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May 5, 2009

Whispers: Spring practice star gazing

The stars don't just come out in the fall. They also shine at this time of the year as players jockey for starting jobs during spring practices.

Some positions are settled, but in most instances key position battles will be continued during training camps in August.

Still, spring practice was the time for players to make a statement to coaches before heading into summer workouts.

Here are some of the brightest stars this spring.

ALL-SPRING TEAM

OFFENSE
QB Taylor Potts, Texas Tech, Jr. His numbers in the spring scrimmage weren't off the charts 20-of-27 for 211 yards with a TD but Potts showed consistency and leadership in his first step to take over for Graham Harrell.

RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech, R-Fr. Time and again, he ripped off big gains with a shifting, spinning and churning style.

RB Chris Scott, Florida, Jr. A walk-on, Scott nonetheless pushed Emmanuel Moody, running 14 times for 80 yards in the spring game. Scott could be a nice surprise this fall.

WR Adron Tennell, Oklahoma, Sr. He grabbed a TD pass in the spring game and impressed coach Bob Stoops, whose team needs a big-time target with the top two wide receivers from 2008 gone.

WR Mike Williams, Syracuse, Sr. He returned to school in January with a vengeance after missing last season for academic reasons. Williams displayed sticky hands and improved blocking, topping it all off with an acrobatic TD catch in the spring game.

TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, Jr. He keeps improving, catching eight passes for 67 yards and a score in the spring game. He's a devastating blocker, too.

OL Ryan Blaszczyk, Rutgers, Sr. The center was relentless in scrimmages, setting the hard-edge tone Greg Schiano loves by consistently knocking his man off the ball. Blaszczyk will be one of the nation's top centers.

OL Clint Boling, Georgia, Jr. After earning AP All-SEC honors last fall as a sophomore, the tackle didn't let up this spring, when he earned the team's most outstanding offensive player honor.

OL Justin Boren, Ohio State, Jr. He made headlines with his noisy transfer from Michigan last year. Now, Boren has grabbed attention because of his strong play at guard and center in Columbus.

OL James Brewer, Indiana, Jr. He helped the running game shine in the spring game, gaining 281 yards on 65 carries with four TDs. The 6-8, 339-pound tackle will be a big key to the Hoosiers' new "Pistol" formation.

OL Nate Solder, Colorado, Jr. A former 240-pound tight end has turned into a 6-9, 300-pound road-grading tackle; he showed this spring he's ready to be one of the Big 12's top linemen.

DEFENSE
DE DaQuan Bowers, Clemson, Soph. He registered two sacks in the spring game and notched four more in two other scrimmages.

DT Brian Price, UCLA, Jr. He recorded two sacks in the final scrimmage and was a general all-around nuisance this spring.

DT Phil Taylor, Baylor, Jr. He's a transfer from Penn State. Coach Art Briles says Taylor is a rare blend of size and quickness, and he says he will be disappointed if Taylor isn't a first-team All-Big 12 performer.

DE Cliff Matthews, South Carolina, Jr. He showed great pass-rushing skills and was in such top shape that he also was used at tight end which may continue in the fall.

LB Chris Galippo, USC, Soph. He was all over the field, showing a nose for the ball and instincts as the leader of an overhauled Trojans linebacking corps that also will include Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.

LB Keaton Kristick, Oregon State, Sr. He made plays from sideline to sideline and showed why many say he's the most underrated linebacker in the Pac-10. He will play in the NFL.

LB Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina, Jr. He was the nation's leader in solo stops last season at outside linebacker. This spring, he moved to the middle so Zach Brown can get on the field to give UNC a quicker linebacking corps.

DB Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, Soph. After missing the 2008 season with an ACL injury, the cornerback shined in the spring going head-to-head with wide receiver Nick Toon, who also was a spring star in Madison.

DB Josh Pinkard, USC, Sr. His transition from cornerback back to his more natural spot at strong safety went well. Pinkard will be a star on a rebuilt Trojans defense.

DB Trevard Lindley, Kentucky, Sr. The cornerback will be a Thorpe Award candidate after staying in school for his senior season. In the first scrimmage, he came from nowhere to pick off a pass. He wasn't challenged again.

DB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Sr. With Patrick Chung and Jarius Byrd off to the NFL, Thurmond emerged this spring as a leader. He solidified the playmaking skills at cornerback that have made him a three-time All-Pac-10 choice.

SPECIALISTS
K Josh Czajkowski, N.C. State, Jr. He took the proverbial next step, going 7-for-9 on field-goal attempts with a long of 52.

P Bryan Anger, California, Soph. He burst on the scene last fall as one of the country's top punters. Anger continued to display a big leg in the spring while also working on developing touch.

HONORABLE MENTION
QB: Jarrett Brown, West Virginia; Andrew Luck, Stanford; Ryan Mallett, Arkansas; Greg McElroy, Alabama; Kyle Parker, Clemson.

RB: Antwan Cobb, Texas; Jeravin Matthews, Northwestern; Curtis McNeal, USC; Jamal Womble, North Carolina; Marcus Wright, Georgia Tech.

WR: Adrian Cannon, Maryland; Jamere Holland, Oregon; Wes Lyons, West Virginia; Denarius Moore, Tennessee.

TE: Michael Palmer, Clemson; Nick Tow-Arnett, Minnesota.

OL: Anthony Davis, Rutgers; Ben Habern, Oklahoma; Sam Robey, Florida; Jared Zwilling, Purdue.

DL: Stephen Paea, Oregon State.

LB: Kyle Bosworth, UCLA; Mark Herzlich, Boston College; Alex Hrebec, Kansas State; Marcus Washington, Georgia; Reed Williams, West Virginia.

DB: Johnny Patrick, Louisville; Patrick Peterson, LSU.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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