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April 26, 2013

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Auburn running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and H-backs

Auburn Spring Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – This is the first of a three-part series through Monday, revisiting the past month in Auburn spring football and taking stock of valuable developments.

Adopting the style of WarEagleExtra.com’s popular “7 at 7” features, let’s go through seven bullet points of what you need to know about the Tigers’ running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and H-Backs.

We learned, in general, that “starter” is a technical title and little more in this offense. Tre Mason should be the No. 1 guy, but Cameron Artis-Payne will get serious carries, and maybe Corey Grant too. Brandon Fulse has been the preferred first-team tight end, but it’s impossible to believe CJ Uzomah won’t be heavily involved in the passing game, and Jay Prosch must be used as a utility blocker. Receivers? Jaylon Denson and Trovon Reed seem to have the edge as starters, with Quan Bray right there with them. But the coaches love Ricardo Louis, and Sammie Coates should get his shot as well.

Whew. That’s eleven names for five spots.

****

We learned if you dare traipse in his way, Cameron Artis-Payne will seek you out and run you over. The video of CAP destroying T.J. Davis in a high-tempo spring scrimmage speaks volumes.

****

Brandon Fulse, Trovon ReedWe learned Rhett Lashlee has a long memory. “I keep using the analogy of the first year we were here we had a guy who only had three catches in his career and had 60 in our first year,” the 29-year-old offensive coordinator said Friday, for about the third time this spring. Check out this chart:

2008: WR Darvin Adams 3 rec, 18 yards; WR Terrell Zachery 2 rec, 24 yards; RB Mario Fannin 20 rec, 223 yards, 2 TD; RB Eric Smith, 2 rec, 3 yards

2009: Adams 60 rec, 997 yards, 10 TD; Zachery 26 rec, 477 yards, 5 TD; Fannin 42 rec, 413 yards, 3 TD; Smith 17 rec, 219 yards, TD

Of course, 2009 was the first year of the Gus Malzahn-guided offense, first year of Gene Chizik as head coach, first year of Trooper Taylor as wide receivers coach and first year of young Lashlee – just 26 at the time – serving as offensive graduate assistant.

By the way, Adams and Zachery weren’t one-year wonders; they combined for 96 grabs and nearly 1,600 yards in the 2010 championship season. It’s not just about this year, it’s laying groundwork for the future.

Why is all this relevant?

2012: WR Quan Bray 14 rec, 94 yards; WR Trovon Reed 9 rec, 122 yards, TD; TE CJ Uzomah 7 rec, 136 yards, TD; RB Tre Mason 7 rec, 86 yards; WR Sammie Coates 6 rec, 114 yards, 2 TD; WR Ricardo Louis 3 rec, 36 yards; WR Jaylon Denson 1 rec, 12 yards (!!!!), TE Brandon Fulse 1 rec, 8 yards.

Team stats – 2008: 184 rec, 1985 yards, 7 pass TD … 2012: 147 rec, 1879 yards, 8 pass TD.

Team stats – 2009: 218 rec, 2857 yards, 25 pass TD … 2013: Stay tuned.

****

We learned we might not have our finger on how Uzomah and Prosch will be utilized. Those were two of the three green-jersey guys from Day 1 due to their strength and conditioning prowess (along with defensive tackle Gabe Wright), but they were often running with the second unit in media windows (and sometimes not at all.) We never heard specifically of injury issues, but Uzomah had just one catch for 20 yards on A-Day – for the blue squad – and Prosch registered no stats, albeit as the starting first-team H-Back.

17Auburn3

****

We learned Corey Grant is quietly humble, but won’t shy away from the challenge of Tre Mason; a guy who last fall didn’t actually say “Gimme the ball” but basically, yeah, said “No, seriously, gimme the ball.”

“It is important – knowing he has that mentality, you’ve got to come with that mentality also to fight for position, fight for reps, fight for carries,” Grant said. “Overall, it will help the team if you have that mentality.”

****

We learned Brandon Fulse should be taken seriously as a starting skill player. Because when coaches returning to their old school and re-teaching their unique system say things like “that’s what we recruited so-and-so for,” it’s significant.

“That’s what we recruited Brandon Fulse for: for that position standing up, doing a lot of dirty work, a very physical blocker,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “The very first year, we lost Eric Smith, and so he had to do a lot of the H-Back stuff that Eric Smith did. He’s finally coming into his own at the position we recruited him for.”

****

We learned Marcus Davis, Earnest Robinson, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker should be ready to compete from the time they get here. Because those five returning wide receivers hardly distinguished themselves. There are playing reps to be had.

April 22, 2013

Jacobs letter dismantles Roberts report, says committee to review athletic department; Darvin Adams disputes how he was quoted

Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Patient and firm, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs swore he’d get to the bottom of an avalanche of allegations hurled at his football program earlier this month by an off-beat reporter using the backstory of a rogue former player.

An internal investigation lasting nineteen days resulted in a hefty response by Jacobs and his team Monday morning, thoroughly dismantling reports by Roopstigo.com’s Selena Roberts with a nearly 1,000-word letter and official comment on 11 different allegations, including would-be NCAA violations.

“As the facts demonstrate, the article is clearly flawed,” Jacobs wrote. “I will continue to fight for Auburn University, and I will continue to defend this great institution against such attacks.

“As Auburn’s Athletics Director, it’s my job – no matter how proud I am of Auburn – to carefully review charges made against our program when warranted.”

Later in his letter, Jacobs also acknowledged the Tigers’ brutal athletic year – 0-8 in SEC football, and last place in men’s basketball and baseball division standings.

Jacobs, largely unpopular among fans during the struggles, announced university president Jay Gogue’s plan for a committee to check on all elements of the department, adding “We welcome this review.”

“As part of our efforts to get better, we are also committed to being as transparent as possible with our stakeholders,” Jacobs wrote. “That is why I wanted to let you know that a top-notch team of current and former coaches, athletics administrators, student-athletes and business executives will be coming in to give us a comprehensive evaluation.”

While numerous media reports had already poked holes in “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory”, posted April 3 on Roberts’ six-month-old web site, Jacobs’ four-paragraph statement the following day promised a comprehensive inspection.

When requested for comment by the Ledger-Enquirer, Roberts made a brief response to Monday’s release, saying “I’m working on a story on it. It’s a work-in-progress (and) I will address some of the issues Auburn raised.” adding the Monday statement was “self-revealing.”

The most serious accusation in the Roopstigo.com report alleged academic fraud, when three players said the university changed grades for up to nine players, including star tailback Michael Dyer, to keep them eligible for the 2011 BCS championship game. Defensive end Mike Blanc was quoted as saying “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” but immediately disputed his involvement in the article following its publication.

According to Jacobs, “Auburn Athletics and Auburn University Internal Auditing have completed independent reviews of the academic allegations. There is no evidence academic fraud occurred.”

An Auburn spokesperson confirmed the university worked with the NCAA on investigating the academic fraud allegations.

Specifically on Dyer, Auburn stated he passed 15 credit hours in the fall of 2010 – the NCAA student-athlete minimum is six – and carried a 2.8 GPA at the end of the semester.

The majority of Roberts’ narrative was based on information given by former safety Mike McNeil and his family. McNeil’s attorney said in the story “To show you how innocent he is, Mike is willing to go to trial because he says he didn’t do it.”

However, on April 8, McNeil entered a guilty plea bargain, accepting three years in jail and three years probation for first-degree robbery.

Auburn also provided documentation of phone records rebuking statements by McNeil’s mother, Melodie Campbell, the university cut off communication with the family.

Jacobs fiercely defended Gene Chizik, the head coach he fired Nov. 25 following the school’s worst season in 62 years.

“Coach Chizik came to Auburn with a strong record of rules compliance and a reputation as a man of the utmost character and integrity,” Jacobs said. “I have enormous respect for Coach Chizik, the way he ran his program throughout his entire tenure at Auburn and also the way he left – with dignity and class.”

Chizik made an impassioned appearance on WJOX radio in Birmingham, reiterating many points from an April 4 statement via his agents.

“Simply to the Auburn people, it’s not fair. It’s not right,” Chizik said. “But that’s why I’m here today. I care about my reputation, I care about the integrity of who I am and what I do. I’m 100 percent confident we did it right.”

Numerous players quoted by Roberts backtracked from their involvement, insisting they were misguided as to how their comments would be used.

The lone named source who had yet to respond, former receiver Darvin Adams, broke his silence Monday. Chizik’s representation released the following statement from Adams: “I was never offered any improper money by anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I never took any improper money from anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I was never offered any money by anyone to stay at Auburn for my senior year.”

Roberts tweeted Monday midday: “again, auburn never mentions the due process core of the story or answers questions on its role in a felony case.” Chizik’s statement April 4 indicated the university worked cooperatively with Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson, who added to the rebuttals of Roberts’ report.

Jacobs has released three statements this month on the matter, but has not been available to answer questions.

Regarding the athletic department on a broader scale, Gogue, according to Jacobs, has asked the review committee to conduct “a top-to-bottom review” of the same five factors listed as Jacobs’ specific objectives.

Those five areas are, listed in order: academics, finances, fan experience on gameday, competition and management/leadership structure.

April 2, 2013

Link to the past: Week One of the Malzahn era

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – I don’t do the whole ‘ICYMI’ thing on Twitter. (By the way, that’s In Case You Missed It. No idea where or how it started.) Why not? I dunno. ITIRD. (I think it’s really dumb, for you literates.)

I merely presume you either a) read everything we produce without fail, or b) actually have a life and are okay with missing a notebook here or a video there because you’re out enjoying this gorgeous weather.

That said, I am a fan of combining a week’s worth of links into one tidy little spot here in our humble home of WarEagleExtra.com. So here’s the entire assortment of 19 different submissions from the first seven days of Auburn spring practice. Enjoy.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

FROM TUESDAY

Malzahn vows a physical spring: Erique Florence, Blake Burgess leave the team | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn

FROM WEDNESDAY (Practice day No. 1)

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 1

“A minor setback for a major comeback”: Quan Bray learns lessons from fumble, arrest | VIDEO: WR Quan Bray

Gus Malzahn’s first practice is fast, but says “we didn’t play fast enough today. We weren’t really even close, but we’ll get there” | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn

FROM THURSDAY

7 at 7: How we’ll cover spring football: plus Weight Watchers; Kris Frost is ready to fly | VIDEO: RB Corey Grant

BRENNER: Praise will (and should) be earned, not handed out freely, by new coaches

FROM FRIDAY (Practice day No. 2)

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 2

Trovon Reed: “Time is flying. I can’t just keep sitting back.” Veteran receiver vows to fill a critical leadership role | VIDEO: WR Trovon Reed

Notes & quotes: Prepping for the pads, Robenson Therezie & Harris Gaston updates | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee, Ellis Johnson

FROM SATURDAY (Practice day No. 3)

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 3 VIDEO: Pace drill, 11-on-11

Back to his roots: Cool, confident Kiehl Frazier relieved to be back in his comfort zone | VIDEO: QB Kiehl Frazier, QB Jonathan Wallace

Notes & quotes: Malzahn unhappy with padded practice, Jordan Diamond ‘blessed’ by return, Patrick Miller has All-American aspirations | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, OL Jordan Diamond

FROM EASTER SUNDAY

‘Student of the Game’: Refocused Kris Frost prepared for larger linebacker responsibilities | VIDEO: LB Kris Frost

7 at 7: Frazier’s love of fútbol, Diamond has Basketball Jones, Bret Bielema talks trash toward Tuscaloosa | VIDEO: CB Robenson Therezie

FROM MONDAY (Practice day No. 4)

Quick observations from Auburn practice #4: Grimes, Garner won’t tolerate Monday fatigue | VIDEO: Slant/screen throwing drills

Comeback kings: Shon Coleman, Avery Young hungry to overcome illness, injury setbacks | VIDEO: OL Shon Coleman, OL Avery Young

Notes & quotes: Owens finally gets a look at LB, Garrett embraces star, Parkey picks up pace | VIDEO: LB LaDarius Owens

Live comments from Auburn practice No. 4VIDEO: Gus Malzahn

FROM THIS MORNING, TUESDAY

7 at 7: Louis working hard on his own, Ray raising eyebrows, Dismukes speaking up with mates, an Auburn recruit’s April Fools’ prank | VIDEO: WR Ricardo Louis, OL Alex Kozan

March 26, 2013

Malzahn vows a physical spring (w/ video) | Erique Florence, Blake Burgess leave the team

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Gus Malzahn specifically told his players Tuesday: it’s time to get their edge back.

In reality, he’s been telling the Tigers that every day. It won’t just be a fancy phrase, though: on Tuesday, the eve of the first of Auburn’s 15 spring practices, the first-year head coach promised a more rough-and-tumble brand of workouts than normal.

“We’re going to be very physical during spring practice. We’re going to have the pads on and we’re going to be getting after it with the basic fundamentals of football,” Malzahn said. “Also, we’re going to stress discipline on the field. That’s a big part of what we’re doing.”

“Hopefully, we will stay healthy. The good thing is that those guys will get a lot of reps and have a very good understanding of the offense when we get finished.”

Malzahn stated two main reasons for starting spring practices at the end of March, whereas every other SEC program has already done so.

“We felt like we needed to get physically stronger in the weight room, and (strength and conditioning) coach (Ryan) Russell has assured me that we have,” Malzahn said. “Really felt like we got mentally tougher, and we’ve worked hard with these 6 a.m. workouts, really strained our guys. We feel like we have a good foundation going to spring practice.”

As a result, Auburn will engage in 15 sessions over 25 days, tied with Florida for the league’s quickest pace.

“We are going to be a no huddle team, and that is a mentality. We are going to learn to play fast, practice fast, and do everything fast. We think that will be a definite advantage.”

Malzahn needed his coaching staff to memorize his hybrid hurry-up, no-huddle offense and defensive coordinator’s Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 structure before introducing it to the players – many of whom are used to pro-style and 4-3 base formations.

“We want our guys, when they leave spring, to have a very good understanding of the responsibilities of our base offense and defense,” said Malzahn, who will release a two-deep depth chart on or after A-Day April 20. “This summer, we want them to build upon things and not develop bad habits.”

Two player departures were announced: fullback Blake Burgess and safety Erique Florence. Neither was completely unexpected; each had iffy futures following the 2012 season.

Florence, Erique12Florence missed three 2012 games – at Vanderbilt and the final two contests vs. Alabama A&M and at Alabama – for personal reasons, the same explanation why he is moving on from Auburn University.

He was a four-star recruit out of Valley (Ala.) High School, yet other than a 7-tackle performance against Samford in 2011 never made a significant impact in two seasons.

“He’s not been with us this spring,” Malzahn said. “He’s taking care of some personal issues, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Burgess, Blake12Burgess is a theatre major, and the walk-on-turned-scholarship-player plans to pursue a career in the arts after graduating in May.

“We really appreciate Blake and everything that he did for our program,” Malzahn said.

This will be Malzahn’s first chance to lead an Auburn football practice since his 2009-11 stint as offensive coordinator – and, of course, his inaugural session as the head coach.

“Real excited about tomorrow. It’s been a long time coming,” Malzahn said. “I’ve really enjoyed everything up to this point with the job, but boy, there is nothing like being on that field.”

Other notes from Malzahn’s Tuesday afternoon press conference:

- With just two quarterbacks preparing for spring camp, Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace will be under the microscope. “The good thing is they are going to get a lot of reps, and we will start out with equal reps,” Malzahn said. “Probably the biggest concern (is) you’ve got to protect their arms. We went through this the last year I was here with only two scholarship quarterbacks in spring, so coach (Rhett) Lashlee and I will really keep an eye on both of those guys. But the positive is you are getting a lot of reps, and they both need that.”

- There hasn’t been any specific player movement by position at the outset of spring, though cornerback Robenson Therezie will get some looks at returner and receiver Quan Bray could factor into the Onterio McCalebb-type role on stretch running plays.

- Every player on the roster is healthy. That would include right tackle Avery Young, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in September.

- Reiterating previous statements: every position is open. “We are completely starting over. It is a new day, so there are no specific positions that are any more important than the others.”

- On the three junior college players (Cameron Artis-Payne, Devonte Danzey, Ben Bradley) already enrolled: “At first, I am going to bet that they would all tell you they had a little shock to their system to getting used to the way we do things and the pace at which we do stuff. They have all responded extremely well, and I am curious to see them in pads.”

***********

Replay highlights from Malzahn’s remaks during his 10-minute press conference:

Plus, check out our positional breakdowns entering spring football (WRs/TEs/H-Backs posted Wednesday a.m.):

Part I: Defensive backs
Part II: Linebackers
Part III: Defensive line
Part IV: Special teams
Part V: Quarterbacks
Part VI: Offensive line
Part VII: Running backs

-AB

February 28, 2013

Beaming with pride: Auburn gymnastics sets school record, young squad grows up quick

Bri Guy

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – The girls didn’t realize what they’d done.

At first, the sheer shock Friday at Auburn Arena was simply from beating LSU, then the owner of sixth-highest regional qualifying score in the country. Then came the real adulation – Auburn’s 197.175 overall score was the highest in school history.

“A couple of us cried, I think,” sophomore Bri Guy said. “We were really ecstatic and really proud of ourselves.”

Staked by the near perfection of Guy and freshman sensation Caitlin Atkinson – named the SEC Gymnast of the Week for her performance – the Tigers have defeated three of four opponents, and have risen to a No. 11 ranking.

A sharp turnaround, considering how the Tigers stumbled around – relatively speaking, of course – in January.

Gymnastics is a sport that focuses on the team’s own individual performances rather than how it compares on the scoreboard to its opponent that night. With that in mind, it was frustrating taking fourth place in a four-team dual at California to open the season, before losses to Kentucky, Georgia and Florida.

Head coach Jeff Graba did expect “hiccups early on, with eighty percent of his lineup consisting of freshmen and sophomores yet to turn 20.

“I think it was more confused,” Graba said. “We knew going in we were going to have a lot of growing pains and a lot of teaching to do early on. We were simulating a lot of pressure sets, trying to put people in tough positions in practice, but it never really was the same as being in a meet.”

Guy knew, eventually, her team’s youth would pay off, because that’s the nature of her sport.

“We’re all babies. I get it all the time – in the airport, someone thought I was a sixth-grader,” said Guy, listed at 4-foot-11. “Recruiting, you have to start a lot earlier. The younger you are, the more appeal you have because you have that much more potential.”

The first day the calendar flipped to February, Auburn began its turnaround with a win at Missouri. Another win over Arkansas was followed by a loss to national powerhouse Alabama, but the upward trend was for real.

“It was difficult at first, but it really showed us how much work we needed to put in – not necessarily that we weren’t putting in the work, but we needed to put more pressure on each other,” Atkinson said. “It helped us out in the long run, because I don’t think we would have broken the school record if that hadn’t happened because it pushed us to get that much better, continually every week.”

The LSU triumph marked the program’s fifth straight score of 196 or higher, which Auburn has never done before. The Tigers’ 49.450 score on the floor routine, and Atkinson’s all-around 39.550, were each the third-highest totals in school history.

“We all believed from the very beginning that we are fully capable of what we did Friday night,” Graba said. “That’s really our expectations.”

Finished with SEC regular season competition, Auburn’s got two more home meets with Maryland on Friday and Lindenwood on March 8 before a trip to Pittsburgh. The SEC Championships are March 23 in North Little Rock, Ark., and NCAA Nationals are April 19 in Los Angeles, with both postseason events televised by ESPNU.

Caitlin Atkinson

February 12, 2013

Coaches pick Arkansas to win SEC baseball crown; Auburn tabbed to bring up the rear

AUBURN, Ala. — Arkansas is ranked No. 1 in the preseason USA Today baseball coaches’ poll nationally, and the SEC managers acted accordingly in projecting the experience-laden Razorbacks to wear the league crown.

Arkansas returns five position players and ten pitchers from last year’s team, which made the College World Series semifinals. The Hogs garnered 9 of 14 first-place votes, with three coaches favoring Vanderbilt, one picking Kentucky and another taking LSU. (Coaches could not vote for their own team.)

Auburn, coming off a 31-28 season (13-17 SEC), is tabbed to finish in last place in the SEC West, getting two less votes than Alabama. The Tigers have not won a postseason SEC tournament since 1998, and are seeking their first regular season title since 1976.

Teams open season in non-conference play Friday, and league series begin March 15. The SEC Tournament will be held May 21-26 in Hoover, Ala.

February 7, 2013

Corey Lemonier, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Onterio McCalebb score invites to NFL Combine

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Of the more than 300 players given an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 20-26, three wore Auburn colors last year: defensive end Corey Lemonier, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and tailback Onterio McCalebb.

Lemonier, an all-SEC performer his sophomore year in 2011, is foregoing his senior year of eligibility to take a shot at the NFL Draft. Currently training in Arizona, he is considered a mid-round grade, though one NFL Draft consultant was reportedly told “three NFL teams” consider Lemonier the pool’s top defensive end prospect.

Lutzenkirchen is still attempting his comeback from hip surgery, which ended his senior year after six games. The Tigers’ all-time leading touchdown grabber among tight ends, Lutzenkirchen was not quite able to suit up for the Senior Bowl.

McCalebb, Auburn’s ninth-leading all-time rusher and No. 4 in all-purpose yards, battled a hamstring injury during his tour of postseason all-star games.

Lutzenkirchen and McCalebb are hoping for a late-round selection, and could also test free agency.

Fans can watch the action from Feb. 23-26 on NFL Network. Tight ends are featured Feb. 23, running backs on Feb. 24 and defensive linemen on Feb. 25.

The NFL Draft is April 25-27 in New York City.

February 5, 2013

So fax me maybe? Here are the top recruits Auburn continues to pursue on the eve of National Signing Day

AUBURN, Ala. – On the eve of national signing day, the Tigers have 17 players – three junior college, 14 high school – who have announced their intent to sign to play with Auburn on or after tomorrow, the first day of official signing period.

As always for Auburn fans, the hope is all 17 follow through on their pledges. But you never know – players like defensive ends Tashawn Bower and even (gulp!) Carl Lawson are no sure things until pen hits paper.

Then there are commits to other programs who Auburn could potentially flip – the highest-profile being linebacker Reuben Foster, who announced on television Monday night he anticipates signing with rival Alabama.

There’s still some untapped talent out there on college football’s version of free agency. Who are some of the top names available, and what are Auburn’s chances of landing a last-minute Christmas gift? Bryan Matthews, recruiting expert for 247Sports.com and AuburnUndercover.com, joins us to weigh in on what Gus Malzahn and his staff should expect Wednesday.

Montravius Adams

(Stars order: Scout/Rivals/247/ESPN) 

DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.), 5/5/5/4

Dooly County HS | 6-4, 310

Top finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia

247Sports forecast: “Auburn’s probably the team to beat for Montravius, but he’s got three other very good schools recruiting him. He’ll think it over the next 24 hours.”

CB Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), 4/4/4/5

Immokalee HS | 5-10, 180

Top finalists: Auburn, Clemson, Mississippi State, maybe Rutgers & Texas A&M

247Sports forecast: “I think Auburn’s in fairly good shape with Mackensie, but they’ve got a battle on their hands with Mississippi State and Clemson. He’s very unpredictable, and there’s no telling what he will do.”

DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), 4/4/4/4

Avon HS | 6-4, 250

Committed to Ole Miss, officially visited Auburn this past weekend

247Sports forecast: “Elijah Daniel is struggling right now between Auburn and Ole Miss. I’d probably give Auburn a little edge, but that one’s very close.”

RB Corn Elder (Nashville, Tenn.), 4/4/4/4

The Ensworth School | 5-10, 165

Top finalists: Auburn, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, UCLA

247Sports forecast: “Corn Elder is most likely going to Georgia Tech.”

RB Johnathan Ford (New Hope, Ala.), 4/4/4/3

New Hope HS | 5-11, 190

Top finalists: Auburn, Tennessee

247Sports forecast: “I think Auburn’s in great shape, for the running back. He’s going to choose Auburn on signing day.”

DT Toby Johnson (College Park, Ga.), 4/4/4/4

Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-4, 310

Top finalists: Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Oklahoma

247Sports forecast: “Toby is going to officially visit Mississippi State after signing day, and have a decision after that. I think Auburn’s in pretty good shape.”

BEST OF THE REST

Six more prospects giving a long look to Auburn, mostly in the three-star range:

  • S Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.)
  • OL Wilson Bell (Prichard, Ala.)
  • S Chequan Burkett (Montgomery, Ala.)
  • WR Christian Cumberlander (Matthews, N.C.)
  • OG Deon Mix (Batesville, Miss.)
  • OT DeVondre Seymour (Suwanee, Ga.)

January 24, 2013

Sportsman of the Month: 2012 in review

AUBURN, Ala. – Once again, my favorite magazine in the world got it all wrong.

I’ve been setting Sports Illustrated straight since my college days, taking names and kicking … off the new year by breaking down exactly who should have been named Sportsman of the Year.

But it’s no fun without some kind of build-up. Let’s go month by calendar month, revisiting some of the top performances throughout the year before revealing who should have been the top honoree of 2012. And no, it’s not LeBron James. Not in my mind.

January: Kyle Williams, WR, San Francisco 49ers

Everybody makes mistakes. The ones that are physical, accidental, are even more inevitable than mental or personal screw-ups. Sure, Williams’ punt return fumbles probably cost the 49ers a shot at the Super Bowl a year ago. But in the wake of receiving hate tweets and, even worse, death threats, Williams proved himself a champion by owning up to his actions and swearing to make himself better, leaning on his teammates to get through the tough times. That’s what it’s all about, in life and in sports. 

Hats off to: Blake Griffin | Novak Djokovic

February: Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants 

Do you realize that Eli Manning’s career passer rating (82.7) is tied with Brian Griese? Do you realize that 16 active quarterbacks have a better mark – including Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton and the immortal Shaun Hill? Do you realize the list of NFL QBs with a top-40 all-time passer rating and multiple Super Bowl rings without a championship game loss starts with Joe Montana … and ends with Eli Manning? Do you realize that the 49ers were a favorite in all four of Montana’s Super Bowl wins … and Manning was an underdog in both of his, only because he was going against Tom Freaking Brady? Eli’s hardly a Hall of Famer for his lack of stats or consistency, but his career’s fascinating factor is a top-five all-timer.

Hats off to: Jeremy Lin 

NorfolkState

March: Lehigh & Norfolk State men’s basketball teams

Sorry, Duke and Mizzou. That’s what March is all about. Even though we should have come to expect this in a land of Gonzaga and Butler and VCU, oh my.

Hats off to: Peyton Manning 

April: Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington Nationals

In September 2010, Stephen Strasburg had Tommy John surgery, an injury which takes 12 to 18 month to rehabilitate.

In September 2011, Stephen Strasburg started five games, pitching 24 innings. 1.50 ERA. 2 walks. 24 strikeouts.

In April 2012, Stephen Strasburg started five games, pitching 32 innings. 1.13 ERA. 6 walks. 34 strikeouts. The Nationals finished with the majors’ best record, before falling in the first round of the playoffs … in part since Strasburg was shelved in September. Imagine when they take the kid gloves off this guy.

Hats off to: Brittney Griner | Anthony Davis 

Kevin DurantMay: Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s almost enough that Durant currently holds the “Cute and Cuddly Superstar Impossible Not To Root For” belt. (Sorry, Russell Wilson, Gabby Douglas and Alex Morgan.) He averaged 28.5 points on 51.7 percent FGs, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.5 steals in lifting the Thunder to the NBA Finals. And he does all this without sounding a peep despite playing in OKLAHOMA CITY with a ballhog for a point guard. You think Kobe would put up with Westbrook for more than 24 seconds? Chances are Durant would’ve been SI’s pick if OKC beat the Heat. Maybe next year.

Hats off to: Josh Hamilton | Clayton Kershaw | Bryce Harper

June: LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat 

OK, fine. You get one month, King James. Even your biggest Decision detractor has to give props for shaking that eight-ton gorilla off your back and winning the big one.

Hats off to: R.A. Dickey | Tiger Woods | Jonathan Quick 

July: Andy Murray, British tennis player

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have already been spoiling tennis fans with the greatest era of elite athletes playing one sport at one time … maybe, ever. Then Andy Murray has to enter the frame. And he’s honored this month not for winning, but for losing. Just watch the first minute http://youtu.be/XL5Ls4GDm2M, after coming so close to giving England its first Wimbledon winner in 76 years. It helps that Murray finished off his first Grand Slam victory in New York City a couple months later.

Hats off to: Pat Summitt | Roger Federer | Serena Williams | Mike Trout

August: Missy Franklin, Team USA swimmer

Let’s see: five medals, four gold, three Swimmer of the Year awards, two world records and one iconic ‘Call Me Maybe’ parody. Yeah, somebody had herself a month in London. Throw in her resistance to accepting a dime in endorsements so she can keep her commitment to swim for Cal, and shoot, she’s got to be a top contender for the SI award.

Hats off to: U.S. Gymnastics squad | Usain Bolt | Michael Phelps | Kayla Harrison | The Blade Runner | Alex Morgan

September: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins 

You may have heard of him. In his first four professional games, RGIII scored eight touchdowns – four passing, four rushing – while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and winning at New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Football Gods, please grant this man a decade of mostly good health.

Hats off to: Geno Smith | Brandon McCarthy | Andy Roddick | Rory McIlroy

October: Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians, coaches, Indianapolis Colts

Arians, for suddenly and unexpectedly taking the reins of a team that went 2-14 last year and leading it to an 11-5 record. Pagano, for vowing to dance with his daughters at their weddings. http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap2000000090160/Chuck-Pagano-s-emotional-message. 

Hats off to: Pablo Sandoval | Miguel Cabrera

Johnny ManzielNovember: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Aggies

Four games in November. Four wins in November. 12 TDs in November. 76.3 percent completions in November. Beat Alabama, the eventual national champ, in November. We had a chance to catch Manziel before our eyes on Halloween weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and honestly, we saw this coming. Alert the hyperbole police: he’s got a chance to become the greatest player in college football history.

Hats off to: Sam Gordon | Calvin Johnson

December: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks & Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Too close to call. Wilson went 5-0 in December – you know, when it counts and such – including crucial wins over the Bears and 49ers, and became the most likely figure to someday supplant Durant as Captain Uni-Liked. (Seriously: his Google search image is of him and his wife dancing at their wedding. Cute. And. Cuddly.) Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson was mildly impressive as well. He only rushed for 861 carries in five games – which all alone would have trailed just 17 other backs, plus beating out LeSean McCoy and Michael Turner’s regular season production. He garnered 6.4 yards per rush, even though everybody in the building knew he was getting the rock. It wasn’t just stat-padding, either: the Vikings went 4-1 and snagged a playoff spot. Call it a draw.

Hats off to: Manti Te’o | Victor Cruz 

The Whole Year: My Sportsman of the Year could have bolted school early, but stuck around for another year – bucking all conventional wisdom that states if you could be a top pick in the draft, you leave, no questions asked.

My Sportsman of the Year not only was asked to turn around a 2-14 team. He was asked to replace a living legend in his new city.

My Sportsman of the Year’s head coach battled cancer this entire season.

My Sportsman of the Year’s teammates were, like him, largely rookies.

My Sportsman of the Year has a 10-5 record and playoff-bound team despite the odds.

My Sportsman of the Year would be a horrible garbageman. Because he’s incapable of talking trash for any of these accomplishments.

Sorry, SI. LeBron’s great and all. But can the 2012 Sportsman of the Year really be anybody but Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts?

Andrew Luck

January 19, 2013

Nearly half the NFL Draft’s 73 declared underclassmen hail from the SEC

Auburn v. LSU Football Action

The NFL officially released its list Saturday of a record 73 underclassmen who have been granted special eligibility to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, a further commentary on the gap between SEC football and everybody else.

On the list are 32 players hailing from SEC schools.

From LSU alone, there are 11.

From the entire Pac-12, the SEC’s nearest competitor? Nine.

Now, submitting one’s name for the Draft, and thus foregoing any remaining college eligibility, does not guarantee an NFL team will come calling on April 25-27. Many juniors have tried their luck at the Draft, only to find themselves waiting on free agent calls from teams looking through the bargain bin or filling out a practice squad.

However, the NFL provides a service for players who have completed three years in college to submit paperwork to a committee which reviews game film and other factors, sending back an approximated grade of where that player might be taken in the Draft.

LSU’s whopping list of 11 underclassmen leaving the program includes five players who were listed anywhere on the all-SEC squads in the 2012 season – as well as Tyrann Mathieu, the “Honey Badger” and cornerback/returner phenom who was dismissed from the program following the 2011 season for failing drug tests.

Florida and Tennessee each have four Draft hopefuls going out, while Georgia has three, including consensus All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones, nose tackle Kwame Geathers and linebacker Alec Ogletree.

Alabama is bidding adieu to tailback Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner, while Auburn sends off defensive end Corey Lemonier.

The NFL’s complete list of declared underclassmen can be found here.

SEC UNDERCLASSMEN DECLARED FOR THE 2013 NFL DRAFT

ALABAMA (2)

Eddie Lacy RB

Dee Milliner DB

ARKANSAS (2)

Alvin Bailey G

Knile Davis RB

AUBURN (1)

Corey Lemonier DE

FLORIDA (4)

Matt Elam DB

Sharrif Floyd DT

Jelani Jenkins LB

Jordan Reed TE

GEORGIA (3)

Kwame Geathers NT

Jarvis Jones LB

Alec Ogletree LB

LSU (11)

Chris Faulk T

Michael Ford RB

Bennie Logan DT

Tyrann Mathieu DB

Barkevious Mingo DE

Kevin Minter LB

Sam Montgomery DE

Eric Reid DB

Tharold Simon DB

Spencer Ware RB

Brad Wing P

MISSOURI (1)

Sheldon Richardson DT

SOUTH CAROLINA (2)

Marcus Lattimore RB

Ace Sanders WR

TENNESSEE (4)

Tyler Bray QB

Justin Hunter WR

Cordarrelle Patterson WR

Darrington Sentimore DT

TEXAS A&M (2)

Luke Joeckel T

Damontre Moore DE