July 22, 2010

SEC notes: Agents remain primary topic

MORE: Georgia's Green did not attend agent's party

HOOVER, Ala. - A day after Alabama coach Nick Saban called on the NFL Players Association to take action against agents who may compromise collegiate players' eligibility, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said Thursday that was "wishful thinking."

Agents and their contact with college players has been a major topic of discussion at SEC Media Days because Alabama defensive end Marcel Dareus and South Carolina tight end Wesley Saunders are among several players who reportedly attended an agent-held party in Miami over the Memorial Day weekend.

Players who accepted free plane tickets, lodging or food to attend the party could be suspended for several games or lose their eligibility.

Saban said the NFLPA should take an active role in policing these agents. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier agreed.

"I think they ought to be a little more active and help out in that regard," Spurrier said. "As coaches, we do all we can to tell our guys the rules. You can't accept anything from boosters, agents or whoever."

But Petrino - like Saban and Spurrier a former NFL coach - said he doubted the NFLPA would step in

"You know, that's wishful thinking," Petrino said. "I think what we have to do is just do something my mom taught me a long time ago, and that's worry about the things we can control. So it's up to us to control the education, the decision-making, to help the young men."

Petrino acknowledged not all players have strong parental figures to offer guidance and advice. But he also said college programs shouldn't look to other organizations to solve problems.

"It would be nice if everybody in America was 100 percent and we all hit it just right," he said. "The truth of the matter is there are going to be young men that don't make the right decisions all the time.

"But we have to worry about what we can control, our educating, our continuing to work on the right decision-making, the understanding of what's right and what's wrong, not try to think that somebody else is going to handle it for us."

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who could be a first-round draft choice, said he is among the athletes who have avoided agents.

"I'm not talking to any agents at the time," he said. "If they contact me, I tell them if I'm going to go to the NFL, we'll talk about it after the season. That's how I'm doing it because I don't want to have to deal with any of the stuff that's going on."

High on the Hogs

With Mallett among 18 starters returning from the team that finished 8-5 a year ago, much is anticipated for Arkansas. And that's fine with Petrino.

"I like the high expectations," he said. "I think that's why you're in the profession - you want to have people think that you're going to be good.

"It's taken us a while to get to the point where we have high expectations as a university and as a fan base and players. I think it's a good thing. I think the one thing we can't do is shy away from it. Let's embrace it, let it motivate us, then let's go out and do everything we can to make 'em come true."

To make significant improvement, the Razorbacks need to bolster their running game and upgrade a defense was the worst in the SEC and particularly suffered against the pass.

"You look at the defense, they're going to be better," Mallett said. "We've got guys coming in on the defense that are going to help the defense be better."

His inner Michael Phelps

Since suffering a broken foot in spring drills, Mallett has been relegated to swimming to stay in shape.

"I feel like I'm going to try out for the Olympics in 2014," Mallett said. "I've been doing a lot of swimming to stay in condition. I haven't been able to run to this point, so I've been swimming a lot, doing a lot of weight-room stuff with upper body, a lot of single-leg stuff. It's really helped me out.

"I'll be ready to go in two weeks when we start."

Ready to work

Robbie Caldwell was given the job as Vanderbilt's interim coach when Bobby Johnson abruptly retired last week. This season, Caldwell will be working to keep that job.

He made it clear he's not afraid of hard work by comically listing his work history.

"Vanderbilt has given me no stipulations," he said. "All they told me is, 'We're behind you 100 percent.'

"All I know how to do is work. I've been a worker all my life. My wife said, 'You can't talk about anything but football.' I can. I can talk about pouring concrete, farming, being a pipefitter - all those things - working on a turkey farm. But nobody wants to hear that. Those are the things I did prior to getting into football."

Honoring Bennett's memory

The top-rated recruit from Vanderbilt's 2010 class was running back Rajaan Bennett, who was killed in a shooting in his Atlanta-area home in February.

"I just hate that the world is not going to get to know Rajaan Bennett," Caldwell said. "Everybody on our staff just loved that young man. I know one of the lines in the paper he wrote they found from the ninth grade, that he would never give up. That's what we want to model ourselves after."

Caldwell said Vanderbilt would find some way to honor Bennett's memory this season.

"I'm not exactly sure what we will do," Caldwell said. "We will do something. It was just a tremendous tragedy. I just hate you won't get to write about him and get to know him."

Heavy on the run? Maybe not

The popular theory is that Georgia will rely heavily on its running game to take pressure off new starting quarterback Aaron Murray, a redshirt freshman, But Bulldogs coach Mark Richt indicated that's not necessarily the case.

"We don't want to limit the skill and the experience that we have, but we also can't just say 'Let it rip' and hope that he doesn't stumble," Richt said. "We have to manage him. We have to help him understand that he does have a very strong core of people around him and he does not have to make a spectacular play every time the ball is snapped. He needs to do his job. He needs to put the ball on the money."

Richt said the rest of the team responded well to Murray during spring drills and afterward.

"They respect this kid because he prepares, because he puts the team first, because he has talent," Richt said. "They know by virtue of the fact that he is the quarterback, he's in the leadership position, he has to succeed.

"So, they're all rallying around this kid. He's not abusing that trust because he's working his tail off."

Mature Garcia

The career of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia has been up and down, both on and off the field.

Now that he's entering his junior season, teammates say they've seen a difference in him.

"He's matured a lot," fullback Patrick DiMarco said. "I'm his roommate and I've seen a huge change since he's come to campus. He's busting his butt, putting in the extra effort, working on his own with the receivers this summer, things that haven't been done before.

"Hopefully, that will translate to the field. Coach Spurrier has worked with him on staying in the pocket, looking downfield more instead of tucking the ball and running with it. It's just basically maturity, and with a year under his belt, he'll hopefully see receivers downfield he didn't see last year."

Last season, Garcia passed for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he also threw 10 interceptions.

Spurrier hinted that he expects more from his quarterback.

"Stephen is our starter," Spurrier said. "He'll be our starter unless he's beaten out by our next quarterback."

That next quarterback could be Connor Shaw, a freshman from Flowery Branch, Ga.

"Hopefully, that will help Stephen a bit, knowing we've got another guy," Spurrier said. "I think competition is always good at all positions. But we've got to get better play out of a lot of positions."

It can be done at Carolina

Spurrier apparently has found a ray of hope for his program from the South Carolina baseball team, which won the College World Series.

"Our baseball team certainly proved you can win a big championship at the University of South Carolina," Spurrier said. "So, hopefully, we believe that will rub off on the other sports, and we're the next one up. Hopefully, we can take a cue from those guys and have a good run as we go through the season."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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