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August 31, 2005

Trying times in fall camps

Despite a spring full of practices and scrimmages and an entire offseason full of preparation, surprises - both good and bad - always pop up in the waning weeks before the start of college football.

This August's summer camps were no different as stars suffered injuries, position controversies were settled, and some players simply walked off the field.

Every team's upcoming season has been shaped during the fall camps - some in subtle ways and some blatantly. In the final day before the kickoff to the 2005 season, here are some of the top stories of the August team camps.

Antonio Cromartie, CB (Florida State)
In a nightmarish offseason for the Florida State Seminoles, arguably the biggest loss of the summer came on July 12 when star cornerback Antonio Cromartie went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Cromartie, who was a preseason All-American selection, will be missed because of his playmaking abilities. But the worst of the news is the lack of an experienced backup to fill the junior's shoes. After senior Gerard Ross, four of the next five cornerbacks on the Seminoles' depth chart are freshmen.

Redshirt freshman Tony Carter has made big strides during the August camps, though, and has won the favor of defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. The four-star cornerback is the favorite to be on the field against Miami on Monday.

Grant Walker, WR (Purdue)
It's not unheard of for a freshman to decide to leave his new college and head home during his first season. But when a third-year athlete who has finally cracked the playing rotation picks up and leaves in the middle of camp, it tends to be a big surprise.

Purdue wide receiver Grant Walker did just that, though. The redshirt sophomore from Hutto, Texas, had seemingly worked his way onto the field in a reserve roll when he decided to call it quits.

"It surprised me and it disappointed me," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "He's letting a bunch of teammates down. He'd finally worked his way into the playing rotation.

"That's very unusual for a guy who's not a freshman," Tiller added. "If they're going to go home, they usually do it that first week or that first semester, not a guy entering his third year."

James Davis, RB (Clemson)
The Tigers had a scare during training camp when the gem of last season's recruiting class left the practice field and headed for home.

Atlanta (Ga.) Douglass running back James Davis, the No. 6 running back in the class of 2005, was reported by Clemson to have gone home because of homesickness. He stayed in Atlanta for three days. But Davis insists that it was a disagreement with the coaching staff, not homesickness, which caused his departure.

"Me and the coaches had a disagreement on some things. I got a little mad, basically," Davis said. "I was upset about the reps, the competition."

But the Clemson faithful can rest easy. The four-star running back who racked up 2,400 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior in high school has returned to the Tigers to battle for playing time.

Paul Thompson, Rhett Bomar, QB (Oklahoma)
In one of the fiercest quarterback battles in the nation during the August camps, junior Paul Thompson and redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar seemed to be neck-and-neck for the first several weeks.

It's the same story that often plays out during fall camps. One quarterback has more experience in the system, while the other is the highly touted recruit. Thompson has three-plus years of Oklahoma experience, including a 142.5 quarterback rating in limited time last season. Bomar, on the other hand, was a five-star prospect and the No. 4 player overall in the class of 2004.

Coach Bob Stoops officially ended the competition over the weekend when he named Thompson as the season's starter. Unlike some of the other schools who faced similar controversies, Stoops doesn't seem interested in platooning the two signal-callers.

Zackary Bowman, CB (Nebraska)
JUCO junior Zackary Bowman has been the talk of the town in Lincoln this August. Though he came into camp as a second-stringer on the depth chart, Bowman quickly proved that Nebraska needs him on the field as much as possible.

The 6-foot-2 five-star cornerback has so much size and speed that NFL scouts have already been stopping by Lincoln to get a glimpse of Bowman - all this before he has even played a down in a Huskers uniform.

If you believe the hype about Bowman, than he's a prime candidate for all-conference honors. However, in a move that has puzzled many Huskers fans, the junior will start out No. 3 on Nebraska's depth chart.

Drew Olson, Ben Olson, QB (UCLA)
On most college teams, a quarterback who threw for more than 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns for a 132.39 rating would be a shoe-in as a starter for his senior season. But after Drew Olson suffered a knee injury during the Las Vegas Bowl, UCLA coach Karl Dorrell opened up the position for competition.

Many fans were eager to see how freshman Ben Olson would perform. Before leaving on his Mormon mission in 2002, Olson was the No. 4 prospect in the nation. With the previous starter's health in question, many thought Ben might get a chance to prove that he hasn't lost his touch during his absence.

Both quarterbacks looked sharp enough during recent weeks to take the competition down to the wire, but Dorrell opted for the more experienced quarterback, Drew Olson, in a decision over the weekend.

Erik Ainge, Rick Clausen, QB (Tennessee)
After the way sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge stepped into the starting role last season, it's no surprise that he has been named as the man to lead the Volunteers' offense this season. What was surprising, though, was how long it took coach Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee coaching staff to reach their decision.

Complicating the quarterback situation is senior Rick Clausen. After Ainge suffered a season-ending injury against Notre Dame in last season, Clausen came in and won three of four games, including a 38-7 romp over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.

So the fans and players alike were presented with a pleasant controversy - two capable quarterbacks. Though Ainge was the predictable pick, Fulmer has stressed that both quarterbacks will see significant playing time this season.

Marques Simmons, Marcus Schnoor, Albert Young, RB (Iowa)
The August after the Iowa running back corps decimation, the starting spot was up for grabs among the four backs who started at some point last season. The competition cleared up only marginally during camps, as Sam Brownlee dropped out of the race for the starting job.

All eyes in the Hawkeyes nation are on the other three now, as Marcus Schnoor, Albert Young and Marques Simmons are taking it down to the wire.

And the Hawkeyes' potential for a Big Ten championship in 2005 has only hyped up the competition. With kickoff for the season just days away, the latest depth chart listed either Schnoor or Young as the starter, with Simmons behind by a small margin.





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