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Defensive Players About To Explode
Players About To Explode
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Out with the old and in with the new. The constant revolving door that is college athletics ensures that as one wave of superstars exits, another jockeys in its wake for the spotlight. Over the past couple of seasons, bunches of former heralded recruits have practiced and studied for the time when they'd earn that coveted starring role and a chance to begin making a splash of their own. For them, their time has arrived. Although many of the names are familiar, and their work was on display last fall, 2011 represents a first good chance to make a national statement.
The following sophomores and juniors are on the career tarmac, as they prepare for lift-off.
QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Wilson provided a sneak peak of his potential last Oct. 16, when he lit up Auburn for 332 yards and four touchdown passes in an emergency role. The successor to hard-throwing Ryan Mallett now has an opportunity to become head coach Bobby Petrino's next star pupil under center. The confident junior can make all of the throws, and has a nice feel for the offense. Surrounded by some of the game's best skill position talent, he's poised to make Hogs fans forget "Big Tex" left early for the NFL following his junior season.
QB Mike Glennon, NC State
Glennon is not the second-coming of current Atlanta Falcons star Matt Ryan, who was also mentored by Tom O'Brien. It just might appear that way at times this fall. The one-time can't-miss recruit waited patiently behind Russell Wilson for a chance to pilot the Wolfpack offense. A long and lean touch passer, the student of the game throws a very catchable ball. Despite playing intermittently the last two years, he has the maturity and know-how to help carry him through 2011. Glennon has enormous shoes to fill in Raleigh, but enough talent as a passer to fulfill expectations.
QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
There's a silver lining to the graduation of long-time starter Tyrod Taylor, and he wears a No. 3 on his jersey. As tough as it is to part with a proven leader, such as Taylor, the Hokies are itching for the chance to break the seal on Thomas. The 6-6, 245-pound sophomore harbors an impressive array of physical skills, ranging from a strong arm to the long stride needed to break containment. While he's only attempted 26 career passes, the staff is satisfied with his development as a passer this offseason.
QB Casey Pachall, TCU
The sour news in Fort Worth is that Andy Dalton has exhausted his eligibility. The upshot is that Pachall was able to learn from the current Cincinnati Bengal over the past couple of seasons. Unlike his mentor, the third-year sophomore has been in the system for a while, and will be buffered by a terrific running game. The 6-5, 216-pounder may look like a pure pocket passer, but he's actually at his best rolling out and making things happen with his feet.
RB Lamar Miller, Miami
Not since Willis McGahee in 2002 have the ‘Canes produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Miller is determined to snap that trend this fall. The only thing that'll keep the sophomore from achieving his goals will be touches, as he operates in a deep backfield. The 5-11, 212-pound burner has the thickness to work between the tackles and the jets to split the secondary. He led Miami backs with six yards a carry as a rookie, rushing for 646 yards and six touchdowns on 108 carries.
RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Wilson is the reason Tech isn't panicking that both Ryan Williams and Darren Evans left school early for a shot at the NFL. Playing in a tertiary role as a sophomore, he was still able to rush for 619 yards and score 11 times, including twice on kickoffs. With a clear path to a feature role, he's liable to evolve into a household name by midseason. His speed and explosive athleticism will force opposing coordinators to devise specific schemes to slow him down.
RB Marcus Coker, Iowa
As a true freshman, Coker quietly rushed for 100 yards in the Hawkeyes' first eight games. Over the final five games of his rookie season, he rumbled for 522 yards, including more than 200 in a breakout Insight Bowl effort. The 230-pound downhill navigator tends to pick up speed as he gains a head of steam. If the Maryland product didn't turn heads with his record-breaking postseason effort, he'll have at least a dozen weekends and 250 carries to raise awareness in 2011.
RB Bryce Brown, Kansas State
One of the most ballyhooed and controversial recruits in college football history will try to revive his career in Manhattan. The recruitment of Brown, who rushed for 460 yards in his only season at Tennessee, was a clown-filled three-ring circus. However, his talent and potential remain undeniable. He has complete back potential, blending good size and speed with the penchant for making people miss. Just a sophomore, he'll have three seasons of eligibility at Kansas State to make good on his five-star ability and high school ranking.
WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Hunter required just 16 receptions to make a statement in his first year out of high school. Of course, it helped that he turned those catches into 415 yards and seven touchdowns. The prototypical big-play receiver flashes the speed to get behind the secondary and the 6-4 frame to create mismatches over the top. Hunter and QB Tyler Bray, both true freshmen in 2010, are already on the same page and destined to become one of the SEC's premier pitch-and-catch combos for years to come.
WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
At times during the end of his rookie year, Richardson made catching balls look easy, no small achievement in the feeble Buffaloes passing game. After learning the ropes in September and October, he took off with 21 catches for 343 yards and four scores in the final month. The 6-1, 165-pounder wields dangerous separation speed, taking part in four of Colorado's seven longest plays a year ago. With improved support from QB Tyler Hansen, the receiver's numbers will blossom along with his development in Year 2.
WR Keenan Allen, Cal
It was evident right from the opener that the Bears considered Allen to be one of the program's premier weapons. One of the best all-around athletes of the Class of 2010, he caught 46 balls for 490 yards and five touchdown passes. The rookie also rushed for 136 yards and a score, enticing the staff to concoct new ways to get the ball in his hands. With that crucial first year in the vault—and half-brother Zach Maynard on the verge of winning the quarterback job—Allen is destined to become one of the Pac-12's most exciting young playmakers.
TE Kyler Reed, Nebraska
Reed was one of last year's pleasant surprises in Lincoln. However, sneaking up on anyone won't be an option any longer after he caught 22 balls for 395 yards and eight touchdowns for the run-first Huskers. The 6-3, 230-pounder is more of an H-back than a true tight end, unleashing the speed to abuse linebackers and safeties on passing routes. While he's improved as a blocker—and was almost switched to defense two years ago—the junior will be used primarily like a well-sized, physical wide receiver.
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Eifert wasn't supposed to be a factor until 2011. A season-ending injury to Kyle Rudolph, though, opened the door for the second-year player to make 27 grabs for 352 yards and two touchdowns. The next in a very long line of gifted Irish tight ends, he's built for success as a blocker and a receiver. The 6-6, 242-pounder is a long-strider, with the ability to glide past overmatched linebackers. As he evolves and gains the confidence of the quarterbacks, his output will increase accordingly.
OL Cyril Richardson, Baylor
A true hidden gem in Waco, Richardson has already soared beyond his three-star ranking coming out of high school. After playing in a dozen games, and starting four at guard, he's set to replace first-round draft choice Danny Watkins at left tackle. While it's a daunting promotion in many regards, the third-year sophomore has convinced his coaches that he's up to the challenge. Not only did the 6-5, 315-pounder maul opposing linemen a year ago, but he was one of Baylor's standouts of the past spring.
OL Morgan Moses, Virginia
Moses is a man-child, who played at 6-6 and 350 pounds in his first season in Charlottesville. The former blue-chipper had an instant impact as a Cavalier, immediately upgrading the front wall after entering the lineup last October. He's a true road-grader, with the agility and versatility to play every position along the line except center. Whether he ends up at guard or tackle in 2011, the sky is the limit for one of the game's top young blockers.
OL D.J. Fluker, Alabama
The rare freshman to start in Tuscaloosa provided hints last fall why he was considered one of the country's top recruits of 2009. A starter in nine of the 10 games in which he dressed, the 6-6, 335-pounder muscled his way to Freshman All-American honors. A better conditioned Fluker hasn't lost the ability to pancake opposing linemen, and his pass protection skills have improved considerably. It was no coincidence that the Tide ran a lot of plays to the right side last fall, the side big No. 76 calls home.
OL Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
Bailey started all 13 games of his Freshman All-American season, carrying his weight for the prolific Razorbacks offense. Now, after just one season of action, the third-year sophomore is being asked to become one of the leaders of a line in transition. The 6-5, 320-pounder will do so by example, working as hard away from the field as he does on it. He'll once again man one of the guard spots, bringing an explosive and powerful presence to the right side of the line.
OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Martin spent his first season in South Bend taking notes. He used 2010 to showcase all that he learned. The 6-4, 300-pounder started all 13 games, 11 at left tackle and two at right tackle, earning recognition as the program's top blocker. A bit of a surprise to all but the coaching staff, he laid a foundation that he'll look to build upon in 2011. The nimble and fundamentally-sound blocker is already Notre Dame's best tackle prospect since Ryan Harris was still eligible five years ago.
OL Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Joeckel set the table in 2010 for what promises to be an honors-filled career. As a rookie Aggie, he grew exponentially as the season progressed. Already a student of the game, who understands the finer points of sealing the edge and run blocking, he's now added more muscle to hold up better at the point of attack. The prototype for a next-level left tackle is on the verge of becoming one of the Big 12's top pass protectors.
Defensive Players About To Explode
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