Top programs taking advantage of spring reps
Our tour through spring training continues with a closer look at a few Power five teams.
Practice began at Florida State on March 22, and the Willie Taggart era is underway. The new head coach will have quarterback Deondre Francois at his disposal. You may recall an injury ended the sophomore season for Francois in the opening game last September against Alabama.
Sophomore running back Cam Akers totaled 1,025 yards (5.3 average) and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. His running mate Jacques Patrick tacked on 748 yards (5.6/carry) and seven touchdowns.
The ‘Noles lost wide receiver Auden Tate and tight end Ryan Izzo to the ’19 NFL draft. Wideout Nyquan Murray will be unavailable during spring with a knee injury.
The offensive line is the strength for FSU. Center Alec Eberle is a senior while right guard Cole Minshew (6-5, 338, Jr.), left guard Landon Dickerson (6-5, 310, Jr.) and left tackle Josh Bell (6’8-290, Soph.) all return with a load of experience. right guard Derrick Kelly (6-5, 323) is a senior who can step in when needed. Abdul Bello (6-6, 312, Jr.) is ticketed for right tackle.
Outside linebacker Brain Burns (6-5, 218, Jr.) is flashing skills in the spring. He tallied 48 tackles, 13.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2017. Fellow linebacker Adonis Thomas (6-3, 228), a 2017 signee, is opening eyes. A pair of newcomera at defensive end – Janarious Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh – are making the most of their reps.
Notre Dame finished last season on a high note, upending LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
Brandon Wimbush shows improvement behind center. The junior had moderate stats in ’17 (1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions, completing only 49.5 %). Backup Ian Book, who bailed the Fightin’ Irish out in the bowl win, accounted for 14 of 19 passes for 164 yards (73.7%), two touchdowns and one interception. Many insiders feel Book will pry the starters’s spot away.
Miles Boykin (6-4, 225) has been the talk of camp in South Bend. He’s extremely gifted and talented at wide receiver.
The offensive line will feature left tackle Robert Hainsey, left guard Josh Lugg (shifted from right tackle) and three two-year starters – center Sam Mustipher, right guard Alex Bars and right tackle Tommy Kraemer.
Destrehan High product Michael Young (5’11-190, Soph.) had a touchdown catch against LSU, and he has since earned a starting role at wideout during spring.
Defensively, 2017 Irish leading tackler linebacker Te’von Coney is a beast (6-1, 240, Sr.) who had 17 stops in bowl game. Despite only seven starts in 2017, he racked up 116 tackles, 11.5 TFL and three sacks.
Evangel High product Jerry Tillery (6-6, 314) added 56 stops, 9 TFL and 4.5 sacks from his nose tackle spot. He started as a freshman.
Dave Tranquill (6-2, 230, Sr.) was active as a rover with 85 tackles, 10.5 TFL. Free safety Nick Coleman (6-0, 187, Sr.) plays big in the secondary, coming up to challenge the run with 43 stops last season.
The Washington Huskies are a deep and talented group led by head coach Chris Peterson. The 2018 season opener will be an early litmus test against Auburn in Atlanta.
Ex-Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason, who transferred to the Huskies this offseason, will have to sit out. Starter Jake Browning (6-2, 210) had 2,719 yards passing, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions, completing 68.5 percent last season.
Washington features the most explosive backfield in college football. Senior running back Myles Gaskin (5’10-191; 4.44 speed) and sophomore running back Salvon Ahmed (5’11-190; 4.43) are a dynamic duo. Gaskin needs 51 yards to break Napoleon Kaufman’s school career rushing mark of 4,106 yards.
The offensive line at UW is monstrous in size, headlined by left tackle Trey Adams (6’8-331, Sr.) and his 30 career starts. Left guard Luke Wattenburg (6-5, 306), center Nick Harris (6-1, 297, Jr.), right guard Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 306, Sr.) are joined by right tackle Kaleb McGary (6’8-325, Sr), who has 33 starts and made 1st team All PAC-12 last year.
M.J. Ale (6-6, 361) is a freshman o-lineman who was three-time Australian Golden Gloves boxing champion.
Freshman wide receiver Austin Osborne (6-2, 188) is expected to make headlines now that leading target Dante Pettis had graduated.
Ohio State possesses one of the best running back tandems coast to coast in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. Last season, Dobbins (5’10-208, Soph.) had 1,403 yards (7.2 average) with seven scores and Weber (5’10-214, Jr.) added 626 yards (6.2 average) and 10 touchdowns.
quarterback Dwayne Haskins (6-3, 214) backed up departed starter J.T Barrett, but the former managed to throw for 565 yards with four touchdowns with an interception. Backup quarterback Joe Murrow is reportedly looking for a new home and 2017 signee Tate Martell is talented but not yet ready to assume the reins.
A pair of 2018 signees, tight end Jeremy Ruckert and H-back Jaelin Gill, are expected to contribute for the run-heavy Buckeyes. Isaiah Prince (6-7, 310) moves from right tackle to left tackle, and Thayer Munford (6-6, 325) now mans the right tackle spot after melting off 40 pounds. Munford played well as true freshman in 2017.
Safety Jordan Fuller, who started as a freshman, is returning after posting 62 tackles and two interceptions.
Although the stats were modest with 20 tackles, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones (6-3, 295 Jr.) is a force upfront. He also started as a freshman. JUCO defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson (6-3, 305) arrives in Columbus after originally signing with Auburn in 2016. Elite 2018 signee defensive tackle Taron Vincent (6-2, 300) will gain attention.
The ringleader up front is Nick Bosa (6-4, 270, Jr.), who had 16 TFL and 8.5 sacks. He’s a terror off the edge. Mlinebacker Tuf Borland, out after suffering an Achilles injury, will miss the rest of spring hopes to return in August.
USC head coach Clay Helton enters his fourth season as head coach. The Trojans began drills March 6. Running back Stephen Carr (back injury) and linebacker Oluwole Betiku (hip surgery) are not participating.
The men of Troy will be without quarterback Sam Darnold, projected to be the top pick in the ’18 NFL draft. Darnold was the first USC passer to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. The quarterback spot is under the microscope.
Sophomore Matt Fink (6-3, 195) and redshirt freshman Jack Sears (6-3, 185) will contend for snaps behind center with Prep All American signee J.T. Daniels, who tallied 152 touchdown passes in his storied high school career. Sears has made visible strides while Fink brings a bit of experience to the table (appeared in three games).
Ronald Jones, also gone to the NFL, is the Trojans’ fifth leading rusher in school history. He had 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017.
The departure of Deontay Burnett also leaves a void. The versatile wideout grabbed 86 passes for 1,114 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin directed an attack averaging 484 yards of total offense per game in 2017.
The USC defense is demonstrating some aggressiveness. Edge defender Porter Gustin (6-5, 260) with 14 career sacks is slowed by toe and biceps injuries. First team All PAC 12 linebacker Cameron Smith (6-2, 245; Sr.) is a classic inside linebacker, making 112 stops last seaso, and outside linebacker John Houston (6-3, 220) returns after 84 tackle campaign.
The Trojan secondary is stout, headlined by CB Iman Marshall, a potential high pick in the ’19 NFL draft with six career picks. On the opposite side is Jack Allen who stole four enemy passes in 2017. Free safety Marvin Tell (6-3, 190) is a playmaker with 85 tackles and three interceptions last season.
Many feel Clemson is set to be the best team in all of college football in 2018. There is an extraordinary battle at quarterback to play out first. Incumbent senior starter Kelly Bryant (6-3, 215) returns after producing 2,802 yards through the air with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He added 665 yards rushing.
Bryant will be challenged by redshirt freshman Hunter Johnson (6-4, 200), who could be starting at many programs but could end up third on the Clemson depth chart.
Trevor Lawrence (6-6, 209) is a hotly-anticipated arrival who threw for 14,352 yards and 161 touchdowns in his prep career. Last season, Clemson accounted for its fewest passing yards since 2010 so the door will be open for anyone to win the quarterback chase.
Louisiana native Travis Etienne (5’11-210) led the way in 2017 with 766 yards (7.2 average) and 13 touchdowns. He was joined by running back Tavien Feaster (5’11-210), another game changer with 669 yards rushing (6.3 average) and seven scores.
Hunter Renfrow, perhaps the most crafty receiver in college football, has velco hands Clemson’s “Mr. Clutch” snared 60 passes for 602 yards and three scores last year and has 137 career catches for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Milan Richard (6-3, 260, Sr.) is becoming one of the elite tight ends in the ACC.
Clemson features the best tackle duo in the FBS – right tackle Sean Pollard (6-5, 315; Jr.) and left tackle Mitch Hyatt (6-5, 300, Sr.), a four-year starter.
Weakside linebacker Kendall Joseph (6-0, 230) is a star, coming off of 96 tackles and five TFL last fall.
The Tigers’ D-Line is unmatched, boasting four potential future first round NFL draft picks:
Defensive end Austin Bryant(6-5, 265, Sr.) 15.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks
Defensive end Clelin Farrell (6-5, 260, Jr.) 18 TFL, 9.5 sacks
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (6-4, 315, Sr.) 9 TFL, five sacks
Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (6-4, 340, Jr.) unblockable at times
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…