COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK
AUBURN — Although Auburn’s defense will start six underclassmen and may play four true freshmen, senior linebacker Quentin Groves says the group is further ahead than it was last season at this time.
Much of that can be attributed to having a defensive coordinator in his second year.
“Last year, we we’re still putting in our defense,” Groves said. “We’ve actually started earlier on Kansas State.”
Unlike the offense, all 11 defensive starters are entirely healthy, but the defense lost two backups to season-ending injuries during the opening week of camp.
Backup lineman Tez Doolittle tore his Achilles tendon Aug. 10, and backup linebacker Steve Gandy suffered a concussion the same week. Gandy had prior concussions. He is now student-coaching with the team.
Still, coaches feel good about the depth on defense, even though many backups are teenagers.
Below is a predicted depth chart for the defense as the team heads into the first game week of the season.
Defensive end, Groves: The senior is the unquestioned leader of the pack. He will play a versatile role, hopping from end to a fourth linebacker spot. True freshman Antoine Carter “continues to be a productive guy” as Groves’ backup, according to defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Defensive tackle, Josh Thompson: He is one of only two senior starters on the defense. Sophomore Jack Ricks is improving as the backup and should see plenty of playing time.
Defensive tackle, Pat Sims: The junior has a host of younger players gunning for his job, but it’s unlikely any of them will get it. They will see playing time though.
Defensive end, Sen’Derrick Marks: After redshirting his freshman year, Marks played in every game last season. He had 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Linebacker, Craig Stevens: The redshirt freshman is being pushed by junior Courtney Harden and a couple of true freshmen.
Linebacker, Tray Blackmon: The sophomore was suspended for seven games last season for breaking team rules, but he looks to anchor a young linebacker corps.
Linebacker, Merrill Johnson: The junior has the most experience of all the linebackers, but his job is not safe.
Strong safety, Zac Etheridge: The redshirt freshman is holding off senior Eric Brock for the starting spot. He won the job during preseason camp.
Free safety, Aairon Savage: The sophomore has had plenty of competition from true freshman Mike McNeil.
Left cornerback, Jerraud Powers: The sophomore from Decatur won the starting job from senior Pat Lee midway through fall, but the competition is far from over.
Right cornerback, Jonathan Wilhite: The senior is being pushed by sophomore Walter McFadden and senior Zach Gilbert.
Daily Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA — Alabama released its depth chart Monday with a couple of surprises.
Jimmy Johns who was expected to play at fullback was moved to second-string running back behind Terry Grant, while Baron Huber was listed as the starting fullback.
The defense was as expected, except for Eric Gray, a West Morgan High graduate, being listed as the third-string left cornerback.
Gray had been seen practicing at the right cornerback position, across from all-SEC selection Simeon Castille as late as Thursday.
“This is where we are today,” said coach Nick Saban. “But there’s still competition on our team at several positions, and we actually promote that. We want players to be competitive. We want players to try to increase their role and their playing time relative to how they improve and what they do, and to create opportunities for themselves.”
Gray was wearing No. 34 in practice, working out as a member of the scout team Monday.
Western Carolina is a no-huddle team that plays a spread offense. And Alabama was getting ready for that Monday as the practice appeared to be moving at a faster pace from an offensive perspective.
But Saban is looking at the game as a chance for Alabama to realize its identity as a team, something he still can’t put his finger on after almost eight months as Alabama’s coach.
“We want to be aggressive in style on both sides of the ball and that should be part of an identity,” Saban said. “The identity that we create in how we compete is what I am talking about. Not the offensive style, or the defensive style, or the special teams style.”
While the peer intervention group has been one of the innovations Saban has made to the mental approach of the Crimson Tide, the coach ultimately had the final say with the one-game suspensions of receiver Keith Brown and linebacker Prince Hall.
“We talked about some things, but ultimately the decision is on coach Saban,” said center Antoine Caldwell, a member of the peer intervention group. “He did what he had to do and we put it behind us.”
Daily Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM — UAB’s Neil Callaway has a big enough task, taking the Blazers to Michigan State for his head coaching debut.
He’ll also do so with a handful of starters who are even newer to the program than him.
“We’re going to start probably three freshmen on offense and one freshman on defense and another young man that transferred from a junior college so there’s a bunch of guys who weren’t on our campus last year that will start,” Callaway said.
UAB will start freshmen at right guard (Caleb Thomas of Decatur), left tackle (Matt McCants), wide receiver (Justin Johnson) and noseguard (Tim Davis). Junior college transfer Jacob Tauanuu will also start at linebacker. There are also several redshirt freshmen expected to start.
With a team short on not only experience but depth, he rested his team Sunday and Monday. The Blazers were already well into preparation for Michigan State, though.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Urban Meyer confirmed Monday former USC running back Emmanuel Moody is transferring to the defending national champions.
A 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore from Texas, Moody decided to transfer after getting caught in a glut of highly touted tailbacks. He has to sit out the 2007 season under the NCAA’s transfer rules and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Florida could be without starting cornerback Markihe Anderson in Saturday’s season opener against Western Kentucky.
Anderson, a sophomore poised to help replace cornerbacks Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis from last year’s national championship team, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Saturday.
Gators coach Urban Meyer said there was still a chance Anderson would play against the Hilltoppers. Meyer said he would know by Wednesday.
“We’re still hopeful he’s going to be ready,” Meyer said, adding that Anderson definitely would return for the Sept. 8 game against Troy.
JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville State Gamecocks will open its 104th football season this Saturday at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery against in-state foe Alabama State. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. and will be carried live on the JSU Radio Network, with Matt Coulter and Ed Lett calling the action.
JSU completed its sixth and final scrimmage Saturday and began game-week preparations for the season opener Monday afternoon. The Gamecocks have complied a 45-45-7 all-time record in season openers and are 15-13-2 all-time when opening on the road.
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer says his No. 15 Volunteers are further along that he anticipated.
“I feel like we are a little bit ahead,” Fulmer said Monday, eyeing Saturday’s opener at No. 12 California. “I’m ready for it, and I think the players are darn sure ready.”
He said junior tailback Arian Foster is especially eager for the game. Foster finished last season with a fumble in January’s Outback Bowl, and Penn State returned it for an 88-yard TD in a 20-10 Nittany Lion victory.
“He was the last one to leave the stadium in Tampa,” Fulmer said. “He stood there and looked everybody in the eye, and I think he used it as a motivational tool for the offseason work and practice.
“He established himself as a really good back in spring practice. He’s proven himself physically tough and mentally better.”
Foster, after a 2006 season plagued with injury and off-field incidents, has established himself as the No. 1 back for the Vols, followed by sophomore Montario Hardesty. The two combined for 22 carries and 125 yards in last year’s season-opening 35-18 win over Cal.
Meanwhile punter Britton Colquitt is still day-to-day with a quadriceps pull suffered in last Tuesday’s scrimmage. Fulmer anticipates Colquitt to be ready Saturday, but the junior punter will take minimal reps in practice this week.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s athletic director has upheld the one-game suspension for Gamecocks quarterback Blake Mitchell, and the senior will miss the game Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette, the school said.
Mitchell, suspended for the season opener for missing summer school classes, had appealed the penalty. Athletic director Eric Hyman upheld the suspension, the university said late Sunday.
Coach Steve Spurrier has said redshirt freshman Chris Smelley will get the start and sophomore Tommy Beecher also would see action.
Suspended with Mitchell were tailback Bobby Wallace and cornerback Chris Hail. Both players also violated athletic department policy by having excessive absences during summer school classes.
Also, sophomore safety Emmanuel Cook was expected to miss Saturday’s game following his arrest on a gun charge. Cook was suspended from the school last week because an arrest involving a weapon.
ATHENS, Ga. — As No. 13 Georgia began its game-week practice schedule Monday for Saturday’s visit from Oklahoma State, coach Mark Richt had praise for tailback Thomas Brown, who has returned from a knee injury to regain his starting job.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,” Richt said. “You just can’t keep him off the field. We could not have predicted that he would come back that strong and that confident. He practices with a lot of energy. He gives maximum effort every day.”
From staff, wire reports
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!