Tide’s Sunseri one of record 98 players declaring for draft

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A draft-eligible Alabama rumored to be headed to the NFL — or not — will indeed be a part of a record-breaking pool this May.

Tide defensive back Vinnie Sunseri was one of 98 players included on the NFL’s official list, released Sunday, of players “who have been granted special eligibility” for the upcoming draft.  It was reported a week ago that the safety was leaning toward making the early leap into the NFL, although there was some vacillation as the redshirt junior waited until right up until the Jan. 15 deadline — plus the three additional days allotted to reconsider, provided there’s no signing with an agent — before making his final decision.

Sunseri is still rehabbing a torn ACL, which he suffered in a mid-October win over Arkansas.

The 98 players granted special eligibility by the NFL is a record, shattering and/or obliterating the old mark of 73 set just last year.  That standard broke the record of 65 set the year before that.  In 2004, just 43 players with eligibility remaining left school early.

For the second consecutive year, LSU led all schools with seven early entrants.  In 2013, the Tigers saw 10 players leave early.  Sunseri gave the Tide five players leaving early, the same number as USC and one-win Cal (?).  Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and South Carolina each saw four players take the early jump into the NFL.

2014 marks the sixth consecutive year that the number of early entrants has increased.

The number could have actually topped the century mark as four players who have left school early but have already graduated were not included in the NFL’s official count: Southern California defensive back Dion Bailey, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard.

You can view the complete, official list of early entrants into the NFL draft:

» Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
» Nick Addison, DB, Bethune-Cookman
» Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
» George Atkinson, RB, Notre Dame
» Dion Bailey, S, USC
» Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
» Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
» Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
» Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
» Alfred Blue, RB, LSU
» Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina
» Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
» Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt
» Carl Bradford, DE, Arizona State
» Bashaud Breeland, DB, Clemson
» Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
» Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
» Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
» Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama
» Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
» Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
» Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
» Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
» Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
» Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky
» Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
» Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
» Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
» Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
» Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
» Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
» Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
» Khairi Fortt, LB, California
» Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
» Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
» Carlos Gray, DT, North Carolina State
» Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
» Terrance Hackney, T, Bethune-Cookman
» Vic Hampton, CB, South Carolina
» Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
» Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
» Kameron Jackson, CB, California
» Nic Jacobs, TE, McNeese State
» Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
» Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
» Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
» Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
» Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
» Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
» Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
» Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
» Marqise Lee, WR, USC
» A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
» Albert Louis-Jean, DB, Boston College
» Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
» Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
» Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
» Marcus Martin, C, USC
» Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
» Chris McCain, DE, California
» Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
» Viliami Moala, DT, California
» Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
» Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
» Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
» Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
» Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
» Jeoffrey Pagan, DL, Alabama
» Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
» Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
» Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
» Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
» Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB
» Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
» Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
» Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
» Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
» Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
» Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
» Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
» Richard Rodgers, TE California
» Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
» Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
» Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
» Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
» Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
» Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
» Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
» Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
» John Spooney, RB, Brown
» Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
» Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA
» Vinnie Sunseri, DB, Alabama
» De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
» Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
» Trai Turner, OG, LSU
» George Uko, DL, USC
» Pierre Warren, FS, Jacksonville State
» Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
» Terrance West, RB, Towson
» James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
» David Yankey, OL, Stanford

North Carolina formally announces hiring of ex-Tennessee RBs coach Robert Gillespie

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The latest addition to Larry Fedora‘s North Carolina coaching staff has been confirmed.

Following up on reports that surfaced earlier this month. UNC announced Wednesday that Fedora has hired Robert Gillespie. While not confirmed by the football program in the release, it’s expected Gillespie will serve as the Tar Heels running backs coach, a position he’s held for most of his coaching career.

“We are excited to welcome Robert and his family to Chapel Hill,” Fedora said in a statement. “He has a well-earned reputation as a great offensive coach and recruiter, and he has a wealth of experience working with running backs at a very high level. We are happy to have him join our staff as we get into the bulk of spring practice.”

Gillespie fills the hole created by the departure of Gunter Brewer, who left as the Tar Heels’ wide receivers coach for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. It’s expected that Luke Paschall, currently the running backs coach, will assume Brewer’s role with receivers.

Gillespie, a former Florida running back, spent the past five seasons as the running backs coach at Tennessee. He was originally retained by new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt before parting ways with the football program shortly after National Signing Day.

In addition to UT, Gillespie has spent time on coaching staffs at South Carolina (2006-08), Oklahoma State (2009-10) and West Virginia (2011-12). He was the running backs coach at each of those stops.

Report: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s thumb injury ‘just a sprain’

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It appears Alabama can breathe a sigh of relief on the injury front.

Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his LEFT (throwing) hand.  It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.

While there’s been nothing official yet from the football program or head coach, al.com, citing unnamed sources, writes that the injury “is believed to just be a sprain and he should be able to return to practice in at least a limited capacity at some point soon.”

Until then, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.

The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are engaged in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp.  That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.

John Calipari takes page out of Nick Saban’s playbook by warning of (rat) poison

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One’s a dot, two’s a line and three’s a trend as the old adage go and it appears rat poison for college players is now a burgeoning trend.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday ahead of Kentucky’s NCAA tournament game against Kansas State, Wildcats coach John Calipari took a page straight out of Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin’s playbook by warning his team of drinking the media “poison” the past few days.

“My challenge is making sure these kids don’t drink that poison. That poison being we have an easy road. There are no easy roads in this tournament,” said Calipari. “If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday. If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dog fight Thursday — let’s see what happens. Sometimes you wonder why they’re (the media) trying to paint that picture with my team — probably because they’re young and they know they don’t know better.”

Ok then.

At least the term Calipari is using isn’t out of thin air given that Saban infamously ranted on his team buying into the media’s discussion of being a good team as “rat poison” last season. For the record though, the rant by the basketball coach was prompted by a question that didn’t at all involve Kentucky having an easy path to the Final Four but was rather about team and individual goals.

It’s not often you think of Saban as a trendsetter but it seems he was certainly ahead of the curve when it came to labeling media talk as poison.

Harbaugh hits primetime again as Michigan announces spring game under the lights

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Jim Harbaugh is already getting a series on Amazon Prime but now the Michigan head coach is also getting the primetime treatment.

The Wolverines announced on Tuesday that the annual spring game would take place under the lights at Michigan Stadium this year and would be televised live in primetime on the Big Ten Network.

Gates will open to the game two hours prior to kickoff and the maize and blue faithful may try to do their best to get to Ann Arbor early because the school is going to screen an episode of the Amazon series  “All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines” prior to the game. This will be the second time in three years that the school will go under the lights to play their spring game at night but obviously the first time there’s a documentary series that will be screened prior to the Wolverines taking the field.

The game may be worth tuning in for to see Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson in action with his new team after arriving in the offseason. The NCAA still has not ruled on whether he will be immediately eligible in 2018 but he is expected to go through spring drills with the team either way, starting this week when practices begin on Friday.