Last week’s NFL Scouting Combine featured a number of former SEC stars, and it isn’t hard to find lists around the internet grading their performances. There’s no shortage of winners and losers, risers and fallers, studs and duds, heroes and…I think you get the point.
The transition to professional football from college can be a curious process for the players that attempt it. Some will perform better than expected, and some worse. Some will simply behave strangely (looking at you Johnny Manziel).
However, this event should do more than just highlight the players, it should also shine a spotlight on the coaches that developed those NFL hopefuls while they were in the SEC. It should lead to a few key questions regarding those coaches and how they handled — or in some cases, mishandled — their best players.
Here, then, are a few questions some SEC coaches from last season should probably answer after last week’s combine:
What kind of program is Hugh Freeze running at Ole Miss?
Former Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche gave quite a press conference at the combine last week. He let it be known that he didn’t always play hard when he was in college. The potential first-rounder also said he wasn’t the only former Ole Miss player in the Atlanta hotel room in December on the night that ended with Nkemdiche falling four stories from a room where drugs were found. Former Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil was apparently there, too.
Nkemdiche’s comments make it easy to wonder if the Ole Miss players treat coach Hugh Freeze like some kind of well-paid substitute teacher.
Clearly Freeze is a master at acquiring talent. The Rebels have had better recruiting classes since he became coach than at any point in the program’s history. Yet it’s debatable how effective Freeze is at disciplining those players while they’re at Ole Miss.
Nkemdiche’s explanation of his time in college last week makes Ole Miss seem like a reality TV program — entertaining for those that watch it, but chaotic for those that are actually involved with it.
Does Les Miles realize the football has two sides?
Former LSU offensive tackle Vadal Alexander didn’t have a good combine. No lineman ran the 40 yard dash slower than Alexander, and his bench reps weren’t all that impressive either.
Unfortunately, Alexander’s effort at the combine mirrors the performance of the LSU offensive line in its biggest game last season against Alabama: The Tigers playoff hopes were dashed, and running back Leonard Fournette’s Heisman candidacy was ended because the Crimson Tide was able to penetrate the line of scrimmage and tackle Fournette in the backfield over and over.
That weak offensive performance when it mattered most reinforces the growing perception of the LSU program and its embattled head coach. Miles still recruits and develops plenty of talented players, but with the exception of wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr., most of that talent has been on defense lately.
Why didn’t South Carolina use all its offensive weapons?
Steve Spurrier retired as Gamecocks coach in the middle of the season last year, and his replacement — interim coach Shawn Elliott — has been demoted back to offensive line coach. However, both of those former head coaches leave behind a lingering question about their tenures running the South Carolina program: Why wasn’t tight end Jerell Adams used more last season?
Adams performed well at the combine, running a 4.64 40 yard dash — faster than all other tight ends. That speed, along with impressive stats in the shuttle runs and broad and high jumps, makes it seem odd that Adams had just 28 receptions in 2015. Three tight ends in the SEC had more catches than that.
The Gamecocks were 12th in the SEC in points per game and yards per game last season. Clearly, they could’ve used the offensive help, and Adams seemed capable of providing it.
What exactly was Mark Richt saving Keith Marshall for?
Richt is no longer a coach in the SEC, and the NFL Combine is a pretty good example as to why. One of the most talked about performances of the entire week belonged to former UGA running back Keith Marshall, who ran the 40 yard dash at an official time of 4.31 seconds (faster than anyone at the combine). Couple that with the fact that Marshall also had the most bench press reps of any running back and it suggests a profile of a player who should’ve been a college star.
Unfortunately, Richt rarely used Marshall in his final year at UGA and offered little in the way of an explanation as to why. This was true even after running back Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury in early October against Tennessee.
Maybe the lack of use for Marshall during the season made him fresh for the combine. If so, Marshall should probably tell Richt thanks.
UGA fans, on the other hand, would probably tell Richt thanks for nothing.