Five takeaways from SEC media days: Tuesday

semerson@macon.comJuly 15, 2014 

THE TELEGRAPH

Day 2 of SEC media days is in the book. Here's what I came away thinking after Tuesday's festivities:

1. What's the opposite of exciting?

The lack of star power or an overhanging issue has, so far, made this the dullest Hoover trip in my memory. On Tuesday afternoon a crowd of reporters was following Tennessee center Mack Crowder as he walked to his podium in the main room. Then they converged around Crowder and peppered him with questions.

How many college games has Crowder started? One.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was criticized for bringing his punter to media days. So of course that punter sat alone Tuesday, with no interest, right? No, he was surrounded too. Yeah, we're hurting for a story this week, or incendiary quotes, or something. Even Steve Spurrier was pretty magnanimous, calling Nick Saban the best recruiter in college history, Gus Malzahn one of the best coaches in the country, and Stephen Garcia a good guy. Stephen Garcia!

2. First, lemme take a selfie

At least there was A.J. Johnson to provide some personality. The Tennessee senior linebacker took a selfie with media members (myself included) before his appearance in the media room. Johnson asked if it would be okay first.

"I don't know how good it turned out," Johnson said afterwards. "We're gonna find out."

A reporter (not me) cracked: "I had my eyes closed!"

Then the personable Johnson, in talking about his competition with teammate Curt Maggitt, added: "Competition is healthy. Y'all compete with each other every day to get a good story."

Why, whatever do you mean?

A reporter for some reason asked Johnson if it was okay for a grown man to cry - in reference to Tennessee's win over South Carolina. (That was cause for a Vol fan to cry?) Anyway, Johnson replied: "Of course it's okay to cry. Every man should cry. I've done cried before in my life. It's not bad for a man to cry."

There's time, but Johnson has the early lead for best quote this week ... at least among players.

3. Kevin Sumlin don't play

The Texas A&M coach won the day as far as coaches, beating out even Spurrier. Hey, the Head Ball Coach was being too nice. Sumlin, on the other hand, didn't suffer fools, and with more than 1,000 people credentialed, there are a lot more fools in that room.

Dan Mullen and Butch Jones were okay. But Jones addressed the room as if he were in a booster meeting and was giving a recruiting pitch. That's fine if he wants to go that way, but falls a bit flat with the media. It's possible Jones will loosen up as he keeps coming back, but on Tuesday he was trying to convince skeptical media members who have seen plenty of coaches come in and talk a big game, but fail to follow through on the field.

4. The West is going to be so much stronger than the East

This isn't exactly breaking new ground, but it really hit home as you studied and talked to the teams who came through on Tuesday.

Mississippi State has 17 starters back from a team that finished last season on a three-game losing streak. Texas A&M has won a lot of games the past two years under Sumlin and has recruited very well. But Mullen and Sumlin will be lucky to finish in the top three of the West, what with Alabama, Auburn and LSU around.

South Carolina, meanwhile, has plenty of questions, especially at quarterback and defense. But the Gamecocks will get some first-place votes in the East when the preseason poll comes out Thursday.

5. Tennessee? It'll take awhile

Amidst his podium recruiting pitch, Jones had a candid assessment of his situation: "We are still going through the realities of building a college football program."

Normally it's annoying to hear a coach use the "build a program" line, especially for a program that's been around for 115 years. And Jones should probably junk that term. But it does bear pointing out that Jones is the program's fourth coach since 2008 - while three of Tennessee's division rivals (Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri) have had the same coach for at least a decade. It's been a chaotic stretch for the Volunteers, and continues to show on the roster.

The Volunteers have to replace every starter on the offensive and defensive line. They've had some very good skill position players come through, but they haven't stuck around awhile, cashing in to the NFL quickly.

Perhaps Jones, with his relentlessly positive approach, is the man to provide stability and turn things around. He has a good track record at Central Michigan and Cincinnati - a career path previously forged by Brian Kelly. But what Jones and the Vols need right now is talent and stability. The recruiting seems solid thus far, and Jones will likely need several good classes in a row to get it turned around.

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