Boom or Bust: Spring practice edition
All 14 SEC programs have officially begun their spring practice seasons, and with the spring well underway we’re taking a look at a few players who have impressed this spring, and a few who have not.
Without need for further introduction, enjoy a spring practice edition of Boom or Bust:
1. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss: Kelly has been as much of a “boom” for what he’s done off the field as he has for what he’s done on the field since arriving in Oxford in January. He came to Ole Miss as a touted prospect and the top junior college quarterback in the nation, but was arrested less than a week after signing with Ole Miss, all on the heels of behavioral issues that earned him an exit from Clemson’s program last spring.
However, since landing at Ole Miss he’s completed his court-ordered community service, was an admirable figure on a spring break mission trip to Haiti with head coach Hugh Freeze, and has been ahead of the curve on the practice field. Freeze singled out Kelly last weekend to praise his deep throws and arm strength, and although Freeze remains adamant he won’t choose a starter this spring many assume Kelly is leading the competition. His talent is still there, and he seems to be maturing in the Rebels’ program, which is a great sign for Ole Miss fans this spring.
2. Cam Sutton, DB, Tennessee: Sutton already began the spring as the undoubted No. 1 cornerback on the Tennessee roster, and he’s lived up to that billing so far in spring practice. Sutton will take on a much larger role this year with Justin Coleman now on his way to the NFL, and Sutton has responded. He’s reportedly taken a new leadership role very seriously and is determined to not only serve as the top defensive back on the Vols, but in the entire SEC.
He’s played most of his career on the outside, yet is playing some nicker corner this spring in an effort to add talent to that position as others fill in around him on the outside. (He’ll also play on the outside in non-nickel situations, of course.) That desire to move positions for the benefit of the team shows the praise he’s received as a leader is justified, and it also shows his versatility as a future NFL talent in his own right.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Fournette is the former top overall recruit from the 2014 class, and he showed noticeable improvements as his rookie season wore on last fall. Upon losing senior tailbacks Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, Fournette is not only the incumbent starter in the backfield, but he’s now the veteran of a group that includes two sophomores and two incoming freshmen.
Fournette’s play has continued to improve, as he’s focused on improving his abilities as a blocker and pass-catcher out of the backfield this spring in an effort to become a more well-rounded back (ala former Georgia tailback Todd Gurley). He’s also dropped some weight to enable him to move better, and he’s embraced his role as a leader on an offense that struggled mightily to throw the ball last season, understanding how vital he is to the entire unit’s success in 2015.
“He’s getting better overall, taking a leadership role and allowing himself to digest it all,” running backs coach Frank Wilson told the New Orleans Times-Picayune over the weekend. That’s great news for the Bayou Bengals and their fans as they look ahead to a pivotal season this fall.
1. Jonathan Taylor, DT, Alabama: In case you missed it over the weekend, Taylor was arrested on domestic violence charges Saturday evening and Sunday was dismissed from the Crimson Tide as a result. He arrived at Alabama this January as a junior college transfer after being dismissed from Georgia last summer following a similar arrest. He was given a short leash by Nick Saban and company and needed less than three months on campus to blow his second chance with arguably the best program in the nation.
Alabama shouldn’t worry over its ability to compensate for losing Taylor; the Tide are as deep at defensive tackle as any other position, and returning talents like A’Shawn Robinson and Darren Lake, among others, should keep the position group afloat. But that doesn’t change the fact that Taylor is a massive bust this spring, He destroyed any chance of salvaging his image upon earning his second arrest for domestic violence, and he delivered a bit of a blow to Alabama’s image as well as the school willing to give him another shot (although Alabama should be able to overcome this setback better than maybe any other program).
All in all, the Taylor situation is a messy one, but it has “bust” written all over it.
2. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Many have joked that Marshall might be made of glass given his injury history at Georgia, but after suffering his most recent injury it may be worth looking into the validity of that statement. The Dawgs star tailback who teased fans with a brilliant freshman season in 2012 has missed 18 of UGA’s 26 games the last two years with various injuries, rushing for 270 yards and one touchdown those two years combined.
Marshall was said to be a full participant at the start of the spring, but he reportedly sat out Georgia’s intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday with a hamstring injury. Once again, Marshall’s body wouldn’t cooperate, and his own career and Georgia’s backfield are the victims suffering the most. The Bulldogs have their workhorse back in place in Nick Chubb, and they have plenty of youth and explosiveness on the depth chart behind him, but Marshall is the veteran leader of the group, or could be if he could stay healthy. To this point, he still can’t.
3. Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks: Vanderbilt’s quarterback rotation last season was so wacky and unpredictable it rivaled even the wildest reality television programs on the air. Four different players started a game for Vandy last season, which didn’t even win four games during the course of the year. The hope was to narrow the competition to a two-man race this spring under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, but that goal just took a major hit.
Last week, rising redshirt junior quarterback Patton Robinette announced his retirement from college football, stating he was turning his focus toward a future in medical school. Robinette also has a significant history of concussion problems that likely played a factor in his decision. While no one in the Vandy community has expressed any resentment toward Robinette, whose announcement was classy and whose reasoning for retirement is well-respected, it still threw a wrench in the quarterback battle.
Rising sophomores Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck, both of whom started at least one game a year ago, remain in the running. Without Robinette the competition loses a great deal of experience and a player entering his third year at VU with the respect of his teammates. This is not to say McCrary and Freebeck can’t handle the job, but Robinette was the standard at the stat of the spring, and you’d like to have seen one of the two beat Robinette for the spot, not earn it somewhat by default. Read more about the Vanderbilt quarterback situation here.