Everybody knows Florida’s O-line has to take that next step toward respectability in 2016 if the Gators are to be successful. Equally important, as highlighted by Fightin’ Gators managing editor Bob Redman in his report Tuesday afternoon, is the depth at cornerback. Starters Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson might be as good a pair as there is in the country, but the injury to C.J. McWilliams has highlighted just how fragile the Gators are at such a critical position.
Of the eight Southeastern Conference teams and FSU on the Florida schedule, only LSU will run a standard two-back, two wide, tight end set. Everybody else will go with 4-receiver packages, which means the Gators are going to be stretched thin in the secondary. Tabor and Wilson will be joined in the starting lineup by Duke Dawson at nickel and that gives the Gators three proven ball hawks. Behind them UF will rely on two freshmen (corner McArthur Bennett, nickel Chauncey Gardner) and a juco corner (Joseph Putu). The depth is enough of a concern that freshman safety Jaewon Taylor will be in the mix to play some at nickel as well. The backups are all talented but can talent make up for the lack of experience?
There is no question Florida can put a starting 11 on the field that rates with the best in the SEC and the nation (Phil Steele predicts UF to have the sixth best defensive unit in the country). There is sufficient depth at linebacker, albeit young, and on the D-line. UF has adequate depth at safety, but corner and nickel cannot afford any more injuries
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: Kendall Sheffield has missed the last three practices and there is speculation that he will ask for a transfer. Nick Saban, however, says he’s open to Sheffield returning to practice, where he’s been in the mix for the game-day rotation. Saban said, “We’re happy to have him back. He’s a fine young man. He’s worked hard. He’s made a lot of improvement here. We enjoy having him be a part of the team. If that’s what he chooses, we’ll continue to work with him in a positive way to help him develop personally, academically and athletically.”
Arkansas: The shuffling on the O-line continues. Tuesday’s #1 unit was LT Dan Skipper, LG Hjalte Froholdt, C Frank Ragnow, RG Jalen Merrick and RT Jake Raulerson … In green jerseys Tuesday were WR Keon Hatcher, RB Devwah Whaley and TE Antony Antwine. Corner D.J. Dean and TE Cheyenne O’Grady missed practice with minor injuries.
Auburn: Sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway has been impressive. At 6-0, 240, he’s a bruiser who can move the pile. “He goes north and south as good as any back I’ve ever seen,” OC Rhett Lashlee told al.com.
Georgia: HBC Kirby Smart is nowhere close to making a decision about a starting QB. After Saturday’s scrimmage, Smart said his three contenders (senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman Jacob Eason) each “did something good, did something really bonehead. So I don’t know if we got anywhere in regards to the quarterback. I want to see the tape.”
Kentucky: Through 12 days of practice, the starting offensive tackles appear to be sophomore George Asafo-Adjei and freshman Landon Young. The strength of the UK O-line is in the middle where C Jon Toth, LG Nick Haynes and RG Ramsey Meyers got a combined 33 starts last year.
LSU: Leonard Fournette suffered a sprained ankle and was in a walking boot, an injury that HBC Les Miles called “a slight sprain.” Fournette’s spot in the first team lineup has been temporarily taken by Derrius Guice, who rushed for 445 yards and 3 touchdowns last year as a freshman.
Mississippi State: With three returning starters and an experienced backup, the MSU secondary is expected to be one of the strongest units on the team. Safeties Kivon Coleman (13) and Brandon Bryant (8) combined for 21 starts last year while corner Tolando Cleveland started 10 games last year and has appeared in 25 games in his career. The newbie is fifth year senior Cedric Jiles, who played in all 13 games last year with three starts.
Missouri: If Missouri is to improve a ground game that averaged only 115.4 yards per game (119th nationally) then Oklahoma transfer Alex Ross is going to have to come up big. “He’s fast. He’s athletic. He’s an explosive playmaker,” says Mizzou OC Josh Heupel.
Ole Miss: Chad Kelly is the unchallenged starting QB, but Hugh Freeze thinks the future at the position is good with redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin and true freshman Shea Patterson. Pellerin and Patterson have been splitting the reps with both the #2 and #3 units.
South Carolina: The two-man race for the staring QB job has expanded to three. Senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain are feeling the heat from freshman Jake Bentley. Bentley, who is skipping his senior year in high school, isn’t ready to start just yet, but he’s making good enough throws in practice that he will be a factor in who starts at QB before too long.
Tennessee: With school starting today, Tennessee held its final practice of fall camp … The injury report has freshman wide receivers Brandon Johnson and Latrell Williams out along with KR/S/WR Evan Berry. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and DE/LB Austin Smith were in non-contact jerseys. Also held out was DE Austin Smith.
Texas A&M: Sophomore safety Josh Dunning left the practice field early on Monday with an undisclosed injury … Sophomore Landis Dunham has been moved from LB to defensive end. “He’s going to help us and give us depth,” said Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin. “He gives us a fifth guy in the rotation which is going to help us.”
Vanderbilt: ESPN’s Tom Luginbill thinks QB Kyle Shurmur will be vastly improved in 2016. “A really good player … They played him a lot last year because they realized he was better than what they had and I think he’s a guy that can actually build around,” Luginbill said regarding Shurmur.
Kudos to Georgia Last year Georgia showed tremendous compassion toward Dennis Gales, who suffered a serious spinal injury against the Bulldogs while playing for Southern University. Georgia players became Gales’ moral support and the university even helped pay some of the family’s expenses. When the Gales family was forced out of its house in Louisiana because of the recent flood, Georgia was again there to help. Bryan Gantt, Georgia’s director of player wellness, flew the Gales family to Atlanta on Delta Airlines, picked them up at the airport and is taking care of them in Athens.
And, kudos to South Carolina: When there was heavy flooding in South Carolina last year that forced the Gamecocks to move their home game to Baton Rouge, LSU fans helped provide flood relief. This year, South Carolina fans are already chipping in to help flood victims in Louisiana.
IF NOT ALABAMA, THEN WHO?
While Alabama seems to be a hands down choice to win the national championship, these five teams will have a say in who hoists the trophy in January.
1. Oklahoma: If the Sooners can find some receivers, QB Baker Mayfield and the 1-2 running back punch of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon might make OU the most difficult to defend offensive team in the country. If the Sooners take down Ohio State on September 17, they may not have another tough game decided by fewer than two touchdowns.
2. Clemson: Any team that has Deshaun Watson at QB is going to be a title contender. The Tigers will score plenty of points. If the defense can replace seven starters who are going to play on Sunday, Clemson could win it all. The only difficult road game is October 29 at FSU.
3. Florida State: The Seminoles are as experienced as any team in the country. They have to find a QB to replace injured Sean Maguire and handle a schedule that includes Ole Miss, roadies to Louisville and Miami, and Clemson and Florida at home.
4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost all that talent the NFL. Big deal. The Buckeyes do not rebuild. They simply reload. They go to Oklahoma on September 17 and end the season with Michigan State (road) and Michigan (home).
5. LSU: RB Leonard Fournette is scary good and now the defense has a coordinator who actually knows what to do with all that talent and speed. The SEC West schedule is always a minefield. Alabama comes to Baton Rouge on November 5, but the next week the Tigers go to Arkansas and that could actually be the game that decides their national championship hopes.
TOP 10 SINGLE SEASON RUSHERS IN SEC HISTORY
1. Derrick Henry, Alabama 2,219 (2015)
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU 1,953 (2015)
3. Herschel Walker, Georgia 1,891 (1981)
4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas 1,830 (2007)
5, Tre Mason, Auburn 1,816 (2013)
6. Bo Jackson, Auburn 1,786 (1985)
7. Herschel Walker, Georgia 1,752 (1981)
8. Charles Alexander, LSU 1,686 (1977)
9. Trent Richardson, Alabama 1,679 (2011)
10. Mark Ingram, Alabama 1,658 (2009)
Number of 1,000-yard rushers in history for each SEC school: 1. Auburn 25; 2. Alabama 19; 3. Tennessee 18; 4. Arkansas 17; 5. LSU 16; 6. (Tie) Georgia, Missouri and Texas A&M 15; 9. Mississippi State 13; 10. FLORIDA 11; 11. South Carolina 10; 12. Kentucky 8; 13. (Tie) Ole Miss and Vanderbilt 6
Medal count top 5 countries
USA 84 (28 gold, 28 silver, 28 bronze)
China 51 (17 gold, 15 silver, 19 bronze)
Great Britain 50 (19 gold, 19 silver, 12 bronze)
Russia 38 (12 gold, 12 silver, 14 bronze)
Japan 29 (7 gold, 4 silver, 18 bronze)
Gators Christian Taylor and Will Claye went gold-silver in the triple jump Tuesday but the day might be more meaningful for Claye. Following his silver medal finish, he proposed to girlfriend Queen Harrison (gold medal 100 meter hurdler in the 2015 Pan American Games) and she said yes.
Simone Briles completed her remarkable Olympic run with a gold medal performance in the floor exercise to edge out teammate Aly Raisman. Briles finished Rio with four gold medals and a bronze.
Stephen Curry has one of the prettiest jump shots you’ll ever see, but have you seen Diana Taurasi shoot from the 3-point line?
The USA women played like they were in a coma for most of the first half against Japan Tuesday, but after allowing Japan to close the gap to two points Taurasi and Seimone Augustus got hot, the Americans cranked up the defense and Japan melted under the pressure. From the point Japan closed to 48-46, Team USA outscored them 62-18 and made it look like a scrimmage against a high school team.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is a finalist to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Cowboys haven’t been anything close to the franchise they were when Jimmy Johnson worked for Jones, but he has done some good things for the league such as proving you can build your own stadium without holding your municipality hostage.
It will always be Joe Robbie Stadium to me, but since 1996, the stadium where the Dolphins play has been called Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium, Sun Life Stadium and now – Hard Rock Stadium.
Maybe Colin Kapernick will get the message that he’s not exactly wanted in San Francisco. Kapernick hasn’t thrown a pass in 49es practice in six days. The 49ers’ QB roster includes failed Jax Jags first rounder Blaine Gabbert, former Gator Jeff Driskel and former FSU Christian Ponder, who was signed Tuesday. Driskel is expected to make the team as the third QB.
Fired Baylor coach Art Briles told the media Tuesday, “I’ve never done anything illegal, immoral or unethical.”
Jim Harbaugh, who threatened to “Belichick” the media a couple of weeks ago, stormed away from a press conference Tuesday when reporters tried to ask follow-up questions.
Marcell Darius, who missed the first game last year for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, will miss the first four games of 2016 for another violation of the same policy.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If not Alabama, who is your choice to win the national championship?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
As big a deal as The Beatles were in the 1960s, Elvis Presley was even bigger in the 1950s. He was indeed the king of rock and roll. He died 39 years ago Tuesday and the music world hasn’t been the same since. I got to see Elvis live in the 1970s when he did a show in Miami. He was near the end of his career and he was way overweight, but he put on a show to remember forever. Today’s music is an album of his #1 hits. Close your eyes and listen to that voice. There has never been nor will there ever be another voice like that in rock and roll.