Although all eyes are on quarterback Luke Del Rio, just named the starting quarterback by Florida head coach Jim McElwain, the difference in a championship season or one that’s merely good could rest in the hands of these five guys. If they show up big in the fall, then the Gators will have a VERY good season.
1. Bryan Cox Jr., DE: Some guys take longer to mature than others. While Cox has been productive the last two years, he hasn’t exactly been a guy whose name is on the tip of every tongue. He’s a senior, he’s all grown up (6-3, 269) and he’s got a non-stop motor. He’s also a senior who might find even more motivation in the fact that he’s grown into the role of team leader. If he can get somewhere between 5-8 sacks (3.5 last year), Florida’s pass rush will be very, very good.
2. Caleb Brantley, DT: The raw talent has always been there but last year, Brantley’s head began to catch up with his body in the second half of the season. He is a fourth-year junior whose draft stock would soar if he can become the immovable object in the middle of the Florida D-line. He can’t afford any disappearing acts like he’s had in the past and must show consistency.
3. Dre Massey, WR: Some people want to compare Massey to Percy Harvin even before he’s played an SEC football game. There was only one Percy. If Massey can ignore the Percy comparisons and concentrate on becoming the first Dre Massey, he will give the Gators a make-you-miss guy in the slot who can impact both the passing and running games and become a mismatch headache.
4. Mark Thompson, RB: If he can hang on to the football he will be able to avoid those Body by Tarzan, Game by Jane whispers. Thompson has stud written all over him but if he can’t stop fumbling the football, he’s going to spend a lot of time standing on the sidelines with everyone wondering why is it that someone who looks like such a stud be such a dud? If he holds onto the football, he will be a serious SEC force.
5. Eddy Pineiro, PK: The late great Alex Karras played with Garo Yepremian with the Detroit Lions. Garo was a soccer player turned kicker who turned out to be one of the greatest, but when he first came to the NFL, he was unaware that there are mean people wearing different colored shirts who want to smash that pretty oblong ball he was kicking. Once he got the hang of it, Karras said Garo’s great line was “I keeck a touchdown.” Eddy Pineiro has never kicked a field goal in a real game, but if he can handle mean people running at him, he has the leg to make the Gators a threat to score at least three points any time they cross midfield.
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: RG Alphonse Taylor’s case for DUI is expected to be settled perhaps as early as this week. Taylor was charged with DUI even though he tested negative for alcohol. Taylor says he was woozy from hitting his head … From the twitterverse, true freshman QB Jalen Hurts has “won the coaches and team at this point.”
Arkansas: HBC Bret Bielema says he has a senior in every single position group that checks every box in terms of character, leadership, etc. Bielema says senior leadership is “worth its weight in gold” … Austin Allen is clearly the #1 QB followed by Ty Storey. True freshman QB Cole Kelley continues to open eyes but he’s not ready to go yet. There has been no discussion of Ricky Town, who was considered a stud recruit a year ago.
Auburn: Graduate transfer Marshall Taylor, who has missed 19 practices this month due to injuries sustained at a party with former teammate Jovon Robinson (dismissed from the team), will begin practicing again today. Taylor played last year at Miami (OH) where he had 39 tackles in 11 games … Auburn’s starting O-line looks like LT Austin Golson, LG Alex Kozan, C Xavier Dampier, RG Braden Smith and RT Robert Leff.
Georgia: As Georgia turns to preparation for the season opener in Atlanta with North Carolina, there remain huge questions at wide receiver. On 680 The Fan radio, HBC Kirby Smart said, “We’re trying to develop some continuity and timing in the passing game but there is no one dominant wideout.”
Kentucky: Drew Barker is the unchallenged #1 QB. The backup is juco transfer Stephen Johnson, who is more of a runner than thrower. When Johnson is running the offense, the Wildcats incorporate a lot of read option. The Wildcats are expected to use Johnson a lot in goal line situations.
LSU: The Tigers already have as good a 1-2 punch at wide receiver as there is in college football with Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural but word out of camp in Baton Rouge is that D.J. Chark has been wowing the coaches and his teammates with his speed and ability to stretch the field while running out of the slot … Redshirt freshman OT George Brown has left the team and is looking to transfer. He is the eighth player to transfer out since spring … WR Tyron Johnson, who left the team earlier, will transfer to Oklahoma State.
Mississippi State: WR Fred Ross, who led the Bulldogs with 88 catches for 1,007 yards and 5 TDs last season, has been cleared to play. Ross missed all of spring practice with surgery to correct a groin issue that kept him at less than 100% all of 2015.
Missouri: There is a real concern at WR. Other than J’Mon Moore (29-350 last year) and Alabama transfer Chris Black, there is no experience and very little in the way of depth.
Ole Miss: The Rebels would like to redshirt true freshman QB Shea Patterson but he’s played so well in practice that it’s going to be a tough decision. Whether he redshirts or plays, Patterson will be part of the Ole Miss travel squad. At this point, the #1 backup is Jason Pellerin.
South Carolina: Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner has apparently surpassed veteran David Williams as the #1 running back … Monday was the last day of fall camp for the Gamecocks, who will turn their attention today to preparation for their September 1 season opener with Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Tennessee: Kick returner Evan Berry, who ran three kickoffs back for touchdowns and averaged 38.29 per return last year, returned to practice Monday after missing several days with an undisclosed injury … Still in no contact jerseys are LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, TB Jalen Hurd, DT Austin Smith, WR Brandon Johnson and TB Carlin Fils-aime.
Texas A&M: The five guys who seem to be settling in as the starting O-line are LT Avery Gennesy, LG Keaton Sutherland, C Erik McCoy, RG Jermaine Eluemunor or Colton Prater, RT Koda Martin.
Vanderbilt: For Vanderbilt to improve and get bowl eligible, improvement has to be made in the passing game where starter Kyle Shurmur completed only 42.7% of his passes and averaged only 4.9 yards per attempt last season as a true freshman.
TEN IMPACT TRUE FRESHMEN IN THE SEC
(Listed in no particular order)
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama: He will be the starter, if not by game one, by October 1 at the latest. This is the kind of QB that Lane Kiffin wanted when he started gravitating the Tide offense toward a no-huddle, hurry-up.
Devwah Whaley, RB, Arkansas: No Alex Collins, no problem. Bret Bielema always has a 1,000-yard rusher. Whaley, who was committed to Georgia before Mark Richt was fired, is the next one and may have a 2,000-yard season before he departs Arkansas for the NFL in three years.
CHAUNCEY GARDNER, S/N, FLORIDA: He is a football player. You put him on the field and he will find a position to play and typically, he’s the best player on the field on either side of the ball. He is going to be a star.
Jonah Williams, RT, Alabama: He took over as the starter at RT in the spring and hasn’t budged. When Cam Robinson departs for the NFL next spring, Williams will move over to LT.
Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia: He can make all the throws, but he’s been plagued by inconsistency in practice. He will be thrown head first into the fire as the starting QB and there will be first year struggles, but he will improve as the season goes along.
Michael Divinity Jr., LB, LSU: He can transform easily from an OLB into a standup rush end off the edge. He’s seriously athletic and just way too good to keep off the field.
Greg Little, LT, Ole Miss: Little is being brought along slowly. He will be in the early rotation but may not start until October. Once he starts, only injury will keep him out of the lineup until the 2019 NFL Draft.
Landon Young, LT, Kentucky: He has surprised everyone with how quickly he picked up the offense. He will be starting by October and is thought to be the future of the OL at UK.
Edwin Alexander, NT, LSU: He’s good enough that DC Dave Aranda felt good about moving Davon Godchaux outside where he belongs. Alexander (6-3, 333) and Travonte Valentine (6-3, 350) will alternate in the middle of the new 3-4 scheme.
Malik Miller, RB, Auburn: He was the perfect fit in Art Briles scheme at Baylor, then came all the trouble in Waco so he was released from his scholarship. He’s finding Gus Malzahn’s offense is every bit as running back friendly as Baylor’s.
SEC COACHING ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST
The full Countdown to Firing Day list will come out later this week, but here are the candidates from the SEC to make at least the Endangered Species List.
1. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: The over-under is 9. Anything less than 9 wins and he’s a goner. His buyout is stratospheric but only God and the Longhorns have more money than the Aggies.
2. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: He has hurt himself by so much staff turnover. He the Dores don’t go bowling, Mason will be someone’s very high paid DC next year. Even Commodore natives get restless every now and then.
3. Butch Jones, Tennessee: If the Vols live up to the hype, Butch has nothing to worry about, but another season of close encounters with good teams only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory means he’s on a short leash.
4. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: The last coach whose name was associated with so many rumors about buying players was Mike Dumbose at Alabama. So far the Ole Miss administration has stuck with Hugh. Alabama stuck with Dumbose too until the NCAA threatened the death penalty. If the most recent allegations don’t stick, then we can officially declare Hugh the SEC’s Teflon Coach.
5. Mike Stoops, Kentucky: If he were a basketball coach, he would already be gone. He’s got a $12.5 million buyout. Again, if this were basketball someone would write a check. Will Kentucky boosters pony up that kind of cash to buy out a football coach? They might if the Mildcats aren’t bowling in December.
Former Gator Mike Pouncey will miss the rest of the exhibition season and possibly the regular season opening game with Seattle due to a hip injury.
Kwame Brown hasn’t played in the NBA since 2013 but he has signed with an agent and wants to play again. It will be called a comeback, but really, what is he coming back from? He’s been a bust since day one. Talk about someone who should have gone to college!
The University of Miami compliance department has launched a full-scale investigation into reports that a number of athletes got favorable treatment in renting luxury vehicles from an agency on South Beach. Linebacker Juwon Young has been suspended and wide receiver Stacey Coley along with others are thought to be subjects of the investigation.
Jared Goff, who was the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, is floundering at #3 on the depth chart behind Case Keenum and Sean Mannion. Mannion, by the way, is the QB that Florida’s Luke Del Rio backed up at Oregon State in 2014.
San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly says QB Colin Kaepernick “is fine.” So, that explains why he isn’t throwing in practice or hasn’t played in either of the two exhibition games so far.
Size doesn’t always matter. Just as Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who is 5-6, 160 pounds and could win the American League MVP. Altuve leads the AL in hitting (.365) and has 20 homers and 82 RBI.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Other than Luke Del Rio, who are your guys who have to come up big for the Gators to come up big this season?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Phil Lesh keeps the music and style of The Grateful Dead alive with his band Phil Lesh and Friends. Today’s music is a July 26 performance with saxophone and some vocals provided by the great Karl Denson.