SCOTT: SEC News & Notes

For all the talk of turning quarterback Chris Leak into a better runner, getting receiver Andre Caldwell healthy and finding a tailback or two, Florida's primary offensive concern entering the season started up front.

That concern has turned into anxiety and alarm with less than two weeks until the Gators' season opener against Southern Miss.


The Gators have been hit hard by a number of injuries throughout the depth chart, but nowhere is the problem more significant than the offensive line.


As if replacing four starters on the offensive line isn't difficult enough, the Gators' line have been slammed by a series of injuries over the first two weeks of preseason practice.


It started when first-team offensive guard Ronnie Wilson suffered a broken ankle that required surgery and will likely miss four to six weeks of practice and games at the very least.


"I have great confidence in our training staff and we'll get him back as soon as we can," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "The first question is when will we get him back? It will be early in the season. Just drink a lot of milk and get that thing ready. Someone else has to step up. We've got some candidates."


Two days later, one of those candidates, true freshman Maurice Hurt, suffered torn cartilage in his right knee and needed arthroscopic surgery to repair the damage.


"We went in knowing we couldn't get anybody hurt and we got a couple of guys hurt," Meyer said last week.


The Gators allowed 35 sacks in 12 games last season, fourth most in the SEC. Then the Gators lost four starting linemen, leaving the current linemen with only 17 combined starts between them. That means every injury creates another big hole to fill.


Sophomore Jim Tartt was expected to compete for the starting job at left guard but he missed most of the first two weeks of contact drills due to the lingering effects of a shoulder injury. Sophomore tackle Justin Watkins also missed some practice time with a head injury and backup center Eddie Haupt missed three days with a high ankle sprain.


If Tartt can get and stay healthy, redshirt freshman Simon Codrington or right tackle Drew Miller will most likely replace Wilson for the time being. The coaches also decided to move freshman Corey Hobbs from defensive tackle to guard to provide more depth up front.


If Miller gets the start at guard, where he started four games last year, Watkins or junior Carlton Medder will most likely move into the starting lineup at right tackle.


Either way, Meyer is convinced everything will work out alright for the Gators.


"It will be ready," Meyer said. "I don't know who's going to be playing, but they'll be ready."


Not all the news on the offensive line is bad for the Gators. Meyer has gone out of his way to praise senior Steve Rissler. Rissler started at right guard last season and moved to center in the spring, replacing four-year starter Mike Degory.


At first, Meyer was less than pleased with Rissler's performance and leadership. All of that has changed in the preseason.


"He has accepted his role as a leader and he's turned out to be a little better player than I thought," Meyer said. "I under-evaluated him. I thought we'd have a big-time drop off from Mike to Riss, but as of now, he's playing very well for us.


"I undervalued him as a player, but more importantly, I undervalued him as a guy that can rally the young guys. So far he's done a great job."


Rissler's progress is an indication of where the Florida offensive line may be headed – if the Gators can just get and stay healthy.


"We've handled it," Rissler said. "It's always going to happen to every team, there are going to be injuries here and there. We moved Drew Miller in from tackle to guard so we just have to adjust and keep going. You can't stop. Keep going, keep getting better and we'll be fine."




It would be one thing if junior Robert Johnson had gone out and won the Arkansas starting quarterback job, but the truth is Johnson backed into the job because his competitors aren't ready for the job.


Johnson opened the 2005 season as a starter because no one else was ready for the job. Johnson himself proved to be less than ready, struggling throughout the first seven games as the Razorbacks opened the season with a 2-5 record. He then lost his job to true freshman Casey Dick.


Dick and Johnson both failed to impress in the spring and entered the preseason battling for the starting job, but Dick has missed a considerable amount of practice time due to a lingering back injury and miss most likely miss another three to four weeks of practice time as well as the first two games.


"Right now, we are working with two quarterbacks," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "I feel for Casey Dick. He has been through a lot and he's very frustrated. This is not what we planned.


"We expected (Dick) to be full speed but all I know is Casey Dick cannot be ready for the first game. We have to go forward. It was the right and proper time to let our team know who the first-team quarterback is."


Johnson's other competition for the starting job, true freshman Mitch Mustain, is a talented prospect who needs more time.


"Mitch Mustain is an excellent quarterback," Nutt said. "For a freshman, he's done a lot of good things and gotten a lot of reps because of Casey's situation. I'm really, really proud of him. He's just got to keep working."


As for Johnson, Nutt insists his time has come, but it remains to be seen how much of that is coach's spin or just wishful thinking as the season opener against USC bears down on the Razorbacks.


"Robert has improved greatly and we want everybody to get behind him," Nutt said. "Robert Johnson is a little older and I think he is much better now then he was a year ago. We are going to keep him going and hopefully our team will keep improving."


The Razorbacks are already preparing for the USC game without sophomore tailback Darren McFadden, who had surgery for a dislocated toe in late July following an alleged fight outside a Little Rock bar.


Meanwhile, Arkansas has its share of concerns on the defensive side of the ball, where cornerback Darius Vinnett, a projected starter, will miss about five weeks following last week's knee surgery. That means he will miss the season opener.




Senior Joe Tereshinski appears to be inching closer towards closing the window on Georgia's wide-open competition for the starting quarterback job.


While much-heralded freshman Matthew Stafford struggled and threw three interceptions and redshirt freshman Joe Cox and sophomore Blake Barnes provided mixed results in a full-scale scrimmage last Friday, Tereshinski threw two touchdown passes and seemed to do a better job of running the offense and making decisions.


Georgia coach Mark Richt said he will likely choose a starter this week but warned that the situation is far from settled as the Bulldogs turn their attention toward their Sept. 2 opener against Western Kentucky.


"We've got to name someone the starter," Richt said. "I can't say I'm 100 percent sure who it's going to be, but I've got a pretty good feel.


"I will say that whatever we decide is not necessarily the final word. Whoever that fourth guy is, (he) is not out of the deal."


Richt made a good point when he reminded the media and fans that practice performance doesn't always predict game results. Some players can't move past practice and produce the same way on game day, while some players are just gamers who respond well under the pressure.


"We have been as fair as we can be to give every single one of those four guys a fair shot at showing what they can do, and now we have got to do what we think is right," Richt said. "But we are not always right. And because I am not 100 percent certain as to how it is going to play out in the end, I am going to still keep an open mind.


"But it is going to be nice to say who will start the first game and to be able to really see the missing pieces of the puzzle, which is the contact, the crowds, the national TV, the media scrutiny, the fan scrutiny, all those kind of things. ... (After the first game) we should have even more information to make the right call."




No SEC team can afford to lose potential starters more than Kentucky, but it still happening. Even worse, the losses are not due to injuries.


The Wildcats lost a multitude of starters and key contributors to injuries in 2005 and eventually totaled 31 surgeries. This time around, it's suspensions and academics taking a toll.


The Wildcats recently lost two would-be starters to suspension for violating team rules. Wide receiver John Logan and offensive lineman Micah Jones will only miss one game, but that games is against in-state rival Louisville on Sept. 3.


The other loss is sophomore offensive lineman Aaron Miller, who started 10 games at left tackle as a true freshman in 2004 before leaving school for personal reasons last season.

Miller returned to Kentucky in the spring and participated in spring practice but had too many academic obstacles to clear to become eligible for the 2006 season.


"He clearly knew what he had to do and had a lot of help, but it didn't get done," Brooks said.


"The good news is, at least we have some kids who have played there who are pretty good, too," Brooks said. "But that's just one more missing piece of the puzzle that hurts your depth and your ability to absorb any further problems at that position."




Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and columnist for Tiger Rag. Reach him at

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