SEC: 2012 SEC spring team wraps

Alabama spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
12:10
PM ET
2011 overall record: 12-1
2011 conference record: 7-1 (T-2nd)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB AJ McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, C Barrett Jones, T Cyrus Kouandjio, T D.J. Fluker, G Chance Warmack, G Anthony Steen, LB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, S Robert Lester, NG Jesse Williams

Key losses
RB Trent Richardson, WR Marquis Maze, HB Brad Smelley, C William Vlachos, DE/LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont'a Hightower, S Mark Barron, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, NG Josh Chapman

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Trent Richardson (1,679 yards)
Passing: AJ McCarron* (2,634 yards)
Receiving: Marquis Maze (627 yards)
Tackles: Dont'a Hightower (85)
Sacks: Courtney Upshaw (9.5)
Interceptions: Dee Milliner* (3)

Spring answers

1. McCarron taking ownership: The junior signal caller had a voice in the Alabama locker room in 2011, but this spring he seems to have dialed up the volume. Many of the leaders from last year’s team are gone and it’s up to McCarron to keep an offense that is as inexperienced as it is talented on track. Coach Nick Saban had praised his command under center during spring practice and all signs point to the tall righty taking the offense and making it his.

2. Linebackers coming together: Adrian Hubbard put on a show at A-Day in April, posting three sacks against the first-team offense. The 6-foot-6, 248-pound linebacker has big shoes to fill with Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw both off to the NFL. Given his solid spring, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart can check off one of those spots.

3. Stable of backs: Trent Richardson is gone, but that doesn't mean the running back corps can't improve in other ways, namely depth. While projected starter Eddie Lacy missed the spring recovering from offseason surgery, it gave other the chance to step up. Jalston Fowler is a bulldozer at tailback, Dee Hart a speedy slasher and freshman T.J. Yeldon a little bit of both. Yeldon had a coming out party at A-Day, rushing for 88 yards and catching five passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

Fall questions

1. Wide receiver options: The unit will be more explosive than in years past, but it will also be more inexperienced. How true freshmen Amari Cooper and Chris Black continue to develop will be key. Both had good springs and will help provide depth to sophomores Christion Jones and DeAndrew White, and juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell.

2. Secondary shaping up: Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have to replace three positions in the secondary and beginning this spring, the results have been good. Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton Dix are two talented underclassmen ready to play alongside Robert Lester at safety. Meanwhile Dee Milliner moves into a starting role and will likely line up alongside either junior college transfer Travell Dixon or Deion Belue.

3. Special teams: By fall, we likely mean the season opener. By all indications, kickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster had good springs, but neither were forced to do much at A-Day and we won't know their true improvement until the lights go up in Arlington, Texas. Shelley proved a lot in the BCS title game but there are still concerns whether the kicking game will be a handicap, as it was last year, or a boon to an offense with a fresh start. Keep an eye on incoming freshman Adam Griffith, who is expected to get a look at placekicker.

Arkansas spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
12:00
PM ET
2011 overall record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 6-2
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, RB Dennis Johnson, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, LB Tenarius Wright, LB Alonzo Highsmith, S Eric Bennett, P Dylan Breeding

Key losses
WR Jarius Wright, WR Joe Adams, OT Grant Freeman, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, LB/S Jerico Nelson, S Tramain Thomas

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Dennis Johnson* (670 yards)
Passing: Tyler Wilson* (3,638 yards)
Receiving: Jarius Wright (1,117 yards)
Tackles: Jerry Franklin (101)
Sacks: Jake Bequette (10)
Interceptions: Tramain Thomas (5)

Spring answers

1. Wilson’s Air Show: After throwing for more than 3,600 yards in his first season as a starter a year ago, Tyler Wilson is back for more and looked better than ever in the spring. He’s been through the league gauntlet once now and will have experience on his side. When he gets hot, there are few quarterbacks any better in the college game, and he should be even more consistent as a senior. Wilson can beat you from the pocket, but he’s also capable of moving around and making plays. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, either. In 438 passing attempts last season, he only threw six interceptions.

2. Seniors take charge: One of the most comforting things for everybody in Arkansas this spring following Bobby Petrino’s ouster was the way the leaders on the team rose to the occasion and took charge. Knile Davis, Tenarius Wright and Wilson made sure the focus remained on the field and reminded their teammates, quite pointedly, that none of their goals had changed. It’s that kind of senior leadership the Hogs are going to need in the fall when it starts for real in the SEC.

3. New playmakers: Jarius Wright and Joe Adams combined to score 20 touchdowns last season for the Hogs, so they will definitely be missed. But there wasn’t any shortage of newer faces making big plays this spring. Sophomore Marquel Wade looks like he’s ready to move into Adams’ role as a return specialist and a guy who makes plays after the catch in the passing game. Wade's status could be iffy, though. He was arrested this past weekend and charged with burglarizing dorm rooms along with two other players. Wade has been indefinitely suspended. Senior tight end Chris Gragg might not be new to the Arkansas fans, but he’s another player who’s poised for a big season. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

Fall questions

1. Petrino fallout: The players have said all of the right things, and the hiring of John L. Smith was exactly what the players and assistant coaches on this team wanted. They didn’t want to bring in an outsider after Petrino’s firing and have to start all over this summer. Even so, the Hogs still have a huge mountain to climb emotionally and mentally, especially when things get tough, as they seek to navigate their way through the 2012 season without the guy who got them to this point (Petrino) on the sideline.

2. Stopping the inside run: Arkansas finished ninth in the SEC in rushing defense last season, and stopping the power running teams right up the chute was a struggle the whole way. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes has installed his system, and the Hogs have also moved some people around, most notably Wright going from defensive end to inside linebacker. Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith missed this spring while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. The Hogs need him to be healthy in the fall, and they also need their interior guys up front to step it up against the run.

3. Breaking through: Nobody in the Ozarks needs to be reminded that the Hogs are just 1-5 against Alabama and LSU the past three seasons. They get both the Crimson Tide and Tigers in Fayetteville in 2012 and are going to need at least a split to have a chance to break through and get to the SEC championship game. Arkansas had Alabama on the ropes two years ago in Fayetteville, but couldn’t finish the job.

Auburn spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
11:30
AM ET
2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-4
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Clint Moseley, QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DE Corey Lemonier, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Daren Bates, CB Chris Davis, P Steven Clark

Key losses
QB Barrett Trotter, RB Michael Dyer, OT Brandon Mosley, LB Eltoro Freeman, S Neiko Thorpe

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Michael Dyer (1,242 yards)
Passing: Barrett Trotter (1,184 yards)
Receiving: Emory Blake* (613 yards)
Tackles: Daren Bates* (104)
Sacks: Corey Lemonier* (9.5)
Interceptions: Neiko Thorpe (3)

Spring answers

1. Fearsome foursome: The runaway winner as the most impressive unit this spring was Auburn’s defensive line, which is encouraging to everybody on the Plains given the way the Tigers struggled up front last season with injuries and a little bit of everything else. Junior defensive end Corey Lemonier is one of the best pass-rushers in the league. But by all accounts, it was another junior defensive end, Dee Ford, who wreaked the most havoc this spring. Ford missed most of last season with back problems. The Tigers are deep at both end and tackle, and if some of the injured players come back healthy (Gabe Wright, Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae), this is a defensive line that could be dominant.

2. Whitehead’s versatility: It didn’t take first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder long this spring to single out Jermaine Whitehead for his football smarts. The versatile sophomore was good enough that he may end up playing three different positions in the fall -- cornerback, safety and nickel back -- and VanGorder said that kind of versatility should open up all sorts of possibilities for the Tigers on defense.

3. New-look offense: The Tigers weren’t giving away a whole lot this spring as to what first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense is going to look like. It will certainly be different than what the Tigers did under Gus Malzahn, and the players all left spring practice saying it was a good fit. Tre Mason looks like he’s going to be a big-time player, and several receivers seemed to find a new lease on life in Loeffler’s system. A lot of it’s going to come down to how the Tigers play at quarterback, but there was a quiet confidence on the offensive side coming out of the spring.

Fall questions

1. Thin at linebacker: The only proven commodity is senior Daren Bates, who made a nice jump last season and became more consistent as a tackler. There’s potential in the form of some younger players, but just not a lot of experience or depth. Redshirt freshman Kris Frost is an impressive looking athlete who had his moments, but he’s still learning on the job. Junior Jake Holland may well be the key. He steps in at middle linebacker, and the Tigers need him to develop into a physical run-stuffing presence. Chances are that incoming true freshman Cassanova McKinzy will also have to play some this fall in the middle.

2. Quarterback quandary: The Tigers ended spring practice without naming a starting quarterback. Junior Clint Moseley, who took over the starting duties from Barrett Trotter late last season, was hampered by shoulder problems this spring and missed some practice time. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier picked up some valuable reps and made the most of them. He still needs to become more consistent as a passer, but his ability to extend the play gives him a leg up heading into the fall. The Tigers will need to identify a starter fairly early in preseason practice to start building some chemistry.

3. Regaining the edge on defense: It was a forgettable season on defense for the Tigers a year ago. They gave up yards by the chunk and gave up a ton of big plays. More than anything, they lost their confidence, which was obvious by the way it all fell apart for them during that brutal stretch in November. VanGorder’s greatest challenge was to get this defense playing with an edge again, be it making key stops, taking the ball away or finishing the game the right way.

Georgia spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
11:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 10-4
2011 conference record: 7-1 (T-1st)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:

QB Aaron Murray, OLB Jarvis Jones, S Bacarri Rambo, S Shawn Williams, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Tavarres King, N John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, DE Abry Jones

Key losses:

OT Cordy Glenn, C Ben Jones, CB Brandon Boykin, TE Orson Charles, K Blair Walsh, P Drew Butler, OT Justin Anderson, DE DeAngelo Tyson

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Isaiah Crowell* (850 yards)
Passing: Aaron Murray* (3,149 yards)
Receiving: Tavarres King* (705 yards)
Tackles: Shawn Williams* (72)
Sacks: Jarvis Jones* (13.5)
Interceptions: Bacarri Rambo* (8)

Spring answers

1. Mitchell joins defense: Georgia’s coaching staff planned to experiment with receiver Malcolm Mitchell as a two-way player even before several members of the Bulldogs’ secondary ran into disciplinary trouble. Now Mitchell’s services are a necessity on defense rather than a luxury. He will probably play defense almost exclusively in the first few games and convinced his coaches that he should fare well there after becoming one of the Bulldogs’ breakout offensive stars last year as a freshman.

2. Washington, Drew shift to end: Georgia’s depth was a bit thin at defensive end, but outside linebackers Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew cross-trained there during spring practice, which should also bolster the Bulldogs’ pass rush off the edge. Washington lamented that he was picking up the position slowly during the spring, but he had worked his way into a starting position and earned widespread praise for his work at end by the G-Day game.

3. Tight end turnover: With Orson Charles leaving Georgia after his junior year and Aron White and Bruce Figgins exhausting their eligibility, one of the Bulldogs’ least experienced positions is tight end. However, Arthur Lynch and redshirt freshman Jay Rome made it clear that the position is still in good hands. Rome, ESPN’s top-rated tight end in the 2011 signing class, caught a 66-yard touchdown in the final minute of the G-Day game.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: Coach Will Friend began determining a pecking order on his rebuilt line this spring, but the competition will likely carry over into the season. When the Bulldogs closed spring practice, Kenarious Gates and Kolton Houston manned the tackle spots with Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee at guard and David Andrews at center. That lineup is subject to change, particularly with stud offensive line signee John Theus set to join the competition when he arrives this summer. Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Austin Long are also worth watching.

2. Special teams: Not only was Georgia’s kick coverage incompetent last season -- the Bulldogs were 116th nationally in punt return yardage defense and 88th against kickoffs -- but the Bulldogs must replace longtime starting kicker and punter Blair Walsh and Drew Butler. The Bulldogs signed Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber to take over for the departed kickers and Coach Mark Richt promised that the Bulldogs will work more on live kicking situations in preseason camp than perhaps any previous time in his tenure.

3. Secondary: This appears to be a temporary problem, with starters Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo and Branden Smith facing possible disciplinary suspensions to open the season. Mitchell’s shift to cornerback will help Damian Swann and Devin Bowman hold down the position until Commings and Smith return. Depth will also be an early issue at safety without Rambo. Commings, who will sit out the first two games, has safety experience, but few other Bulldogs have played significant downs at the position besides Rambo and Shawn Williams. Corey Moore is a player to watch here.

LSU spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
10:19
AM ET
2011 overall record: 13-1
2011 SEC record: 8-0 (first, beat Georgia in SEC championship game)
Starters returning

Offense: 8; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

CB Tyrann Mathieu, S Eric Reid, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, DE Barkevious Mingo, RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, WR Odell Beckham, Jr., WR Russell Shepard, OT Alex Hurst, OT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, P Brad Wing, K Drew Alleman

Key losses

CB Morris Claiborne, S Brandon Taylor, LB Ryan Baker, DT Michael Brockers, OG Will Blackwell, QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, WR Rueben Randle, TE DeAngelo Peterson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Michael Ford* (756 yards)
Passing: Jarrett Lee (1,306 yards)
Receiving: Rueben Randle (917 yards)
Tackles: Eric Reid* (76), Tyrann Mathieu* (76)
Sacks: Sam Montgomery* (9)
Interceptions: Morris Claiborne (6)

Spring answers

1. More aggressive passing game: LSU looked to throw more, and with less-conservative passes, with new quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Head coach Les Miles commented all spring that the passing game would be more efficient with Mettenberger, a junior college transfer, than it was with Jefferson and Lee, the starters for the last four seasons.

2. A deep, experienced O-line: When offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in the spring after missing all of 2011 because of injury, an already experienced LSU offensive line got that much older and wiser. Dworaczyk, a two-year starter, gives LSU the potential of starting players with significant starting experience at all five offensive line positions ... that is, if they can hold off up-and-comers like sophomore La'el Collins, who was the nation's top-rated offensive lineman coming out of high school in 2011.

3. A stable of backs: Miles loves a power running game featuring several running backs and LSU had it on display in the spring. Even with Ford out with injuries, Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill all took turns gobbling up yards in the spring against the rugged LSU defense. With the experienced offensive line, there's no reason to think that the arrival of Mettenberger will bring a halt to Miles' beloved power running game.

Fall questions

1. Replacing the defensive play makers: While the LSU secondary returns two potential first-round draft picks in Mathieu, the Heisman Trophy finalist, and Reid, it also must replace Claiborne, the first defensive back selected in the NFL draft, and third-round pick Brandon Taylor at safety. On the defensive line, the Tigers lose the production of first-round pick Michael Brockers at defensive tackle. While there are good candidates, replacing such lost quality is a tall order.

2. Mettenberger's experience: As exciting as his big arm may be, Mettenberger has still not taken a meaningful snap in a Division I college game. LSU has not been this inexperienced under center since 2007, when Lee and Jefferson were getting most of the snaps as freshmen. It doesn't help that LSU's best receiver, Randle, was a second-round NFL draft pick.

3. Linebacker quality: LSU was loaded with defensive playmakers in 2011, but its linebacker play was ho-hum. The Tigers will be looking to upgrade the position despite losing three seniors. Kevin Minter, who overcame senior Karnell Hatcher after the season's first three games to take over the starting middle linebacker spot as a sophomore last season, appears to be a solid centerpiece. Junior Tahj Jones was productive in limited snaps. True freshmen Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis had good springs. Louis returned an interception for a touchdown in the spring game.

Kentucky spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
10:00
AM ET
2011 record: 5-7
2011 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters:: offense: 6; defense: 5, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners:
C Matt Smith, OG Larry Warford, WR La’Rod King, QB Maxwell Smith, RB CoShik Williams, DE Collins Ukwu, DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

Key losses:
OT Chandler Burden, OG Stuart Hines, OT Billy Joe Murphy, WR Matt Roark, LB Ronnie Sneed, LB Danny Trevathan, LB Ridge Wilson, CB Anthony Mosley, S Winston Guy, CB Randall Burden

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: CoShik Williams* (486 yards)
Passing: Maxwell Smith* (819 yards)
Receiving: La'Rod King* (598 yards)
Tackles: Danny Trevathan (143)
Sacks: Trevathan (3)
Interceptions: Trevathan (4)

Spring answers

1. Finding more playmakers: Coach Joker Phillips feels like he has more firepower to work with on offense again. After struggling mightily to find consistent playmakers on offense in 2011, Phillips left spring with more confidence about players he felt he could rely on going forward. The biggest standout was receiver Demarco Robinson. He became one of the most consistent players at practice and caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Also, freshman receiver Daryl Collins surprised coaches with his playmaking ability. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson also stepped up and should help take pressure off of Kentucky's running game.

2. Adjusting to Minter's defense: Strides were definitely made by Kentucky's defense in Year 1 with Rick Minter, but it looks like the defense felt even more comfortable in it this spring. While there is still work to do and bodies to replace, Minter has said he sees more aggression and attitude out of this unit. The defensive line also progressed this spring and could finally be the strength of this unit. The goal is for Kentucky's defense to be a much more physical and tougher group and both Minter and Phillips see it shifting that way.

3. Caffey's move: Kentucky entered the spring trying to replace two starters at cornerback, so the staff moved running back Marcus Caffey there. The experiment appeared to work, as Caffey was one of the more impressive looking players this spring. He caught on quickly at his new position and ended the spring as a starter. He's also a bigger body and the coaches say he's very durable. Both will come in handy against bigger receivers in this league.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: Three starters up front had to be replaced this spring and the Wildcats ended practice knowing that the offensive line is still a work in progress. There is leadership and experience in Larry Warford and Matt Smith, but after that there's a lot of inexperience. Behind Warford and Smith, rising sophomore Darrian Miller and junior-to-be Kevin Mitchell combined for three starts last year. There were bright spots here and there this spring, but the inexperience up front is still a concern for coaches heading into the offseason.

2. Defensive holes: While the Wildcats got more comfortable in the defense, there are still a lot of missing starters at linebacker and in the secondary. There will be four new starting linebackers, including the Spur, and two new starting corners. The coaches feel good about Caffey at corner, but questions still remain at the other corner spot. Players must also replace the production created by Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ridge Wilson, who was dismissed this spring. They accounted for 310 tackles, including 28.5 for loss. Alvin Dupree and Avery Williamson turned heads at linebacker, but Malcolm McDuffen and Miles Simpson struggled to fill in for Trevathan and Guy and could be pushed by incoming freshmen.

3. Smith as the guy: Outside of the spring game, Maxwell Smith had a pretty impressive spring in Lexington. He seemed to develop his game the way the coaches wanted and needed him too, but his mistakes in the spring game brought some worry. He rushed his play and reverted back to some bad habits. While he'd be the starter if the season started today, the coaches hinted that the race is still open with Morgan Newton coming back from shoulder surgery and incoming freshman Patrick Towles arriving this summer. Smith might have improved, but Newton and Towles will get every chance to win the starting job. If Smith regresses again, he might fail to win the job he thinks is his to lose.

Mississippi State spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
9:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, WR Chad Bumphis, WR Arceto Clark, OG Gabe Jackson, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks, S Nickoe Whitley

Key losses
QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, OG Quentin Saulsberry, DT Fletcher Cox, LB Brandon Wilson, S Charles Mitchell

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Vick Ballard (1,189 yards)
Passing: Chris Relf (1,212 yards)
Receiving: Arceto Clark* (442 yards)
Tackles: Cameron Lawrence* (123)
Sacks: Fletcher Cox (5)
Interceptions: Johnthan Banks* (5)

Spring answers

1. Turning the corner: With Darius Slay having a huge spring, the Bulldogs should be well stocked at cornerback. Slay didn’t arrive from junior college until last summer, so he was sort of feeling his way around the league last season. But he looked much more comfortable this spring, and the Mississippi State coaches feel like they have three starters at cornerback. Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield combined for 21 interceptions over the past three seasons, and Banks is being projected as a first-round draft choice next April.

2. Running back depth: Vick Ballard’s toughness and consistency make him a tough component to replace in Mississippi State’s offense, but the Bulldogs exited the spring trying to figure out how they’re going to play four running backs in the fall. It’s always a plus to have that kind of depth in the SEC, and all four are a little bit different. Speedy junior LaDarius Perkins and 225-pound sophomore Nick Griffin complement each other perfectly, and both are big-play threats. Redshirt freshman Josh Robinson is a blur in the open field, while redshirt freshman Derrick Milton is a punishing runner.

3. Autry off the edge: The Bulldogs needed a finisher off the edge, and it looks like they’ve found him in junior college newcomer Denico Autry. Throughout the spring, Autry was a fixture in the backfield and combines a quick first step with an aggressive in-your-face approach to rushing the passer. He was one of the top junior college prospects in the country, and judging from his performance in the spring, he has a chance to be a real difference-maker for the Bulldogs in 2012.

Fall questions

1. Replacing Cox: When Fletcher Cox got it going during the second half of the season last year, there was no stopping him. He made everybody on that defense better. Now that he’s gone early to the pros, one man’s not going to replace him. Everybody in the middle of that defensive line will need to elevate his game, starting with Josh Boyd. The good news is that Boyd is plenty capable, although it’s not going to be the same without Cox playing alongside him. Freshman Quay Evans was an early enrollee and demonstrated this spring why he was one of the top tackle prospects in the country. He won’t have to wait long to get onto the field.

2. Passing game consistency: Tyler Russell took the kind of steps this spring Dan Mullen was hoping to see. Throwing the ball from the pocket is what he does best. He still has to prove he’s going to take care of the ball, and the Bulldogs have to prove they can protect him. Mullen is encouraged by this group of receivers, and 6-4 redshirt freshman Joe Morrow has a chance to be special. The key is putting it all together and getting more production, period, out of the passing game than the Bulldogs did a year ago.

3. Tightening up special teams: The Bulldogs figure to be in a lot of close games in 2012, which means making field goals from 45 yards on in will be critical. Derek DePasquale is gone, and Brian Egan, a former Parade All-American, will get a chance to prove that he can make big kicks for the Bulldogs. They also need to make the return game a weapon and have the athletes to do it (Chad Bumphis, Jameon Lewis and Banks), while shoring up their coverage on kickoffs will be equally important. In short, if the Bulldogs are going to get back to winning eight or more games, special teams will be the difference.

Missouri spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
8:30
AM ET
2011 record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 5-4

Returning starters

Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

OT Elvis Fisher, RB Henry Josey (injured), QB James Franklin, OT Justin Britt, WR T.J. Moe, DE Brad Madison, LB Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Kip Edwards, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden

Key losses

OG Austin Wuebbels, OT Dan Hoch, OG Jayson Palmgren, TE Michael Egnew, WR Wes Kemp, NG Dominique Hamilton, DE Jacquies Smith, S Kenji Jackson, LB Luke Lambert

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Henry Josey* (1,168 Yards)
Passing: James Franklin* (2,865 yards)
Receiving: T.J. Moe* (649 yards)
Tackles: Andrew Wilson* (98)
Sacks: Jacquies Smith (5)
Interceptions: Kenji Jackson (3)

Spring answers

1. Lucas' development: Missouri entered the spring looking for a downfield receiving threat at wide receiver and left feeling much better about the situation. T.J. Moe returns as the most productive receiver, but he's not a deep-play threat. The coaches are hoping Marcus Lucas can be that guy. He had a very solid spring in Columbia and was much more consistent in practices. He got over some of his lazy tendencies and showed off more explosiveness in Missouri's vertical passing game. With L'Damian Washington banged up, Lucas took full advantage of getting more reps.

2. Running back depth: Kendial Lawrence picked up where he left off last season. With Henry Josey's status still doubtful for the fall, Lawrence is the unquestioned leader of the group. Behind him, offensive coordinator David Yost was impressed by redshirt sophomore Marcus Murphy, who missed 2011 with a shoulder injury. Murphy showed the big-play ability that the coaches coveted his freshman year. The big Jared McGriff-Culver will be used at running back, a blocker and an H-back, while redshirt sophomore Greg White showed a lot of improvement this spring and is in line for carries this fall.

3. Mizzou's confidence: All this SEC talk is getting to Missouri. It's not that the Tigers aren't excited about their move. They're just tired of hearing about how tough it will be, and they're tired of answering adjustment questions. Yost and his players made it clear that the offense isn't changing a whole lot to their spread attack. That's what this team wants and it doesn't matter what others think. Gary Pinkel is the eighth-winningest active coach in the FBS, with his 158 wins, so he knows how to win. He's done plenty of it at Mizzou and intends to continue that in the SEC. He and his players know it won't be easy, but they have the right attitude and confidence entering the league's toughest football conference.

Fall questions

1. Defensive tackle: The depth at defensive tackle is a concern for the Tigers entering the summer, as Missouri is looking to replace both starters up front. With Sheldon Richardson rehabbing from shoulder surgery this spring and Marvin Foster, who was expected to be No. 2 at defensive tackle, tearing his ACL before spring, Missouri entered the spring with four tackles having six combined starts. All of them are from rising senior Jimmy Burge. Strides were made by Lucas Vincent, and former tight end-turned-tackle Matt Hoch, but there's no doubt that coaches are worried about depth.

2. Offensive line: Missouri's coaches insist there is more experience than meets the eye on the offensive line, but with Anthony Gatti, Mark Hill and Connor McGovern banged up, the offensive line had holes to work around this spring. Sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher will be back, but even he was limited this spring as he recovered from the knee injury he suffered last offseason. When this unit is healthy, there is experience to be found, but Mizzou still has to replace three quality linemen and there's also that issue of being a much lighter unit than most lines in the league.

3. Size: Both of Missouri's lines are lacking in the size department, but it doesn't look like the coaches are ready to change that anytime soon. Yost said he's happy with an offensive line that averages roughly 295 pounds. The defensive line comes in at about 262 pounds as well. While SEC linemen get a lot of credit for their athleticism, they also pack a little more girth than what Mizzou has. The coaches say it won't be a problem, and they say players will combat size with strength, making offseason workouts even more critical. This is something to monitor on as the season progresses. If these lines wear down it will be a long first year for the Tigers.

Ole Miss spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
8:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 2-10
2011 conference record: 0-8
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
RB Jeff Scott, WR Ja-Mes Logan, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Randall Mackey, C Evan Swindall, DE C.J. Johnson, LB Mike Marry, S Charles Sawyer, P Tyler Campbell

Key losses
RB Brandon Bolden, OT Bobby Massie, OT Bradley Sowell, DE Kentrell Lockett, DE Wayne Dorsey, S Damien Jackson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jeff Scott* (529 yards)
Passing: Randall Mackey* (1,112 yards)
Receiving: Donte Moncrief* (454 yards)
Tackles: Mike Marry* (81)
Sacks: Wayne Dorsey (3)
Interceptions: Charles Sawyer* (4)

Spring answers

1. Secondary strength: With questions swirling surrounding Nickolas Brassell’s eligibility, some of the best news this spring for the Rebels centered around the play of cornerbacks Dehendret Collins and Wesley Pendleton. They were junior college teammates and look like they will be manning the starting corner positions this fall for Ole Miss. Add junior safety Charles Sawyer to the mix, and it’s a unit that should be much improved, especially if Brassell makes it academically and heralded true freshman Trae Elston is everything the Rebels think he is.

2. Kicking and screaming: It’s hard to find a team in the SEC that kicks it much better than the Rebels do with their combination of senior place-kicker Bryson Rose and senior punter Tyler Campbell. Rose was 9-of-11 on field goals last season and made 17 straight field goal attempts between 2010 and 2011, which was one shy of the SEC record. Campbell averaged 43.6 yards per punt and was second in the league with 28 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

3. Freezing them out: First-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze spent much of the spring and offseason putting his stamp on the program. Not only do the Rebels have a new spread offense, but several of the players said there’s a new mindset, specifically when it comes to discipline and accountability. The players split into accountability groups, and they policed themselves. If one member of that group did something wrong or ran astray, they all were punished. Freeze exited the spring feeling as if everyone were on the same page in terms of knowing what the expectations were.

Fall questions

1. Making the grade: Junior running back Jeff Scott and Brassell are on the border academically and still have work to do to be eligible. Both players played in the spring game, but missed some practice time. The Rebels are in need of big-play guys on offense. Scott provides that with his speed. Brassell will play cornerback, but the Rebels also plan to use him situationally on offense. Tobias Singleton has moved from receiver to running back. If Scott and Brassell aren’t around this fall, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on Singleton in the backfield.

2. Shackelford’s health: The Rebels could desperately use D.T. Shackelford’s production and leadership on defense in 2012, but there’s no guarantee that he will be fully recovered from a second knee surgery this past March. He missed all of last season after tearing his ACL two springs ago. His knee didn’t respond to that first surgery, and he had to undergo a second procedure just prior to the start of this spring practice. Shackelford, a junior linebacker, led the Rebels with five sacks in 2010. More importantly, he’s the kind of player everybody rallies around. Getting him back would be huge for the Rebels.

3. Offensive line development: It doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback or who’s running the ball if the offensive line doesn’t jell and play with more consistency than it did a year ago. The anchor is junior center Evan Swindall, but the Rebels need guys such as senior A.J. Hawkins and junior Emmanuel McCray to keep progressing. They moved some players around this spring up front, and several of them have starting experience. But they were still adjusting to the new spread offense, so finding the right combination will be critical in the fall.

South Carolina spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
7:30
AM ET
2011 record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:
WR Ace Sanders, OG A.J. Cann, QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, CB Akeem Auguste, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Shaq Wilson, Spur DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

Key losses:
WR Alshon Jeffery, OT Rokevious Watkins, OG Terrence Campbell, Spur Antonio Allen, DE Melvin Ingram, CB Stephon Gilmore, DT Travian Robertson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Lattimore* (818 yards)
Passing: Connor Shaw* (1,448 yards)
Receiving: Alshon Jeffery (762 yards)
Tackles: Antonio Allen (88)
Sacks: Melvin Ingram (10)
Interceptions: Stephon Gilmore (4)

Spring answers

1. Shaw's development: The goal for quarterback Connor Shaw this spring was to work on the passing part of the position. The run-first quarterback showed flashes of transformation in his mindset toward the end of last season and it bled over to this year. He seems to be more confident in his passing and that will go a long way for the Gamecocks offense, as the downfield passing game was missing for most of South Carolina's season in 2011.

2. Running back depth: With Lattimore sitting out the spring, South Carolina turned to reserves Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles. Both performed well, but Miles was named the offensive player of the spring. He wrestled with returning to the Gamecocks, and still seems to be creating some drama about his return this fall, but if he comes back he'll be the No. 2 back. Miles made major strides in his game and his return would mean South Carolina has some insurance at running back if Lattimore struggles. Even if he returns at full health, having Miles there will give the Gamecocks a solid option to keep Lattimore fresh.

3. Shell's development: South Carolina's coaches were anxious to see what redshirt freshman Brandon Shell could do and he didn't disappoint. He ended spring as the starter at left tackle -- the same position that Rokevious Watkins manned last season. The Gamecocks lost two starters along the offensive line, but Shell provided a nice spark at the most important position along the line.

Fall questions

1. Lattimore's health: While word out of South Carolina's camp is that Lattimore was ahead of schedule with his knee rehab, it's still unknown if he will be back to his old self. It's hard to believe that anyone could come back from an ACL injury in this amount of time and be as effective and as good as Lattimore was, but his coaches think he can do just that. Until we see him play, there will still be some uncertainty. A healthy Lattimore makes this an SEC contender and maybe more.

2. Secondary: South Carolina has veterans Akeem Auguste and D.J. Swearinger returning in its defensive backfield, but both dealt with injuries in the spring and the Gamecocks must replace three of its top four cornerbacks from last season. The injuries gave young guys the opportunity to get more reps, but questions still remain. Victor Hampton, listed as a starter, might be South Carolina's most athletic returning corner, but he has limited experience and a history of off-field issues. Brison Williams should enter the fall as a starter at strong safety, but has just one career start. He's one of two players at strong safety with game experience. Jimmy Legree and Cadarious Sanders are the only other corners with game experience. Expect redshirt freshman Ahmad Christian to compete for time as well.

3. Wide receiver: The Gamecocks will start the summer still wondering about the wide receiver position. Ace Sanders returns as the team's most productive receiver, but after that there isn't a lot of production. The good news was that Bruce Ellington returned to football this spring, but the bad news is that even with him back, Sanders is still the only receiver returning with 20 or more catches (29). Speedster Damiere Byrd showed progress and the coaches expect to get more from D.L. Moore, but the position is still a mystery. Incoming freshman Shaq Roland will be relied on a lot when he reports in the summer.

Tennessee spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
7:00
AM ET
2011 record: 5-7
2011 conference record: 1-7
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners:
OG Dallas Thomas, WR Da'Rick Rogers, OT Ja'Wuan James, WR Justin Hunter, TE Mychal Rivera, QB Tyler Bray, LB A.J. Johnson, S Brian Randolph, LB Curt Maggitt, LB Herman Lathers, CB Prentiss Waggner

Key losses:
RB Tauren Poole, DT Malik Jackson, DE Ben Martin, LB Austin Johnson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Tauren Poole (693 yards)
Passing: Tyler Bray* (1,983 yards)
Receiving: Da'Rick Rogers* (1,040 yards)
Tackles: Austin Johnson (81)
Sacks: Malik Jackson (2.5)
Interceptions: Austin Johnson (4)

Spring answers

1. Tyler Bray's leadership: No one has questioned Bray's arm as he can sling it with the best of them. But his heart has been questioned, and he knew it heading into spring. He never considered himself a real leader until this year, when he decided to take his job more seriously. Bray said players listened to him more in practice and respected him more as a person, not just a player. Bray can now be looked at as someone to rally around and look up to. He's finally learning how to be a real quarterback in this league.

2. Richardson's revival: Tennessee's offensive line took a lot of heat last season and for good reason. The Vols were last in the SEC and 116th nationally in rushing. The line needed to find a spark and rising sophomore Antonio Richardson might be just that. His potential has always impressed coaches and after playing on special teams last year, he came out of the spring as the starter at left tackle. Richardson is an extremely athletic and gifted player and the coaches feel confident that he can protect Bray's blind side.

3. Lathers' and Hunter's health: Linebacker Herman Lathers and wide receiver Justin Hunter did all the right things this spring. Lathers missed the 2011 season with an ankle injury, while Hunter missed most of the season after tearing his ACL in against Florida last September. While both still aren't 100 percent, the coaches feel confident that both will be by the fall. Hunter got some good work in this spring and even flew by some players in a scrimmage. Lathers' ankle progressed more and more and thinks he'll be right on track come fall practice.

Fall questions

1. Defensive comfort: Tennessee returns eight defensive starters, but it welcomed a brand new defensive coordinator in Sal Suneri, three other new coaches and a new defensive scheme. Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but it'll take time for his players to adjust and Tennessee isn't sure if that comfort level is quite there yet. Tennessee players will also have to continuing adjusting to the new coaching faces they'll be working with this fall. It's important that this defense, which is still relatively young, get on the same page exiting camp.

2. Running the ball: Rising sophomore Marlin Lane showed nice improvement, but he finished the spring tied with Rajion Neal and Devrin Young at running back. So, the jury is still out on whether this team will be able to run the ball more consistently this season and Tennessee might have to look to its incoming freshmen for more help. While the running backs struggled last year, the offensive line was another reason for the Vols' shortcomings in the rushing department. There was a lot of movement up front and improvements need to start there before Tennessee can even think about handing the ball off more.

3. Defensive tackle: There's a lot of uncertainty and inexperience at tackle, and a lot of of players listed as co-starters on Tennessee's post-spring depth chart. Maurice Couch had an up-and-down 2011 season and now will be called to take on more responsibility now that Malik Jackson is gone. Daniel Hood, who was recovering from shoulder surgery this spring, Steven Fowlkes, Darrington Sentimore and Gregory Clark will all get chances in the middle. Also, keep an eye on incoming junior college transfer Daniel McCullers, who the coaches think can contribute immediately.

Texas A&M spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
6:30
AM ET
2011 overall record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, OT Luke Joeckel, OT Jake Matthews, DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, S Steven Campbell

Key losses

QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, PK Randy Bullock, DT Tony Jerod-Eddie, CB Terrence Frederick, S Trent Hunter

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Cyrus Gray (1,045 yards)
Passing: Ryan Tannehill (3,744 yards)
Receiving: Ryan Swope* (1,207 yards)
Tackles: Jonathan Stewart* (98)
Sacks: Sean Porter* (9.5)
Interceptions: Trent Hunter, Steven Terrell* (2)

Spring answers

1. Manning that line: There’s no mistaking the strength of this team. Even though there’s not a lot of depth in the offensive line, five players with starting experience return. Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are future pros, while senior center Patrick Lewis enters his fourth season as a starter. Sophomore Cedric Ogbuehi has made a nice transition from tackle to guard. The Aggies will lean on this bunch all season long.

2. Swope to the rescue: After hauling in 11 touchdown passes a year ago, Swope picked up right where he left off in Kevin Sumlin’s new offense and ended the spring with a pair of touchdown catches in the Maroon & White spring game. He’s going to need some help this fall, but there’s no substitute for a senior receiver who knows how to get open, and more importantly, knows how to find the end zone.

3. Steven Jenkins steps up: One of the defensive stars of the spring for the Aggies was Jenkins, who looked like a natural at weakside linebacker in the new 4-3 scheme. Jenkins was fifth on the team last season in total tackles (61) despite starting in only six games. His spring performance was just what Texas A&M needed on defense, especially at the linebacker position. He and Sean Porter should be quite a tandem in the fall, as both can go get the quarterback.

Fall questions

1. Stopping the run: The Aggies feel pretty good about their ability to get to the quarterback. But when it comes to the middle of that defensive line and stopping the running games they’re going to see in the SEC, that’s where the problem lies. Chances are that some younger players are going to have to come through on the interior of that defensive line, and that’s never the way you draw it up going into the fall.

2. Williams’ eligibility: One of the most dynamic players on the field this spring for Texas A&M was running back Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma. He has the kind of speed that turns missed tackles into touchdowns. The only problem is that the Aggies probably won’t know until sometime in August if he’ll be eligible this season. The NCAA would have to grant him a waiver, which would allow him to play without sitting out a season.

3. Experience at quarterback: Most in and around the Texas A&M program felt like sophomore Jameill Showers exited the spring as the guy to beat at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel is still in the race, though. However it shakes out in the fall, the Aggies are going to line up with one of the least experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. Showers only played in four games and threw five passes last season in mop-up duty for Tannehill.

Vanderbilt spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
6:00
AM ET
2011 record: 6-7
2011 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:
WR Chris Boyd, WR Jordan Matthews, QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OG Ryan Seymour, C Wesley Johnson, LB Archibald Barnes, Chase Garnham, DT Rob Lohr, CB Trey Wilson

Key losses:
TE Brandon Barden, OT Kyle Fischer, DE Tim Fugger, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, S Sean Richardson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Zac Stacy* (1,193 yards)
Passing: Jordan Rodgers* (1,524 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Matthews* (778 yards)
Tackles: Chris Marve (91)
Sacks: Tim Fugger (8)
Interceptions: Casey Hayward (7)

Spring answers

1. Finding more leaders: Vanderbilt coach James Franklin wanted to leave spring with more leaders than started with. By his accounts, a few veterans stepped up with guys like Marve, Fugger, Hayward and Fischer gone. Franklin said that if the Commodores were going to build off of last season's success, some veterans had to step up and take hold of the team. Guys like Jordan Rodgers, Chase Garnham, Walker May, Trey Wilson and Zac Stacy really expanded their roles as leaders and will be leaned on even more this fall.

2. Marve's replacement: Finding someone to take over for Marve in the locker room was one thing, but filling his position on the field is another. Exiting the spring, Franklin thinks he found the perfect player for the job in Garnham. He moved from the outside to the middle and really excelled at Marve's old position. Garnham was one of the Vanderbilt's most consistent defensive players this spring and the coaches expect to perform this fall.

3. More playmakers: The Commodores return much of their offense this season, but it sounds like the coaches found a few more players. People know about Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but a few other players caught the coaches' eyes like redshirt freshmen Josh Grady and Kris Kentera, who were former quarterbacks. Grady showed his versatility by playing all over the field at receiver, running back and as a wildcat quarterback. It looks like Kentera earned some playing time at H-back this fall, helping to take pressure off Matthews and Boyd.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: Spring practices have not addressed any of the issues the Commodores have on the offensive line. Ryan Seymour and Chase White began spring by rehabbing injuries, leaving Vandy with just nine healthy bodies up front. As spring went on, Franklin said there were times when his team sometimes had just seven linemen to work with. It was bad enough that Vandy rarely went through practices with a full offensive line taking reps. Six true freshmen linemen will enroll at Vandy this fall, but there's no question this unit is the biggest worry for the Commodores.

2. Quarterback consistency: While Rogers made improvements to his game, he still showed the inconsistency that frustrated Franklin last season. There's no question he has the athletic ability to be a solid starter in this league, but he sometimes fails to stand tall in the pocket and deliver solid throws when things collapse around him. That kind of play really hurt Vandy's offense last season. He was pushed by 2009 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels during the spring and the battle is expected to continue through fall camp.

3. Warren Norman's health: After missing all of the 2011 season with a knee injury, Norman returned to the practice field this spring. Though he was non-contact, he showed some improvement in his mobility. It's still unclear how healthy Norman will be and if really complement Stacy in the running game. Rising sophomore Jerron Seymour is the one other returning running back that registered carries last season.

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