, the Commodores escaped free of serious injury during the recent drills.

Junior Steven Bright showed his versatility. A top reserve quarterback for the last two years, Bright enjoyed some work at fullback during Spring Practice. With the departure of two-year starter Matthew Tant, the Commodores are looking to identify a new fullback. Bright's leading strength at quarterback has been an outstanding rushing ability.

While senior All-SEC hopeful Erik Davis and junior Marlon White looked in midseason form as wide receivers, Commodore quarterbacks worked to improve their timing with a number of candidates for the third receiving position, including seniors Jason Caldwell and Jason Burns, and redshirt freshmen Bryant Anderson and Sean Walker.


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