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Jeff Thomas reneges on Illinois commitment, returns to Miami

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The saga that is Jeff Thomas has taken a couple of twists over the past couple of days, with the latest apparently leading him back to The U.

In late December, Illinois announced that Thomas had signed a financial aid agreement and would enroll at the university for the spring 2019 semester.  That move came a month or so after the talented wide receiver was dismissed by then-Miami head coach Mark Richt for unspecified reasons.

Richt, however, abruptly retired on Dec. 30 and was replaced by former UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who had taken over as the head coach at Temple a couple of weeks earlier before abandoning the Owls.  The combination of Richt’s retirement and Diaz’s return apparently cracked the door on a future for Thomas with the Hurricanes as it was reported this past weekend that there was a possibility the receiver will return; that possibility, though, was seemingly snuffed out by Thomas himself yesterday.

“I’m on my way now,” Thomas told the Champaign News-Gazette Monday afternoon. “I’m really excited to get started at Illinois.”

A day later, Thomas is apparently no longer excited and no longer on his way to Champaign as he posted on Instagram that he is instead headed back to Miami.  Well, at least for now he is.

It doesn’t appear that Thomas ever actually enrolled in and attended classes at Illinois, which means he would be eligible to play for Miami in 2019.  Well, provided he actually sticks with this particular commitment this time around.

At the time of his departure/dismissal in November, Thomas was leading the Hurricanes in receptions (35) and receiving yards (563).  The sophomore’s 16.1 yards per reception were second on the team while his three touchdown receptions were tied for third.

Jauan Jennings to return to Tennessee for one more year

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The wild ride that’s been Jauan Jennings‘ collegiate playing career will include one more go ’round on Rocky Top.

The Tennessee wide receiver announced on Instagram that he will be returning to the Volunteers for a fifth season. Jennings had been considering making himself available for the April NFL draft before pulling the trigger on a return.

In November of 2017, Jennings went off on a profanity-laced social-media tirade aimed at the coaching staff. The day after, he was dismissed by interim head coach Brady Hoke, who made the decision in concert with then-athletic director John Currie.

Jennings subsequently met with head coach Jeremy Pruitt and athletic director Phillip Fulmer about a return; in March of last year, after Jennings pronounced that he would be playing “one last season” for the Vols, Pruitt confirmed the receiver was back on the football team.

This past season, Jennings tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with three; second in receptions with 30; and third in receiving yards with 438.

Prior to the off-field issue that led to his dismissal, Jennings suffered what turned out to be a season-ending wrist injury that limited him to three catches for 17 yards in just one game. That injury led to an NCAA waiver that gave Jennings his fifth season of eligibility.

Jennings, who originally came to the Vols as a quarterback, was second on the team in 2016 with 580 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His 40 receptions were tied for second on the team as well.

Pitt names ex-UMass head coach Mark Whipple as new offensive coordinator

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Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is hoping that bringing back Mark Whipple to the city where he saw some of his greatest success will be just the trick to jump-starting the Panthers offense.

In a move announced by the school on Monday afternoon, the former UMass head coach was named Pitt’s next offensive coordinator as he replaces the recently fired Shawn Watson.

“Mark Whipple is truly one of the best teachers of offensive football in the country—college and pro,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “His track record working with quarterbacks is simply outstanding and I know that positional group will really grow under his influence. Mark will not only make a huge impact from an offensive standpoint, but his tremendous wealth of experience will benefit our entire program. I really value the fact that we are adding another staff member who has been a head coach. We are thrilled to welcome Coach Whipple and his family back to Pittsburgh.”

Whipple found plenty of success in the city as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback coach from 2004-06, mentoring Ben Roethlisberger as the team won Super Bowl XL. He also had stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns in the pros, as well as serving as OC/QB coach at Miami under Randy Shannon.

UMass and Whipple recently parted ways after the season following a 4-8 campaign, ending a second stint with the Minutemen that saw the head coach go 65-70 overall at the school and 16-44 the last five years as the program left the MAC and embarked on football independence.

While the overall record was not what Whipple or the school wanted, he did develop some prolific offensive weapons like Biletnikoff Award finalist Andy Isabella and had the team averaging 6.4 yards per play in 2018. That mark is significantly better than what Pitt did on their ACC Coastal title run during the same season, which saw the Panthers rank 97th in total offense nationally.

Seventh Alabama player declares early for 2019 draft

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If you thought the early exodus from Tuscaloosa was over, think again.

On his personal Twitter account Sunday night, Mack Wilson confirmed that, “after careful discussions with my family and many prayers,” he will be foregoing his remaining eligibility at Alabama and entering his name into the 2019 NFL Draft pool.

The inside linebacker had started 17 straight games for the Crimson Tide, including all 15 games this season.

Wilson is the seventh Tide player in the last three days to make early declarations, with less than 24 hours remaining until the deadline for submitting draft paperwork to the NFL passes.

Friday, it was confirmed that a quartet of Crimson Tide standouts — running back Josh Jacobs, tight end Irv Smith Jr., offensive lineman Jonah Williams and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams — would be leaving Tuscaloosa early for the April draft.  A day later, cornerback Saivion Smith made the same announcement via Twitter; earlier Sunday, standout safety Deionte Thompson did the same.

Deionte Thompson makes it a half-dozen Alabama players to declare early for 2019 NFL draft

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Not surprisingly, the exodus of Alabama football players for the NFL has continued.

Friday, it was confirmed that a quartet of Crimson Tide standouts — running back Josh Jacobs, tight end Irv Smith Jr., offensive lineman Jonah Williams and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams — would be leaving Tuscaloosa early for the April draft.  A day later, cornerback Saivion Smith made the same announcement via Twitter.

Sunday, on the same social media platform, standout safety Deionte Thompson announced that he too is foregoing his remaining eligibility in order to make himself available for the 2019 NFL Draft.

Thompson was second on the Tide in tackles this past season, earning first-team All-SEC honors.  He was also a consensus first-team All-American for the 2018 season.

The deadline for players to file their draft paperwork with the NFL is Monday, Jan. 14.