Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; SEC Contenders Relying on Players Back from Injury

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; SEC Contenders Relying on Players Back from Injury

Article excerpt

The fortunes of several potential Southeastern Conference contenders could hinge largely on players returning from serious injuries. Two of Mississippi's - and the SEC's - top players, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Laquon Treadwell, are returning from broken legs. Alabama is getting back versatile tailback Kenyan Drake, who also had a broken leg, and Auburn has defensive end Carl Lawson and guard Alex Kozan in the lineup again after they missed all of the 2014 season.

Auburn likely wouldn't be the trendy pick to win the SEC title without the return of Lawson and Kozan, starters who missed last season after playing significant roles in the Tigers' league championship season as freshmen.

Lawson's absence in particular was felt by the Tigers, who struggled to muster much of a pass rush without him.

"Both of the guys had an impact on leading us to that SEC championship and the national championship game, and both of them were big blows, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Especially Carl, a guy that can really rush the passer. You saw that the second half of last season, we had trouble putting pressure on the quarterback. To have him back is a very good thing.

Lawson had knee surgery in spring 2014 and Kozan had back surgery after a weightlifting injury sustained while at home in Colorado last summer.

"We ran behind him and [then-left tackle] Greg Robinson probably the last five or six games of 2013, when everybody in the country knew we were going to do it, Malzahn said.

The injuries to Treadwell, Tunsil and Drake were captured on national television. Tunsil was hurt during the Rebels' bowl game while Treadwell went down on a pivotal play during a loss to Auburn in a matchup of Top-5 teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram has an upbeat prognosis on Treadwell's return.

"Honestly he looks bigger, stronger and faster than he did before he got hurt last year, Engram said. "I'm looking forward to him having a big year.

The Rebels, and whoever emerges as their starting quarterback, are counting on it.

At Alabama, Drake is expected to play multiple roles teaming up with Derrick Henry in the backfield and also lining up at wideout after catching four touchdown passes before his injury. …

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