Friday, April 19, 2013
Five things to watch in spring games
By Edward Aschoff
We are in the final weekend of spring games in the SEC. On Saturday, it all comes to an end so eat it up SEC fans.
Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri and Tennessee will all close out the spring this weekend.
Here's a look at five things to watch this weekend from the final seven spring games:
Justin Worley is one of many quarterbacks fighting for a starting job this spring.
1. Quarterback battles continue: Four of the seven teams playing spring games this weekend have some quarterback controversy to deal with. Brandon Allen appears to have the lead over the more athletic Brandon Mitchell at Arkansas, but seeing both on the field Saturday should be fun. Auburn is wondering if Kiehl Frazier can finally push himself to the top of the depth chart, but he's having to face Jonathan Wallace, who ended last season as the Tigers' starter. Both are more comfortable in Gus Malzahn's spread offense. Tennessee will throw Justin Worley out against Nathan Peterman this weekend. Worley actually has college experience, but this has been a tight race so far this spring. Then, there's Missouri. James Franklin entered spring as the seasoned starter, but redshirt freshman Maty Mauk has impressed the coaches. Franklin's confidence has increased and he isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain anymore, but he's now having to fight off the very talented Mauk, who knows the offense as well as anyone. Gary Pinkel has been mum on who is ahead in this race, so expect this to carry over into fall.
2. Receiving help: Mississippi State said goodbye to all of its starting wide receivers before spring arrived. The good news is that the Bulldogs return a veteran quarterback in Tyler Russell, but he has to make sure his less-experienced receivers grow up in a hurry. Saturday, we'll see what sort of progress this group has made during the first 14 practices of the spring. One guy to keep an eye is rising sophomore Joe Morrow. He has the skill to be a big playmaker, but he's still trying to figure things out and needs to have a big day. Juniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis had good springs, especially Johnson, who should end up being the go-to target. Watching this group should be interesting Saturday.
3. Henry's health: Losing Henry Josey last year was a big blow to Missouri's offense. When he was healthy in 2011 he was arguably the Big 12's best running back. But a devastating knee injury cut that season short and left him watching for all of 2012. But his knee is healthy and he's been running with pain or a brace all spring. He's loved taking contact so far, but this will be a chance for him to showcase his improvements to the Mizzou faithful. Keep an eye on the confidence he uses with his runs. After talking to him earlier this week, he sounds like a man on a mission. If he gets back to his old ways this fall, he could be a big-time player in this league.
4. Coming along up front: Alabama might once again be favored to win the national championship this year, but there's still work to be done on an offensive line that lost three starters -- three All-Americans and two projected first round draft picks. While Nick Saban has said that he's happy with the way the line is taking shape, it's going to look a lot different Saturday. Ryan Kelly (center) and Cyrus Kouandjio (left tackle) pretty much had their spots entering the spring, but Alabama's 14 practices produced some excitement at the other positions. It looks like rising junior Austin Shepard has the edge at right tackle, but he's getting pushed by junior college transfer Leon Brown. Anthony Steen is a proven vet, but he's being pushed by fellow senior Kellen Williams.
5. Toomer's last rolling: Following Auburn's spring game, fans will join to roll the live oaks at Toomer's Corner with celebratory toilet paper for one last time. The removal of the historic trees will take place on April 23, so Saturday will serve as a nice farewell for the oaks. Alabama fan Harvey Updyke was sentenced to six months in jail and five years on supervised probation after pleading guilty in the poisoning of the trees following Auburn's 2010 national championship victory over Oregon. The good news is that Auburn's board of trustees approved plans to redevelop the site.