Despite a chilly day and track meets that kept some talented prospects from attending, the group of talent on hand eclipsed a number of other stops due to sheer numbers of prospects with FBS and BCS offers on hand. Here are some of the event’s most notable performers in the RecruitingNation NFTC awards.
Quarterback Kyler Murray, linebacker Malik Jefferson, wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, offensive lineman Patrick Vahe (Texas commit) and defensive backs Justin Dunning (Texas A&M commit), Will Sunderland Jr and P.J. Mbanasor. all earned golden tickets after stellar performances at DeSoto High School. Murray, Jefferson, Lodge, Vahe and Sunderland were named camp MVPs of their respective positions.
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They hosted a record crowd (45,212) at Kyle Field. The game was televised live on ESPN. Even the Coaches Trophy, which was awarded to the BCS national champion each year, made an appearance. And of course, there was Johnny Football, who was the center of attention.
There is no Maroon-and-White game this year (or next) as the school officially announced in February, because of the ongoing construction at Kyle. Instead, the Aggies' 15th and final practice of spring will be a scrimmage at the Coolidge grass practice fields, just the way coach Kevin Sumlin likes it.
"It's not for me, it's more for the fans," Sumlin said of a spring game. "I miss it for the fans. Shoot, last year we had 50,000 people here and we had ESPN here. It was a great recruiting opportunity. Great national exposure for the program, and it's a great day for fans. It was a beautiful day to get out and see the team, but from a football standpoint, I'll be honest with you: you guys know me, that second half goes real quick [laughs]. I'm ready to get out of there."
Sumlin used a running clock in the second half of last year's spring game (and has traditionally done so in his tenure as a head coach) in order to minimize the risk of injury.
"The goal that day is to look halfway decent and get out of that thing without getting anybody hurt or some guy getting all juiced up because he's playing in front of a crowd for the first time," he said. "So that's really the goal of that."
What Saturday afternoon will serve as is a significant evaluation opportunity, the last one until preseason training camp begins in August. The Aggies have had a couple already this spring -- their annual "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage last week and a scrimmage the week before spring break last month. For some players who are fighting for jobs or just trying to get on the field, Saturday will be the last chance to leave a good impression on Sumlin and the coaching staff heading into the summer.
"We've got one more [scrimmage] to really define who you are coming out of spring football," Sumlin said. "When the coaches aren't on the field for some of these young guys and it's a game-like situation, that's where my evaluations are coming from. It's like quizzes and tests. The practice sessions are quizzes. They count so much. But the exams are weighted a little bit more than the quizzes and that's what the scrimmages are. We need guys to come out of this last scrimmage situation and let me know and let their teammates know that they're ready to play football in the SEC."
- Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said linebacker Daniel McMillian is one of the Gators' most improved defenders this spring.
- J.J. Green worked with Georgia's first-team defense at safety on Thursday, but he said afterward not to read much into that position switch. He has already played corner and nickelback after switching from tailback since last season.
- Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said Saturday's scrimmage will help the coaches gauge the team's football IQ.
- On an Auburn team that prides itself on being fast, being labeled as the Tigers' speed guy surely has its benefits for Corey Grant.
- Young cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White are learning quickly at LSU.
- Back from shoulder surgery, Nick Perry wants to leave his mark in Alabama's secondary.
- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told reporters that he expects his team's young players to improve their level of dedication off the field (video).
- Newcomers such as running back Jalen Hurd and receiver Josh Malone are already adding explosiveness to Tennessee's offense.
- Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams and coach Derek Mason were among the dignitaries who announced Thursday that the Commodores' SEC opener this fall will be played at Nashville's LP Field.
- Running back Tra Carson is wrapping up what has been a solid spring at Texas A&M.
That’s it. That’s the list.
Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.
But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.
Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.
Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.
“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.
“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.
“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”
Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.
“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.
“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”
While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.
"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."
Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.
Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."
So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.
Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”
“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”
The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.
Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.
“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”
Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.
Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.
This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.
In a league often dominated by line-of-scrimmage play, the Aggies know they have to be up to par if they want to be long-term contenders in the conference. On the offensive line, that hasn't been an issue. They've stayed relatively healthy and had high-level players across the front five.
While the Aggies had the luxury of a mostly veteran line and a highly productive defensive end in Damontre Moore in 2012, their inaugural SEC season, the 2013 season brought something totally different. The Aggies were young, inexperienced and not particularly deep as they continued to recruit in an effort to get better numbers on the defensive line.
After the Aggies' 13th practice of the spring on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder indicated that they're making progress toward that effort.
"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] yesterday that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."
Snyder and Price could look at opponents such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU last season with envy. Those programs have enough talent on their defensive fronts to freely substitute and not worry about a drop-off in level of play. Texas A&M hasn't had that luxury the last two seasons, but with a heavy focus on defensive line recruiting in recent seasons and a highly regarded group coming in from the 2014 recruiting class, the Aggies are taking steps toward having that ability.
One benefit is that the Aggies return virtually their entire defensive line from 2013. Those same players who were rushed into duty as youngsters, such as defensive tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker and defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Jay Arnold, will no longer be freshmen and have a year of SEC experience under their belts.
Add into the mix five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson as part of a five-man defensive line class, and suddenly the pieces begin to come in place.
Garrett, Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson are a trio of defensive ends due in Aggieland in the summer and it has pushed the incumbent defensive ends, such as junior Julien Obioha, to raise their level of play this spring.
"Obioha's fighting for his life because competition makes us all better and he knows what's coming," Snyder said.
Henderson is the only one of the five defensive line recruits to enroll in January and he'll be joined in the summer by Deshawn Washington. Henderson has already made waves in his short time on campus, but he still has progress to make this summer.
"(The new) guys, (they) don't know how to practice. (Henderson is) a little bit out of shape," Snyder said. "He does have a big rear end and he's a plugger in the middle. When he's fresh, he's not bad. ... Right now he's three plays and he's done. He's going to bring some beef up front for us."
Veterans such as Obioha, senior defensive end Gavin Stansbury and junior defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who have two years of experience, are expected to have significant roles again this season. With those returnees, a redshirt freshman entering the mix [Justin Manning], the returning youngsters and incoming recruits on the way, the future on the defensive front looks a little bit better for the Aggies after a disastrous 2013 on defense.
"We're not there," Snyder said of the defensive depth. "We still need another recruiting class, but we're way, way, way closer."
- Georgia's director of on-campus recruiting, Daryl Jones, discusses the program's use of junior graphic design major Lisa Rader's unique drawings that it has recently begun sending to recruits, showing them half in their high school uniform and half in one from UGA.
- The Advocate's Ross Dellenger spoke with LSU's football scheduling head honcho Verge Ausberry about how the program approaches modern-day scheduling. The Tigers recently announced home-and-home series in upcoming seasons against UCLA and Arizona State.
- Alabama's Blake Sims calls the team's quarterback competition a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
- The Sept. 6 game between Vanderbilt and Ole Miss could be moved to Nashville's LP Field.
- Kentucky's coaches say their team is in a much better place at quarterback after a tumultuous 2013 season.
- Linebackers like Antonio Morrison and Daniel McMillian delivered strong play in Florida's spring practice on Wednesday.
- South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney has stated his case on why he should be the No. 1 overall pick in next month's NFL draft.
- Auburn center Xavier Dampeer's strong spring continues as he stakes a claim on becoming Reese Dismuke's heir apparent at center.
- Missouri is hoping for another dominant season from its defensive line.
- Arkansas' Korliss Marshall is adjusting to a full-time role in the backfield after playing defense most of last season.
- Texas A&M sophomore Jordan Mastrogiovanni is settling in at middle linebacker, a position group that could enjoy better depth in 2014.
- Former Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson proclaimed that he is finally healthy at the Vols' NFL pro day on Wednesday.
There is talent and depth. Most of the returning players have experience. The main question might be which player emerges as the most reliable and productive.
The candidates are plenty, though, and that's pleasing to head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Junior running back Tra Carson has been the most consistent of the group this spring. Sumlin has praised his work several times in recent weeks, and the 6-foot, 230-pound Carson seems to be positioning himself well for the fall.
"I think Tra Carson has been very, very solid," Sumlin said. "I think James White has progressed and is probably a little bit further ahead than I thought he would be. Brandon Williams is doing well. Trey Williams -- they're all good backs. It depends on what you want to do."
Both Trey Williams and Brandon Williams had to miss brief portions of spring practice with minor injuries, but they have returned. Sumlin noted earlier this spring, particularly when Trey Williams was out, that every day he missed was "not helping his cause." Since returning, both have been able to shoulder more of the workload in practice.
"Trey's healthy and has been involved in the return game, obviously," Sumlin said. "Brandon has come back. We worked Tra Carson pretty hard early. Those guys missed a little bit, so Tra Carson's getting a little bit of a rest right now and they're catching up. But we know what we've got in those three guys."
Trey Williams is the returning yardage leader of the group, with 407 yards and six touchdowns on 58 carries last season. Carson is the returning leader in touchdowns (7) and logged 329 yards on 62 carries in 2013. Brandon Williams contributed but didn't play as much as Carson or Tra Williams, logging 44 carries for 269 yards and a score.
But with Malena (115 carries last season) gone, there are carries available. It's reasonable to expect the returning trio will get more carries, but don't count out White, a redshirt freshman, being a factor as well based on his spring performance.
"I think the surprise has been James White," Sumlin said. "He has really come on to be pretty solid. He's a guy that's going to play special teams for us this year, and then we'll see where he fits in this group. James does everything pretty good. He's big enough at 215, 220 [pounds]. He has soft hands, is a good runner, a good blocker, so he's another guy that gives us a mix."
Sumlin expects all of them to push each other as the Aggies wrap up spring practice and continue preparing for the 2014 season.
"That competition will continue and they know that," he said. "It's good for all of us to have to compete for playing time, and that's what happens in a real program."
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.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said Tuesday that he's not looking to schedule a nonconference football matchup against Texas A&M, at least not in the short term, because he's more concerned about expanding the Longhorns' brand with more opportunities for games outside the United States.
"There's a lot of great tradition with Texas A&M. At some point in time, does it make some business sense, some branding sense to play again? I don't know," Patterson said. "It's not at the top of my list. I'm really more focused on how we grow the footprint of the department."
The first-year athletic director has already scheduled a men's basketball game against Washington in China for 2015, and the program will participate in a three-city basketball event with Michigan State, North Carolina and Florida in 2018.
On Friday night, the Aggies held their third scrimmage of the spring, this particular workout serving as coach Kevin Sumlin's annual "Friday Night Lights" event which draws numerous recruits but also serves as a live-action opportunity for the current players. Hill did not participate as he began serving his indefinite suspension (Texas A&M athletic department policy dictates that student-athletes are immediately suspended indefinitely, pending further investigation, after an arrest). The repetitions at quarterback were split "half and half" between Joeckel and Allen, according to Sumlin, who made his first public comments about Hill's incident on Monday.
With no timetable currently set for Hill's return, it appears Allen and Joeckel will continue splitting time in this final week of spring football for Texas A&M. Sumlin sounded pleased with both players' performances on Friday night.
"I think both of them did some good things," Sumlin said Monday. "They both are progressing. I think they understand the offense a lot more. Obviously, Kyle has to because he just got here. Joeckel, being two years into this [offense], he understands it a little bit more and he should. But we've got to get everybody on the same page."
Hill's absence obviously isn't helping his chances.
"I would say that if you're not out there practicing, then that would have an effect on your ability to compete for the job," Sumlin said.
He also expressed disappointment with Hill's actions. He is the third Texas A&M player to be arrested in the last six weeks and the fourth to be disciplined because of an off-field incident. Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden have both missed all spring after arrests in February and Sumlin dismissed safety Kameron Miles from the team last month.
"[It's] extremely disappointing," Sumlin said of Hill.
He noted that the team educates its players on a wide range of off-the-field matters, including drugs, alcohol and behavior, when they come into the program.
"We've got a whole educational process with our young guys when they come in," Sumlin said. "We have a 'CHAMPS' class that puts them through the structure of basically growing up. Helping guys with a sense of urgency about time management, about on the field and off the field situations, drug and alcohol counselors. We have a couple of those guys, at least, a semester that come in. We have a complete curriculum and an educational process for all those guys."
The misstep isn't necessarily a death knell for Hill's chances, if history serves as a guide. Manziel was arrested the summer before he was named the starting quarterback, just before his Heisman Trophy-winning 2012 campaign. At the time of his arrest, he was in a battle with then-Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers, Joeckel and former A&M quarterback Matt Davis for the starting job.
Sumlin has overseen two preseason starting quarterback competitions in his tenure as a head coach and both were decided in August, roughly two weeks before his team's scheduled season opener. That will be the case again this year, which quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital confirmed in February.
So while there is time for Hill to make up ground, the absence hurts him, especially in this final week of spring practice. Allen and Joeckel will have the benefit of seeing more exotic defensive looks from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and his unit this week and in the final scrimmage of spring on Saturday, which will aid both quarterbacks' development in the ongoing battle to start on Aug. 28 at South Carolina.
"I'd like for them to see it all here this week," Sumlin said of his quarterbacks. "As we get into the summer, it gives them a chance to work against some base looks and work their progressions."
Pick-Six Preview: Texas A&M Aggies
6:00 PM ET 21 Texas A&M 9 South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State 18 Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET West Virginia 2 Alabama 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State 24 Missouri 4:00 PM ET Arkansas 6 Auburn 5:30 PM ET 16 Clemson 12 Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU