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Injured players on the mend in the SEC

3/22/2013

The spring is the first chance to get a glimpse of some players who missed all or part of last season with injuries.

In many cases, a lot of those guys are still limited and aren’t going through contact.

But here’s a look at 10 players to watch in the SEC next season who are recovering from season-ending injuries a year ago, and in a few cases, didn't play at all in 2012:

Michael Bennett, WR, Georgia: Bennett was off to a fast start last season with 24 catches, including four touchdowns, in his first five games. But he tore the ACL in his right knee in practice the week before the South Carolina game and was done for the year. The 6-3, 204-pound junior figures to be one of Aaron Murray’s top targets in 2013.

Chris Black, WR, Alabama: Black, not Amari Cooper, was the star of the spring last year after enrolling early as a true freshman. Black went on to have a great summer, according to coach Nick Saban, but injured his shoulder in preseason practice and missed the entire season. There was talk of bringing him back for the SEC championship game, but the Tide elected not to burn his redshirt. The Black-Cooper tandem ought to be something to see in 2013.

Alfred Blue, RB, LSU: Having rushed for 100 yards in each of his first two games last season, Blue tore his ACL in the third game against Idaho. The Tigers are deep in the offensive backfield, and Jeremy Hill blossomed last season as a freshman. But Blue has outstanding speed and also catches the ball well. He should complement Hill nicely and has extensive SEC experience.

Josh Clemons, RB, Kentucky: Clemons was leading the team in rushing as a true freshman in 2011 when he tore up his right knee and was lost for the season. The knee didn’t respond as well as hoped from surgery, and Clemons redshirted last season. The Wildcats are being careful with him this spring and hope his return in the fall can help put a charge into a running game that ranked 11th in the SEC last season.

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: After not playing at all last season, Josey is back on the practice field this spring. He was one of the most explosive running backs in the Big 12 before tearing the ACL, MCL and patellar tendon in his left knee late in the 2011 season against Texas. The injury required two surgeries, but he recently ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and is looking to regain the form that saw him rush for nearly 1,200 yards in 2011.

Ronald Powell, DE/OLB, Florida: Powell isn’t going through any contact this spring. He had a setback with his rehab from an ACL tear in his left knee during the season last year, ending any hope of playing in 2012. He suffered the injury during the spring game last year. The Gators are optimistic he’ll be fully healthy in the fall, and Powell gives them another marquee pass-rusher off the edge from his hybrid defensive end/linebacker “buck” position.

Brian Randolph, S, Tennessee: The Vols’ best defensive back before he went down with a torn ACL in the third game last season against Florida, Randolph will provide some-much needed stability in the Tennessee secondary. He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2011 and was second on the team with 55 total tackles. He’s also had experience playing the nickel position.

D.T. Shackelford, LB, Ole Miss: No player in the SEC has had tougher luck the past two seasons than Shackelford. He hasn’t played since 2010 after blowing out his knee in spring practice prior to the 2011 season. He had a second surgery last summer and wouldn’t have been anywhere close to 100 percent had he played in 2012. He now appears to be healthy and remains one of the Rebels’ strongest leaders. Shackelford led the team with five sacks in 2010.

Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky: Smith is practicing this spring and trying to win his job back after starting the first four games last season and completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and throwing for 975 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. His season was cut short by an ankle injury. Smith, now a junior, is vying this spring with Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow to be the Wildcats’ starter.

Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina: A severe ankle sprain plagued Wilds last season, and he took a redshirt season. But as a true freshman in 2011, he stepped in for the injured Marcus Lattimore and demonstrated that he was plenty capable of being the feature back. The 6-2, 218-pound Wilds is expected to share the carries in 2013 with sophomore Mike Davis, who also helped fill in last season when Lattimore went down.