By Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg
Welcome to media day season. As the SEC gets the talkin’ season going, Dr. Saturday is your place for anything and everything important and funny from SEC media days. Below are the highlights from day two of four. Wednesday, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Texas A&M are the focus.
Day 2 was Georgia, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida’s turn. Also, don’t miss our Day 1 wrap-up.
Georgia: Does offense make the Bulldogs SEC East favorites?
Expectations are high entering Kirby Smart’s second season at Georgia and he is certainly aware. The bar to win the SEC East hasn’t been especially high over the last handful of years, but the Bulldogs haven’t won the division since 2012.
It looks like UGA will be the popular pick this year.
Coming off an 8-5 record in his first season, Smart returns a ton of talent, including stud running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, plus highly touted quarterback Jacob Eason. UGA also has 10 returning starters on its defense, which boasts one of the league’s best front sevens.
Smart is confident in the way his group will handle the spotlight of being a division favorite.
“Our players expect to win. And we don’t want players who don’t expect to win,” Smart said. “We expect them to come in with that attitude and demeanor. You create that, and it permeates your program by how you carry yourself and perform on the field. And we have not performed on the field from the level we should. That’s something we have to continue to improve on.”
For the team to reach its potential, Smart is looking for Eason, just a true sophomore, to take a step forward. Having 1,000-yard rushers like Chubb and Michel — who both opted to return to Athens instead of declaring for the NFL draft — is certainly a luxury for a young quarterback, but the former five-star prospect needs to hold up his end.
“I hope Jacob can open up that part of the offense and be able to expand it and open some things for Nick and Sony. That’s one of the big things for them coming back, was to be able to open that offense up and let those guys have more space,” Smart said.
In particular, Smart said Eason needs to better his completion percentage, which was just a tick above 55 percent in 2016.
“I think Jacob understands, and we’ve communicated throughout the spring, if he wants to change the win-loss record, we have to change the completion percentage and we have to allow him to make some easier throws, and he’s got to be more accurate doing so,” Smart said.
[Related: 20 impact transfers for 2017]
Mason: Vanderbilt is “in the midst of a renaissance”
Last year, Vanderbilt ended the regular season with back-to-back wins over Ole Miss and in-state rival Tennessee to reach a bowl game, so head coach Derek Mason is feeling good about the direction of his program entering his fourth season.
The confidence of Mason, who said Vanderbilt football is “in the midst of a renaissance,” was on full display Tuesday.
“Vanderbilt football is on the rise,” Mason said. “As I look at our program and where we’re at and what we’ve done, I thought in 2016, we took several steps forward to be a better program. You looked at how we finished the season, 4-2, got us to a bowl game for the first time in my tenure. And that was an exciting time for us. Definitely not satisfied.”
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur took big strides down the stretch for the Commodores in 2016, but Mason made sure to highlight the prowess of underrecognized running back Ralph Webb.
“Ralph Webb, to me, is probably the most underrated back in this conference,” Mason said. “He’s the back that nobody talks about, but all he does is perform. You put him on a stage, and he’s going to be big. So, for him, he’s never worried about the accolades. And from year one to year four, his game has progressed every year.”
Mason’s praise for Webb is warranted. Entering his senior season, Webb is 19th in SEC history in rushing yards (3,342 yards). He put up a program record 1,283 yards last year. If he matches that total, he make a big leap in the SEC history books, potentially all the way to No. 2 behind Herschel Walker’s record 5,259 yards. Currently, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden is second with 4,590 career yards.
For his part, Webb, who said he has been underrated his whole life, talked an even bigger game than his coach.
“I think I’m the best running back in the nation. I think my film is as good as anyone else’s in the country,” Webb said.
Mullen: Dak Prescott’s instant NFL success ‘hasn’t hurt’ Mississippi State’s recruiting
Could the instant NFL success of former Mississippi State and current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott be a boon for the Bulldogs?
“It certainly hasn’t hurt for us,” Mullen said. “We’re going to find out down the road and how it goes for us. I think one of the things, over the last several years, whether it was being number one in the country for several years, looking at a lot of success, our guys had three guys in the Pro Bowl last year for us and the success guys are having at the NFL level or a guy as Dak where you have a former player that now is really almost on a one-name basis in the sports world, which is pretty special.
“I think not just a quarterback, it opens up a lot of the doors with recognition of the program. I don’t know that we’ll reap the benefits of it, but I tell you what, there’s a lot more people around the country that know an awful lot about Mississippi State than maybe did three to four years ago.”
In Prescott’s absence in 2016, Mississippi State found a very capable quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald threw for over 2,400 yards and ran for over 1,300 and returns as a senior in 2017 as one of the best QBs in the SEC.
McElwain: No starter at QB named yet for Gators
It’s not going to be surprising when graduate transfer Malik Zaire wins the starting quarterback job at Florida. But it also wasn’t surprising Tuesday when coach Jim McElwain said he hadn’t named a starting quarterback yet.
“We’re always looking to add to everything that we do and create competition,” McElwain said. “And ultimately it doesn’t matter what the profession you’re in, but true competition is something that really breeds excellence.
And I’m excited about having him in there. We’re now up to finally our number in the scholarship count that we want to be in the quarterback room. We’ve got some real options there. And that’s a good thing.”
With Luke Del Rio missing spring practice because of shoulder surgery, Feleipe Franks was the star of spring practice and the presumed favorite heading into fall camp. But after the SEC tweaked its graduate transfer rules, Zaire, the former Notre Dame QB, was able to transfer and be a member of the team.
Zaire likely transferred to Florida with an idea he’d have a great shot at starting. That’s typically how it works in a graduate transfer scenario like this.
Before McElwain took to the podium, he met with some members of the media and it was tweeted that McElwain said he knew who his starting quarterback was going to be. When he was at the podium, he said that wasn’t the case.
“Yeah. I don’t know how that came out. Who knows. I know we will start a quarterback, I guess, so … ” McElwain said.
“I figured out a lot of stuff at the lake place in Montana. Starting quarterback wasn’t one of them.”
Rules: Horse-collar tackle rule gets a tweak
A horse-collar tackle can now be called if a player is grabbed by the nameplate of his jersey. The rule previously applied to tackles where a defender grabbed the neck area of a player’s shoulderpads from behind.
The horse collar tackle rule is extended to the nameplate area pic.twitter.com/4mIqXFYj3c
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) July 11, 2017
“And so what we saw is players that met — you know, we would look at the video on Monday and try to determine did his fingers get in there or not, but they were grabbing high on the jersey,” SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said. “And it was the same snapping action back, the dangerous component. So now what’s been added to the horse collar is the nameplate area. So if a player grabs, you know, in the collar or in the nameplate area, and we get that immediate snapback, then that is a horse collar.”
Shaw also made sure to remind people that a horse-collar tackle cannot be called if a player is in between the tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The SEC also said it’s going to closely monitor angry coaches coming out on the field to argue calls. Who will be the first to get flagged?
SEC focusing on sideline conduct for coaches/entering the field to argue calls pic.twitter.com/xF92btK4zn
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) July 11, 2017
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