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Bengals draft QB AJ McCarron

May, 10, 2014
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After expressing confidence leading up to the draft, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron had to wait until the fifth round to be selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Eight quarterbacks were selected ahead of McCarron, including five in the first three rounds. McCarron was selected 164th overall, one pick after Georgia's Aaron Murray was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I'm confident in myself, but at the same time I know Andy (Dalton) is the QB up there. And I respect that," McCarron said. "All I want to do is go in and help us in whatever way I can. If that means me holding the clipboard for a couple of years and giving Andy reports during the week, or watching film with him and helping him out in any way I can. I'm just ready to do it. I'm excited about this opportunity, and I just can't wait to get up there and get to work."

Dalton took to Twitter to welcome McCarron to Cincinnati:


(Read full post)


DixonStephen M. Dowell/Getty ImagesWill South Carolina defensive end Gerald Dixon be able to fill the void left by Jadeveon Clowney?
With a dizzying first round in the books, the NFL’s 32 teams will move Friday and Saturday to the value picks in the middle and later rounds.

But the college teams replacing first-round selections? They have long since turned the page.

Starting with the No. 1 pick, Jadeveon Clowney, here are some updates on the positions left vacant by some of the NFL’s future stars.


Defensive end, South Carolina Gamecocks
The draft pick: Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1, Houston)
The replacement: Gerald Dixon

There’s no doubt the position is going to take a step back after losing Clowney -- the school’s second No. 1 pick -- as well as underrated vet Chaz Sutton and Devin Taylor the previous year. The turnover is to the point that defensive coordinator Whammy Ward has hinted that the Gamecocks might tinker with more 3-4 looks and shake up their 4-2-5 base.

Dixon is developing into a very serviceable SEC defensive end, similar to what Sutton became toward the end of his career. But the key to the position is how far redshirt sophomore Darius English progresses.

Ward told me last summer that he had a raw, pure pass-rusher in English. But English struggled to put on enough weight to be anything more than a specialist. When I texted Ward on Thursday, he said English had added 15 pounds to get to 250.

“It will help,” Ward said.

If he can hold his ground and be something closer to a three-down end, it would certainly aid the transition.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 9, 2014
May 9
12:00
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Thursday night's draft was pretty entertaining, but let's not forget that the real entertainment starts next week when the greatest superhero ever returns!
Day 1 of the NFL draft was a good one for the SEC, which had 11 players selected in the first round, including 10 of the first 23 picks.

It's on to the second and third rounds later Friday night, and several more SEC players are sure to hear their names called. A year ago, the SEC had 32 players selected in the top three rounds.

The SEC guys projected to go the earliest when the draft resumes Friday night, in alphabetical order, are Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington, Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.

Ellington has seen his stock soar in the months leading up to the draft, and Matthews has everything it takes (size, speed, hands, smarts and character) to be one of those receivers who plays 10-plus seasons in the league.

Here's a checklist of some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the second and third rounds:
It was another successful first round of the NFL draft for the SEC, even if one star had to wait a lot longer than he expected.

By the time the night was over, Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick, Johnny Manziel was in Cleveland, and the SEC led all conferences with 11 picks in the first round.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesAs expected, Jadeveon Clowney was the top pick among the SEC's NFL draft prospects.
The first 10 picks were littered with SEC talent, as Clowney went first to the Houston Texans, Greg Robinson went second to the St. Louis Rams, Jake Matthews went sixth to the Atlanta Falcons, and Mike Evans went seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The real drama of the night came with Manziel Watch. The former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner was at one point expected to go No. 1 overall. Then, there was no way he was getting out of the first five picks. Then, the Dallas Cowboys were thought to be the favorites to land him in the middle of the first round.

But Manziel tumbled all the way down to No. 22 when the Cleveland Browns traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to get college football's most exciting player. Many thought Cleveland would end up being the destination for Manziel, but dropping that far was a surprise. Something tells me Manziel will be pretty fired up to prove a lot of people wrong about passing on him.

There were a couple of other first-round surprises concerning the SEC, too. For starters, former Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James went 19th to the Miami Dolphins after being projected as a second-rounder. Former Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who missed most of the 2013 season after suffering an ACL injury, was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 29th pick. And former Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23 after being projected as a second-rounder.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC fared in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Houston Texans

2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- Atlanta Falcons

7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

12. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- New York Giants

17. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- Baltimore Ravens

19. Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee -- Miami Dolphins

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Green Bay Packers

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Cleveland Browns

23. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn -- Kansas City Chiefs

29. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida -- New England Patriots
Editor's note: We're taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

Alabama vs. West Virginia, Aug. 30 in Atlanta, 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)

The rundown
2013 overall record: 4-8
2013 Big 12 record: 2-7, eighth in the Big 12
Record all time against Alabama: N/A
Last meeting: N/A

Starters returning
Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
WR Mario Alford, CB Travis Bell, S Karl Joseph, RB Wendell Smallwood, QB Clint Trickett, CB Daryl Worley

Key losses
WR Ronald Carswell, S Darwin Cook, C Pat Eger, RT Curt Feigt, RB Charles Sims

2013 statistical leaders (*-returners)
Rushing: Sims (1,095 yards)
Passing: Trickett* (1,605 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT)
Receiving: Daikiel Shorts (495 yards)
Tackles: Nick Kwiatkoski* (86)
Sacks: Will Clarke (6)
Interceptions: Cook (4)

What they're saying
"I'm excited to play against Alabama. That'll be fun, especially for a running back. I just can't wait to go against one of the top defenses in college football. It'll be exciting to just go out there and play our ass off.” -- Mountaineers running back Dustin Garrison, to reporters this spring.

Three things to watch

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIFormer Florida State QB Clint Trickett is listed as the starter for West Virginia after spring practice.
1. Quarterback battle: Trickett was listed as the Mountaineers' starting quarterback in the post-spring depth chart. (Alabama fans, don’t be jealous of such things.) But Trickett, who some will remember from his time at Florida State, has Paul Millard and transfer Skyler Howard nipping at his heels. Though he’ll likely start under center for West Virginia in Atlanta, Alabama’s defense should be prepared for all options, notably Howard, who can extend plays and scramble for yards, as evidenced by his 343 yards and five touchdowns rushing in junior college last season.

2. New-look defense: High-scoring shootouts have been the M.O. for West Virginia in years past. But after finishing next to last in the league in scoring defense (33.3 points per game), coordinator Keith Patterson left for Arizona State. In response, Dana Holgorsen lifted safeties coach Tony Gibson into the vacant position and brought on former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. And judging by the Mountaineers’ spring, their effect has been noticeable. Worley has grabbed headlines with his play and the secondary as a whole has showed promise. But the real test will come to the front seven in Atlanta. Three of four starters return at linebacker, but only one starter returns on the defensive line, which doesn’t bode well against a downhill running team like the Tide.

3. Ground game: West Virginia’s running game could be among the deepest and most versatile in the Big 12 next season. Losing Sims, an All-Big 12 back, was indeed a setback, but considering the depth at the position, it shouldn’t be a problem. The team’s post-spring depth chart is a testament to that, listing five players at running back as opposed to the usual two at every other position. Former No. 1 junior college running back Dreamius Smith is the favorite to start. He’s joined in the backfield by Smallwood, who was a steady presence as a freshman last season; Rushel Shell, a former blue-chip recruit who transferred from Pittsburgh; Garrison, who was the team’s leading rusher in 2011; and Andrew Buie, who led the team in rushing in 2012 but spent last season away from the team.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Many observers of football in Texas agree the SEC’s impact on the recruiting trail in the Lone Star State is going to only grow in the future. However, not every SEC team is making a beeline to Dallas, Houston and East Texas to recruit. Plus, both USC and UCLA did their best to impress one of the nation’s top corners recently.


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Lunchtime links

May, 8, 2014
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It's draft day! Here's to your team making the right pick tonight.

SEC NFL draft primer

May, 8, 2014
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A year ago, the SEC produced 12 first-round NFL draft selections, which tied the record set by the ACC in 2006.

Most projections this year would seem to suggest that record is safe.

In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay has 10 SEC players going in the first round, including four in the top seven picks. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is pegged as the No. 1 overall selection to the Houston Texans followed by Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 4 to the Cleveland Browns, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews at No. 6 to the Atlanta Falcons and Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans at No. 7 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If all three of the Texas A&M players go in the top 10, it would mark the first time that's happened in the SEC since the 2005 draft when Auburn had three players go in the top 10 picks -- running back Ronnie Brown at No. 2, running back Carnell Williams at No. 5 and cornerback Carlos Rogers at No. 9.

Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is projected to go in the top half of the first round and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley in the top 25 picks, which would make it six straight years that the Crimson Tide had produced a first-round pick. That's the longest active streak in the league. Clinton-Dix and Mosley would also make it 15 first-rounders for Alabama over the past five years.

If Clowney is drafted No. 1 overall, he would become the first defensive lineman from the SEC to be selected with the top pick. The previous six No. 1 overall picks from the SEC were all quarterbacks -- Auburn's Cam Newton in 2011, Georgia's Matthew Stafford in 2009, LSU's JaMarcus Russell in 2007, Ole Miss' Eli Manning in 2004, Kentucky's Tim Couch in 1999 and Tennessee's Peyton Manning in 1998.

The NFL invited 11 SEC players to attend the first-round festivities in New York City on Thursday night. In addition to Clowney, Robinson, Manziel, Matthews, Evans, Clinton-Dix and Mosley, also on that list were LSU receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.
Running? Receiving? Fielding kicks? Those are all fine qualities to have. But what about the guys that do it all?

More and more offenses are moving away from the typical pro-style schemes and formations of generations past. A tight end isn’t just a tight end anymore. A running back isn’t just a running back. A wide receiver isn't … well, you get the point. Alabama’s O.J. Howard can put his hand on the ground at tight end or H-back, or he can split out at wide receiver. South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper is listed as a wide receiver, but he’s just as valuable a running back or return specialist for the Gamecocks. Jameon Lewis can line up at receiver, running back or quarterback for Mississippi State.

[+] EnlargeJameson Lewis
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisVersatile and dangerous weapons like Mississippi State's Jameon Lewis make plays no matter where they line up or how they get the ball.
Up and down the SEC, there are athletes who do it all on offense -- and sometimes special teams, too.

Often on the SEC Blog we rank the top players by each position for the coming year. But it’s time we give Mr. Versatile his due. With that said, here’s a look at the league’s top all-purpose offensive athletes in 2014.

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina

Bruce Ellington will be missed, but don’t weep for the Gamecocks. It’s Pharoh Cooper to the rescue. Coach Steve Spurrier called Cooper a “natural talent.” His numbers as a true freshman were promising -- 655 all-purpose yards -- and enough to land him on the Freshman All-SEC team. But he could do even more as a sophomore. He’ll continue to factor into the return game, play wide receiver and even take some direct snaps at quarterback.

Christion Jones, Alabama

Alabama may not run the most inventive offense in the SEC, but it finds a way to get Jones the football. The lightning-quick senior has started at wide receiver and in the return game each of the past two seasons. He carried the ball 13 times for an average of 17 yards in 2013 and finished 14th in the SEC with in all-purpose yards per game (102.7). Additionally, he returned two punts and one kickoff for a touchdown last season.

Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State

Had Damian Williams been unable to play against Ole Miss, Dan Mullen would have turned to Lewis as his starting quarterback. Seriously. With Tyler Russell sidelined and Dak Prescott injured, the 5-foot-9 junior would have been forced under center. Thankfully that never happened, but it’s just a taste of Lewis’ versatility. The speedy Mississippi native is someone Mullen looks to get the ball in space, whether that’s at receiver, running back or quarterback. He not only led the team with 923 yards receiving, he finished fifth in rushing with 117 yards. All told, he had five receiving touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. He even threw three passes, completing all three attempts for touchdowns.

Ricardo Louis, Auburn

Last season’s Georgia game might have been a glimpse of the future for Louis. The former No. 5 athlete in the ESPN 300 broke out in a big way against the Bulldogs, rushing for 66 yards on five carries while catching four passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Even before his memorable game-winning Hail Mary, he was a difference in the game. His ability to play both receiver and running back makes for a tough matchup for any defense. And with Tre Mason and Chris Davis gone from the return game, Louis could become a factor there as well.

[+] EnlargeSpeedy Noil
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comTexas A&M signee Speedy Noil, who was ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the 2014 class, could make an immediate impact.
Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

Too soon? Not after all we’ve heard coming out of College Station, Texas, about the talented true freshman. Noil may not be that No. 2 this fall, but he could conjure up memories of Johnny Football with his ability to make plays in space. The former five-star prospect and No. 1-rated athlete in the ESPN 300 drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates this spring. He’s already said to be the presumptive starter opposite Ricky Seals-Jones. Good luck covering those two as Seals-Jones is a monster at 6-5 and Noil is an elusive burner at 5-11. In addition to spending time at receiver, look for coach Kevin Sumlin to get Noil the ball in space wherever possible, whether that’s in the return game, at running back or even taking direct snaps at quarterback.

Five more to watch:

SEC lunchtime links

May, 7, 2014
May 7
12:00
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With the NFL draft set to begin on Thursday, it should be another showcase weekend for the SEC. Let's take a look at what's happening with several SEC prospects -- as well as some other league headlines -- as the draft approaches.
The Iron Bowl rivalry never ends. Just listen to "The Paul Finebaum Show." Alabama and Auburn are never not at each other’s throats. They’re never not being compared to each other.

Here at the SEC Blog, we embrace the debate. Alabama and Auburn are forever intertwined for good reason. Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn go head to head on and off the football field 365 days a year, whether it’s during the season or on the recruiting trail.

Along that same vein, it’s time for a Take Two: Iron Bowl Edition. With spring football well in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to see who enters the offseason in better shape, Alabama or Auburn?

Alex Scarborough: I won’t even make this about Alabama at first. We’ll get to that later. What I’d like to hit on is how little we actually know about Auburn. I’ll concede that Malzahn is a good coach and maybe the best offensive playcaller in the country. But the program, top to bottom, is a mystery to me. The last time Auburn went to the BCS, the following two seasons didn’t end so well. I’m not going to call last season a fluke, but good luck capturing lightning in a bottle twice.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn and Nick Marshall
John Reed/USA TODAY SportsGus Malzahn and Nick Marshall have a tough challenge ahead in 2014 -- and they can't sneak up on anybody this time around.
Nick Marshall is undoubtedly one of the premier playmakers in the SEC, but can he take the next step? He can make a man miss in the open field, but can he make all the reads from the pocket? Defenses will go all in to stop the run next season. He’ll be forced to look for his second, third and fourth options. Is he ready? And how will his protection hold up without Greg Robinson at left tackle and Tre Mason shouldering the load at tailback?

All that goes without mentioning the defense, which was downright mediocre for most of last season. The secondary was porous and the linebackers weren't athletic enough to run Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme (ninth in scoring, 13th against the pass in the SEC). Carl Lawson looks like a budding star, but can he make up for the loss of veterans like Dee Ford?

Auburn’s roster is in better shape than Alabama’s at first blush, but a closer examination shows cracks. Yes, Saban’s missing a starting quarterback, but Jacob Coker is on the way. And besides, since when has Saban needed a star QB to win? Alabama’s secondary has holes, but is it worse than Auburn’s? One five-star cornerback is already on campus and another is coming soon. Landon Collins might be the best DB at the Iron Bowl this year. Based on pure talent (three consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting classes) and a history of sustained success (two losses was a bad season), I feel more confident about the Tide’s chances.

Greg Ostendorf: Do we really not know about this Auburn team? They came out of nowhere last season; I won’t argue that. But the Tigers won 12 games and came 13 seconds from a national championship. Eight starters are back from that offense, including four O-linemen and a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. Remember how good Marshall was down the stretch? He was still learning the offense. This fall he’ll be more comfortable, and if he continues to improve as a passer, which SEC defense will stop him? An Alabama team that has shown time and time again that it has no answer for the spread?

I remember when Johnny Manziel shocked the Tide in 2012, and all offseason Saban & Co. were supposedly devising a game plan to stop him the following season. What happened in the rematch? Manziel threw for 464 yards, rushed for 98 and scored five touchdowns. Marshall is not Manziel, but I’m also not betting on Alabama to stop him.

The defense remains a question mark. I’ll give you that. And the injuries this spring did nothing to ease my concern. But Johnson has a proven track record, and despite losing key players such as Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae and Chris Davis, he’ll actually have a deeper, more talented group in Year 2. There might not be as many five-star recruits, but there’s still plenty of talent, with 10 former ESPN 300 prospects on the defense alone.

The Iron Bowl is in Tuscaloosa this year and Saban is one of the best at exacting revenge. But what happens if Coker isn’t the answer at quarterback? What if the true freshman expected to start at left tackle plays like a true freshman? What if Marshall develops as a passer and torches a lackluster Tide secondary? Too many questions, if you ask me.

Scarborough: I’m glad you brought up the Iron Bowl being in Tuscaloosa this year, because that leads me to an even bigger point than the talent and potential of both Alabama and Auburn. In the words of Steve Spurrier, “You are your schedule.” And have you looked at Auburn’s schedule? Auburn could be better than Alabama and still lose more games.

If going on the road to Kansas State was easy, everyone in the SEC would do it. Survive that and October sets up brutally with LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Ole Miss. Think last season’s “Prayer at Jordan Hare” and “Got a second?” finishes were a blast? Try recreating that with games against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama in November.

Alabama’s schedule, on the other hand, isn’t murderer’s row. A so-so West Virginia team starts things off, followed by cupcakes Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. Auburn gets South Carolina and Georgia from the East, while Alabama lucks out with Florida and Tennessee. On top of that, Alabama's two most difficult games aside from the Iron Bowl are at home and set up nicely with Arkansas before Texas A&M and a bye before LSU.

Ostendorf: There’s a brutal four-game stretch for Auburn with South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia in consecutive weeks, but the first six games actually set up nicely for the Tigers. If they survive the trip to the Little Apple against Kansas State, there’s a strong possibility that they start the season 6-0, and we’ve seen how momentum can carry you through a season. This is also a veteran team with the confidence to win on the road.

Meanwhile, when you have a first-year starter at quarterback ... ahem, Alabama ... then every SEC road game becomes a potential pitfall. You might think the Tide lucked out with Tennessee, but don’t be surprised if a much-improved Vols team keeps it close at home. And I don’t care if LSU might be down this year. It’s never fun for a rookie signal caller to play in Death Valley.

Ultimately, it will once again come down to the Iron Bowl, and how can you bet against last year’s winner?
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