Thursday, January 19, 2012
Offseason to-do list: Western Division
By ESPN.com staff
Hard as it is to believe, the start of spring practice for some teams isn’t too far away.
In other words, the offseason is upon us, and we all know how important these next five or six months are to the development of any team.
Today, we’ll unveil our offseason to-do lists for all 12 SEC teams. I’ll start with the Western Division teams, and Edward will come back later Thursday with the Eastern Division teams:
- With Doug Nussmeier coming over from Washington to take over the offense, a priority this offseason will be the players getting up to speed with the new terminology and Nussmeier’s system. The same goes for Nussmeier gaining a feel for his personnel.
- The Crimson Tide took a major hit in the secondary with three of the four starters departing. Finding some new leaders back there, not to mention some consistent playmakers, will be vital. The good news is there’s no shortage of talent waiting in the wings.
- Identifying the leaders on defense will be at the top of the Hogs’ list, especially with the likes of Jake Bequette, Tramain Thomas, Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson all gone.
- Speaking of defense, Paul Haynes is now in charge, and his mission is clear: Help get the Hogs to a championship level on that side of the ball. This will be a critical spring in terms of putting in his defense and establishing the kind of identity he wants on defense.
- Rising senior Cobi Hamilton has certainly proven himself, but he’s going to need help from some of the younger guys at receiver with Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs all departing.
- The first order of business is hiring an offensive coordinator. Gene Chizik’s search to replace Gus Malzahn has not only been quiet, but it’s been lengthy.
- In keeping with the offensive theme, the Tigers also have to settle on their quarterback. It would seem that it’s Kiehl Frazier’s job to lose, but Clint Moseley will have something to say about that. Of course, who Chizik hires as coordinator and what kind of offense the Tigers are going to run will play a big role in who’s the starter next fall. Either way, the Tigers will be opening the 2012 season with a different starting quarterback for the sixth consecutive year.
- Defense was a dirty word in Auburn’s camp in 2011. That’s because the Tigers didn’t play a whole lot of defense this past season, at least quality defense. New coordinator Brian VanGorder gets his shot at turning things around, and you can bet he won’t waste any time in setting the right tone.
- It’s Zach Mettenberger’s show now at quarterback for the Tigers, and he needs to work on making it his team over these next five or six months in the way he goes about his business both on and off the field.
- With Mettenberger taking over at quarterback, the Tigers will have a new identity on offense. Les Miles has already said they will throw the ball more next season. The work starts now if they’re going to become a better throwing team, and it’s not confined to just the quarterbacks and receivers.
- Being a more consistent offense will be something Mississippi State places a premium on next season, and that starts this offseason. Senior quarterback Chris Relf is gone, and so is senior running back Vick Ballard. Obviously, there are some new pieces to put into place.
- Rising junior quarterback Tyler Russell isn’t new to the team, but he does need to take on a new role, and that’s being a leader.
- Developing some of the younger defensive linemen and younger linebackers will be critical, especially with All-SEC tackle Fletcher Cox leaving early for the NFL draft and linebacker Brandon Wilson exhausting his eligibility.
- First-year coach Hugh Freeze needs to get to learn his players, and they need to get to learn Freeze and the new staff. The only holdover from the previous staff is Derrick Nix. So there’s a lot to learn by just about everybody.
- Quarterback was a big issue last season for the Rebels, and they need to start sorting through who’s going to be their quarterback in 2012 over these next few months.
- Restoring some confidence on defense will be equally important. Getting a healthy D.T. Shackelford back will help, but the Rebels need to put last season behind them once and for all.
- First-year head coach Kevin Sumlin will obviously want to put his stamp on the program, and just as pressing will be implementing his offense and making sure everybody understands it and is on the same page.
- The Aggies need to find a replacement at quarterback for Ryan Tannehill, which likely means getting Jameill Showers ready. If it’s not Showers, then maybe Johnny Manziel makes his move.
- Something says Sumlin and the new staff will see to it that the Aggies’ second-half issues from last season are also addressed.