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April 26, 2007

Spring performance helps some, hurts others

The clock isn't the only thing that moves forward in the spring.

It's also a time for change in status on college football teams. New coaches, new schemes and new positions provide new opportunities.

Of course, for every action there is an opposite reaction. For each player that springs forward, another may fall backward.

With that in mind, here's a list of 10 players whose status appeared to rise and five who look to have declined this spring.

Top 10 Players on the Rise
Brandon Bair, DE, Oregon
The 22-year-old redshirt freshman delayed his career to serve a two-year Mormon mission, but has made up for lost time this spring. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder drew raves from Oregon coaches for his consistent performance all spring. He led the team in tackles during a scrimmage last week. He's making a strong challenge for a starting job over veterans Victor Filipe and Nick Reed.
David Bruton, FS, Notre Dame
Primarily used on special teams in his first two seasons in South Bend, Bruton topped off a strong spring with a brilliant performance in the Blue-Gold game. He returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, recorded four tackles - including a bone-jarring hit that knocked bullish tight end John Carlson backward and was named defensive MVP. He'll give the Irish more speed in the secondary than they've had in recent seasons
Graig Cooper, RB, Miami
Despite missing the last week of the spring with a broken little finger, the freshman showed he's a big-time threat. His breakaway ability has drawn comparisons to former Hurricane Devin Hester. Cooper had arguably the best showing of any Miami player this spring, regardless of position. He raised eyebrows and dropped jaws on one 60-yard touchdown run. He appeared to be contained, reversed field, accelerated and dashed untouched into the end zone. Expect Cooper and Javarris James to line up together in some sets next season. "We'll get them on the field and get them touches," running backs coach Tommie Robinson said.
Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida
Not only did he add 34 pounds to build his frame to 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he bulked up his spring performance, too. He showed his potential to be a dominant pass rusher throughout the spring. In one practice he beat starting tackle Carlton Medder on consecutive plays to sack Tim Tebow. Cunningham will also have the luxury of playing opposite potential All-American Derrick Harvey, so he doesn't figure to see many double teams. He could ease the loss of ends Ray McDonald and Jarvis Moss.
Anthony Heygood, LB, Purdue
Listed as the fourth string running back last fall, Heygood is now a starting linebacker. He has good speed and size (6-foot-2, 230) and proved a surprisingly quick study at picking up the nuances of the new position. "He's clearly our best weak-side linebacker," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "And if you grade him out over the entire spring, he was our best linebacker overall." Heygood was one of three players presented the most improved player award.
Ryan McMahon, C, Florida State
A third-team defensive tackle last season, McMahon made the switch to center and emerged as the probable starter. The Seminoles need all the help they can get up front after averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards and allowing 26 sacks in 2006. The former three-star recruit from Darlington Prep in Rome, Ga., appears to have moved ahead of John Frady, who has made 21 starts.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
Longtime Oklahoma observers say that Murray had one of the best springs of any Sooner in quite some time. The shifty redshirt freshman appears to be the most explosive of a stable of talented OU running backs. Murray, Allen Patrick and Chris Brown will do their best to offset the exit of Adrian Peterson to the NFL. Murray is a good receiver out of the backfield, but also has demonstrated he can run with power. He rushed for 103 yards on just four carries in the Red & White spring game.
Darren Mustin, LB, Alabama
A third team middle linebacker a year ago, Mustin took advantage of the change to coach Nick Saban's 3-4 defense and apparently secured a starting job at inside linebacker. He played very well all spring and finished off with a solid spring game. He notched three tackles in the A-Day contest, including one for a 2-yard loss on a perfectly read wide-receiver screen pass to Nikita Stover on the first series.
Jordan Pugh, S, Texas A&M
A backup cornerback in 2006, his move to safety gives the Aggies more speed and play-making ability than they've had there in several years. He has also demonstrated this spring that he packs a power punch on receivers and in run support. Pugh played in 13 games last season as a freshman, but did not make a start.
T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina
Yates was so obscure that his bio wasn't listed in the North Carolina spring media guide. He was the biggest surprise of the Tar Heels' first action under coach Butch Davis. The scout team quarterback last season, Yates finished the spring with a slight lead over projected starter Cam Sexton. He threw three touchdown passes in the final spring scrimmage, prompting raves from Davis. "He's doing some things right now we couldn't get some of the quarterbacks for the Cleveland Browns to do," Davis said. "He's going to the line of scrimmage and getting us out of bad plays and into good ones."

Top 5 Players on the Slide
Jimmy Johns, RB, Alabama
Johns' 2006 rushing total of 267 yards was modest, but still was the most among returning backs. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound sophomore might have taken a firm hold on the starting tailback job, but raised Saban's ire by missing a couple of practices for academic issues. "You've got a guy that can't even do what needs to be done to get to practice that's not saying much for him," Saban complained.
Robert Killebrew, LB, Texas
Although his production slipped to 40 tackles last season after recording 67 the previous year, the concern for Killebrew isn't so much his play. The bigger issue is the performances of younger guys like Roddrick Muckleroy and Sergio Kindle who are vying to take his position. Muckleroy and Kindle turned heads throughout the spring, while Killebrew was relatively quiet. A two-year starter, Killebrew is going to have a hard time holding off his challengers.
Brent Schaeffer, QB, Ole Miss
Schaeffer was named the Rebels' starting quarterback before he arrived in Oxford last August. But after an abysmal 2006 season and so-so spring showing, he's fighting former walk-on Seth Adams to retain the starting job. After spring practices were completed, Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron acknowledged Adams has the edge. "(Adams) has a leg up on Brent right now," he said. "Brent has had some good days and inconsistent days, and we're keeping (the quarterback job) open."
Shannon Woods, RB, Texas Tech
Woods accumulated 1,808 all-purpose yards in 2006, but gave a lackluster effort this spring. He was demoted to the scout team behind a sophomore and a walk-on, and drew sharp criticism from coach Mike Leach. "He's a scout team player," Leach said. "It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. We'll see if his efforts get him beyond that. I don't know if they will or not."
Kyle Wright, QB, Miami
The two-year starter did nothing to ensure that he would be in charge for a third season. Insiders report he was unable to distinguish himself from backup Kirby Freeman. Wright completed seven of 14 passes for 60 yards in the spring game. Freeman completed eight of 19 for 117 yards. Coach Randy Shannon spent much of the spring refusing to give any indication of how the competition was unfolding. "I don't even know what the quarterbacks are doing. I'm trying to build up a team, and that's the one thing we're concentrating on." Shannon said the starting quarterback would not be named until the Tuesday prior to the season-opener against Marshall.

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

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