Georgia Bulldogs: Chaz Green

How important is offensive line play?

Go back and find the last time a team with an average offensive line won the SEC championship. The translation: If you’re going to win a title in this league, you better be good and deep up front offensively.

That said, we take a look today at our offensive line rankings in the SEC for the 2014 season.

1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are losing some key pieces from last season’s 11-win team, but their offensive line stacks up as the best of the Steve Spurrier era. The left side with senior tackle Corey Robinson and senior guard A.J. Cann is outstanding, and junior Brandon Shell returns at right tackle. All three have NFL potential, while sophomore Cody Waldrop is healthy again and on the preseason Rimington list as the top center in the country.

2. Texas A&M: Talent has flowed through the Texas A&M offensive line the last few seasons, and even with top-10 picks in the NFL draft departing each of the last two years, the Aggies should again be as strong as anybody. Cedric Ogbuehi, moving from right tackle to left tackle, will be the next first-rounder to come out of College Station. It looks like sophomore Germain Ifedi will move from guard to right tackle, and junior center Mike Matthews is the latest gem to come out of that family.

3. LSU: Four starters are back for the Tigers, and they also like their young talent. La’el Collins passed on the NFL draft and returns for his senior season. He’s a franchise left tackle. The left side of the line, period, should be strong with 6-6, 342-pound junior guard Vadal Alexander returning, and sophomore Ethan Pocic is good enough and versatile enough that he could be a factor at a couple of different positions.

4. Auburn: A year ago, Greg Robinson came out of nowhere to be the best offensive lineman in the league and go No. 2 overall in the NFL draft. Avery Young and Shon Coleman are in line to replace Robinson at left tackle, and the other four starters are back. Senior center Reese Dismukes leads a unit that ended last season as the best offensive line in the league and should be right there at the top again in 2014.

5. Missouri: The Tigers are big, experienced and deep. They also have some versatility with a couple of guys who’ve played different positions. Junior Evan Boehm is one of the top centers in the country, and senior Mitch Morse is moving over from right tackle to left tackle to replace Justin Britt. Gary Pinkel’s track record for putting together a strong offensive line speaks for itself.

6. Alabama: For a change, Alabama doesn’t enter the season with one of the top two or three offensive lines in the league, but that doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide won’t get there. Junior Ryan Kelly is All-SEC material at center, and as talented as Cam Robinson is, it’s never ideal to start a true freshman at left tackle. Senior right tackle Austin Shepherd is one of the more underrated players in the league.

7. Mississippi State: The heart and soul of Mississippi State’s line a year ago, mammoth guard Gabe Jackson, is gone, but look for senior center Dillon Day to fill that role in 2014. The Bulldogs also return junior Blaine Clausell at left tackle and senior Ben Beckwith at right guard. One of the keys will be junior Justin Malone staying healthy after missing most of last season with a foot injury. He brings experience, size and talent to the interior of that line.

8. Florida: The Gators should be just fine if they’re able to play most of the season with their starting five. The problem comes if somebody gets hurt, and that’s been a recurring theme. The tackle tandem could be one of the best in the league with junior D.J. Humphries on the left side and fifth-year senior Chaz Green on the right side. Again, though, Green has struggled to stay healthy.

9. Ole Miss: The Rebels have some impressive young talent in their offensive line, including sophomore Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, but they’re precariously thin. Losing right tackle Austin Golson was a blow, and they need returning senior Aaron Morris to stay healthy. He was the Rebels’ best lineman before he got hurt last season. True freshman Rod Taylor also has what it takes physically to come in and play right away.

10. Georgia: Senior center David Andrews is the anchor of the group, but three starters from a year ago are gone. Junior John Theus started eight games at right tackle last season and could move to the left side, but senior Mark Beard started at left tackle in the spring game. Fifth-year senior Kolton Houston is also back and could wind up at right tackle or left guard.

11. Vanderbilt: The deepest position on Vanderbilt’s roster is the offensive line, which has rarely been the case in Nashville. Four-year starter Wesley Johnson will be difficult to replace at left tackle, but talented sophomore Andrew Jelks is poised to move from right to left tackle. The interior of the Commodores’ line is especially stout, led by senior center Joe Townsend.

12. Arkansas: After having no choice but to play a pair of true freshmen last season, the Hogs should see that pay dividends in 2014. Bret Bielema knows what a menacing offensive line looks like, and he has some talented building blocks in sophomore left tackle Dan Skipper and sophomore guard Denver Kirkland. Replacing All-SEC center Travis Swanson will be dicey.

13. Tennessee: The Vols are faced with having to replace all five starters. Fortunately for them, junior Marcus Jackson redshirted last season and provides some experience at guard. They need junior college transfer Dontavius Blair to make an immediate impact at left tackle, and true freshman Coleman Thomas may end up being the starter at right tackle.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats’ struggles in the offensive line last season were well chronicled. They gave up a league-worst 37 sacks, but return four starters. They’re hopeful that a season together will lead to more continuity. The veteran of the group is senior Darrian Miller at left tackle, and sophomore Jordan Swindle has a nice future at right tackle.
Now that the NFL draft has come and gone, we thought it was only appropriate to get some of the excitement started for next year's draft. We can say goodbye to the Class of 2014 by ushering in the Class of 2015.

Now, I'm no draft guru or anything like that, but I do know there are a handful of solid, draft-eligible prospects lurking around the SEC. You don't lead the nation in draft picks for eight straight years without having some more guys to churn out in future drafts.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley figures to be prominent among SEC East draft-eligible players in 2015.
With that thought in mind, esteemed colleague Alex Scarborough and I will be looking at 10 players from the SEC Eastern Division and SEC Western Division who we believe will be top prospects for the 2015 NFL draft. I'll go first with the East; Alex will have his 10 West prospects later on Monday.

Let's see what I came up with (in alphabetical order):

  • A.J. Cann, OG, RSr., South Carolina: He has a team-high 38 career starts entering the year and has started all but one game during the last three years. He's one of the top guards around and has been South Carolina's anchor up front for a while now. He's also a tremendous leader and has ideal size to plug holes at left guard.
  • Mike Davis, RB, Jr., South Carolina: One of the toughest runners in the SEC, Davis had a fun coming-out party last year with 1,183 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Davis can grind out tough yards and explode for the home-run play. For his career, Davis has seven 100-yard games.
  • Alvin Dupree, DE/LB, Sr., Kentucky: Dupree might be one of the most versatile defenders here. He started his first two years at outside linebacker, proving to be a solid pass-rusher, but moved to defensive end last year and was even better, leading Kentucky with 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He has ranked in the top 10 of the SEC in sacks the last two years.
  • Leonard Floyd, LB, So., Georgia: Three years removed from his graduating class, Floyd will definitely be eligible for the draft. During his first year, he was Georgia's best pass-rusher, notching a team-best 6.5 sacks. People around the program think he's Georgia's most talented player, and he could really jump up draft boards this fall.
  • Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Jr., Florida: Another versatile defender, Fowler has the ability to push himself into the first round of next year's draft with his combination of power and speed. He has 18.5 career tackles for loss and can play both linebacker and defensive end, which will be very appealing to NFL scouts.
  • Markus Golden, DE, Sr., Missouri: Overshadowed by Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, Golden returns as one of the SEC's best edge players. He was third on his team with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last year and could have easily left early for the NFL draft this year.
  • Chaz Green, OT, RSr., Florida: When healthy, Green is Florida's best offensive lineman. Losing him last year really hurt the Gators' offense, and his return is a huge boost. Green has the size and ability that scouts want, but his health is key. If he's healthy this year, he could battle for first-round status.
  • Todd Gurley, RB, Jr., Georgia: Like Jadeveon Clowney, Gurley probably could have left for the NFL after his sophomore season. While he has dealt with nagging injuries in his first two seasons at Georgia, he has 2,734 rushing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 100-yard games. He's a bully of a back with a rare combination of size, speed, and elusiveness that make him a first-round pick.
  • Corey Robinson, OT, RSr., South Carolina: NFL scouts are already drooling over his 6-foot-8, 349-pound frame. With 22 career starts under his belt, Robinson has plenty of experience going into his final year and has all the talent and skill to be one of the top tackles in next year's draft.
  • Ramik Wilson, LB, Sr., Georgia: Though he led the SEC with 133 tackles last year, Wilson still has that "underrated" tag attached to his name. He has ideal size and athleticism to hear his name called early in next year's draft, and his field instincts are exceptional.

Injuries now 'The Question' for Richt

October, 25, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For most of his time at Georgia, this was the time of year where Mark Richt started having to answer “the question.” Fortunately for Richt, a two-game winning streak against rival Florida has made for a refreshing change in that department – but that nuisance has only been replaced by a different set of bothersome questions.

“It's nice not to have to hear that question,” Richt told reporters after Thursday's practice. “Year after year, 'When are you going to beat Florida?' that gets pretty old. So that isn't the big topic of conversation this year. Everybody wants to talk about, what did we talk about injuries for the first 80 percent of this meeting so far? That's what everybody's talking about, but it's been the dominating story.”

Richt is one of the most consistent winners among active FBS coaches, but his subpar record against Florida was one of the black marks on an otherwise sterling resume in his first decade as the Bulldogs' coach. Georgia beat the Gators just twice in its first 10 tries under Richt before winning in both 2011 and 2012 -- giving the Bulldogs their first back-to-back wins against the Gators since 1988-89.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt doesn't want injuries to become the story of the year at Georgia.
But he's right. The topic du jour leading into next week's Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville is not so much the Bulldogs' chance to run its winning streak to three games as it is the debilitating injuries that have struck both programs, forcing both out of the top 25 following losses over the weekend.

The Gators announced this week that linebacker Jeremi Powell is out for the rest of the season, making him the eighth Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury -- a list that also includes starters Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley, Chaz Green and Matt Jones.

Georgia has played the last two games -- both losses -- without most of its most dangerous offensive weapons, which is why Richt spent the first several minutes of Thursday's post-practice press gathering discussing injuries, how they have impacted his team and whether some of the injured players might return for the Florida game.

UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson delivered the team's lengthy injury report to the sports medicine office while Richt was speaking to reporters . The list included 24 players and 12 who have started at least once this season.

Richt addressed some of those concerns -- most notably All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley's return to practice this week following a three-game absence with an ankle injury -- after Thursday's final practice of the open week:

On Gurley: “He practiced. He made it till the end. He ran sprints with everybody at the end. He did scout work, which is really all we asked him to do. But he did fundamental work -- the run polish and that kind of thing. He did good. I'm encouraged.”

On receiver Michael Bennett (knee): “He wasn't trying to break a land-speed record or anything, but he was sprinting and striding out pretty good and he looked fine. The drill I saw him do was kind of a sprint-jog-sprint-jog kind of thing down the field and he looked good. I would think he'll be practicing Monday.”

On center David Andrews (foot): “I think we expect him to play, but he did not go today. Dallas [Lee] was playing center with the first group. … We're hoping it's such a temporary thing you don't think much about it, but we had Kolton [Houston] playing the left guard spot where Dallas was. Kolton's a good player, so I think we'd be OK, but we're better with [Andrews] at center.”

On safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and receiver Chris Conley (ankle), who both left last Saturday's Vanderbilt loss with injuries: “Neither one of them practiced. I would guess Josh Harvey is closer than Chris and I don't know if Josh will practice Monday or not.”

On freshman linebacker Reggie Carter (knee): “Reggie was not out there. Reggie hurt his knee Tuesday in practice. Don't know how severe yet.”

Bennett and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) worked on the side with trainers, away from the team, during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

Gurley and fellow tailbacks J.J. Green (right shoulder contusion, left shoulder sprain) and Brendan Douglas (right knee sprain, left wrist sprain) worked in team drills while wearing green non-contact jerseys. Receivers Rhett McGowan (ankle), Michael Erdman (shoulder) and Tramel Terry (shoulder) also practiced in green, joining the lengthy list of players dealing with some physical ailment.

“We don't want to make it the story of the year,” Richt said. “We want to win ballgames. We want to prepare to win with who we have available. We want guys to get well as fast as they can get well. We want some guys that know they're going to miss the season, we want them to be ready as fast as they can so they can have a great year next year. But obviously that's been the thing that most people have talked about because it's been a little unusual in that regard.”

Injury impact: SEC

October, 24, 2013
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The injury bug has been sucking the life out of teams in the SEC this season. The SEC East has been hit especially hard this season, and here are the three teams in the league that have been affected the most:

1. Florida: Not exactly what the Gators want to be ranked first in, but Florida runs away with this one. The 4-3 Gators lost starting right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) for the season during fall camp and have seen six more season-ending injuries since, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. They dressed only 13 healthy defenders in the loss to Missouri. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.

2. Georgia: The 4-3 Bulldogs lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the year to a freak ACL injury in the season opener and then lost running back Keith Marshall and Justin-Scott Wesley to ACL injuries against Tennessee. Starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) has been out since the LSU game (Sept. 28) and receiver Michael Bennett hasn't played since the Tennessee game (Oct. 5) due to a knee injury. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews are questionable for next week's Florida game.

3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who have lost five straight, felt the injury bug before the season when top receiver Demetrius Wilson was lost for the year with a preseason ACL injury while linebacker Otha Peters has played in only five games after breaking his arm during fall camp. Coach Bret Bielema estimated that 10-12 players went down with injuries during fall camp. Quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a shoulder injury early this season and starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.

SEC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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Well, it's that time again. With the start of the college football season, which literally kicks off in a few hours, we are back to our weekly SEC predictions.

I mean, it's no big deal or anything, but I completely dominated the picks last year. The ATL Kid showed no mercy. Chris just didn't have the focus that you'd expect from a veteran. He started covering this league when I still had training wheels on my bike and chocolate stains on my shirts. (OK, those are still there.)

I spent the entire offseason gloating over how my beautiful 107-15 (.877) record looked down at Chris' 100-22 (.820) record and scoffed. But I also did some homework. I studied film. I might have had the championship belt around my waist, but today is a new day -- a new season.

Last year's picks mean nothing (except in the realm of blogger pride), so I have to start over. I'll starting lifting and running more in the mornings in order to get my mind and body right for the days ahead.

One championship was nice, but I'm looking for more rings and more bragging rights, and that all starts with a strong Week 1.

Let's get onto the picks:

THURSDAY

NORTH CAROLINA AT SOUTH CAROLINA

Chris Low: It’s the Battle of the Carolinas, or as the Head Ball Coach would say, South Carolina vs. “Dabo’s Carolina.” Not sure Dabo’s Carolina will be able to block Mr. Clowney. Then again, can anybody? ... South Carolina 30, North Carolina 17

Edward Aschoff: This could be the team that gets Steve Spurrier back to the SEC championship game. Jadeveon Clowney and that talented defensive line will make things miserable for UNC's offense all night. ... South Carolina 31, North Carolina 17

OLE MISS AT VANDERBILT

Chris Low: There’s no getting around the rape case and how it will impact the Commodores, especially with junior receiver Chris Boyd being suspended. The Rebels are for real and will finally figure out a way to beat the Commodores after losing five of the last six in this series. ... Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 20

Edward Aschoff: Both of these teams are on the rise in the SEC and have higher expectations than usual entering the season. While the Rebels have struggled recently with the Commodores, there's more pressure on Vandy, and Ole Miss will claim its redemption. ... Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 24

SATURDAY

WESTERN KENTUCKY VS KENTUCKY (in Nashville, Tenn.)

Chris Low: OK, no jokes about Bobby Petrino riding his motorcycle to the game. He gets his first of two straight chances to take down SEC teams, but the Wildcats will stand their ground in Mark Stoops’ debut. ... Kentucky 28, Western Kentucky 21

Edward Aschoff: Mark Stoops doesn't get a cupcake for his first game as Kentucky's new coach. I think it actually benefits him because he'll have a better idea of what he really has. And what he'll have is an opening-day winner. ... Kentucky 24, Western Kentucky 20

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE AT ARKANSAS

Chris Low: Louisiana-Monroe sent the Hogs reeling last season. Now, it’s Louisiana (the Ragin’ Cajuns) who’d like to get a little slice of Pig Sooie. Arkansas is too strong up front defensively to stumble in this one. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana 17

Edward Aschoff: Bret Bielema and his Hogs are dealing with a lot of injuries, but he'll still have more talent on the field Saturday. We won't know a ton about this team, but starting off 1-0 ain't bad. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 17

AUSTIN PEAY AT TENNESSEE

Chris Low: There won’t be many breathers for Butch Jones in his first season at Tennessee, but the only drama in this one will be whether or not the Pride of the Southland Band has enough stamina to still be playing “Rocky Top” in the fourth quarter. ... Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 7

Edward Aschoff: Another new coach makes his debut with a team shrouded in mystery. Jones has a lot of inexperience to work with on offense and it'll be interesting to see how that up-tempo offense looks. ... Tennessee 31, Austin Peay 14

MURRAY STATE AT MISSOURI

Chris Low: It sounds like Henry Josey is healthy again, and all those SEC fans who didn’t get a chance to see him last season while he was sidelined are in for a treat. It won’t be a lot of fun for Murray State trying to tackle him. ... Missouri 38, Murray State 14

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are healthier and carrying a big chip on their shoulders this season. A more complete Missouri team should take the field this weekend. ... Missouri 41, Murray State 13

WASHINGTON STATE at AUBURN

Chris Low: We know that Mike Leach thinks the bottom half of the Pac-12 is better than the bottom half of the SEC. Here’s his chance to prove it, although the Tigers should be greatly improved this season. ... Auburn 34, Washington State 21

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers have no choice but to get better with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains and Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. You should see lots of points in Malzahn's debut as the head coach. ... Auburn 38, Washington State 20

TOLEDO AT FLORIDA

Chris Low: The latest blow to the Gators was offensive tackle Chaz Green going down for the season, joining already injured running back Matt Jones and guard Jon Halapio. But when you don’t give up any touchdowns, it’s hard to lose. ... Florida 24, Toledo 6

Edward Aschoff: The Gators enter with a banged-up offense that already had a lot of questions. Toledo is far from a pushover, but Florida has the muscle to get by a tricky opening opponent. ... Florida 27, Toledo 10

RICE AT TEXAS A&M

Chris Low: By order of Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, I will not make any comments concerning a certain Aggies’ quarterback. What I will say is that the Aggies will roll despite No. 2 being on the bench for a half. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 10

Edward Aschoff: Johnny Football might be sitting out a half, but it wouldn't matter if he were sitting out the entire game. It's finally time for A&M to get back on the playing field. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 17

MISSISSIPPI STATE VS OKLAHOMA STATE (Houston, Texas)

Chris Low: The Bulldogs want to bring more pressure on defense this season. They’re going to need to in this one, but they will have a hard time scoring with the Cowboys. ... Oklahoma State 37, Mississippi State 24

Edward Aschoff: A lot of questions remain for the Bulldogs, and it won't be easy for this defense to slow down Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game. ... Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi State 21

LSU VS TCU (in Arlington, Texas)

Chris Low: Les Miles isn’t saying whether Jeremy Hill will play in the opener. He’s “withholding” that information. Something else that will be withheld is TCU touchdowns. This LSU defense might be young, but it’s not lacking talent. ... LSU 28, TCU 16

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers might be the must undervalued team in the SEC. Miles always has his teams prepared for these out-of-conference games, and you'll see a more explosive offense that's fast and athletic and will overpower the Horned Frogs. ... LSU 31, TCU 17

ALABAMA VS VIRGINIA TECH (in Atlanta)

Chris Low: This is not your father’s Virginia Tech team. The Hokies simply don’t have enough firepower to keep it close against the two-time defending national champions. ... Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10

Edward Aschoff: Alabama likes these big openers. The process is strong with Crimson Tide players and Virginia Tech is hurting. Alabama comes in more talented, and the Hokies just don't have the horses to keep up in Atlanta. ... Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 13

GEORGIA AT CLEMSON

Chris Low: It’s the most compelling opener of the season and should also be the most entertaining. If you like points, sit back and enjoy. The Dawgs will hold up a little better in the secondary and sneak out with a win. ... Georgia 35, Clemson 31

Edward Aschoff: This is the main event. Both teams have high-octane offenses and both have defenses littered with questions. Georgia has a lot of talent on defense, but it's young. This game is going to come down to which defense makes a play late -- and home-field advantage. ... Clemson 34, Georgia 31

Jones, Jenkins forming dynamic duo

November, 1, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Forget the talk about Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins becoming the next Jarvis Jones.

Even if the freshman outside linebacker never matches the eye-popping statistics that Jones has produced in a season-and-a-half as a Bulldog, Jenkins has already emerged as a key defensive weapon himself. He certainly proved that in last Saturday’s 17-9 upset of then-No. 2 Florida, when he and Jones formed quite the dynamic duo -- typically as bookends on opposite edges of the line of scrimmage.

Jones produced one of the most memorable individual performances in recent memory against the Gators, but both players wreaked havoc against Florida while playing at the same time -- an opportunity that Jenkins hopes will arise again.

“We definitely were on the field a lot more in this game. I don’t know if it’s going to stay like that or not,” said Jenkins, whose sixth-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) host Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) on Saturday. “Hopefully it does because I was doing some pretty good things.”

(Read full post)

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