SEC internal affairs: Keep an eye on Hardy
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
With five of the 12 teams in the SEC off this week, we take our Internal Affairs look at the conference:
A Hardy sighting: Ole Miss junior defensive end Greg Hardy is feeling healthier and also has fresh legs, which could be bad news for LSU. Hardy led the SEC with 10 sacks last season, but has been plagued by a stress fracture in his right foot. He missed the first three games of the season, but returned in time to play a key role in the Rebels' 31-30 upset of Florida. He re-injured his foot against Alabama and spent most of the next two games on the sideline. But last week, he returned against Louisiana-Monroe and showed glimpses of his old self with a sack and 22-yard interception return. The open date before the Louisiana-Monroe game gave Hardy some extra time to rest his foot, and he should be closer to 100 percent this Saturday. When he's on, he's still one of the SEC's best pass-rushers.
Where's the Wild Berry? One of the reasons Tennessee safety Eric Berry has not played on offense this season, according to coach Phillip Fulmer, is that he's had a shoulder injury and the coaches didn't want to take a chance on getting him tackled. Fulmer and Berry had both talked in the preseason about getting Berry involved on offense, and Berry did play one snap of offense against Alabama when he caught a screen pass. Berry, one of the top safeties in the country, has still been working some on offense in practice in recent weeks and could get a few snaps this Saturday against Vanderbilt, Fulmer said.
Battle of the brothers: It's a given that one of the Dick brothers will start at quarterback this Saturday for Arkansas. Whether it's Casey Dick or Nathan Dick, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino would like to keep Mississippi State guessing. Casey has started every game this season, but was knocked out of the South Carolina game two weeks ago with a concussion. He also threw three interceptions in that game, which didn't sit well with Petrino. Having the open date last week to get a longer look at Nathan (and with Casey sitting out because of the concussion), Petrino decided to open up the competition. Casey is second in the SEC with 2,389 passing yards, but has also thrown 14 interceptions.
Nickson to start: Senior quarterback Chris Nickson will make his second straight start after leading Vanderbilt to a 31-24 victory over Kentucky last week, earning the Commodores their sixth victory and making them bowl eligible. Nickson has played through the pain of a shoulder separation (his right throwing shoulder, no less) for much of the last two seasons. The injury rendered him ineffective earlier this season, and Mackenzi Adams took over. Both quarterbacks may end up playing in the game, but Nickson looked much healthier in the win over Kentucky with 118 yards rushing and three passing touchdowns. His ability to both run and pass makes the Commodores a much more difficult team to defend. Nickson is just 78 yards shy of the all-time rushing record for a Vanderbilt quarterback. He has 1,390 career rushing yards.
Auburn pushing back the spring: It may not be game strategy, but Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is already looking at some different strategy for the offseason. The Tigers are typically one of the earliest teams out of the gate for spring practice, starting in February. But with the injuries and surgeries piling up, Tuberville is now thinking about pushing back the start of spring practice. His thinking is that the extra time will give more players a chance to recover physically and be healthy enough to go through most of the spring if the Tigers hold off until March. The latest Auburn player to go down was tight end Tommy Trott, who will have knee surgery this week. He's the ninth Auburn player to undergo surgery since the preseason.