SEC: 2013 SEC spring team wraps

Texas A&M Aggies spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (tied for second, West Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Texas A&MTop returners

QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews, WR Mike Evans, DT Kirby Ennis, OLB Steven Jenkins, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews

Key losses

LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, WR Ryan Swope, DE Damontre Moore, OLB Sean Porter, MLB Johnathan Stewart, FS Steven Terrell

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnny Manziel* (1,409 yards)
Passing: Johnny Manziel* (3,706)
Receiving: Mike Evans* (1,105)
Tackles: Damontre Moore (85)
Sacks: Damontre Moore (12.5)
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett* and Steven Terrell (2)

Spring answers

1. Johnny Football: The Aggies are in the rare position of returning the previous season's Heisman Trophy winner. Heading into his sophomore season, Texas A&M is hoping that quarterback Johnny Manziel can be even better than he was a season ago. This will be his second year in the offense and for quarterbacks who have played in this system, year two is typically a season in which they progress significantly as passers. That's one of Manziel's primary goals, even though he'll still run when the time calls for it. As long as he's healthy and playing well, things bode well for the Aggies.

2. Experienced secondary: Last season, the defensive backfield was young and inexperienced. This fall, there are still young players back there, but it is the most experienced unit on the Aggies' defense. Three of the four starters in the secondary from the AT&T Cotton Bowl are back: Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris and Howard Matthews. Junior Floyd Raven has moved from cornerback to free safety and appears to have the skill set (range and tackling prowess) to fit into the position well.

3. Loaded backfield: The Aggies have four good options in their offensive backfield for Manziel to hand off or throw to. Starting running back Ben Malena returns, as does Trey Williams, who returned kicks and received carries as a true freshman. Add to the mix a pair of transfer backs who sat out last season, Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) and the Aggies have a quartet that gives them a multitude of options.

Fall questions

1. Front seven: The Aggies are looking for someone to replace the production that third-round NFL draft pick Damontre Moore brought last season. Moore led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks a year ago. Also, with two senior leaders gone from linebacker (Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart) Texas A&M not only has to replace the bodies but also the leadership. Because of injuries, the Aggies were thin up front in the spring but when all their key players return in the fall, it will ease at least some of those concerns. Keep an eye on names like defensive end Julien Obioha (who started opposite Moore last year), defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and linebacker Donnie Baggs as players who have a chance to see their contributions increase significantly this year.

2. New receivers: Only one starting receiver returns from last year's squad: Mike Evans. Four of the top six players in receiving yardage are no longer on the roster, including second-leading receiver Ryan Swope. So who will Johnny Manziel throw to? Keep an eye on guys like Malcome Kennedy, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown against Alabama last season, Derel Walker, who had a strong spring game, Edward Pope, who was a star on the scout team when he redshirted last year and a host of recruits from the 2013 class like Ja'Quay Williams and ESPN 150 duo Ricky Seals-Jones and Sebastian LaRue. Developing other reliable pass-catching options is critical, so keep an eye on how they use the tight ends with newcomer Cameron Clear (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) on campus.

3. Kicking game: One player who fans kept a close eye on this spring was kicker Taylor Bertolet. In his redshirt freshman season, the strong-legged kicker struggled with consistency, hitting just 13-of-22 field goal attempts and missing seven point-after attempts. With a new special-teams coordinator (Jeff Banks) who has college punting and kicking experience around to guide him, the Aggies are looking for an improvement from Bertolet this fall. Also the Aggies are working in a new punter, Drew Kaser, who takes the reins after senior Ryan Epperson graduated.
2012 record: 13-1
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, Western Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB AJ McCarron, LT Cyrus Kouandjio, RG Anthony Steen, WR Amari Cooper, RB T.J. Yeldon, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Adrian Hubbard, S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, CB Deion Belue, DE Ed Stinson

Key losses
C Barrett Jones, LG Chance Warmack, RT D.J. Fluker, RB Eddie Lacy, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester, LB Nico Johnson, NG Jesse Williams

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Eddie Lacy (1,322 yards)
Passing: AJ McCarron* (2,933 yards)
Receiving: Amari Cooper* (1,000 yards)
Tackles: C.J. Mosley* (107)
Sacks: Adrian Hubbard* (7)
Interceptions: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix* (5)

Spring answers

1. Weapons abound: It's an embarrassment of riches, really. The Alabama offense has steadily gained strength in recent years, but this coming season promises more explosiveness with a senior under center and a number of playmakers at wide receiver. Starters Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood return, along with a triumvirate of rehabilitated weapons in Chris Black, Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White. Throw in a talented freshman in tight end O.J. Howard, and the possibilities in the passing game are limitless.

2. Rebuilt offensive line: It started the offseason as the biggest question mark, but spring camp quelled any fear of the offensive line experiencing a significant drop-off after losing three of five starters from last season. Ryan Kelly has become the centerpiece snapping the football, stepping in for former Rimington Award winner Barrett Jones at center. And with two cornerstone linemen in left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen, coach Nick Saban has to feel good about where things stand up front on offense.

3. Leadership from the top: For two years he hasn't had to take the bull by the horns. There have been other, often older, leaders to step up and take charge. But this season is different for quarterback AJ McCarron. He's not only coming into his own as a passer, he's developing into the voice of the football team -- and not just on offense.

Fall questions

1. Secondary solutions: Year after year, the problem is the same. Alabama develops stars in the secondary only to see them leave for the NFL draft. This time it was shutdown cornerback Dee Milliner and veteran safety Robert Lester walking out the door. And who will step up to replace them remains unclear. Deion Belue looks to have rebounded after a shaky first season in Tuscaloosa, and rising sophomore Geno Smith showed promise as a rookie in 2012. But it will take more than a handful of starters to keep the Tide's secondary on track.

2. Rushing the passer: While it's true that Saban's system isn't built on traditional defensive statistics like sacks and tackles for loss, it is capable of accomplishing those things with the right playmakers in place. And recently there has been a lack of pure edge rushers capable of collapsing the pocket on a consistent basis. Adrian Hubbard stepped up at outside linebacker late in the season, but his production has been up and down. If guys like linebacker Xzavier Dickson and defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson can provide that pressure, the defense will be in good shape.

3. In case of emergency: It's the scenario no one around Tuscaloosa wants to entertain: What would happen if AJ McCarron were injured and missed a significant portion of the season? If he were to go down, would the Tide's championship hopes leave with him? Last season's backups have been inconsistent at best, and don't appear to be real options over the long term. The three early enrollees at the position aren't ready either, but redshirt freshman Alec Morris might be the one the staff can rely on. He'll have the fall to prove whether he's capable of becoming a dependable backup, and in turn the future at quarterback when McCarron moves on after this season.

Arkansas Razorbacks spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 record: 4-8

2012 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Jonathan Williams, WR Javontee Herndon, C Travis Swanson, DE Chris Smith, DE Trey Flowers, DT Byran Jones, CB Tevin Mitchel, S Rohan Gaines

Key losses

QB Tyler Wilson, RB Dennis Johnson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton, OG Alvin Bailey, S Ross Rasner, P Dylan Breeding

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Dennis Johnson (757 yards)
Passing: Tyler Wilson (3,387 yards)
Receiving: Cobi Hamilton (1,335 yards)
Tackles: Ross Rasner (92)
Sacks: Chris Smith* (9.5)
Interceptions: Ross Rasner (3)

Spring answers

1. Front loaded: It’s always comforting to be good and experienced up front on defense, and the Hogs’ strength coming out of the spring was clearly their defensive line. Ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers are back after combining for 26 tackles for loss last season (15.5 sacks), and the Hogs also feel good about their senior tackle tandem of Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. Equally promising is a trio of redshirt freshmen – ends JaMichael Winston and Deatrich Wise, Jr., and tackle Darius Philon.

2. Allen moves to the front: There will still be competition once preseason camp begins, but sophomore Brandon Allen exited spring as the Hogs’ starting quarterback after separating himself from senior Brandon Mitchell. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was pleased with Allen’s steady progress throughout the spring and his ability to move the team on offense. The Hogs’ coaches also have more faith in Allen right now in terms of his ability to take care of the football.

3. Getting physical: Bielema is committed to the Hogs being balanced on offense, which is a big reason why he brought in Jim Chaney as his offensive coordinator. But anybody who watched Bielema’s Wisconsin teams play on offense over the last few seasons knows how deeply he believes in being physical up front and pounding the football. The Hogs aren’t all the way there yet, but made strides this spring with their overall physicality on offense.

Fall questions

1. Finding offensive playmakers: The guys who made most of the plays on offense the last few seasons for the Hogs are gone. It’s still not clear who will be their go-to playmakers in 2013. Senior receivers Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton and Demetrius Wilson will step into the spotlight with Cobi Hamilton no longer around, and sophomore running back Jonathan Williams needs to keep coming. He’s up to 220 pounds and has some burst. He also has some help on the way. Heralded true freshman Alex Collins will be on campus this summer.

2. Counting on Spaight: One of the most important junior college newcomers wasn’t on campus for the spring. Linebacker Martrell Spaight will join the team this summer, and getting him up to speed will be critical. He has the ability to play all three linebacker spots. The Hogs were hit hard by injuries at linebacker last season and had to play several young guys there. If Spaight is a quick learner, he could go a long way toward solidifying the linebacker corps for the Hogs.

3. Restoring confidence: After the Hogs won 21 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, confidence permeated the Arkansas program. But the bottom fell out last year on the heels of Bobby Petrino’s ouster and then a forgettable season on the field. It’s important that the Hogs play well early and have some success to help regain that confidence. Bielema brought in a veteran staff, and the players have bought in. Those first four games in September would seem to set up nicely for the Hogs. A 4-0 start would provide a ton of momentum.

Auburn Tigers spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 record: 3-9
2012 conference record: 0-8
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Tre Mason, C Reese Dismukes, DE Dee Ford, DT Angelo Blackson, CB Chris Davis, S Demetruce McNeal

Key losses

RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates

2012 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Tre Mason* (1,002 yards)
Passing: Kiehl Frazier* (753 yards)
Receiving: Emory Blake (789 yards)
Tackles: Daren Bates (94)
Sacks: Dee Ford* (6)
Interceptions: Daren Bates, Trent Fisher* (1)

Spring answers

1. Getting defensive: Veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson implemented his 4-2-5 scheme this spring, and the early returns were promising. The real test will come in the fall, but there’s every reason to believe the Tigers will be significantly better on defense in 2013 after finishing 13th in the league in total defense a year ago. There’s depth up front. Senior end Dee Ford had a terrific spring, and Johnson likes the way his cornerbacks, led by senior Chris Davis, lock down on receivers.

2. Garrett emerges: One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring for the Tigers was junior Justin Garrett’s emergence at the “Star” position. Garrett had not done a lot previously as a linebacker, but possessed the combination of size and speed to slide into that hybrid linebacker/safety role that’s become a staple of Johnson’s defenses. The 6-1, 214-pound Garrett can cover well enough to match up in the slot, but also has the muscle to hold up in run support.

3. Catching on: There really hasn’t been a vertical passing game to speak of on the Plains for the last two seasons. But this group of receivers provided new hope this spring. Sophomore Ricardo Louis could be on the verge of a breakout season. Junior Jaylon Denson flew in under the radar and impressed with his consistency this spring, while juniors Quan Bray and Trovon Reed and sophomore Sammie Coates all have big-play potential.

Fall questions

1. Settling on a quarterback: It was a struggle at quarterback the whole way last season with true freshman Jonathan Wallace finishing up as the starter. Now, the spring has come and gone under new coach Gus Malzahn, and the Tigers are still not sure who their quarterback will be in the fall. Kiehl Frazier and Wallace are locked in a dead heat. They combined to throw six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions last season. Newcomer Nick Marshall, who played defensive back at Georgia, might have a chance to get into the mix when he arrives this summer.

2. Adjusting to the pace: Auburn spent much of spring practice getting used to Malzahn’s dizzying pace on offense. There’s no such thing as playing too fast in Malzahn’s world, and it takes some getting used to. He wants to play even faster than the Tigers did when he was the offensive coordinator from 2009-11. Settling on the right quarterback will be a big part of that, but equally important will be settling on the right five offensive linemen and making sure they’re in tune both physically and mentally with Malzhan’s hurry-up approach.

3. Rising from the ashes: Malzahn has said repeatedly that the Tigers are moving on and not rehashing what did or didn’t happen last season when they failed to win a game in the SEC and completely tanked at the end of the season. Those kind of collapses are hard to get out of your mind, even with an entirely new coaching staff onboard. Five of the first six games are at home, which could come in handy. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond when they hit their first patch of adversity.

Florida Gators spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 overall record: 11-2

2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (2nd Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jeff Driskel, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RB/WR Trey Burton, DE/DT Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, S Jaylen Watkins, P Kyle Christy

Key losses

RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards)
Passing: Jeff Driskel* (1,646 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Reed (559 yards)
Tackles: Josh Evans (83)
Sacks: Dominique Easley* (4.0)
Interceptions: Matt Elam (4)

Spring answers

1. Back in business: Sophomore Matt Jones running back had a fantastic spring and the coaching staff is convinced he’ll be a more than capable replacement for Gillislee. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Jones is a perfect fit for Will Muschamp’s power-run offense. He’s a straight-ahead, downhill runner, who runs through contact and gets tough yards. The offense will be built around him, especially with the questions surrounding the passing game. Redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of former UF standout running back Fred Taylor, give the Gators solid depth at the position.

2. Lined up: UF’s offensive line made strides in 2012 and it will be even better in 2013. The addition of transfers -- Max Garcia (Maryland) and Tyler Moore (Nebraska) -- gives the Gators a pair of former starters to add to an already solid base with Harrison and Halapio. Plus, sophomore D.J. Humphries is an immediate upgrade from Xavier Nixon at left tackle. Garcia will start at left guard and pair with Humphries to give Driskel better blind-side protection than he had a year ago.

3. The middle is settled: With the loss of Bostic and Jenkins, the Gators needed a middle linebacker. The staff moved sophomore Antonio Morrison from weakside linebacker, and Morrison showed pretty quickly he was up to the task. He’s not the biggest middle linebacker the Gators have had (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), but he is certainly one of the most physical. Morrison hits like he weighs 260 pounds -- just ask 245-pound former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, whom Morrison leveled last season. Morrison proved he could handle making the defensive calls and he should easily step into the role Bostic held for the past two seasons.

Fall questions

1. Receiver issues ... again: The Gators have problems at wide receiver and must get better at the position or the offense will again struggle. That’s been the case since the 2009 season ended. The latest attempted solution is former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips. He has coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-2009), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002). NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with during his tenure at Kentucky. He also coached Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derek Abney, all of whom rank in the top five in school history in career receptions or career receiving yardage. Can Phillips get consistent production out of Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman, Burton or Solomon Patton? Can he turn one of the five freshmen -- notably Demarcus Robinson or Ahmad Fulwood -- into the big-time playmaker the Gators have lacked since Riley Cooper? Zach Azzani, Aubrey Hill and Bush Hamdan have tried and failed.

2. Safety dance: There’s some concern about the Gators’ safeties because some of the younger and less experienced players haven’t developed as the staff had hoped. Cody Riggs and Watkins, who started at corner early last season, will begin August practices as UF’s two starting safeties. They have both played there during their UF careers and there are no concerns about those two players, but there are some about Valdez Showers, Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. Realistically, the Gators are better off with Riggs and Watkins starting because that gives UF the chance to get its top four defensive backs on the field at the same time instead of working Watkins, Riggs, Roberson, Purifoy and Brian Poole in a rotation at cornerback. Still, those other three need to earn more trust from the coaching staff.

3. Just for kicks: Kickers Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips struggled throughout the spring. Neither is as reliable or as good from long range as Caleb Sturgis was, but it’s the first part that’s more important. The offense, especially if the receivers don’t get any better, will continue to have a hard time consistently moving the ball. Sturgis was able to bail the Gators out because they needed only to get to the 35-yard line to be in range for a makeable field goal. That mark may have to be the 20 in 2013. Unless Hardin or Phillips makes a major leap this summer, expect the Gators to go with the kicker who practices the best each week.

Georgia Bulldogs spring wrap

May, 6, 2013

2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, SEC East)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OL Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, ILB Amarlo Herrera

Key losses: OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, S Shawn Williams, S Bacarri Rambo, NG John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, WR Tavarres King

2012 statistical leaders (* - returner)
Rushing: Gurley * (1,385 yards)
Passing: Murray * (3,893 yards)
Receiving: King (950 yards)
Tackles: Ogletree (111)
Sacks: Jones (14.5)
Interceptions: Swann * (4)

Spring answers

1. Safety starters: With 2011 All-Americans Rambo and Williams completing their college careers, the Bulldogs entered the spring with two big holes at safety. It appears sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and January enrollee Tray Matthews have all but claimed the starting positions, however. Harvey-Clemons was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of spring practice, and Matthews generated the most buzz of anyone this spring with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Georgia’s inexperience along the back end of the defense is not ideal, but the two youngsters could become a pleasant surprise.

2. Newcomers contribute: Matthews wasn’t the only early enrollee who made his mark during the spring -- and many of those 13 newcomers will play big roles in the fall. Others like defensive lineman Chris Mayes, linebacker Reggie Carter, cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and running back/receiver J.J. Green all but ensured that they will contribute this fall by acquitting themselves nicely while learning how to function as college players. Keep an eye on another early enrollee, receiver Tramel Terry, once the Bulldogs open preseason practice. Terry did not practice this spring while recovering from a torn ACL suffered late last fall, but he could be healthy by August and could become yet another valuable freshman.

3. Returning weapons: With almost everyone returning on offense -- only King and receiver Marlon Brown are gone among the key contributors -- the Bulldogs should be able to score with as much efficiency as last season’s group that set a school record with 529 points. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo already knows what players including Murray, Gurley, tailback Keith Marshall and Mitchell can do. This spring, players like offensive MVP Chris Conley, G-Day standout Jonathon Rumph and Green also flashed the potential to make the offense even more potent.

Fall questions

1. Starting quickly: A defense that must replace 12 key performers was a pleasant surprise this spring. But can Todd Grantham’s rebuilt defense reload quickly enough to hold its own against the likes of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU? Georgia faces all of those teams before the end of September. Grantham’s defense underperformed a season ago despite a wealth of NFL-ready talent. The talent is still there, but the defensive coaches have their work cut out with so many inexperienced players needing to be ready for the season-defining early schedule.

2. Offensive line rotation: With Burnette out for the entire spring and offensive tackle John Theus out for the first half of the practices, offensive line coach Will Friend had plenty of reason to shuffle his lineup -- and that’s exactly what he did. Friend’s group returns everyone from last season, including four players who started all 14 games, but he did not seem prepared to guarantee any starting jobs at the end of the spring. It’s possible that the shuffling could continue in August, and he might allow a greater number of linemen to play once the season begins.

3. Sack specialists: Jones led the nation with 24.5 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season while serving as the Bulldogs' top pass-rusher. Sophomore Jordan Jenkins appears to be first in line to replace him -- and he has already informed his predecessor that he intends to eventually break his school sack record -- but Jones set an awfully high bar for Jenkins to attempt to clear. In order to make Grantham's 3-4 defense function correctly, the Bulldogs need Jenkins and some of the defensive linemen who will be stepping into larger roles to keep applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
2012 record: 2-10
2012 conference record: 0-8 (seventh, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Key losses

RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Raymond Sanders* (669 yards)
Passing: Maxwell Smith* (975 yards)
Receiving: La’Rod King (488 yards)
Tackles: Avery Williamson* (135)
Sacks: Alvin Dupree* (6.5)
Interceptions: J.D. Harmon* (2)

Spring answers

1. Stout defensive line: New coach Mark Stoops has to be very happy with the foundation he has along his defensive line. There has always been potential with guys like Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, but they've never truly put things together. However, the entire line impressed this spring and should be driving force for Kentucky’s defense. Rumph missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but should be fine this fall. Having Dupree at end in the new 4-3 scheme now provides the Cats with a top-notch pass-rusher. Add junior-college transfer defensive end Za'Darius Smith, and Kentucky should certainly hold its own up front this fall.

2. Comfort at running back: Stoops is still searching for more playmakers on offense, but he was pretty happy with what he saw from his running backs this spring, especially senior Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley. Sanders has been around for a while, but he’s battled health issues. Mobley did well last season as a freshman, but really stepped up this spring. Josh Clemons is back from his 2011 knee injury and showed flashes of his old playmaking self at times this spring.

3. Offensive line feeling fine: The Wildcats might have lost two mainstays up front in Larry Warford and Matt Smith, but it sounds like the line did well without them around. Redshirt freshman Zach Myers spent the spring in Matt Smith’s spot, and both tackles -- Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller -- return. However, Mitchell worked inside this spring and the very large Jordan Swindle spent the majority of his time at right tackle with the first-team line.

Fall questions

1. Whitlow’s time?: The Cats have a three-headed quarterback competition on their hands, but it sounds like Jalen Whitlow, who was a true freshman last year, has the edge heading into summer workouts. He moved past Maxwell Smith (last year’s starter before injuries ended his season early) and Towles after having the most impressive outing during the spring game. Whitlow really showed a lot of improvement this spring and is probably the most athletic of the three. Still, Stoops has said competition will continue this fall.

2. Searching for a go-to receiver: La'Rod King is gone, so the coaches are searching for someone to be a consistent target for whichever quarterback wins the starting job. There were only six scholarship receivers on the team this spring and there isn’t a ton of experience there. Demarco Robinson returns with 28 catches from last year and has shown that he’s an explosive player, but he has to be more consistent going forward. Daryl Collins is next in line and has shown playmaking flashes as well, but caught just 17 passes last year.

3. Help at linebacker and the secondary: The Cats are thin at linebacker and throughout the secondary. Kentucky lost three starters in the secondary and Dupree moved to defensive line this spring. Avery Williamson will provide an anchor at middle linebacker and Miles Simpson is back on the outside, but there isn’t a lot of experience at linebacker, and Stoops didn’t sign any in his first class. Junior starting safety Ashely Lower's recent car accident has his status for the season unknown, and there isn’t much experience in the secondary. Help is on the way in terms of numbers with the 2013 class, but the youth back there will likely have to deal with a lot of growing pains this fall.

LSU Tigers spring wrap

May, 6, 2013

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 3; special teams: 1

Top returners: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Alfred Blue, OL La'el Collins, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, LB Lamin Barrow, SS Craig Loston, CB Jalen Mills

Key losses: DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, FS Eric Reid, CB Tharold Simon, OT Josh Dworaczyk, C P.J. Lonergan, K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jeremy Hill* (755 yards, 12 touchdowns)

Passing: Zach Mettenberger* (2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns)

Receiving: Odell Beckham* (43 receptions, 713 yards), Jarvis Landry* (56 receptions, 573 yards)

Tackles: Kevin Minter (130)

Sacks: Sam Montgomery (8)

Interceptions: Tharold Simon (4)

Spring Answers

1. A new offense: The arrival of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron saw the Tigers throwing the football around all spring. It's clear LSU's sometimes anemic passing offense will be asked to carry a larger load this fall, with Mettenberger returning along with his favorite deep threat (Beckham) and his go-to possession receiver (Landry).

2. Barrow's a leader: After losing Minter to the NFL draft, LSU will look to its other 100-tackle linebacker for leadership. Barrow was productive all spring while staying at the weak-side linebacker spot where he excelled in a 104-tackle junior season. He could possibly move to middle linebacker in the fall.

3. More power: Even in a more open offense, LSU should be able to run the ball. With La'el Collins moving from left guard to left tackle and Josh Williford replacing him at left guard (sliding over from right guard), the Tigers will be able to start four offensive linemen who have started at least the majority of a season somewhere on the line. With fullback J.C. Copeland and four proven running backs returning, don't look for Cam Cameron's offense to abandon the run.

Fall questions

1. The Hill situation: LSU's leading rusher was suspended from the team indefinitely after he was arrested for his part in a bar fight that happened while he was on probation for a previous charge. If Hill serves a long suspension or is not on the team, the Tigers will be down to three scholarship running backs. Would that force the Tigers to change their offensive identity?

2. A new front four: The Tigers lost all four starters on the defensive line, including three (plus a backup) who were picked in the NFL draft. LSU has recruited well, but a lot of unproven talent will have to perform up to expectations for the defense to be as good as it was in 2012. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, who played starter-like snaps as the third tackle last season, will take on a leadership role.

3. Special teams dominance?: Under Les Miles, LSU has usually outplayed opponents on special teams. But with Wing giving pro football a try and kicker Alleman finished, there are serious questions about whether LSU can be as consistently good as years past. Walk-ons will be asked to replace Alleman's consistency.
2012 record: 8-5
2012 conference record: 4-4
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, OG Gabe Jackson, C Dillon Day, DE Denico Autry, DE Preston Smith, LB Benardrick McKinney, S Nickoe Whitley

Key losses

WR Chad Bumphis, TE Marcus Green, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Darius Slay

2012 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: LaDarius Perkins* (1,024 yards)
Passing: Tyler Russell* (2,897 yards)
Receiving: Chad Bumphis (922 yards)
Tackles: Cameron Lawrence (120)
Sacks: Preston Smith* (4.5)
Interceptions: Darius Slay (5)

Spring answers

1. Russell’s experience: Fifth-year senior Tyler Russell is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. He was also one of the league’s most improved quarterbacks from his sophomore to junior season. The Bulldogs feel like they’ll be able to do even more things with Russell next season because of his experience and knowledge of the offense. He has the coaches’ trust, and more importantly, the trust and respect of all of his teammates. Coach Dan Mullen says confidently, “We expect him to have a huge year.”

2. Young guns on defense: New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins wants to dial up the pressure and adopt more of an attacking style. He has some promising young talent to work with and liked what he saw from those guys this spring. Sophomore tackles Quay Evans and Nick James, sophomore end Ryan Brown, sophomore middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney, redshirt freshman outside linebacker Beniquez Brown and sophomore cornerback Cedric Jiles form what should be a stout nucleus defensively for a couple of years to come.

3. Cox steps right in: Programs bring in junior college players to help right away, and Justin Cox came in this spring and established himself at cornerback. The Bulldogs needed reinforcements at cornerback with second-round draft picks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay both departing. Cox could also be a factor at safety and the nickel spot and should be ready to go in the fall now that he’s had the spring to acclimate himself to Mississippi State’s defensive scheme.

Fall questions

1. On the receiving end: With the four leading receivers from a year ago gone, the Bulldogs identified several candidates this spring to take those spots. But now they have to go out and prove they can do it in games. Junior Jameon Lewis is the heir apparent to Chad Bumphis in the slot. Junior Robert Johnson has all the physical tools to be a big-time receiver, and junior college newcomer Jeremey Chappelle showed up big in the spring game. Even with the loss of Marcus Green, there’s good depth at tight end, which means there could be more two-tight end sets next season.

2. Smith’s future: It sounds as if team leader and veteran offensive guard Tobias Smith will stay on next season, but do so as a student coach. He’s yet to finalize his decision after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He’s played through an assortment of injuries and gutted it out last season on a bad knee. If he does indeed opt not to play, sophomore Justin Malone would step in at guard. Malone started in five games last season when Smith was unable to go. The Bulldogs return four other starters in the offensive line, and junior Damien Robinson made a move at tackle this spring.

3. Coming out swinging: The Bulldogs still have a bad taste in their mouths over the way last season ended. They lost five of their last six games after starting out 7-0. Getting that winning edge back to start next season will be important, and the opener will go a long way toward setting the tone. Mississippi State kicks off the season against Oklahoma State in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. It’s one of only two games away from home for the Bulldogs in the months of September and October.

Missouri Tigers spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 2-6 (fifth, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, RB/RS Marcus Murphy, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, OL Evan Boehm, DE Kony Ealy, LB Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines

Key losses

RB Kendial Lawrence, WR T.J. Moe, OT Elvis Fisher, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Will Ebner, CB Kip Edwards

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Kendial Lawrence (1,025 yards)
Passing: James Franklin* (1,562 yards)
Receiving: Marcus Lucas* (509 yards)
Tackles: Andrew Wilson* (79)
Sacks: Michael Sam* (4.5)
Interceptions: Kip Edwards (2)

Spring answers

1. Henry’s health: After missing all of last season because of a devastating knee injury that occurred halfway through the 2011 campaign, many weren’t sure how running back Henry Josey would respond this spring. But he shed his knee brace early and craved contact from Day 1. He didn’t care if he left spring as the starter -- he just wanted to prove to himself that he was ready to play again. Coach Gary Pinkel says he ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash before spring, and Josey insists he's at 100 percent.

2. DGB's maturity: It sounds like last year’s top recruit is really getting it in Columbia. The offense wasn’t totally in sync this spring, but that didn’t stop Green-Beckham from making some good noise at receiver. He dealt with an ankle injury early, but bounced back well and it appears he showed that he’s ready for more responsibility and passes thrown his way this fall. His development is crucial to Mizzou’s offensive improvement.

3. Replacing Richardson: One person won’t replace the Tigers’ first-round defensive tackle, but it sounds like the team should have a lot to work with up front this fall, starting with junior Matt Hoch, who can play either nose guard or tackle. He might have had the best spring of any Mizzou defender and found ways to make plays. He’ll also have help from talented ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. Harold Brantley and Lucas Vincent also had solid springs inside.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback controversy: Franklin might have looked sharper and was the starter leaving spring, but redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is right behind him. He had a rough spring game, but has all the tools to be very good in the Tigers’ offense. They shared reps with Corbin Berkstresser, who is still in the hunt after serving as Franklin’s backup last year. Pinkel was very quiet about the race for most of spring, and this one will continue to go through fall camp.

2. Linebacker work: Losing two starters hurt the Tigers, and they’ll try to replace those bodies with younger, unproven players. Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are both seniors, which helps, but there isn’t much game experience around them. Redshirt sophomore Kentrell Brothers made strides this spring, and the coaches expect more out of Darvin Ruise, who primarily played on special teams last year. Tackling was a problem last year, so this group has to improve there as well.

3. Protection issues: The offensive line might be healthier this spring, but has had a lot of issues with protection. It stunted the growth at times for an offense that desperately needs to improve in 2013. Evan Boehm might be Mizzou’s top lineman, but he moved to center and is still trying to get a handle on his new position. Veterans Justin Britt, Max Copeland and Mitch Morse are back, but there were still communication issues and protection problems that have to get corrected during fall camp.

Ole Miss Rebels spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 3-5
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 11; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

QB Bo Wallace, RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, OG Aaron Morris, DE C.J. Johnson, LB Mike Marry, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, CB Charles Sawyer

Key losses

RB/WR Randall Mackey, OG A.J. Hawkins, DT Gilbert Pena, K Bryson Rose

2012 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Jeff Scott* (846 yards)
Passing: Bo Wallace* (2,994 yards)
Receiving: Donte Moncrief* (979 yards)
Tackles: Denzel Nkemdiche* (82)
Sacks: C.J. Johnson* (6.5)
Interceptions: Denzel Nkemdiche*, Dehendret Collins*, Senquez Golson* (3)

Spring answers

1. Running wild: Senior Jeff Scott gives the Rebels a proven breakaway threat at running back. He also carried the ball nearly 200 times last season, but might get some relief in 2013. Sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton and freshman Mark Dodson all had big springs, and they’re all different types of runners. It’s a given that you need more than one running back to make it through an entire SEC season, and Ole Miss might have three or four they can count on in 2013.

2. Ward shows flashes: One of the most physically gifted players returning for Ole Miss on defense is sophomore end Channing Ward. The push this spring was for him to cut it loose and play and become that every-down game-changer he was projected to be coming out of high school. Toward the end of spring practice, he looked like he was starting to get it. The 6-foot-4, 256-pound Ward missed most of preseason practice as a freshman last season while waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. If he can pick up in August where he left off in the spring, he has a chance to be a force coming off the edge.

3. Bright future: Most of the buzz this spring in Oxford centered around the celebrated signing class Hugh Freeze and his staff assembled. It was rated No. 5 nationally by ESPN and features the country’s No. 1 overall prospect -- defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. He can’t get to campus soon enough as far as Ole Miss fans are concerned and will be joined by the likes of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and safety Antonio Conner -- all top 25 players nationally. Some serious talent is on the way.

Fall questions

1. Wallace’s maturation: In his first season in the SEC, quarterback Bo Wallace finished fifth in the league in total offense with an average of 260.3 yards per game. He accounted for 30 touchdowns and made his share of plays in the Rebels’ fast-break offense. He also threw a league-high 17 interceptions, although he made better decisions toward the latter part of the season. He missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. His big challenge in the fall is continuing to be the playmaker he was for the Rebels last season, but doing so while taking better care of the ball. He also needs to stay in one piece and pick his spots when it comes to taking on defenders.

2. Defending the pass: Ole Miss finished 11th in the SEC last season in pass defense and gave up 22 touchdown passes. The fact that junior cornerback Senquez Golson gave up baseball and concentrated solely on football this spring was a plus. Getting back Nick Brassell would also be huge. Freeze has said he thinks that Brassell can be an NFL cornerback, but academics have been a struggle for Brassell. So depending on what happens with Brassell, depth at cornerback could be an issue.

3. On the mend: The Rebels had a wide array of players out or limited with injuries this spring. Not only was Wallace sidelined after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, but defensive end C.J. Johnson broke his leg early during spring practice. Cornerback Charles Sawyer also missed the last half of spring with a minor injury, while receiver Donte Moncrief was banged up as well. Depth is still a problem for the Rebels, and even with the highly-rated signing class on its way, it’s always a bit of a guessing game on who’s going to be all the way back to 100 percent come fall.
South Carolina Gamecocks

2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (third, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, OT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton, CB Jimmy Legree

Key losses

RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, C T.J. Johnson, DE Delvin Taylor, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, Spur DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Lattimore (662 yards)
Passing: Connor Shaw* (1,956 yards)
Receiving: Bruce Ellington* (600 yards)
Tackles: Shaq Wilson (86)
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney* (13)
Interceptions: Jimmy Legree* and DeVonte Holloman (3)

Spring answers

1. Lattimore’s replacement: It wasn’t going to be easy to replace Marcus Lattimore at the running back spot, but rising sophomore Mike Davis did a heck of a job showing that he has what it takes to be the No. 1 guy at that spot this fall. He left the spring as the starter and during his limited time in the spring game he rushed for 40 yards on two carries, including a 25-yard touchdown. He has all the talent to be a big-time back.

2. Good problem at QB: With Connor Shaw out this spring because of foot surgery, Dylan Thompson took more steps forward in his development. Coach Steve Spurrier has made it clear that there isn’t a quarterback controversy, and that Shaw is the starter, but he has a good problem on his hands with two very quality quarterbacks on his roster. Thompson prepared like the starter this fall and should be more than ready if Shaw goes down again this fall.

3. Clowney’s focus: With “The Hit” taking the world by storm and all of that Heisman hype bombarding South Carolina’s best player, Jadeveon Clowney took everything in stride. He didn’t flinch and talked more about the improvements he’d like to make before fall practice arrives. Clowney is a man on a mission this year (he also might be faster) and he took the proper steps this spring to make sure he's still on track to accomplish his goals for 2013.

Fall questions

1. Receiving help: Ace Sanders’ surprising exit left no seniors at receiver and a big hole to fill. Bruce Ellington is back, which certainly helps, but he’ll need assistance this fall. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland arrived with a ton of hype last year, but didn’t live up to his billing. He made good strides this spring, but he’ll still have to prove himself all over again this fall. The coaches are also hoping Damiere Byrd can turn into a consistent deep threat. Throw in Nick Jones and a couple more youngsters and there are bodies to work with but not a lot of experience.

2. Finding that Spur: Losing DaVonte Holloman was a big hit to this defense. The hybrid linebacker/safety spot is a big piece to what the Gamecocks do on this side of the ball, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward doesn’t have a ton of confidence in the position right now. Junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs battled for the spot this spring, with Golightly having a slight lead heading into the offseason. He’s primarily played special teams at South Carolina.

3. New faces at LB/DB: The Gamecocks will have a lot of new faces to work with at linebacker and in the secondary. They have to replace their entire two-deep at linebacker along with D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste in the secondary. Cornerback Victor Hampton looked like a potential first-round pick at times to coaches this summer and linebackers Kaiwan Lewis and Kelvin Rainey made good strides, but both are learning and there should be growing pains this fall from both positions.
2012 record: 5-7

2012 conference record: 1-7, (sixth, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; Defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Rajion Neal, RB Marlin Lane, OT Antonio Richardson, OT Ja’Wuan James, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Curt Maggit, S Brian Randolph, S Byron Moore

Key losses

QB Tyler Bray, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Justin Hunter, OG Dallas Thomas, TE Mychal Rivera, DE Darrington Sentimore, LB Herman Lathers, CB Prentiss Waggner

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rajion Neal* (708 yards)
Passing: Tyler Bray (3,612 yards)
Receiving: Justin Hunter (1,083 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Johnson* (138)
Sacks: Darrington Sentimore (4)
Interceptions: Byron Moore* (5)

Spring answers

1. Buying into the new staff: There are always those awkward first moments with a new coaching staff, but the Vols seemed to go through spring pretty smoothly with new coach Butch Jones and his staff. This team didn’t have time to question Jones and his guys because the program has been trending downward for sometime now. Thanks to Jones, you could tell there was a lot more excitement in Knoxville this spring.

2. Defensive comfort: It looks like Tennessee’s defense adjusted back to a 4-3 defense will this spring. After struggling all year with the SEC’s worst defense in a 3-4 scheme under Sal Sunseri, Vols defenders really took to defensive coordinator John Jancek’s 4-3. With good experience coming back in the front seven, which proved to be a much more aggressive front this spring. If those guys continue to improve, it will help mask some of the issues in the secondary.

3. Sapp's emergence: With Herman Lathers gone, the Vols were in search of a valuable replacement, and it looks like they found it in senior Dontavis Sapp. He entered the spring with just two career starts and was Lathers' backup at the Will spot last year, but was Tennessee's most consistent defender this spring. His development this spring was very important with Curt Maggitt out for the spring while he recovered from the ACL injury he suffered last fall.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback competition: Jones left the spring saying that both Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman were about even for the starting quarterback spot. Worley was a little more consistent this spring and has game experience, but Jones is now putting the team in their hands, as they head into the summer. This competition won’t officially be decided until fall camp, so neither can afford to slip now.

2. Wide receiver issues: The Vols lost 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns from their top four pass-catchers in 2012. Tennessee is in desperate need of finding quality replacements to help its inexperienced quarterbacks this fall. Pig Howard is expected to make an impact this fall, but struggled this spring. Sophomore Cody Blanc showed good strides, and the staff needs more out of redshirt freshmen Drae Bowles and Jason Croom.

3. Thin secondary: Tennessee still has some work to do in its secondary. Brian Randolph's return will be nice, but the numbers are still thin throughout the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback. Justin Coleman emerged as the Vols' top option at corner, but the spot opposite him still hasn't been determined. Having Eric Gordon away from the team for disciplinary reasons doesn't help, either. There were signs of improvement from the secondary, but it's still very much a work in progress.
Vanderbilt Commodores

2012 record: 9-4
2012 conference record: 5-3 (fourth, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

WR Chris Boyd, WR Jordan Matthews, RB Wesley Tate, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, LB Chase Garnham, CB Andre Hal, S Kenny Ladler

Key losses

QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OT Ryan Seymour, DT Rob Lohr, LB Archibald Barnes, CB Trey Wilson

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Zac Stacy (1,141 yards)
Passing: Jordan Rodgers (2,539 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Matthews* (1,323 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Ladler* (90)
Sacks: Chase Garnham* (7)
Interceptions: Trey Wilson (3)

Spring answers

1. Stronger offensive line: There is far more depth and talent up front for line coach Herb Hand to work with. Three-year starter Wesley Johnson is back at tackle, along with junior Joe Townsend at center and sophomore Jake Bernstein at guard. The unit is deeper and more talented than in past years. It’s now deep enough that talented redshirt freshman Adam Butler was able to move to defensive tackle.

2. Depth at linebacker: The Commodores might have lost just one starter at linebacker this past year, but the staff was looking for dependable depth coming out of spring and really found it with the improvements made by sophomores Jake Sealand and Darreon Herring. They didn’t just add quality depth but they could be potential starters this fall.

3. Edge power: Vandy will have solid options at defensive end this fall. Redshirt junior Kyle Woestmann and sophomore Caleb Azubike really stepped up this spring, but they’ll get some help from redshirt freshman Stephen Weatherly, who might have been the team's most improved player this spring. Weatherly gained 30 pounds and has the speed to be a potential edge rusher this fall. The Commodores should excel more in the pass rush this fall.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback battle: While Austyn Carta-Samuels ended the spring ahead of Patton Robinette on the depth chart, coach James Franklin says the two still have a ways to go when it comes to being the guy. Both are athletic and can make extra plays with their feet, but now they have to take over as leaders and learn to consistently move the offense. Carta-Samuels has the edge going into summer and fall, but he can’t afford to slip because Robinette will take advantage of every rep he gets this fall.

2. Tight end troubles: There are just three tight ends currently on Vandy’s roster, and Franklin is still looking for someone to step up and take control at the position. Kris Kentera led tight ends with 10 catches last year, but it sounds like redshirt sophomore Steven Scheu, who caught eight passes last year, has what it takes to be the guy there. Vandy will also get help from junior college transfer Brandon Vandenburg when he arrives this summer.

3. Lack of depth at WR/CB: The Dores might have a solid foundation in Jordan Matthews, Chris Boyd and Jonathan Krause at receiver, and Andre Hal and Steven Clarke at corner, but there is limited depth behind them at both spots. Redshirt freshmen Paris Head and Torren McGaster have a chance to play this fall, but have no experience. Vandy is hoping to get some help from its five receivers it signed in its 2013 class. Still, there isn’t much proven talent behind the main guys.



Saturday, 10/25