Two noteworthy NFL items from Tuesday.
1. Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year for 2014, could slip completely out of the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft because of a marijuana citation on Monday. Former Tampa Bay Bucs GM Mark Dominik says Ray could drop as far as the fourth round all because everyone will be questioning his decision making skills. Think about it: The last pick in last year’s first round got $5.5 million. The first pick in the third round got only $703,000 and the top pick of the fourth round (UF’s Jaylen Watkins) got a guaranteed $497,000. Because he figured to go in the first half of the first round, Ray was certain to get something in the neighborhood of $6 million or more guaranteed. To lose a possible $6 million because you want to smoke some weed is just plain dumb.
2. Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan was suspended without pay for the 2015 season for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. He will lose a $3,335,418 signing bonus and $2,275,209 in salary. I realize that $5.5 million doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it is fact that there aren’t a lot of folks who make that kind of money. When you’re making that kind of money you can afford to check yourself into rehab, which would be the smart thing to do since it’s hard to find jobs that pay anything close to that for a guy three years removed from college.
The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have a coach and Donovan is doing in-home visits with recruits. What does this tell us? If Donovan were going to the Thunder the press conference would have already taken place. That he’s out recruiting is a reasonably good sign he’s going to be the head coach at the University of Florida next year unless someone comes in with a wowser of an offer that he would be stupid to turn down.
Is the magic starting to fade for John Calipari at Kentucky? In the last month the following players have just said no: Cheick Diallo (6-9, Kansas), Ivan Rabb (6 -10, California), Caleb Swanigan (6-9, Michigan State), Thomas Bryant (6-10 Indiana) and Malik Newman (6-4, Mississippi State). Kentucky really wasn’t ever in it for Brandon Ingram (6-9, Duke) but the Wildcats invested a lot of recruiting capital. The only unsigned top 25 player remaining is Jaylen Brown, who seems certain to sign with Kansas or California. Kentucky was forced to sign a juco shooter (Mychal Mulder) Tuesday.
Now that spring practice is over everywhere in the SEC, here is an early look at the linebackers at all 14 schools for 2015.
Alabama: There is strength on the inside where All-SEC first team Reggie Ragland (93 tackles, 1 interception, 10.5 tackles for loss) returns. Reuben Foster (23 tackles last year) played a lot as a sophomore and had an impressive spring so he’ll likely get the start next to Ragland. On the outside, Ryan Anderson (25 tackles, 3 sacks, 8 tackles for loss, 9 quarterback hurries) will start at the jack (hybrid linebacker/defensive end) position and either Dillon Lee (23 tackles) or Denzell Devall probably starts on the strongside. Redshirt freshman Keith Holcombe will play a lot as will sophomore Shaun Hamilton. With three incoming freshmen Alabama will have 15 scholarship linebackers on the roster.
Arkansas: Last year’s leading tackler, Martell Spaight graduated and linebackers coach Randy Shannon left for Florida, replaced by Vernon Hargreaves II, dad of Florida’s All-America corner. The Razorbacks have talent but depth will be an issue with only nine scholarship linebackers in the fall. In the spring, Brooks Ellis (72 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 passes broken up) was moved from the middle to the weak side and last year’s backup in the middle, Josh Williams (29 tackles) took over. On the strong side, it will be Khalia Hackett or Randy Ramsey, who has had issues with the coaching staff in the past. As long as no one gets hurt, the Razorbacks will be fine but injuries could spell trouble.
Auburn: New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp brought Lance Thompson in from the Alabama staff to coach the linebackers. He’s got two solid building blocks to work with in middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy (91 tackles, 1 interception, 11 tackles for loss) and weak side Kris Frost (87 tackles, 1 interception, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks). The Tigers played a lot of 4-2-5 last year and they will again this year against spread teams, but the base will be a 4-3 and the likely third linebacker will be Tre’ Williams. There is no shortage of bodies. Counting the incoming freshmen there will be 15 on scholarship.
Florida: Depth was a serious issue in the spring when there weren’t enough able bodies for a two deep. If Antonio Morrison (101 tackles, 1 interception) is healthy the Gators will be strong in the middle. Jarran Davis has starting experience on the outside and there has never been a lack of ability for Daniel McMillian, who seems ready to turn potential into productivity. It’s time for Alex Anzalone and Jeremi Powell to produce. Matt Rolin will finally see the field after missing two years because of injury. Incoming freshmen Rayshad Jackson and Kylan Johnson will need to come ready to play. There is little in the way of depth but the Gators might catch a break because so many teams they play run a spread, meaning only two linebackers will be on the field 60-70% of the time.
Georgia: The Bulldogs lost tackling machines Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera to graduation and they won’t even blink. That’s because Lorenzo Carter (41 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 11 QB hurries) moves inside and UAB transfer Jake Ganus (16.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks) will step into a starting role. Another one to watch is former defensive end Natrez Patrick. On the outside, Georgia has All-SEC and All-America candidates in Jordan Jenkins (70 tackles, 5 sacks, 21 QB hurries) and Leonard Floyd (55 tackles, 6 sacks, 12 QB hurries). Georgia has big, strong athletes who fly to the football and they’re as deep at linebacker as anyone in the SEC.
Kentucky: With the switch to the 3-4, Kentucky should have more versatility against both the run and the pass. Josh Forrest (110 tackles, 2 interceptions, 8.5 tackles for loss) is set on the inside where he will likely be teamed up with 274-pound Jabari Johnson. On the outside Ryan Flannigan (57 tackles) and Khalid Henderson (53 tackles) will be the starters but redshirt freshman Denzil Ware will be on the field a lot in pass rushing situations. There were 10 scholarship linebackers in the spring with two freshmen arriving in August.
LSU: Losing Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss) a year early to the NFL hurt, but middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (77 tackles, 1 interception, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks) returns and could have an All-SEC type of season. Lamar Louis (29 tackles) will start once again on the strong side and Deion Jones, who backed up Alexander last year, should start on the weakside. Two names to remember are Duke Riley (20 tackles last year) and Clifton Garrett, who took a medical redshirt as a freshman last year. They are freaky athletes who will be on the field a lot. Garrett will back up Beckwith and play on the weak side while Riley has great speed off the edge. The Tigers have nine scholarship linebackers and didn’t sign a freshman last recruiting class. Talent is not an issue but depth could be.
Mississippi State: It will be hard to replace All-America middle linebacker Bernardrick McKinney (71 tackles, 3 sacks, 8 tackles for loss), who left a year early for the NFL. That job will go to Richie Brown (50 tackles, 3 interceptions), who saw plenty of action in the “Psycho Defense” scheme of last year’s coordinator Geoff Collins. Beniquez Brown (62 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks) returns as a starter on the outside and Zach Jackson (34 tackles) should be the third starter. Juco transfer Traver Jung is among three incoming recruits who will give the Bulldogs 11 scholarship linebackers.
Missouri: Two of the three starters return and they’re good ones, weak side Kentrell Brothers (122 tackles, 5 tackles for loss) and middle linebacker Michael Scherer (114 tackles). Donavin Newsom (24 tackles) started four games on the strong side where he will be pushed by Clarence Green (18 tackles, 2 starts). Third year sophomore Eric Beisel (19 tackles last year) is the backup in the middle. All 11 veteran scholarship linebackers took a redshirt as a freshman so the two incoming recruits should expect to pay their dues on the scout team this year. This is a very talented group and there is plenty of depth.
Ole Miss: The Rebels lost two very productive linebackers from their 4-2-5 scheme so this is almost like ground zero. There is experience in Denzel Nkemdiche (28 tackles) who has missed nine of the Rebels 26 games the last two years due to injury. If he’s healthy, one starting job is nailed down. Christian Russell (23 tackles) will move into a staring role. ƒormer defensive end C.J. Johnson had a good spring at linebacker and juco transfer Terry Caldwell should play a lot. The Rebels have 10 scholarship linebackers.
South Carolina: There is no lack of experience but that’s because the Gamecocks couldn’t get anyone off the field last year so the linebackers all played a lot of snaps. Skai Moore (93 tackles, 3 interceptions) is a star in the middle. Jonathan Walton (61 tackles, 1 interception) put up good numbers as a sophomore and Jordan Diggs (37 tackles, 2 sacks) played well as a backup at the spur, the hybrid safety/outside linebacker. There are high expectations for T.J. Holloman (77 tackles, 7 career starts in two years) and juco transfer Ernest Hawkins. Depth took a hit following spring practice when Marcquis Roberts (31 tackles last year) transferred to Kansas. The Gamecocks will have 12 scholarship linebackers in the fall.
Tennessee: There is no problem on the weak side where Jalen Reeves-Maybin (101 tackles, 1 interception, 11 tackles for loss, 2 sacks) had an outstanding sophomore season. There are holes to fill in the middle where four players tried to step into the shoes of departed tackling machine A.J. Johnson in the spring and on the strong side. Incoming freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. is so good he probably will play immediately either in the middle or on the strong side. Fourth-year junior Kenny Bynum didn’t impress anyone in the spring and redshirt freshmen Gavin Bryant and Dillon Bates were inconsistent. Jakob Johnson missed most of the spring with an injury. With two incoming freshmen recruits, the Vols will have 11 scholarship linebackers.
Texas A&M: Great linebacker play has always been a staple of a John Chavis-coached defense so the Aggies figure to get much better this year. Two starters return, weak side Shaan Washington (64 tackles, 2 sacks) and middle Otaro Alaka (33 tackles), but both missed the spring with injuries as did key backup Josh Walker (27 tackles). Juco transfer Claude George and early enrollee Richard Moore got most of the snaps this spring. The Aggies figure to be in nickel most of the time which means only two linebackers will typically be on the field. The Aggies will have 11 scholarship linebackers in the fall.
Vanderbilt: This is a position of strength for the Commodores, who played plenty of freshmen and sophomores last year. The top two tacklers – Nigel Bowden (78 tackles) and Zach Cunningham (67 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss) started as true freshmen and Stephen Weatherly (55 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) started as a sophomore. Finding an outside linebacker to replace Kyle Woestmann was critical this spring. Either Darreon Herring (45 tackles, played some nickel as well last year) or Jonathan Wynn (13 tackles as a freshman) should emerge as the starter. With four incoming freshmen, Vandy will have 13 scholarship linebackers in the fall.
Rating the linebacker units in the SEC
8. Mississippi State
9. South Carolina
13. Texas A&M
14. Ole Miss
The five best linebackers in the SEC
1. Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
2. Reggie Ragland, Alabama
3. Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
4. Leonard Floyd, Georgia
5. Kris Frost, Auburn
Are you concerned about Florida’s linebacker depth for 2015 or do you think the Gators can get by because they’ll be in nickel so often?
High school classmates and college buddies Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs played together for three albums in the late 1960s. I always thought their best work was “Sailor” which featured the classic “Living in the USA.” They parted a year after releasing “Sailor” and while both went on to great careers, I still miss the sounds they put together way back when.