NCF Nation: spring-game-coverage-041511

Exiting the spring: Georgia

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 1 p.m. ET on

Questions answered: Aaron Murray’s soccer-related ankle injury didn’t get to him this spring. He was sharp and pain free. No worries there. Also, good news came out of the receiving corps where Tavarres King made strides to become the go-to-guy for Murray. He’s replacing A.J. Green at the flanker and held his own during spring practices. Jarvis Jones also eased minds about Justin Houston’s old position at the hybrid outside linebacker/defense end spot. He’s showed that he might have a little bit more athleticism and speed for the position.

Questions unanswered: The running game still remains a mystery. Senior Caleb King stepped up, but didn’t really separate himself from the pack. Washaun Ealey, who returned from a suspension this spring, suffered a hamstring injury late and hasn’t returned to full speed. Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome made plays, but like the other two, they aren’t consistently standing out. The offensive line still appears to be a bit of a trouble spot since losing Trinton Sturdivant at left tackle. Converted guard Cordy Glenn is expected to take over at left tackle, while Justin Anderson could play right tackle. Sophomores Kenarious Gates and Chris Burnette are working with the first team at the guard positions. Inconsistency plagued the safety positions last season for the Bulldogs and injuries there this spring didn’t do much to clear that up.

Spring stars: Defensive end Derrick Lott received a lot of praise from players and coaches this spring. He will be relied upon to be a major contributor for this defense. While the wide receiver position is still a bit of an unknown, Marlon Brown has performed well this spring. He’s underachieved since arriving on campus, but drew high praise for his work this spring. Outside linebacker Cornelius Washington also made some strides this spring, especially with his ability to make big hits on defense. Freshman quarterback Christian LeMay won’t usurp Murray, but he’s impressed his coaches so far.

Of note: Christian Robinson is making the move over to mike linebacker. Safeties Bacarri Rambo (MCL sprain), Jakar Hamilton (concussion) and Marc Deas (hamstring) are all out. … Linebackers Dexter Morant (shoulder) and T.J. Stripling (knee) will be held out of spring practice. … Sanders Commings moved from cornerback to safety. … Safety Alec Ogletree moved to outside linebacker. Cornerback Brandon Boykin, linebacker Christian Robinson, wide receiver Israel Troupe and tight end Aron White could be out for Saturday’s game with injuries.

Exiting the spring: Alabama

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 3 p.m. ET on ESPNU and

Questions answered: Julio Jones might not be out there anymore, but Alabama will still have a solid group of receivers this fall. Returning starters Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have bee flying around this spring. Neither has the skill Jones had, but both will be formidable matchups for defenders this fall. Alabama should also be fine at running back without former Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Trent Richardson returns and he’s healthy, while newcomer Dee Hart has added a lot of speed to the position. Richardson not only has tremendous talent, but he has increased his leadership skills. This offense will be leaning on him quite a bit this season.

Questions unanswered: Greg McElroy is gone, but his replacement hasn’t been named. There are two guys -- A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims -- still battling for the spot and it looks like a starter won’t be named until the fall. McCarron entered as the favorite, but Sims has made a major push this spring. Players have been pretty tight-lipped about the quarterback position, making Saturday’s spring game that much more interesting. Alabama’s secondary was an issue for the Tide in 2010 and this spring most of the unit was on the mend. Barron, Jarrick Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick and Nick Perry all dealt with injuries this spring. True evaluation of this unit won’t come until summer and fall workouts.

Spring stars: Hart was supposed to be getting ready for prom around this time, but instead he’ll be getting reps in Alabama’s spring game Saturday. Hart has played well in scrimmages and with his shiftiness and speed, he’ll add another element to Alabama’s bruising running game. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower seems to have his legs back this spring. After suffering a major knee injury in 2009 that even slowed him last year, Hightower has been solid in spring practices and is back to 100 percent. Linebacker C.J. Mosley made a ton of plays in scrimmages this spring. Receiver DeAndrew White was a bright spot on offense as well.

Of note: Defensive tackle Kerry Murphy, receiver Kendall Kelly and defensive back Wesley Neighbors missed spring practice with injuries. … Senior safety Mark Barron was limited as he recovered from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. … Linebacker Alex Watkins underwent knee surgery that kept him out of the latter part of spring practices, but should ready for preseason camp in August. Former linebacker Ed Stinson is now at defensive end. ... Former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, the son of Cris Carter, is finishing up at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and plans to enroll at Alabama in June and will be eligible next season.

Exiting the spring: Auburn

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 3 p.m. ET on

Questions answered: Auburn finally said so long to kicker Wes Byrum after last season. This spring, Cody Parkey did his part to somewhat ease that loss. He’s been very solid on field goals and nailed kicks of 49 and 60 yards in a scrimmage. While quarterback Cam Newton was a major factor in the Tigers’ running game in 2010, Auburn will again be well equipped in that department. Michael Dyer was tremendous as a freshman last year and doesn’t appear to be headed for a sophomore slump after a productive spring. His running buddy Onterio McCalebb is as fast as ever and will be the Tigers home run threat out of the backfield. The Tigers didn’t exactly replace receiver Darvin Adams, but junior Emory Blake, who had a team-high eight touchdown catches in 2010, looks to be the go-to-receiver.

Questions unanswered: Filling Newton’s quarterback shoes wasn’t going to happen overnight and it wasn’t going to happen after 15 spring practices. Clint Moseley and Barrett Trotter split reps with the first team, but both had a tough spring. Strides were made, but neither really separated himself. Things should get even more interesting for this duo when freshman Kiehl Frazier gets on campus this summer. Auburn also had the task of trying to replace potential top-10 pick, defensive tackle Nick Fairly. It would be hard for anyone to make a push like Fairly did, but sophomores Ken Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker have the responsibility of just that. As a whole, the Tigers will be young on defense, with only three returning starters.

Spring stars: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Travon Reed, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, has been a guy the coaches have tried to get the ball to a bunch. He’ll line up in the slot, as a wildcat quarterback and could help in the return game. He’s a dynamic athlete and has bounced back this spring. Junior receiver Quindarius Carr had a solid spring. He didn’t put up great numbers in 2010, but has really come along this spring, drawing high praise from his coaches. Defensive end Corey Lemonier has really made strides this spring as well.

Of note: Senior Neiko Thorpe moved from cornerback to safety. … There was a lot of shuffling going around on the offensive line this spring. Senior A.J. Greene is the guy at left tackle, but redshirt freshman Chad Slade, junior Donnie Riggins and senior Bobby Ingalls all spent time there as well. Senior Brandon Mosley is at right tackle. … Redshirt freshman linebacker Jawara White returned to practice this spring after suffering a severe spinal cord injury last year. … Linebacker Jessel Curry and safety Ryan Smith are dealing with personal issues and missed the latter part of spring practices. … Ladarious Phillips worked at H-back. … Offensive tackle Shon Coleman, who signed as part of the 2010 class, didn’t go through practice, but is on the roster after battling leukemia last year.

Exiting the spring: Arkansas

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN and

Questions answered: Even before spring practice began, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino felt like this would be his best defense since arriving in Fayetteville in 2008. And while the true test will come next fall, neither Petrino nor defensive coordinator Willy Robinson saw anything this spring that would make them think otherwise. The Hogs have depth and size up front. They’ve greatly improved their speed and have more experience than they've ever had across the board on defense. This is also a team with strong leadership. Senior defensive end Jake Bequette, senior safety/linebacker Jerico Nelson, senior safety Tramain Thomas and senior receiver Jarius Wright were already key guys who’d taken on leadership roles, but others such as junior running back Knile Davis stepped up and answered that call this spring.

Questions unanswered: The Hogs will be breaking in a pair of new offensive tackles in the fall. True freshman Brey Cook is one of those, and while he’s light years ahead of where most guys who just turned 18 would be, there’s still the unknown of going to battle in this league with a first-year player at tackle. Petrino is also looking for junior quarterback Tyler Wilson to give everybody in the huddle “more of a calming effect” with his consistency. Wilson had a solid spring, although he’s still trying to shake loose from sophomore Brandon Mitchell and nail down the starting job. On defense, Robinson said the Hogs came up short at cornerback in the depth department and will need some young guys to come in and help next season.

Spring stars: Coaches and players alike were raving about the athleticism of 325-pound junior college newcomer Robert Thomas, who showed off what he could do at defensive tackle with projected starters Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones sitting out the spring while recovering from injuries. The Hogs are already deep and talented at receiver, but might have found another playmaker in sophomore Julian Horton. And speaking of talented receivers, senior Joe Adams just gets a little more dynamic every time he steps onto the field. He caught 12 passes in last Saturday’s scrimmage, including touchdown passes of 59 and 35 yards.

Of note: Senior Bret Harris has been one of the surprises of the spring. He’s worked the last two weeks as the Hogs’ starting weak side linebacker, although junior Terrell Williams is also pushing for that spot. … Petrino said the job John L. Smith has done with with Arkansas’ special teams has been “awesome," in particular the way Smith has handled the Hogs’ place kicker (Zach Hocker) and punter (Dylan Breeding). … True freshman receiver Quinta Funderburk returned to the team this week after missing six practices for undisclosed reasons. Funderburk’s high school coach had told a newspaper that Funderburk was quitting football. … Strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp said this is the most team speed the Hogs have had under Petrino “by far.” ... Arkansas returns players that scored 48 of the team's 58 offensive touchdowns last season.
Spring game: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday,

Questions answered: After losing two starting linebackers, the position was a concern, but the young players had good springs. Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Nigel Terrell each seemed more comfortable with the position, and the entire defense has grown entering the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireFlorida State is expecting big things from quarterback EJ Manuel this fall.
Questions unanswered: The backup quarterback job is still a race between Clint Trickett and Will Secord. Offensive line issues still linger, particularly at center, where injuries have delayed progress. Three different players have rotated at the position this spring.

Spring stars: Lamarcus Joyner has shown he can play safety at 5-foot-8, 192 pounds. It’s more his natural position after playing cornerback. First-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel, who was healthy for spring practices for the first time, showed that he can run the offense, provide leadership, and the in-game experience has transferred over to his new role.

Of note: Safety Avis Commack returned after missing last season with a broken leg he suffered while running hurdles with Seminoles' track team in February, 2010. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior cornerback displayed good cover skills, has a big body, and adds some depth to the secondary as a backup. Offensively, Jared Haggins stepped in for Taiwan Easterling, who has been playing baseball. The converted high school quarterback made a seamless transition to the slot, was capable of playing the position, and earned the praise of coach Jimbo Fisher.