Mississippi v Alabama

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.”

Oklahoma RB/KR Alex Ross joins graduate transfer market

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28: Alex Ross #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners returns a kick off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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One of the most dangerous kick returners in college football just joined the graduate transfer market.

Oklahoma announced Friday running back Alex Ross will graduate this spring and ply his craft elsewhere for his final collegiate seasons.

Considering his plight on the Sooners’ depth chart, Ross’s decision to transfer is entirely understandable. After accumulating 88 carries in 2014, second-most on the team, Ross saw his usage drop to just 32 attempts (for 172 yards and one touchdown) last fall as Joe Mixon gained eligibility and Baker Mayfield‘s presence in the running game rendered Ross largely to the bench. Both will return next season — along with presumptive Heisman candidate Samaje Perine — so Ross will not.

“Alex has been a great teammate and team guy for four years for us, and we’ve always been proud of him,” OU head coach Bob Stoops said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for him to go somewhere else and play full time. We wish him the best.”

Ross ranks third in Oklahoma history with a 25.7-yard kickoff return average and surely would have broken the Sooners’ all-time kick return yardage record had he returned to Norman this fall. He took kickoffs back for touchdowns against West Virginia and Texas in 2014, and logged a 90-yard return in OU’s 58-23 Big 12-title clinching beatdown of Oklahoma State last November.

Ross was a second-team All-American kick returner on CBS Sports‘s list in 2014.

Charges against ex-Orange DB Howard upgraded in Syracuse stabbing incident

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  Syracuse Orange takes the field amidst a cloud of pyrotechnic smoke before the game against the LSU Tigers on September 26, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Former Syracuse defensive back Nasean Howard was arraigned last month on two counts of assault in the second degree after allegedly stabbing two of his former teammates.

On Thursday, Howard’s charges were upgraded to first degree assault, in addition to the second degree charges and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The first-degree charge states Howard intended to cause “serious physical injury” — a safe bet considering he allegedly came at the two men with a knife — and carries a sentence stretching up to 25 years.

The 20-year-old Howard is accused of attacking Chauncey Scissum and Corey Winfield unprovoked during an on-campus birthday party for an unnamed Syracuse student. Scissum was stabbed in the jaw and, unable to protect himself due to a recent surgery, was protected by Winfield, who took stabbings in the arms, chest and ribs on Scissum’s behalf.

Defense attorney Irene Aurora Flores stated “there’s a lot more to the story” but declined further comment, according to the Associated Press.

Howard remains free on bail.

Pitt RB Chris James completes transfer to Wisconsin

SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 24:  Chris James #5 of the Pittsburgh Panthers carries the ball during the first half against the Syracuse Orange on October 24, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  Pittsburgh defeats Syracuse 23-20.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Hailing out of Chicago, Chris James hoped to sign with Wisconsin after leaving Notre Dame College Prep but wound up heading east to play for head coach Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and running backs coach John Settle at Pittsburgh.

All three of whom are now at Wisconsin.

So, naturally, James is now set to join them. The rising junior has planned to transfer to Wisconsin for months, and on Thursday received confirmation he’d been admitted to the Big Ten school.

“Coach Settle sent me a text, saying ‘welcome to the Badger family,’” James told Badger Nation. “I am really excited. It’s definitely been a long journey.”

James said, naturally, that his childhood love for the Badgers combined with his former coaches now employed in Madison drew him to Wisconsin. The presence of Ron DayneMontee BallMelvin Gordon and a handful of other 1,000-yard backs couldn’t have hurt, either.

“It was funny because everybody who I knew was wearing red now,” James said. “It was kind of weird but I’m glad I got to chance to go back up there. Things really haven’t changed that much. Stepping into Camp Randall, I got chills, man. As crazy as it feels, it felt like home.”

James rushed 87 times for 437 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in 2014, and accumulated 56 carries for 253 yards last season.

Two of Wisconsin’s top three running backs will be seniors this fall, so James figures to be a regular in the Badgers’ running back rotation when his eligibility resumes in 2017.

Coastal Carolina struggling to acquire funding for stadium improvements

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 23:  Alex Ross #4 of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers drops back to pass during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Coastal Carolina joins the Sun Belt’s football roster in 2017 (every other sport makes the jump this fall), and the Chanticleers would like to make some upgrades to 12-year old Brooks Stadium in advance of their move to college football’s top division.

Only, the school can’t receive approval to acquire the funding necessary to do so.

On Thursday, South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education rejected by a 9-4 vote the Coastal’s request for $29.9 million to upgrade the stadium. This week’s rejection marked the fourth in three months, as the school has been unable to assuage the CHE’s concerns over how accurately Coastal’s projections forecast the true cost of the project.

The university has dropped its initial request by 21 percent, down from an original $38 million ask.

“We take the responsibility very seriously. This is not an easy decision. We champion everything that you’re about as an institution,” CHE chairman Tim Hofferth said prior to the vote, via Myrtle Beach Online. “ … At the end of the day, I’ve talked to a lot of athletic directors, a lot of presidents throughout the country, to bring it without significant private funding in today’s environment [is risky]. The question is what’s significant? I don’t know. There’s 13 [different] significant answers here. The fact of the matter is it’s very relevant and the thing that I’m afraid of, the costs on the operating side are nowhere near what you anticipate them to be. …

“That’s my greatest concern in this environment. I want to get there. I’m just not there yet.”

The CHE also said it would like to see Coastal raise more private money to fund the project.

“I would ask if it’s within a point of order, can we get some very specific direction as to what is going to be a comfort level for those that are on the commission?” Coastal president Dave DeCenzo said. “You probably can’t do it right now, but I respectfully request that something be given to us because I know there have been some comments at times of ‘Well, why is this new?’ We’ve been playing this ‘Guess what’s on our mind?’ as we get some feedback saying, ‘Well, you’re going to have to lower this, you’re going to have to do that.’ We need some very specific direction.

“Our definition of private money, if that’s unacceptable to you, if your definition of private money is this is a donor writing a check, is it 20 percent, is it 25 percent? Give us some guideline.”

Coastal has stripped down its original blueprint, down from a planned 22,000 capacity to 19,000, while abandoning plans to improve the stadium’s sound system and construct plazas and facades to make the structure more functional.

The NCAA requires FBS programs meet an average attendance of 15,000, which is not currently possible in the 9,214-seat Brooks Stadium.

Coastal Carolina has the opportunity to make a fifth proposal before the CHE next month.