One of the best parts of spring practice is seeing which new names create some buzz around the country. With that said, here are the 10 most intriguing newcomers (transfers, early-enrolled freshmen and redshirts) to remember for the spring:
Tate Forcier, Michigan, QB: Last year was a disastrous debut season in Ann Arbor for Rich Rodriguez. One of the biggest elements missing from his system was a dangerous triggerman with the speed to sting defenses. Enter Forcier, a fleet-footed Californian who has 4.5 40-yard dash speed, a good arm and plenty of moxie to run the Rodriguez system. Two things the 6-foot, 185-pounder doesn't have: experience and bulk. But both are things he figures to gain quickly during the next six months.
Phil Taylor, Baylor, DT: A former starter at Penn State, the 350-pound Taylor got the boot in Happy Valley after his role in an on-campus fight. Taylor wowed Bears coaches in the fall while working on the scout team and has matured a lot in his new setting, according to BU defensive coordinator Brian Norwood. Taylor, who is said to have scary quickness for a man so massive, should do wonders for a team that was 85th in the nation last season in scoring defense. I spoke to coach Art Briles about Taylor for an upcoming ESPN The Magazine feature on Baylor, and he said he'll be disappointed if Taylor isn't named to the first-team All-Big 12 in the coming season. I offered a comparison to former Texas standout Shaun Rogers. "Nah, he's even bigger than that," Briles said.
Vaughn Telemaque, Miami, safety: The Canes have produced more superstar safeties than any program in the country during the past 20 years. Maybe this Southern California product will be the next one. Already UM people have compared Telemaque's playmaking skills to Ed Reed's. That's pretty big talk, although sources close to the program say the redshirt freshman is off to a superb start in the first two weeks of spring ball. He might be exactly what the Canes were lacking last season when they managed a paltry four picks. That's less than half the number of INTs Telemaque made during his senior season (nine) at fabled Long Beach Poly High.
Russell Shepard, LSU, QB/KR: Regardless of whether Jordan Jefferson can sustain the way he finished off the 2008 season, Shepard figures to be a part of the Tigers' offense in some fashion. He's simply too dynamic to have on the bench.
LaMichael James, Oregon, RB: My hunch is that LeGarrette Blount will get out of the doghouse and be ready to play this season, but with or without him, James is a spectacular change-of-pace back who appears set to be the newest weapon coach Chip Kelly unleashes. (Uber-recruit Bryce Brown also figures to factor into the equation.) At times, James was dynamite in the fall on the scout team while redshirting. Some people have tried to compare him to fellow Texan Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State, but James is faster, although not quite as powerful. A sprinter on the Ducks' track team, James will be held out of contact drills while he recovers from an offseason shoulder surgery.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas, QB: Next to JaMarcus Russell, this guy has the strongest arm of any quarterback playing football at any level. But does the Michigan transfer have the maturity to win the Hogs' quarterback job? After his recent arrest for public intoxication, Mallett is now under curfew and other disciplinary issues, according to coach Bobby Petrino.
Willie Packer, Southern Miss, DL: Aside from wideout DeAndre Brown, Packer was the biggest coup in last year's terrific Golden Eagles recruiting class. Packer is a 275-pound inside guy with great feet and quick hands. The one thing USM coaches want to see from him on the field is sustaining some of his effort from play to play.
Kevin Prince, UCLA, QB: The Bruins' QB battle won't get the hype of the one across town, but it'll be every bit as intriguing. Starter Kevin Craft will return, but I've heard he'll have a hard time not getting overtaken by Prince, a redshirt freshman who has impressed the Bruins' coaches with his added arm strength and grasp of their system. Both will have to beat out touted freshman Richard Brehaut, who will arrive just in time for spring ball. Rust could be an issue for Prince, who sat out the 2008 season and missed 2007 with a knee injury, although he still has seemed to spark quite a bit of enthusiasm around Westwood.
Justin Boren, Ohio State, OG: The son of a former Michigan player became famous in March 2008 for bolting the Wolverines' program for archrival OSU and getting in some digs at Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez on the way out. Boren comes to a line that will be young but is loaded with promise. He'll start somewhere, and his experience at both center and guard are key. By the way, joining him at OSU will be his kid brother Zach, a linebacker.
Michael Atkinson, Boise State, DT: The Broncos program has thrived off under-the-radar recruits, and the 320-pound Canadian seems just such a player. He played fullback in high school and blocked an astounding 17 kicks during his final two seasons. In the fall, there were times when he was simply unblockable while on the scout team.
"He's going to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning every day," Petrino told Wholehogsports.com. "There's going to be an 11 o'clock curfew for him the rest of this semester. He's going to be in real good condition. He's going to be able to run after every time he lifts. The morning workout's at 6, so he'll be on the bike, or working on foot quickness or doing up-downs. There's certainly that aspect we're going to do, then there's going to be some community service involved in it. Ryan's going to do well, I think."
Mallett has some really good, young skill talent to work with.
• Remember Jamar Hornsby, the defensive back whom Florida booted after he was caught using the credit card of a woman who died in a motorcycle crash? Ole Miss rolled the dice on Hornsby and signed him last month, but he is back in the headlines after he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and petit larceny, David Brandt reports:
"UM defensive backs coach Kim Dameron said the coaching staff was aware of the arrest, which was published on the arrest log of the Starkville Daily News, but declined to comment on specifics other than saying the program planned on honoring his scholarship."
As I wrote earlier this winter, I was pretty surprised when Houston Nutt opted to sign Hornsby in February. (The credit card deal also wasn't the first time he got in trouble at UF.) I'll be shocked if Nutt keeps him in the Rebels program if these charges stick. As it is, Ole Miss needs to make room on its roster for the 37 recruits it signed.
• Former UVa offensive coordinator Mike Groh is expected to work as a graduate assistant at Alabama, Jeff White reports:
"Groh will receive his salary from U.Va. this year, so he can afford to work for low wages in Tuscaloosa."
This move isn't as uncommon as you might think with recently displaced coaches. Many opt to work in extra assistant roles at large programs not only to stay in the game but also possibly to stay on should staff turnover occur. The challenge is that NCAA rules bar many of these assistants from being on the practice field. If Groh is a graduate assistant, he can. If he's a volunteer or in one of the personnel jobs, he usually can't.To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.
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