Alabama Crimson Tide: Butch Jones

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.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 5-7
2013 SEC record: 2-6, sixth in the Eastern Division
Record all time against Alabama: 37-51-8
Last meeting: Lost 45-10 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 5; Defense: 15; Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
LB A.J. Johnson, QB Justin Worley, WR Marquez North, S Brian Randolph, CB Justin Coleman, CB Cam Sutton

Key losses
OT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, OT Ja’Wuan James, RB Rajion Neal, DE Jacques Smith, DT Daniel McCullers

2013 statistical leaders (*-returners)
Rushing: Neal (1,124 yards)
Passing: Worley* (1,239 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT)
Receiving: North* (496 yards)
Tackles: Johnson* (106)
Sacks: Corey Miller (6.5)
Interceptions: Randolph (4)

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesTennessee coach Butch Jones will have one of the youngest depth charts in the country in 2014.
What they're saying:
“We’re still dealing with the realities of building a football program in an elite conference, but I thought our players were very focused. ... I thought our program benefited from 14 newcomers. I thought they brought a whole other level of energy and competition and that competitive culture that we speak about each and every day. I thought we took tremendous strides improving as a football team and as a football program,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, after spring practice

Three things to watch:

1. Youth is served: “Brick by brick” has been the theme of Jones’ tenure at Tennessee. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see the “#BrickbyBrick” hashtag often. And most of the time it’s having to do with recruiting. Jones inherited a mess in Knoxville two years ago. He’s spent the time since trying to rebuild through recruiting -- hence the brick symbology. He’s been successful, too, at least as far as recruiting rankings go. This year, Tennessee finished with the No. 5 class in the country, which was long on both talent (18 four-stars) and overall numbers (35 total commits). Of that group, 14 enrolled early with the expectation to compete for playing time as freshmen. All told, we could be looking at a Tennessee depth chart that will be majority first-year and second-year players.

2. Questions in the trenches: Losing Ja’Wuan James and Antonio Richardson hurts enough for Tennessee. Watching center Alex Bullard and guards James Stone and Zach Fulton move on as well is brutal. But if losing the entire starting offensive line from a year ago wasn’t depressing in itself, say sayonara to the defensive line as well. In fact, all four of its starters and a total of six members of the two-deep depth chart are all gone. Good luck with that. If the SEC is truly a line of scrimmage league, then the Vols are in huge trouble. There are some pieces to work with (Kyler Kerbyson and Dontavius Blair on offense, Corey Vereen and Owen Williams on defense) but there’s no getting around that lack of experience.

3. A QB battle: Justin Worley is the starter, if only by default. The former three-star prospect didn’t exactly impress last season when he threw 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Injuries kept him off the field the final four games, but the damage was already done. You have to wonder whether the staff sticks with the senior or looks to the future with someone younger like Nathan Peterman or Josh Dobbs. Whoever starts should have plenty of weapons to work with (Marlin Lane, Marquez North, Alton “Pig” Howard), but without an experienced offensive line to protect them, it could be a long season for Tennessee’s quarterbacks.
Can you believe it? We’ve already reached the halfway point in our journey through the SEC regular-season schedule.

So far we’ve been to Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa, Houston and Norman, Oklahoma, to name a few. With seven weeks down and seven more to go, there’s no more time to waste. We have to get to the best games before it’s too late.

If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 8:

Oct. 18
Texas A&M at Alabama
Georgia at Arkansas (Little Rock)
Missouri at Florida
Kentucky at LSU
Tennessee at Ole Miss
Furman at South Carolina

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Tennessee at Ole Miss

Sam can have the clear Game of the Week in Texas A&M-Alabama. He’s never been to Bryant-Denny Stadium, so I wouldn’t want to deprive him of that experience.

Instead, I’m going outside of the box and inside The Grove. It’s time to get to Ole Miss. And if you’re like me and watched a certain TexAgs video that went viral last year, the chords of “Mississippi Queen” should come racing to mind right about now.

If you haven’t been to Oxford, you need to go. The game is great and all, but the real fun is in the game-day festivities. The tailgating there might be the best in college football. As they’re oft to say, “Ole Miss never lost a party.” They get there early, they stay late and they even dress up for the occasion. Sure, some commercial aspects of the pregame experience have creeped in over the years, but tailgating in The Grove is as quintessential a Southern football experience as you’ll find.

On a more analytical note, the actual game itself should favor the home team. Ole Miss is better on both sides of the ball with a veteran quarterback, a talented group of skill players on offense and a defense packed with playmakers. Nonetheless, I’m interested in seeing Tennessee at the midway point of the season. Year 2 won’t be easy for Butch Jones, but if he can develop a quarterback or the future and get the defense going in the right direction, it should be a good sign for the hopes of the program in Year 3 of his tenure and beyond.

Sam Khan’s pick: Texas A&M at Alabama

No doubt this is the choice. The Grove is fun, and Mizzou-Florida looks like it might have potential, but the Aggies and Crimson Tide have provided us with highly entertaining games the last two times they met. In 2012, Texas A&M went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and pulled off a stunning upset and last season, Alabama’s offense put on a clinic, running all over the A&M defense and outlasting Johnny Manziel & Co. to exact a little revenge at Kyle Field.

Now, the Aggies make their first trip to Bryant-Denny since that fateful November night in 2012 and there’s no Johnny Football this time around. The Aggies probably will have their quarterback situation established firmly at this point (whether it’s Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen) and the Aggies' offense should still be humming. The question is, will the defense be improved enough to put up a fight against the Crimson Tide?

It had better be, because while Alabama will be working in a first-year starting quarterback of its own, the Crimson Tide have plenty of running backs to throw at the Aggies again, led by T.J. Yeldon, junior Kenyan Drake, the bruising, cruising sophomore Derrick Henry and bowling ball Jalston Fowler. The Crimson Tide should be strong defensively again, so it will be a stiff test for what is still a young Aggies squad. It stands to reason that, at least at this point, Alabama will be favored going into this one.

So far, the first two times Nick Saban and Kevin Sumlin have squared off, it’s turned out to be pretty fun. Here’s betting it is again when they square off in Week 8.

SEC's lunchtime links

May, 28, 2014
May 28
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With the SEC spring meetings in full swing in Destin, Florida, there is plenty of league-related reading material floating around the Internet. Let's take a look at some of the headlines coming out of Destin.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 20, 2014
May 20
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The SEC unveiled a 12-year rotation of nondivision opponents through 2025, and while Alabama returns to Georgia next season, we have to wait until 2019 to see Auburn and Florida play again. For more on the schedule and other league news, check out Tuesday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 19, 2014
May 19
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The conference finals have started in both hockey and basketball. Rookie minicamp just wrapped in the NFL. Meanwhile, we all sit and wait for college football to come back. Get your fix with Monday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 16, 2014
May 16
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The weekend is almost here. Before you take off, take a minute to peruse the news and notes from around the league in Friday's links, which include some Nick Saban video, early signing period and playoff talk, transfer news and more.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 7, 2014
May 7
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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.
It's May, so we might as well look to the future while we take one last look at the past in order to figure out the present.

Illustrious colleague Mark Schlabach already helped us out with the future portion by posting his Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Top 25. In it, he has seven SEC teams ranked:

2. Alabama

4. Auburn

8. Georgia

10. South Carolina

13. LSU

14. Texas A&M

19. Florida

It's interesting to see Florida ranked inside the top 20, especially after last year's 4-8 season, but there's no way the offense will be that bad again or the injury bug will strike so hard again, right?

With Schlabach having fun with another set of rankings, we thought we'd have a little fun of our own and put together some post-spring SEC Power Rankings! Nothing like starting a little debate right after spring practice.

Let's see how perfect these are:

1. Auburn: Quarterback Nick Marshall is throwing the ball better, meaning the offense could be even more potent in 2014. The defense was much better this spring, with players reacting more than learning. You have to beat the best before you can pass them in the rankings.

2. Alabama: This team is motivated by last season's disappointing final two games. The defense lost valuable leadership and talent, but a hungry bunch lurks on that side. Alabama could be waiting on its starting quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- and if the spring game was any indication, the Crimson Tide certainly need him. The good news is that a wealth of offensive talent returns.

3. South Carolina: It was a quiet spring for the Gamecocks, who should yet again own an exciting offense, headed by Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and a deep offensive line. There are questions on defense, but the Gamecocks could have budding stars in defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and linebacker Skai Moore. There could be more stars lurking, too.

4. Missouri: The loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hurts an inexperienced receiving corps, but there is some young talent there and no questions at quarterback or running back. The defense should be solid up front, but the secondary has plenty of questions.

5. Georgia: The defense as a whole has a lot to work on, but the offense shouldn't miss a beat. Aaron Murray might be gone, but Hutson Mason looked comfortable this spring and has a ton to work with, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley at running back and good depth at receiver.

6. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year. Well, he's entering his third year and has a team that could seriously contend for the SEC West title. Bo Wallace's shoulder is finally healthy and the defense has a lot of potential, especially along the line.

7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return 18 starters from last year's team and could be dangerous this fall. If quarterback Dak Prescott can be a more complete quarterback, this offense could explode. Mississippi State owns possibly the SEC's most underrated defense.

8. LSU: We really don't know what we'll get out of this group. There's plenty of athleticism to go around, but once again the Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL. There's excitement about the secondary, and freshman Brandon Harris could be a special player at quarterback.

9. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all gone. The offense has a bit of rebuilding to do, but there are young stars in the making on that side of the ball. The defense didn't take many hits from graduation, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there.

10. Florida: The Gators were healthier this spring, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement and consistency to the offense. Will any of that translate to the season? Not sure at this point. The good news is that the defense shouldn't drop off too much after losing some valuable pieces to the NFL.

11. Tennessee: The excitement level has certainly increased in Knoxville, and it looks like Butch Jones is building a strong foundation. The defense still has a lot of unknowns, and while it appears the offensive talent has increased, play at quarterback is key and that position is still a little unstable.

12. Vanderbilt: After three great years under James Franklin, Derek Mason is now responsible for continuing the momentum in Nashville. Like Franklin, Mason arrived with no head-coaching experience, but he has a great base to work with. It could take a while for the offense to get going, but there's promise in the defensive front seven.

13. Arkansas: Slowly, Bret Bielema is getting guys to adapt more to his system. Brandon Allen separated himself at quarterback but will have to groom someone into being his go-to receiving target. There is still a lot that has to improve on a team that had one of the SEC's worst offensive and defensive combinations last season.

14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops is certainly more excited about Year 2 in Lexington with some players emerging on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats still have to find more consistency in the playmaker department, and they have a quarterback battle on their hands. The secondary is a total unknown at this point, and leaders have to emerge at linebacker and defensive tackle.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 1, 2014
May 1
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The SEC coaches are all over the country this week, but they all took time Wednesday to speak on the league’s teleconference, giving us a glimpse around the conference. Find out what was said and more in today’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 29, 2014
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Football has taken a back seat this week to the storms that have ravaged parts of the Southeast, but in case you missed anything, here’s a look at the latest news and notes across the SEC.
  • Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron says NFL teams are telling him he could be a first-round pick.
  • Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will serve as the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
  • Florida is ranked worse than 100th nationally in passing offense the past two years, but coach Will Muschamp believes this year’s wide receivers can help change that.
  • Hutson Mason has established himself as the starting quarterback for Georgia, but who will back him up?
  • The SEC athletic directors voted to keep the eight-game conference schedule, but an argument can be made for both the ACC and the SEC to go to 10-game schedules.
  • Quarterback Patrick Towles arrived at Kentucky with high expectations, but when the Mr. Football winner had to make mechanical changes, he didn’t flinch.
  • Former LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson displays his golden pipes by signing a draft tune (video).
  • With the new policy requiring SEC schools to schedule a 'Big 5' opponent, Mississippi State has a small window to add a marquee game for 2016.
  • Tennessee coach Butch Jones believes the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is one of the top rivalries in the country and "the best rivalry in the SEC."

SEC's lunch links

April, 24, 2014
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Let's take a quick spin around the SEC with today's lunch links.

• With a vote on SEC football schedules looming, South Carolina has a clear preference on which format it prefers moving forward.

• The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors is expected to endorse a proposal that will provide more autonomy for the 65 schools in the five biggest conferences.

• Brandon Allen enters Saturday's spring game as Arkansas' clear-cut No. 1 player at quarterback.

• Depth remains Butch Jones' biggest concern at Tennessee.

• Redshirt freshman Marqui Hawkins told the Gainesville Sun he's transferring from Florida in search of a fresh start and a chance to play receiver.

• Kentucky is running a bit low on receivers for the time being after coach Mark Stoops confirmed Wednesday that A.J. Legree plans to transfer and that Jeff Badet is out for a couple months with a broken leg.

• ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said the high number of busts that have come from Alabama would factor into his evaluations of Crimson Tide prospects like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and C.J. Mosley.

• Speaking of the draft, Kony Ealy looks like the most likely choice as the first Missouri player to be picked. The Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison details where the Tigers' prospects sit in a series of prospect rankings.

• Opelika-Auburn News columnist Mike Szvetitz writes that Auburn still has a point to prove: It was not a one-hit wonder with its turnaround season in 2013.

• In his eighth NFL draft diary with NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter, former LSU offensive lineman Trai Turner said playing his position in college can be difficult.
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
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Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.

SEC's lunch links

March, 13, 2014
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LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have all opened spring practice. Forget one day closer to the weekend, we're one day closer to more teams around the SEC starting camp. Alabama gets going on Saturday and Arkansas will follow suit on Sunday.

Edward's top impact true freshmen

February, 12, 2014
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Now that you've seen Chris' list of his top five freshmen for next season, I figured I'd give it a whirl and come up with my own list (in alphabetical order, of course):

Lorenzo Carter, DE, Georgia: The Bulldogs needed help up front and got it in Carter, who can move to outside linebacker if needed. The Bulldogs aren't ditching the 3-4 defensive scheme, which could make Carter an ideal hybrid DE/OLB player for Georgia, especially when it comes to the rushing the passer. That's his bread and butter and will be where he makes his hay with the Dawgs. Carter still needs to add to his frame, but expect him to be a situational pass-rusher for the Dawgs early before he fills out into an every-down player.

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: Yes, the Rebels have starting safeties Cody Prewitt (first-team All-American) and Trae Elston returning, but Hampton is just too good of a player not to see the field in some capacity this fall. The early enrollee will go through spring drills and if he plays well enough, he could force Ole Miss' coaching staff to move some guys around in the secondary. Hampton was a ballhawk in high school, and with his range in the back end, he could get reps at free safety, which could move Prewitt down to linebacker, allowing the Rebels to get even more athletes on the field at once.

Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama: What Nick Saban really needed in this class was an elite pass-rusher, and Hand certainly fills that role. Hand has already gained some good weight, but he could stand to gain more when he gets on campus. The nation's No. 2 defensive end could play with his hand in the ground or at the "Jack" linebacker spot and be used as more of a pass-rusher for the Crimson Tide. It might not matter where Hand lines up for the Tide because he'll figure out a way to see valuable time this fall.

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: Coach Butch Jones has to be happy about having another top-flight receiver on his roster, in Malone. Even better news? Malone is on campus now and will go through spring practice. He already has good size at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and has the potential to be a real deep threat for a Tennessee team looking for more offensive playmakers. Malone, who caught 71 passes for 1,404 yards with 31 total touchdowns as a senior, should take some pressure off of Marquez North and Alton Howard.

Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida: With four starters gone in the secondary, the Gators were in desperate need of some secondary help and got plenty of it in this class. The 6-1, 188-pound Tabor is the star and figures to provide immediate help at the cornerback position, opposite freshman All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. A five-star prospect coming out of high school, Tabor enrolled early at Florida. He's a physical corner who intercepted five passes as a senior and was an Under Armour All-American. His speed, strength and size are exactly what Will Muschamp wants in a corner, and Tabor's natural ability should have him shoot up Florida's depth chart early.

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