Biggest Takeaways from Week 4 of Spring Practice
It's been four weeks since the first few FBS programs opened their doors to spring practice, and if that sounds like a high number, it is.
It feels like barely half that.
There's a reason for this. Teams like Notre Dame and Michigan kicked off spring ball earlier than most, as the majority of teams didn't begin hitting the field until the last couple of weeks—this past week in particular.
Now, seemingly the entire country is engaged in spring practice, including our most high-profile teams: our Alabamas and our national title game participants at Auburn and Florida State.
We have officially hit high gear.
Let's look back on the week that was.
Jalen Hurd Looks Healthy
For all intents and purposes, running back Jalen Hurd missed his entire senior season of high school football with a broken collarbone. That is the type of injury that heals—that players can come back from—but it's never clear what sort of timeline they'll face before feeling comfortable or playing with confidence.
Early in Tennessee's spring camp, we learned Hurd has already reached that mark.
"[Hurd is] always bringing his stuff every day," said defensive lineman Corey Vereen, per Jason Yellin of UTSports.com. "He's a young player. It's nice and inspiring seeing him coming out here and bringing it every day. It's really inspiring to see him."
Rated a 5-star athlete by 247Sports, Hurd is 6'3" and runs with long strides and a straight-up, Darren McFadden-like style. He is one of the biggest potential wild cards in the SEC this season, and this has been a great start to his—and the Vols'—offseason.
Dalvin Cook Must Wait Until the Fall
On the direct flip side of Jalen Hurd—a 5-star running back who enrolled early and just got healthy—Florida State's Dalvin Cook is a 5-star running back who enrolled early and just got hurt.
According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Cook tripped on a stair in the Seminoles weight room and injured his labrum trying to break the fall. He had surgery and will be out for the rest of spring camp, hopefully returning to the team in the fall.
Jimbo Fisher likes to spread touches among his running backs and keep his players fresh—e.g. last year's three-headed monster with Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr.
Cook was, and still is, expected to play a meaningful part in a similar dynamic this season. This injury is a legitimate setback, however, not unlike the one that kept Derrick Henry out of spring camp at Alabama in 2013.
One can only hope it won't be January 2015 before Cook starts seeing consistent playing time.
Shawn Watson Is Calling the Shots at Texas
After hinting earlier this offseason that offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, who hasn't been a full-time coordinator since the 1980s, would be calling the plays this season, new Texas head coach Charlie Strong announced this week that QB coach Shawn Watson, who came with him from Louisville, would have the final say on play calls.
(This is a bit confusing, but as pointed out by Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman, Strong's political language regarding Wickline might be the result of a clause in his old contract at Oklahoma State. He's trying to save the school some money.)
In truth, this sounds like it will be Watson's show on offense with a healthy dose of Wickline helping to inform him. And that is a very good thing. Louisville and Oklahoma State have had different but equally successful offenses these past few seasons.
Mixing them together—but allowing the more innovative mind of Watson to call the shots—is a wise early move from Strong.
Key Gamecocks Defenders Have Knee Problems
File this one under "things that aren't a big deal yet but are definitely worth keeping an eye on."
According to Josh Kendall of GoGamecocks.com, two projected defensive starters—inside linebacker Kaiwan Lewis and "spur" Sharrod Golightly—had arthroscopic knee procedures this winter and will have to miss, at the very least, the first few weeks of South Carolina's spring camp.
"They are saying (they will be back) before spring ball is out, but they’re not saying when just yet," said linebackers coach Kirk Botkin. And ambiguity is never a good thing.
Lewis and Golightly combined to start 22 games last season and are being counted on to help replace the losses of Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles along the defensive line. With an ostensible drop-off in four-man pass-rushing ability, the Gamecocks will need to be more sound at every other level.
For now, this means more spring reps for backups such as Marcquis Roberts, T.J. Holloman, Jordan Diggs and Larenz Bryant. That is a good thing for the 2015 and 2016 depth chart. This news could breed some positives.
But only if Lewis and Golightly tread lightly.
Tommy Armstrong Is Taking Control at Nebraska
Locked in what was, and still is, a neck-and-neck battle with Johnny Stanton for the right to replace Taylor Martinez as Nebraska's full-time starting quarterback, Tommy Armstrong is doing all the right things—both on and off the field.
According to Bleacher Report's Erin Sorensen, the redshirt sophomore has handled himself like a leader and played like a much-improved quarterback:
For Armstrong, his improvement has been about more than just his performance on the field. It's how he leads both on and off it. That's ultimately what will accelerate him to be a top quarterback in the conference. ...
... As spring practice rolls on, Armstrong continues to show that as his leadership skills strengthen, he is on track to becoming the Big Ten's most improved player. It may not mean his time on the field will be error-free, but if everything goes as planned, he'll make a big jump before the 2014 season begins.
Armstrong ended last season—which was, admittedly, uneven—with an upset win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. With Stanton nipping at his heels, it was unclear whether he would be able to snowball that momentum into the offseason.
So far, so good.
Georgia Is Still...Well, Georgia
Georgia dismissed Josh Harvey-Clemons from the team in February, which was supposed to be its quasi-mandated disciplinary move of the offseason. But if you thought there'd be just one off-field fault from the Bulldogs this winter and spring, you haven't been paying attention.
Like clockwork, four Georgia players were arrested early this week.
Per Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph, receiver Uriah LeMay, safety Tray Matthews and defensive linemen Jonathan Taylor and James DeLoach were each charged with misdemeanor theft by deception.
The specifics of the arrest are all there in Emerson's story, but the bigger issue is not how or why they got arrested; it's how they will be punished. Head coach Mark Richt said "there'll be consequences," which is unnerving given Matthews' place as a potential starter at free safety.
Still, Richt's teams have gotten (and earned) a reputation as non-law-abiding citizens, and he must do something to stop it. Even if it means being at reserve strength when the Bulldogs play Clemson in Week 1.
This is worth keeping an eye on.
Sark Is Fitting Personnel to Scheme
USC's offense wasn't plodding, per se, in 2013, but it certainly wasn't fast.
New head coach Steve Sarkisian intends to change that.
According to Rahshaun Haylock of KCAL 9, quarterback Cody Kessler said the team was running plays at a frantic pace—especially compared to last year's 66 snaps per game.
"It was way different," Kessler said of practicing with Sark, according to USCTrojans.com. "We did literally nothing the same."
This is an interesting move. Because of its scholarship restrictions the past few years, USC's roster lacks the depth of its glory years. However, running at the tempo Sark prefers might require players to sub in and out to stay fresh.
Conditioning and talent development will be of utmost concern this offseason—the former taking place in the summer as much as the spring and the fall. If it all comes together, though, this offense has talented enough weapons (Nelson Agholor, Javorius Allen, et al.) to be quite good.
Graham Glasgow Gets Suspended
Faced with what might, potentially, sort of be a make-or-break year at Michigan, head coach Brady Hoke is still laying down the law.
Hoke suspended the Wolverines' best offensive lineman, center Graham Glasgow, on Thursday for a "violation of team expectations," per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. He will miss a portion of spring practice and the team's first game against *gulp* Appalachian State.
Glasgow was the only Wolverine to start every game along the offensive line last year, doing so at both guard and center. On a unit where questions abound, he was supposed to be a force of stability.
Fixing the offensive line is among the biggest challenges Doug Nussmeier, the newly hired offensive coordinator, faces in Ann Arbor. Even before this, it seemed like an uphill fight.
Now it becomes slightly harder.
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