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Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:52 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:55 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: Most intriguing early enrollees

Spring football is about to kick off for many more programs this week. That means we'll start to learn a lot more about which newcomers are ready to make an impact this fall. Here are the 10 most intriguing early enrollees to keep an eye on. (Note: I'm not included guys who were high school seniors in 2010 on this Top 10 list.)
 
1-Zach Kline, Cal, QB: 
It's been a loooooooong time since Jeff Tedford's team has had a really good QB. That last guy Aaron Rodgers left Cal after the 2004 season and it's been a bunch of misfires since. A lot of those quarterbacks who have had a shot at taking over, came to Berkeley with sizable credentials, but none of the other QBs Tedford has had since arrived more polished than the 6-2, 205-pound Kline. The Danville, CA native who has worked with former Cal coach Roger Theder for years, has good footwork, a quick release and is very accurate. Kline also seems to respond very well to competition. Zach Maynard, who had an up-and-down 2011, is the guy he'd have to overtake. Maynard, Tedford pointed out, did play better late in the season, but Kline is worth watching closely.

The Bears coach, whose teams have not finished in the AP Top 25 five years running now, has tried to temper some of the hype around Kline, by saying Maynard is still the program's starting QB. "I absolutely have concern about that," Tedford told reporters Monday about the lofty expectations on his young quarterback. "There's such a thing of putting too much on a kid early. I want him to come in here and be able concentrate on what he's doing and learn the offense and do his best without all the expectations."

2-Keith Marshall, Georgia, RB: Heading into the 2011 season, with the Bulldogs depth chart at running back depleted, the expectations on former blue-chip recruit Isaiah Crowell sky-rocketed. Crowell had some outstanding moments, but also was plagued by some issues of immaturity. If Crowell doesn't stay focused, he'll have a hard time keeping Marshall, a guy many recruiting analysts tabbed as the nation's top RB prospect in the 2012 class, off the field. Marshall is an explosive back with soft hands and great character (he had a 4.3 GPA in high school.) You just don't hear about many players these days whose GPA and 40-yard dash times are nearly identical.

3-Travis Blanks, Clemson DB: The last time we saw the Tigers defense it was getting shredded by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Going into the 2011 season, Clemson needed to replace three standout DBs who had moved on, especially All-American DeAndre McDaniel. The program really struggled in that capacity, finishing the season No. 81 in scoring defense and No. 74 in pass efficiency defense but help has arrived in new DC Brent Venables and this 6-1, 195-pound DB, who CBS Sports ranked as the country's No. 25 overall recruit and No. 2 defensive back.

4-D.J. Humphries, Florida, OT: One of two highly touted line recruits (Jessemen Dunker is the other) who has a legit shot to win a starting job this year on a Gator O-line that that was really, really shaky in 2011 and also has a new position coach. Humphries was a gem Will Muschamp's staff landed in North Carolina. He has long 6-foot-6 frame and nimble feet, making him a prototype left tackle as he continues to fill out. Humphries told Gatorzone's Scott Carter after Signing Day that he had already packed on 12 pounds since arriving in Gainesville.

5-Mario Pender, FSU, RB: Last year at about this time another early enrollee RB at FSU, Devonta Freeman was turning some heads. Freeman had a good season in 2011, but watch out for Pender. The guy is a blur, who is both quick and fast. In fact, sources at FSU say he's the fastest back the Noles have. In high school, he averaged 12 yards per carry.  

6-Tee Shepherd, Notre Dame, CB: Even though QB Gunner Kiel is the ND newcomer who has grabbed most of the headlines, my hunch is the 6-1, 186-pound Shepherd will make more of an impact for the Irish in 2012. He is a terrific athlete on a secondary that not only has to replace both corners but was sorely lacking in the play-making department. Shepard made 10 career INTs in high school despite sitting out his senior year due to transfer rules.

7-Amari Cooper, Bama, WR: Coming off a national title season, the Tide has a bunch of starters to replace and there are a handful of eye-catching newcomers already on campus. T.J. Yeldon, a tailback and Chris Black, a wideout are two guys who came to Tuscaloosa with a lot of buzz, but it's Cooper and OLB Ryan Anderson who probably have the best shot to make an instant impact. Cooper has great ball skills and figures to be an immediate upgrade for a receiving corps that needs a spark.

8-Arik Armstead, Oregon, DL: Many projected the Californian as a top offensive tackle prospect, but he signed on with the Ducks, where he's seen Nick Alliotti's D have a lot of success with its' towering D-linemen. The 6-7, 282-pound Armstead, also a terrific basketball player, has a chance to boost a defensive end rotation that needs to replace Terrell Turner.

9-Raphael Kirby, Miami LB: One of eight early enrollees in Coral Gables, Kirby arrived with a very impressive pedigree. A product of Ga. prep powerhouse Stephenson High that cranks out D1 players, the 208-pound Kirby is undersized especially as Al Golden tries to turn the Canes into a more physical team. But the Canes are short on proven linebackers and Kirby is fast, smart and instinctive--traits that figure to remind folks around Miami of former standout Sean Spence, who just moved on to the NFL. Another newcomer generating some buzz inside the program is agile OT Ereck Flowers.

10 (tie)-Bri'onte Dunn, Ohio State, RB: Tim Tebow provided Urban Meyer's offense at Florida a physical inside rushing presence, and the new OSU coach will be looking for a back to deliver that for the Buckeyes to take some of the pressure off young QB Braxton Miller. The 220-pound Dunn is a load. He also made many OSU fans take a big deep breath when he eventually picked the Buckeyes over Michigan.

10-(tie) Matt Davis, Texas A&M, QB: New OC Kliff Kingsbury has four options to be the Aggies new quarterback in the new A&M offense. The 6-1, 205-pound Davis is a gifted dual-threat QB, like two of the other three guys he'll be competing with when spring ball gets going at the end of the month. 
Posted on: March 2, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
 

Mailbag: Urban's smooth transition to the Big Ten

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send questions to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS. 

From @Feldyman15 Urban Meyer is a proven winner, however does his style of offense translate to the B1G? Will it be a smooth transition?

Nice to see a question from my favorite former FCS star football player. Meyer's had success everywhere he's been. He's proven he's willing--and capable--of tweaking his offense to suit the personnel he inherits. He's not rigid.


The key thing about him taking over in Columbus is the most important component to his system that he inherited (the dual-threat triggerman) happens to be an ideal fit for what Meyer loves to do. As I wrote a while back when Meyer got hired, he's been sky high on Braxton Miller since long before he took the job. That said, Miller's still a young QB and there are bound to be growing pains. A bigger challenge will be that OSU has to replace three very good O-linemen and there are no proven wideouts to rely on. There will be some rocky moments, but I expect this to be a top 25 team, in part because of Miller's talent, in part because of some playmakers on a seasoned defense and because Meyer's a great, not good, coach.

From @NYWolverine2 Do you think Urban Meyer's spread will work in the B1G since RR failed?

First off, RichRod's problems in the Big Ten weren't because of his offense. In his final season in Ann Arbor, when he finally had many of the pieces in place to run his system, the Wolverines were eighth in the nation in total offense (and first in the Big Ten). Rodriguez isn't still in Ann Arbor because he never got the right defensive coordinator.

If Meyer's system worked in the SEC, it can work anywhere. And if anyone's going to suggest that because of the challenges a program's defense faces on a daily basis at practice because you own offense, like Rodriguez hinders a D's development, keep in mind that Meyer's former defensive coordinator at Florida was Greg Mattison, the guy who has made the biggest difference in Brady Hoke's success at UM.

On top of that, Meyer is riding such a wave of good energy right now since he was hired. He is killing it in recruiting and finished the 2012 class with a flurry. And that heat is only intensifying. Earlier this week, OSU got a commitment from one of the top O-line prospects in the midwest, Evan Lisle, who picked the Buckeyes over, among others, Alabama and OU. Meyer already snagged a five-star guy in Cameron Burrows and Jalin Marshall was another Ohio kid who virtually everyone was after.

From @BrianTrageser What offense are you most excited to watch in 2012?

There are so many intriguing dynamics to look forward to this fall. The ones that most jump out at me as I went through a list of schools alphabetically via conference:

Clemson: Year Two for Tajh Boyd, Chad Morris and Sammy Watkins.
FSU: Can E.J. Manuel and an impressive group of young receivers live up to expectations.
Kansas: Curious how Dayne Crist and Charlie Weis will do reuniting in Lawrence after dismal 2011s.
Texas A&M: Kliff Kingsbury's system is very different from what Mike Sherman ran and the Aggies do have the luxury of an excellent O-line.
WVU: Similar to the Clemson team they destroyed in the Orange Bowl, this could be an even more explosive attack with an off-season of added reps and improved timing.
Ohio State: Urban Meyer loves Braxton Miller and probably has some wrinkles ready to break out on the rest of the Big Ten.
Penn State: Bill O'Brien had a lot of success with the Pats offense (then again, who doesn't?) and now gets a chance to fix the shaky Penn State QB situation.
Boise State: Life after Kellen Moore?
Arizona: RichRod inherits a QB (Matt Scott) who is a pretty good fit for his system.
Oregon: Because Chip Kelly's still there and he's got a gobs of speed.
Stanford: Life after Luck?
USC: Matt Barkley's back for his fourth year as a starter with most of the line in tact to go with two superb WRs and a 1.000-yard runner.
Washington State: Leach's offenses have always produced and there might be some Pistol flavor to spice up the Air-Raid. He inherits two capable QBs, one outstanding WR and a very suspect O-line.
Tennessee: They have a lot of thee-year starters and should throw for a bunch of yards.
FIU: Cristobal hired a Chip Kelly disciple from New Hampshire.
Hawaii: Norm Chow goes home to run his own show.

From @eric_hise Will Mack's reach into JUCO ranks pay off?...side note, look forward to seeing u n the ATX for SXSW!

From what I heard via coaches who tried to recruit those JC linemen, those guys should help boost what has been an underwhelming group over the past few years and provide depth on the D assuming they can grasp Bryan Harsin's system and Manny Diaz' scheme. That's one of the big mysteries with bringing in JC guys.

The Horns, though, have a couple of gifted, physical young backs, so I expect to see a big improvement in this running game. The thing most holding UT back from being a legit Top 10 team is a consistent passing game. My hunch is David Ash will be a lot better than he was in his first season, but this program is probably a year away.

I am also looking forward to getting to Austin for SXSW. (I tweeted earlier this week that I will be speaking there on a panel covering sports reporting and Twitter a week from Monday.)

From @Draft_Hub Top 5 exciting players for 2012

Three players immediately came to mind: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, Michigan's Denard Robinson and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu. I was torn for the last two spots between Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, Wisconsin's former walk-on phenom Jared Abbrederis and WVU's Tavon Austin.

From @JohnHanson20 Does WVU have a legit shot at a Big12 title next year?

In terms of firepower and offense? No question. They have a legit shot because their offense is going to be so explosive, but I have my doubts whether they'll be good enough on D to overtake an Oklahoma. The team lost three of its best players off of what was a very average defense that ranked No. 61 in scoring. Jeff Casteel was a well-regarded DC and he's gone, off to join Rich Rodriguez in Arizona. The new defensive staff is younger and there's more uncertainty.

From @SlickOne716 Is WVU canceling of their game at FSU really going to hurt FSU's chance at the National Championship?

No. With FSU, it's not going to be about having enough impressive opponents. If FSU won out last year, the Noles would've been playing for the title. The pollsters are just salivating at that chance to say the Noles are back, but the team, of late, has had the tendency to shoot itself in the foot a time or three. 

There's no doubt the non-conference schedule took a hit with them having to replace WVU with Savannah State, but at least UF is still on there with a road game at USF. There are a lot of top 25 teams that have a lot worse than that. FSU does need a few ACC programs to get out to fast starts and look viable (Clemson? Va. Tech? Miami?). It'd also help their cause a lot if the Gators knocked off a few top 25 SEC teams before they visited Tallahassee.

From @loubega1 how close is Notre Dame to fielding a dominant defense? Are there enough playmakers in the secondary?

It has been such a long time since the Irish have had a really good defense, much less a dominant one. I would say last season there were were only two truly dominant defenses, LSU and Alabama. Notre Dame is not close to what either of those teams had or did. Those teams were overflowing with playmakers, not just the starters by all over their two-deeps.

In 2011, the Irish made some strides, ranking 30th in total D and 24th in scoring defense. The downside was they were only 59th in sacks, 77th in tackles for loss, and worst of all, forced only 14 turnovers in 13 games. Only one team in all of the FBS that played in a bowl game forced less turnovers (Fresno State).

It has been years since ND has had the type of size and athleticism it has now in its front seven, but many of those guys are still pretty raw. Aaron Lynch, Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix need to mature fast and become more consistent. What is more a concern, as you point out, is their secondary. They had a lot of experience back there in 2011, and those guys just struggled to make plays on the ball. And many of these guys came to ND as celebrated recruits. We'll see if they can get it sorted out. Until that happens and the younger D-line guys show they can be consistent, they're still a bit away.

From @NMStefan can Illinois ever really recruit consistently good due to their geography with Northwestern and Notre Dame so close?

They should be able to but so much of that is on the new staff and the relationships they develop with the local high school coaches. Ron Zook's staffs landed more than their share of blue-chippers but many tended to be from outside the state. It's not Notre Dame and Northwestern that are the biggest thorns in the Illini's side in terms of in-state recruiting. It's Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Ohio State. And in terms of the 2012 recruiting class, it was Auburn that snagged arguably the top in-state prospect in OT Jordan Diamond.  Just in 2012, Iowa landed four of the top 10 players. That has to change with the new staff.

From @JDubs88  Would you agree that Spencer Hall and Jason Kirk need a little more sun?

I don't think so. I'm not sure tan works with corduroy. It's kinda like mixing ascots and mullets. I think I learned that in one of my classes in junior college.
Posted on: February 28, 2012 12:41 pm
Edited on: March 14, 2012 11:29 pm
 

Top 10: The spring's most significant QB battles

Last year at this time, one of the more intriguing quarterback battles in college football was seeing which QB at Alabama would take over for the departing Greg McElroy. Turns out, the guy who won the job, A.J. McCarron, would help his team to the BCS title. It's probably a stretch to think that another first-year starting, scrapping to win some QB derby this spring will be able to lead his team to a national title, but you never know. This week's Top 10: the most significant QB battles of the spring in college football.

1-Oregon - Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota: Darron Thomas' surprising decision to jump to the NFL left a lot of folks scratching their heads. Some speculated that Thomas' move was prompted because he feared he might get overtaken in the spring by Bennett, who was impressive in his time playing while the Ducks starter was sidelined by injury. Thomas dismissed those rumors when I spoke to him a few days ago in Indy, saying there was no truth to them, and that he left because he was ready for competition at the next level. Thomas leaves behind an explosive offense with a dynamic group of backs and receivers, led by Kenjon Barner and budding star De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas praised both young QBs for their arms and their feet, saying both are good fits in Chip Kelly's system. Both are faster than Thomas and sources around the Duck program say both are more accurate than Thomas too. However, it's the experience and decision-making in this warp-speed attack that is hard to get a read on. Bennett, who completed 54 percent of his passes with a 6-0 TD-INT ratio and ran for 200 yards in a few games at midseason, is the favorite, but don't write off the 6-4 Mariota, a late-bloomer as a recruit, who has generated a lot of buzz among his teammates. He's seen as a guy who'll look to throw more than Bennett, we're told. This should be a legit BCS title contender if Bennett and/or Mariota are as advertised.

2-Boise State - Joe Southwick vs. Grant Hedrick vs. Nick Patti vs. Jimmy Laughrea: All Kellen Moore did was win more than any starting QB in college football history. But this program has proven to be bigger than one coach or one assistant or any player, but no doubt the four-year starter will be really missed. The guy was an all-time great. Southwick, a junior, who is about the same size as Moore, has been tabbed as the frontrunner by new OC Robert Prince. Hedrick is coming off knee surgery and also has been in the program for a while. The wildcard in this race is Patti, a shorter kid from Orlando with a very good arm and outstanding feet. Lots of coaches were impressed by his skills but just were turned off by his 5-11ish frame. He enrolled early and will be a factor here.

3-Notre Dame - Tommy Rees vs. Andrew Hendrix vs. Everett Golson vs. Gunner Kiel: The Irish should have their best front seven in years but how much more efficient can their offense be, especially without go-to receiver Mike Floyd? Rees has the most experience, but has struggled quite a bit and looks like he'll get overtaken this year. Hendrix saw some action last year as more of a change up because of his running ability. He also has a much stronger arm than Rees. As I've said a few times this off-season, Brian Kelly is sky high on Golson, a shorter QB from South Carolina, who redshirted in 2011. The 5-11 Golson, a dual-threat QB, could bring that much-needed spark to the ND offense. Kiel, an early enrollee, comes to South Bend with the biggest recruiting hype of the bunch, but several QB coaches who worked with the Indiana native last summer came away skeptical about how competitive he is and whether he has the moxie to be an elite QB.

4-Stanford - Brett Nottingham vs. Josh Nunes vs. Robbie Picazo vs. Kevin Hogan vs. Evan Crower:Andrew Luck arrived at Stanford while the program was among the worst in major college football. In his last two seasons, the Cardinal won 23 games. He was special. It'll be impossible to replace him. Stanford has a long list of guys vying for the job. Nottingham, a redshirt soph, is the frontrunner. I'm told he has the best arm of the bunch. He played in six games in 2011, although only threw eight passes. Nunes and Picazo are juniors while Hogan and Crower are freshmen. Coach David Shaw said at his pre-spring press conference he will try and divide reps in the first part of Stanford's spring session equally.

5-Wisconsin - Jon Budmayr vs. Joe Brennan vs. Curt Phillips vs. Joel Stave: Russell Wilson transferred in from NC State and had a terrific season for the Badgers. Whoever wins this job will have the luxury of a superb running game, led by Montee Ball. There will also be a new OC running the show with Matt Canada coming back to the Big Ten from NIU to replace Paul Chryst. Budmayr sat out last season with an elbow injury. If he's healthy, he'll have a good shot to win this job. Many figured he'd have been the starter had Wilson not transferred in and if Budmayr stayed healthy. Phillips, a former blue-chip recruit, has been plagued by knee injuries, offers good size and mobility despite two ACL injuries. There are two other names to remember for this vacancy come the fall: Bart Houston, a touted prospect from California who arrives in the summer and Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien, who is considering Wisconsin among several schools.

6-Oklahoma State - Clint Chelf vs. Wes Lunt vs. J.W. Walsh: Brandon Weeden leaves after the Cowboys had a fantastic season, just missing out on a shot to play for the national title. In two seasons, he went 23-3. Mike Gundy has said this thing is "wide open." The 6-1 Chelf is the only option that has played, throwing 69 passes in two seasons as Weeden's understudy. Walsh, a former blue-chip recruit, has been compared to ex-OSU standout Zac Robinson for his agility and dual-threat ability. But don't underestimate Walsh's arm. It's good too. Lunt, a lanky 6-5 early enrollee from Illinois, comes in with a strong rep as a passer. The staff wants him to bulk up, but he will get a shot to win this job.

7-Texas - David Ash vs. Case McCoy: The Horns should continue to improve after two disappointing seasons. They've had all sorts of problems trying to replace Colt McCoy since the UT great left Austin two years ago. It looks like it's Ash's job to lose. Last year, he was primarily a running threat. He was very raw as a passer, throwing four TDs and eight INTs. But he was pretty solid in UT's bowl win over Cal and that should give him some confidence to build on. Junior Case McCoy, Colt's younger brother, started five games in 2011 and will keep pushing Ash.

8-Florida - Jacoby Brissett vs. Jeff Driskel: The Gators have fallen fast since Tim Tebow left for the NFL. Charlie Weis spent one year in Gainesville trying to change UF from Urban Meyer's spread-option system. The results were not good as the Gator offense struggled mightily as an injury to upperclassman John Brantley forced the two true freshmen into action. Now new OC Brent Pease comes from Boise and inherits two big, athletic young QBs who have some game experience. Both have a lot of physical ability, but each needs quite a bit of polish and would be helped by improvement from what was a shaky O-line and inconsistent group of receivers. 

9-Auburn - Clint Moseley vs. Kiehl Frazier vs. Zeke Pike: Guz Malzahn left for the Arkansas State job and Scot Loeffler is taking over an offense that was 100th in total O in 2011. There were some rumors a while back that Frazier, who has known Malzahn since the 7th grade might be thinking of returning to his home state, but the dual-threat QB has dismissed that speculation. The sophomore is very talented. Moseley has the edge in experience and having started games at LSU and the Iron Bowl can't be overstated. This one will be curious to see how things develop under Loeffler. 

10-Texas A&M - Jameill Showers vs. Johnny Manziel vs. Matt Joeckel vs. Matt Davis: There is a lot of change going on in College Station as the Aggies make the jump into the SEC. With Kevin Sumlin bringing OC/QB coach Kliff Kingsbury, my hunch is that quarterback production is going to pick up over the next few years at A&M. What's really intriguing here is that three of these QBs are legit dual-threat talents with only Joeckel really more of a pocket guy. Showers, Ryan Tannehill's back-up, has a lot of talent. Keep an eye on Manziel though. He's only about 6-0 but something of a Texas prep legend. Manziel is a spectacular athlete who has a very live arm and is so athletic he can do 360 dunks.

Posted on: February 27, 2012 12:59 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 1:17 pm
 

Dontari Poe: More than just a Combine Freak?

Every year one prospect lights up the NFL combine by putting on a dazzling showing as the Freak of all freaks. Monday, Dontari Poe, a 6-4, 346-pound defensive tackle from Memphis, was That Guy. 

We've been touting Poe for a year or so now after being told about him by a Memphis staffer of his staggering athleticism. The guy squats over 700 pounds, bench presses over 500 and power cleans over 400, all jaw dropping numbers, but he's more than just weight room powerhouse. He was also a Tennessee state champion shot putter in high school, a testament to some of that explosiveness.

As expected, Poe was impressive in the weight room in Indy, benching 225 pounds 44 times, more than anyone else at the combine. But it was when he dug his cleats in to run the 40-yard dash Monday morning when jaws really dropped. Poe was unofficially timed at an unheard-of 4.87 seconds. And this was as the fourth-heaviest defensive linemen to weigh in at the Ccmbine since 2000. Later, the league announced his official time was 4.98, which is still remarkable for such a mammoth athlete.

Some immediately wondered if Poe is just a "workout warrior"? After all, he only was named to the second-team All-Conference USA team in 2011 with 33 tackles, eight TFLs and one sack for the nation's No. 115 defense. The year before, he was just an honorable mention all-league pick.

In truth, it's tricky to try to read too much into the stats of an interior defensive lineman. Poe, as one college coach who faced him this year pointed out to me Monday, was not surrounded by much talent. You shaped your game plan around him, the coach said. Plus, different defensive scheme dictate how "productive" certain D-linemen can be. Steelers star nose man Casey Hampton's been to five Pro Bowls and he barely registers on the postgame stat sheet.

I spoke to a veteran O-line coach who faced Poe several times during his college career. His take: "He's probably the best talent I've seen in several years. He took plays off and wasn't a great effort guy, but he is a freakish talent."

But don't all 320-plus pound D-linemen take some plays off?

"Yeah," said the coach, "but he took off more than most. He did get better last year than he was the year before. He just was never that productive, but I heard they didn't require him to do that much. He was definitely someone I took into account with schemes. ... I'm not at all surprised to hear that he's blowing up at the combine at all. He was never on the ground in college."

That last detail may actually be just impressive as the speed Poe displayed Monday, because as the O-line coach said, it shows the guy's great balance.

"It's the first thing I look at in recruiting linemen.

"He has definite first-round talent."
Posted on: February 27, 2012 10:38 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:50 am
 

Burfict from yellow flags to red ones?

Over the weekend in Indy, I spoke to a few NFL scouts and assistants about some draft hopefuls. I'm not sure any player here sparked a worse reaction than Vontaze Burfict. Seems the Arizona State linebacker has gone from being plagued by yellow flags to eliciting red ones now. 


"I wouldn't touch him," said one scout. "He does have some talent, but he is so undisciplined on and off the field. The guy is completely out of control. There's no way you could trust him. I can't believe they (ASU coaching staff) didn't cut him loose."

Burfict, who measured in at 6-feet-3, 248 pounds (about 12 under his playing weight this season, he said), has received a lot of hype over his college career. Much of it stemmed from some of his thunderous hits, but it was his recklessness that also dogged him and the Sun Devils from his first season at ASU to his last. He was selected to some all-American teams as a sophomore in 2010, but didn't even earn All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 before he opted to enter the draft as a junior, when he made just 69 tackles on a team that many thought would win at least 10 games but instead finished just 6-7.

“I played average,” Burfict explained to reporters in Indy. “I could've played better. That's what hurt me at times. The coaches kind of messed me up. I didn't know if I would start a game or be benched. It hurt me, but I tried to fight through it.”

NFL personnel folks cringe when they hear a player publicly put some of the blame on his coaches.

"You just scratch your head at some of the knucklehead things he does on tape," said one NFL coach. "It was the same thing over and over and over again with him. He seemed to personify why that team always seemed to underachieve."

One of things Burfict was asked about by the media in Indy was his role in a rumored locker-room fight with an ASU wideout. Burfict confirmed the incident, adding that he wished it never happened.

“We're not supposed to hit each other in seven-on-seven,” Burfict said. “We had an argument, and we brought it into the locker room. We started chattering about it. He started rough-housing me. He pushed me, and my first instinct was to swing. And everyone thinks I’m the bad guy because my first instinct was to swing on the guy.”

The draft is always full of "boom-or-bust" guys. That's Burfict, although because he's had so many issues, he'll probably be less of a risk since few people project him as such a high draft pick any more.
Category: NFL Draft
Posted on: February 25, 2012 7:12 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 7:48 am
 

Notebook: Matt Kalil goes from Bambi to bruiser

Eight things I learned from hanging around the NFL Combine media center at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday:


1-Matt Kalil, who was one of only two O-linemen who worked out Saturday to clock a 40 under 5.0 seconds and is projected as a top-three draft pick, apparently wasn't such a promising athlete when he was younger. Fellow USC product Chris Galippo has known the 6-7, 306-pound Kalil since they were eight years old. And even though it's the Trojan linebacker who is in the shadows now in scouts' eyes, you might not have expected things to turn out like they have for the two childhood buddies from Orange County. 

"I was always bigger and taller than Matt," said the 6-1, 241-pounder. "I was always kicking his butt. We'd go out and play two-on-two football and he couldn't catch. He couldn't throw. He was sort of like Bambi out there." 

Galippo said then one summer when both were students at Servite High, his pal sprouted from 6-1 to about 6-7 and, soon thereafter, Kalil grew into that frame. "That's what's so crazy about it," Galippo says.


Kalil became much more coordinated, Galippo said, as the kid who always had the huge hands and huge feet finally caught up to his body.

Somwhere along the way, Kalil also honed quite a nasty streak that is a stark contrast to his jokester personality off the field, Galippo says, when pointing out one of the big differences between the USC left tackle and his older brother Ryan, a Pro Bowl center. "Matt's one of the meanest O-linemen around. He plays really angry."


2-The Michigan defenders really, really like the focus Brady Hoke's staff brought back to Ann Arbor that, um, apparently was lacking previously under former coach Rich Rodriguez. In fact, standout nose tackle Mike Martin said defense "wasn't very emphasized" under Rodriguez.


"He didn't really spend too much time on the defense," Martin said of Rodriguez. "We were kind of a supplement. Just kinda there trying to help out the offense."

When I asked Martin what the biggest difference in how Rodriguez ran the program as compared to Hoke, the 306-pounder said, "It was such a big change. The amount of accountability he gave to the seniors in the leadership. Coach Rod like to be that guy. But Coach Hoke told us, 'If I have to lead this team, we're not gonna be where we need to be.'"

Martin went on to say that new UM DC Greg Mattison came back to Ann Arbor and "just set the bar at another level. We thought that we were doing the things that we needed to do to get better, but watching film and being more technically sound and doing all of the detail things that Coach Mattison really harped on made us better as a team."


3-All of the coaching chaos at Pitt took its toll on the players. Defensive end Brandon Lindsey said the program had six different head coaches in a calendar year and the only want to handle that is for the players to lean on each other. "It was really hard to stay focused," he said. "It's definitely hard to trust people when two years in a row, your coach is gone, but you just have to trust your instincts and trust your university to bring in the right people."


4-Olivier Vernon, a former blue-chip high school prospect, thought getting "special treatment" wasn't all that special. The Miami DE, who missed six games in the 2011 season for his involvement in the Nevin Shapiro scandal at UM, said he was "baffled" when Yahoo sports broke the story late in the summer on the former UM booster.  "I didn't know what was going on," Vernon said Saturday. "I didn't know my name was going to be mentioned."

The NCAA sidelined Vernon half the season for accepting $1,200 in benefits. 

"I should've known better. Some people come around and try to give you things? I should've known better. . . . I was in high school. I didn't think it was 'special treatment.' I thought that's how things work. I didn't know anything about compliance.

"I really felt like it wasn't actually as bad as it was made out to be."

Vernon also told reporters that the people who introduced him to Shapiro were (former Miami assistants) Clint Hurtt and Aubrey Hill. Hurtt is now the D-line coach at Louisville, while Hill is the receivers coach at Florida. According to the Miami Herald, Vernon told the NCAA of both coaches' involvement, and that he wasn't the only Hurricane who told the NCAA that the former UM assistants led the players to Shapiro, and that one current Canes player said that another former Miami assistant Joe Pannunzio (now a staffer at Alabama) led him to Shapiro.


5-The biggest difference to the Texas players between Will Muschamp's defense and Manny Diaz' D is the simplicity of current UT defensive coordinator's scheme. Linebacker Keenan Robinson said it took Diaz just a week to install his defense in training camp, which was much less than it took to get Muschamp's system in place. 


"It's much more simple," said UT LB Emmanuel Acho. "You also had more freedom within (Diaz) defense. He just lets us play the game."


6-Jamie Blatnick played against Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, three QBs who all may come into the NFL as top-five draft picks, but when asked who was the hardest quarterback to prepare for, the Oklahoma State DL answered K-State QB Collin Klein. "He's a great runner and is tough as nails."


7-Things were so bleak at Washington when Steve Sarkisian took over running back Chris Polk was contemplating giving up football.

"It's crazy how fast things changed," said Polk. "Coach Sark put everything into perspective."

Thanks to the attitude adjustment that Sarkisian made with the players, the team got better not only on the field but also in the classroom, Polk said. "It was night and day. My grades (improved) dramatically."


8-Iowa D-lineman Mike Daniels could have a future as a pro wrestler. Daniels was sitting by himself at a round table in the media room, about 30 feet from the podium where UNC star Quiton Coples was fielding questions from a big media group. 

I asked Daniels who else had recruited him out of New Jersey besides Iowa. "Nobody," he said. "Nobody wanted me."

We talked about his wrestling in high school, which he went on to say has been a great source of frustration. "I had a poor attitude. It eats at me every day. I didn't take it seriously."

Thinking back to the 'nobody wanted me' answer, I asked if he has a chip on his shoulder that drives him. "I got a HUUUGE chip on my shoulder. And, I'm gonna stay pissed. That's how you get better. Do Ray Lewis play nice? Does John Randle play nice?"
Posted on: February 24, 2012 5:37 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2012 5:41 pm
 

Kellen Moore standing tall in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS--Just five minutes after Andrew Luck was surrounded by a few hundred reporters, Kellen Moore strolled into the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium at the NFL Combine almost completely unnoticed. There was no rush of media members to get a good spot in front of Moore's podium. No cameramen jockeying for position. No matter. The winningest QB in college football history was grinning and seemed delighted to be here. Maybe there were only a dozen reporters listening to the former Boise State great--a few less than there were huddled around Appalachian State wideout Brian Quick, but of all the draft hopefuls who were ushered into the media room Friday, none looked any more happy to be there than Moore.


Not surprisingly the first question thrown at Moore: So what did you measure in at?


"I got to 6-feet, so you can let everyone know about that," Moore said proudly. "Six-feet and a bunch of zeroes after that."


He would later explain that he stopped growing around the ninth grade. It still didn't stop him from leading the Broncos to a bunch of big wins and a jaw-dropping 142-28 TD-INT mark in his career. Over the past two seasons, he's completed some 73 percent of his passes.


Moore's size, of course, is one of the sources of skepticism in NFL circles, where many wonder if he'll even get drafted. Then again, his size--or lack thereof--was an issue throughout the recruiting process too, Moore pointed out.


"I'm comfortable with it," said Moore, who picked Boise over Eastern Washington. "I'm fine. It is what it is. You're gonna get that opportunity and once you get it, it's up to you."


Moore, who arrived at BSU at just 176 pounds and is now 197, did look thicker than he did in his college career. 


At BSU, he was brilliant over the past four years. His arm strength won't dazzle scouts, but his ability to anticipate his throws and work downfield with pinpoint accuracy more than made up for it. He lacked elite footspeed, but still possesses excellent pocket presence. Finding passing lanes and moving in the pocket, just like one of his favorites, helped make Drew Brees an NFL superstar. And Moore reminded reporters that most QBs still have to maneuver to find passing lanes, whether they're 6-4, or 6-feet. Except for his buddy, former ASU QB Brock Osweiler since he's still a few inches taller than most O-linemen.
 

Moore was asked if it bothered him that Luck and Robert Griffin III were getting most of the spotlight. "Nah, I don't get concerned with that. What they did in college certainly warrants the attention. . . .We're all gonna get an opportunity, and that's all you can ask for."
Category: NCAAF
Tags: Boise State
 
Posted on: February 24, 2012 11:19 am
Edited on: February 24, 2012 11:31 am
 

Friday Mailbag: Sizing up Andrew Luck

Time for the Friday Mailbag. As always, if you have questions, send them to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @nrwester anything to be said abt the fact Luck had 2 top-15-pick lineman at school? What happens when he see's pressure?

We see that the guy also has sub-4.7 speed and can run like an WILL linebacker and we'll see that he's about as savvy as any QB prospect coming out of college in a very long time.

Andrew Luck did have two very gifted O-linemen in front of him in 2011. It also should be pointed out that the other three starters were inexperienced guys. Here's a better point on Luck: He led Stanford to 23 wins in the past two seasons while his best deep threat was a tight end. Wait till Andrew Luck gets some wide receivers who can separate and make yards after the catch.

I think he is going to be outstanding in the NFL. People know he's gifted, but I'm not sure people really just how smart, accurate and athletic or big this guy is. I would never use the words "cant' miss" to describe any QB prospect, but Andrew Luck is about as close as you're going to get at making the transition to the NFL.

From @AHBick who's your pick to win the Big 12? Full disclosure, I'm wearing crimson shades

With both Landry Jones and Mike Stoops returning to Norman this year, Oklahoma is my pick to win the Big 12. I think Mike Stoops will provide a spark to a defense that hasn't been quite as salty as what it was during his first stint at OU. There is plenty of talent for him to take advantage of in the back seven. This is also a team that got rocked by injuries last year to not only a bunch of gifted players, but guys who were also leaders (Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis for starters). That adversity may help them in the coming year with how the young players were tested.

I expect Oklahoma State to take a step back this year given the losses of their stars on offense. Plus Bedlam is in Norman this season. Baylor is likely to take an even bigger drop without RG3 and Kendall Wright. I'm not sure if K-State can be as successful just because the Wildcats won so many close games in 2011. It's hard to do that kind of thing two years in a row.

On the other hand, Texas will be improved. UT was so shaky on offense last year. There is a lot of good young talent there, but I'm skeptical they can be good enough at QB in 2012 to go from being a fringe Top 25 team to a legit Top 10 team.

The toughest competition for OU in the Big 12 race this year may come from the two newcomers. And the Sooners have to visit both WVU and TCU in 2012. Both have talented returning starters at QB with dynamic receiving corps. The Mountaineers probably will have the most explosive offense in the league and playing up there especially in mid-November is never easy. I still see OU as the most complete team in the conference though.

From @IceCoLD53 Ohio and ND are spread teams now. Is that helping UM recruiting for Hoke?

I actually think that has little to do with Michigan's recruiting success right now. The only real position where Urban Meyer's scheme would affect Michigan as it relates to recruiting needs is at QB, and the Wolverines got a commitment from Shane Morris long before the Buckeyes hired the former UF coach. Notre Dame just signed a QB, Gunner Kiel, who is no running quarterback. In terms of skill set, Kiel isn't much different from what Michigan is looking for now.

The big reason why UM is hot in recruiting has to do with the vibe of the program: The perception is the Wolverines are on the rise. They just won the Sugar Bowl. Everyone around the place has bought in that Brady Hoke is exactly what Michigan needs and he "gets" Michigan. The fact that they finally beat Ohio State only hammered that point home even harder. Kids and their high school coaches are excited about Michigan.

From @ChrisMonti Rutgers '12 outlook, one step back, then forward?

I'm not overly optimistic about that because the Big East is going to be so watered down, the perception is the conference is gonna be even less relevant. My hunch is it'll be that much harder for RU to compete with schools from the Big Ten and others when they go head-to-head on top talent around the Northeast. Can Kyle Flood do much more than Greg Schiano did? We'll see. It has become a tougher spot because of the conference's situation.

From @jlwdiggs does gunner Kiel already have the starting qb spot locked down for the irish?

I doubt it. As I said a few weeks back, Brian Kelly is sky high on redshirt freshman Everett Golson, who just seems to have that mythical "IT" quality, something this program has been lacking for a while.

It's never easy for a true freshman to come in and take over at QB. The issue with Kiel is, how does he cope with grinding away and competing for this job? If you heard California-based QB coach George Whitfield (the guy who trained Cam Newton before the draft and is working with Andrew Luck now) on our Signing Day Central show, he voiced some concerns about that after working with Kiel and other touted QB prospects at last summer's Elite 11 competition.

From @donniejonesjr What are the State of Alabama chances of keeping the BCS title for a fourth year in a row?

I'd categorized it as decent. Expect Bama to open the year in the preseason top four. The Tide's number of returning starters on both sides of the ball is relatively low, but they have some key guys back in emerging QB A.J. McCarron, coming off his strong performance in the BCS title game, the nucleus of the O-line and a quality big back in Eddie Lacy. Plus, you can never underestimate Nick Saban. He is that good of a coach. But I'm skeptical because they did lose a lot of proven playmakers on defense; they have to visit both LSU and Arkansas, and because it is just so hard to repeat in college football, the odds are really against them.

Auburn's chances, given all the staff turnover and inexperience, makes them too much of a long shot.

From @shockjay Who will have more wins next year: Kansas (Big 12) or Missouri (SEC)? 

Considering how awful KU was in 2011, I don't see the Jayhawks making that big of a jump in Charlie Weis' first season, although ND transfer Dayne Crist will give the offense a needed spark. Anything more than four wins is overly optimistic, though because the defense is brutal.

Meanwhile, their archrival does go into a much tougher league, but Mizzou returns a good, young QB in James Franklin and brings in the best WR recruit in the country in Dorial Green-Beckham. They should be even better on offense than they were in 2011, and they were pretty formidable on O, ranking 12th in total offense and 30th in scoring. We'll get a much truer gage on how the Tigers fit with the transition on Sept. 8 when Georgia comes to Columbia. The Dawgs have a strong defense and an experienced QB.

>I could see Mizzou 4-2 by the time Bama visits, but then the schedule gets thicker. My hunch is they can win seven games, but beyond that it's a stretch.

From @crsegar What would it take for Edsall to be fired after this season?

I've always thought that it's crazy to hire a guy and then fire him after just two or three seasons. You're just not giving the guy a chance to recruit to his system and establish his program. It does take time, and in some cases more than others. Now, if there is a scandal or NCAA issues, it's a different story in regards to how much room a new coach merits. And, for as bad as the Danny O'Brien transfer saga looks, it's nothing that some wins can't remedy from the Terps standpoint. 

You almost have no choice but to ride this out for another two seasons if you're Maryland. Randy Edsall's far from a first-time head coach. Maryland knew, or at least should've known what it was getting. Short of another 2-10 season, I don't see how they'd fire him, and even then, I'm not sure they'd pull the plug. Financially, it'd be such a hit for the school, but obviously thus far it's been disastrous but they're on the hook now and they have to give him a chance to turn things around.

From @Brad_Freeman What did you think of your trip to College Station, and your impressions of the new coaching staff?

It was a good day there. Kevin Sumlin's staff is one of the biggest reasons why I think he was such a good hire for A&M. My story from College Station will run on the site in a week or so.
 
 
 
 
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