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.

LSU pro day preview

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27
10:00
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Dozens of NFL scouts and coaches will descend on LSU’s football facility Friday to watch more than 20 former Tigers participate in the program’s annual pro day.

Here's a breakdown:

Watch it live: The SEC Network will televise the workouts from 1-3 p.m. ET. It will also be available on the WatchESPN app and on SEC Network+. SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy will provide live reports and interviews, while Dari Nowkhah, former LSU star Marcus Spears and NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl will offer in-studio analysis.

LSU’s official site will provide updates from the players’ performances at lsusports.net/proday.

[+] EnlargeMike Hilton
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsTerrence Magee would boost his draft stock with a good 40 time.

Headliners: Offensive tackle La'el Collins and cornerback Jalen Collins are the Tigers’ top two draft prospects. ESPN Scouts Inc. ranks La’El Collins 28th and Jalen Collins 29th on its list of the top 32 prospects in the upcoming draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists them 17th and 24th, respectively, on his Big Board and had both players getting selected in the first 20 picks in his most recent mock draft.

Jalen Collins is not expected to participate in pro day after undergoing recent foot surgery. However, he seemed to solidify his spot among the top cornerbacks with his buzzworthy performance at the NFL scouting combine last month. He ran a stellar 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash, finished among the top handful of cornerbacks in several other drills and performed exceptionally in the positional drills. At 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, his size is also a great asset considering how many NFL clubs like big corners.

La’el Collins also helped his cause in Indianapolis. He performed well in the workouts and showed out in the positional drills, which could help him become LSU’s first offensive lineman picked in the first round since Alan Faneca in 1998.

Other top Tigers: Defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Kwon Alexander are LSU’s other candidates to become early-round selections.

At the combine, Hunter posted the fastest time among defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash, 4.57 seconds. Alexander was second among linebackers with a 4.55 time in the 40. Their speed and athleticism help both players rank among the better prospects at their positions.

This week, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay ranked Hunter eighth among defensive ends and Alexander 10th among outside linebackers. ESPN Scouts Inc. lists Alexander as its No. 53 overall prospect and Hunter at No. 77.

Friday’s storylines: The 40 times of LSU running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will be among the big storylines at pro day. Both players participated in the combine, but Magee didn’t run the 40 and Hilliard posted a disappointing official time of 4.83 seconds.

Scouts Inc. lists Magee as the No. 13 running back and No. 147 overall prospect, so he seems likely to be selected somewhere in a draft with 256 total picks -- and he can help by showcasing his versatility and posting a respectable 40 time at pro day. Hilliard is listed as the No. 29 running back and No. 286 overall prospect. He could use a productive pro day in order to solidify a shot as a free agent, even if he doesn’t become a late-round draft pick.

Multiple pro day participants will be in Hilliard’s position Friday. Only five of them seem to be surefire draft picks, but several could become undrafted free agents. Among the Tigers who didn’t earn combine invites but should have a chance to sign as undrafted free agents – if they don’t become late-round picks – are fullback Connor Neighbors (Scouts Inc.’s No. 2 prospect at his position), All-SEC safety Ronald Martin and defensive end Jermauria Rasco.

Participants: Eighteen members of LSU’s 2014 team are scheduled to participate: Alexander, receiver Luke Boyd, La’el Collins, offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika, tight end Jake Franklin, Hilliard, Hunter, receiver Chris LaBorde, receiver Jeff Lang, receiver Quantavius Leslie, Magee, Martin, Neighbors, center Elliott Porter, Rasco, tight end Logan Stokes, offensive lineman Evan Washington and linebacker D.J. Welter.

In addition, four former Tigers -- fullback J.C. Copeland, offensive lineman Chris Faulk, linebacker Karnell Hatcher and linebacker Tahj Jones -- are schedule to participate.

Schedule: Pro day begins at 11:30 a.m. ET in LSU’s weight room. The players will first participate in vertical jump, broad jump and bench press then. At 1 p.m., they will move into the indoor practice facility to complete the 40-yard dash and shuttle runs. At about 2:15 p.m. they will begin individual workouts with NFL coaches by position (passing session at 2:15, running backs at 2:40, tight ends at 3, offensive line at 3:15, defensive backs at 3:35, linebackers at 3:55 and defensive line at 4:10).

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.

Alexander leads deep D-line group

[+] EnlargeEdwin Alexander
Miller Safrit/ESPNLSU is likely the team to beat for 320-pound Edwin Alexander, who ranks No. 15 in the 2016 class.
At the top of the list is defensive tackle Edwin Alexander of Hammond St. Thomas Aquinas. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Alexander ranks as the No. 15 player in the country, and he’s one of the most coveted players in the Southeast. His offer list includes major programs such as Florida, Florida State, Miami, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Texas A&M, but Alexander has said for quite some time that LSU is the team to beat for his commitment.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Cam Cameron apparently didn't take it easy on LSU's defensive players at the start of spring practice while that group adjusted to new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's adjustments.

But as the Tigers passed the midway point of the spring -- today's afternoon practice will be their ninth out of 15 on the schedule -- Steele's new terminology and checks were no longer so confusing.

"Everything is starting to finally click in and everything's moving faster," linebacker Duke Riley said last week. "At first it was slow for the first couple days. But now everything just started to move fast and it's going real good."

That's a far cry from the first week or so, which senior safety Jalen Mills called "frustrating" because Cameron, LSU's offensive coordinator, was throwing the kitchen sink at the defenders and forcing them to adjust.

"I hate not knowing, because now we have Coach Cam, knowing that we have a new defense, he's throwing all type of formations at us and all different types of motions and we have to make all types of checks," Mills said shortly after the start of spring practice. "I just want to be the guy, since I am a vet, to know everything, so I kind of put that pressure on myself."

Of course it's Cameron's job to test the defensive players, especially during spring practice after a coordinator change. The best way to prepare them for the high-pressure scenarios that will arrive in the fall is to put them through the ringer now.

It's apparently helping accelerate their progress.

"Cam, he's bringing all he can at us," Riley said. "We're adjusting to him and doing what we can. Everything's going good. Everything's clicking."

Not that Steele completely remade the defensive scheme from what predecessor John Chavis ran over the previous six seasons. LSU's players said things haven't changed considerably, but any new coordinator will bring a handful of new wrinkles.

"The real big thing with that was just the terminology: the new terms and stuff like that," sophomore linebacker C.J. Garrett said. "But for the most part, a lot of the scheme is based off of the same thing. It's definitely some new stuff in there, but it was really the terminology that I had to get down."

Unlike Mills, who is entering his fourth season as a starter, Garrett didn't have many old habits to break from the previous defensive scheme. He said he struggled throughout his freshman season to grasp his role in Chavis' defense, which is not unusual for a freshman who was accustomed to playing a relatively simple role in high school.

"When I was in high school, the plays I had, I had a little packet that big and I learned it in one day and I was done. Didn't look at it the rest of the year," Garrett said. "So that was something new that I had to learn -- learn how to watch film, learn how to go over my plays and actually understand it."

Understanding it is the goal this spring as they adjust to what Steele will ask of them this fall. And they seem to be progressing nicely, as LSU coach Les Miles said after last Saturday's scrimmage that, "I thought [the defense] had the better of the day."

Steele's defense has more than five months before it has to be game-ready, so there is still plenty of time to get things exactly right. But the Tigers seem to feel confident about the direction they are heading.

"Everybody's just got to get together and study," linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. "We've got to study together and then study individually and we'll get it."

What LSU doesn't need any more of is speed, but that's exactly what the Tigers are getting from sophomore D.J. Chark. The young, very speedy receiver played in six games last year, but didn't record any catches for the Tigers. However, that should change this fall, as he's really started progressing this spring. He caught a couple of touchdown passes in LSU's last scrimmage and is really starting to click with LSU's quarterbacks.

"I'm gaining chemistry with my teammates, the quarterbacks and receivers," Chark said. "The receivers are helping me. I feel like everybody pushing each other, we're getting better and better and its showing in practice and scrimmages."

You can read more about Chark's progress at The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The pretty boys got their turn on Wednesday as Georgia running back Nick Chubb headlined the SEC's top skill-position players heading into the 2015 season.

But those guys are nothing without a good offensive line.

[+] EnlargeRussell Hansbrough
Todd Bennett/Getty ImagesMissouri center Evan Boehm has been providing a lift to the Tigers for years.

You don't see their faces unless something is wrong and their stats aren't kept in any public file, but the big uglies doing battle in the trenches are really the driving force to national championships.

With that said, here’s our early look at the SEC’s top offensive linemen heading into the 2015 season. They’re listed alphabetically:

Vadal Alexander, OT, LSU, Sr.: He thought about leaving and said it was "back and forth for a while" where one day he was going to declare for the NFL draft and another day he was coming back to LSU. And much to Les Miles' joy, it ended up being the latter. Now the Tigers have the Coaches All-SEC first-team selection to build around, although this year he'll slide from guard to tackle.

Evan Boehm, C, Missouri, Sr.: Tired of Boehm yet? It would be hard to blame you seeing as he already has started 40 consecutive games in his career. Surely there are a few flustered defensive linemen in the SEC who are ready to see him go by now. But Missouri's coaching staff is on the other end of that spectrum, lucky to have a center with so much experience to lean on.

Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas, Jr.: Shifting the junior from guard to tackle this spring could pay huge dividends for him and the Razorbacks. It not only gets him in better position for the NFL draft, but it provides quarterback Brandon Allen a 6-foot-5, 337-pound upperclassman to protect his blind side. Alongside Sebastian Tretola at left guard, look for coach Bret Bielema to play a lot of left-handed football this season.

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama, Soph.: Some freshmen take time to get acclimated to the college game. But Robinson is not some freshmen. The former five-star prospect played from Day 1 at Alabama, starting all 14 games last year. And even more impressively, he was one of the Crimson Tide's most consistent linemen, leading the team in knockdown blocks while allowing just three sacks all season.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss, Jr.: Think of Tunsil as Robinson, only a year older and a year closer to making a boatload of money in the NFL draft. He, too, saw the field as a true freshman, starting nine games while earning All-SEC Second Team honors. As a sophomore, he did more of the same, starting 11 games and earning a spot on the Coaches All-SEC squad. A broken leg he suffered in the Peach Bowl soured the season, but he's expected to be back in the starting lineup come Week 1.

Five more to watch:

One day, Brandon Harris will look back at 2015 and either smile or wonder what could have been. This is the year that will potentially make or break his LSU career.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU needs Brandon Harris to win the starting job in 2015.

 If the Tigers are going to take a stab at the SEC Western Division, Harris has to be the starting quarterback. The sophomore is too talented as a passer and too gifted an athlete, and LSU is in desperate need of a spark under center.

With all due respect to Anthony Jennings, who went 8-4 as a starter last year with 1,611 passing yards, Harris is the present and the future for LSU at quarterback. He just has to be. Yes, most of this has to be based on potential and his schooling of high school kids, but we saw glimpses of brilliance from Harris at times last year. There was the valiant comeback attempt against Mississippi State in which he threw for 140 yards on 6 of 9 passing and had two touchdowns. A week later he overwhelmingly out-dueled Jennings in a win over New Mexico State with his 178 yards and three touchdowns on 11 of 14 passing.

But there was also a dark side, like his dreadful 3 of 14 performance a game later against Auburn, which was his first -- and only -- start of the year. After that, Harris threw just one more pass during the Tigers' final seven games.

Harris not seeing time in other games is on him, and he knows it. His preparation wasn't good enough to beat out Jennings during practice, and it certainly wasn't good enough for him to try and best him in games.

That has to change because there's just no getting around the fact that he's more physically gifted than Jennings. He might not have had the mental part down last year, but Harris' throwing and running ability can't be wasted this season. For as admirably as Jennings played at times this season, he's held back in ways that Harris isn't when it comes to arm talent, and he isn't a consistent passing threat for defenses to fear. Jennings' 47. 1 percent completion percentage on third downs is a problem, especially when he's completing just 40 percent on third downs between 7 and 9 yards. Completing less than 48 percent of your passes in the second and third quarters of games just won't cut it either.

There's no reason Jennings can't grow and evolve too, but Harris has all the physical tools needed to be a bigger threat for LSU. The decision-making part is yet to be seen, but Harris appears to be progressing this spring.

"I’m going into my second spring. Obviously I know everything I need to know now," Harris said earlier this spring. "I feel more comfortable with everything we’re going to run. Obviously it’s a wide-open quarterback position, quarterback job, so everything is still even reps-wise. Again, going into my second spring, so I’m more comfortable. I don’t have to have someone telling me what to do or this and that. I’ll get everybody on the same page ... I expect to help this team win. I just expect to play more this year. I think with the ability God’s blessed me with, with Cam [Cameron] and them teaching me, I think I’ll play a big role this upcoming season."

Last year, the younger, more immature Harris was both wide-eyed and a little carefree during his first year at LSU. The supposed next big thing at quarterback for the Tigers was everything but that, as he watched his hype sink into the bayou from the sidelines for most of the year.

The No. 2 dual-threat quarterback by ESPN's RecruitingNation arrived with a mountain of hype strapped to his back, but started just one game and saw time sparingly during a season of passing ineptitude that left the Tigers at the bottom of the league when it came to throwing the football.

 When a highly-touted prospect can't do better than a starter who completed just 48.9 percent of his passes and averaged a paltry 123.9 passing yards per game, something's wrong. Harris clearly wasn't ready to be the guy.

Say what you will about how LSU's coaching staff used its quarterbacks last year, but even Harris knows he wasn't fit to be LSU's starting quarterback in 2014.

"Looking back, I would say I wasn’t ready," Harris said.

And that's fine. For every freshman phenom, there are hundreds who just aren't ready or don't even see playing time. But for LSU to advance in 2015, Harris has to be the guy.

There's a reason Harris was one of the most sought-after quarterbacks back in high school, and everyone picked him to come out of last spring as the starter. Harris now has the chance to take the huge steps needed from Year 1 to Year 2, which are crucial for both he and LSU.

So far, Harris' play has been met with mixed reviews this spring, but improvement is there, and so is a drive he hopes propels him this spring and beyond.

"I’ve always carried a chip on my shoulder, and I carry a chip on my shoulder now," he said. "People are going to talk about you until the day you die. I’ve always carried a chip.

"My thing is not letting me be my downfall, improving, overutilizing our coaches and looking for every way to improve."

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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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Replacing starters is typically an imperfect process. But if Jeff Grimes has to replace two starters on LSU’s offensive line, he has the line set up to make the transition as painless as possible.

Should Grimes stick with his current setup, with returning starters Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander at the tackle spots and Ethan Pocic at center, the line’s newcomers at guard will have a veteran on both his right and his left.

“We all try to come together and really stay on the same page,” said Garrett Brumfield, a contender to take over one of the guard spots. “So it is good having veterans on both sides of you -- and even without it, whether it be the center, left tackle, right tackle, everybody’s always communicating, so it’s really good that way.”

[+] EnlargeVadal Alexander
Mark Humphrey/Associated PressVadal Alexander and the LSU offensive lineman are experimenting in playing different positions this spring.

Brumfield -- last season’s No. 1 guard in ESPN’s prospect rankings -- and William Clapp both redshirted last season but worked with the starters at right and left guard, respectively, when LSU opened spring practice earlier this month. They will face competition for the starting jobs from a number of candidates, including K.J. Malone and a handful of signees who LSU coach Les Miles said could “vie for some playing time.”

Not that their competition for playing time is restricted to one specific position.

For instance, Clapp said after last Tuesday’s practice that he had worked exclusively at center that day. Malone said he has worked at right tackle and left guard after backing up La'el Collins at left tackle last fall. Alexander and Pocic have started games at multiple positions, as well.

Detect a theme yet? The group’s versatility gives Grimes plenty of options.

“[Grimes is] doing a first-team A group and a first-team B group just to see how we look at each position,” Malone said. “So one time in A group, I’ll play right tackle and in B group I’ll play left guard. So he’s just seeing where he likes us."

That will likely continue throughout the spring, at least if Miles' comments following Saturday’s scrimmage were any indication.

“Right now it’s still early in the spring where you still want to look at a number of guys and see who’s who. No decisions really have been made at this point,” Miles said. “What we’re doing is it really allows us to have some time at other positions. So it gives us the opportunity to put guys, should injury occur in a game, in another spot. That’s really going to benefit us long term.”

It seems to be benefiting the linemen as well. Clapp practiced at both guard spots and at center during his redshirt season -- mostly while practicing with the varsity squad, not on the scout team -- and said he now feels comfortable at all of those spots. Those reps were particularly important at center, since that is the position typically responsible for making pre-snap calls and setting protections.

“When I first started playing center, it was a little overwhelming,” Clapp said, “but Ethan and Elliott [Porter] both helped me out a lot, and Coach Grimes is real understanding and was patient with me getting the snaps right and really making all the calls on the line.”

As Miles mentioned, Grimes’ theme of the spring is experimentation, so the young linemen realize that they probably can’t lock down a starting spot until August. LSU’s star-studded class of freshman linemen will be on campus by then, and it will obviously become more important for Grimes to make lineup decisions with kickoff approaching.

“He’s trying to see who can do what and who is talented at what to kind of feel out and see which five will be the five that he wants to play or rotate -- whether it’s six [players rotating] or seven,” Brumfield said. “But I think it’s good right now having guys who are versatile. We have a lot of different combinations that could possibly happen, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

The main thing right now, Clapp said, is realizing that a goal is within reach, even if the contenders must wait several months to achieve it.

“I knew that the starting five won’t be determined until camp’s over in August, so it’s a constant battle,” Clapp said. “We all know that it’s a competition every day. We all love knowing that the spot is there for us. We just need to go out there and take it.”

It's no secret that the most popular narrative when describing what makes the SEC tick in recent years has revolved around defense. It wins championships and it's something the SEC has been really, really good at for a number of years, especially during the conference's string of seven straight BCS national championships.

But like most things in this universe, football is evolving. Defense is great, but offense is greater, and slowly, the SEC is having to adapt and become a more offensive-friendly league. In the last two years, the league has had at least eight teams average more than 400 yards per game. From 2008 to 2012, the SEC never had more than six teams reach 400 yards per game in a single season.

This year, the league has a pretty impressive list of skill-position players to keep an eye on. We're taking a look at the top players a few positions around the league, and Wednesday we're starting with offensive skill players, listing the top players at running back, wide receiver/tight end, and we're looking at the top all-purpose player heading into the thee 2015 season.

Here's our list of the top skill players in the SEC:

Running back

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb didn't just fill in when Todd Gurley couldn't go he emerged as a first-team All-SEC pick after rushing for 1,547 yards.

Nick Chubb, So., Georgia

Chubb was outstanding as a true freshman last year, as he had to fill in for star running back Todd Gurley during Gurley's midseason suspension and his eventual season-ending knee injury. All Chubb, who stands a chiseled 5-foot-10, 228 pounds and renders arm tackles futile, did was rank second in the SEC with 1,547 rushing yards and tie for first with 14 rushing touchdowns. What's more impressive is that Chubb started just eight games -- all 100-yard performances -- and the All-SEC first-teamer saved the best for last. He registered a career-high, school bowl-record and SEC bowl-record 266 yards on 33 carries vs. Louisville in the Belk Bowl, the second-best total in a game in school history.

Leonard Fournette, So., LSU

Fournette was supposed to make an immediate, Michael Jordan-like impact for the Tigers last season, but needed some time to feel out the college game. In a why-haven't-you-won-the-Heisman-Trophy-now college football society, Fournette was viewed by some as a bust, despite being fresh out of high school. Still, a late-season surge and his menacing physique put Fournette firmly in this position. After shedding some weight and increasing his speed this offseason, there's no doubt the sophomore-to-be will shoot past his 1,034 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from last year. Fournette averaged 98 yards in his final five games and blossomed into a fine player who should really take off in 2015.

Wide Receiver/Tight end

Pharoh Cooper, Jr., South Carolina

The Gamecocks didn't have a lot to smile about last season, but the offense set a handful of records last season. One reason for that was because of the play of Cooper, who finished the 2014 season third in the SEC in receptions (69), second in receiving yards (1,136) and receiving yards per game (87.4), fourth in receptions per game (5.3), and ninth in all-purpose yards per game (108.5). He also led the team in all receiving categories and was fourth with 200 yards rushing. He's the SEC's top returning statistical receiver, and while he registered only three 100-yard games, Cooper will be the go-to receiving threat for the Gamecocks yet again this fall.

D'haquille "Duke" Williams, Sr., Auburn

It's hard to find a more physically gifted receiver in the SEC. Williams had every chance to leave Auburn early for he NFL, but he decided to come back and really enhance his skill. Williams led the team with 45 receptions and had 730 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers don't impress you? Well, consider the fact he missed two games because of a knee injury and was suspended for the bowl game. Yes, we're dealing in hypotheticals, but hypothetically speaking, Williams likely would have come close to or topped the 1,000-yard mark.

Evan Engram, Jr., Ole Miss

If you're looking for a Jimmy Graham-type tight end, look no further than Engram. He wasn't just the SEC's best tight end last year, he returns in 2015 as arguably the nation's best tight end. He wasn't overly praised when that historic 2013 class made it to Oxford, but plenty of eyes are all over him after a breakout sophomore year in which he led all SEC tight ends with 38 catches and 662 yards. Engram is a total mismatch because he's too big for most corners to handle and too fast for linebackers and safeties to consistently contain.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)Laquon Treadwell is being held out of contact in the spring but is expected to be ready to go in the fall.

Laquon Treadwell, Jr., Ole Miss

He's another player who should have had better numbers in 2014 but had his season was cut short. The physically imposing specimen was a star as a freshman and was on his way to first-team All-SEC honors before suffering a horrific leg injury on Nov. 1. Treadwell's season ended with him catching 48 passes for 632 yards and five touchdowns. Despite playing in four less games than he did in 2013, Treadwell registered more yards on nearly 30 fewer catches. Treadwell isn't going through contact this spring, but he should be healthy come the fall. Oh, and then there's this from last month: Yikes!

All-purpose

Speedy Noil, So., Texas A&M

Noil arrived in College Station with a ton of hype attached to his name, and he did a good job of living up to it. Noil led all SEC true freshmen in receptions (46), receiving yards (583) and receiving touchdowns (five). Noil led the Aggies in all-purpose yards (1,418), punt return yards (180) and kickoff return yards (645) despite missing the SMU game due to injury.

More to watch:

Who's the one player that each SEC team will miss the most from last season? That's the question we asked this week. On Tuesday, we looked at every team from the East. Now, it's time to set our sights on the West.

Alabama: WR Amari Cooper

How valuable was Cooper? The Heisman finalist accounted for over 40 percent of the team's receptions and receiving yards last season. He took the term "go-to target" to another level. Now it's up to a group of talented but inexperienced youngsters to replace him. Chris Black might be the most proven at this point, but there's a trio of sophomores-to-be -- ArDarius Stewart, Cam Sims and Robert Foster -- that should all earn more minutes this fall. The talent is there, but it's going to take a team effort to fill the void left by Cooper. One guy can't do it alone.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Butch DillAmari Cooper leaves behind a group of talented, but young, receivers at Alabama to take his place.

Arkansas: DE Trey Flowers

The defense won't be the same without players such as Flowers, Darius Philon and Martrell Spaight, but Flowers will be especially missed because of the leadership he provided. Brandon Lewis backed up Flowers last season and therefore should be considered the front-runner to win the job, but he's had to sit out this spring due to injury. That's opened the door for Deatrich Wise to take over the defensive end spot opposite JaMichael Winston, and both Wise and Winston have made it a point to take on more of a leadership role with Flowers gone.

Auburn: C Reese Dismukes

As good as Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates played the past two seasons, Dismukes was the real MVP for this Auburn team. Fifty career starts, and every play started in his hands. The position itself might be overlooked by some, but it's a critical element to Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense. That's why the coaches have moved former right tackle Austin Golson, arguably the best lineman on the roster, to center in hopes that he can pick up where Dismukes left off. He and Xavier Dampeer are battling for the starting job this spring.

LSU: OT La'el Collins

Fans are going to miss Collins and Vadal Alexander on the same side, mauling opponents in the run game. There wasn't a more formidable tackle-guard combination in the SEC last season. But Collins has moved on, and Alexander is moving from left guard to right tackle. Meanwhile, LSU's former right tackle, Jerald Hawkins, will be moving to the left side to replace Collins. At 6-foot-9, 309 pounds, he certainly looks the part. And he's already come out and said that left tackle feels like a natural position. But replacing Collins will be no easy task.

Mississippi State: LB Benardrick McKinney

You can't blame McKinney for leaving school early, not after the season he had. But it leaves a gaping hole on that defense. McKinney was not only the team's most productive linebacker, but he also served as the leader for the entire unit. However, the Mississippi State coaches are confident Richie Brown can be that guy. He finished sixth on the team in tackles last season and who can forget his memorable three-interception performance against Texas A&M? The Bulldogs will also get a boost this summer with the addition of freshman Leo Lewis.

Ole Miss: S Cody Prewitt

Senquez Golson put up the numbers last season, but Prewitt's play and leadership on the back end will be missed even more. He defined that Landsharks defense. To replace him, the Rebels are having to make some changes in the secondary. Senior-to-be Trae Elston is moving from strong safety to free safety where he'll take over for Prewitt, and cornerback Mike Hilton is moving to the now vacant strong safety position. C.J. Hampton is another guy who can play both safety spots and should have a bigger role as a sophomore next fall.

Texas A&M: WR Malcome Kennedy

The Aggies are loaded at wide receiver. Even with Kennedy graduating, they still have Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Edward Pope all coming back. But Kennedy provided the intangibles for this team last season. He was reliable. When the team needed a first down, he was there. When he sat out against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the team struggled with drops and lost both games. There are some things you just can't teach. The hope is that Kennedy set an example for the younger receivers heading into the 2015 season.

SEC morning links

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SEC morning links

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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.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- One of the leading questions for LSU's spring practice is how the Tigers' defense might function differently with Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator.

We probably won't have an answer there until a few weeks into the season -- LSU has no incentive to reveal anything before then -- but here's a small twist. Apparently the linebackers will be more involved when the Tigers shift into a nickel defensive package.

[+] EnlargeKendell Beckwith
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanKendell Beckwith appears ready to start at Mike linebacker for the LSU Tigers in 2015.

Under previous defensive coordinator John Chavis, the strongside linebacker (nicknamed "Sam") left the field and the Tigers used five defensive backs in the nickel along with the middle linebacker ("Mike") and weakside linebacker ("Will"). But strongside linebacker Duke Riley said he has started working at the "Money" position since spring practice started.

"Usually I wasn't in the nickel when Chief [Chavis] was here when I was at Sam," Riley said. "Me or Lamar [Louis] would go out and just the Will and the Mike would be in at the nickel, so I'm the Money now."

That shouldn't come as an enormous surprise. At Steele's previous stop, Alabama, Nick Saban's defenses frequently repped an assortment of linebackers and defensive backs at the Money position. Riley and Louis seem like obvious candidates for the job since Sam linebackers typically possess strong coverage skills in addition to tackling ability.

Such personnel adjustments frequently accompany the changes in philosophy that come with a new coordinator hire. But LSU's linebackers said they haven't noticed many major changes between the Chavis and Steele defensive schemes.

"Just little stuff here and there, but pretty much it seems like it's the same thing," said senior Deion Jones, who is stepping into Kwon Alexander's vacated spot as the starting Will linebacker.

And in the meeting room or on the practice field, Steele's methods seem to be meshing well with the players from the position he also oversees, linebacker.

"He's not the type of coach that hollers and is just on you, on you, on you," Riley said. "He'll treat you like a pro and make sure you understand. It's hard to focus out there when a coach is [yelling], 'rawrrr rawrrr.' Steele is just the kind of coach where he'll pull you to the side, talk to you, tell you what you've got to do and everything goes from there.

"It's actually better for all of us. I've been having some of the best practices. Everybody has been having some of the best practices since we've been here."

The starting lineup seems set -- at least for now -- with Louis at Sam, Jones at Will and Kendell Beckwith at Mike. However, a key for LSU's linebackers this spring will be developing depth behind the three veterans.

C.J. Garrett has worked only at Mike behind Beckwith, while fellow sophomores Donnie Alexander and Devin Voorhies (who played safety last year) are behind Jones at Will.

Garrett, one of LSU's most highly recruited signees last year, believes he is better prepared to contribute than he was last fall, when he appeared in just three games.

"To be honest, toward the end of the season I was still a little bit confused," Garrett said. "I never really got the whole scheme down, so this year when Coach Steele got here, we got a chance to go over some of the new stuff and things like that, it kind of started clicking to me. I felt like I got a chance to really get a chance to sit down and actually look at it and understand it more."

It will be a tall order to steal snaps from Beckwith, though, after the junior linebacker developed into a star once he joined the starting lineup midway through last season. He finished the year with 77 tackles -- second only to Kwon Alexander's 90 -- and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Beckwith said during bowl practice that he was ready to take ownership of LSU's defense this season, and he insisted after a recent practice that it is now "his."

"I already own it. They know it. The guys on defense know it," Beckwith said with a grin. "I've been trying to just get the hang of everything right now, so I've kind of been keeping to myself and just helping people if I can. Once we start rolling and we get deep into this thing, they know. It'll be mine."

That certainly will not be a bad thing. Beckwith looks like a star in the making, and the veterans at the top of the depth chart should be fine in starting roles.

Yes, depth is a concern -- and it could become a greater issue in 2016, particularly if Beckwith plays well enough to enter the NFL draft after this season, since Louis and Jones are both seniors. But should the Tigers avoid any major health issues, Beckwith has high hopes for what LSU's linebacking corps can become this fall.

"I think we'll be the best three in the country, so I don't really have no concern about us," Beckwith said.

BATON ROUGE, La. – At about this time a year ago, John David Moore first shifted from tight end to fullback. Now he’s the most experienced blocking back on LSU’s roster.

Because of the Tigers’ shallow depth at fullback last season – especially compared to their talent-rich tight end group – Moore saw the move as his best opportunity to play. It paid off when he appeared in eight games in 2014 and put himself in position to become a backfield regular this fall.

“It was really just a need that needed to be filled. They were just kind of shallow at that position and deeper at tight end,” Moore said. “I’m willing to fit in where I can get in. I’d play punter if they’d let me, and I’ll do whatever to get on the field.”

The departures of last season’s top two fullbacks, Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, left Moore as the Tigers’ only player at the position with any game experience. He has company in the fullback rotation this spring, but the other leading contenders are also new to the position.

[+] EnlargeJohn David Moore
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJohn David Moore shifted from tight end to fullback last season. Now he's the most experienced option for the Tigers at the position.

Among them are early enrollee David Ducre, who is also getting practice reps at tailback, redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch, who was a wide receiver until a few weeks ago, and a collection of walk-ons.

Ducre and Upchurch have a lot to learn about playing fullback, which places some teaching responsibility on their more experienced teammate’s shoulders as well.

“We’ve got some young guys that just need to learn the classroom stuff so they can apply it on the field,” Moore said. “So that’s where I can be helpful in that role.”

Ducre, whom LSU recruitniks have dubbed as the Tigers’ fullback of the future, and Upchurch are also working together to gain a better grasp on their new position. Learning new blocking techniques, how to hit holes and how to read defenses from the backfield is no simple feat, so they’ve become a tag team as they navigate the transition.

“We’re actually working together as far as in the team meeting room,” Upchurch said. “We kind of quiz each other on what we’ve got on this, what we’ve got on that, so it’s going to work hand in hand.”

It’s unusual to see a player with a jersey number in the 80s – typically a numerical range reserved for receivers and tight ends – lining up in the backfield. But Upchurch is still wearing No. 81 as he learns to block for Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris instead of catching passes from the Tigers’ two quarterbacks.

Nonetheless, he still expects to catch a pass here or there.

“Fullback, I feel like I can be moved around just as well,” Upchurch said. “I have hands; I can contribute to the team as far as catching-wise. So I think it’s going to be a pretty good position for me.”

Upchurch’s move was partially dictated by the depth issues at the position and partially due to his own problems with his weight. Listed at 230 pounds on LSU’s spring roster, Upchurch was a big-bodied receiver, but that size makes him a more natural fit at fullback.

He said he quickly adjusted to the heavy contact at the position, although his only previous backfield experience came at tailback in high school.

“It took a good while for me to get the weight down, but it’s all right,” Upchurch said. “Fullback is kind of a good position for me. I kind of like it so far.”

Upchurch’s switch from receiver is a new twist on a years-old storyline at LSU. The Tigers’ fullbacks in recent years frequently arrived at the position after starting their careers elsewhere. Neighbors and Jones were both linebackers when they started at LSU and former starter J.C. Copeland signed as a defensive lineman before shifting to the backfield.

“I learned a lot from Connor just about how to be a student of the game and then technique,” Moore said. “Blocking is very different from tight end to fullback, so [I focused on] just learning those techniques and nuances, learning from him, who is one of the best in the game.”

Now he and Upchurch are trying to make the switch as effectively as Neighbors, who developed into one of the nation’s top fullbacks – as evidenced by his invitation to the Senior Bowl at the end of last season – by the time he completed his college career.

Neighbors and the new fullbacks’ other predecessors certainly proved that a switch to fullback can work out well for all involved. At least one of the new players at the position seems likely to carry on that LSU tradition.

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