Former five-star ‘Bama RB moves to corner… for now

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A five-star member of Alabama’s 2011 recruiting class, Dee Hart was expected to be the latest in a string of very productive Tide running backs.

In July of 2011, Hart suffered a torn ACL that forced him to miss his true freshman season.  After rehabbing that injury, Hart tore the ACL in the same knee during an October win over Ole Miss last year and, obviously, missed the remainder of the season.  While Hart is returning yet again from injury, he’ll be doing so on the other side of the ball.

The two-time defending national champions opened spring practice Saturday afternoon, and Hart was working in the secondary as a cornerback in a black, no-contact jersey.  Head coach Nick Saban, however, stressed that just because players are working at a different position this spring, Hart included, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the moves will be permanent.

“We’re looking to see if any of those guys can help us, and if this would be a better circumstance for how much they would be able to contribute to our team,” Saban said in explaining a handful of position switches.

The Tide is absolutely loaded at the running back position, with second-leading rusher T.J. Yeldon, one of two UA backs with over 1,000 yards last season, returning as well as four RBs in this year’s recruiting class added to a stable of four- and five-star players at the position.  The combination of that depth and Hart’s recent injury history would make switching to the secondary on a permanent basis sensible on several levels.

Hart, though, isn’t the only player making a secondary move.  Cyrus Jones and Christion Jones, wide receivers in 2012, were working with the defensive backs during the first of 15 spring practice sessions.

“I’ve been encouraged by all those guys. They’re all really athletic,” the coach said of the three skill-position players. “They’ve all played defensive back before, so it’s not like they’re lost. But I don’t think there’s any way that all those guys are going to end up on defense. Maybe one. Maybe two, if they both have roles.”

For the most part, and likely to Saban’s liking, the Tide’s first spring practice of the year was an uneventful one.  Here, though, are a few notes and one quote from the Tide’s return to the practice field.

— A total of nine early enrollees took part in the spring practice: quarterback Cooper Bateman, junior college offensive lineman Leon Brown, quarterback Luke Del Rio, wide receiver Raheem Falkins, running back Derrick Henry, offensive lineman Brandon Hill, tight end O.J. Howard, quarterback Parker McLeod and defensive back Jai Miller.

— Bateman, Del Rio and McLeod, incidentally, were three of the eight quarterbacks — yes, eight — who are currently on the roster and received reps.  In addition to those two as well as starter AJ McCarron and backup Blake SimsAlec MorrisPhillip Ely and walk-on Edward Aldag also received some semblance of work.

— Ely had reportedly been considering a transfer earlier this offseason, so his presence served as somewhat of a mild surprise.  Depending on how things shake out over the next five weeks, though, Ely could still look to move on to a program less congested at the quarterback position.

— From the Anniston Star: “During a couple of drills, McCarron was able to throw to someone he said he wanted to play alongside — his brother, tight end Corey McCarron, a rising sophomore.”

— As noted in UA’s release, secondary coach Greg Brown, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal and wide receivers coach Billy Napier getting their first on-field look at the 2013 Crimson Tide squad.  All of those assistants are in their first months on the job after three of Saban’s assistants left this offseason for better jobs title-wise.

— Wide receiver DeAndrew White (knee), running back Jalston Fowler (knee) and linebacker C.J. Mosley were among those wearing the black, no-contact jersey.  There was no word on the specific nature of Mosley’s injury.  (Writer’s note: Mosley underwent offseason shoulder surgery, hence the no-contact jersey.)

— Quasi-starting linebacker Xzavier Dickson was in the mix along the defensive line.  Again, the move is not necessarily a permanent one.  Dickson started six of the 13 games in which he played at LB last year.

— It was noted by al.com that “WR Kenny Bell doesn’t look like someone who broke his leg four months ago.”

— For those who keep track of this sort of thing, the Tide officially returns six starters on offense and seven on defense.  Starting punter Cody Mandell returns as well.

— Quotable, from Saban via the school’s sports information department:

“The main objective to me for spring practice is to focus on player improvement. Whether it is what a player needs to be able to do, the technique of how he should do it and to have an understanding conceptually of why it is important to do it that way.

“In the spring you don’t have game plans. You don’t have to change what you are doing and it is an opportunity for everyone to know our offense, our defense and our special teams – and to understand what is expected of them. I think it is also a time that a player needs to learn how to practice.”

Arizona State, Mississippi State ink home-and-home

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Arizona State and Mississippi State on Tuesday announced a home-and-home series to be played in 2024-25. Arizona State will host the first game in Tempe on Sept. 7, 2024, and the clubs will meet in Starkville on Sept. 6, 2025.

The Sun Devils and Bulldogs have never met previously.

The Arizona State trip is not Mississippi State’s only upcoming trek from the Deep South to the Southwest. The Bulldogs also lined up a visit to Arizona in 2020 and Texas Tech in 2029. Mississippi State will open the 2024 season against Eastern Kentucky and visit Southern Miss the week after its Arizona State visit, on Sept. 14. The Bulldogs have no other games lined up in 2025 as of yet, according to FBSchedules.

Likewise, Mississippi State is not the Sun Devils’ lone upcoming SEC opponent. Arizona State has a home-and-home with LSU on the docket for 2026-28, per FBSchedules. The Mississippi State games complete both of the Sun Devils’ non-conference schedules for these respective seasons. Arizona State opens with Wyoming and visits Texas State in 2024, and hosts Northern Arizona and Texas State in 2025.

UCLA lands Texas Tech graduate transfer OL Justin Murphy

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Help is on the way for Chip Kelly‘s offensive line. One graduate transfer offensive lineman has the Bruins on his list, but another has already pulled the trigger for UCLA.

Texas Tech graduate transfer Justin Murphy on Tuesday committed to UCLA in a post on his Twitter account.

A native of Belton, Texas, Murphy signed with Texas Tech in 2014 and made four starts at right guard as a redshirt freshman. He again started four games at right guard in ’15 before moving out to tackle, where he started another four games. But after battling a series of knee injuries, Murphy announced in the middle of the 2016 season he had medically retired from the game.

After sitting out 2017, Murphy announced in March he planned to make a comeback.

UCLA remarkably started the same offensive linemen in all 13 games last season, but tackle Kolton Miller entered the NFL draft, guard Najoee Toran and center Scott Quessenberry graduated.

Toledo posts, then deletes, tweet offering to change mascot to Shrek

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There are plenty of annoying trends on Twitter, but perhaps the worst is the “I’ll do X if this gets retweeted X-thousand amount of times.” I blame Wendy’s.

But blanket policies are never a good way to go through life, and an exception was made on Tuesday when Toledo offered to change its mascot from a rocket to Shrek with 500,000 retweets.

Sadly, some dreams are simply too beautiful to live in this fallen world, and the tweet was outed to be a hoax. “We are definitely not changing the school mascot to Shrek,” Toledo media relations specialist Christine Billau told USA Today. “The tweet was meant to be fun, but it caused too much of a distraction.”

Meanwhile, Bowling Green gleefully hopped on the dog pile with both elbows pointed out.

UMass grad transfer lineman narrows choices to Auburn, UCLA, USC

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It’s not yet known to where Jack Driscoll will transfer, but the field has been significantly narrowed.

Earlier this offseason, Driscoll decided to transfer from UMass.  Tuesday, the offensive tackle confirmed to Rivals.com that he’s down to three schools as a potential landing spot — Auburn, UCLA and USC.

Neither football program will have to wait long for a decision as Driscoll expects to make an announcement Wednesday.  Driscoll had taken an official visit to all three of the campuses prior to whittling down his transfer to-do list.

“It will come down to one of those three schools,” the lineman told AuburnSports.com. “I feel like all three of the schools would be a good fit.”

Driscoll will graduate from UMass early next month, and will be eligible to play immediately in 2018 at whichever program he selects.  The upcoming season will be the first of two years of eligibility the 6-5, 294-pound lineman has remaining.

After starting eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, with most of those starts coming at left guard, he started all 12 games in 2017.  All of those starts this past season came at right tackle for the football-independent Minutemen. He was named to Phil Steele’s All-Independent first team while he earned second-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors for good measure.