SEC West notebook

Published 2:56 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ALABAMA: Mike McCoy could easily be wondering what he has to do to get a little attention.

No. 24 Alabama’s top returning receiver was overshadowed by DJ Hall last season, and now freshman Julio Jones is grabbing most of the attention. At a position that often includes some flamboyant — even cocky — players, McCoy takes the lack of attention in stride.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said after politely fielding a half-dozen questions about Jones.

McCoy figures to be a leading candidate to become John Parker Wilson’s go-to receiver this season after getting 28 catches last season and waving farewell to three more of the Crimson Tide’s top receivers.

He does have one key ingredient: A comfort zone with Wilson.

“Mike’s got great athleticism. He can make the moves,” Wilson said. “I’m just so comfortable throwing to Mike. We’ve been throwing for a couple years now. He’s always going to be in the right spot. I’m very confident in his routes and where he’s going to be.”

McCoy is in the rare position of being listed as a first-teamer at two receiving spots for the Tide, likely moving over when the team goes into a three- or four-receiver set.

He’s taking his new role seriously, rattling off the number of passes he dropped in practice (13) in fall camp against more than 100 catches. McCoy said he doesn’t get his motivation from the attention paid to the highly touted Jones.

“Whether he’d come here or not, I’d still be in the same position,” McCoy said. “I’m still hungry, and I still have a lot to prove.”


ARKANSAS: Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino has one obvious cause for concern heading into this weekend’s opener against Western Illinois: inexperience.

After losing running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, as well as a few other key players, Arkansas will turn to several newcomers early on.

“We have a lot of freshmen that will be playing and a couple of them that will be starting,” Petrino said. “So that makes you nervous.”

Who actually starts could depend on what formations the Razorbacks begin the game with on offense and defense — but five freshmen are atop their positions on the depth chart — fullback Mitchell Bailey, free safety Elton Ford, wide receiver Jarius Wright and linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jelani Smith.

Wright went to Warren High School in Arkansas, where he caught 58 passes for 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. He is expected to return punts and kicks for the Razorbacks.

Joe Adams, another in-state product, backed away from Southern California to sign with Arkansas. He could receive immediate playing time at receiver as well.


AUBURN: The evidence of No. 10 Auburn’s youth movement is all over the depth chart — from the demotion of senior receiver Robert Dunn to the abundance of freshmen as backups in the secondary.

The Tigers have 10 sophomores listed as starters and five freshmen listed as second-teamers. All four secondary positions have freshmen listed on the depth chart.

The biggest surprise was Dunn’s spot as a fourth-team inside receiver, behind sophomores Mario Fannin and Terrell Zachery and second-team freshman Darvin Adams. Tuberville said Dunn’s status sends a message that no job is safe even for veterans.

“On offense he hasn’t performed to his abilities and we’ve got a lot of players there in that position,” Tuberville said. “The older players can find out very quickly how important it is to be consistent. You can’t rest on experience, you can’t rest on, ‘Hey, I’ve been here.’ You better play and you better perform.”

Dunn, whose 19 catches ranked third on the team last season, will still return punts. He finished the spring as a starting receiver. Fannin is a converted tailback and Zachery played in only one game last season and didn’t have a catch.

Tuberville said seniors will address the team on Thursday night and a big emphasis will be trying to let the young players know what to expect.

“The younger guys are going to walk in and look around and see 85,000 people for the first time in their life, from the field and not from the stands,” he said. “So you can imagine the change in the experience.”


LSU: Les Miles is eager to get defensive tackle Charles Alexander back on the field for the first time since he went down with a right knee injury early in the 2007 season.

Alexander arrived at camp in early August fully recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that kept him out of 11 games in 2007 and limited him during spring practice. But just a few days into fall practices, he hurt his left hamstring and sat out most of the past three weeks.

Early this week, he was back on the field, but it was unclear how healthy he was because reporters are not permitted to watch practices all the way through.

Still, the depth chart that LSU issued during Miles’ meeting with reporters on Monday indicated that Alexander, who is 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, remained a first-team defensive lineman alongside fellow tackle Ricky Jean-Francois and defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman in the Tigers’ 4-3 scheme.

LSU opens its season — and the defense of its national title — this Saturday afternoon against Appalachian State in Tiger Stadium, and Miles is optimistic that Alexander will play.

“Frankly, we think that he has the potential to be one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the country,” Miles said. “We really have to get him on the field and get him healthy before that starts showing. I think his playing in this game is important to him so that he can get on board and get as comfortable playing week after week as any of the guys on the team.”

A senior from Breaux Bridge, La., Alexander played in one game in 2005, 12 games in 2006 and started three games last season before his knee injury.


MISSISSIPPI: Coach Houston Nutt has a reputation for playing a lot of running backs.

He showed he’ll continue that tradition at Mississippi when the team’s two-deep depth chart came out Monday — with five players listed at tailback.

“I think if you’ve done research on me before, we’ve done this quite a bit and it’s not just for show,” Nutt said.

Atop the depth chart is Cordera Eason, a junior who earned the starting job in spring practice. After that, it gets sketchy.

Nutt has resisted giving specifics on what role each player will hold. He can’t blame fans and media for being curious, however. The players in his last two-man rushing rotation at Arkansas — Darren McFadden and Felix Jones — were taken in the first round of the NFL draft.

So who gets to play the role of McFadden? Nutt’s not sure any player will at this stage in his first year at Ole Miss.

“We’ve just got to see how the flow of the game goes, and they all know that they’ve got to be ready,” Nutt said. “There are some sets where we will have three backs in the backfield. That’s why we have all of these guys listed.”

The players have been assigned certain situations and will be used when those scenarios pop up. One player might be in to return a kickoff. Another could be a third-down specialist.

“What we do know is that Cordera is going to go in first,” Nutt said. “Brandon Bolden or Enrique Davis will be next depending on the situation. I still have a lot of confidence in Derrick Davis and Devin Thomas. The only thing I know is from what I have seen in three weeks. All of them have strengths and so we are going to play to those strengths.”


MISSISSIPPI STATE: The status of starting left tackle Derek Sherrod is unclear as Saturday’s opener at Louisiana Tech approaches.

The 6-foot-5, 298-pound sophomore could miss the rest of practice this week with a foot infection and might not be available when the team travels to Ruston.

“The doctors tell me there’s a chance,” coach Sylvester Croom said. “The doctors tell me it’s going to have a lot to do with his pain tolerance. We’re just in a wait-and-see mode right now.”

Sherrod will be the key to Mississippi State’s success on the offensive line this season. The team lost all-Southeastern Conference candidate Mike Brown in the offseason after he fired a gun on campus.

So Sherrod moved to left tackle from the right side. If he can’t play, starting right tackle Mark Melichar will have to move over, too. That would leave the Mississippi State offensive line dangerously thin on the edges.

Sherrod sat out of practice through Wednesday. Croom said he will still play the tackle even if he misses Thursday’s workout.

“Of course I would love for him to have a day of practice,” Croom said. “I wouldn’t start him if he didn’t practice, but if he wakes up Saturday morning and tells me he can play, we’ll dress him and let him play.”