There won't be any college football games played for quite a while but that doesn't mean we are going to stop talking about the sport we love. Each week during the off-season we will bring you the top stories and we will also be discussing a variety of topics in our weekly roundtable. Agree, disagree or want to chime in to the conversation then let us know in the comments. If you want to pose a question for us to answer then e-mail it to us at collegefootballzealot at gmail.com or just drop it in the comments section. This week on our panel of College Football Zealots we will talk about the teams that we live and die with every Saturday during the college football season. Let's see what our Zealots have to say about their teams....
Who are the players that you will be watching this spring to see if they can step up and help your team win games in the fall?
J Martin (Alabama Crimson Tide): Pretty much the entire Bama receiving corps. I want to see who steps up and makes their case to be the new #1 receiver in 2011. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks firmly established themselves as key accessory receivers over the past 3 seasons, and their roles in the WR rotation are secure, but with the departure of Julio Jones, both finally have the opportunity to prove they can be a go-to guy this spring. But maybe the next top receiver will come from a talented foursome of true and redshirt freshmen. Kevin Norwood, probably the best match in terms of size to Julio, burst onto the scene with a big TD catch against Penn State last season but was seldom heard from the rest of the year. He should be one to watch. His fellow redshirt frosh, Kenny Bell, is a tiny speedster who's earned a reputation as AJ McCarron's favorite target in workouts, so obviously he could become more of a factor at WR if McCarron wins the quarterback race. The darkhorse in all this could be redshirt senior Brandon Gibson. Gibson had a breakout performance in last year's A-Day game, only to suffer through another in a long line of forgettable seasons on the sidelines. But there are two spots open in the rotation, and another big spring could make it difficult to keep him off the field.
Kevin (Georgia Bulldogs): On the offensive side of the football the guys I will be looking at are Bruce Figgins, Caleb King and Washaun Ealey in the backfield. Our WR corps also has an interesting storyline in re-placing A.J. Green and Kris Durham but I think that might be more interesting to watch come fall. Bruce Figgins is a very talented guy who has been moved from TE to FB to try and re-place Shaun Chapas. Chapas was one of the most under-rated players in the SEC the last few years as he did a lot of things that didn't show up in the stat sheet and when he was missing there was a noticeable difference. Figgins has one off-season to make the switch so I will be watching him to see how he fills into the role and if it's him or soph Zander Ogletree that will be Georgia's #1 FB. The other storyline on the offensive side of the football is at RB. Isaiah Crowell hits campus this summer and he's expected to be the heir apparent for the RB position. This spring is Caleb King and Washaun Ealey's chance to tell the coaching staff "don't forget about me". Both guys have talent but both guys have under-performed off and on the field during their tenure. It's "do or die" for those guys as Boo Malcome and Isaiah are coming for their carries.
Ross (Iowa Hawkeyes): James Vandenberg, QB; Jordan Bernstine, CB/S; LeBron Daniel, DE.
Bernstine has had a snake-bitten career at Iowa -- he was projected to be a starter at CB in each of the past two seasons, only to have untimely injuries in fall training camp either end his season or drop him way down the depth chart. He has the talent to start somewhere on Iowa's defense, the question is where that might be. He started out as a cornerback (and played some as a nickelback last year), but he might ultimately be better-suited to safety -- and Iowa also has a greater need at S than they do at CB, which could make it easier for him to land a starting job.
Finally, the defensive line will need a lot of rebuilding after losing 3 starters from 2010. Only DT Mike Daniels returns (although DE Broderick Binns, who started most of the games in 2009 is also back; he had a disappointing season in 2010 and lost his starting gig), which means some new guys are going to have to emerge. Daniel is one of the most likely names to step out of the pack and assume a bigger role on defense -- he was Adrian Clayborn's primary back-up a year ago and should have plenty of opportunities to be the man in 2011. But it starts with how well he does in the spring.
Give me an "under-the-radar" position battle that you will be keeping an eye on this spring.
J Martin (Alabama Crimson Tide): I expect a major battle over the second starting safety spot alongside Mark Barron. Heading into the 2010 offseason, it was widely assumed Robbie Green would step in to fill that starting spot. Well, he flunked a NCAA drug test and got himself suspended for the year, opening the door for someone else. Throughout that spring and summer, it was clear Nick Saban wasn't very happy with his remaining options at safety, and it almost felt like he was just settling when redshirt sophomore Robert Lester was given the job. But against all odds and expectations, Lester went on to have a 1st Team All-SEC season. It wasn't always pretty, but it's difficult to argue with 8 interceptions. Now Green returns. Unlike injuries, I don't believe there are any unwritten team rules about not losing your job when you're out on drug suspension. If Green wants his spot back, he's going to have to earn it, but he's spent a year out of live competition while Lester was coming into his own on the field.
Kevin (Georgia Bulldogs): I've already talked about the Figgins/Ogletree situation at fullback so I will go with one that just popped up recently and that's the safety spot opposite Baccari Rambo. Dynamic soph Alec Ogletree was originally slated for this position but he's bulked up to 240 lbs and has been moved to ILB so that suddenly leaves an unexpected hole at safety. Shawn Williams and Jakar Hamilton got some looks last year with mixed results before they were over-taken by Ogletree. This year they again get the first shot at the job but will also be challenged during the spring by RS frosh Marc Deas. Another guy to keep an eye on in this position during the spring is CB Sanders Comings, who could be moved to Safety.
Ross (Iowa Hawkeyes): It won't get nearly as much hype as most of the other position battles will, but I'm curious to see how things shake out at tight end. Iowa uses tight ends as much as any team in the nation and they especially love two-tight end sets. Brad Herman, who was the main TE2 last year, figures to slide into the TE1 role, but I'm also curious to see where C.J. Fiedorowicz, a mega-hyped recruit from two years ago fits into the mix. He played mostly on special teams and in goalline situations last year, but he should be in line to see much more action this year. His combination of size, athleticism, and pass-catching acumen could give Iowa a really strong weapon at the TE position.
In terms of the overall team, what will you be paying the most attention to during spring practice?
J Martin (Alabama Crimson Tide): I want to see this team get it's edge back, particularly on the offensive line. Last year's Tide had a lot of problems: the ridiculous schedule, the onslaught of injuries to key players, the youth on defense, etc. Some things they could control, and some they couldn't. In my opinion, the #1 thing that team was missing was an edge. The 2010 team was, overall, much more talented than the 08 and 09 teams, but those teams made up for any talent deficiencies with general nastiness, especially on the line of scrimmage. Those teams took a lot of pride on just beating their opponents up till they were ready to quit. Those offensive lines developed a reputation for playing like defensive lines; they were out to mash people into the ground. Last year's team had none of that, for whatever reason. Still haven't figured it out. But I absolutely believe, despite whatever else went wrong in 2010, if that team had that same edge, at least one or two of those 3 losses would have gone the other way. So I'll be looking for that this spring. It would do me good to see the OL work over the defense on A-Day.
Kevin (Georgia Bulldogs): I'm going to say attitude and commitment. Maybe the biggest thing that is a question mark for Georgia is Strength and Conditioning but that will be hard to measure this spring because you will be playing against yourselves. So I'm going to say overall attitude. How serious are these players about turning around the Georgia program after two down seasons? The guys are saying the right things but they have to show it on and off the practice field. Staying out of trouble (i.e. making sure their drivers licenses are updated so the Athens-Clarke County doesn't put them in the pokey from illegally emerging from an alley while they are driving on a suspended license). The Georgia program kind of played with a sense of entitlement last year and it showed up against teams like Colorado and UCF (which Georgia should have ran off the field). Are these guys going to stick to the new Nutrition program and the S&C program and how dedicated are they to having a winning attitude in everything they do.
Ross (Iowa Hawkeyes): QB battles are always interesting and fun to follow, but I'm pretty sure Vandenberg will win that job. So I'm going to be paying the most attention to the races at defensive back (especially safety) and along the defensive line. Iowa has some massive losses in those areas (they lost multi-year starters at those positions) and spring is when we'll start to find out who's going to be filling the shoes of guys like Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Tyler Sash. Those are some big shoes to fill, especially considering the importance Iowa's defense puts on the defensive line to get pressure and the safeties to play deep coverage. If Iowa can't find reliable options to take over those roles in 2011, the defense as a whole is going to be much weaker, which could make for a very long season.
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