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May 13, 2008
Spring practice is over at schools across the nation. That means coaches have a good idea whether certain star players can be replaced adequately. Here's a look at 10 players, listed alphabetically, who may not be as difficult to replace as you may have thought:
Texas Tech WR Danny Amendola: Most teams would face a huge void after losing a receiver who ranked fourth in the nation with 109 catches in 2007. But Texas Tech isn't most teams. The Red Raiders still have the fabulous Michael Crabtree, who is going to draw most of the coverage, and senior quarterback Graham Harrell, who is one of the best in the country. Stepping in for Amendola at the "Y" receiver is Edward Britton, who had 48 catches last season. The Red Raiders also can look to Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, who can play wide or in the slot; each made a big impression this spring.
LSU DT Glenn Dorsey: Dorsey ? who went to Kansas City with the fifth overall pick ? was perhaps the most valuable defensive player in the country last season. That said, the Tigers should be fine without him. LSU won the national title even though Dorsey was not at full strength for the final six games of the season. Ricky Jean-Francois steps in after coming up huge in the national championship game. Junior Al Jones is seen as a potential first-round pick, senior Marlon Favorite is a returning starter and coaches rave about sophomore Drake Nevis.
Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston: He went sixth overall in the draft, to the New York Jets, after leading the Buckeyes with 14 sacks. But the Buckeyes have three potential difference-makers at end in Cameron Heyward, Robert Rose and Lawrence Wilson. Ohio State will be just fine at end this season, assuming there are no serious injuries.
Auburn DE Quentin Groves: He was a second-round pick by Jacksonville after finishing tied for the top spot on Auburn's career sacks list with 26. But he was slowed by a toe injury and only made seven starts in 2007, and when he was on the sideline, then-sophomore Antonio Coleman stepped in for Groves and had an exceptional season with 38 tackles, including 18.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 8.5 sacks. He also was more physical against the run than Groves.
USC DE Lawrence Jackson: He went 28th overall in the draft, to Seattle, and had 30.5 career sacks for the Trojans. But USC should be able to re-load at the position. Rivals.com Freshman All-American Everson Griffen had 5.5 sacks last season as a backup and should slide into a starting role opposite incumbent Kyle Moore. Depth looks good, and you have to figure at least one freshman from a deep class of ends will see time this fall.
Clemson DE Phillip Merling: Although Merling recorded five sacks in his last four games at Clemson and was drafted in the second round by Miami, the Tigers could have an even better pass rush without him. Clemson returns just about everyone else on defense, including end Ricky Sapp, who had six sacks last season. Clemson also welcomes true freshman DaQuan Bowers, whose outstanding performance in spring practice showed Clemson fans why Rivals.com rated him as the No. 2 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class. Sapp and Bowers could form the most dangerous pass-rushing tandem in the ACC. Kevin Alexander gives Clemson a third pass rusher who could do plenty of damage.
Missouri TE Martin Rucker: Yes, he was an All-American. Yes, he was drafted, by Cleveland in the fourth round. Yes, he led all tight ends nationally in 2007 with 84 receptions. But, no, his absence will not leave Missouri with a gaping hole at tight end. The Tigers still have a potential All-American in Chase Coffman, who caught 52 passes last season. Coffman is second among Missouri's tight ends with 157 career catches and 1,672 receiving yards. He needs 47 catches for 504 yards to break Rucker's career records.
West Virginia TB Steve Slaton: He went in the third round, to Houston, after running for 1,051 yards and 17 TDs despite being hampered by injuries. While that's a lot of production to replace, WVU can turn to two players ? QB Pat White and TB Noel Devine. Devine has tremendous speed and is a threat to score at any time. Slaton's departure means more carries for Devine, and that will be a good thing for the Mountaineers.
Oregon TB Jonathan Stewart: He went 13th overall, to Carolina, after rushing for 1,722 yards and 11 TDs for the Ducks. While it's unlikely one guy will equal those numbers, the Ducks have a chance to actually surpass the rushing totals they put up as a team last season. The Ducks should have one of the better offensive lines in the Pac-10 and are deep at tailback with Jeremiah Johnson, Andre Crenshaw and bruising JC transfer LeGarrette Blount, who capped off a good spring with a big-time performance in the spring game.
Notre Dame SS Tom Zbikowski: The Fighting Irish will miss the leadership and punt-returning skills of this two-time Associated Press All-American ? who was drafted in the third round by Baltimore ? but they look to have enough talent in their secondary to replace him on defense. While Zbikowski had a solid career, teammate David Bruton probably was the Irish's best safety last season. Bruton returns at free safety this fall and could be a better long-term prospect than Zbikowski. Kyle McCarthy performed well enough this spring to show he should be a capable replacement for Zbikowski at strong safety. The presence of backup Harrison Smith makes safety one of the deepest positions on the roster, even without Zbikowski.