Alabama Crimson Tide: Chris Gragg

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s easy to be awestruck when sitting down with Nick Saban, arguably the top coach in college football. But when the Alabama head coach offers you a scholarship, it should be a moment you remember, not one you forget.

That wasn’t the case for 2015 prospect Will Gragg (Pine Bluff, Ark./Pine Bluff).

The 6-foot-4, 247-pound tight end prospect camped at Alabama on Monday. When he finished the first session, he and his family met with Saban in his office where he received a scholarship offer from the Crimson Tide. It didn’t even register with Gragg. He had to call his recruiting coordinator on the way home to confirm it.

Game preview: Alabama vs. Arkansas

September, 14, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The fun is over.

Better yet, it's just beginning.

The time for SEC play has arrived for the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide. On Saturday, Alabama will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to begin league play against an opponent with something to prove.

"This is a game that we are really looking forward to," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of facing the Arkansas Razorbacks. "This is a great opportunity. It is always great to play in the league. These guys certainly have a very, very good team and one that presents a lot of challenges for us.”

Arkansas endured a humiliating defeat at the hands of the pesky Louisiana Monroe Warhawks a week ago, one that had many questioning just how good John L. Smith's Razorbacks really were. The Hogs slipped from No. 8 in the polls to "others receiving votes" in no time.

It's was a familiar scene to some players at Alabama, recalling when the Tide lost to Louisiana Monroe in 2007. Bama linebacker Nico Johnson said simply, "It happens" when asked about the defeat and added that he's sure the Razorbacks will bring their best on Saturday.

"We know they're at home, they're looking to bounce back," he explained. "So, we've got to be on our P's and Q's this week."

Three storylines
  1. Who starts under center? The will he or won't he game surrounding Tyler Wilson has yet to run its course. Having not participated in any contact drills, it's still unclear whether one of the best quarterbacks in the country will be available to play, let alone start. If Arkansas loses the heart and soul of its offense, it could be a long day for the Razorback faithful.
  2. Protecting McCarron: Alabama's offensive line was, at times, lost against Western Kentucky. The six sacks on AJ McCarron tell the story of missed assignments and poor execution. If there's one player Alabama can't afford to lose, it has to be its starting quarterback. There are only so many games he can win from his backside.
  3. Secondary schooling: Whether it's Tyler Wilson, Brandon Allen or Betty White under center for the Razorbacks, their offense is still dangerous. With players like Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton and Brandon Mitchell to throw the ball to, the Alabama secondary will have to be on its toes. This will be, by far, the biggest test of the year for a young group of defensive backs.
Alabama players to watch
  1. RT D.J. Fluker: Whether he's tipping his protection or not, Fluker needs to do better against the Arkansas pass rush than he did against WKU. He looked slow and out of place at times this past weekend, and it's safe to assume the Razorbacks will attempt to exploit that once again.
  2. RB Eddie Lacy: The time for Lacy to get back to 100 percent is here as SEC play begins. The junior running back hasn't looked the same as he did a year ago, and with Jalston Fowler lost for the year, it's imperative he take ownership of the tailback position. If he doesn't, freshman T.J. Yeldon might just do it for him.
  3. OLB Adrian Hubbard: The sophomore linebacker got to Tyler Wilson last year, delivering a highlight reel hit to the Razorbacks' quarterback in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The hope for he and his teammates is that he can do it again, this time on the road and as a starter.
Arkansas players to watch
  1. QB Tyler Wilson/Brandon Allen: The drop off between starter and quarterback is significant. All one needs to do is what the tape of last weekend's game to see that. But whoever is under center for Arkansas has a number of weapons to throw to on offense, which makes him dangerous.
  2. TE Chris Gragg: He may not be a household name in the SEC, but Gragg's performance in his senior season has been impressive. The tall, athletic receiving threat already has 193 yards and two touchdowns this season.
  3. RB Knile Davis: Whether he's the Knile Davis of old is still up for debate, but even if he's half of what he was, he's still the best running back the Tide have faced this season.
Key matchup

C.J. Mosley versus the underneath passing game: The WKU offense was shut out on the scoreboard this past weekend, but the Hilltoppers didn't have much trouble moving the chains against Alabama. WKU completed 16 of 20 passes to tight ends and tailbacks. C.J. Mosley, the Tide's most affective linebacker in pass coverage, will have his hands full against Arkansas defending the underneath and intermediate passing game.

By the numbers
  • 550: The Razorbacks defense was nonexistent against Louisiana Monroe, surrendering a whopping 550 yards of total offense to the Warhawks.
  • 5-0: In recent years, the Alabama-Arkansas series has been quite lopsided. with the Crimson Tide taking the last five contests, losing just three times since 2000.
  • 5 of 6: Alabama has been lethal inside the red zone this year, scoring touchdowns on five of six drives inside the 20-yard line.

Five storylines: Alabama at Arkansas 

September, 13, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At this point, we were supposed to be discussing two top-10 teams going into a Saturday matchup with SEC- and national-championship implications. We were supposed to be talking about two undefeated teams putting those records on the line to start league play. The hype machine was bound to be similar to that of Alabama-Michigan almost three weeks ago.

But what was supposed to be, never was. Thanks to Louisiana Monroe, the Alabama-Arkansas matchup that was so highly anticipated just a week ago was brought down to earth. And thanks to an injured Tyler Wilson, what the game will turn out to be is anyone's guess.

While it's no longer two ranked teams going head-to-head, it doesn't mean there won't be a lot to lose on both sidelines, especially for No. 1 Alabama. Both schools have the opportunity to build, or rebuild, their resumes starting Saturday afternoon.

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Bama faces challenge in Arkansas' O

September, 12, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Arkansas' season took a downturn this past weekend, but it hasn't been all negative for the now-unranked Razorbacks.

The Hogs' offense was lackluster last week, but the production from senior tight end Chris Gragg was not. And it's cause for concern the Crimson Tide defense.

If Alabama covers the tight end the same way it did Western Kentucky, Gragg could be in for a big day. The Hilltoppers exploited the intermediate passing game, completing 16 of 20 passes to the tight end, fullback or running back.

The 6-foot-3, 236-pound starter showed off his athleticism against Louisiana Monroe, catching seven balls for 83 yards, bringing his season total to 193 yards and two touchdowns. He's on pace to blow last year's numbers -- 518 yards, two touchdowns -- out of the water.

The deep ball is still a threat for the young Alabama secondary, though. Michigan exposed some flaws in the back end of the defense, connecting on a handful of long passes. While the Wolverines are certainly capable of big plays, they're not as known for having as potent an offense as Arkansas.

(Read full post)

Ranking the SEC tight ends

July, 13, 2012
Now that we've ranked the top 10 wide receivers, it's time to check out the top tight ends.

Past rankings
Here are our top 10 SEC tight ends:

[+] EnlargePhilip Lutzenkirchen
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesPhilip Lutzenkirchen will be Auburn's go-to guy for game-winning scores this season.
1. Chris Gragg, Sr., Arkansas: Gragg is a big, fast target who can cause mismatches for defenders. He has great hands and with the loss of three NFL wide receivers he'll be one of Tyler Wilson's top targets this fall. Expect him to improve on his 41 catches and 518 yards from last year.

2. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Sr., Auburn: He only caught 24 passes last year, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. He's a big-time threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker as well. The addition of fullback Jay Prosch will give Lutzenkirchen a chance to be even more active in the receiving game.

3. Jordan Reed, Jr., Florida: There's no doubt that Reed is extremely athletic, but he can lose focus at times on the field. Still, when he's on the ball, he can make plenty of plays. He's the Gators' top returning receiving target and with two young quarterbacks throwing this year, Reed has the chance to rack up receptions as a close-to-the-line safety net.

4. Mychal Rivera, Sr., Tennessee: Rivera is a very reliable and consistent weapon for the Vols. Even with Justin Hunter coming back and Cordarrelle Patterson jumping into the receiving mix, Rivera might not see his production drop too much if Tyler Bray can stay health. This team will throw it around as much as possible.

5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.

(Read full post)

Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

(Read full post)

The SEC has seven players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding tight end.

Here are the seven SEC players who made the Mackey watch list:
For the full Mackey watch list, go here.

The SEC leads the nation with 10 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding center.

Here are the 10 SEC players:
For the full Rimington watch list, go here.


Scout's Take: Atlanta Opening Regional
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss top performers from the Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta.