Recipes for Improvement: Players Who Could Make Big Strides in 2012


Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

No $6 million dollar investment is necessary, but each season programs inevitably rebuild players. Athletes return for a new campaign renewed, reinvigorated, rejuvenated and above all, reinvented. The most improved will lead their teams to great heights.

Projecting exactly who will make the leap is no easy task, though there are formulas that precedent has proven accurate.

The most obvious is simply experience. Now, experience in this sense can mean a few things. Actual game experience is an invaluable asset in a player’s development. Think of practices like college courses — they are invaluable tools for better understanding concepts. Field time is like a job, actually applying those lessons.

Isaiah Crowell received heaps of criticism for his production as a true freshman. Seemingly forgotten in some assessments of the first-year Georgia Bulldog was that he was, in fact, a first-year player with neither the courses nor the work experience.

A year of both should manifest into big things for the sophomore.

Beyond playing time, experience also means maturation. That can be either physical or psychological.

Crowell is a good example once again, because those shots sustained in the media and from tempermental fans seem to have lit a fire under him. He certainly said the right things to reporters this spring. His intention of chasing the big prize in college football suggests commitment.

Graham Watson points out that Crowell is competing in a loaded backfield at UGa., which brings us to another ingredient for improvement. Sometimes, internal competition is a catalyst.

Quarterback battles are always hot button topics this time of year, and it’s interesting how often the stars of autumn were not officially starters in spring.

Take Brandon Weeden, who initially received the job out of necessity. Little was known about him beyond his baseball days, and that he had to succeed highly successful Zac Robinson. So low was opinion of him, OSU was a pre-season choice to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 South among pundits like Phil Steele.

Certainly throwing to Justin Blackmon and playing under the guidance of Dana Holgorsen aided Weeden, but the quarterback competition in the spring and summer forced him to practice at top level through the off-season. OSU has a similar situation brewing now between Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt. None of them are proven commodities, particularly since the latter two are freshmen. But all are forced to elevate their game to earn the job.

In this regard, one cannot blame a head coach for foregoing announcing a starter when such competitions take place. Competition breeds results.

A player’s production may also increase from feeding off a teammates’ success. Defensive players and wide receivers are the most likely candidates for improvement in this facet; defenders due to star blitzers drawing double teams, defensive backs being thrown away from, and receivers as the result of packages placing additional men in coverage of premiere targets.

A debate already exists as to who is USC’s No. 1 receiver. Robert Woods was on a record setting through the early part of 2011, before the coverage adjust philosophy began to open more opportunities for true freshman standout Marqise Lee. Should opposing secondaries continue to concentrate on Woods, Lee will be the beneficiary. But Lee’s increasing stock could result in opportunities for the Trojans’ No. 3 target,

NC State cornerback David Amerson had more interceptions than many teams in 2011. Opposing offensive coordinators will want to throw away from his side of the field. Opposite him though is the talented C.J. Wilson, who in 2010 had two picks returned for touchdowns. The entire Pack secondary is dangerous, only furthering the opportunities Wilson is likely to have making plays against passing offenses.

Connecticut should be much improved as a whole in 2012, under Paul Pasqualoni’s guidance a second season. Individually, the production of Teddy Jennings could also skyrocket. Jennings was good for 3.5 sacks a season ago, playing opposite Trevardo Williams. Williams had a stellar campaign, and his 12.5 sacks from a year ago should command more attention in blocking schemes.

The retooling of supporting cast can also be critical to an individual’s improvement. Turning once again to USC, the nation witnessed Matt Barkley evolve from a talented, yet turnover prone underclassmen to a likely top five draft pick with outstanding numbers in his junior campaing, largely due to the additions around him. Throwing to both Woods (a newcomer in Barkley’s second season) and Lee (a newcomer last year) aided Barkley’s maturation.

Tajh Boyd played in relief of Kyle Wilson much of 2010, with pedestrian results. Enter Sammy Watkins. The freshman gave Boyd a consistent No. 1 target, and Boyd became one of the nation’s most improved players.

Dorial Green-Beckham could be the same kind of instant impact freshman as Watkins. Missouri quarterback James Franklin was already productive without him, but add Green-Beckham to the Tiger offense, and a healthy Franklin becomes a potential Hesiman candiadte.

On defense, Jadeveon Clowney commanded immediate attention on the South Carolina defensive line. The extra little bit of focus opposing lines had to throw his way let Melvin Ingram thrive with fewer double teams threw his way. Rutgers signed five star recruit Darius Hamilton this past February, and the local prospect has the ability to fulfill the same immediate role for the Scarlet Knights as Clowney for the Gamecocks.

With Steve Beauharnais playing on the outside linebacker position for RU, a side featuring both he and Hamilton would prove cumbersome for opponents to handle. Beauharnais was already a force in 2011, but could be an All-America level talent in 2012.