Remember when Will Muschamp raved about the roster he was leaving to the next coach of the Florida Gators? Well, Jim McElwain doesn’t see it that way.

On Friday, the first-year Gators coach wasn't shy when asked about some of the depth issues facing his team this spring, especially those on the offensive side of the ball.

“You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt,” McElwain told reporters. “And right now, quite honestly, the hand we’re dealt is really insufficient at some of the areas.”

The main area of concern is on the offensive line, where Florida has just eight scholarship players and seven healthy enough to practice this spring, but it doesn’t stop there. Running back and linebacker also are dangerously thin heading into McElwain’s first season.

You can read more about McElwain’s comments and his team’s depth issues at GatorBait.net.

We haven't exactly come to the end of spring football for the SEC -- and a few schools have barely even touched their pads -- but we've already seen and heard some interesting things coming out of many spring camps.

Plenty of questions remain at key positions, and there have been a few surprises here and there. As we prepare for the final couple of weeks of spring ball in the SEC, here are five intriguing developments we've seen so far:

Not much separation in QB races

A handful of quarterback contests got underway this spring, but we don't have many answers in terms of leaders at this point. Vanderbilt ended the spring by watching its four-man race drop to three after Patton Robinette decided to end his playing career, citing health concerns and a desire to go to medical school. Jake Coker is improving at Alabama, but he hasn't exactly distanced himself from the pack. Will Grier and Treon Harris are neck-and-neck at Florida, while Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings continue to flip-flop for the top position at LSU. Brice Ramsey looked like the leader on paper at Georgia, but Jacob Park is turning heads with his arm strength and athleticism. Connor Mitch got off to a fast start at South Carolina this spring, but still has a long way to go. Chad Kelly may have arrived at Ole Miss this spring as the favorite to take the starting job, but coach Hugh Freeze has made it clear that the three-man competition will bleed into the fall. It sounds like most of these are headed for Round 2 after the summer.

Arkansas' offensive line shake-up

Denver Kirkland
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsThe Razorbacks are moving Denver Kirkland (55), arguably the team's best lineman, to left tackle.

Last season, the Razorbacks' front five dominated the SEC's rushing defenses, with their runners averaging 218 yards per game. They also allowed the fewest sacks in the conference (14). So it's safe to say coach Bret Bielema got the improvement wanted from his offensive line last year. But there's always room to tweak things in this league and that's exactly what Bielema has done. With starting right tackle Brey Cook gone, the staff moved Dan Skipper from left tackle, where he started 13 games last year, to right tackle. Denver Kirkland, viewed as the team's most talented lineman, moved from right guard to left tackle. Frank Ragnow, who saw time at center in nine games last year, moved to right guard. From all indications, Bielema has found the exact combination he wants up front.

Austin Golson's new position

When Auburn secured Golson's services from Ole Miss, it appeared the Tigers were going to get a valuable guard who could even play some tackle if needed. But this spring, Golson has been working out at center for Auburn. That doesn't sound like too much of a big deal until you consider that Golson, a top-notch high school prospect at one time, is trying to replace All-American Reese Dismukes, one of the most successful centers in the history of the school. Golson hasn't played center before and he's been splitting reps with Xavier Dampeer, who played center in high school and junior college and saw time at the position in five games last season.

D.J. Chark's impressive spring

It's not like LSU needs more speed, but that's what the Tigers appear to be getting in Chark, a sophomore wide receiver. While he didn't record any stats at receiver last year, Chark has been turning plenty of heads this spring. The initial focus this spring fell on fellow receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, but Chark has been stealing the spotlight of late, registering at least one touchdown catch in every scrimmage thus far. Coach Les Miles said Chark caught three passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage. The emergence of Chark is big for a passing game looking for some sort of consistency this year, and the two quarterbacks vying for the starting spot have to be excited about Chark's progress.

Brandon Powell's emergence at Florida

The Gators had plenty of questions concerning its offense coming into this spring. Finding a quarterback topped the list of crucial needs, but getting some consistency at receiver was also a high priority. Most thought Demarcus Robinson, who led Florida in catches (53), receiving yards (810) and receiving touchdowns (seven) would reclaim his spot as Florida's top playmaker. However, this spring has given Powell new life. The former running back has moved to receiver, and the word out of Gainesville is that he's been the team's most dynamic playmaker. Powell played both running back and receiver in 11 games last year, registering 217 yards of offense. Before a foot flare-up sidelined him last week, the 5-foot-9, 181-pound Powell was lighting up Florida's practices. Powell, not Robinson, had been the Gators' most explosive and most consistent offensive threat this spring. Florida's offense still lags behind its defense, so it's critical to get Powell back on the field.


NEW ORLEANS -- At 6-foot-7 and 314 pounds, Alabama defensive tackle commitment Raekwon Davis towered over the competition at Saturday's Opening Regional at Joe Brown Park in New Orleans. He also loomed large over his peers with his play.

Davis, who is from Meridian (Mississippi) High School and ranks as the nation's No. 243 player, earned an invitation to The Opening finals, which will be held from July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Davis took a little while to get going during drills, but by the time the one-on-ones arrived, he performed admirably, winning repetitions at defensive tackle, defensive end and even offensive tackle.

Geoff Collins isn't a "swag stealer," he says. When he left Mississippi State to become Florida's defensive coordinator, he left the so-called Psycho Defense behind. That was their brand, he said, and in Gainesville under new head coach Jim McElwain, he's out to create a new identity with the help of creatures that may or may not live in a black lagoon.

One such example: The Cryptid, an award Collins and his staff hand out from time to time.

If there's one thing Florida fans need to know about Collins, who turns 44 in a few weeks, it's that he's not afraid to think outside the box. In order to connect with a younger generation, he hands out daily awards following each practice such as the "Apex Predator Award" for the most enthusiastic player or the "Swamp Beast Award" for the player who showed relentless effort. Unlike a lot of buttoned-up programs, he wants players to "play wild and fly around like crazy." He even encourages celebrating after big plays -- as long as it's not a me-first display.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Collins
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon SMINew Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins says he will encourage celebrating big plays on defense, as long as it's a team-first mentality.

At Mississippi State, that confident, aggressive attitude translated to the football field last season, when the Bulldogs finished second in the SEC in sacks (37) and tied for third in interceptions (13). Playing a bend-but-don't-break style, they finished third in the conference in third-down percentage (35.0) and red-zone touchdown efficiency (43.2 percent).

During Collins' first conversation with the entire Florida defense, he said players already knew of his reputation.

"They knew I had been a part of the great run that we had at Mississippi State, probably the best season in school history, a top-10 scoring defense and all those other things," he said. "So they knew what we’d done on defense at places I’d been before, and one of the big things I stressed to them was that even though they had played really good defense in the past, there was room for improvement.

"We talked about that 10 percent and working together to find that 10 percent improvement, whether it be tackling, situational football, improvements in the red-zone defense, improvements in third-down defense, points after turnovers, things that I thought we’d done really well at Mississippi State and bringing that and adding to how well they’d played in years past."

Eyeing a roster he says is deeper than any he's ever coached, Collins isn't out to make wholesale changes to the defensive schemes developed by former coach Will Muschamp. It's a lesson he learned years earlier when he left Georgia Tech to become defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Western Carolina.

Returning to his old stomping grounds a bit overzealous back in 2002, he attempted to install an entirely new defense without once looking at the previous defense or the terminology players had become accustomed to. Like a lot of young coaches, he had to come to grips with that "four- and three-deep is four- and three-deep regardless of where you go." Only the buzzwords are different.

So rather than dumping a new playbook on everyone's locker at Florida, he took the studying upon himself.

"I spent a lot of time during December and January learning what they called everything," he said. "I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s easier for one person to learn a lot of words than for 33 18-to-22-year-olds to learn a lot of new words. I try to put the hard stuff on me."

Outside of acclimating himself to a new environment, though, there's not a lot of hard stuff Collins has had to encounter with a solid system and a solid roster already in place. He inherited one of the most promising secondaries in the country, whether it's starters Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole or a reserve such as redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson, whom Collins says is "one of the most athletic kids I've ever been fortunate to be around." And where there's maybe not a lot of depth, Collins said there's certainly talent, whether it's Daniel McMillian and Alex Anzalone at linebacker or Alex McAlister on the defensive line.

It's a good situation all the way around, Collins says.

"I'm excited. We've got a lot of really good players. They're hungry. They're excited. They're competitive kids. Everything that Coach McElwain and the rest of the staff they've thrown at them, they're run with."

On defense, the front seven needs a good secondary just like the secondary needs a good front seven. It’s a team effort. Earlier today, we broke down the SEC’s best front-seven defenders, and there were some good ones. But now it’s time to take a look at the back end.

Whether it’s pulling down interceptions, breaking up passes or wreaking havoc in the backfield, this group can do it all. One look at this list and SEC quarterbacks should be concerned heading into the 2015 season. Good luck trying to throw against some of these guys.

So without further ado, here are the league’s top defensive backs, listed in alphabetical order:

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss, Jr.: With Cody Prewitt moving on, it might have made sense to move Conner back to a more natural safety role, but the coaches love him at the nickelback or “Husky” position, where he was named second-team All-SEC by the AP last year. Conner is more physical than most defensive backs, which makes him great in run support. He led the Rebels last year with nine tackles for loss. But he still has the ability to cover, too. Most forget that on his first college play, he came down with an interception.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsVernon Hargreaves III became one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC from the moment he walked on the Florida campus.

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida, Jr.: There’s not a better cornerback in the SEC and there might not be a better one in the country. Hargreaves has finished among the conference leaders in passes broken up the last two seasons, and that’s with most quarterbacks opting not to throw in his direction. The All-SEC first-team selection will likely get more of that same treatment this fall, but it won’t be easy with Jalen Tabor emerging at the other cornerback spot and Brian Poole (see below) manning the nickelback position.

Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn, Jr.: Auburn’s secondary took a lot of heat for its awful play late last season and rightfully so, but without Jones, it could’ve been much worse. The junior finished with 12 pass break-ups, one shy of the SEC lead, and was second in the conference with six interceptions. Given the lack of a pass rush, those numbers are remarkable. This season, it should be easier for Jones with Will Muschamp as the new defensive coordinator and top pass-rusher Carl Lawson returning from injury.

Jalen Mills, S, LSU, Sr.: It shouldn’t come as a shock that LSU has arguably the league’s best safety, but it was a mild surprise when Mills opted to return for his senior year. Sure, 2014 was a down year for Mills, who finished with just one interception and no sacks, but the talent was still there. Some have already tabbed him as a first-round pick in 2016. For now, the former cornerback-turned-safety will be asked to take on a bigger role in the LSU secondary with the departures of Jalen Collins and Ronald Martin.

Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee, Jr.: Sutton emerged on the scene as a freshman, doing a little bit of everything for the Volunteers’ defense, and he followed that up with a sensational sophomore campaign. The former three-star recruit started all 13 games, finished tied for the SEC lead with 13 pass break-ups and returned a punt for a touchdown in the victory over in-state rival Vanderbilt. If Sutton continues on the path he’s on now, it won’t be long before he’s considered one of the best defensive backs in college football.

Five more to watch

IMG Academy will play host to the loaded Southeast Regional 7-on-7 this weekend. Top 7-on-7 teams such as the South Florida Express, Florida Fire and Pro Impact will field teams that feature some of the top prospects in the region, including more than two dozen ESPN Junior 300 prospects.

Here are five things to watch headed into the weekend.


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NEW ORLEANS -- Many said the absolutely loaded 2014 recruiting class in Louisiana would never be matched. Somebody forgot to tell that to the players in 2016 class. The Bayou State is again stacked, and many of those national recruits will be on display at Saturday’s Nike Opening regional at Joe Brown Park. More than 20 players ranked in the ESPN Junior 300 will be in attendance, including nine of the top 20 players in Louisiana.

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SEC Network's Greg McElory and Booger McFarland sit down to discuss the future of Florida football with head coach Jim McElwain.
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SEC Network's Greg McElroy and Booger McFarland visited Florida on Thursday on the 2015 Spring Football Tour.

Unique perks of being a coach

March, 26, 2015
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[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSouth Carolina's Steve Spurrier has seen incredible growth in college coaches' contracts since his Duke days.

Before the Head Ball Coach moniker had taken hold and before his Hall of Fame coaching career had taken flight, Steve Spurrier once left a $30,000 raise sitting on the table.

That was more than 25 years ago when he was at Duke, where Spurrier was making around $75,000 in base salary when he was hired as head coach in 1987.

At the time, Spurrier's head-coaching counterpart at North Carolina was Mack Brown, who was making substantially more money than Spurrier was. So after the Blue Devils won seven games in 1988, and Spurrier won the first of two straight ACC Coach of the Year awards, he asked then-Duke athletic director Tom Butters if a bump might be in order. Butters knew what a commodity he had in Spurrier and offered to give him another $30,000, but only if Spurrier would agree to stay at Duke for an extended period of time.

"I never signed it and ended up going to Florida the next year," recalled Spurrier, whose 1989 Duke team won the ACC championship. "That was a lot of money in those days, too."

Fast-forward to the present, and Spurrier could pocket an extra $100,000 as South Carolina's coach for simply making the Capital One Bowl or even the Outback Bowl. A 10-win season would mean $100,000, and that total goes up to $200,000 for an 11-win season and $300,000 for a 12-win season.


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Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.


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Paul Finebaum and Booger McFarland look at Florida's upcoming football season.

SEC morning links

March, 25, 2015
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It's OK everyone, the NCAA tournament will continue in a few days and "Empire" will return soon enough!

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Attrition hit the SEC hard this offseason, for some more than others, but every school has a player moving on that left a mark, a player that can't easily be replaced. So we asked the question, which player will be missed most on every SEC team? And more importantly, how does that team plan to fill the void left behind?

First up in the two-part series is a look at the SEC East.

Florida: DE Dante Fowler Jr.

New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will have his hands full trying to replace Fowler. The All-SEC star led the Gators last year in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (8.5), and it's going to take more than one player to replace that type of production. As Florida moves to a more traditional 4-3 scheme under Collins, defensive ends Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr. will be responsible for getting to the quarterback. The two combined for 10 sacks last season. Five-star CeCe Jefferson is another name to watch, but he won't arrive on campus until the summer.

[+] EnlargeAlvin Dupree
AP Photo/Wade PayneHow will Kentucky fill the void at defensive end with Alvin "Bud" Dupree out of the mix in 2015?

Georgia: C David Andrews

Don't get me wrong. Running back Todd Gurley will be missed. But Georgia has Nick Chubb, one of the nation's top rushers, coming back and that should help ease the pain of losing Gurley. But losing Andrews hurts. He played in 50 games during his UGA career and started every game the past three seasons. It will look a little different with somebody else snapping the ball, but Mark Richt has already tabbed Hunter Long and Isaiah Wynn as the two main contenders to win the job this spring. Long has the experience, but Wynn has more upside. Take your pick.

Kentucky: DE/LB Alvin "Bud" Dupree

There wasn't a better ambassador for Kentucky football over the past couple years than Dupree. And to think, he never even got to play in a bowl game. Now he's taking his game to the next level, and it's up to former ESPN 300 recruit Jason Hatcher to fill the void. Hatcher played some last season, finishing fourth on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss, but how will he fare as an every-down player? The Wildcats need him to be the elite pass-rusher they recruited out of high school if they want to take that next step and reach a bowl game.

Missouri: DE Shane Ray

Really, this could go to Ray or teammate Markus Golden. They formed the top defensive end duo in the SEC last season and played a major role in getting Missouri back to the SEC title game. With both moving on, who's next in line at D-Line Zou? Redshirt freshmen Marcus Loud and Charles Harris are the two most viable candidates, as the coaches are high on both, but junior-to-be Rickey Hatley will also be in the mix as will five-star recruit Terry Beckner Jr. when he enrolls this summer. Though at 6-foot-4, 298 pounds, Beckner is better suited to play inside.

South Carolina: QB Dylan Thompson

It was a disappointing season for South Carolina, but Thompson, in his first full year as the starter, led the SEC in passing with 3,564 yards. Coach Steve Spurrier probably wishes Thompson had one more year of eligibility. But instead the Head Ball Coach has to find a new quarterback this spring. Connor Mitch served as the primary backup last season and looks to be the early favorite to win the job, but he's no lock. Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia are competing this spring, and true freshman Lorenzo Nunez will have a say when he arrives this summer.

Tennessee: CB Justin Coleman

With more and more teams going to spread offenses, the nickel cornerback has become a valuable asset to SEC defenses. Coleman was a perfect example. As a senior, he led the team with four interceptions. Now Tennessee, who could have one of the top secondaries in the conference, has to find a new nickel corner. Rashaan Gaulden impressed as a freshman on special teams and could be a perfect fit with his size and instincts, but juniors Devaun Swafford and Malik Foreman will also get a look. Swafford played there in 2013.

Vanderbilt: LB Kyle Woestmann

Learning a new defense is not easy, let alone a new position. Just ask Woestmann, who moved from defensive end to linebacker last spring. But he was a gamer. He did it, no questions asked. The only problem now is that Woestmann has moved on. That means it's up to the likes of Stephen Weatherly and Jonathan Wynn to fill the void at outside linebacker. The good news is that both Weatherly and Wynn are already familiar with the position. In fact, Weatherly led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss while Wynn finished with 13 tackles and a sack.

SEC morning links

March, 24, 2015
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Alabama returned from a 10-day break from practice on Monday, and one of the Crimson Tide’s most intriguing players this spring worked at two different positions. Kenyan Drake, who broke his leg during a game last season, worked at both running back and at wide receiver during the media viewing periods on Monday. Drake flashed impressive rushing and receiving skills last season before suffering the devastating leg injury, so it’s not exactly a surprise that he took some practice reps at both spots. What might be a bit surprising is how quickly he’s already back on the field, roughly five months after the injury. If he returns to previous form by the time the season starts -- and those at Alabama seem optimistic that he will be -- his unique set of skills will make Lane Kiffin’s offense much more dangerous this fall.

Add another chapter to the John Chavis-LSU squabble. LSU’s legal team lobbed some grenades at Chavis -- the school’s former defensive coordinator -- and his new employer, Texas A&M, in response to his lawsuit claiming that he does not owe LSU a buyout. According to a story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, LSU’s response said that “Chavis happened to defect to Texas A&M to begin working for A&M before his service to LSU was complete. Notwithstanding the Aggies’ dire need for defensive help, Chavis could have defected to a college or professional team in any state, or even a foreign country.” Dang. “Dire need for defensive help?” Not that such a statement is false. A&M’s defense has been atrocious for the last couple of years. But this situation has officially gotten ugly, with Chavis claiming that LSU owes him back pay and LSU insisting that he violated terms of his contract by refusing to pay a $400,000 buyout when he bolted for A&M after last season. It’s going to make for an interesting subplot when these two programs meet in November.

Around the SEC

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