Another weekend has come and gone and Billy Donovan is still the head basketball coach at the University of Florida. Billy spent his weekend on the recruiting trail at the adidas event in Indianapolis, the Under Armour event in Louisville and the Nike event in Lexington. While there has been plenty of speculation that Donovan will bolt to the NBA if Oklahoma City offers, Donovan hasn’t said anything and Oklahoma City is offering no hints. NewsOK, the website of The Daily Oklahoman, lists Donovan as a leading candidate for the Thunder job along with Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and UConn head coach and former Thunder player Kevin Ollie.
Ollie has made a public statement that he intends to stay at UConn, where he played collegiately and where he was groomed by former coach Jim Calhoun to take over the program. He’s known as a man of his word so it would seem doubtful that he would change his mind.
Thibodeau and the Bulls have a 3-1 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in their first round Eastern Conference playoff series so it’s a minimum of 14 days before he can make any kind of statement about his interest or lack of in the Oklahoma City job. One thing for certain, Thibodeau has a fractious relationship with the Bulls management. He has two years remaining on his contract but the Bulls would probably release him in a heartbeat if he wanted to bolt.
Then there is Donovan.
Because he and Thunder GM Sam Presti are good friends, it would seem that if Billy were indeed the guy they want in Oklahoma City that there would have been an announcement by now. Also, since Oklahoma City isn’t the only NBA job that’s going to be available, that leaves open the possibility that Billy has an interest in leaving for the league but has another situation in mind.
Then there is the final possibility: perhaps Billy Donovan is simply listening like he always does and is going to be the head coach at the University of Florida next year. There are a lot of signs that would indicate this is true such as: (1) Dorian Finney-Smith is returning for his senior season; (2) Anthony Grant is returning as a UF assistant and (3) Donovan got stud recruit Kevaughn Allen to sign his LOI about 10 days ago. Allen could have signed with Arkansas or Tennessee immediately and he would have been an instant starter. That he signed with Florida would seem to indicate he was given assurances by Donovan that he would be back for the 2015-16 season.
The rumors that Donovan is going to the NBA are not going to go away and until Donovan makes a definitive announcement that he’s coming back, it’s going to kill Florida’s recruiting moving forward. With the best group of talented big men in the state (for 2016) that we’ve seen in years, it is important that Donovan makes about his intentions soon.
Now that spring practice is over everywhere in the SEC, here is an early look at the offensive lines at all 14 schools for 2015.
Alabama: Two starters return but they’re good ones. Center Ryan Kelly will contend for the Rimington Trophy and sophomore left tackle Cameron Robinson could be one of the best ever to play that position at Alabama by the time he bolts for the NFL. When spring football ended, Dominick Jackson was the right tackle, Bradley Bozeman the right guard and Alphonse Taylor the left guard. All three played enough last year that the transition to starter should be seamless. The way Alabama rotates its linemen, there is never going to be a year in which there is little to no experience. Last year, Bama averaged 5.1 yards per rush and gave up only 16 sacks.
Arkansas: Four starters return from an offensive line that blocked for two 1,000-yard rushers last year but that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing the same positions. New offensive coordinator Dan Enos and his staff shuffled things around, moving Denver Kirkland from right guard to left tackle and left tackle Dan Skipper (6-10, 330) from left tackle to right tackle. Frank Ragnow moves into Kirkland’s old right guard position. Left guard Sebastian Tretola and center Mitch Smothers stayed put. The Razorbacks won’t abandon the running game (5.09 per carry last year) but there will be more emphasis on throwing the ball. The O-line allowed just 14 sacks last year.
Auburn: The task at Auburn is to find someone who can replace Rimington Trophy winner Reese Dismukes at center. He started every game for four years so his loss is monumental. Two starters (LT Shon Coleman and LG Devonte Danzey) return to a line that is bolstered by the return of 2013 freshman All-America Alex Kozan, who missed all last year with an injury. Avery Young, a part-time starter at right tackle steps in for full-time duty. Austin Golson, who has never played a snap at center, emerged as the starter in the spring. Auburn averaged 5.47 per rushing play last year and allowed only 15 sacks.
Florida: Even if D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore had stayed around one more year, the Gators would be in trouble. Less trouble than they have now, but trouble just the same. Losing those two plus losing three more linemen since the 2014 to medical hardship has taken away experience and depth. The only returning lineman who has actually started a game is Trip Thurman, who may or may not be ready when the season begins. If Thurman returns healthy, the O-line should look like this: LT David Sharpe, LG Thurman, C Cameron Dillard, RG Antonio Riles or Travaris Dorsey, RT Martez Ivey. Sharpe and Dillard got some action last year as backups. Riles and Dorsey were redshirts while Ivey is a true freshman. Four other freshmen might have to be ready to play early because depth is that limited. The Gators averaged 4.36 per carry last year while giving up 16 sacks.
Florida OL Coach Mike Summers
Georgia: The only question at Georgia is who will play center. Brandon Kublanow, who started at left guard last year, and Isaiah Wynn, who was Kublanow’s backup, battled with Hunter Long for the starting center job in the spring. Either Kublanow or Wynn will start at left guard. Right guard Greg Pyke returns as a starter along with tackles John Theus and Kolton Houston. Depth isn’t a problem. Georgia is as deep on the line as in the backfield. Last year, Georgia averaged 6.1 yards per carry and gave up only 17 sacks.
Kentucky: The Wildcats return four starters (LG Zach West, C Jon Toth, RG Ramsey Meyers and RT Jordan Swindle) and four of last year’s five backups so there is plenty of optimism in Lexington. During the spring, Swindle moved to left tackle and in his place on the right side was massive (6-6, 344) Cole Mosier. Toth should emerge as one of the top centers in the SEC. The Wildcats have been stockpiling linemen. Fifteen scholarship linemen participated in the spring and there are four additional freshman enrolling in the summer. The Wildcats gave up 36 sacks last year and the running game was good for only 4.14 per carry.
LSU: Three starters from last year’s O-line return but none of them emerged from the spring in the same position they started last year. Jerald Hawkins has shifted from right tackle to left tackle. Vadal Alexander has moved from left guard to right tackle and last year’s center, Ethan Pocic is now the starter at left guard. Josh Boutte, a backup last year, is the new right guard and the center is redshirt freshman Will Clapp. There are only three experienced backups so the young kids are going to have to develop fast. LSU brings in five talented freshmen and at least two of them are going to have to be ready to handle a backup role. The Tigers averaged 4.7 per rushing play last year while giving up 25 sacks.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have to replace three starters from last year’s offensive line. Justin Malone returns at left guard and Justin Senior at right tackle. Rufus Warren ended the spring as the starter at left tackle and Devon Desper, who played a lot last year, was an easy fix at right guard. Dan Mullen is very comfortable with those four starters. The question mark is at center where Jamaal Clayborn is transitioning from a backup guard to a starter in the middle. Dan Mullen has 18 scholarship linemen so there is more than adequate depth. The Bulldogs averaged 5.24 yards per carry last year and gave up 23 sacks.
Missouri: Center Evan Boehm, who will be a Rimington candidate, and right guard Connor McGovern are the anchors of a Mizzou line that returns four starters (LG Mitch Hall and RT Taylor Chappell are the other two). Boehm and McGovern have a combined 68 starts between them. Chappell has moved over to left tackle. His replacement is sophomore Clay Rhodes. Senior Brad McNulty, who has 14 starts in his career, will add quality depth if he can return healthy from shoulder surgery. Juco transfer tackles Malik Cuellar and Tyler Howell were impressive in the spring. Missouri averaged 4.62 per rushing play and gave up 23 sacks last year.
Ole Miss: With five starters returning you would think this is a position of strength but the Rebels averaged only 4.25 per running play last year and they gave up 31 sacks and that was with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle. Tunsil has given up only two sacks in two years. Tunsil’s healthy return will be critical. He broke a fibula and dislocated an ankle in the Peach Bowl. The other returning starters are Ben Still at center, guards Justin Bell and Rod Taylor and right tackle Fahn Cooper. If backup center Robert Conyers is healthy (missed the spring) he could move over and start at right tackle. True freshman Javon Patterson has a chance to work his way into the rotation very early.
South Carolina: Ten of the 12 players who were part of the O-line rotation at South Carolina last year are back including three starters (C Alan Knott, RG Will Sport and RT Brandon Shell). There are only two seniors in the bunch and there are six incoming freshmen, so the Gamecocks will be very young this year. Shell has started 35 consecutive games and should be one of the better linemen in the league this year. D.J. The left side of the line will be brand new with D.J. Park taking over at left tackle and Donell Stanley at left guard. Stanley is also the backup center. The Gamecocks averaged 4.37 yards per carry and gave up 27 sacks last year.
Tennessee: The bad news last year was nine of the top ten offensive linemen were underclassmen and five were either true or redshirt freshmen. Inexperience on the O-line was an excuse last year when the Vols averaged just 3.7 per running play and gave up a whopping 43 sacks so this year they have to prove that a year older makes them a year better. Center Max Crowder, left guard Marcus Jackson and left tackle Kyler Kerbyson are seniors who started last year and Jashon Robertson started all 13 games at right guard as a true freshman. Brett Kendrick, who played in 13 games with two starts should be the starter at right tackle. With the addition of five highly regarded freshmen, this will be one of the deepest (19 on scholarship) offensive lines in the SEC.
Texas A&M: New offensive line coach Dave Christenson has three returning starters in center Mike Matthews, right guard Joseph Cheek and right tackle Germain Ifedi. Avery Gennessy emerged as the starter at left tackle after the spring leaving left guard the only question mark position. Last year’s backup Jermaine Eluemonor is one option as is redshirt freshman Koda Martin, but those two might be surpassed by freshman Keaton Sutherland, an early entry who was impressive in the spring. The Aggies gave up 26 sacks last year while averaging 4.63 yards per carry.
Vanderbilt: Four of the five starters return. That’s the good news. The bad news is Vandy averaged only 17.2 points and 3.4 rushing yards per carry, in large part because the offensive line didn’t get the job done. The returning starters are LT Andrew Jelks, LG Jake Bernstein, RG Spencer Pulley and RT Will Holden and four of the five backups return as well. Just because they are a year older will they be a year better? The new starter at center should be Barrett Gouger. There is a new offensive coordinator (Andy Ludwig) who called the plays last year at Wisconsin. Many Vandy experts think the change in play calling and emphasis will improve the play for the offensive line.
Rating the offensive lines in the SEC:
5. Texas A&M
8. Ole Miss
9. Mississippi State
11. South Carolina
The five best offensive linemen in the SEC:
1. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
2. Evan Boehm, C, Missouri
3. Sebastian Tretola, LG, Arkansas
4. Cam Robinson, LT, Alabama
5. Greg Pyke, RG, Georgia
Based on what you know now, do you think Billy Donovan stays or does he go ahead and leave for the NBA?
Last week Norway became the latest country to eliminate the FM radio band in favor of digital. That made me think about Steely Dan and their theme song to the movie “FM,” which, in turn, got me listening to Steely Dan all weekend. Today’s music is the album “A Decade of Steely Dan.”