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August 31, 2007

Utah: One Game, Four Down

If the Utes continue at the rate they're going, they will run out of players before the season hits its mid-point. In Utah's season opener on Thursday night, the team came away with five big losses: injuries to top running back Matt Asiata, quarterback Brian Johnson, tight end Colt Sampson, linebacker Matt Martinez and the game itself, which they dropped 24-7 to Oregon State. It was quite a night.

Johnson separated his shoulder in the loss, an injury that will keep him off the field for at least three to five weeks. Talk about bad luck - last night's game was the first live action Johnson had seen since he blew out his knee last year and missed the entire 2006 season. And before that, Johnson tore ligaments in his knee that kept him out of the final games of the 2005 season. This guy just can't catch a break, but at least he'll be back. Eventually.

Asiata fared considerably worse - the running back is gone for the season after breaking his right leg in the season opener. The former junior college All-American averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 136.5 yards per game last season at Snow College and was scheduled to go into surgery on Friday. He can choose to redshirt this year and still have two full years of eligibility. But that doesn't do him much good for the next three months.

Tight end Colt Sampson also took a hit in the game, sustaining a sprained knee that will keep him out for four weeks, but he's not in as bad a shape as redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Martinez, who will miss the entire season after tearing a ligament in his knee. All in all, the Utes are down four difference-makers after playing one non-conference game. Their 0-1 record is most likely the least of the Utes' worries in this first week of football.

Not exactly what you'd call an auspicious start to the season.

Missouri vs. Illinois: In and Out

When Missouri faces off against Illinois on Saturday in the season opener for both teams, the Tigers will welcome back a lost man while the Illini bemoan their bad luck. Missouri defensive back Hardy Ricks disloacted his left shoulder during the second week of preseason practice, but will be back hitting people this weekend in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Illinois was not so lucky, as starting wide receiver Chris James is lost for the season after injuring his ACL.

Ricks described the dislocation as the worst pain he had ever felt, and missed practice for the next three weeks, allowing true freshman Carl Gettis, junior Castine Bridges and senior Paul Simpson to get far more snaps than normal. Team doctors cleared Ricks earlier this week and he is expected to get the start on Saturday.

The sophomore started eight games last season, collecting 40 tackles in the first 11 games and earning himself the first slot on the depth chart at cornerback. The school claims an off-season strength program allowed him to gain 15 pounds of pure muscle, which should help the inevitable caution that will slow him, consciously or otherwise, as he lowers to deliver his first hit. That caution may be more conscious than normal after team doctors told Ricks that there is a legitimate possibility of his shoulder poping out a couple of times during that first game.

On the Illinois side, James, a returning starter, will undergo knee surgery to repair that ACL, a surgery that will end his season. The sophomore will redshirt this year and watch from afar as freshman Arrelious Benn and junior Kyle Hudson step in as Illinois' top receiving threats. Hudson led the team in passing last season, hauling in 30 balls for 403 yards and three TDs.

SMU: Musing on Defense

SMU is hoping 2007 will be a breakout year. After coming tantalizingly close to a bowl game in 2006, this season is supposed to be it for the Mustangs. Their first test is undeniably a tough one - they face one of the nation's best offenses in a nationally televised contest when Texas Tech comes to town on Monday, and that test will be even tougher without all-conference defensive end Cory Muse. The senior has a groin strain that makes him doubtful for the opener, further decreasing the possibility of an SMU upset, perhaps beyond resurgence.

Muse has been hampered by injury since he arrived at SMU, which he chose over Oklahoma State, but has still managed to produce some big numbers. In 2006 he helped anchor a defense that led Conference USA and ranked 24th in the nation against the run. He played on an injured knee for the last five games and missed two all together, but still managed to record seven sacks, good enough for third in the league. As a sophomore he was plagued by injuries for the first three games, but had a big second half of the season, recording 32 tackles, three fumble recoveries and a safety. His freshman year he got only three games in before a knee injury took out the team's leading pass rusher.

SMU will need every ounce of defense it can muster to stop Texas Tech's unbelievably prolific offense. Last year, the Red Raiders averaged 32.5 points and more than 369 yards passing per game, giving them the sixth-best total offense and No. 3 passing offense in the nation. Having a pass-rusher like Muse in the game would force quarterback Graham Harrell to make faster decisions with his throws, but with four new starters on the defensive line, the throwing machine that is Harrell should have all day in the pocket, and that's bad news for SMU.

Junior Patrick Handy, freshman Ryan Leonard, sophomore Chris Parham and freshman Justin Smart are expected to get the start on Monday night. Handy started in two games last season and as the only lineman with experience of note, he will be expected to lead the Mustangs in Muse's absence. The Red Raiders will be looking to show off that high-octane, spread offense in the season opener for both squads, and with their best defender sidelined, the Mustangs are in danger of finding themselves on the horse end of the Raiders' breaking-in process.

August 30, 2007

BC: Can't Hide Them Much Longer

Head coach Jeff Jagodzinski has been put through the ringer in his first weeks in Chestnut Hill, watching player after player go down with injuries of varying degrees, but he's insisting that everyone will be ready for Saturday's game. On the injury front, the first-year coach is happy to discuss Brian Toal's status, as the linebacker is taking a medical redshirt after undergoing shoulder surgery, but other than that, it's on us to figure out exactly who among the ailling will be pacing the sidelines on Saturday. And the list isn't particularly short.

Running back L.V. Whitworth will probably sit out Saturday's opener against Wake Forest, nursing a hamstring injury that has kept him out of most of preseason camp. The senior started all 13 games in 2006, tallying 791 yards on 174 carries and four TDs. Senior Andre Callender, who has been banged up himself at points this preseason, and junior A.J. Brooks will pick up the slack if Whitworth remains on the bench.

Sophomore running back and returnman Jeff Smith, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman, continues to battle a groin injury and is doubtful for Saturday's game. He averaged 28 yards per return last season, returning 23 kicks for 645 yards, ranking him first in the ACC and eighth in the nation. The Eagles would like to have him back on the field as fast as humanly possible.

Linebacker Robert Francois is not listed on the two-deep after an ankle injury has kept him off the field for the past few weeks. The junior started seven games last season, but will give the weakside starting job over to sophomore Mark Herzlich, who had two starts as a true freshman in 2006.

Florida: Oh Captain, No Captain

Phil Trautwein, a senior captain who started every game for the Gators in 2006, has another stress fracture in his foot, which is nothing new for the experienced offensive lineman. What is new is the possibility that this one may take him out of the entire season. He's definitely out for this wekeend's opener against Western Kentucky and despite coach Urban Meyer's reassurances that the defending national champions have plenty of depth at O line, they have got to be feeling a certain sense of dread with one of the team's top leaders a big fat question mark for the entire 2007 season.

Trautwein moved in the spring to right tackle from the left side to protect quarterback Tim Tebow's blind side (the starting QB is left-handed). A foot injury on day three of August practice sent the senior back to the left side, where there was a little less pressure and he could nurse what he thought was a sprain, but the recurring stress fracture that has plagued Trautwein since high school reared its ugly head definitively on Wednesday, and Florida is suddenly without its most experienced lineman and a top team leader.

Trautwein has delt with at least three similar injuries to the same foot, stretching back to his high school years. The 6-foot-6, 298-pound senior is now in a cast, and is not sure how much playing time he'll miss. Depending on what the doctors announce in the coming days, Trautwein may take a medical redshirt and come back for the 2008 season. But that would mean losing a quintessential voice in the locker room, something the Gators cannot afford in a title-defense year, especially this year, when only 38 letter-winners return to Gainesville. (Florida is tied for the nation's 99th-fewest returning lettermen in the nation.)

Offensive line was the Gators' most-experienced position, up until yesterday, so Meyer is right in asserting the depth of his backups - Junior tackle Jason Watkins saw action in every game last year and will step into Trautwein's spot; senior guard Carlton Medder moves to right tackle, where he started all 14 games last season; leaving true freshman Maurkice Pouncey as the only inexperienced starter on the line. He will jump in at right guard.

Elsewhere on the team, sophomore cornerback Markihe Anderson is officially out for this weekend's game with a sprained MCL and freshman running back Bo Williams is out for six weeks with a dislocated ankle.

Tennessee: Little Finger Is No Big Deal

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge broke the pinkie finger on his throwing hand this week, but that won't keep him from starting on Saturday at Cal. This is the first time the senior has broken a finger playing football, but if you're going to break one, the pinkie is a good one to choose - it probably has the least impact on a player's throwing motion, as it is usually tucked into the palm while the thumb, pointer and middle fingers grip the ball. The problem is that the pinkie is vital to the handoff process, and that's exactly how Ainge injured it on Monday, taking snaps from the center during practice.

Expect three to four weeks before the pinkie is back to 100%, whatever a pinkie accomplishes when it is at 100%, but also look for Ainge to play through this little finger pain. As a senior, he'll do everything he can to stay on the field and a broken pinkie isn't likely to stop him from keeping his starting position. Unless, of course, the handoff pain is worse than he's making it out to be.

Sophomore quarterback Jonathan Crompton is prepared to step in if Ainge pulls a Rex Grossman and finds himself unable to hold on to the snaps. Crompton played in seven games last year with one start.

Ainge set a single-season school record for pass completions in 2006, connecting on 67 percent of his attempts for 233 completions and 19 touchdowns.

August 29, 2007

Oklahoma: No Peterson and No Patrick Could be a Problem

The big talk coming out of Oklahoma this preseason has been simple - we don't need Adrian Peterson; sure he was super-human and could carry the ball for weeks at a time, but we played better without him! And truth be told, they had a point - in games played without the star running back, Oklahoma averaged more rush yards than when he was suiting up. The big name replacing Peterson's production was tailback Allen Patrick, but with the senior still battling an ankle sprain, the run game in Norman has come under some duress.

Patrick is undoubtedly atop the Sooners' depth chart, having rushed for 761 yards on 169 carries as a junior. He picked up the slack after Peterson was injured before suffering an injury himself that kept him out of the season's final two games. Without him, sophomore Chris Brown stepped in as Mr. Steady, delivering consistent yardage every time he was asked to. The Sooners also have much-touted freshman DeMarco Murray waiting in the wings, along with redshirt freshman Mossis Madu, but Oklahoma had been counting on a multi-pronged running back attack to take some of the pressure off their inexperienced QB Sam Bradford until he finds his feet (and his arm). That multi-pronged attack may be missing its key prong on Saturday against North Texas.

Except Patrick isn't the only problem. Brown has been suspended for the season opener (due to an internal matter that Oklahoma is not discussing), so Murray will probably be the go-to guy all day long, which is not exactly what Bob Stoops had in mind as the genius offensive plan he'll use to beat Texas and win another Big 12 championship.

Oklahoma may not need a big-name quarterback (we know, we know - four Big 12 championships with four different quarterbacks), but the Sooners almost certainly need a healthy (and non-suspended) set of running backs. Playing North Texas without two pieces of the puzzle should still result in a lopsided Sooner victory, but the Longhorns will not be so forgiving. Patrick's ankle will have to get over that Sports Illustrated cover-curse before Miami comes to town Sept. 8, and Oct. 6 is the due-or-die deadline - the afternoon of that big dance in Dallas.

Arkansas: Monk Under the Knife, Again

Arkansas receiver Marcus Monk hasn't slept much recently. The Razorbacks' leading receiver already knew that he'd be out for the season opener against Troy this Saturday, but things have gone from bad to worse. After the pain in his knee wouldn't go away on Monday night and he couldn't straighten his leg early Tuesday morning, the school's all-time leader in TD receptions underwent his second arthroscopic surgery in the last 30 days on his right knee, which sets him back at least another game - he'll most likely watch the Alabama matchup from the sideline.

Trainer Dean Weber said the knee showed signs of healing from the original procedure, so the second scope required only removal of loose bodies of cartilage from the meniscus. In English: the knee looked better, but they had to take a bunch of stuff out.

Monk injured the knee in the Razorbacks' first preseason in-pads practice, on Aug. 9. The original surgery took place on Aug. 13.

In Monk's absence - which is a big one, as the senior averaged 19.2 yards per catch last season - sophomore London Crawford will step up, alongside freshman Crosby Tuck, junior Robert Johnson and senior Reggie Fish, who started at quarterback against USC last season.

Joining Monk on the sidelines will be backup offensive guard DeMarcus Love, still suffering from a disloacted kneecap, and sophomore tight end Ben Cleveland, who injured a nerve in his neck.

Alabama Down One, Too

If Alabama was celebrating the fact that Monk's injury will most likely keep him from suiting up against the Crimson Tide, they should stop. Alabama got plenty of bad news of its own on Wednesday, as starting nose guard Brian Motley broke his ankle in Tuesday's practice and will miss six to eight weeks of the season.

The redshirt freshman won the job in spring practice, but will give it up to sophomore Lorenzo Washington, who will get the start on Saturday in the season opener against Western Carolina. Freshmen Josh Chapman and Alfred McCullough will be called upon to back up the 6-foot-4, 283-pound Washington, who played 29 snaps over six games during his freshman season. He tore a pectoral muscle in offseason workouts, keeping him out of most of spring practice, but had battled back to earn the second-string spot behind Motley.

Motley moved from center to the defensive line before spring practice and broke a bone in his right hand a week ago, but had been practicing with a cast.

USC: Time To Hit Someone Else

High-intensity pre-game workouts are one thing, but knocking out your teammates days before the season opener is quite another. USC would do well to learn the difference, as two key players were injured in Tuesday's practice, shining the haze of doubt on their ability to take the field on Saturday against Idaho. In Southern California, it's definitely time for the Trojans to start hitting someone else, so that they can stop hitting each other.

Starting wide receiver Patrick Turner should watch what he wishes for. On Monday afternoon, he told reporters that the team is ready for some different competition, "someone you really want to hit in the mouth." Turns out linebacker Rey Maualuga didn't get the entirety of the message, and only heard the "someone to hit in the mouth" part. In Tuesday's practice, Maualuga knocked Turner to the turf on a pass over the middle, laying out the 6-foot-5, 220-pound receiver with a hard helmet-to-helmet hit. Turner's arm went numb and the collision, which coach Pete Carroll called "a vicious hit," sounded like thunder in the junior's helmet. He was down for the count, surrounded by trainers as he laid sprawled on the turf.

The injury was most likely a stinger to the neck, but Turner was sent for X-rays after practice and his status for this weekend will be determined after looking at the pictures. Maualuga apologized for the hit, but said it was almost predictable. That's all well and good, but make it predictable on the other team's wideouts, not your own. With the number of tailbacks already scaled back considerably, there's no need for USC to take out any more of its own players as the countdown to kickoff continues to dwindle.

Maybe USC is already too good to practice against itself, as Turner wasn't the only injury of the day. Senior center Matt Spanos also sustained an injury in Tuesday's practice, injuring his right triceps while attempting to block All-American nose tackle Sedrick Ellis. He'll need an MRI to figure out if he is healthy enough to play, and if the injury is a torn muscle, as offensive line coach Pat Ruel fears, a fire drill of sorts will ensue to fill the gap for the weeks that Spanos will miss - left guard Jeff Byers will move over to center and either Alantini Malu, Drew Radovich or Zach Heberer would move to the left guard slot.

Gable Gets the Green Light
Tailback Chauncey Washington is definitely out for this Saturday with a Grade 3 shoulder sprain, but sophomore C. J. Gable will be ready to go, despite a lingering abdominal strain, as will true freshman Joe McNight, after being fitted for a more protective brace to wear over his sprained right knee. By not pushing Washington, last season's leading rusher, in what should be a gimme game for the Trojans, Carroll hopes to have his tailback rotation back and rotating by Sept. 15's showdown with Nebraska.

Carroll announced Tuesday that if Gable remains healthy, he will get the start over sophomores Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford, who both had better camps, but lack experience. Gable started five games for the Trojans last season, including the final four games of the year, and led USC in rushing in those final contests, tallying 434 yards on 111 carries. Bradford ran for ran for 42 yards on 13 carries last season, while Johnson appeared only in three games, logging just 17 yards on 3 carries against Stanford.

August 28, 2007

In or Out?

The official kickoff of the 2007 season is a mere three days away and injured players are now forced to answer a key question - are you in, or are you out? Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed is in, despite what official school reports say, while teammate Billy Pittman must sit out. Wake Forest defensive end Matt Robinson is in, the elusive Florida cornerback Markihe Anderson is questionable, and Michigan State tackle Mike Gyetvai is out.

According to the official injury report, Texas wideout Limas Sweed's sprained wrist makes him probable for the Longhorns' opener against Arkansas State on Saturday, but the senior has other plans, telling the press that he is back and ready to play. Two of his fellow pass-catchers are not quite so confident - senior Billy Pittman's shoulder injury will keep him off the field at least another week and junior Jordan Shipley's hamstring has made him questionable for this weekend.

Moving north, there was less good news for Michigan State. Fifth-year senior offensive tackle Mike Gyetvai will miss Saturday's season opener against UAB, and could be out for as long as a month. He missed all of spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery and is still not up to speed. Senior Pete Clifford will take his spot at left tackle.

Wake Forest defensive end Matt Robinson missed all of 2006 with a broken kneecap, but he'll be ready to go on Saturday against Boston College. The senior took part in all 13 spring practices and the spring scrimmage, but had to have additional surgery in May. He had a successful preseason camp and hopes to return to his 2005 statistics, when he led the Deacons with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

No definitive decision has been made on Florida cornerback Markihe Anderson, who injured his knee in practice last week. The sophomore has a first-degree sprain in his MCL and was expected to start against Western Kentucky on Saturday, but may be forced to default to sophomore Wondy Pierre-Louis and freshman Joe Haden for week one. Urban Meyer will most likely make his decision on Wednesday.

August 27, 2007

Florida State: Deal With It

Week one is officially upon us and that means no more excuses, especially when you're playing for Bobby Bowden. Florida State's head coach isn't particularly interested in hearing the details of his star running back's toe injury - junior Antone Smith has been running a bit slower recently, hampered by a nagging toe pain - and the coach has made clear that it's time for everyone to step up and get ready to play.

Smith will be the headliner in offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's new offense, and the preseason All-ACC selection is not complaining much about the injury either, though he does acknowledge that it's been bothering him as of late. Smith has described the toe injury as "especially painful" and has been receiving treatment for the past few days. But with the season exactly one week away, that doesn't mean he gets to relax. Just the opposite - his load may slightly increase this week as the Seminoles get ready to kick off the season.

The 5-foot-9, 188-pound back averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season, and the Seminoles' coaching staff expect him to produce similar numbers as the featured back in 2007, starting with game one, which will be the second start of his career.

Florida State opens its season Sept. 3 at Clemson.

August 25, 2007

Maryland: Hurting All Over

The field was rather bare during Maryland's final summer scrimmage this week, as nearly 20 Terps sat out the exercise with various injuries. By far the position hit hardest by the mounting losses is linebacker, where four players are out. But the receiving corps is not far behind - head coach Ralph Friedgen has reported that the Terps' top three receivers all missed the final scrimmage. As if by some cruel joke, that practice actually made matters worse, as another linebacker left the field with an injury.

Junior Erin Henderson, a second-team All-Conference selection in 2006 after missing all of 2005 with an ACL injury, is a projected starter, despite the stinger that kept him out of the scrimmage. Henderson's backup, junior Rick Costa, also saw playing time in all 13 games last season, but has been joining Henderson on the sideline as of late. Junior chase Bullock, who has considerably less experience, is out as well with an ankle injury, and junior Dave Philistin, who had been taking snaps for Bullock, pulled his hamstring last week. And Philistin's backup, freshman Ben Pooler, is out for three weeks, leaving precious few to fill the two-deep at linebacker.

The bad news just keeps coming for Maryland - backup left tackle Paul Pingear is out for three weeks with a knee injury after being carted off the field earlier in the week, so the linebackers will have plenty of company as they struggle to heal as quickly as possible.

There is some good news, as Friedgen expects two of his receivers to return to the field Monday, but the Terps are in big trouble if a significant number of these injuries do not disappear in the next seven days.

August 24, 2007

Miami: Not a Word (or a Picture)

While some professional players are busy faking injuries (see Bettis, Jerome), the University of Miami is trying to keep theirs as quiet as possible. Head coach Randy Shannon has told press that his most experienced tailback, senior Charlie Jones, will miss the first three games of the season, but he won't reveal any details on the injury or if surgery is required. If you found an unauthorized person with a video camera in your practice area, you might be tight-lipped, too.

According to the Palm Beach Post, someone attempted to videotape Miami's Thursday practice from a multi-level garage behind the practice fields. Security chased out the would-be videographer, but he returned to his perch at least once. Whether the perpetrator was a spy for Marshall, Miami's first opponent, an overzealous fan or someone unfortunately lost in the parking garage is yet to be determined, but Shannon doesn't like it, and he's keeping his mouth shut about Jones, and all injured players, until further notice.

Jones started at tailback to begin the 2006 season, but lost the starting role to Javarris James after three games. He continued to contribute throughout the season and has 713 career rush yards and ten rushing touchdowns to his name.

We don't know why Jones is hurt, but this much we do know: the 5-foot-10, 219-pound back was injured after practice on Aug. 4 and has not worked out for two weeks. We know he will miss at least three games, but Shannon does not know (or is not saying) what it will take for Jones to come back, if he can come back. Without Jones on the two-deep, James, a sophomore, should continue as the starter, with freshman Graig Cooper and junior Derron Thomas getting some time in the rotation, as well.

Tennessee: Heating the Sibling Rivalry

The sibling rivalry between Tennesse senior Brad Cottam and sophomore Jeff Cottam has just increased exponentially. The brothers are both listed at the tight end position and after Tuesday night, the younger Cottam has a chance to show up his older brother. Brad will miss most of the season after injuring his left wrist in a team scrimmage earlier this week, sidelining him at least until late October. In his absence, Jeff should see a lot more playing time.

Brad had a solid lead over his brother on the depth chart heading into the season. He had a career-high 14 receptions for 182 yards in 2006, averaging 14 yards per catch. He caught a 48-yard ball at Vanderbilt to record the longest catch by a Volunteer tight end since 2002. After the team's top tailback was suspended for a strangely undetailed reason, Brad was expected to step up his production this season as the second tight end on the roster, but that burden will now fall to Tennessee's remaining healthy tight ends.

Senior Chris Brown will get the start after leading last year's tight ends with 31 catches for 235 yards. Without senior David Holbert, who is out for the sseason after tearing his ACL on Aug. 10, two underclassmen will have to pick up the slack in the backup role. Behind Brown now sit Cottam the younger, who appeared in all 13 games last season but did not record a start or a statistic of note, and freshman Luke Stocker, who redshirted in 2006.

Tight end will be an extremely important position for the Vols this season, as the team suddenly finds itself without tailback LaMarcus Coker and with a long list of inexperienced wide receivers. While the wide outs battle each other for playing time rights, the tight ends will most likely see more balls thrown their way.

Jeff Cottam has a week to steal the limelight from his big brother. With the lack of depth at that position staring the Vols squarely in the face, they will be playing up the sibling rivalry in Knoxville.

August 23, 2007

USC: Tailback Pool Draining Quickly

The Trojans have been lauded throughout the preseason for their unbelievably deep pool of tailbacks. With an even ten rushing threats that could see playing time at any moment, USC had backfield coaches around the country drooling. Until recently. In the weeks leading up to kickoff, that pool has sprung a leak, and is now draining rapidly. The latest tailback down the drain? Fifth-year senior Chauncey Washington.

Washington left Wednesday night's scrimmage with his right arm in a sling and his shoulder packed in ice after hitting the ground awkwardly on a carry early in the game. And that's a big problem.

To be clear, Washington is no third-string, might-get-a-few-snaps kind of tailback. Last season's leading rusher, Washington tallied 744 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. In the first play of Wednesday night's scrimmage, he started things off right, scampering off right tackle for a 63-yard pickup. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season and was sure to have a solid season in his final year. The sprain in his shoulder takes yet another name off of the tailback chart, although X-rays will provide more information as to if and when Washington will be back.

Other casualties from the draining pool include freshman Broderick Green, who sat out Wednesday's scrimmage while he awaits certification from the NCAA Clearinghouse, the L.A. Times reported. He had a 14-day grace period while his academic records went under review, but after the window closed Wednesday, Green's status is unclear, and USC is officially without all of the tailbacks that were part of the 2007 recruiting class - Marc Tyler's broken leg has still not fully healed and Joe McKnight has been sitting out of practices with a stretched knee ligament.

Add to the tally sixth-year senior Hershel Dennis (knee soreness), sophomore C.J. Gable (groin soreness) and sophomore Emmanuel Moody (transfer), and that deep ocean of backs has suddenly been reduced to a pond. And an inexperienced pond, at that.

Who's left? Sophomores Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford, both of whom aren't in ideal health situations. Bradford appeared in 12 games last season, rushing 13 times for 42 yards and a touchdown, but missed most of spring practice with a strained hip flexor. Johnson appeared in three games last season, tallyling 17 yards on three carries. He also missed spring drills after having surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder.

Senior Desmond Reed is the Trojans' final back who is ready to go, but he's not a dream candidate either - gaining all of 12 yards on seven carries in 2006, Reed is still bothered by nerve damage suffered in his foot after a 2005 knee injury and surgery, and requires a brace to run. He should be playing a bigger role as punt returner than running back, but if coach Pete Carroll loses any more tailbacks, he may have no choice but to play Reed in both spots.

With the Sept. 1 opener against Idaho inching closer and closer, USC appears to have gone from the deepest tailback team in the last decade to one of the thinner squads this season. Here's hoping some of these guys heal up before the situation gets worse.

August 22, 2007

Michigan: A Thin, Thin Line

Michigan is looking at a thinner line than expected after right guard Alex Mitchell was injured Monday morning, taking him out for at least the team's opening game against Appalachian State on Sept. 1. With Mitchell on the bench, three new starters will take the field to protect Heisman candidate Chad Henne, and that's far from an ideal situation.

Mitchell, a 6-foot-5, 313-pound senior, started every game last season and had by far the most experience of any candidate on the right side of the line. Without him, the right guard and tackle positions are wide open, and the candidate field is awfully inexperienced.

Sophomore Justin Boren played in five games last season at right guard, including one start, and will take over the center position this season. Senior Jeremy Ciulla and freshman David Molk will fight it out for the guard slot, but neither inspires the kind of confidence Michigan is looking for - Ciulla has yet to start a game in his four years at Michigan and Molk is a true freshman with no collegiate experience to his name. Ciulla has also been battling minior injuries throughout camp, and is still not fully healthy.

The tackle position will belong to either sophomore Steve Schilling, who saw no action last season, or junior Mark Ortmann, who played in seven games last season but has yet to start.

The good news is that the left side of the line, Henne's blind side, appears to be far more solid than the right and the Wolverines open their season with an FCS-level opponent. The two-time defending FCS champion, yes, but an FCS-level opponent nonetheless. That game should give the new line plenty of time to find its legs before Big Ten competition begins.

August 21, 2007

Miami: Wright "Nicked Up"

We know that Miami quarterback Kyle Wright did not participate in Monday's scrimmage, but head coach Randy Shannon won't tell us why. Revealing only that Wright is one of several players who has been "nicked up," the injury is most likely a hyperextended left knee, says the Miami Herald - pain through which Wright is expected to play.

Wright, a senior, is competing with junior Kirby Freeman for the starting job. Sitting out a practice, any practice, is certainly not helping his quest to regain the top spot on the depth chart. Sitting out a scrimmage is even worse, despite Wright's casual belittling of his time on the sideline. He put together a lackluster performance in 2006, weak offensive line or no, and needs every minute of field time he can get if he's going to prove that he's still the guy.

The competition will continue until next week, when a starter will be announced prior to the Hurricanes' Sept. 1 opener against Marshall.

Rutgers: Line Em Up at Linebacker

It's hard to make a foolproof preseason plan. More often than not, in those precious few weeks between the start of fall camp and the first kickoff, things go wrong. After Monday, Rutgers is no exception. Middle linebacker Blair Bines broke his jaw in Monday's morning practice session, sidelining him for six weeks and sending head coach Greg Schiano's plan for his linebacking corps up in smoke.

Schiano was frustrated with the production of his linebackers in camp, but now he must be downright distraught. Without Bines, sophomore Damaso Munoz should be the go-to guy for the position, but overall depth concerns are rocking the linebacker boat. The current group taking first-team reps has junior Kevin Malast and senior Brandon Renkart on the outside and Munoz in the middle, but as a fifth-year senior, Renkart's size and leadership ability may make him a better fit for the middle spot, which is cause for a re-evaluation of the ends.

Schiano likes to have his players find a position on the field and stay there, which gives Munoz the edge - he's spent the past week in the middle and players have grown accustomed to his voice barking commands on the field. But none of that matters when the lack of depth is so glaring. Every linebacker on the roster will likely take reps this week until one separates himself as the best leader.

Junior Chris Quaye, redshirt freshman Jim Dumont and true freshman Antonio Lowery will all get their crack this week, but none of them are inspiring boatloads of confidence. Quaye was the first-team middle linebacker at the beginning of camp, but Bines and Munoz had since passed him by. Dumont is playing with a broken hand wrapped in a club, making him less effective than usual and it's asking a lot of Lowery to expect him to be ready to run the defense on August 30. Sophomore Ryan D'Imperio is left out of the competition after breaking his right leg during spring ball. He is progressing, but is nowhere near ready to go as of today.

With two days off this week (Thursday and Friday), Schiano will spend some much-needed time finalizing his two-deep and attempting to find the best three linebackers to take the field for his Scarlet Knights in just nine days. Schiano may well choose talent over experience, and hope that the talent he chooses can last long enough for the experience to catch up.

August 18, 2007

Mississippi State: Turning Down the Intensity

While programs across the country are using every possible preseason minute to give players at all levels of the depth chart sufficient opportunities to prove themselves, Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom is taking a slightly different tact. After Saturday's scrimmage, the team will not put on full pads again until their season opener on Aug. 30 against LSU. Why? So that the team's injured players can still come to practice.

Talk about customizing a workout.

Rather than cater practice sessions to the majority of players on the team, who happen to not be injured, Croom has decided to shift his focus to the minority, designing workouts to fit the injured among the group. Playing in the nation's toughest conference, this cannot be the most efficient way to prepare the Bulldogs for battle.

"The guys who have nagging injuries still come out to work," Croom said after Thursday's practice. "That's a positive. In a way we've got to be smart about these guys, making sure they don't make matters worse."

Obviously the coaches should be doing everything they can to make sure that injured players do not further aggravate their ails, but that should not mean that the entire team should reduce its intensity level while the injured few take time to heal. Helmets-shorts-shoulder pads practices are all well and good for those guys who need to go light on reps and contact, but what about the rest of the team? Taking away full-contact drills for nearly two weeks leading up to a contest with No. 2 LSU seems like a recipe for disaster.

And it's not like that's the only tough game Mississippi State will play this season. As the bottom feeder of the SEC West, their schedule pits the Bulldogs against Auburn, Tennessee and West Virginia, to name a few, and playing without full pads for the 12 days leading up to the Tigers is far from the best way to prepare the team for a dogfight. The seven linemen on both sides of the ball who have been limited in their work this week may be ready to rock come two Thursdays from now, but the rest of the team will be weighed down in pads, a disadvantage they cannot afford.

Help the injured players heal by having trainers work with them separately; don't bring the whole team down to their level. They may never make it back.

Bad Week for ACLs

It was a tough week for anterior cruciate ligaments across the world of college football. Four major contributors to four different programs tore their ACLs this week, leaving worries about replacements and depth in their wake.

Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak tore his ACL Tuesday after slipping on the turf and hyperextending his knee. The redshirt freshman was pushing for a starting job, but will now miss the entire season, pulling Trey Covington and Jermaine Lemons into the No. 1 and 2 spots in the Leo position (Linebacker/defensive end).

ACC foe Clemson is in the same boat after losing running back Ray Ray McElrathbey on Thursday. McElrathbey had arthroscopic knee surgery last month and had the second-best performance in a team scrimmage last week, rushing six times for 25 yards, including a six-yard touchdown scamper. The sophomore shifted to the running back position at the end of last season after starting at defensive back in 2006. His injury shouldn't have a large effect Clemson's run game in 2007, as McElrathbey was third on the depth chart behind all-conference backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller, but having the runner on the bench instead of the practice field this season will have repercussions for the years to come.

Moving west, TCU has also been bit by the ACL bug. Starting left tackle Wade Sisk is out for the season after tearing his ACL last week, leaving the Horned Frogs with only two returning starters on the offensive line. Sisk started 13 games at right tackle last season.

BYU nose tackle Russell Tialavea did a double-whammy on his right knee, tearing both his ACL and MCL this week. The redshirt sophomore's departure means that freshman Eathyn Manumaleuna and junior Mosese Foketi have moved up in the depth chart and Garrett Reden is in the middle of a three-day trial run on the defensive line (the freshman came into camp as an offensive lineman).

August 17, 2007

USC: Bruised Ego

He's on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a Trojans jersey, but that's not stopping him - USC Tailback Emmanuel Moody is going to transfer. The sophomore tailback, who just happens to be the Trojans' second-leading rusher from last season, is leaving L.A. because he feels the team has forgotten him as he attemps to make a comeback from injury.

USC has unbelievable depth at the tailback position. With 10 guys all battling for time on the field in that spot, it was perhaps inevitable that this would happen, but it's interesting that the one player who chose to leave is blaming it on an injury comeback. Moody missed the last four games of the 2006 season with an ankle injury, and sat out of almost all of spring ball with a tweaked hamstring. He bruised his knee last Sunday in a team scrimmage and sat out of practices Monday and Tuesday before skipping Wednesday's walkthrough, the L.A. Times reported.

Head coach Pete Carroll told the AP that Moody's decision was not a snap one, and that the tailback is looking to join a program where he can be the star. After gaining 458 yards on 79 carries in 2006, it looked like Moody was on track to be that star at USC, but it's clear that the frustration caused by injury, and the resulting drop in attention from coaches at the nation's highest-regarded program, is enough to push him elsewhere.

With Moody out, those 10 tailbacks have suddenly been reduced to six. Freshman Marc Tyler broke his leg as a high school senior, and does not appear ready to play at all this year; sixth-year senior Hershel Dennis is suffering knee soreness; and freshman Joe McKnight has been fitted with a brace after spraining his knee in practice.

Aside from losing the physical presence and performance of one of the team's top runners, Moody's departure should have a definitive effect on team morale. Other players battling injuries may question their ability to return to the team, given the high level of Moody's production last season. The competition at tailback is sure to thin out, and although that won't dampen USC's title hopes this season, it may plant seeds in other players' heads regarding their futures at Southern California.

Still, we are talking about USC here. For every player who walks off the team, there are bound to be hundreds more waiting to willingly take his place.

Texas: Sweed Update

After an MRI, Texas has changed its mind - wide receiver Limas Sweed will be ready for the team's season opener on September 1. The senior sprained his left wrist during a scrimmage on Wednesday morning.

Texas has released a statement saying that Sweed should be healthy in time for the opening game against Arkansas State, but how much practice time the starter will have between now and then remains a mystery. Since he is a fifth-year senior that has already established quite the on-field relationship with starting quarterback Colt McCoy, Sweed could probably use the Arkansas State game as a warm-up to regain his rhythm without sabotaging his team in any way, and sit out of practices until then. Behold the beauty of a schedule with a very cushy first game.

He is currently wearing a splint to ensure he does not reinjure the wrist.

August 16, 2007

Texas: Limas Lost

Colt McCoy is going to have to find someone else to go hunting with - and play catch with - for the next few weeks. His go-to pass catcher, senior All-Big 12 wide receiver Limas Sweed, sprained his left wrist during a scrimmage on Wednesday and he will be out for at least three weeks. That's an enormous loss for the Longhorns, and not just because Sweed is 6-foot-5.

Sweed is a huge threat on the field. His large frame and 219 pounds allow him to create constant mismatches over smaller defensive backs, and his close relationship with McCoy off the field provides some great on-field chemistry. Last season, sweed caught 46 passes for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Sweed will miss the first game of the season at a minimum - a home game against Arkansas State on September 1. Going out on a limb here, I'm going to predict the Longhorns won't miss him too much against their Sun Belt opponent. But they will certainly need him healthy and not second-guessing that wrist if they're going to make the run for the national title that's possible with their defensive line and McCoy running the show on offense.

Texas athletic trainers expect a full recovery, as do all Longhorn fans. Sweed is an essential part of the Texas offense, and losing him for any more than one game will put a big damper on Texas' parade plans.

August 15, 2007

Bruised Backups

Losing a starter unquestionably derails any team's strategic planning for the short term at least (and long term at most), but losing a backup can be just as devastating. After a weekend of scrimmages around the nation, Auburn and Michigan are both feeling the effects of losing backups, and that's about as fun as a root canal.

Auburn is still looking for a quarterback to back up junior starter Brandon Cox, and after Sunday's post-scrimmage practices, that search is going to go on even longer. Redshirt freshman Neil Caudle was diagnosed with a separated throwing shoulder over the weekend and was expected to choose a course of treatment sometime this week. Any option he chooses will keep him off the field for at least a month, leaving the Tigers scrambling to fill that backup spot.

Attrition also took its toll on the bunch, leaving just three names in the mix - Junior Blake Field is unquestionably the most experienced, while redshirt freshman Steven Ensminger has been practicing on an exercise bike while his shoulder discomfort subsides. True freshman Kodi Burns made some plays during the Tigers' scrimmage on Saturday, but the coaches gave him a grade of 61 (out of 100) after reviewing his ability to run the correct plays, audible at the line of scrimmage and make good desicions in the pass game. Mental mistakes dropped his score considerably, leaving Auburn rather uneasy as the days continue to fall off the calendar.

The mood at tailback is comparable in Michigan, where sophomore running back Carlos Brown broke his hand in practice last week. The tailback was caught up in a pile in practice when someone fell on his hand, dashing his chances of competing with Brandon Minor for the backup spot behind four-year starter Mike Hart, much less becoming the threat on punt and kick returns the Wolverine coaching staff was hoping for.

Brown split time between tailback and quarterback last season, earning 41 yards on 16 carries.

With the transfer of Mister Simpson and Kevin Grady tearing a knee ligament, Michigan will likely have to turn to freshman Avery Horn to fill the gaping holes at tailback.

No top team ever wants to rely on freshmen, especially true freshmen, to contribute effectively in their first year of collegiate football, and although third-string tailback may not seem like a critical position to fret over losing a player with game experience, the more a team can maximize on-field experience and minimize the inevitable rookie mistakes, the better off that team's chances will be. With injuries picking off tailbacks left and right these days, Michigan can't possibly feel comfortable with a true freshman making his way up to third on the depth chart.

August 12, 2007

ACL Madness

This week's most popular injury was a common one - tearing the knee's anterior cruciate ligament - and it claimed the season of more than a few players. Pittsburgh wide receiver Derek Kinder is the most recent victim of the epidemic, tearing his ACL on Saturday, but he joins a long list of players whose seasons will be spent on the bench after making a cut in a routine drill.

Kinder, a first-team all-Big East selection, tore his ACL just like most players do, while making a quick cut during a non-contact drill in practice. His right knee will require at least six months of rehab, knocking him out of the lineup for the 2007 season. Luckily for Kinder, the senior still has his redshirt year to use, so he'll use this season to undergo surgery on the knee and, with a little luck, come back just as strong for his senior year in 2008.

Unluckily for Pitt, the Panthers will be without their top receiver in a season they could really use him. Kinder caught 57 passes last season for 847 yards and six touchdowns, making him a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff award as college football's top receiver.

Tennessee tight end/fullback David Holbert is in exactly the same boat - after tearing the ACL in his right knee over the weekend, Holbert will redshirt for the year and return next season. Assuming he can recover and return to his current form by next August, Holbert may actually benefit from the year off, as he will no longer be battling seniors Chris Brown and Brad Cottam for the starting spot. Holbert has appeared in 34 games for the Vols, but only has one start, forever stuck behind Cory Anderson, Brown and Cottam in the depth chart.

Coming back from injury is no easy feat, especially when the injury usually requires eight to 12 months of rehab, but beating out a perennial starter for a position he hasn't held in four years may have been even tougher. Next season, Holbert will get a second chance.

UCLA freshman Raymond Carter, on the other hand, will have to wait another year for his first chance. Carter also tore the ACL in his right knee in practice this week, also during a non-contact drill, also while making a cut. He will be scheduling his surgery as soon as the swelling in his knee subsides.

The Bruins are not blessed with the depth at tailback that Tennessee has at tight end and fullback, so Carter's injury will have immediate effects. Carter was in competition with Kahlil Beck for the backup role behind senior Chris Markey, but his absence leaves room for sophomore Chane Moline and walk-on Ryen Crew to get noticed and earn some playing time.

A torn ACL has long been the trendy injury for football players, but the number of players snapping their ligaments daily is startling. It is well known that ACL injuries can be prevented (or at least their likelihood reduced) by balancing the strength between a player's hamstrings and quadriceps, and by maintaining flexibility in those muscles. Increasing hamstring strength and felixbility, as well as plyometric exercises, should be a priority in all training regimens, especially for players like running backs and wide receivers, for whom quick changes in direction are an integral part of the game. Installing flexibility requirements might just save a player's season, and that of his team, as well.

August 11, 2007

Losing the Low-Profile MVP

The offensive linemen are the unsung heroes of every football team. They don't get statistics, they're in on every play and most fans only notice them when they do something wrong. But there's no better way to strike panic into a coach than to injure a starting lineman, which would explain the uneasiness suffered this week at Utah and Louisiana Tech.

Utah starting left tackle Jason Boone will miss all of the 2007 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee. The two-year starter took a pass set in Thursday's 3/4-speed blitz pickup drill, planted his foot wrong, and popped the ligament, but it was not known until later in the week exactly how severe the injury was.

A preseason all-conference selection, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior redshirted in 2003, exhausting his extra year of eligibility, so the injury has probably put an end to his collegiate career.

"That was awful news," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's a tragedy."

The injury is not just a personal loss for Boone, but a blow to quarterback Brian Johnson and the entire run game, as well. In terms of the passing game, the left tackle position is easily the most important on the offensive line, as most teams put their best pass rusher on the right end to attack right-handed quarterbacks from the blind side. A solid left tackle is a quarterback's best friend, and NFL teams have recognized this relationship monetarily, making left tackles the highest paid players on some squads. Left tackles do not have the luxury of resting on their heels for a single play, as a moment's hesitation is the difference between a complete pass and a bone-crushing hit on the team's signal caller.

Like any lineman, the left tackle is also directly responsible for the success of the run game. If a running back can get a good push up front from his linemen, his job is infinitely simpler and his odds of being successful far better than if he is responsible for opening up his own holes on every play.

Losing Boone is a particularly bad blow for Utah as the Utes were poised to follow the veteran line, which boasted four returning starters, to a strong season, touting that O line as one of the team's major strengths coming into the season. And the ACL tear has got to be giving Johnson nightmares for reasons other than wondering who is going to protect his blind side -- the quarterback suffered the same injury in 2005 and sat out all of last season to let his knee heal.

Replacing a player that would have been a three-year starter at such a critical position with only three weeks' notice is not an ideal situation, so Whittingham is thinking outside of the box (or inside it, as the case may be), moving defensive lineman Zeke Tuinei-Wily to offensive tackle to push junior Corey Seiuli and freshman Walter Watts in competition for the open spot up front.

A similar fate, to a lesser degree, has befallen Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs have lost starting left guard David Accardo for six to eight weeks after suffering a knee sprain on Thursday. Accardo started all 13 games as a sophomore and was a strong force on the inside, leaving La. Tech very weak at the guard position. The earliest Accardo could possibly be back is Sept. 29, when the Bulldogs take on Fresno State, but in the mean time, the quarterback's time in the pocket and running game's ability to get started will certainly be affected.

August 10, 2007

NC State: Flexible Freedom

If you can't touch your toes, you won't be playing for the Wolfpack this season. N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien and strength coach Todd Rice have implemented a strict strength training regimen that incorporates far more flexibility training than is normally expected of football players, because Rice is convinced that stiff players are slow players. And he might be on to something.

N.C. State players spent the summer fulfilling the grueling requirements of Rice's flexilibty program, the Charlotte Observer reports. Players are not allowed to participate in weight lifts until they pass the appropriate tests that ensure the athlete has the flexibility required to complete the lift properly and lessen the risk of injury. Players also take part in a series of yoga stretches before each workout to improve flexibility, and nearly every running drill of more than 100 yards has been eliminated from workouts because Rice does not consider running such distances to be relevant to the players' on-field skill set.

Rice first began using the stringent program at Boston College in 2002, after spending five years at Cal. The exercises are based on those used by Olympic lifters and sprinters throughout Europe, but are not commonly practiced in the U.S., where a premium is placed on bulking up, not stretching out.

The players at N.C. State have taken to the regimen far better than the Eagles did, working to improve their flexibility and enjoying pre- and post-workout stretching sessions to lessen the chance of on-field injury. Must be the European flair Raleigh is so famous for.

Rice has kept injury statistics on his teams since before starting the program, and notes a significant drop in per game injuries (concussions excluded) since the program has been in place - from 5.5% to 2.9%. Flexibility also helps speed recovery after injury, according to Rice, but the Wolfpack isn't far enough along in the program to enjoy its full benefits.

Exhibit A - starting tight end Anthony Hill, who went in for knee reconstruction before fall drills began and is lost for the season.

"We need to get Anthony vastly more flexible," Rice said. "And he knows it."

It may be too late for Hill, a senior, but tailback Toney Baker and receiver Darrell Blackman, to name two, are excited about the results they're seeing. Blackman thinks player flexibility will even reduce the team's penalties and turnovers, since more flexible guys means less fatigue on the field, and therefore less holding, less jumping offside and fewer mistakes.

Stretching and shorter runs translating into recognizably fewer turnovers seems a bit far-fetched, but it can't hurt to talk about it. If these players think being flexible will make them better, stronger and faster, then go with it - whether it's mind over matter or mind plus matter will be irrelevant once N.C. State starts winning games.

As soon as those statistics start rising and the wins start coming, attribute it where you will - I'll be flexible.

Baylor: Capitalizing on Opportunity

It is the mantra of most coaches that players will not lose their starting spots on account of injury, but that doesn't stop backup players from doing everything they can to make life very difficult for the starters biding their time on the bench. At Baylor, the number of would-be starters sidelined by injury in steadily growing, and as expected, backups are taking advantage accordingly.

Six players are down in Waco with injuries of varying severity, and several more are being kept out of certain portions of workouts as a precautionary measure.

Wide receivers Mikail Baker, Thomas White and David Gettis are all being kept off the field during team situations due to sore leg muscles (hamstring, quad and hamstring, respectively) and freshman wide out Krys Buerck's hammy kept him out of the entirety of Friday's workout. White is the only returning starter in the receiving corps, so there was already plenty of competition among the younger guys for the three remaining starting spots. WIth four wide outs now left to look on from the bench, some of the pressure is lifted from the younger pass catchers still healthy on the field, as they are getting more reps in team situations and more time to show coaches what they've got.

But they know their time in the limelight won't last forever.

"With all the wide outs down we may just work on the run game," head coach Guy Morriss said regarding Saturday's practice. "We'll talk about that tomorrow and what exactly we are going to do once we see what the personnel situation is. We'll see who can go and adjust it according to that."

At quarterback, one man's injury is another man's elation. Sophomore quarterback Blake Szymanski missed practice on Friday with a right ankle sprain, giving juco transfer John David Weed an opportunity to shine. Weed took most of the snaps during the team practice and Morriss was pleased with the junior's production.

"He did a good job, that was good to see," Morriss said. "He's got a wing, hasn't he?"

Senior Michael Machen, who transfered to Baylor as the fourth stop on his tour de college, was equally pleased to have Szymanski off his feet. As this will be Machen's final elibile season (pending any gifts from the NCAA), the heat is on for him to beat out Weed and Szymanski and earn the starting spot on this rebuilding Bears' team.

As for Szymanski, he is used to the rollercoaster ride on which injuries often send quarterbacks, wilingly or otherwise. When starting quarterback Shawn Bell was lost for the final three games of last season with a knee injury, Szymanski was called in to take over under center. The problem was, he didn't do so hot. His struggles last season made him the underdog coming into this year's competition for the starting spot, so he can't really afford to lose any more time off of his feet. Once he gets back to practice, Szymanski's going to have to step up his game, and quickly, if he hopes to be in the huddle on September 1.

The offensive line was also missing two key contributors on Friday with tackle Thad Boatner out with a strained right knee and center Ricky Hasoon out with a back injury. A left ankle sprain kept senior defensive end Geoff Nelson off the field and freshman linebacker Chris Francis sat out with a strained left knee.

Given the tough competition Baylor faces on a yearly basis as a member of the Big 12 South, the Bears need as many healthy bodies as possible if they are to continue to make progress toward a winning season (Baylor has increased its conference win total by one game in each of the last three seasons, culminating in a 3-5 mark in 2006). However minor these dings may be, having any number of eligible players off the field and on the bench is bad news for these Bears.

August 08, 2007

Mid-Week Roundup

We're only halfway through the first week of practice, and there's already been a lot of painful news coming out of training camps. Today's casualties include Iowa State, Hawai'i and Missouri.

Iowa State linebacker Adam Carper is out for the season. The Cyclones were counting on Carper's return from knee surgery to support Alvin Bowen on a defense deep in the rebuilding process under the tutelage of new head coach Gene Chizik, but Bowen will now have to teach juco recruit Michael Bibbs the ropes, and fast. Carper injured his left knee during a practice drill midway through the 2006 season, but the injury has not responded well to treatment, forcing the junior off of the depth chart. If he chooses, Carper can petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility and get this season back.

Hawai'i starting center John Estes is sitting out of contact drills after spraining his left elbow Monday. In his absence, Aaron Kia was brought up to first-team center.

Missouri is down two after Tuesday's practice sessions. Running back Tony Temple, the Big 12's leading returning rusher, is day-to-day after bruising his right knee and cornerback Hardy Ricks is out indefinitely after disloacting his left shoulder. Temple smacked knees with cornerback Paul Simpson during 11-on-11 play yesterday.

Temple had a breakout year last season, rushing for 1,063 yards. Temple's three backups, Jimmy Jackson, Marcus Woods and Earl Goldsmith, combined for just 316 yards on the ground. Woods is the closest to competing with Temple for playing time. Starting 10 games in 2005, the senior was in the hunt for the starting role last season before Temple hit the ground running. An increase in the level of his play will keep the redshirts on freshmen recruits De'Vion Moore and Derrick Washington.

Ricks got his arm wrapped up with a teammate's pads while tagging him in a one-on-one drill, leaving him high and dry for the season. After corner Domonique Johson left the team in the spring, Ricks was in perfect position to battle Simpson for the remaining starting spot opposite Darnell Terrell. Ricks started eight games last season, but inexperience left him vulnerable to pressure from top passing offenses.

Minnesota: Detecting Concussions through the Helmet

The growing number of concussions sustained by football players is a hot topic everywhere these days, but in Minnesota, the facts are alarming to the point of action, reports the Pioneer Press. For the 2007 season, the University of Minneosta is one of nine NCAA teams that is providing its players with helmets designed to detect concussions. Sensors in the Riddell Sports helmets monitor and record impacts the player takes to the head during practices and games, eliminating the growing trend of players remaining in the huddle with head injuries.

With the growing concern at the NFL level over the long-term effects of concussions, these helmets may increase the quality of life for former football players. At the very least, they should decrease the number of stories like that of Auburn linebacker Steve Gandy, who gave up football this week after sustaining his fourth concussion in eight months.

Along with Minnesota, three other Big Ten teams - Illinois, Indiana and Iowa - will pilot the system this season, and with such high-profile schools realizing the importance of this technology, expect it to catch on quick.

By this time next year, expect many more schools to be footing the hefty cost of the technology. Minnesota spent around $50,000 on the package of 70 helmets, encoders, pagers and a sideline processor designed to keep track of the data. The Gophers should have the helmets ready to go for their season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 1.

Riddell began designing concussion-preventative helmets in 2002, and research company Simbex began testing its Head Impact Telemetry System (HIT System) a year later. The HIT System measures head impacts in real time using impact sensors, a processor and a transmitter. Wireless tranceivers, designed to retrofit into commercially available Riddell helmets, continually send each player's impact data to a receiver that can be located hundreds of meters from the field. Key signatures are stored from each impact, saving details on the hit from duration and location to peak acceleration and rotation. The data can then be reviewed and analyzed on a web server or PDA device and saved to a database. A pager warning is immediately sent to team medical personnel if a player records an unsafe impact, eliminating guesswork and judgment calls from the sidelines.

A player can no longer walk off a concussion without a trainer knowing about it, and that's good news.

In partnership with the Naitonal Institute of Health, Simbex has been working on this technology for over a decade, and the findings from their studies have implications for brain injury research. If this year's college trial of the software produces favorable results, expect to see these helmets make their NFL debut sooner rather than later.

The helmet system certainly does not prevent concussions, but makes significant strides towards better diagnosis and treatment of the injury.

August 07, 2007

LSU: Losing the Line

LSU offensive tackle Mark Snyder is hurt, again. Snyder sustained a significant knee injury during Monday's morning practice, bringing back painful memories of 2004, when Snyder tore his ACL during his junior year of high school. Head coach Les Miles is not sure the extent of the injury, but said that it might be another tear, which would really put a rip in the Tigers' offensive line plans.

Snyder has had a rough road since tearing up that knee in '04. Displaced by Hurrican Katrina, he switched high schools for his final year before redshirting for the Tigers in 2005.

Snyder sat out that freshman year with the understanding that this year, he would step in at backup behind senior right tackle Carnell Stewart. If Snyder is out, LSU is going to have to go digging for some answers at O line.

Senior lineman Will Arnold, a preseason All-American who started at left guard last season and will most likely shift to the right side of the ball this season, is not in good shape. Attempting to recover from a myriad of injuries, as The Advocate describes it, Arnold's status is day-to-day. With Snyder potentially out for the year, Cole Louviere is left as the man to step up at tackle, and his resume isn't exactly a novel: Louviere has yet to see game action since arriving in Baton Rouge, and the 6-5, 286-pound junior spent last fall working with the defense.

There is hope in three freshmen working to earn playing time, but Joseph Barksdale, Josh Dworaczyk and Jarvis Jones do not solve the inexperience equation. And Barksdale is another defender-turned-O lineman, having been recruited on the defensive side of the ball.

Offensive line is easily one of the least appreciated positions on the gridiron, but LSU better come up with some answers if they're going to make a run for a national title. Matt Flynn will never get the chance to prove himself if an inexperienced line can't give him some protection in the pocket, and those blockers up front are essential to any semblance of a run game. Knowing LSU, they'll whip these guys into shape long before opening kickoff, but for now, there is plenty of shaking up to do with the names on the line.

August 06, 2007

Comeback Kids

Isaac Newton was clearly a football fan. He figured out that for every team devastated by a player's injury, there is another team uplifted by a player's recovery. (Granted, he made it a bit more general, since the despair of losing a starting quarterback does not always equal the elation at getting a third-string linebacker back, but you get the idea.) In an effort to move away from the depressing news of season-ending injuries suffered on day one (add to that category Arizona defensive end Ron Jackson, who dislocated his hip after an offensive lineman fell on him), today's focus shifts to the equal-and-opposite-reaction side of the equation. The ever-diligent Rivals.com has come up with a list of the top 10 comeback players bringing hope and excitement to teams throughout the country, and their top two picks are not who you'd expect.

Wake Forest running back Micah Andrews is listed as the No. 1 player returning from injury this season, but based on Rivals' own commentary, I have no idea why. Sure, Wake Forest was the sleeper team that took the ACC by storm last season, but the little bio explaining the pick says that the Demon Deacons continued to win even when Andrews was not in the lineup. Andrews is certainly a talented running back, tallying the second-best numbers in the conference before tearing is ACL in the third game of last season, but given that Wake played nearly the entire year without him, and played well enough to win a championship, Andrews should be bumped down on this list.

Replace him with the No. 2 selection(s), Texas defensive tackle Derek Lokey and offensive guard Cedric Dockery. Actually, split these guys into two separate selections and put them in at one-two. (To keep it an even 10, bump USC junior safety Josh Pinkard. The Trojans are too stacked a defense to warrant mentioning a potential backup on this list.) Lokey started eight games for the Longhorns in 2006 before breaking his right leg, hurting the Longhorns on both sides of the ball - Lokey also took some snaps at fullback, contributing to short yardage and goal line situations on offense.

"I thought Derek was probably our biggest lost of the year," head coach Mack Brown said at Big 12 media days in July. A four-point student and a dominant leader, Brown describes Lokey as "tough as nails. He's got the toughness and the attitude and the senior leadership that we need to lead this team. I don't think there's a better football player, total combination of person, character, grades and leadership ability than Derek Lokey in the country."

Along with Frank Okam and Roy Miller, having Lokey back should give Texas one of, if not the best, run defense in the nation. And a significantly better grade point average.

Having Dockery back is also huge for the Longhorns, especially considering the losses they face at offensive line (and the fragile cargo they are to protect - 6-3, 205-pound quarterback star-in-the-making Colt McCoy). Dockery will bring experience back to the line, having started the first six games of last season before tearing the ACL in his right knee. The blow of losing all-Big 12 selections Lyle Sendlein and Kasey Studdard and all-American Justin Blalock should be softened considerably by having Dockery back up front.

Rivals also lists The Rivals Five, the top five players expected to contribute fully this year after being hampered with injuries at points during the 2006 season. Topping the list is Iowa State wide receiver Todd Blythe, a former all-Big 12 selection who missed three games late in the season last year with mono. Another near-1,000-yard season would be huge for the Cyclones, who are out to prove themselves under first-year head coach Gene Chizik, formerly of Texas defensive coordinator fame.

August 05, 2007

Slow out of the Gate

Practices began across the country this past weekend, and most players were pumped to be back in pads. The less fortunate were stalking the sidelines, still hampered by lingering injuries or cursing themselves for developing new ones. Here's quick rundown on who got 2007 off on the wrong foot.

It was a tough weekend for Auburn. The Tigers were missing center Jason Bosley and running back Carl Stewart for the majority of the weekend, and lost several other players at various points on account of the heat. Stewart injured his hamstring during Friday's practice and sat out all of Saturday's workouts. Bosley is struggling with a strained pectoral muscle, so head coach Tommy Tuberville is keeping the 294-pound junior out of all contact drills. Taking Bosley out exposed some major inexperience at the position, as backup Mike Berry was 0-2 on his first two attempts to snap the ball, turning what should have been smooth exchanges into quick fumbles. Tuberville (and quarterback Brandon Cox, and the entire offense) expect Bosley to be back in full pads this week.

The Alabama heat was the biggest punisher of the weekend for the Tigers. Team policy requires that any player losing more than a certain percentage of their weight in a short period of time must sit out of practice, which led to the benching of A.J. Greene, Jemarcus Ricks and Bryant Miller at various points during the two-a-day weekend.

Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey was his usual vague self regarding the severity of tight end Colin Peek's unidentified injury. Peek spent practice pacing the sidelines with a hint of a limp, allowing non-experienced backups freshman Austin Barrick and sophomores Brad Sellers to get some reps in. Gaily did not comment on Peek's injury, but covered all of his bases by saying that it will either be short-term, or could drag out for a while. The team is preparing for a long-term loss, but that is a worst-case scenario for the Yellow Jackets, who lost their top two tight ends to graduation. Neither Barrick nor Sellers have any collegiate experience at the position - Sellers was a defensive end last season and Barrick was a full-time receiver in high school and has minimal blocking experience.

Alabama freshman tailback Demetrius Goode had the nation's worst first practice on Friday, roughing up the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his knee, requiring an MRI. If the ligament is torn, the true freshman will miss the entire season. With eight other running backs on the roster, the Tide won't be left thin at that position, but what a way to start your college career.

August 03, 2007

Purdue: Stuck in the Middle

Purdue is returning 20 starters, the most ever in head coach Joe Tiller's tenure, but the Boilermakers' concerns are mounting at middle linebacker. It's bad enough that touted juco recruit Brian Ellis failed to meet the academic requirements to suit up in West Lafayette, but now senior Dan Bick is not responding to treatment for a neck injury.

Tiller was concerned about the linebacker position in the spring, when he assumed Bick's injury would heal before the fall.

"We don't have a lot of options there," Tiller told the Journal and Courier in April. "I think our front-line guys are fine, but we're really looking for who that next group of linebackers are going to be."

With those front-line guys now questionable, Purdue's defense is in trouble.

Bick is receiving injections in his vertebrae and neck to treat a swollen disc that is not subsiding as it should. Trainer Denny Miller may allow Bick to participate in parts of preseason practices, but certainly not go full-throttle.

Even if Bick returns to action for the season, missing all of spring ball and much of fall camp is a huge blow. Starting all 14 games as a junior, the 6-1, 225-pound linebacker led the team in tackles last season with 95, including 3.5 for a loss and recorded a sack. He also recovered two fumbles, forced another and picked off a pass.

Junior Jason Werner has been on the radar as a promising linebacker since arriving at Purdue, but has had only limited participation due to back pain. He is coming off of surgery and has been given what Miller calls a lime green light - he will be practicing, but under strict supervision.

That middle linebacker spot is a crucial one on a team whose defense allowed an average of just 0.7 more points per game than its offense scored (26 points scored per game versus 26.7 points allowed per game). A healthy middle linebacker can be that 0.7 point-per-game difference that separates the Boilermakers between another 8-6 season and a push up the rankings.

Stanford: Bad to Worse

Stanford's high hopes for 2007 just dipped a bit lower. Following up on last year's abysmal 1-11 season, the worst in 46 years in Palo Alto, new head coach Jim Harbaugh is going to need all the help he can get, and that includes a healthy roster. Unfortunately, he won't get his wish. Starting safety Bo McNally could miss the Cardinal's opening game against UCLA after breaking a bone in his hand.

McNally broke the bone while attempting to block a punt in a recent practice. Harbaugh has said that it is a three-week injury, but is hoping for a faster healing process.

Picked last in the Pac-10 media poll after allowing more than 31 points per game last season, Stanford will need all the defensive help it can get, especially against UCLA. The Bruins blanked the Cardinal 31-0 last year when McNally was on the field, which does not bode well for the team forced to play without him.

As a freshman, McNally led the team in interceptions, bringing in two and returning one 49 yards for a touchdown, one of Stanford's few defensive highlights of the season. The strong safety played in all 12 games, getting one start, and finished the season with 21 tackles, including nine solo, half a sack and a fumble recovery.

The San Jose Mercury News is talking about optimism in the Bay Area, but realisitcally, Stanford cannot afford to be without McNally.

August 02, 2007

N.C. State: Down Goes Hill; Former QB to Fill In

N.C. State has lost a huge chunk of its offense for the 2007 season, and there wasn't exactly a lot to lose. Senior tight end Anthony Hill, the team's leading receiver in 2006 and an integral part of the blocking scheme, is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery last week.

As the Wolfpack's top receiver, Hill accumulated nearly 40 yards per game last season, averaging 10.6 yards per catch on his 45 receptions. He ranked fifth in the ACC with 3.75 receptions per game. Just as importantly, his 6-6, 275-pound frame made him a standout blocker, paving the way for running backs Toney Baker and Andre Brown, two juniors who are considered the cogs of the Wolfpack offense. Hill has started 20 of 27 career games at N.C. State.

The senior had surgery last week to repair an anterior cruciate ligament that he twisted several weeks prior, but the extent of the injury was uncertain in the days leading up to the surgery. Orthopedic surgeon Mike Fajgenbaum performed reconstructive surgery on the knee, and since Hill still has a redshirt year availble, he sould have time to rehabilitate the knee and be back for 2008.

But that doesn't do N.C. State any good in 2007. Picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic after a 3-9 campaign last season, losing Hill leaves the Wolfpack paper thin at tight end. Former quarterback Marcus Stone, who started the first three games under center last season, will be called upon to step up in that spot, since he emerged as the backup after spring practice. Stone posted a 6-3 record as starting quarterback before moving to tight end for the final six games of last season.

Standing 6-6 and 239, Stone has some enormous shoes to fill in terms of blocking responsibilities, and a 30-pound weight difference is a big one with the season less than a month away.

If Stone's statment last week that he will go into preseason camp weighing in at 250 is correct, then the Wolfpack can start to breathe slightly easier, especially when considering that the senior did play 25 snaps at tight end at the end of last season, and has spent all summer working on his blocking techniques. With Hill on the bench indefinitely, Stone has a golden opportunity to turn some heads.

But going from quarterback to tight end isn't exactly a seamless transition.

Sophomore Matt Kushner will most likely be the back-up after earning the No. 3 spot in the spring. Redshirt freshman Rashad Phillips is still recovering from injuries suffered from an October car accident and the surgery required thereafter.

The Pain and the Glory

Injuries happen. Sometimes players play through them and sometimes seasons are ended by them. Injuries don't just hurt the player involved - they can affect the entire team. Check back regularly for the latest updates on who's hurt, who's pretending not to be and how it's affecting the team, the conference and the title picture.


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