10 True Freshmen College Coaches Wish They Had During Spring Practice
Now, more than ever, college football freshmen are able to make an immediate impact for their teams. Incoming freshmen are more physically gifted, and with the rise of seven-on-seven tournaments, football has become a year-round sport.
Meanwhile, spring is a time when college football rosters are more depleted and depth charts are etched in pencil. While some freshmen choose to enroll early and get a head start on competing, others will arrive in the summer in time for preseason camp.
Which of those true freshmen do college coaches wish they had in the spring? We list 10 in the following slides.
LSU RB Leonard Fournette
When it comes to the class of 2014, no player has generated more buzz than 5-star recruit Leonard Fournette. At 6'1" and 226 pounds, he is physically ready to be LSU's next bruising running back.
With the departure of Jeremy Hill, the Tigers will be looking for their next bell-cow rusher. And with a new quarterback under center, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will lean on the running game even more.
Fournette should be in the running back rotation by the time LSU opens the season against Wisconsin in Houston. If he had been available for the spring practices, he might have already worked his way into a starting job by preseason camp.
He may be the starter regardless.
Michigan DB Jabrill Peppers
Michigan doesn't have a huge need at defensive back with the return of Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor. Both are veteran guys who combined for 10 interceptions a year ago.
But 5-star defensive back Jabrill Peppers could still break the two-deep as a freshman. Here's what Brady Hoke said about Peppers via Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press: "As you’re putting the depth (chart) down, you’re looking at your base packages, your sub packages and those things. You’re looking at maybe he’s the nickel, maybe he’s a safety or a corner. We’re looking to start him at the nickel position and see how he comes in and how he does."
Peppers would have been a good addition in the spring, perhaps giving Countess and Taylor a little run for their money. Unless he flops in preseason camp, all signs point to him seeing the field in some capacity this season.
USC DB Adoree' Jackson
Technically, 5-star recruit Adoree' Jackson, the prize recruit in head coach Steve Sarkisian's first class at USC, is listed as a cornerback.
That's probably where he projects best too. Still, Sarkisian is apparently going to give him a chance to play a little offense as well.
"I think he's going to get some of both, quite honestly," Sarkisian said, via Rahshaun Haylock of Fox Sports West. "I bet he does a couple things on each side of the ball on day one because we need to gather the information."
Ideally, Sarkisian would have liked to spend spring figuring out where Jackson is best suited to play and how best to use him. The coach is going to have to wait a little bit longer.
Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
Oklahoma commit Joe Mixon has been touted as the next Adrian Peterson for the Sooners. While comparisons like that are almost always premature and unfair, he can fill an immediate need.
Oklahoma is inexperienced at running back thanks to the departures of Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. Keith Ford has assumed the No. 1 spot in the spring, but Mixon should make his mark during preseason camp. He may become the starter, or he may be part of a running back rotation.
Either way, his talent and the Sooners' inexperience in the backfield mean he'll have a good shot to playing right away. Having him for the spring would have given coaches and fans a glimpse into what he could bring to the offense.
Florida State WR Ermon Lane
A signing-day boost for Florida State, 5-star wide receiver Ermon Lane can help fill in the holes left by Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw.
Lane has great size for a No. 1 receiver (6'3", 193 pounds) and should be a big-bodied deep threat for the Seminoles. He'll have Rashad Greene as a veteran mentor, but enrolling early would have given him an earlier start on growing into the position.
Not to mention, it would have built some initial chemistry with Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
It took awhile, but the National Letter of Intent from 5-star defensive line prospect Malik McDowell was finally sent in this month.
He was one of the more intriguing signing-day stories. While he had his heart set on Michigan State, his family was less sold on the Spartans. Eventually, he got his wish and will join the program this year.
Michigan State has a lot to replace from last year's defense on all three levels, including in the interior of the defensive line. McDowell is listed as a defensive end prospect by 247Sports, but he's big enough to play anywhere.
With so many new faces on the defensive side of the ball this spring, McDowell could have cracked the two-deep exiting spring. He'll compete for playing time —and probably see the field—this fall.
Texas QB Jerrod Heard
Texas' quarterback situation is an intriguing storyline heading into the summer because there was no resolution to it in the spring.
Presumed starter David Ash, who can't seem to stay healthy for the life of him, had a foot injury that ended his spring early. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes had a slow start in the Longhorns' spring game, and USC transfer Max Wittek has taken multiple visits to Texas but hasn't announced if he'll join.
Jerrod Heard, a 4-star dual-threat quarterback from Denton, Texas, won't join the program until later this summer. With all the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation, spring would have been a good time for Heard to make a name for himself.
He also would have given head coach Charlie Strong another viable option to consider. It's going to be tough for Heard to take the starting job in preseason camp—at least without numerous injuries or unforeseen instances.
Stanford DE Solomon Thomas
Stanford lost the meat and potatoes of its defense from last season, including defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.
Solomon Thomas, a 5-star recruit from Coppell, Texas, will have a ton of competition from veteran players when he arrives on campus later this summer. Because of that, he may not see a lot of playing time right away. Still, spring would have been a good time to see what he could do and whether he could challenge the older players on the roster.
The Cardinal pass rush is going to be an area to watch after finishing first in the Pac-12 in sacks last season.
Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
The Sugar Bowl loss showed the rest of the college football world that Alabama had issues at cornerback.
Marlon Humphrey, along with fellow 5-star corner Tony Brown, will provide a boost to that position. Brown is already on campus, but Humphrey will join the program later this year.
Here's what Bleacher Report College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder said about Humphrey in a March Q&A: "Humphrey is not as athletically gifted, but he's more polished and is no slouch when it comes to talent. I expect Humphrey, who was well coached in high school from a technique standpoint, to come in over the summer and get up to speed during fall camp."
Considering the help the Crimson Tide need at corner, it would have been nice for Humphrey to join the team a little sooner. That said, he should still have an impact as a freshman.
Iowa State WR Allen Lazard
Wait, Iowa State? What?
Allen Lazard, a 4-star receiver, is a rare blue-chip recruit for the Cyclones. If nothing else, head coach Paul Rhoads wanted to get Lazard on campus as soon as possible so he could fend off other programs, like Notre Dame, who had their eyes on the prospect.
Still, Lazard signed with Iowa State and will almost certainly see the field as a freshman. The Cyclones have a good receiver in Quenton Bundrage, but that position needs a serious upgrade that Lazard can provide.
Having him in the spring would have helped build chemistry with the quarterbacks and eased him into the ins and outs of the position. As a likely immediate contributor, he would have benefited. Instead, he will get the crash course this summer.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.