HOOVER, ALABAMA — One confident. One relaxed. One with a slight spring in
his step. One on the hot seat. No, it’s not a reality show determining
America’s Next Top Model. It’s merely an observation of the four coaches
who took their turn in front of the media at the annual SEC Media Days.
More than a handful of coaches on the hot seat have walked through the doors of The Wynfrey Hotel and tried to convince the media with an air of confidence that their programs were on solid ground. Not so with this group. Their mood was a direct reflection of their program.
Today was a different story. Yes, to their credit, Richt, Shula, Johnson, and Brooks addressed the media with an open heart of sorts. In the present age of the media, what else could they do?
The Commodores program took a giant step forward in large part because of All-American quarterback Jay Cutler. The southpaw took a struggling offense on his back and led them to new heights.
Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson was able to step up to the microphone and talk about getting off to a 4-0 start with road wins during the season over Arkansas and Tennessee. He was proud of how his team competed in two other road games against South Carolina and Florida, where the Commodores lost by a touchdown in each of those contests.
Disappointing losses to Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky kept the ‘Dores from going bowling. But, the upbeat mood of Johnson was refreshing.
Furthermore, Johnson advocated that the corps of players surrounding Cutler in 2005 may have benefited the signal caller. Vanderbilt with talent AND developing some depth.
“To tell you the truth, I think the people around Jay Cutler that we had last year were much improved over 2004 and they gave Jay Cutler a chance to shine,” Johnson stated. “We had better wide receivers. We had better offensive linemen. He really didn’t get sacked. Nearly as much as he did in 2003 and 2004. We had some tight ends and wide receivers make some fantastic catches in certain situations that kept drives alive and allowed us to win”
Best Player Quote…
“Yoga is great,” offensive tackle Brian Stamper said. “It stretches you out before you play and gets you warm. It is great to do as a team and is something that not a lot of teams do. It is something to have fun with and to talk about. Boxing is great too. It is a good workout. It is fun and outside the normal workout plan. It really benefits your game and it makes you closer as a team.”
What to expect from the ’Dores…
The Commodores return nine offensively and seven defensively. However, the schedule is brutal. An ESPN season opener in Ann Arbor against the Michigan Wolverines, followed by a trip to Tuscaloosa versus Alabama, and a home contest against revenge-minded Arkansas is difficult. While breaking in a new quarterback it might just be murder. And as if that is not enough…the Commodores do so without the luxury of an open date. That’s right twelve in a row. Who made this schedule, Phil Fulmer?
Turning a perennial loser in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference into a respectable model of consistency is not easy. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks is using former Florida assistant coach John Cohen as a role model. Cohen took a last place Kentucky baseball team and won the Southeastern Conference twelve months later. He is one hot item in the coaching ranks.
Rich Brooks is one coach on the hot seat. He began his turn at the podium by joking that he is happy to be here again, admits there was some question if he would be, and hopes to be here next year.
Brooks humor contains a lot of truth. The Wildcat faithful won’t settle for another three win season without running the comedian out of Lexington, which means a summer trip to Hoover will not again be a possibility.
Best Quote from a Wildcat player…
We have most of our scholarships back this year and we are in the Top 50 in recruiting,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “We have some great uys coming back from injuries. Having good players makes it easier as a coach. It is not easy for a coach when your team is not winning, but the guys this year have the right attitude. We have to play like brothers on the field and have fathers on the sideline.”
What to expect from the ‘Cats…
Columnist Brian Eldridge of the Kentucky Sports Report says that Kentucky’s strengths will lie in their backfield. Running backs Rafael Little (junior) and Tony Dixon (junior) both have breakaway speed, and they hit their holes hard. If they get out in front of the defender, they likely won’t be caught. Another running back to look out for is Alphonso Smith (redshirt-freshman). He may be the quickest back on the team. Kentucky also returns five starters on the offensive line and four guys who had significant experience last season or the season before. The return of Aaron Miller (sophomore) and the improvement of sophomores James Alexander, Christian Johnson and Garry Williams could give Kentucky it’s deepest most talented offensive line in years.
Eldridge asserts that the ‘Cats biggest weakness will be found defensively at the cornerback position. They’ve got to find dependable starters there. Shomari Moore (sophomore) and David Jones (sophomore) both had quality playing time last year, but they are inexperienced. Karl Booker (senior), Trevard Lindley (redshirt freshman) and Jarrell Williams (sophomore) will provide depth, and EJ Adams (freshman) will also get some snaps. These guys will have to use their athletic ability to make up for their inexperience.