10 players to watch during Saturday's spring games

Dave Miller
April 19, 2012

Spring football concludes for many of the nation's FBS teams this weekend, and more spring games/final scrimmages are scheduled for the following Saturday. Once April concludes, all eyes turn toward the fall.

Here are 10 players to watch this weekend when you are flipping between final spring contests.

Notre Dame QB Everett Golson: Every quarterback involved in the battle for the starting job will be watched closely on Saturday when the Fighting Irish stage their Blue-Gold game. But Golson is the one I've been most intrigued by because he possesses the perfect skill set for this offense. The rising sophomore has the athletic ability to give the offense a look it hasn't seen since Carlyle Holiday was in South Bend. His biggest issue is accuracy through the air. But if he doesn't turn the ball over, he could have a real chance to win the job. Kelly has maintained that the top criterion for the starting job is taking care of the football. Thus, incumbent Tommy Rees has work to do after committing 19 turnovers last fall. Still, Andrew Hendrix may have the ideal mix of enough experience, athleticism and mental make-up to win the job. He has a strong arm and is fairly accurate.

This weekend, also keep an eye on DaVaris Daniels, who has seen some time with the first-team receivers when John Goodman was banged up. The Irish need their receivers to collectively step up with Michael Floyd on his way to becoming a first-round NFL Draft pick. Running back/receiver Theo Riddick will also line up all over the field as the offensive staff tries to get him in space.

Deantre Lewis
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Deantre Lewis

ICONDeantre Lewis averaged just under 6.0 yards per carry in 2010.

Arizona State RB Deantre Lewis: The Sun Devils are very deep at running back, with returning starter Cameron Marshall and James Morrison leading the way. Head coach Todd Graham will also get junior-college transfer Marion Grice and freshman D.J. Foster into the fold this summer. But Lewis is intriguing because he averaged just under 6.0 yards per carry in 2010. However, he missed last season after suffering a gunshot wound that left him with nerve damage in his upper leg. Graham is looking for playmakers throughout his spread offense, and Lewis can provide that firepower. The redshirt sophomore finished the team's first scrimmage with 38 yards on 10 carries and a one-yard scoring run, and he also caught three balls for 15 yards with an eight-yard touchdown reception. Another healthy, explosive body will only help an offensive attack trying to find itself.

Ohio State RB Jordan Hall: Head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman are looking to put the best 11 offensive players on the field this fall as the Buckeyes transition to the spread, and Hall is one of those players who will be used in a variety of ways in space. He has watched tape of former Florida players who have excelled in this scheme, such as Jeff Demps and Percy Harvin, and he has the versatility and speed to line up in the backfield and to be split out at receiver. The 5-9, 198-pounder will enter his final season in Columbus looking to improve on his 408 yards on the ground, 114 receiving yards and five total touchdowns last season. Watch on Saturday how he is used catching passes out of the backfield on screens. The Buckeyes want players like him in the open field.

West Virginia WR Tavon Austin: Dana Holgorsen's offense exploded in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, and it's scary to think what this unit can do with a full year under its belt. As an inside receiver, few players are as exciting to watch with the ball in his hands as Austin, who is one of the most dynamic players in the country. The senior will get even more looks in this offense no matter whether he is lined up in the 'diamond' formation or in the slot. Austin is very difficult to contain. Just ask Clemson, which allowed him to record 117 receiving yards, 46 rushing yards and four scores last January. Oh, and he also happened to have 11 receptions for 187 yards against LSU last fall as well.


Minnesota DE D.L. Wilhite: The Gophers haven't had a pass-rush specialist make some noise since Willie VanDeSteeg, who recorded 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2008. Minnesota also hasn't had a defender notch more than four sacks in a season for the past three years, finishing 86th in the nation in 2011 after bottoming out to last in the FBS in 2010. Wilhite is the veteran of a young defensive line, and coordinator Tracy Claeys is hoping Wilhite can lead an improved edge rush game. A strong pass rush can also help out a secondary that finished 107th nationally in pass defense last fall. Wilhite, who has made 20 starts the past two seasons, must be the leader of a young crop of ends, which also features intriguing true sophomore Michael Amaefula, who made four starts last fall.

Jordan Hill
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Jordan Hill

ICONJordan Hill recorded 59 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a team-high three fumble recoveries in 2011.

Penn State DT Jordan Hill: All eyes will be on Bill O'Brien's New England Patriots-style offense Saturday, but Nittany Lions fans are aware that the quarterback situation leaves a lot to be desired. Thus, Penn State will still have to rely on its stout defense to help carry the load while the offense progresses little by little. Hill is the player to watch because he will be taking over for stud tackle Devon Still, the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year last season. Hill recorded 59 tackles (including eight for loss), 3.5 sacks and a team-high three fumble recoveries in 2011, and he could have moved onto the NFL but decided to return for his senior season. He has played more 3-technique this spring after spending most of last season at the nose, which means he will be double-teamed less. He may be on the shorter side, but he has never let his 6-1 frame limit his play.

Maryland QB C.J. Brown: Who would have ever thought that Brown would be the starting quarterback entering the 2012 season after Danny O'Brien was named ACC newcomer of the year in 2010? But that's exactly the situation the Terps currently are in, with Brown being the lone signal-caller on the roster with any experience. We'll get a chance to see him in first-year coordinator Mike Locksley's offense, which will be a more traditional pro set with spread principles. Brown completed under 50 percent of his passes for 842 yards with seven touchdowns against six interceptions last fall. So improved accuracy is essential. If he falters Saturday and Ricky Schultz plays lights-out football, fall camp will be very interesting. Look for the tight end to be a big part of this offense, so Brown should look early and often for experienced Matt Furstenburg.

Oklahoma State QB Clint Chelf: Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy has stressed that he doesn't want to have to play two quarterbacks this fall, so the battle between the junior Chelf and freshmen J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will produce an established starter. Chelf has had more time in the program, throwing for 520 yards and 5 touchdowns in limited action. Walsh is a dual-threat talent that will need to prove that he can effectively throw the football as well as he runs, while early enrollee Lunt has the strongest arm of the bunch. From the rumblings I've heard out of Stillwater, Lunt has shown the maturity and hard work necessary for him to be handed the keys. Gundy is expected to name the starter at the end of the spring drills after the trio shares reps. Whoever is the starter will be able to lean on running back Joseph Randle, who returns after rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 scores last season. I feel that Chelf will ultimately win the job, but a run-game package with Walsh could be on the horizon.

Tennessee RB Marlin Lane: The run game in Knoxville was almost nonexistent last season, which was one of the many reasons why the Vols did not go to the postseason. Lane has improved dramatically this offseason, and he's coming off of a scrimmage last weekend that featured 71 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can enter the summer months very pleased with the progress of his rushing attack if the backs and offensive line continue with their physical mindset. Lane, sophomore Devrin Young and junior Rajion Neal are integral to this renewed attack. In the team's first scrimmage of the spring, Neal impressed with 100 yards on 15 carries and had several explosive runs. If the Vols average below 100 rushing yards per game once again, head coach Derek Dooley likely won't be getting a fourth year in Knoxville.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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