With the start of college football just over a week 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 second week of fall practice.
Alabama Crimson Tide
It was another quiet week in Tuscaloosa, at least as quiet as it can be when your head coach is on the cover of Forbes Magazine. After the tumultuous summer the Crimson Tide went through, a quiet and injury-free fall camp has been most welcome to coaches and fans alike.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any interesting developments on the Tide’s depth chart. While very few spring starters have relinquished their positions, plenty of newcomers have worked their way into the two-deep for Alabama on both sides of the ball. In addition to star receiver Julio Jones working his way into a starting job, the Tide’s three highly-touted offensive line signees Barrett Jones, John Michael Boswell and Tyler Love have all earned their way onto the second team adding plenty of depth to the Tide’s strong and experienced line unit. Meanwhile running back Mark Ingram appears to be vying with the veterans for playing time in the backfield.
On defense, junior college nose guard Terrence Cody has made waves on the defensive front manhandling his competition and all but guaranteeing himself playing time in the season opener against Clemson. Linebackers Don’Ta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw continue to push their older counterparts for second team reps while Mark Barron looks like a shoe-in for playing time at safety.
Bobby Petrino’s revamping of the Arkansas offense continued in Week Two of fall camp and in addition to the likely increased role of quarterback Casey Dick, Petrino will likely give Arkansas’ running game a very different look this season as well.
After enjoying enormous success behind taller power backs like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, the Hogs will go with a speedier, more compact look at running back this season featuring starter Michael Smith. The diminutive Smith stands at 5-foot-7 and 173 pounds, not a typical look for a starting SEC running back. Petrino believes Smith’s speed gives him big play ability but one major question going forward for the Razorbacks will be whether Smith can withstand the week-in and week-out beating that SEC defenses dish out.
While quarterbacks Kodi Burns and Chris Todd both continue to impress on offense, the Tigers’ preseason excitement continues to be overshadowed by injury and conduct issues. While most of the preseason injuries suffered in Auburn have been of a minor nature, defensive back Marcus Jemison suffered a potentially season-ending injury resulting from yet another intrasquad fight with a teammate.
Joining Jemison on the growing list of unavailable secondary players was cornerback Ryan Williams who was “in the doghouse” academically according to head coach Tommy Tuberville. Williams may end up missing at least a portion of the season due to academic suspension.
Some good academic news was expected for the Tigers on Monday as true freshman running back Reggie Hunt was expected to be cleared by the NCAA this week, allowing him to join the Tigers on the practice field.
Les Miles and the Bengal Tigers continue to enjoy a productive fall camp on the bayou with a significant number of last year’s defending national championship team returning for this year’s squad.
One key injury last week may have affected the outcome of LSU’s heavily watched quarterback battle as redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee missed several practices with an ankle injury, perhaps allowing Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch to pull ahead in the race for the starting job. Lee has since returned to practice and Miles has not yet declared a starter for the job.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Quarterback Tyson Lee received some good news last week when coach Sylvester Croom guaranteed that Lee would receive at least some playing time in the Bulldogs’ opener against Louisiana Tech. Lee, a junior college transfer who earned a scholarship during spring practice, still trails Wesley Carroll for the starting job but may have a chance to earn snaps on a regular basis with a good performance in the opener.
Ole Miss Rebels
A promising start to fall camp for the Rebels took a disappointing turn when defensive leader Greg Hardy went down with a broken bone in his right foot that will keep him out of the lineup for a significant part of the regular season. Hardy was among the most dynamic pass rushers in the SEC a year ago and was expected to anchor a vastly improved Ole Miss defense.