There was a time when July was a last chance for college football players to enjoy parties and the beach. No more. The college game is a year-round job these days and July is a critical month for veterans working in the weight room, learning the playbook inside/out and on timing in late afternoon/early evening on the field sessions that will also include incoming freshmen and transfers who weren’t there during the spring.
Particularly, this will be a critical month for quarterback Luke Del Rio. Sure, he’s been around for a year after transferring to UF from Oregon State, but he’s never played in a real game at The Swamp. We saw in the spring that he’s got a quick release and throws the ball accurately, but what we don’t know is his leadership skills. That’s what he will need to show in July. If Del Rio can be that guy who everybody listens to and respects, then he will definitely be Florida’s single most important newbie for 2016.
But it’s a close call. Here are three other Gator newbies whose importance can’t be understated:
1a. Austin Appleby, QB: If Del Rio can’t get the job done, then Austin Appleby has starter’s experience and NFL size.
1b. Dre Massey, WR: He’s the guy who can turn a dumpoff or underneath route into a long distance affair.
1c. Mark Thompson, RB: The Two Jordans (Cronkrite and Scarlett) both played meaningful minutes last year, but if Thompson proves he can hang onto the football he’s likely to be THE guy at RB.
These newbies need to come through at other SEC schools:
Alabama: Somehow, Cam Robinson escaped with zero jail time after he was arrested on drug possession and possession of a stolen weapon. Imagine that. He got off scot-free. Yes, that made Nick Saban mad and those poor incoming freshmen will pay a steep price for Robinson’s transgressions. Meanwhile, Bama did lose stud juco transfer Charles Baldwin, who was supposed to play RT and that means true freshman Jonah Williams will have to play from day one.
Arkansas: With 6th-year running back Kody Walker recovering from foot surgery and Rawleigh Williams III recovering from neck surgery, freshman Devwah Whaley better be ready to carry the load. If the Hogs don’t have a consistent threat to run the football, they’re going to see a lot of 8-deep zones this year.
Auburn: Last year they tried Jeremy Johnson and Sean White at QB, discovering that the Gus Malzahn offense doesn’t work well if the QB isn’t a serious running threat. If Auburn’s offense is to be explosive this year, then former FSU signee John Franklin III, a juco transfer, has to deliver. He’s got an adequate arm and seriously quick feet. He reminds folks of Nick Marshall. If Auburn can get Marshall-like production, then the Tigers are going to be much better than anyone expects this year.
Georgia: The last true freshman QB who really made a dent in the league was Chris Leak at Florida and that was way back in 2004. So, there’s a ton of pressure on the freshman shoulders of Jacob Eason. Georgia will try to ram the ball down people’s throats and let Eason grow into the position, but at some point he’ll have to make throws to win a game. Will he be ready? If he isn’t the option is Greyson Lambert, who throws a beautiful 2-inch pass.
Kentucky: Opponents rarely had problems running the ball straight up the gut on the Wildcats last year, averaging 196 yards per game and 4.61 per carry. The new middle linebacker is Nebraska transfer Courtney Love, who sat out last year. If he can’t plug the middle, the Wildcats are going to be in very big trouble.
LSU: With new DC Dave Aranda switching the Tigers from a 4-3 to a 3-4, they’re going to need 4 linebackers on the field and that will open the door for freshman Michael Divinity, who is a terror coming off the edge. Right now, Duke Riley is listed ahead of Divinity, but Riley is a senior who has spent most of his career on special teams. He’s a career backup. Divinity will be All-SEC before he leaves Baton Rouge.
Mississippi State: Leo Lewis is a 240-pound outside linebacker with 4.65 speed in the 40. He took a redshirt last year while transforming his body into SEC-ready. He will be counted on as that guy who can be both a terror off the edge and a cover guy in the 3-4 scheme the Bulldogs will be employing under new DC Peter Sirmon.
Missouri: The Tigers were counting on juco transfer Natereace Strong to run the football but he didn’t graduate from juco and now won’t enroll until January. That opened the door for Oklahoma graduate transfer Alex Ross, whose best season was 2014 when he ran for 595 yards while backing up Samaje Perine.
Ole Miss: Back in 2013, Hugh Freeze had no problems starting true freshman Laremy Tunsil at LT. Tunsil was a player from day one and will play on Sunday this year. History gets a chance to repeat itself this year. Freeze will send true freshman Greg Little out there at LT starting game one with the task of protecting the blind side of QB Chad Kelly, who has a legitimate shot at landing a seat on the Heisman podium in December if only some folks will give him a little bit of protection.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks list former walk-on and senior Perry Orth as the starting QB but if the offense is going anywhere the QB is going to have to be Brandon McIlwain. McIlwain is a legitimate run-pass threat who is probably going to end up as the Gamecocks best running threat. There will be some growing pains for McIlwain, but he’s a player who will give the South Carolina offense its best chance to move the football.
Tennessee: The Vols are the third most experienced team in the country but playing time is to be had for wide receivers who have separation speed. One reason the Vols have such a pedestrian passing game is they really don’t have a deep threat who can stretch a defense. Tennessee thinks its deep threat in juco transfer Jeff George, who has both speed and size (6-6).
Texas A&M: It’s pretty simple. If Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight doesn’t deliver at QB, not only can you kiss the Aggies’ season good bye but you might as well kiss Kevin Sumlin good bye, too. Some people say that Sumlin’s buyout will keep him around, but remember this: Only God and the Longhorns have more money than the Aggies.
Vanderbilt: Both cornerback starters return but there is little depth behind Torren McGaster and Tre Herndon. Since so many teams use a spread offense, a third corner must emerge to play the nickel and that’s where JoeJuan Williams fits in. He’s a stud freshman who has safety size and adequate speed to play corner.
THE 10 BEST INSIDE LINEBACKERS COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016
This is one of the best crops of inside linebackers in years. Division I is loaded with guys who have already proven their star quality, led by Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, who has been a factor since he first saw the field in 2014.
1. Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State, JR (119 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 QB hurries)
2. Kendell Beckwith, LSU, SR (84 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 QB hurry, 2 fumbles forced)
3. Reuben Foster, Alabama, SR (73 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 9 pass breakups, 3 QB hurries)
4. Riley Bullough, Michigan State, SR (106 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles, 1 TD)
5. Ben Boulware, Clemson, SR (82 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 10 QB hurries, 3 fumbles forced)
6. Keith Kelsey, Louisville, SR (107 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 35 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 7 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble)
7. Anthony Walker, Northwestern, JR (120 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 4 passes broken up, 2 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, 1 TD)
8. Josey Jewell, Iowa, JR (126 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 6 passes broken up, 2 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, 1 TD)
9. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt, SO (103 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles)
10. Micah Kiser, Virginia, JR (117 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles).
Just missed: Azeem Victor, Washington, JR; Brooks Ellis, Arkansas, SR; Calvin Munson, San Diego State, SR; Christian Tago, San Jose State, SR
DURANT SIGNS WITH GOLDEN STATE
Kevin Durant has signed a 2-year deal worth $54.3 million to play for the Golden State Warriors, which means Stephen Curry is now the 4th-highest paid player on the team trailing Durant, Klay Thompson ($16.6 million) and Draymond Green ($15.3 million). Curry will struggle to make ends meet on a paltry $12.1 million.
On paper it’s a deal that has all the NBA pundits claiming will make the Warriors one of the greatest teams of all time. They were all set to assume that mantle when they had a 3-1 lead over the Cleveland Cadavers in the most recent NBA Finals.
No matter who starts at center, it will be easy to argue that Golden State has the most impressive starting lineup in the NBA next year, but to land Durant they will be sacrificing two years of chemistry because some of the important contributors off the bench are as good as gone. Starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are both going to sign with the Dallas Mavericks while Festus Ezili, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejo probably have the second foot on the way out before the screen door slams shut. One report estimated that the signing of Durant leaves the Warriors only $2.9 million in cap space and that doesn’t bode well for landing experienced guys to bring off the bench.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs are signed Pau Gasol (2 years, $30 million) and Billy Donovan loses a vital piece of his puzzle when there are very few viable options out there. Now he has to find two scorers, one to replace Durant and the other he was hoping to find in free agency.
Georgia running back Sony Michel broke his left forearm over the weekend. No timeline given for his expected return. Michel gained 1,161 yards last year.
Malik Newman, who was the cornerstone of Ben Howland’s rebuilding of the Mississippi State program, has transferred to Kansas. He will have to sit out this year.
Sheryl Swoopes, who is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, has been fired at Loyola (Chicago) after 10 of the 12 scholarship players got their release, claiming abuse by the coach.
Roger Goodell’s salary dropped to $31 million. That’s nice work if you can get it.
Among the potential disasters – too many to list, actually – for the Rio Olympics is the problem at the sailing venue where the boats go into the water white and come out brown because Guanabara Bay is so polluted.
Besides crime and construction delays, there is also a teensy problem of having enough money to finish the job of preparing for the Olympics in Rio. The city got a loan for $850 million from the Brazilian government but there are concerns that won’t be nearly enough.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Who do you think will be Florida’s most important newbie for the 2016 season.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I listened to String Cheese Incident’s 2014 “Song in My Head” album today and the only problem with it is it’s just not enough. When I start listening to them, I want to listen for a long time. I’ve been spoiled by their live shows on Youtube like today’s music, a nearly 4-hour performance from 2013 called “Incident on The Rocks.”