COLLEGE STATION, Texas — John Chavis’ arrival at Texas A&M was met by much fervor among the Aggie faithful, who’ve long yearned for a defense reminiscent of the 1990s Wrecking Crew units but haven’t found someone to provide one worthy of the throwback nickname.

Aggies everywhere hope Chavis, with his two decades-plus experience of coaching SEC defenses, most recently at LSU, can be the one who does it and rectifies the most glaring weakness on this Texas A&M squad, which has become more synonymous with high-scoring offensive football in recent years. Chavis' track record suggests he can.

On Thursday night, the former LSU defensive coordinator met with the media for the first time since he was hired to be the Aggies’ new defensive boss and discussed his new home, his early impressions of Texas A&M’s defense through three spring practices, his new colleagues and the emotions involved with leaving LSU, where he spent the past six seasons.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNew defensive coordinator John Chavis says the Texas A&M defense has talent but lacks confidence.
What drew “The Chief” to Aggieland? In a word: resources.

“What wouldn’t be appealing?” Chavis said. “I mean, we’re talking about a university, look what’s going on — look at what’s going on with the facilities. This is a university that’s wanting to invest, not just wanting, but has invested in its program. If you look at that stadium it’s a place where you can recruit, there’s no doubt about that; there’s a wealth of talent in Texas, so why wouldn’t you want to be a part of this program at Texas A&M?

“To be quite honest with you we’re building to win championships. That's what it's all about. I want to be a part of a championship program. There’s no question you can win them here at Texas A&M and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Chavis, who retained all three Texas A&M full-time defensive assistants that were on staff prior to his arrival – Terry Price, Mark Hagen and Terry Joseph – said the chemistry with his new staff is “really good” and that they’re “excellent football coaches.” The talent needed on the roster to succeed exists in Chavis’ mind; the biggest thing he said he will work on is the unit’s confidence. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in yards per game allowed and rushing defense each of the last two seasons.

“We’ve got talent, there’s no question about that,” Chavis said. “The first thing we need to do is get our guys confident that they’re good enough to play and good enough to win in the SEC. Once they feel that way — and I think we’re well on the road to being there — they’re going to be able to compete. Sure, they had some struggles. That was last year and we’re not going to talk about last year. We’ve got some core principles that we believe in and we’re going to apply those and have applied them and we think it'll get us to the situation where we're going to be very, very competitive.

“Now we've got a lot of work to do, don't kid yourself. I'm not kidding myself. But the talent is here and we're going to put the work in.”

Leaving LSU wasn’t an easy decision, and Chavis acknowledged that difficulty considering the relationships built in his time in Baton Rouge.

“The emotions are with those kids,” Chavis said of the Tigers. “I love those kids. But there came a time when you have to make a decision and you have do what's best for you. And I've coached this game for 38 years or so and to be quite honest with you, I haven't always made decisions solely based on what was best for me. But this was a great opportunity that I couldn't turn down. It's a great situation, certainly it's one where I hope I can finish my career. If I get eight or 10 good years here, if I can go that long, it would be great.”

Chavis also had positive things to say about LSU coach Les Miles.

“Listen, I love Coach Miles too,” Chavis said. “He was a great guy to work for. We have a great relationship and it'll always be that kind of relationship. But the toughest thing was leaving those kids. The good thing is, I have a great group of young men [at Texas A&M]. And we're learning to love and care about each other. We're learning to trust each other. That's how it has to happen. They've got to trust me. I've got to trust them. And that happens over time and we're learning that now and Texas A&M feels like home.”

There is a legal battle going on between Chavis and LSU over a $400,000 buyout the Tigers claim he owes for terminating his contract. Chavis declined to elaborate on the topic, noting that “There’s not anything I can say that will help the matter. Got a great law team handling it. They’ll get it worked out. My focus is on coaching football.” He said it hasn’t been a distraction and his focus is on his current task: improving the Aggies’ defense.

“Obviously, there is SEC talent here — there’s no question about that,” he said. “We've got to help them get better and that’s what coaching is all about. You can take young talent and make it better and I’m excited about coaching a young football team.”

SEC morning links

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
9:00
AM ET
Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

video

National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down movers in, newcomers to and the top 10 of the updated ESPN Junior 300.

The education of Kyle Allen

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
10:00
AM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- August 16, 2014 was the hardest day in Kyle Allen's young Texas A&M career.

After enrolling early and spending seven months competing with sophomore Kenny Hill, gunning for one singular goal -- a chance to be the Day 1 starter for the Aggies in 2014 -- the true freshman was dealt a gut punch from Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital.

The Aggies' head coach and offensive coordinator pulled Allen into an office to deliver news he wasn't expecting to hear.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen is ready to seize the starting quarterback job this season, no matter who is there to compete with him.
"They said, 'Kenny is going to start the first game,'" Allen recalls. "'You’re going to have a chance to win it back, so don’t bow out right now. You’ve got to stay in this.'"

Emotions flooded. The 18-year-old, in search for a sympathetic ear, reached out to family and friends back in Arizona. One of the phone calls he made was to his longtime private quarterback coach, Dennis Gile.

"I've never heard Kyle down; he broke down to me, crying on the phone," Gile said. "I didn't know how to take it because he's like my little brother. He's really close to me. To hear your little brother cry for the first time, when I know how good he is and how much he wanted it, it was hard for myself. I was getting choked up talking to him."

Gile urged Allen to not let the emotions of the disappointment affect him moving forward, nor let those emotions be seen by coaches and teammates. "Practice like you're the starter, every day," Gile said, and "your time is going to come."

Allen followed that advice, and 10 weeks later, it came true: He was named the starter, replacing Hill before the Aggies' home game against Louisiana-Monroe. Now, Allen begins a sophomore season with five starts under his belt and much promise as the Aggies look to trek up the SEC West standings in 2015.

From the moment he stepped on campus, teammates and coaches praised Allen's approach to his craft. Several attribute his ability to wrangle the starting job from Hill in midseason to those traits.

"The approach that Kyle has taken since Day 1, even when Kenny won the battle at the beginning of the year, [Allen] came in every single day and kept putting the work in," Spavital said. "He was wanting to get better every single day, and naturally when you see a kid take that approach to the game and the way he works, you are naturally going to see him increase and get better each day."

"He is always up here watching film before practice," current backup quarterback Conner McQueen said. "Every day Coach Spav will talk about things when we watch film, and Kyle will have seen it once or twice already. He is always up here, just doing the right things, being the first one in the weight room and doing extra. I really think his preparation, not only this year but starting last spring, put him in a great position to succeed."

Allen's starting debut vs. Louisiana-Monroe was, in many ways, forgettable. The Aggies were more than 30-point favorites but squeaked by with a 21-16 win. The offense only managed a meager 243 yards, Allen was 13-for-28 passing for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception. With a road trip to Auburn looming, Allen's debut didn't exactly provide an overflow of optimism.

"I came in nervous, I’m not going to lie," Allen said. "Even though it’s Louisiana-Monroe, you’re playing in front of 105,000 people. You step on the field, you look around and there are people everywhere. I come from a high school where I am lucky if a thousand people come to my game."

Gile, who was on the sideline at Kyle Field for Allen's debut, implored Allen later that week to talk to his teammates before the Auburn game, to lead. Before the Aggies took the field, junior defensive end Julien Obioha requested Allen do the same. There was a sense the group needed to hear from its quarterback, even if he was a true freshman making his second start. He did and the team responded to Allen's words and energy before kickoff, exploding to a 35-point first half and hanging on for a dramatic 41-38 win.

After losses to Missouri and LSU, Allen closed out the season on a high note, winning offensive MVP honors in the Aggies' 45-37 win against West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He bounced back from an early pick-six to put together a 294-yard, four-touchdown performance which included a dazzling rushing touchdown.

This spring Allen is not pushing anyone; he's the incumbent, with only McQueen to push him. The program awaits the fate of its five-star quarterback signee, Kyler Murray, who signed a letter of intent in February and would be Allen's primary competition upon arrival.

Murray, 42-0 as a starter with three state championships at the highest level of Texas high school football, is also a baseball star and is finishing up his senior year at Allen High School. A decision on whether he goes to Aggieland or signs with the professional baseball team that drafts him (he's projected by several experts to be a possible first-round selection) won't come until the summer.

Either way, Allen -- who couldn't possibly have missed all the hand-wringing over Murray's decision leading up to national signing day or the deserved universal praise he received for his long list of prep accomplishments -- sounds like a focused, confident competitor ready to welcome the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

"He deserves it, the kid’s never lost a game in his life. He’s a Texas legend. I know everyone here is from Texas and I’m from Arizona, so I don’t get that love yet," Allen said with a smile and a laugh. "So, he’s going to step in, he’s going to put the work in just like I did, but it’s going to be a fun competition."
video

National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss which programs most need success in the coming months to both establish momentum and keep competitors at bay.

SEC morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
A day after Auburn's Corey Grant burned up the track at Auburn's pro day, another former SEC player who didn't attend the NFL combine also helped his cause. Mississippi State's Matt Wells ran a 4.41 time in the 40-yard dash, the best of any player at the Bulldogs' pro day on Wednesday. State was one of three SEC schools to hold a pro day on Wednesday, along with Arkansas and Texas A&M. The Aggies' pro day lacked the fanfare of a year ago when Johnny Manziel worked out for scouts -- particularly with star tackle Cedric Ogbuehi sidelined by a knee injury -- but a dozen former A&M players still took advantage of the opportunity to show what they could do. Likewise, 16 former Razorbacks -- including All-SEC honorees Martrell Spaight and Trey Flowers -- showed off for scouts at Arkansas' workout on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Another offseason, another proposed rule change that has spread offense coaches on the defensive. Auburn's Gus Malzahn spoke out this week on the possible new rule that would reduce the yards an offensive lineman can move downfield on a pass play from 3 yards to 1. The change, Malzahn said, would stifle offensive innovation, like his team's “pop pass,” which simulates a run before throwing downfield. Malzahn isn't the only SEC coach to criticize the possible change. Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze is also against the new rule, saying officials should simply enforce the perfectly reasonable rule that is already on the books. That, writes CBS Sports blogger Jerry Hinnen, is the key point in this debate. Perhaps offenses are given too much leeway today by not effectively enforcing the rules governing linemen downfield. Doing so might prevent the sport from having to rewrite the rulebook.
Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

video

Texas A&M hosted a pro day at its team's indoor training facility Wednesday in College Station, Texas.
We'll finally end our pre-spring position rankings in the SEC by taking a look at special teams. Kickers and punters rejoice!

1. Georgia: Kicker Marshall Morgan wasn’t at his best last season, but everyone knows the talent is there for him to rebound in 2015 from his 16 of 21 (.762) performance kicking field goals last season. Punter Collin Barber is certainly serviceable, even if he didn’t have to punt too much last year. But return man Isaiah McKenzie might have been the league's best last season, registering two touchdowns on kickoff returns and one on a punt return.

2. LSU: Leonard Fournette is so dangerous as a return man, and capped his season with a 100-yard return for a touchdown. Tre’Davious White wasn’t so bad returning punts either, averaging 10.9 yards per return and taking one back for a touchdown. As for kicking, LSU has a solid duo in place-kicker Colby Delahoussaye (11 of 15) and Jamie Keehn, who averaged 44.9 yards per punt, downed 27 inside the 20-yard line, and blasted 17 kicks 50 yards or more.

3.Texas A&M: The Aggies have to replace incredibly reliable kicker Josh Lambo, but Taylor Bertolet tallied 106 points off kicks in 2012, as a freshman, before getting benched for Lambo in 2013. Drew Kaser proved to be one of the SEC’s best punters last year, downing 22 punts inside the 20 and booming 18 50 yards or more. Speedy Noil is a dynamic returner on both kickoffs and punts.

4. Tennessee: The Vols were excellent at defending returns and will bring back kicker Aaron Medley, who made 20 of 26 field goals last year, but went 1-of-6 from 40-plus. Cameron Sutton returned a punt for a touchdown, while Evan Berry is a big-play threat on kickoffs after he averaged 29.3 yards per return last season. Matt Darr is gone so the Vols have to find a punter.

5. Vanderbilt: Tommy Openshaw connected on 8 of 11 field goals, but went 2-of-5 on kicks between 40 and 49 yards. Colby Cooke averaged 42.7 yards per punt and downed 19 kicks inside the 20. Darrius Sims, who can return kickoffs and punts, is one of the league's best returners and took two kickoffs back for touchdowns and averaged 24.5 yards per return. Vandy has to do better than allowing two returns for touchdowns.

6. Alabama: One thing’s for sure: Alabama can punt. More specifically, JK Scott can punt. He brings back the SEC’s best leg, which knocked 31 punts inside the 20 launched 23 kicks 50 yards or more. He also led the nation in punt average (48.0) However, placekicking is still a concern, as Adam Griffith hit 12 of 19 field goals (.632) last season. Christion Jones is gone, but Cyrus Jones and others should pick up the slack in the return game.

7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs bring back Devon Bell, who averaged 43.2 yards per punt. Word out of Starkville is that both returner positions are up for grabs, but the Bulldogs have a litter to pick from. Juco transfer Donald Gray could be the favorite, but Will Redmond, Fred Ross and Brandon Holloway will also be involved. The Bulldogs were also one of the best at defending kicks last season.

8. Ole Miss: Jaylen Walton is still a mainstay at returning kickoffs, but the Rebels need to be more consistent returning punts, where Markell Pack, who averaged just 5.3 yards per return last year, will compete with two players coaches are excited to see return kicks: JUCO transfer Tony Bridges and freshman Jalen Julius. Will Gleesen was solid punting (24 downed inside the 20) alongside Gary Wunderlich, who also hit 6 of 8 field goals last season. Ole Miss also ranked in the top half of the league in defending punts and kickoffs.

9. Auburn: Daniel Carson pulled double duty for the Tigers, hitting 18 of 24 field goals (.750) and averaging 42 yards per punt. The Tigers said goodbye to Quan Bray (two touchdowns) and Corey Grant so Ricardo Louis is the most experienced return man (eight returns last year). Roc Thomas and Stanton Truitt, who redshirted last year, could also get looks in the return game. Auburn ranked in the bottom half of the league in defending punts and kickoffs.

10. Arkansas: Adam McFain was Arkansas’ top kicker last year, hitting 7 of 10 (.700) field goals, but punter Sam Irwin-Hill is gone so his spot will need to be filled in the coming months. Korliss Marshall is gone, but Keon Hatcher and D.J. Dean return. Hatcher averaged 23.2 yards per kick return (six) and Dean returned 11 punts for 121 yards.

11. South Carolina: Elliott Fry is back after hitting 18 of 25 field goals (.720) last year. No punters return so the Gamecocks will have to figure that one out starting with spring practice. Pharoh Cooper was a decent punt returner for the Gamecocks, while Shon Carson should enter spring as the front-runner to head up kick returns after recording 633 return yards last year. Also, might want to cut down on the two kickoff touchdowns allowed.

12. Florida: Austin Hardin eventually took over placekicking duties later in the season and finished the year making 7 of 10 field goals, including the game-winner against Tennessee. Incredibly valuable punter Kyle Christy is gone, but Johnny Townsend is back and he actually forced Christy to the bench in 2013. Record-breaker Andre Debose is gone, meaning the Gators are holding tryouts for returners, and this team has to improve on allowing two returns for touchdowns last year.

13. Missouri: The Tigers must find someone to replace one of the league’s best returners in Marcus Murphy. Right now, that task is totally up in the air. Because Murphy was so good, no one on the roster really has much experience returning kicks. Andrew Baggett mad 18 of 25 field goals (.720) and might have to handle punting duties as well, but that isn't 100 percent yet.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats' kick coverage was just bad last year. They gave up four touchdowns on returns last season, which cannot happen again. Kicker Austin MacGinnis led the SEC with 21 made field goals on 27 attempts (.778) and punter Landon Foster brings back 27 punts downed inside the 20. Kentucky must replace Demarco Robinson at punt returner, but Stanley Williams is back after averaging 26.9 yards on kickoffs.
Spring practice is always a good time for players to make their cases for a move up the depth chart and much can be gleaned from position battles that occur this time of year. Given that, we take a look at some of the top position battles worth watching this spring in the SEC:

Alabama: Cornerback and quarterback
The Alabama secondary left much to be desired last fall, allowing 226 passing yards per game (11th in the SEC). Cyrus Jones serves as a returning starter but the spot opposite him is open for competition. There are plenty of contenders, such as sophomore Tony Brown, junior Eddie Jackson, redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey, senior Bradley Sylve and sophomore Maurice Smith. Alabama's cornerback recruits, Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick, aren't on campus yet but when they arrive in the summer, they'll join the fray. As for the quarterback battle, if last season taught us anything, it's not to assume what Nick Saban will do. Many felt Jake Coker being the starter was a foregone conclusion only for Blake Sims to emerge as the guy. This year, it's Coker, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett. Who will emerge from that battle?

[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
Scott Donaldson/Icon SportswireThroughout spring practice, Treon Harris will be competing for Florida's starting QB job.
Auburn: Running back
Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant graduated. Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber are next in line, but junior college transfer Jovon Robinson, the No. 1 running back in the ESPN JC 50, is one to watch here. He's enrolled early, so he will participate in spring football. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has had a 1,000-yard rusher every year he's been at Auburn going back to his coordinator days, so whoever wins the job will likely be one of the top backs in the SEC.

Florida: Quarterback and offensive line
With a new head coach in Jim McElwain, this situation is intriguing. Treon Harris showed some promise when given the chance to play as a true freshman last season but Will Grier, who redshirted, looks like he'll get an opportunity to compete for the job, too. And there should be battles across the offensive line, because the Gators have to replace virtually every spot up front. Those are just as important as the quarterback battle, because good protection is a must.

Georgia: Quarterback
There's a three-man battle for the right to succeed Hutson Mason and it's a wide-open battle. There's redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey, redshirt junior Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park. Georgia coach Mark Richt called the race wide-open; Ramsey is the most experienced of the bunch, and Park is the only one who hasn't taken a collegiate snap yet. It should be compelling to follow.

LSU: Quarterback
It's just a little bit of history repeating -- same candidates, same position, new season. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris square off once again for the right to start for the Tigers. Jennings emerged victorious last season and held on to the job for most of the year (Harris started at Auburn and it didn't go well), but that didn't stop the fans calls for a longer look at Harris. Jennings finished the season with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing only 48.9 percent of his passes; Harris completed 55.6 percent with six touchdowns and two picks.

Missouri: Defensive end
The tradition of defensive line talent at Mizzou is rich but the latest two greats have departed to pursue the NFL: Shane Ray (as an early entrant) and Markus Golden (who was a senior). So who's next in line to replace them? At one end, sophomore Charles Harris is a potential option after appearing in 14 games, starting one, last season. At the other end, junior Rickey Hatley and sophomore Marcus Loud are the returning candidates with game experience and could battle it out for a spot. There's also a host of youngsters behind these three.

Ole Miss: Quarterback
Bo Wallace is gone so the signal-caller spot is up for grabs. Who will it be? Junior college transfer Chad Kelly? DeVante Kincade? Ryan Buchanan? Kelly appears to be the early favorite, though Kincade and Buchanan got a little bit of game action last season.

South Carolina: Quarterback
The Head Ball Coach has to replace a graduating senior quarterback for the second straight season -- first Connor Shaw, now Dylan Thompson. This spring, it will be sophomore Connor Mitch, junior Perry Orth and freshman Michael Scarnecchia competing. Quarterback recruit Lorenzo Nunez doesn't join the fray until the summer. Mitch appears to be the early favorite.

Texas A&M: Left tackle
This has been a money position for the Aggies in the Kevin Sumlin era. He had the good fortune of having Luke Joeckel man the position in 2012 (he went on to be selected second overall in the NFL draft); then Jake Matthews succeeded Joeckel (Matthews was also a top-10 pick) and last season Cedric Ogbuehi took over. With Ogbuehi gone, the spot is up for grabs; look for Avery Gennesy and Germain Ifedi to compete for it. Gennesy, a 2014 ESPN JC 50 signee, redshirted last year but has the ability needed for the position. Ifedi had a good year as the Aggies' starting right tackle in 2014, and Sumlin said Ifedi has "earned the right" to at least compete for the job.

Vanderbilt: Quarterback
This position was a mess for the Commodores last season. They started four different quarterbacks, the most of any FBS team (only Utah State started as many quarterbacks as Vanderbilt). This spring there are four competing, three of which are returnees -- Wade Freebeck, Johnny McCrary and Patton Robinette. Stephen Rivers, who was with the Commodores last year, transferred, but redshirt freshman Shawn Stankavage joined the competition. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was blunt early in spring practice, saying simply "We've got a lot of work to do."
We continue our series looking at the position groups around the SEC by looking at the defensive backs Wednesday.

1. LSU: The Tigers were the best in the SEC in 2014 against opposing pass defenses and there’s plenty of talent still in LSU’s defensive backfield to keep the good times going. Jamal Adams really came into his own late last season and is poised to be a star. Tre'Davious White is the only starting corner returning but he is a big-time player. Safety Jalen Mills returns, too. The Tigers need to find a corner opposite White but have plenty of talented players to compete for that spot.

2. Georgia: After LSU, this unit was the SEC’s best in limiting opponents through the air (170.3 passing yards allowed per game). The good news for Jeremy Pruitt is that not only does he have quite a few options in the secondary, most of them have experience. Dominick Sanders, who shined as a freshman, returns; so does fellow safeties Quincy Mauger, who started seven games. All the cornerbacks on the two-deep return. With Damian Swann’s departure, a new leader needs to be established, but overall, this is a good group.

3. Florida: The Gators still have the conference’s best cornerback, Vernon Hargreaves III, and that’s worth a lot. Fortunately for them, the rest of the young secondary is back -- cornerback Jalen Tabor, safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye, nickel Brian Poole, and new secondary coach Kirk Callahan will try to help them take the next step this year, improving on last year’s finish (seventh in the SEC in pass defense). The talent is there.

4. Ole Miss: Replacing players such as Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt is a tall task but the Rebels have talent on the back end. Tony Conner was a second-team All-SEC pick last year and is back. So is Trae Elston, the starting “rover,” who is a three-year starter. Senior Mike Hilton, who led the team in tackles, returns and the team welcomes the No. 1 cornerback in the ESPN JC 50, Tony Bridges. Look for a bigger role for C.J. Hampton. There is some good depth in this group as well.

5. Arkansas: Razorbacks’ secondary coach Clay Jennings returns for his second year in Fayetteville and his unit showed significant growth in 2014. Elder statesmen Alan Turner and Tevin Mitchel are gone, but the Hogs had a mostly young secondary last year and bring back plenty of experience, including cornerbacks Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and Henre' Toliver, all of whom saw starts at the position. Three of the four safeties on the end-of-season two-deep -- De'Andre Coley, Josh Liddell and Davyon McKinney, also return to a unit that was fifth in the league in pass defense in 2014.

6. Tennessee: The Vols have a player with All-SEC potential in cornerback Cameron Sutton and a tremendous amount of experience at the back in senior safeties Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil. The other cornerback will be the spot to watch where there will be a battle. Emmanuel Moseley, Rashaan Gaulden, Malik Foreman and highly-touted junior college signee Justin Martin are among the contenders.

7. Missouri: The Tigers are set at cornerback with Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton returning. Losing the experience of a Braylon Webb at safety is tough but Ian Simon is a seasoned veteran himself and returns at the position. The unit finished sixth in SEC pass defense last season (212.7) but benefited from the league’s best pass rush. The experience in the secondary is helpful but more consistency is needed from this group.

8. Alabama: The Crimson Tide had a rough year on the back end in 2014, finishing 11th in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game (226). The group has a new secondary coach (Mel Tucker) but a lot of attrition, with Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams gone. Cyrus Jones, who led the team with 13 pass breakups, and Eddie Jackson, who started 11 games, are back at cornerback as are Tony Brown and Maurice Smith. Geno Smith, who started six games at the Star position, is also back. ESPN 300 safety Deionte Thompson and four-star safety Ronnie Harrison arrived in January so they’ll participate in spring practice.

9. Auburn: The Tigers yielded a lot to opposing passing games last year (230.08 yards per game; 12th in the SEC), but were also opportunistic, intercepting 22 passes. Returning Auburn defensive backs accounted for 12 of those interceptions -- Jonathan Jones (six), Johnathan Ford (three) and Trovon Reed (three). Auburn also welcomes a new secondary coach, Travaris Robinson, who was key in the Tigers’ landing four defensive back recruits from Florida on signing day. Numbers are there in terms of options to choose from, now it’s just a matter of making on-field progress.

10. South Carolina: This is a young group that played a lot of freshmen and sophomores last season but will be a year older and should show progress, especially with the addition of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, who has a long history of coaching defensive backs in the NFL. Chris Lammons and Rico McWilliams are penciled in as the starting cornerbacks. Brison Williams is gone but T.J. Gurley, who was second on the team with 80 tackles last season, returns. Corners Al Harris Jr. and D.J. Smith as well as safeties Chris Moody and Chaz Elder also return. Look for this group to make strides this season after finishing 10th in pass defense last season.

10. Mississippi State: There’s a lot of room for improvement for the Bulldogs, who allowed the most passing yards per game in the SEC last season and allowed many big plays. They do have a nice talent in Taveze Calhoun at cornerback; who starts opposite him is to be determined. (Look for Will Redmond and Cedric Jiles, who missed all last season with an injury, to compete.) The Bulldogs will be young at safety but did bring in the nation’s No. 2 player at the position, ESPN 300 prospect Jamal Peters.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats return both starting cornerbacks from 2014, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn. Starting safety A.J. Stamps, a standout junior college transfer, returns after leading the team with four interceptions and safety Marcus McWilson, who started the season finale against Louisville, also returns. Kentucky, which was eighth in the SEC in pass defense last year, secured a safety as its top-rated recruit in February, ESPN 300 prospect Marcus Walker.

13. Vanderbilt: The Commodores fielded a young, unproven secondary last season but finished just a hair behind the middle of the pack in the conference, allowing 218.3 passing yards per game. With virtually the entire group back, led by cornerbacks Torren McGaster and Taurean Ferguson and safeties Jahmel McIntosh, Andrew Williamson and Oren Burks, there’s some promise on the back end for Vandy, especially considering the fact that Derek Mason will be simplifying the defense.

14. Texas A&M: The Aggies were second-to-last in pass defense and last in interceptions a year ago. Gone are veterans Deshazor Everett and Howard Matthews but senior cornerback De’Vante Harris remains. The group surrounding Harris is young, but has a potential star in safety Armani Watts. The other cornerback spot is up for grabs this spring but look for Nick Harvey to challenge for it. The safety next to Watts could be veteran Devonta Burns (last year’s nickel), Donovan Wilson, or possibly junior college transfer Justin Evans.

SEC morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
9:00
AM ET
A couple of weeks ago, we listed several SEC players who were candidates to be drafted despite not being invited to the NFL combine. Add Auburn's Corey Grant to that list. On Tuesday, Grant ran times in the 40-yard dash that scouts attending Auburn's pro day clocked between 4.18 and 4.32 seconds. That would have been the best time by a running back at the combine, had Grant been in Indianapolis. Perhaps his absence was understandable since he was largely an afterthought in Auburn's running game in 2014 while Cameron Artis-Payne led the SEC in rushing. Nonetheless, there was buzz about how fast Grant would run on Tuesday, and he didn't let anybody down -- even if he said afterward that his goal was to run a 4.1. He wasn't the only Tiger who didn't go to the combine who was trying to turn scouts' heads on Tuesday. Here's a recap of the results that Auburn released once the workouts were complete.
  • Chad Kelly, formerly of Clemson and East Mississippi Community College, is apparently willing to go to Haiti and back to prove to Hugh Freeze that he should be Ole Miss' next quarterback. Freeze said Tuesday that he suggested to the troubled quarterback that he join him on a spring-break trip to Haiti -- where they will reportedly help provide villagers gain access to fresh water -- and Kelly agreed. He'll still have to beatDeVante Kincade andRyan Buchanan for the job, but the trip will provide Kelly with an opportunity to get to know his new coach better. Making Freeze more comfortable with him as a person is a smart move for Kelly, who left Clemson under unpleasant terms and who was arrested after a bar fight in his hometown, Buffalo, New York, shortly after signing with the Rebels last year.
Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

College football players across the country enter spring practice with the mentality that they have something to prove. But there are some cases in which that mindset makes more sense than others.

Here are 10 situations in the SEC in which players need to send a message, loudly and clearly:

Quarterback Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Kelly is a classic “something to prove” prospect this spring. Talent is not the question with Kelly, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College in January. The problem is volatility. Kelly left Clemson last year under horrible terms, and then was arrested in December in Buffalo, New York, and faced multiple charges including assault and resisting arrest. Ole Miss has a vacancy at quarterback after Bo Wallace’s departure, and Kelly will compete for the job with DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. Kelly passed for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. Now we’ll see whether he can keep his act together after Rebels coach Hugh Freeze gave him second and third chances.

Running back Keith Marshall, Georgia: Marshall was the more highly regarded prospect when he and Todd Gurley signed with the Bulldogs in 2012, and they formed a dangerous duo that fall. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman but has barely played since suffering a knee injury five games into the 2013 season. Gurley’s gone to the NFL, but Georgia has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at the top of the running back depth chart now. Where does Marshall fit in? He’s been out of the picture for so long, it’s tough to say at this point.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonJake Coker has the opportunity now to regain the starting job at Alabama.
Quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama: Most thought Coker would take over as Alabama’s starting quarterback last year when he transferred from Florida State. Instead, it was Blake Sims who grabbed the job and never gave it up. Sims is gone now, though, clearing the way for Coker to claim the position in 2015. Can he get the job done?

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Aggies fans expected superstardom when Kevin Sumlin’s staff signed Seals-Jones in 2013, but he missed almost all of his freshman season with a knee injury. Seals-Jones played in all 13 games last season, finishing with 465 yards and four touchdowns on 49 receptions. Those are fine numbers but nothing close to what A&M fans envisioned when he signed two years ago. He has plenty of time to develop into a star, however. Maybe he’ll take a step toward that level of production this year.

Gerald Dixon and South Carolina’s entire defensive line: No sense singling out Dixon here. South Carolina’s defensive front was horrible in 2014. The line’s ineffective play was the key reason why the Gamecocks tumbled from a spot as one of the SEC’s best defenses to one of the worst. Dixon and his fellow starters are on notice as the Gamecocks open spring practice. If they don’t play better, South Carolina’s coaches will have to give somebody else a chance. Last season wasn’t nearly good enough.

WR Nate Brown, Missouri: Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from last year, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, all of whom were seniors. The Tigers will turn to a new collection of wideouts this year, led by Brown. The sophomore made just five catches for 45 yards a season ago, but his size/speed combination makes him the safest bet to make an impact this fall.

LSU’s quarterbacks: Last season was a mess at the quarterback position for LSU. Somebody -- either junior Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris -- needs to take this job and run with it. Jennings completed just 48.9 percent of his passes while starting 12 of 13 games, but Harris’ lone start at Auburn was a complete dud. He’s a talented player, but Harris has to prove to Les Miles and his staff that he won’t make catastrophic errors if they put him on the field. He hasn’t convinced them yet.

Running back Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Kamara was one of the nation’s most highly recruited running backs when he signed with Alabama in 2013, but he disappeared on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart and was twice suspended during his year in Tuscaloosa. Kamara transferred to Hutchinson Community College last season and rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. Now he has a second chance to prove that he’s an SEC-caliber back, forming what could be a dangerous one-two punch with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee. If Kamara can keep his head on straight, he has an excellent opportunity to make an impact with the Volunteers.

Quarterback Maty Mauk, Missouri: Mauk wasn’t the quarterback in 2014 that many expected after an impressive freshman season. He was inconsistent and prone to poor decision making at times. He passed for 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which is not horrible, and helped the Tigers claim their second straight SEC East title. But Mizzou desperately needs its quarterback to improve upon his 53.4 completion percentage and become a more consistent performer as a junior.

Texas A&M’s defense: Texas A&M hopes John Chavis is the key piece that was missing over the past two years, when the Aggies featured one of the SEC’s worst defenses. The former LSU and Tennessee defensive coordinator has gotten results wherever he’s been, but Chavis has his work cut out at A&M. The Aggies were 102nd nationally (450.8 ypg) in total defense and tied for 75th in scoring defense (28.1 ppg). Considering how effectively the Aggies typically score, trotting out a defense that is simply better than awful might help them become more competitive in the tough SEC West.

SEC morning links

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
9:00
AM ET
So the Head Ball Coach is on Twitter now. Should we expect piping hot takes or the candor that we've become accustomed to from Steve Spurrier press conferences? Probably not. "It's going to be more for promotional type stuff, maybe telling one of our players 'way to go' or something like that," Spurrier told Chris Low. "I'm not big putting all my business on the street." Those who know Spurrier for his candor are understandably excited about the development. He seemed surprised, "I didn't know anybody would pay attention."

The Big Ten sparked talk about freshman ineligibility recently for football and men's basketball players but on Monday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive released a statement saying that seems to make it clear that the SEC doesn't have interest in such a plan. It has been an interesting discussion but considering how many athletes do arrive ready to contribute athletically -- and are able to perform well academically as well -- suggests that it could be tough to make happen, especially if one of the Power 5 conference commissioners is against the idea.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

video

Paul Finebaum and Brent Zwerneman look at Texas A&M's schedule and 2015 football season.
Schedule: The Aggies begin spring practice at 5:30 p.m. ET today, the first of four practices this week. Friday will be their annual "Friday Night Lights" practice, which is a popular draw for recruits and the Aggies will wrap up spring practice on April 11. For the second consecutive year, the Aggies will not have a spring football game because of ongoing construction at Kyle Field. The Aggies will also not practice between March 15-22, which is Texas A&M's spring break week.

What's new: Three new coaches debut on the Texas A&M staff this year: John Chavis, Dave Christensen and Aaron Moorehead. The headliner is defensive coordinator Chavis, formerly of LSU, who replaces Mark Snyder (who is now at Michigan State). Chavis is tasked with making vast improvements on the SEC's worst defense two years running. Chavis will also coach the linebackers and Mark Hagen, the Aggies' linebackers coach the last two years, moves closer to the line of scrimmage to coach defensive tackles. Terry Price, the defensive line coach since Kevin Sumlin's arrival, will now focus on defensive ends as a result. On offense there are two new faces: Christensen is the new offensive line coach and running game coordinator, replacing B.J. Anderson. Christensen was most recently at Utah, spent time with Gary Pinkel at Mizzou and was once Wyoming's head coach. Moorehead, the former Indianapolis Colts receiver and most recently, Virginia Tech's receivers coach, is Texas A&M's new receivers coach. He replaces David Beaty (now Kansas' head coach).

[+] EnlargeJohn Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJohn Chavis' arrival from Baton Rouge has the Aggies expecting big things from their defense.
New faces: The Aggies have seven early enrollees who will hit the field this spring. Safety Justin Evans, linebacker Claude George and receiver Damion Ratley are the three junior college midyear signees and the four early enrollee true freshmen are tight end Jordan Davis, receiver Christian Kirk, linebacker Richard Moore and offensive lineman Keaton Sutherland. Look for Evans and George to compete early on since both of their respective positions need depth; Kirk is one of the gems of the 2015 recruiting class and could find his way into the lineup if he has a good spring, summer and fall.

Question marks: Will the Aggies be deeper and/or better at linebacker? That's what they're hoping with Chavis' arrival, but they need the bodies. Getting A.J. Hilliard back healthy will be key to that mission. (He missed almost all of last season with a foot injury) plus the midyear additions of George and Moore will help depth. Who will man the left tackle position? It's open for competition after the graduation of Cedric Ogbuehi. The early name to keep an eye on there would be Avery Gennesy, a junior college transfer who redshirted last year. What changes will we see in the offensive line, both systematically and in style of play? Christensen is sure to put his stamp on this group; how remains to be seen. With Hagen joining Price coaching the defensive line, what effect will that have on that position group? Is Kyle Allen ready to take the next step at quarterback? The Aggies also need to find new starters at safety and cornerback after losing a starter each at those positions via graduation.

Key battle: Left tackle will be the spot to watch this spring. Will it be Gennesy, who is talented but has yet to play a down of Division I football? He was a talented junior college prospect at East Mississippi Community College and redshirted last year, along with Jermaine Eluemunor, to allow an extra year to play rather than wasting a year as a backup getting spot duty. Will Germain Ifedi, the current right tackle, get a chance to compete at left tackle? Who else is a potential option here? That remains to be seen.

Breaking out: If the workload he received in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl is any indication, keep an eye on Tra Carson. The senior running back seems to be the most well-rounded of the Aggies' backfield bunch and if there is an added emphasis on the running game, Carson stands to benefit. He is built to be an every-down back (6-foot, 235 pounds). Speedy Noil showed flashes of his limitless ability last year and should have an even bigger role in the Texas A&M offense this season, plus he is the primary option in the return game. Watch out for the New Orleans product.

Don't forget about: Myles Garrett. A breakout freshman season saw Garrett record 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He should be poised for a strong sophomore season. Speaking of breakout freshmen, Armani Watts should be poised for a good season coming off a true freshman campaign where he led the team with three interceptions. The playmaker looks like a star in the Aggies' secondary. The ultimate "don't forget about" is cornerback De'Vante Harris, who is entering his fourth year as a starter. He has had his ups and downs but his game progressed since his 2012 arrival and he will have to be consistently good if the Aggies are to be a quality secondary in 2015.

All eyes on: Chavis and Sumlin. The head coach pulled off what might have been the coup of the offseason in stealing one of college football's best defensive coordinators from an SEC West rival. Defense has been this team's weakness, so everyone wants to see what kind of effect "The Chief" can have. Sumlin is entering his fourth year on campus and expectations are going to be high, so there will be plenty of eyes on him as well.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ESPN Junior 300 Updated For 2016 Class
National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down movers in, newcomers to and the top 10 of the updated ESPN Junior 300.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video