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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We're counting down the 30 best players in the SEC. We've taken a look at 10 players who may well emerge as stars in this league. Now, let's examine five players who came out of nowhere this spring to become major factors heading into the fall.
1. Ron Brooks, S, LSU -- A quarterback and receiver in high school, Brooks made his name as a special teams player last season as a redshirt freshman. He made another move this spring, from cornerback to safety, and was an instant hit. Every time you turned around, he was intercepting a pass or making a big play. With Harry Coleman sliding over some to outside linebacker, look for Brooks to play a major role in what should be a deep, talented LSU secondary in 2009.
2. Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee -- A little-known recruit coming out of high school, the 6-4, 312-pound Hughes exploded this spring on the practice field after spending last year at prep school. He was dominant enough that Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin evoked an Albert Haynesworth comparison after one scrimmage. Hughes is incredibly quick for a guy his size and gives the Vols that big, physical presence inside on the defensive line. He should be a nice complement to Dan Williams and Wes Brown this fall.
3. Carlton Thomas, RB, Georgia -- All eyes were on Caleb King coming into the spring, especially with Richard Samuel recovering from wrist surgery. King was supposed to be the heir apparent to Knowshon Moreno and still may be. But the most impressive running back for the Bulldogs this spring was the 5-7, 178-pound Thomas. He has great moves, is tough as nails and is one of those guys who's impossible to get a good hit on in space. The Georgia coaches think he can be a Thomas Brown-type of player.
4. Robby Green, S, Alabama -- One of the most important jobs for Alabama this spring defensively was finding somebody to replace Rashad Johnson, who did so many things for the Crimson Tide defense a year ago. The guy who emerged was at one time thought to be too small to play cornerback in this league, let alone safety. Green, who was about 170 pounds when he arrived at Alabama, played almost exclusively on special teams last season. But his smarts, hustle and ability to hit a lot bigger than he weighs made him one of the surprises of the spring for the Crimson Tide.
5. Justin Albert, RB, Auburn -- He came to Auburn as a walk-on after blowing out his knee during his senior year of high school and spent last season on the scout team. Scholarship or no scholarship, Albert was one of those guys this spring that his teammates kept talking about in glowing terms. He's hungry, talented and willing to do whatever he can to contribute. He showed a knack for making the big plays in scrimmages and should fit in nicely to Gus Malzahn's new spread offense.