Mark Richt on Todd Gurley: You’ve gotta give him the ball

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One of the biggest reasons to like Georgia’s chances in the SEC, if not just the SEC East, in 2014 lies on the health of running back Todd Gurley. The victim of a sprained ankle last season, Gurley appears to be primed for a bounce back season for the Bulldogs and he probably should be the focus of the offense early on. Head coach Mark Richt knows he has quite the talent ready to take handoffs but also realizes the importance of keeping him healthy.

“If he’s healthy, he’s gonna make great runs. I mean you’ve gotta give him the ball,” Richt said in a report recently published by The Telegraph. “We’ve done a pretty good job of throwing the ball to him. But Keith Marshall’s pretty talented, obviously. Brendan Douglas, we like what he did. We’ve got a couple highly-touted guys coming in, I wanna see what they can do.”

There is no doubting that Georgia tends to have a pretty solid running game. That should be the case again in 2014, and it should help take the pressure off the quarterback in a year of some transition under center. With breaking in a new full-time starter at the position, it should be expected the running game carries the load more in the beginning of the season. Richt is suggesting a healthy Gurley is going to be leading that charge, but they need to do so smartly.

“So are we gonna give it to (Gurley) 30 times a game and wear him to a nub, no,” Richt explained. “But there may be a game or two where he’s feeling in, and we’ve got momentum, and he’s pounding, we’re gonna let him pound. But Douglas pounds pretty good too. Keith Marshall can hit a home run at any moment. So we’ll use all those guys.”

Earlier this offseason Richt said there were no plans to redshirt Marshall, so he should be a part of the offensive gameplan as well.

Helmet sticker to Saturday Down South.

Arizona’s Rod Smith named OC at Illinois

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The postseason coaching carousel continues to spin, with Lovie Smith the latest to make a key addition to his staff.

Rod Smith, it was confirmed by the school Friday, has been hired by Smith to serve as the next offensive coordinator at Illinois.  In addition to his coordinating duties, Smith will also serve as quarterbacks coach as well.

Smith replaces Garrick McGee, who was fired two days before Christmas after two seasons with the Fighting Illini.

“Rod Smith brings terrific and exciting offensive experience to our staff at Illinois,” Smith said. “His background and development of dual-threat quarterbacks and multiple-threat offenses is the direction we are going here. Rod has developed explosive quarterback play and offensive performance at each of his coaching stops.”

Smith had spent the past six seasons as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona.  With Rich Rodriguez‘s dismissal earlier this month, it was expected Smith wouldn’t be retained by new boss Kevin Sumlin, whose hiring was confirmed over the weekend.

Smith heads to Champaign armed with experience in the Big Ten, coaching quarterbacks and co-coordinating Indiana’s offense in 2011 as well as spending 2008-10 as Michigan’s quarterbacks coach.

Stanford’s Ryan Beecher diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

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One member of the Stanford football program has been dealing with a fairly serious health issue off the field, the school announced Friday.

Ryan Beecher revealed in a statement that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last month.  The inside linebacker has been undergoing treatments to fight the disease, although he remains enrolled in classes at the university.

Per the player, he intends to return to playing football for the Cardinal, although a timeline wasn’t specified.

“I look forward to making a full and healthy recovery,” a portion of Beecher’s statement read. “”With the help and support of my family, friends and teammates, I remain inspired to once again contribute to the Cardinal football team.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, non-Hodgkin lymphoma “is cancer that originates in your lymphatic system, the disease-fighting network spread throughout your body. In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, tumors develop from lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell.”

A redshirt sophomore, Beecher (pictured, left) played in 13 games this past season.

Peter Sirmon named new DC at Cal

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And now it makes a little more sense.

Earlier Friday, Louisville announced that Peter Sirmon had abruptly stepped down as the defensive coordinator of the Cardinals.  Less than two hours after that confirmation, Cal announced that Sirmon has been hired in the same position with the Bears.

Sirmon will also serve as inside linebackers coach.

“Peter Sirmon shares our vision for Cal football and is an ideal fit for our coaching staff,” head coach Justin Wilcox said in a statement. “I have had the pleasure of working with Peter on previous staffs and understand the value he will bring. Peter is an excellent football coach, a top-notch recruiter and talented in the development of players both on and off the field. He will be an excellent teacher of the game as well as a tremendous mentor for our student-athletes in all aspect of their lives.”

Sirmon just completed his first season with the Cardinals.  In his lone season, the U of L finished 70th in scoring defense (27.4 ppg) and 62nd in total defense (388.1 ypg); in the year prior to arrival, they were 71st (27.1 pp) and 59th (387 ypg), respectively, in those categories.

Prior to the U of L, Sirmon had served as the coordinator at Mississippi State for one season in 2016.

“I’m excited to be joining the University of California and reuniting with Justin Wilcox.” Sirmon said. “We are like-minded in what we believe and in our approaches to both football and life. I’m looking forward to coaching championship football at Cal and helping create the best possible experience for the student-athletes in this program both on and off the field.”

Record number of players on NFL’s official early-entry list for 2018 draft

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If it seemed to you like there were an inordinate number of early cannonballers jumping into the draft pool, you were correct.

Four days after the Jan. 15 deadline, the NFL Friday announced that 106 players have been granted special eligibility for the April draft.  That sets a new record for early entrants, breaking the mark of 98 set in 2014.  The past two seasons, there were 95 and 96 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.  In 2015, there were just 74.

The SEC was hit hardest by attrition with 26 players leaving early, although the ACC wasn’t far behind at 24.  The Pac-12 was next among the Power Five conferences with 17, followed by the Big 12’s 13 and the Big Ten’s 11.

Among Group of Five leagues, Conference USA lost the most with four.  The Mountain West saw three go early, with the AAC (two), MAC (one) and Sun Belt (one) coming next in line.  There were also two non-FBS players who left early, as well as two from Notre Dame.

As far as individual schools go, there were three that lost six apiece — Florida State, LSU and Texas.  Alabama lost five, while Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma, UCLA, and USC all lost four apiece.  Clemson, Florida, Louisville, Stanford and Tennessee were on the losing end of three players each.

In addition to the 106 granted special eligibility — they’ll be listed at the end — the NFL also granted eligibility to 13 players who the league writes “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements.” Those players are listed below:

» Jordan Akins, TE, UCF
» Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
» Kyle Allen, QB, Houston
» Will Clapp, C, LSU
» Terrell Edmunds, DB, Virginia Tech
» Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson
» Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
» Sam Jones, G, Arizona State
» Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
» Brian O’Neill, T, Pittsburgh
» Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
» Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
» Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Courtesy of the NFL, below is the complete list of 106 players who have been granted special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft:

» Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
» Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, DE, Toledo
» Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville
» Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
» Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas
» Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
» Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
» Jessie Bates, DB, Wake Forest
» Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
» Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
» Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
» Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
» Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
» Geron Christian, T, Louisville
» Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
» Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
» Vosean Crumbie, DB, Nevada
» J.J. Dallas, DB, Louisiana-Monroe
» James Daniels, C, Iowa
» Sam Darnold, QB, USC
» Carlton Davis, DB, Auburn
» Michael Dickson, P, Texas
» Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
» DeShon Elliott, DB, Texas
» Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
» Matt Fleming, WR, Benedictine
» Nick Gates, T, Nebraska
» Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee
» Frank Ginda, LB, San Jose State
» Rasheem Green, DT, USC
» Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
» Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
» Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
» Holton Hill, DB, Texas
» Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
» Jeff Holland, LB, Auburn
» Mike Hughes, DB UCF
» Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
» Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
» Ryan Izzo, TE, FSU
» Donte Jackson, DB, LSU
» J.C. Jackson, DB, Maryland
» Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa
» Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
» Derwin James, DB, FSU
» Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee
» Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
» Courtel Jenkins, DT, Miami
» Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
» Ronald Jones, RB, USC
» John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
» Arden Key, LB, LSU
» Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
» Du’Vonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
» Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
» Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
» Tavares Martin, WR, Washington State
» Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State
» Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson
» Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
» R.J. McIntosh, DT, Miami
» Reginald McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
» Quenton Meeks, DB, Stanford
» Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
» D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
» Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State
» Nick Nelson, DB, Wisconsin
» Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
» Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
» Dwayne Orso-Bacchus, T, Oklahoma
» Da’Ron Payne, NT, Alabama
» Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
» Eddy Pineiro, K, Florida
» Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
» D.J. Reed, DB, Kansas State
» Justin Reid, DB, Stanford
» Will Richardson, T, NC State
» Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
» Austin Roberts, TE, UCLA
» Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Miss
» Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
» Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
» Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
» Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
» Andre Smith, LB, UNC
» Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
» Van Smith, DB, Clemson
» Breeland Speaks, DE, Ole Miss
» Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
» Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
» Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
» Maea Teuhema, T, Southeastern Louisiana
» Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
» Kevin Toliver, DB, LSU
» Travonte Valentine, NT, LSU
» Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
» Vita Vea, NT, Washington
» Mark Walton, RB, Miami
» Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
» Chris Warren, RB, Texas
» Toby Weathersby, T, LSU
» Jordan Whitehead, DB, Pittsburgh
» JoJo Wicker, DT, Arizona State
» Jalen Wilkerson, DE, Florida State
» Connor Williams, T, Texas
» Eddy Wilson, DT, Purdue