SEC: Top prospects running out of time

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It is generally considered a positive when a football team returns six of seven
key contributors on the offensive line. That may not be the cause for the
Florida Gators, as
Will Muschamp's team is coming off of a
season in which the team nearly had as many sacks allowed (23) as touchdowns
scored (30).
This situation was not what the Gators had in mind when they signed prep stars
James Wilson and
Xavier Nixon.
Wilson was the No. 12 overall player in the Class of 2007 and the top-ranked
offensive guard in the country; Nixon was the No. 37 overall player in the Class
of 2009 and the third-ranked offensive tackle.
Neither have lived up to the expectations that came with their lofty
rankings, and now Florida needs each to do their part on the left side of an
offensive line that was unable to consistently protect the quarterback last
The pair headlines a group of high school standouts that have yet to make their
presence felt since arriving in the SEC.
Bryan Holt covers the team for and said that the careers of Nixon and Wilson have not
lived up to expectations.
"Wilson and Nixon both came in with huge expectations," he said. "Both were
members of the Rivals100 and guys fans expected to contribute right away.
"Wilson had the added appeal of being a lineman Tim Tebow was familiar with from
his high school days. Nixon lived up to those expectations at first, starting
five games as a freshman. Wilson did not play."
While it's fair to consider both players a disappointment up to this point in
their careers, their opportunities have largely been limited due to injuries. It
would not be accurate to suggest that Nixon or Wilson need to redeem themselves
this fall.
"A productive 2012 would iron out the previous issues of their UF careers
because so much of their troubles have been because of injury," he said. "If
they were having off-field issues or a notable lack of effort, the word 'redeem'
would be more fitting this year."
As things stand now in Gainesville, with the season opener against Bowling Green
just days away, Nixon and Wilson are slated to start at the positions for which
they were recruited.
Like most every successful team, it will be important for the line to play well
for the Gators.
"It's huge," he said. "The ideal offensive line the Gators would like to run,
Wilson and Nixon would start on the left side.
"The left side of Florida's line got John Brantley regularly obliterated last
year, and if the same starts happening this year, Will Muschamp will be forced
to turn to either less noteworthy names or freshmen at left tackle and left
guard. He can't afford to put out a shaky offensive line with two sophomore
quarterbacks in this conference."
The Gators will get their first real chance to evaluate Nixon and Wilson early
in September, as the team opens conference play on Sept. 8 against Texas A&M in
College Station.
Below is a look at the other former top prospects who need to step up in the SEC. (Click player's name for a look at his prospect profile coming out of high school):
DeAndrew White, wide receiver. Ranked No. 73 overall in Rivals100
Class of 2010.
Buzz: White was pushed to the background by a group
of reliable receivers, limiting him to 11 catches and 151 yards to date.
Entering this season, without Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brad Smelly on
the roster, there are some questions as to which players will emerge for
Alabama and White could be a sneaky pick to shine. He is still an explosive
athlete that has shown flashes of what made him a Rivals100 member, and he
may now have his opportunity.
Darius Winston, cornerback. Ranked No. 24 overall in Rivals100
Class of 2009.
Buzz: Winston was part of a tremendous cornerback
class in 2009 but has yet to make a major impact at Arkansas. In three
seasons he has totaled just 26 solo tackles and one interception. Winston is
coming out of camp atop the depth chart and, with one year remaining, he can
still reach his potential.
Jeffrey Whitaker, defensive tackle. Ranked No. 54 overall in Rivals100
Class of 2010.
Buzz: If this were a spot for a pure bust then
DeAngelo Benton would have it locked up by a mile, but this spot is
for a player with a chance to shine. Whitaker has contributed a little in
each of his first two seasons on the field but has not come close to
displaying the game-changing ability that most fans expected upon arrival.
He looks to start at defensive tackle this year and could break out.
Richard Samuel, running back. Ranked No. 24 overall in Rivals100
Class of 2008.
Buzz: It may not be Samuel's fault he is in this
spot. When he arrived at Georgia as an athlete, the team started him at
running back, then redshirted him a season and moved him to linebacker and
then asked him to move back to running back again. With a worrisome
situation in the Georgia backfield, Samuel could split time as the feature
back and, if the coaches ask, at fullback. His contribution this year could
be much higher than the last three.
Aaron Boyd, wide receiver. No. 40-ranked wide receiver in Class of
Buzz: Boyd was the top-ranked player in the state of
Kentucky and chose to stay home and play in Lexington and, so far, it has
not gone the way either side wanted. Most of the highly-rated players that
UK has signed in the last several seasons have not worked out, and Boyd is
one of the few that is still with the program. He is in a backup role right
now and has been a bit of a disappointment for Cat fans.
Russell Shepard, wide receiver. Ranked No. 7 overall in Class of
Buzz: The former five-star prospect has been maddening to
follow for fans of the Bayou Bengals, and this is his last chance to
showcase his talent in Baton Rouge. In his career, Shepard has 84 carries
for 572 yards and four touchdowns as well as 52 catches for 473 yards. He
would have likely been a better fit in a Rich Rodriguez-style offense, but
is going to be lining up as a slot receiver this year with a chance to
showcase his athletic gifts.
mississippi state
Templeton Hardy, offensive line. No. 11-ranked defensive tackle in
Class of 2008.
Buzz: Hardy was moved to the offensive side of the
ball upon his arrival to Mississippi State and has been used in an extremely
limited capacity. He suffered an elbow injury that limited his development
and now an established unit in front of him may prevent him from playing
much this season. Hardy is a top reserve up front and could make an impact
on more than just special teams duty if given a chance.
Jimmie Hunt, wide receiver. No. 43-ranked wide receiver in Class of
Buzz: For a bigger bust, Missouri fans will likely point to
former Rivals100 player
Nick Demien but since he is buried down the
depth chart the spotlight for this piece goes to Hunt. Missouri has a pretty
deep receiving group and Hunt has one career catch -- and that was against an
FCS school -- but he has a better chance to proving that his four-stars were
warranted where as Demien has been written off by most everyone in Columbia.
ole miss
Carlos Thompson, defensive end. No. 175 overall in Rivals250 Class
of 2010.
Buzz: When Thompson committed to Ole Miss many expected
him to be the pass rushing specialist that the team had long coveted, but
his body hasn't filled out as expected and he has not seen much time.
Thompson has been re-energized with the arrival of Hugh Freeze and his
staff, and the former four-star prospect seems to have embraced the idea of
a new beginning. The Rebels need him to develop into the player the program
thought it was getting.
south carolina
Damario Jeffery, linebacker. No. 87 overall in Rivals100 Class of
Buzz: Jeffery, a local Columbia product, was expected to
shine in front of the hometown crowd but he has tallied just 36 solo tackles
in his two seasons on the field. This season he is in a position to make
good on the early hype with an expanded role at the weakside linebacker
Jacques Smith, defensive end. No. 80 overall in Rivals 100 Class of
Buzz: Smith arrived at Tennessee as the top-ranked prospect
in the state and sixth-ranked defensive end in the nation. He was expected
to be a playmaker, but has recorded just 2.5 sacks in two seasons. This year
the Vols are moving to a 3-4 defense and Smith will be playing as an outside
linebacker with his hand off the ground. It should make for a more natural
fit for his skill set and allow him to make the kind of impact that many
expected upon his arrival.
texas A&M
Howard Matthews, safety. No. 237 overall in Rivals250 Class of
Buzz: Matthews was a player on the rise after starting a few
games last season and ending the spring on the first unit, violation of team
rules has slowed him down. It does look like Matthews will be on the
sidelines for long, but his image took a bit of hit. He could use a solid
performance this season to get everyone back on his bandwagon.
Kyle Woestmann, defensive end. No. 49-ranked defensive tackle in
Class of 2010.
Buzz: Woestmann may have been just a three-star
prospect, but he was nationally ranked at his position and one of the
highest-rated players in Vanderbilt's class that year. He needs a good year
to keep his job as
Caleb Azubike, a Rivals250 member, is breathing
down his neck for the position. Woestmann held of Azubike on the team's
initial depth chart, but will have to keep the spot by performing on the
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