Spring practice report: Johnny Football shines, Jadeveon Clowney surprises
By Zac Ellis
Another week of spring practice is in the books, and there was no shortage of recent storylines. Here are some news and notes from last week's biggest developments:
• Texas A&M: If any doubts existed about the possibility of a sophomore slump for Johnny Manziel, last season's Heisman winner put them to rest in Texas A&M's spring game. Manziel passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday to help his maroon team toppled the white squad, 43-23. Though he rushed only three times for 18 yards, he still managed to complete 24-of-30 passing attempts -- an encouraging sign for Aggies fans fretting over the loss of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech. A stellar spring game doesn't always translate to successful season, but at least Manziel was picking apart an SEC defense, right?
• South Carolina: Last week's news about Jadeveon Clowney's strained neck all but cemented Clowney's decision to miss the Gamecocks' spring game on Saturday. But the defensive end still managed to find his way onto the field. Clowney came off the sidelines without a helmet or pads and caught a pass from quarterback Connor Mitch before tumbling to the ground and, eventually, into the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown. Steve Spurrier isn't likely to move Clowney to wide receiver anytime soon, but the crowd of 35,218 in Columbia liked what they saw from their star. The black team rolled the garnet squad, 44-30.
• Florida State: The quarterback battle in Tallahassee appears to be a "competition" in name only. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston continues to raise eyebrows with his play under center, and Florida State's spring game was no different. Winston completed 12-of-15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yard scoring strike to David Tyrrell on the first play from scrimmage. Winston's performance took on added meaning with former Seminole great Charlie Ward watching from the sidelines. "He's special, there's no question about it," Ward told the Orlando Sentinel.
• Arizona: The Wildcats' receiving corps took a major hit this weekend with the announcement that wideout Austin Hill tore his ACL. Coach Rich Rodriguez confirmed the injury, which occurred during Wednesday's spring practice. Hill had 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff award. He won't be easy to replace, but Arizona boasts depth at the position, so a number players -- including returnees David Richards and Garic Wharton -- will be asked to step up. "It's a host of guys," Rodriguez told reporters. "We have the guys we have now and we always have a great group of guys coming in the fall that can play well at wide receiver."
• Stanford: The Cardinal's rushing tandem of Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson have made the majority of headlines in recent weeks, but coach David Shaw was impressed most with his wideouts in Saturday's spring game. Sophomore Michael Rector and junior Jordan Pratt dazzled during the scrimmage, with Rector making the catch of the day on a 44-yard diving touchdown grab. He finished with 52 yards and that score, while Pratt recorded five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. "We've got some young receivers that can do some things for us now so I wanted to make sure that those guys had some opportunities," Shaw said after the game. "There's no reason to have Gaffney and Wilkerson carry the ball 30-plus times."
• Clemson: Wideout Sammy Watkins is coming off a 2012 campaign in which he battled through injuries, missed two games with a suspension and was often overlooked behind receiving counterpart DeAndre Hopkins. But if his performance in the Tigers' spring game is any indication, Watkins looks primed for a resurgence in 2013. The 2011 freshman All-America caught touchdown passes of 41 and 50 yards, respectively, and finished with 156 receiving yards. All the more impressive: Watkins' production came without the help of Tajh Boyd, who didn't take a snap in Saturday's game as Dabo Swinney wanted to see his younger quarterbacks in action.
• USC: There likely isn't a more highly publicized quarterback battle than the competition to replace Matt Barkley, and if the Trojans' spring game offered any insight, it's that a question mark remains under center. Cody Kessler looked impressive with a 242-yard, three-touchdown outing, but Max Wittek and Max Browne each found the end zone at least once. Hardly anything is settled at USC, but whoever earns the job will enjoy the return of Biletnikoff-winner Marqise Lee, whose eight catches for 148 yards on Saturday included three touchdowns. Also worth noting: Kiffin didn't allow tackling in the spring game to keep injuries to a minimum.
• Kentucky: What's that feeling coming out of Lexington? If you didn't know better, you might recognize it as excitement for football. Thanks largely to the spark provided by new coach Mark Stoops, 50,831 fans showed up to Kentucky's spring game on Saturday to cheer on a team that went 0-8 in SEC play in 2012. The fans got a small glimpse of what the 'Cats' new staff has in store. Stoops has a three-way quarterback battle on his hands between Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith, but Whitlow shined the brightest. He finished 17-of-28 for 193 yards and two touchdowns, and he added 49 rushing yards on seven carries.
• Miami: The stars were on display at the Hurricanes' spring game on Saturday -- including a few big names who haven't suited up in quite some time. Former Miami great Gino Torretta, the 1992 Heisman winner, got the fans going with a deep pass to fellow 'Canes legend Andre Johnson, both of whom sported their own Miami jerseys. Meanwhile, coach Al Golden and his staff allowed injured wide receiver Malcolm Lewis to score a touchdown in the spring game. Lewis jogged on the field and, without any defense, hauled in a 75-yard score. It was a special moment for Lewis, who saw his 2012 season end with an ankle injury on Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech. • Ole Miss: The Rebels took a page out of Florida's playbook at the Grove Bowl on Saturday. Dealing with a lack of healthy bodies across the roster, coach Huge Freeze's squad staged a simulated spring game that took on a practice format, with offense vs. defense scrimmage periods separated by regular drills. Rebels fans still had several reasons to get excited for the upcoming season, however, led by the play of senior wideout Ja-Mes Logan, who led the offense with five receptions for 101 yards. "Ja-Mes probably had the best spring of anybody," Freeze told reporters later.