With the start of college football just three weeks away, most teams around the country are finishing up their first week of fall camp and story lines that will affect the 2008 season have already been set into motion. Matt Scalici brings you a brief update on each of the six members of the SEC West after their first week of fall practice.
Alabama Crimson Tide
With very few, if any, high-profile position battles to settle heading into fall camp, the highlight of the Crimson Tide’s first week of practice was the appearance of Nick Saban’s highly touted recruiting class, rated as the best in the nation by most experts. Freshman phenoms Julio Jones and BJ Scott have both seen a fair amount of work in the wide receiver group in their first week of practice and both are likely to receive some playing time in the season opener against Clemson.
Meanwhile, a surprising position change made headlines Tuesday as redshirt freshman Demetrius Goode made the switch from running back to cornerback. Goode was sidelined in 2007 after injuring his knee in the first practice of fall camp and the position switch may be due to the increasing level of competition at running back where the Tide currently boasts seven scholarship players (not counting Goode).
New Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino spent the first several days of fall camp continuing to shift the philosophy of the Razorback offense from being a hard-nosed, run-based to a more fast-paced, pro-style balanced attack. The lynchpin in Petrino’s plan for the Hog offense will be quarterback Casey Dick, who now must go from being the man who hands off the ball to one of three stellar running backs to being the leader and key playmaker of the Razorback offense.
"It's something that you are constantly working on and talking with him about,” said Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrett McGee speaking to the press on Tuesday. “When you have Darren, Felix and Hillis back there and then he didn't play much on third down last year, he tends to fade away in that. This year, he's a senior and our offense evolves around the quarterback making all the decisions and being right. We will need leadership from the quarterback position and we're working on it constantly."
The Auburn Tigers suffered the toughest injury of the first week of fall camp as starting cornerback Aairon Savage suffered an injury to his right knee during Monday’s practice and was diagnosed with a torn ACL which will likely keep him on the sidelines this season. That leaves the Tigers in need of a new starter to emerge from the already-thin cornerback unit.
The loss of Savage comes in tandem with the loss of another defensive back in true freshman Deron Furr who voluntary left the team this week after what appeared to be a fight with some of his teammates. Reports are that the Auburn upperclassmen were unimpressed with Furr’s effort in early practice sessions over the weekend and let him know about it in a rather physical manner. Furr did not return to practice following the incident and the former four-star recruit has since withdrawn from school. Furr began his career at quarterback in the spring before moving to safety for fall camp.
Meanwhile the heated quarterback battle between Kodi Burns and Chris Todd rages on and may not be resolved before opening day. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said that both quarterbacks will play in the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe and the Tigers may move forward with a two quarterback system to start the season.
Hurricane Edoard put a bit of a damper on the first few days of practice for the defending national champion LSU Tigers but things are looking bright nonetheless in Baton Rouge. Head coach Les Miles said he was impressed with the look of his highly-ranked freshman class and is optimistic about his team despite the lack of a starting quarterback. Neither Jarrett Lee nor Andrew Hatch were able to gain a clear upper-hand in the competition during the spring and the battle for the starting job under center will be THE storyline to follow during LSU’s fall camp.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The sweltering Mississippi heat provided a major hurdle for the Mississippi State Bulldogs in their first few days of fall camp with temperatures reaching 110 degrees on the practice field. That heat, combined with other minor injuries, caused several Bulldog players to miss practice time in the opening days of camp, including starting defensive end Brandon Cooper.
But after acclimating to the conditions, head coach Sylvester Croom said his team looked much better in its second and third days of practice, with running back Anthony Dixon standing out. The stud ball carrier will likely be the cornerstone of the Bulldog offense this season and is already drawing comparisons to NFL star and former Bulldog Jerious Norwood for his strength, power and work ethic.
Ole Miss Rebels
It’s the start of a new era in Oxford and head coach Houston Nutt isn’t the only new name likely to make an impact for the Rebels this season. Quarterback Jevan Snead earned the starting job last spring and continues to impress during fall camp while true freshman running back Enrique Davis has wowed his coaches and teammates in Oxford and could find himself in the starting lineup on opening day against Memphis.
Highly-touted defensive tackle Jerrell Powe, who was finally granted eligibility for this season after a long battle with the NCAA Clearinghouse, has yet to work his way into the starting rotation on defense but has shown progress according to his coaches and is expected to make an impact before the end of the season.