It’s Friday and I know what you’re thinking. On a weekend that will be dominated by the NCAA basketball tournament, you need a little fix on spring football to get you to Monday. So here, at no extra charge, are Friday’s Five Burning Spring Ball Questions (P.S. If you have a burning question about spring ball, submit it here and it may get answered next Friday):
1. How badly is Steve Spurrier looking for a few good men on offense? So badly that he is starting to gaze in the direction of Ellis Johnson’s defense. Other than WR Kenny McKinley the Gamecocks really didn’t have anybody who could make big plays on offense last season. Spurrier has already called on defensive end Cliff Matthews at tight end to help with loss of Jared Cook (37 catches). Spurrier told Seth Emersen of The State Newspaper: “We’ve got to utilize all of our players, I think, better. Sometimes we’ve got guys out there that shouldn’t be out there, and we’ve got some of our most conscientious guys over there standing with me?”
Translation? The Head Ball Coach is getting tired of being mediocre on offense and his best athletes for a couple of years have been on defense. Stay tuned. This could get interesting but I still say that if the quarterback position (Stephen Garcia) plays consistently, which it never has in Spurrier’s four years at South Carolina, a lot of those problems on offense would be solved.
2. What is John L. Smith doing at Arkansas? Bobby Petrino had only one change on his coaching staff after year one in Fayetteville. Smith, the former head coach at Louisville and Michigan State, has come on board as special teams coach and will work with the defensive backs. Smith was fired at Michigan State after the 2006 season with a 22-26 record. Yes, there is a connection. Petrino worked for seven seasons under Smith at Idaho, Utah State, and Louisville. They parted ways when Petrino went to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1999. When Smith went to Michigan State as head coach in 2003, Petrino left after one year as the Auburn OC and became the head coach at Louisville. Head coaches have told me that it never hurts to have a former head coach on the staff—if it’s a guy you trust not to stab you in the back. (Auburn fans may insert their comment here). He serves as an extra set of eyes on all the little things that a head coach has to be aware of.
3. Exactly how much does Florida plan to use John Brantley this spring? Brantley, a sophomore who threw 28 passes as a redshirt freshman, is Tim Tebow’s backup. So under normal circumstances and barring injury he wouldn’t figure to get a lot of snaps in 2009. But expect Brantley to get a lot of work this spring. Remember that in 2006, with Chris Leak as his starting quarterback, Urban Meyer made sure that freshman Tebow was involved enough in the offense so that his transition to starter in 2007 was very smooth. The same thing applies here. Scot Loeffler replaces Dan Mullen, now the head coach at Mississippi State, as quarterbacks coach. Loeffler, who spent last season working with the Detroit Lions, has extensive experience working with quarterbacks at Michigan (2002-07). In fact, Loeffler recruited Tebow for Michigan. He’ll help Tebow learn some of the subtleties he’ll need to play the position in the NFL, but it is Brantley who will benefit the most in the long term.
4. Can Terry Grant make a comeback at Alabama? One of the most curious things about Alabama’s 12-2 team last season was what happened to Terry Grant. As a true freshman Grant led the Crimson Tide in rushing with 891 yards. He started nine games. I was convinced that this kid was going to be a star in 2008. But last season he fell to fourth on the depth chart behind Glen Coffee, freshman Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch. Coffee is gone and Ingram and Upchurch return (Upchurch is still recovering from neck surgery and has not been cleared for contact. He is expected to be ready this fall). But getting back into the rotation is no sure thing for Grant because there is so much talent waiting in the wings, including incoming highly-recruited freshman Trent Richardson. I guess it’s a good problem for Alabama to have but Grant is a pretty talented guy to be sitting.
5. Who in the wide, wide world of sports put together Miami’s schedule? I don’t normally start breaking down schedules until after spring practice. But several Miami fans sent me this one and it bears discussion now. Miami, with a team full of good, young talent and a new offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple, look to be a factor in the ACC Coastal after going 12-13 in the first two seasons under Randy Shannon. But the Hurricanes could be a lot better in 2009 and go 1-3 or even 0-4 in their first four games. They are:
Sept. 7: at Florida State on Labor Day night. It’s not the Florida State of old, but neither is Miami. The two played in October the past two years but agreed to move the game up this season for TV.
Sept. 17: A Thursday night (ESPN) meeting with Georgia Tech at home. Georgia Tech ran for 472 yards against the Hurricanes to beat them last November (41-23).
Sept. 26: A trip to Virginia Tech, the defending ACC champions. Miami is 2-2 in its last four trips to Blacksburg, where the Hokies return 15 starters.
Oct. 3: A visit from Oklahoma, a consensus top three team in the preseason with QB Sam Bradford, the Heisman Trophy winner.
That’s a schedule only an athletic director could love.