Does Gator skill translate to next level? 

May, 1, 2009
Lots of NFL draft crossover talk in this week's mailbag:

From Ted in Birmingham, Ala.: "I know you think [Tim] Tebow is the greatest thing going, but don't you think now that recruits are starting to figure out that Florida's system doesn't jell with what the NFL wants to see and that 'Mr. Spread' Urban Meyer's philosophy will start to backfire? I know I'm hearing about how some recruits don't want any part of an offense that doesn't develop you in the way the NFL requires."

Considering Meyer has already won two national titles, I think it's impossible to talk about anything backfiring on him. And, as I said a few times of late, it's not on the college coaches to be fixated on grooming their players to best fit what the NFL does, but rather to help them win games in college and to become the best people they can be first and foremost. Now, will some recruits not love everything about the UF system? Sure. It's not for everybody. But no program is.

Ted's comments had me searching around the Web to see where the buzz was about recruits' talking about being turned off by Meyer's scheme. I did find some interesting stuff from The Palm Beach Post regarding standout WR prospect DeJoshua Johnson talking about this very thing:

"I dropped Florida and West Virginia because of the spread offense," Johnson told the Palm Beach Post. "I don't want to play in the spread offense. I've seen how it affected receivers in the NFL draft. They have to teach them to play in a pro-style offense."

Then, The Post's UF blogger Ben Volin followed up the point:

"Look at last weekend's NFL Draft, which can only be classified as disappointing for the Gators. Receiver Louis Murphy fell all the way to the back end of the fourth round, and tight end Cornelius Ingram fell to the fifth. Murphy was the 18th receiver taken off the board, and spent three months between the championship game and the draft trying to convince people that Gators receivers do, in fact, run pro-style routes. Think Lane Kiffin isn't going to remind prospects of Murphy's draft value? Or Nick Saban or Les Miles? So don't be shocked if the Gators don't land Johnson, Chris Dunkley or any number of the top skill players for the class of 2010. You'll notice that of the Gators' current 12 commitments for next year, none play tailback or receiver."

This is pretty intriguing stuff. But I do think it's easy to jump too far ahead based on the thought process of one or two recruits into what can trigger a trend. Florida is still pretty deep at receiver. UF and WVU may not be great fits for Johnson. That doesn't mean lots of other fast receivers aren't intrigued by the chance to play in a role similar to Percy Harvin. Also, there are plenty of spread-trained guys who are thriving in the NFL: Drew Brees, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Slaton and Wes Welker all immediately come to mind.

Of course, in recruiting, rival coaches are going to try to use any perceived edge they can to convince a prospect why that other school might not be such a great fit for him. Bottom line is you need to win in college first. The counter to this is the impressive production Al Groh's Virginia program has had with NFL talent. Three O-linemen got taken very high in recent years and a handful of others at different positions, but you don't hear of all of these blue chips tripping over themselves to come to UVA.

From Vincent in Dublin, Ohio: "Someone in the Los Angeles Times advised Ohio State fans to get a life. If USC had drawn 95,722 for its spring game, wouldn't it be a completely different tone? Is this jealousy for the tremendous support for Ohio State athletics by some of college football?"

I think it's impressive. The cynics in us like to take shots at people with a passion, especially if we think it's over-the-top. So is it over-the-top? Maybe. I know there are a lot more unhealthy things people could be doing than gathering with friends to check in on their favorite team on a spring day. And knowing that, even if I didn't work for ESPN, I'd probably still have spent an entire weekend watching the NFL draft or checking in on some of those spring games in TV. So I'm not going to knock that passion.

From Brodie in NYC: "How cool could this be that the Harvard-Yale game could feature QBs from LSU (Andrew Hatch, Harvard) and Nebraska (Patrick Witt, Yale)?"

That would be a pretty cool subplot to that rivalry game.

From Jay in Nashville: "I heard you speak last week while doing your book tour through Tennessee. What do you think is the biggest issue Lane Kiffin's staff is up against right now?"

It may sound cliché but it's vital that the Vols find some promising quarterbacks. Senior Jonathan Crompton appears to be UT's guy for 2009. Crompton has obviously struggled in his career in Knoxville. (He completed only 51.5 percent of his passes and had a four-to-five TD-INT ratio last season.) From being around the program for a week or so, it sounded like Crompton has bought into the new regime and made some strides. But after 2009, where do the Vols turn?

They have enigmatic Nick Stephens, a junior, and former Red Sox minor league pitcher Mike Rozier as options. Kiffin opted not to sign a QB in February so he might have to sign two in the 2010 class with the feeling that one of those guys might be his starter as a true freshman if not he's breaking in a third new starting QB in his third season. That's a bit of a dicey proposition. Plus, by all accounts it's a really, really weak crop of QBs in this recruiting class.

Finding the perfect fit might be asking too much. I think the Vols might be better served by jumping on a couple of guys who are close to what they're looking for and have a lot of the physical attributes rather than expecting an exact prototype of that Carson Palmer-like, 6-foot-5, 230-pound guy with the big arm and the cool persona.

From Paul in Chicago: "As a Hoosier fan, how worried should I be that Kellen Lewis is no longer on the team?"

I'd be worried. Lewis was one of the few sparks that offense had. He was just a playmaker and those guys are hard to find, but obviously Bill Lynch had had enough and felt this was the right move for his program. Now he's left with a relatively green starting QB in Ben Chappell. I'm sure Lynch believes he has a more solid foundation now, and word out of IU is that they will work from the pistol formation and they have some good backs to make the downhill running game work.

From Dave in Gainesville: "I saw an interesting stat that since 2005, USC has produced more NFL draft picks than any other school, and it's not even close. USC has had 43 and then Ohio State is next at 30. I know that's great and all and I'm sure [Pete] Carroll is going to really market that to recruits, but shouldn't all of those players have translated into some national titles? And when do we begin to talk about how so many Trojans have proven to be busts in the NFL?"

Well, in truth, some of those draft picks did translate into the 2005 Orange Bowl squad that blew Oklahoma off the field. It just happened in 2006, when USC had seven first-day picks, led by Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. That said, I do agree that given all of the talent USC has had that it's surprising the Trojans haven't won another title. It's also surprising that OSU, which is second, and Oklahoma, which was right behind with 29 players at third, haven't won one at all. I think that just shows you that talent can get you to bowl games, but it takes a lot more than that to win national titles. Chemistry and good fortune are aspects that you just can't predict.

As for the penchant for draft busts, it's still a little early to write off some of the more high-profile Trojans (namely Leinart, Bush and Dwayne Jarrett). From the Carroll era, Troy Polamalu and Lofa Tatupu have really excelled. Carson Palmer, LenDale White and Mike Patterson have been, for the most part, productive. Mike Williams, Jake Rogers, Keary Colbert, Shaun Cody and Winston Justice struggled. Some due to health reasons. Others just didn't develop. But it'll be interesting to see how many of the rest of Carroll's protégés emerge in the next year or two. Thus far, it hasn't been as high a batting average as you would think.

From Mike in Jeddo, Mich.: "By the measure you cite, the Big East (27 draftees, 8 teams, 3.375 picks per team) fared better than the Pac-10, SEC or any other conference."

You are correct. We got that wrong. The Big East, which takes more than enough shots, deserves its due here.

News and notes

• BYU lost a terrific WR in Austin Collie, but with McKay Jacobson back from a mission the Cougars might have a more explosive weapon in their offense. And coach Bronco Mendenhall says Jacobson, who last played in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl, is further along in his development than Collie was at the same stage, Darnell Dickson writes:

"It might surprise everyone because he [Jacobson] had a hamstring injury going through spring, coming back from a mission," Mendenhall said. "But in his conditioning, speed and agility, he exceeds that of where Austin Collie was when he came back [from his LDS mission]. Clearly, if McKay's not the fastest player on the team, he's one of the top two. He should really help us in the return game as well. We're very confident he will play a significant role for us."

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