Smith, Harvin lead freshman watch list
- Here's a look at the five freshmen who will make an impact in the SEC this season.
1. OT Andre Smith, Alabama
If there is a better, more-prepared offensive lineman to come out of high school over the last five years, we haven't seen him. Birmingham Huffman's Smith (the No. 4 overall '06 prospect) is a special talent and the Crimson Tide need his services badly.
While Alabama returns four of five starters on the offensive front from a year ago, it was a young, porous unit. So while Smith adds more youth, he drastically upgrades the group's speed and athleticism.
Expect to see Smith start out at guard but eventually end up at either tackle position. What stands out about Smith is his ability to finish plays, and this unit could use some of his nasty demeanor.
2. WR Percy Harvin, Florida
The only question about whether Harvin, the No. 2 overall '06 prospect, will make an impact as a freshman is whether he can stay out of trouble off the field.
He is the most electrifying wide receiver in the 2006 class and a nightmare when he gets the ball in space. He is the perfect fit for the spread offense as a receiver and a big-play threat on reverses and trick plays that Urban Meyer loves to employ.
3. QB Mitch Mustain, Arkansas
Mitch Mustain ('06 top-rated quarterback) better get ready quickly, because if spring practice is any indication of the quarterback race in Fayetteville, Mustain should come out on top sooner rather than later.
There is no question Mustain is the most talented, but he is a puppy among dogs now. He should know the offense since Malzahn was his high school coach. To make matters worse, the Razorbacks will not have the services of RB Darren McFadden early.
If Dick struggles early, expect to see Mustain for the long haul and hopefully he can help this deep, experienced Arkansas team get enough victories to save Houston Nutt's job.
4. QB Matt Stafford, Georgia
Matthew Stafford, the most physically gifted, strong-armed quarterback in this class, has every opportunity to lead the Dawgs in 2006. Senior Joe Tereshinski III might be older, but he isn't all that more experienced. Blake Barnes and Joe Cox add depth, but Stafford will bypass them all.
Tereshinski likely will get the first start, but expect to see Stafford early and often and for him to become the starter as a freshman.
Stafford, who enrolled early, has the best tools and the most upside to make plays in the vertical passing game. He has the arm to fit the ball into tight spots and the size of a fifth-year senior. This is an inexperienced offensive group as a whole, but the combination of running backs Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin should take some pressure off of Stafford.
5. LB Micah Johnson, Kentucky
The most heralded recruit at Kentucky since Tim Couch is linebacker Johnson. The Fort Campbell, Ky. product is a tackle-to-tackle load at middle linebacker, and don't be surprised to see him line up in the offensive backfield in short yardage situations.
He is a Jeremiah Trotter-type at middle linebacker, and while Kentucky returns all three starters from a year ago, it will be hard to keep him off the field. What many do not realize is that Johnson is just as capable at running back -- a T.J. Duckett-type who can really push the pile.
Offense or defense, Rich Brooks will find a way to get Johnson on the field in 2006.
Ole Miss has a lack of overall speed, athleticism and depth at many skill positions so I figured I'd include a number of freshmen from their impressive 2006 class who I feel will get significant playing time this fall.
Let's start in the offensive backfield with Cordera Eason (Meridian, Miss. -- Meridian) and Dexter McCluster (Largo, Fla.-- Largo). Incumbent Ben Green-Ellis, a transfer from Indiana, should see most of the carries, but expect Easonn, who is big, fast and powerful, to see at least eight to 10 carries a game. McCluster likely will be used much like Roscoe Parrish was for the Miami Hurricanes: as a slot receiver who can be used on reverses and such. McCluster is small, but extremely quick and explosive and the Rebels need some guys who can make plays in space.
Out wide, WR Markeith Summers (Olive Branch, Miss.-- Olive Branch) is the lone big, speedy receiving threat Ole Miss has. He has the makings of a premier guy and could end up being the go-to receiver for Brent Schaeffer.
On defense, the Rebels might be relying on talented, yet raw DE Marcus Tillman (Meadville, Miss.-- Franklin) to provide immediate relief within the front four, but Jonathan Cornell (La Puente, Calif.-- Bishop Amat) should be the surprise newcomer on defense despite this being the deepest group on Ole Miss' roster.
And finally, in the secondary, safety Allen Walker, the high school teammate of Summers, was probably their most athletic, versatile recruit in the class, and he will be in the mix.
All of these players are upgrades to Ole Miss' roster, so why not get them in the mix right away?
Tom Luginbill is the national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. He is a former quarterback, scout and coach.
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