Proving ground: Eastern Divison

May, 25, 2012
5/25/12
9:00
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What players have the most to prove in the SEC this coming season?

As the season creeps closer and closer, we're going to take a look at some and we're breaking it up by divisions.

I’ll take the East, and Chris will take the West later today.

Here’s my top five in the East:

1. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia: Last season, Crowell was thrown right into the fire when he was named the starter coming out of fall camp. The true freshman had some early success, but steadily saw his popularity dip after nagging injuries continued to keep him hanging near the training table during games. Even though he was named the SEC's freshman of the year, his first season in Athens was headlined by off-field and injury issues. However, it sounds as though things are starting to turn around for Crowell, who had a much more focused and productive spring. Players said Crowell has become a more mature player, and had no problem dealing with injuries this time. He'll have to carry that over to the fall, because Georgia's offense is relying on him, and there are other backs ready to take his spot.

2. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: No one has questioned Bray's arm strength or throwing ability, but his leadership and focus have been questioned. He also hasn't gone through an entire season yet, as a thumb injury cut short his 2011 season. Bray said this spring that he knew his leadership skills were lacking, and that he coasted at times, so he started stepping up and speaking out immediately after the Vols' season-ending loss to Kentucky last fall. It carried over to the spring, but we still want to see that leader emerge this fall. Tennessee has a talented group of receivers, but if Bray can't really lead them, the Vols won't be able to use them to their best abilities.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: When healthy, Lattimore is one of the best running backs in the entire country. He's big, powerful and has deceptive speed. However, he's coming off of an ACL injury that cut short his 2011 season. Lattimore was held out of spring practice, but the coaches have insisted that he's ahead of schedule in his rehab and even started running sprints this spring. But he hasn't had any contact since his injury, and we won't know how affective he'll be for his team until we see him in a real game this fall. Regardless, Lattimore should get some early Heisman love this season.If he's truly healthy he makes South Carolina a real contender for an SEC title.

4. Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida: As a high school senior, Nixon was one of the most sought-after linemen around. He enjoyed a solid freshman year at Florida, but has since dealt with inconsistency. Weight fluctuation hasn't helped. Last year, Nixon was picked on by pass-rushers and developed a tendency to lose focus and discipline on the field. He was called for a handful of penalties (including several false-start calls), that stalled many drives. This spring, Nixon added some much-needed weight and appeared to actually keep it on this time. He will be looking over his shoulder at a few players this fall, so his spot isn't guaranteed.

5. James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin enjoyed a breakout sophomore year that saw him pass for more than 2,800 yards and rush for nearly 1,000. Now, he'll try to do that against SEC defenses. Franklin said during the spring that his main objective going forward is to be a pass-first quarterback, but his progress was stalled by a shoulder injury. While the coaches expect him back for the season opener, another shot to it could sideline him for even longer, meaning the Tigers will have to turn to an unproven backup. Missouri's offensive success is riding on Franklin's health, and this team's success is riding on Franklin's play in a conference known for its defensive talent and speed. As Franklin goes, so will Mizzou.

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