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Tag:Orson Charles
Posted on: January 11, 2012 2:05 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 4:10 pm
 

Georgia's Orson Charles entering NFL Draft

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Aaron Murray will be short one big target next season. Georgia tight end Orson Charles announced on Wednesday afternoon that he would forego his senior season in Athens and enter the NFL Draft.

“I want to thank God, the University of Georgia, our coaches and the fans for building me up spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally over the last three years,” said Charles in a release.  “The fans stuck with us through a rough season last year and through our struggles this season and our coaching staff provided me with the tools necessary to make it in football and in life.  Either decision I made, I want to be able to look back at it and be happy with the choice I made and I think I will withthis decision.  It was difficult but not stressful to be in a situation where you can’t go wrong either way.”

Charles finished third on the Bulldogs in 2011 with 45 receptions for 574 yards and 5 touchdowns. He had 94 catches for 1,370 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career at the school.

The 6-foot-3, 241-pound tight end looks to become one of the latest athletic tight ends that have become a huge force in the NFL the last few seasons, like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jermichael Finley, and Jimmy Graham before him.

In CBSSports.com's NFL position rankings for draft eligible players, Charles is ranked third behind Clemson's Dwayne Allen and Stanford's Coby Fleener. While he's not projected to be a first round pick, he should go no later than the third round.

Get caught up on the early-entry announcements HERE, and all the latest rankings, mock drafts, and breaking news check out the NFL Draft Home 

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Posted on: December 7, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 11:53 pm
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the SEC.

Awards

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. No SEC player was more electrifying to watch on a weekly basis than the Tide workhorse, whose raw strength and unmatched determination could turn an average four-yard gain (usually into the teeth of half the opposing defense) into must-see TV. Of course, the elusive, explosive 70-plus-yard bursts -- like his showstoppers against Ole Miss and Auburn -- weren't too shabby, either. Few have ever combined those gifts like Richardson, and no one in the SEC was any better this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Claiborne wasn't just the best one-on-one man-coverage corner we saw this season, bar-none, SEC or elsewhere--he might have been the best defender we saw this season, SEC or elsewhere. By erasing his side of the field (except for those lone occasions when he was tested and -- as AJ McCarron found out -- usually ready to make a pick), Claiborne set the tone for the best secondary in the country and played arguably the biggest role of any LSU defender in getting the Tigers to the national title game.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Les Miles, LSU. James Franklin 
has earned legitimate consideration for his work at Vanderbilt. But when you look at not only the juggernaut constructed by Miles in Baton Rouge but his ability in steering it through the storms of the preseason bar fight incident, suspensions, and quarterback controversy, there's not really any other choice to make in this slot.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Brad Wing, P, LSU. A punter, over a running back like Isaiah Crowell? When we're talking about the nation's third-best net punting average for a No. 1-ranked prfect-record team that thrived on field position, you bet. That Wing's best two games came at the best possible times -- at Alabama and vs. Georgia in Atlanta -- makes his selection even easier.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Tyler Wilson, Jr., Arkansas. It was far from a banner year for quarterbacking in the SEC -- only three teams were even able to keep the same starter for all 12 games -- but you wouldn't know it from watching Wilson, whose 3,422 passing yards led the league by nearly 600 yards. No team in the conference was more dependent on their quarterback, but despite taking frequent poundings behind a suspect line Wilson repaid that faith to the tune of a 10-2 record.

Honorable mention: Georgia's Aaron Murray led the league with 33 touchdowns and was the East champions' clearcut best offensive player, but his 12 interceptions were also an SEC high. AJ McCarron struggled for Alabama in the LSU showdown but still finished the year with an SEC-best QB rating and that spot in the BCS title game.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama. It won't win him the Heisman Trophy, but Richardson's brilliant 2011 season -- 1,583 yards, 23 total touchdowns, an eye-popping 6.0 per-carry average despite a league-high 263 carries, and more highlight-reel runs than any running back in the country -- deserves to have cemented his status among the SEC's all-time backfield greats. Not even his predecessor Mark Ingram was ever better.

Michael Dyer, Soph., Auburn. The only back besides Richardson to average more than 100 yards per SEC game, Dyer was often the only thing the sputtering Auburn offense had going for it--and he still finished with 1,242 yards while averaging better than 5 yards a carry.

Honorable mention: Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy quietly enjoyed a breakout season as the league's second-most explosive back behind Richardson, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards a carry.

WIDE RECEIVER

Jarius Wright, Sr. Arkansas. Though not the most heralded of the Hogs' star-studded receiving corps entering the season, Wright quickly established himself as Wilson's go-to receiver and arguably the league's top wideout, finishing in the SEC's top two in receptions (63), yards (1,029), touchdowns (11), and average per reception (16.3).

Da'Rick Rogers, Soph., Tennessee. Like Wright, Rogers was supposed to take a back seat to fellow Vol wideout Justin Hunter. But when Hunter went down with an ACL injury in Week 3, Hunter stepped forward to lead the SEC with 1,040 receiving yards and 67 receptions--despite often being the woeful Volunteer offense's only threatening playmaker.

Rueben Randle, Jr., LSU. Rather than take a tight end, we're promoting a third receiver to our first team to make room for the SEC's biggest downfield threat. Randle caught "only" 50 passes (fourth in the conference) but saw eight of them go for touchdowns and averaged 18.1 yards per completion, making him one of only three BCS-conference receivers nationally to clear both 50 total catches and 18 yards a reception.

Honorable mention: If we'd gone with a tight end, Georgia's Orson Charles (44 receptions, 572 yards, 5 TDs) would have been an easy choice. Alshon Jeffery didn't have anything like the All-American season expected of him at South Carolina, but he was still the only receiver outside Wright, Rogers, and Randle to finish in the league's top seven in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

OT/OG Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama. Whether at guard or tackle, Jones was hands-down one of the nation's best offensive linemen and a deserving All-American who's about to become quite the wealthy individual in the NFL. An easy selection.

OG Will Blackwell, Sr., LSU. The league's best prototype guard this season, Blackwell punished opponents in run blocking and played a major role in LSU's weekly second-half bulldozings on the ground.

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama. The SEC's best center, Vlachos put both his considerable strength and veteran guile to use in leading Alabama to the SEC's most productive rushing attack.

OT Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU. As effective as the LSU ground game was, the line also had to give Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson time to uncork those bombs to Randle. And thanks in large part to senior tackle Hurst, they did; the Tigers allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC.

OT Rokevious Watkins, Sr., South Carolina. Even without Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks averaged more yards per-carry and scored more rushing touchdowns than any team in the league outside of Alabama and LSU, and the much-improved Watkins was a huge reason why.

Honorable mention: Both Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones had strong senior campaigns (following) iffier junior seasons and have strong arguments for first-team inclusion. Kentucky never got anything going on offense, but guard Larry Warford was a bright spot.

ALL-PURPOSE

PR/WR/KR Joe Adams, Sr., Arkansas. Instead of reading this comment or looking up his stats, just watch this video:
 

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Melvin Ingram, Sr, South Carolina. His 13.5 sacks and 8.5 sacks -- both among the SEC's top five totals -- might have been enough anyway. Add in his two defensive touchdowns, critical fake punt touchdown rumble vs. Georgia, and skill at kick-blocking, and he's a total no-brainer.

DT Josh Chapman, Sr., Alabama. When you're the nose tackle that anchors a run defense that not only finishes No. 1 in the nation but allows an unbelievable three rushing touchdowns all season, yes, you've had quite the campaign.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. Don't hold the Vols' poor team numbers (or record) against Jackson; the ever-active veteran finished with 11 tackles-for-loss (second among SEC tackles) despite receiving constant attention from opposing offensive lines.

DE Sam Montgomery, Soph., LSU. Picking the best LSU defensive lineman is like picking which cast member of Arrested Development How I Met Your Mother is your favorite, but we'll go with Montgomery, who combined incredible disruption (9 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss) with stout down-to-down run defense.

Honorable mention: Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox led all SEC tackles in tackles-for-loss with 12.5 and Auburn's Corey Lemonier led all SEC ends with 9.5 sacks; both deserve a tip of the cap.

LINEBACKERS

Jarvis Jones, Soph., Georgia. Todd Grantham's 3-4 system made a star out of Justin Houston a year ago, but it paid even bigger dividends for Jones, who led the SEC in both tackles-for-loss and sacks and his Georgia defense -- one of the nation's best -- in tackles overall.

Courtney Upshaw, Sr., Alabama. Of the many terrors in the Tide linebacking corps, Upshaw may have been the biggest, collecting 17.5 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks, and as much general havoc caused as any player in the country.

Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. No SEC player filled the whirling-dervish tackling-machine middle linebacker role better than the veteran Wildcat, who led the league in tackles for a second straight year and seemed to be three or four places at once late in the season.

Honorable mention: We're pretty sure that Crimson Tide inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower makes the first team in any other league in the nation; given the Tide's unreal rushing defense numbers and Hightower's role in them, we won't argue if you want to put him first in this league, too.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr., Alabama. Much as we've talked up Alabama's run defense, the Tide's pass defense was No. 1, too, and Kirkpatrick was the best player in pass coverage Nick Saban had in 2011--quite the accomplishment considering the competition.

CB Morris Claiborne, Jr., LSU. As much as we admire Claiborne's mustelid teammate in the LSU secondary, Claiborne's outrageous cover-corner skills means that if forced to pick one or the other to build our secondary (or team) around, we don't even have to think very long before taking Claiborne.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. Ho-hum, just another All-American season as the leader of the nation's top pass defense and the second-leading tackler on the nation's top rush defense.

CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU. The Honey Badger is a tad overrated as a corner--which is why he wound up playing safety late in the year when Eric Reid suffered an injury. But it's pretty much impossible to overrate his nose for the ball or knack for the big play, which stands alone as the best in the nation.

Honorable mention: Casey Hayward and his five interceptions (and outstanding ball skills) for Vandy could and maybe should have him in the All-American discussion ... but since this is the SEC secondary we're talking about, he's here. The same goes for Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and LSU's Reid, and though not quite in that class, Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks had a season worth mentioning as well.

SPECIALISTS

P Brad Wing, rFr., LSU. We're assuming the Ray Guy Award voters left him off because they expected to simply hand the thing over each of the next two seasons.

PK Caleb Sturgis, Jr. Florida. His 21-of-25 season was a rare positive for the Gators in difficult season.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 12:35 pm
 

2011 AFCA All-America team released

Posted by Tom Fornelli

On Tuesday the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) released it's 2011 All-America Team. Which means that these are the best players in the country as chosen by the men who coach for and against them every week. There are five members on this team from Alabama, which is the second most players ever selected from one school in any given season. The most belongs to the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners who had six members on the team.

OFFENSE

QB - Andrew Luck, Stanford
RB - Trent Richardson, Alabama
RB - Montee Ball, Wisconsin
WR - Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR - Jordan White, Western Michigan
TE - Orson Charles, Georgia
OL - Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
OL - Barrett Jones, Alabama
C - Peter Konz, Wisconsin
OL - David DeCastro, Stanford
OL - Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State

DEFENSE

DL - Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
DL - Alex Okafor, Texas
DL - Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
DL - Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
LB - Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
LB - Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB - Lavonte David, Nebraska
DB - Mark Barron, Alabama
DB - Morris Claiborne, LSU
DB - Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB - DeQuan Menzie, Alabama

SPECIALISTS

PK - Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
P - Shawn Powell, Florida State
AP - LaMichael James, Oregon

Justin Blackmon and LaMichael James are the only players on the team who were selected last season.

As for potential snubs, I'm not going to make too big a deal out of any one position because every year there are a lot of players who deserve the honor that don't make the cut. Though I will point out how Robert Griffin didn't make the team, and many are predicting he's going to win the Heisman Trophy. Then there's Tyrann Mathieu who is another Heisman finalist, yet he didn't make the team while his secondary teammate Morris Claiborne did.

I also have to point out that Brad Wing should be the punter on every postseason team this year, I don't care that he's only a freshman.
Posted on: November 26, 2011 3:31 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 13 Georgia 31, No. 25 Ga. Tech 17

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

GEORGIA WON: 
If the Bulldogs were looking forward to the SEC championship in any form or fashion, in never showed Saturday in Atlanta. Aaron Murray had another supremely efficient day (19-of-29, 252 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception) and the Dawg secondary picked off Tevin Washington twice on Tech's first three possessions of the second half to turn what had been a close game at halftime into a comfortable victory.

WHY GEORGIA WON: For all of Murray's brilliance -- and even his glittering statistics didn't do justice to how cleanly he picked apart the helpless Tech secondary, or how little answer the Jackets had for tight end Orson Charles (5 catches, 95 yards, all of them wiiiiiide open) -- this game belonged to the Georgia defense. The Bulldogs have slowly become one of the nation's best defenses since their early breakdowns against Boise State and South Carolina, and in the second half they showed it. 

The Jackets racked up nearly 200 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes and could have been within a field goal if they'd scored on a botched 3rd-and-goal option from the 2, but their first four second half possessions went like this: three plays, interception; four plays, punt; one play, interception; 13 plays, turnover on downs. Not only has the light come on for the Dawgs in Todd Grantham's schemes, but a handful of legitimate stars have emerged: linebacker Jarvis Jones, safety Shawn Williams, corner Brandon Boykin (who limited Tech top target Stephen Hill to just one reception). Add that kind of back seven talent to a major offseason increase in beef along the 3-4 line, and you're looking at a defense that's not going to make things easy next week for LSU.

WHEN GEORGIA WON: That second Washington pick -- a brilliant diving effort by Williams -- was quickly turned into six points by Murray, putting Tech in a 21-point hole their option offense had no prayer of erasing.

WHAT GEORGIA WON: Their 10th game of the season in Mark Richt's "make or break" year; we're fairly confident he's off the hot seat by now. The Dawgs also cemented their total domination of the series under Richt, having now won 10 of their last 11 over the Jackets. For all Paul Johnson's brilliance, aside from the shocker in Athens his debut season, he hasn't had any better luck solving Tech's archrival than his predecessors.

WHAT GEORGIA TECH LOST: Their fourth game of the season and maybe some juice in the bowl pecking order. But more to the point: any illusion that Johnson's arrival might mean a turn in fortunes in the rivalry.

Posted on: August 29, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Tennesee freshman safety Pat Martin leaves team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Tennessee's
secondary likely can't take too many more hits. But they've kept on coming anyway.

Per our CBSSports.com RapidReporter Daniel Lewis, Derek Dooley announced Monday that true freshman safety Pat Martin has left the team. The decision was mutual, according to Dooley.

As blows to the Volunteer defensive backfield go, this is nothing like losing an All-SEC caliber player like Janzen Jackson. But Martin's departure remains far from meaningless, even within the context of the 2011 season alone; a four-star recruit and one of the top-20 safeties in the nation this past year according to Maxpreps, Martin was in line to compete for playing time (if not necessarily a starting role) and could have helped a still-thin Vol roster on special teams.

That won't happen, and with one injury or off-field incident, the Vol secondary could feel the sting of Martin's decision. Even after Jackson's dismissal, the Vols return a pair of starters at safety in Prentiss Waggner and Brent Brewer. But Waggner's move from corner has already thrust either true freshman Justin Coleman or JUCO transfer Izauea Lanier into the starting foursome at CB, and the current second-string at safety consists of little-used senior Rod Wilks and true freshman Brian Randolph. It hasn't helped that highly-regarded JUCO defensive back Byron Moore has had a disappointing first fall camp.

For his part, Dooley says he isn't worried about the depth issues at safety. “Those guys have really progressed," he said of Wilks and Randolph. "We wouldn’t bat an eye putting them in."

But it's easy to say that now, tougher if it actually comes to having Wilks or Randolph try to contain the likes of Alshon Jeffery or Orson Charles. And Dooley isn't hiding from the pain of losing Jackson; asked to assess his secondary in the wake of his dismissal, Dooley said "Well, we’re not as good."

And even if Martin was a true freshman, when all is said and done, we think you could say the same about him.
Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: June 3, 2011 2:45 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:54 am
 

CBS College Football 100, No. 37: Isaiah Crowell

A special weekend breakout entry for the CBSSports.com College Football 100. You can read the rest of Nos. 40-31 here.

37. ISAIAH CROWELL, running back, Georgia.



Entering 2010, you could find the occasional pundit (and more than the occasional fan) who'd tell you Mark Richt was on the hot seat. Clearly, they were a year early; any SEC coach (Vanderbilt's excepted) who's legitimately on the hot seat doesn't go 6-7 with losses to a miserable Colorado team and a Conference USA opponent and retain his job. Richt did.

But if he wasn't on the hot seat then, another year spent wallowing in mediocrity, another year losing to Florida, another year spent saying "wait 'til next year" has assured that Richt is most definitely on the hot seat now. Any fewer than, say, nine wins and at least a runner-up finish in the SEC East, and there's no way even a measured, patient program like Georgia will be able to bring him back. And so it's only natural that with his job in jeopardy like never before, Richt is spearheading his team's turnaround with ... a freshman?

Almost: freshmen, if we're being technical, the so-called "Dream Team" of primarily in-state prospects that gave Richt his strongest recruiting class in years and seemed to singlehandedly restore momentum to the program. But even the five-star likes of defensive end Ray Drew and defensive back Malcolm Mitchell won't be expected to become the centerpieces of the Bulldog defense overnight. Isaiah Crowell, though? No, he's not even on campus yet. But the true freshman running back from Columbus (Ga.) is no doubt already the foundation on which much of Richt's offensive plans are being laid.

Just ask him:
“Heavily,” Richt said on ESPNU when asked how Crowell would be used next fall. “I expect him to come right in and compete right away. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him running that rock in the dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he’s supposed to do.”
For a publicly conservative-by-nature coach like Richt, an admission like that is tantamount to declaring Crowell the unquestioned starter ... and that was on Signing Day. Clearly, Richt believes Crowell to be the game-changer at tailback the Bulldogs haven't had since Knowshon Moreno departed, and he expects him to be that player from Day 1.

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But Richt almost has no choice to believe that, because the Bulldog offense needs him to be that player from Day 1. Aaron Murray put together a sensational freshman season at quarterback, but last season proved there's only so much he can do (even with the likes of A.J. Green around) without playmaking help elsewhere at the skill position. And with Green gone, the offensive line talented but in flux, the best remaining receiving target tight end Orson Charles, and Washaun Ealey finally exiled, Crowell looks to be far-and-away Murray's best bet to get that help. He might even be his only bet.

There's plenty of evidence, though, that Crowell is a bet that'll pay off in spades. Like current Heisman candidates Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore, Crowell arrives at Georgia not only with consensus five-star approval from the recruiting gurus but the honor of being the most sought-after SEC running back in his class. (Alabama and Auburn both fought tooth-and-nail for Crowell, to no avail.) At 5'11" and a solidly-built 210 pounds, Crowell already has the frame to deliver 25 carries a game and the power and speed to make those carries count.

In short, Crowell has both the opportunity and the talent to do for the Bulldogs exactly what Lattimore did for South Carolina last season. If he lives up to the hype, there's no reason Richt can't ride him right past a forgiving schedule (with no Alabama, LSU or Arkansas out of the West and no road game more difficult than Tennessee) all the way to Atlanta. If he doesn't? Most likely, someone other than Richt is patrolling the Bulldogs' sideline in 2012.

The guess here is that Crowell delivers, and the "Dream Team" momentum carries Richt into 2012 and beyond. But either way, Crowell enters 2011 as the most important true freshman in the SEC ... and possibly the country.

Posted on: April 27, 2011 5:49 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC East

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC East, team by team. In alphabetical order:


FLORIDA: When spring began, we said the Gators might have the most interesting offense in the country. Urban Meyer's former spread-option death machine, destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, by none other than Charlie Weis, in the image of the steady no-frills pro-style attacks Will Muschamp saw work for old boss Nick Saban, as piloted by 2011-or-bust quarterback John Brantley? That's quite the storyline they've got going there.

But the Gators will have to hope it's a story that will be rewritten come the fall. While no one was expecting the offense to look like Weis's old New England Patriot attacks after three weeks of practice, no one was expecting it to put on a 13-10 spring game universally panned as a hideous eyesore, either. Brantley went an ugly 4-of-14 after missing his first six passes, the leading rusher was a walk-on defensive back, and the entire offensive output for the game amounted to 340 yards.

Much of that can be pinned on a wicked rash of injuries that took out most of the offensive line, an entire stable of running backs, multiple receivers, etc.; encouragingly, much of it can also be pinned on a rampaging defensive line led by Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell, all members of Meyer's loaded 2010 class and all looking posied to make good on their five-star hype. But the bottom line is that much of it can also be pinned squarely on Brantley, who Muschamp and his other coaches universally lauded for an excellent spring but who showed little of that alleged improvement when playing in public.

Does it matter? Give him a solid summer and a solid fall camp, and it may not. But until Brantley proves he's something other than what he's appeared to be since the moment Tim Tebow left -- in over his head -- skepticism is in order.

GEORGIA: The biggest question entering the most critical spring of Mark Richt's spring tenure concerned the Bulldogs' biggest players: could their offensive line bounce back? When you have Aaron Murray, Orson Charles, a fleet of talented (if still unproven) receivers, and eventually Isaiah Crowell, if you have a line, you're going to have a heck of an offense.

There was good news and bad news on that front, the latter a devastating torn ACL suffered by fifth-senior and projected starting tackle Trinton Sturdivant. But there were positives, too, namely a terrific spring from potential All-SEC  center Ben Jones and guard-to-tackle position switch Cordy Glenn. G-day primary tailbacks Ken Malcome and Caleb King combined for 69 yards on 12 carries, a not-so-shabby 5.8 yards per-carry. Overall, the line was impressive enough this spring that senior Justin Anderson -- billed as a potential starter on the OL -- has been moved to defense.

The Dawgs had themselves a fine spring on the defensive front as well, with newly bulked-up nose tackle Kwame Geathers the talk of the Bulldogs' spring camp and converted safety Alec Ogletree providing a big boost the linebacking corps. The secondary is unsettled and one of those aforementioned receivers needs to emerge as a go-to target for Murray, but if the improvements in the front seven and offensive line aren't mirages, the Bulldogs wil be back in the thick of the East race all the same.

KENTUCKY: Consider it a successful second spring for Joker Phillips and the Wildcats. We noted that with nearly all of the major players from 2010's surprisingly effective Wildcat passing game gone, Phillips would want to make rebuilding that passing attack around junior quarterback Morgan Newton priority No. 1 in spring camp. And though we'll have to wait until fall to see the finished results, for now it looks like Mission Accomplished: Newton had a terrific spring, capped by a 23-of-44, 256-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Wildcats' Blue-White Game.

Things weren't perfect: the Wildcat receivers were plagued by drops, and a defense still adjusting to new co-coordinator Rick Minter's aggressive schemes paired several big plays with several breakdowns. But with Newton cementing himself as a reliable option under center and a veteran line paving the way for new tailback Raymond Sanders to average better than 7 yards a carry, there's far more optimism for the Wildcat offense coming out of spring than going in.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Whatever storyline you might have constructed ahead of time for the Gamecocks' spring, it was always going to overshadowed by the continuing Stephen Garcia circus. Until Carolina receives a definitive word one way or the other on Garcia's return (though as we wrote earlier today, that return seems likely), the team is going to be in something close to suspended football animation.  The lack of developments aside from Garcia was only enhanced by the fact that so many of Carolina's key players -- Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, an offensive line with four returning starters -- are known commodities.

That said, the Garnet-Black Game showed that if Garcia doesn't come back, the Gamecocks won't be totally lost at quarterback. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson combined to go a productive 23-of-40 for 344 yards (though Thompson threw a pair of picks), and on an offense with weapons like Lattimore, Jeffery, and tailback Kenny Miles (43 yards on just 6 carries in the spring game), "productive" should be enough.

The downside: those passing numbers came against a Gamecock secondary that got routinely torched in 2010 (FBS 97th in pass defense). Garcia or no Garcia, more improvement in that secondary will be necessary to take Carolina back to Atlanta.

TENNESSEE: Entering spring, the road to improvement for the Volunteers was clear: get stronger, more physical, better along each line of scrimmage, then let the Vols' cadre of up-and-coming skill position stars -- led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray -- do the rest.

The Vols made plenty of headway on the first part of that equation; the White team earned a dominant victory over the more starter-heavy Orange in the Vol spring game thanks in no small part to a bruising run game led by second-string tailback Raijon Neal; defensive linemen on both squads were able to get consistent quarterback pressure; and offensive lineman Alex Bullard and defensive tackle Daniel Hood won the team's top awards for spring performance. Both lines remain so young that there's still a long way to go to SEC dominance, but it seems unlikely they'll be pushed around the way they were at times in 2010, either.

But as for the other part of the equation, stay tuned. Bray went a miserable 5-for-30 quarterbacking the defeated Orange side, with Derek Dooley suggesting afterwards that perhaps Bray had been overconfident. Bray is expected to take a major step forward in his first full season as the Vols' starter, but if that step winds up as minor as the spring game proposes it might be, all the line improvement in the world won't push the Vols back into relevance in the SEC East.

VANDERBILT: When you finished last season dead last in the conference in both total offense and total defense -- and you are Vanderbilt -- any kind of improvement in any area will be music to new coach James Franklin's ears. But fortunately for the 'Dores, they saw some green shoots in two positions that have been partocularly troublesome the past few seasons.

One is quarterback , where previously scattershot senior Larry Smith completed 16-of-26 for 233 yards and a touchdown, leading his Black side to a 19-7 win over the Gold. The other is the defensive line , where defensive tackle Colt Nichter recorded a pair of sacks and defensive end Kyle Woestmann collected a sack and an interception. But when you're Vandy, you'll take whatever you can get.

"The big thing," Franklin said, "is that we stayed healthy."

For the same review of the SEC West, click here.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com