Georgia is turning the page at quarterback, and a couple of healthy receivers should help. At Mizzou, a lot of production needs be replaced on the D-line, but the Tigers may not miss a beat. Here’s a look at those stories and more in our weekly tour around the SEC:
Bulldog pass catchers on the mend
While Aaron Murray completed a record-breaking career for Georgia last season, he hardly knew one week to the next who his healthy receivers were going to be. Now, with a new starting quarterback in the person of senior Hutson Mason, it is all the more imperative to get all hands on deck, literally and figuratively. That is why the progress being made by wideouts Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley as they prepare for 2014 is most encouraging.
Georgia wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (86) steps into the end zone for a touchdown against the LSU during an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Mitchell, who had limited work during the spring, tore his ACL in the season opener at Clemson last season. That in part opened the door for Scott-Wesley, who proceeded to tear his ACL five weeks later at Tennessee. Scott-Wesley was unavailable for spring workouts but, like Mitchell, has been operating at full-speed-ahead pace during conditioning drills and workouts in Athens this summer.
As we highlighted early in spring practice, Mitchell’s and Scott-Wesley’s return to health would be a boon to a cast of receivers that last season was ultimately led by Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. They combined for 86 catches and both return for their senior year.
Among pass catchers, the receivers are not the only ones on the mend. Though Arthur Lynch was a first-team All-SEC performer at tight end last season, depth at the position took a hit with the loss of Jay Rome for the final five games due to a foot injury that required surgery. Ironically, Rome was injured against Appalachian State in November when he made his first career start in place of the injured Lynch.
After missing the spring, Rome is making his way back into the fold and is slated to be the Bulldogs’ starting tight end. That may not be saying much given the lack of experience at the position, but Quayvon Hicks had a nice spring while lining up at fullback and tight end. Keeping in mind the absence of Rome, it was Hicks who was atop the depth chart at tight end following the spring. At the very least the position now shows a little depth with Hicks developing into a player that could have opposing defenses guessing from time to time as he lines up at multiple positions.
Mizzou reloads along the D-line
It’s hard to imagine a defensive line losing a pair of ends that combined for 21 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss without missing a beat the next season. That could very well be the case for Missouri, however, in replacing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. After all, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel is hardly dealing with an impoverished line.
Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, left, is sacked by Markus Golden, right during the first half of Missouri’s Black and Gold spring NCAA college football scrimmage Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Markus Golden, who is sure to be on the Lombardi Award watch lists, registered 6.5 sacks and 13 TFLs last season despite being on the field for only about 40 percent of the Tigers’ snaps on defense. Golden, who had a career-best eight tackles in an East Division showdown against South Carolina last October, will make the first start of his major-college career when Mizzou opens against South Dakota State on Aug. 30. His career has been one of uphill progression. After playing one season in junior college as a linebacker, Golden’s first season (2012) with the Tigers was spent mostly on special teams. He then moved to end, where he was third on the preseason depth chart before emerging as a force in a supporting role.
Shane Ray will be at the end opposite Golden. No stranger in Columbia, the fourth-year junior totaled 4.5 sacks, 9 TFL and was second on the team to Ealy with 11 quarterback hurries in 2013.
There is plenty of experience returning at tackle and nose in the form of fifth-year seniors Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent. Hoch has started 25 games the past two seasons and chipped in with three sacks a year ago. Vincent developed into a starter at nose last season while Harold Brantley made six starts between the two positions as a redshirt freshman in 2013. Depth could come in the form of Josh Augusta, who appeared in all 14 games and was one of only two Mizzou true freshmen to see the field last season.
While Sam and Ealy are preparing for careers in the NFL, the Tigers should still have a strong group up front and one that still may be near the top in the conference.
Like father, like son
It is something to have five sons of former players on a team at the same time. It is really something to have five sons of former players on a team from the same class. As coach Butch Jones continues to restore the tradition of Tennessee football, he has had the help of former Vols and fathers of current players spread the word.
Members of the class of 2014, one that is rated as a top-five haul, include linebacker Dillon Bates, son of Bill, and safety Todd Kelly Jr. Sons of former players could also dot the class of 2015, including touted defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie. He is the son of former linebacker and current Oakland Raiders’ general manager Reggie McKenzie and the nephew of former UT offensive lineman Raleigh McKenzie.
Voters elect Death Valley
LSU’s Tiger Stadium tops Athlon Sports’ list of the best SEC college football venues. (NOLA.com)
Planning a trip to an SEC venue this season? A dozen football writers in conjunction with Athlon Sports ranked each of the conference’s 14 stadiums. While nothing along the lines of a comprehensive guide, the list provides a brief snapshot of the character and gameday experience.
Eight of the 12 polled voted LSU’s Tiger Stadium as the top choice thanks in part to the “Richter Scale-registering” fans. Only two voters ranked the venue lower than second.
The four other first-place votes went to Georgia’s Sanford Stadium (2), Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium and Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. Sanford Stadium also received a vote as low as ninth, which is why, despite lacking a single first-place vote, Texas A&M’s Kyle Field came in second.
Last on the list? Well, the folks attending games at Vanderbilt Stadium can still enjoy Nashville’s many nice features.
How Herschel stacks up
Scanning the channels last week I came across the Herschel Walker documentary that first aired on ESPNU a couple of years ago as part of the network’s “30 for 30″ series. While I had seen it before, highlights of great running backs running over and brushing off would-be tacklers as though they are inanimate objects never grow old.
As I was watching, I was curious where the former Georgia standout stands on the NFL’s all-time rushing chart. I knew he had less than 10,000 yards and was not in the top 25, but I was not sure where he fell in line. A glance of the league’s all-time leaders revealed his 8,225 yards ranks 39th.
My curiosity ran a little deeper. Specifically, I wondered where his NFL career total ranks among SEC alums. When he retired followed the 1997 season, Walker was second among former Southeastern Conference running backs in the NFL, behind former Florida great and eventual all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith. Walker has since dropped three spots to No. 5. Here is the list by current NFL rank:
1. Emmitt Smith, Florida, 18,355
15. Fred Taylor, Florida, 11,695
22. Jamal Lewis, Tennessee, 10,607
32. Shaun Alexander, Alabama, 9,453
39. Herschel Walker, Georgia, 8,225