SEC: Alvin Bailey

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nobody does optimism quite like a football team in springtime. Especially one with a lot to prove.

As Florida made its way through spring practice, a majority of players who spoke to the media predicted that 2014 will be a whole lot better than 2013. Even coach Will Muschamp got into the prognostication business.

"We’re going to have a good team next year," he said. "We just need to continue to progress."

Now that the Gators' spring practice is in the rear-view mirror, it's time to re-evaluate our spring predictions with the benefit of hindsight.

Prediction No. 1: Florida will have a whole new attitude

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp was satisfied with the progress the Gators made in spring practice.
OK, so we started off with a softball. It wasn't much of a reach to say the Gators would change the "woe-is-me" tune that permeated through an awful 2013 season. Nevertheless, a new attitude was extremely important in setting the tone of spring practice, building team chemistry and creating an environment for learning and development.

Leaders who were projected to step forward, such as quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., actually did more than was expected. Fowler became an authority, at one point taking two teammates to task over academics. Driskel was a focal point, gathering his teammates before the spring game to spur them into action.

The biggest thing that Muschamp needed to see this spring was belief in the concept of the new offense. He got that and a more.

Prediction No. 2: Kurt Roper will lead an improved offense

This seemed to be another easy one to fulfill, as the Gators' offense really had nowhere to go but up.

The biggest surprise of the spring might have been how the offense looked on the first day of practice. It was fast-paced, generally well-executed and coherent in its design.

In Roper, Florida fans were promised a fresh offensive mind. Four weeks later, he might have been the biggest new star to emerge.

The best move Roper made was to simplify everything and make his offense easy to learn. Aside from designing and implementing a scheme that best suited the players, Roper also did well in coaching his new pupils. He was equal parts patient and assertive and quickly established himself as a respected authority figure.

Prediction No. 3: New leaders will emerge on defense

This kind of thing happens every year at Florida, where the defense produces NFL players like a factory assembly line.

[+] EnlargeTaylor
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Michael Taylor aims to lead by example for the Florida defense.
The names might have been slightly off, but the final outcome was as expected. Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jabari Gorman, Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis are the players to whom teammates look for tone-setting and guidance.

Taylor, a senior linebacker and a respected veteran, pointed out that UF had too much of the wrong kind of leadership in 2013. He and his defensive teammates did very little talking this spring and made few predictions. The emphasis is now on leading by example, so it's no surprise to see that all of Florida's aforementioned leaders are reliable performers.

There is an obvious air of confidence on this defense, despite a heavy dose of youth. Some of these guys are going into their fourth year in Muschamp's system, which has made players like Taylor practically into coaches on the field.

Prediction No. 4: Roper's offense will showcase the QBs

This one didn't fully bloom to fruition, as Florida focused on basic installation for most of the spring and then added more complexity late.

Driskel, a junior coming back from a broken leg, showed that he was both healthy and clearly ahead of his competition. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman Will Grier split second-team reps. All three wore noncontact jerseys and were limited in the running game, which is likely to be the foundation of the offense.

It should also be noted that Muschamp is extremely cautious about revealing details of any new schemes to the public. The overall result was a pretty vanilla version of a no-huddle spread offense. In the spring game, however, each of the three QBs had their moments.

"I really have looked at Practice 1 to Practice 15," Muschamp said after Saturday's game. "Have those guys improved every day? Yes. I think the answer is yes. Those guys have made subtle and sometimes huge leaps of improvement."

Prediction No. 5: Spring standouts will emerge

Ugh. This happens every year. Some poor player lights it up and is crowned the star of spring practice ... only to never be heard from during the regular season.

There were a lot of names -- some hits and misses -- mentioned in our final prediction blog.

Running backs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane were excellent in camp, but Florida might very well use four tailbacks this fall, which would greatly diminish the possibility of a star rising.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Alvin Bailey was solid but unspectacular and did not climb the depth chart as predicted. He's behind at least six other wideouts.

Junior cornerback Brian Poole did not capitalize on his experience to pull away from his competition this spring. Young defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Nick Washington and Marcus Maye performed well, but the secondary remains unsettled heading into the summer.

Offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Trenton Brown had very strong showings, and Brown did indeed move to guard, where he started the spring game.

The other side of the line was up and down. Fowler met everyone's expectations, but young reserve defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick were regularly pushed and prodded by coaches and teammates to improve their focus and stamina.

There was no singular star player this spring, and that could be a good thing.

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 18, 2014
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Schedule: The Gators' first spring practice is Wednesday. It's open to the public and free, along with seven other practice sessions. Spring football concludes Saturday, April 12 with the annual Orange & Blue Debut, which starts at 1:30 p.m. ET.

What's new: After a 4-8 season in 2013, a couple of key offensive coaches were replaced. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease was fired and replaced with Kurt Roper, who was in the same position at Duke. Offensive line coach Tim Davis was fired and replaced by Mike Summers, who coached the OL at USC in 2013. Special teams coordinator Jeff Choate left to coach at Washington and was replaced with Coleman Hutzler, who coached special teams at New Mexico.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxFlorida pushed back the start of spring practice to ensure that previously injured players such as Jeff Driskel could participate.
On the mend: Florida pushed back the start of spring football by about 7-10 days in order to insure the full participation of several players who were injured last fall. Most notable among them are QB Jeff Driskel (broken leg), LBs Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus) and Jeremi Powell (torn ACL), and O-linemen Tyler Moore (broken elbow) and Chaz Green (torn labrum). Still, the Gators will be without nine players this spring, including two former starters -- RB Matt Jones (torn meniscus) and DT Leon Orr (broken wrist).

On the move: The biggest shuffling will happen on the offensive line, which lost three senior starters and another key reserve who transferred. Max Garcia, who started at left guard and left tackle last season, will move to center. Moore, who played tackle in 2013, moves to guard. Trenton Brown, who started five games at right tackle, will also see time at guard. And junior Trip Thurman, a reserve at guard and tackle who's been praised for his offseason work, will also get a look at center.

New faces: Eight true freshmen and a juco guard enrolled in January. The biggest impact is likely to come from CB Jalen Tabor, who should compete for a starting job. QB Will Grier will have a chance to become Driskel's primary backup. TE DeAndre Goolsby could stand out as a pass-catcher. Juco guard Drew Sarvary should compete for a spot on the two-deep roster. Taven Bryan has a chance to impress at defensive end. DB Duke Dawson will get a look at cornerback and safety. Kavaris Harkless provides depth at guard. RB Brandon Powell (foot) will be a non-contact participant. Guard Nolan Kelleher (back) is waiting on a second opinion before he's cleared to participate.

Question marks: There are so many following a subpar season. The biggest issue for Florida is making the most of its 15 allotted practices to install a new offense. Roper can often be heard telling his new students to play fast, but it will take time for new plays, new schemes and new principles to become second nature. The Gators' problems on offense ran deep. The line was porous in pass protection, often giving the quarterbacks precious little time to scan the field. When there was time, the receiving corps had trouble getting open. All of those issues must be addressed, as head coach Will Muschamp is betting his job on new hires Roper and Summers to restore competence to one of the worst passing attacks in the nation.

Florida was not great on defense last season, either. It's true that the offense got so bad that Muschamp publicly complained about the effect it had on his defense, but he also had some gripes of his own. The Gators' run defense, for one, slipped badly and got worse as the season went along. After DT Dominique Easley got hurt, the middle of UF's defense never recovered. It's a high priority for the Gators to find and develop some linemen who can win one-on-one battles. Also, for the second straight year, the secondary lost a lot of experienced players. Florida is deep and talented and will put pressure on several young players to progress quickly.

Key battle: There are several to choose from, but the most important and tightest competition will probably happen at middle linebacker. Morrison is the incumbent but performed below expectations last season. Senior Michael Taylor is a solid option and should push Morrison, but Taylor has always struggled in coverage. The wild card is sophomore Jarrad Davis, who came on strong as a true freshman when he drew raves for his speed, athleticism and ability to absorb coaching.

Breaking out: This is a team desperate for skill players to produce. Florida signed five talented wide receivers in 2013, and three -- Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Demarcus Robinson -- saw immediate playing time. With at least one starting WR job up for grabs, the Gators are counting on those three and redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins to mature. Roper's offense depends upon getting its best weapons the ball in space. At this time, any of those five could become the team's most dangerous weapon. Regardless of who it is, a reliable pass-catching threat must emerge this spring.

Don't forget about: On a young team, senior Quinton Dunbar will be counted on for leadership and more. He's been a solid possession receiver and has improved in each of his three seasons, but the Gators will ask Dunbar to take the next step. A certain starter, Dunbar needs to consistently separate and catch everything that comes his way. Florida's QBs need their senior receiver to be something of a security blanket.

All eyes on: It's all about the offense for a program that has consistently fielded one of the nation's best defenses. Driskel and Grier will be in the brightest spotlights, as only quarterbacks can be. They will be the easiest measuring sticks of the progress that Roper's offense makes, and hundreds of fans will come to practice to see if things are indeed improving. The shotgun, zone-read options and spread elements of the new scheme are tailor-made for these two QBs. Roper (and therefore Muschamp) will be counting on their QBs to make the offense look good.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, is known for his ability to adapt his offense to his players. It's one of the biggest reasons he was hired.

Will Muschamp is a head coach who needs results right away, and the Gators are expected to try just about anything to achieve them -- uptempo, no-huddle, spread, zone read. You name it.

After three years of a pro-style offense that had a heavy emphasis on downhill running, there will be changes.

Practice time will be at a premium, but Roper has a plan.

He'll start with incumbent quarterback Jeff Driskel and find what he does best. Then Roper will do the same with his offensive line and skill positions.

"I think you’ve got plenty of time through spring practice and through fall practice to make those decisions," he said. "So you get 15 opportunities in spring practice to make those decisions, and then you get 29 practice opportunities in the fall to keep making those decisions and finalizing going into fall camp.

"So everything moves fast, but you've got to figure those things out."

Here are some keys to Florida's offense next year.

Run, Driskel, run

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesIt seems likely that Jeff Driskel will run more in Florida's new offense in 2014.
The majority of Roper's success has come in the passing game, but this season at Duke proved he can succeed calling plays in a much more balanced spread offense. Blue Devils quarterback Brandon Connette, who started three games this season, has 13 scores on the ground. He and starter Anthony Boone have combined to score 17 of Duke's 25 rushing TDs.

Look for the read-option to come back at Florida in 2014. It won't take Roper long to see that Driskel's best success as a college QB came mostly on the ground.

One of former offensive coordinator Brent Pease's goals for 2013 was to get Driskel comfortable as a pocket passer, but it didn't happen in his injury-shortened season. In his two full games, Driskel ran 17 times for just 38 yards (2.2 yards per carry). Then he was hurt a few minutes into Game 3. It was a lost season. But if those first two games were any indication, the Gators weren't planning to use as much of the read-option that Driskel had good success with in teaming with tailback Mike Gillislee in 2012.

Look for Florida to turn Driskel loose, hope he stays healthy and not worry about redshirting incoming freshman Will Grier or a possible second QB signee who would likely be a dual-threat athlete.

Pray for the offensive line

This is where it all starts, and there's no doubt Florida has a lot of room for improvement. With D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, Florida has the makings of a capable line. But only one of those five -- Garcia -- played a full season in 2012. The injury bug hit the OL as hard as any position, so it will be critical for this group to miss as little time as the injury gods will allow. There is some size and talent on the bench, but zero starting experience.

Changing to more of a spread offense should benefit this unit more than any other on the offense, as it struggled mightily in pass protection throughout the last two seasons. The comparative simplicity of zone blocking will also help more of Florida's inexperienced players get on the field sooner. The Gators redshirted three offensive linemen in 2013 and hope to sign four or five more this year.

Another technique -- cut blocking -- could be incorporated next season, depending on Roper's scheme and the yet-to-be-hired offensive line coach. After Florida lost to Georgia Southern in November, Muschamp lamented how the cut block "negates talent" of the defense. In 2014, the Gators might prefer to be on the other side of that equation.

Any receivers who can get open?

This has been one of the most confounding problems at UF since Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez thrived as Tim Tebow's favorite targets in 2009. There are plenty of decorated recruits on the roster. The wideouts have had proven position coaches such as Pease and Joker Phillips mentoring them. In steps Roper, who has produced 1,000-yard receivers in four of six seasons at recruiting-challenged Duke. It's time for some of Florida's talented youngsters to step forward and demand the ball, and there is at least one starting job available.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesKelvin Taylor showed plenty of promise as a freshman.
The freshmen who played the most in 2013 -- Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson -- have the size to create mismatches. Another freshman who burned his redshirt late in the season, Chris Thompson, has plenty of speed. With all of the WR screens Roper likes to call, the Gators will miss senior Solomon Patton, a speedy jitterbug who could have thrived in the new offense. Perhaps a replacement can be found in freshman Alvin Bailey, who redshirted in 2013.

The tight end position took a huge step backward when Jordan Reed left early after a solid 2012 season. Florida lacked any semblance of a down-the-middle pass-catching threat in 2013, as Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton combined for four catches. The Gators have commitments from three TE/H-backs, so don't be surprised if a freshman emerges.

Bigger-play running backs

Tailback is one position that won't keep Roper awake at night, as the Gators have a bevy of talented runners. Florida entered the 2013 season expecting Matt Jones to become one of the SEC's best running backs. And while hopes are still very high for Jones, the Gators believe they found another featured back in Kelvin Taylor after Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury. Mack Brown gives UF a reliable backup, and the coaching staff is excited about the potential of Adam Lane, who redshirted last season.

Where Florida's tailbacks can improve is in hitting more big plays. Taylor averaged 4.6 yards a carry and Brown averaged 3.7. But explosive plays are more likely to come from Jones or little-used Valdez Showers, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry. The Gators are also hoping to sign a speed back who could play right away and complement the group of grinding runners already on the roster.
Demarcus RobinsonKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDemarcus Robinson, who got a jump on the competition by participating in spring practice, has a steep hill to climb to make an impact as a freshman receiver at Florida.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One of the main reasons Florida's passing offense has struggled since 2009 is the lack of production -- or a playmaker -- at receiver.

If the Gators' 2013 passing offense is going to be better than the unit that ranked 114th nationally last season, the receivers must be significantly better. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, redshirt senior Andre Debose, and senior Trey Burton are the most experienced receivers and should be UF's go-to playmakers, but each have limitations.

Dunbar has 50 career catches, but he hasn't developed into the downfield threat the Gators have needed. Debose (29 career catches) has been that at times, but his career has been marred by inconsistency and work-ethic issues. Burton (69 career catches) has so many roles that it's hard for him to excel at one, and he's more of a short-yardage, possession receiver.

Sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades each caught two passes last season and were used more as blockers than receivers.

That means UF will be depending on two or more of the five signees to make a substantial impact. Demarcus Robinson is the most likely, as he enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. But either Ahmad Fulwood, Alvin Bailey, Marqui Hawkins or Chris Thompson will have to produce, too.

But even having only one of those freshmen become a reliable and productive part of the offense might be asking too much. It's hard for true freshman receivers to make an impact -- as the past 23 years have shown.

Florida hasn't had much luck with freshman receivers, especially when it comes to being anything more than someone who gets mop-up work.

The Gators have signed 61 receivers from 1990-2012, but only 20 played as true freshmen -- and only 19 caught passes. Of those 19, only four caught more than seven passes: Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin. Anthony, Hilliard and Harvin all became first-round NFL draft picks and Caldwell was a third-round pick.

Here's more proof that it takes an especially gifted player to make an impact as a freshman: Twelve the 16 receivers who played as true freshmen from 1990-2009 went on to become draft picks.

Is there an incoming receiver who can make an impact in 2013? There's no way to know right now until September, but based on the last two-plus decades, it's unlikely.
It's all about numbers for Will Muschamp when it comes to recruiting.

He isn't counting stars or ESPN 300 members he's trying to sign. For Florida's second-year coach, he's always building, and for every position, there's a certain number he wants to reach in order to combat injury and attrition.

“That’s why I have certain numbers,” Muschamp told ESPN.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s not always perfect, but I want to have that at every position and we’re really close to that on the offensive side of the ball.”

Where Muschamp really hopes he struck gold in 2013 was at wide receiver, where glaring holes at that position made the number five so important.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThe Gators may need to count on their freshman receivers, such as Demarcus Robinson, to step up in the passing game.
Muschamp hauled in five receivers in his recent class and with the way the passing game struggled in 2012 -- and the shape Florida’s receiving corps is in -- they might all have to play immediately.

“I want them all to contribute. I want them all to start,” Muschamp said. “But they’re going to determine that, not me.”

Muschamp thinks all five give him a good base to work with.

Muschamp doesn’t like to single players out, especially true freshmen, but the star of the group is early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, who was an ESPN 150 member and ranked as the No. 8 receiver nationally in the 2013 class. He’s a dynamic athlete who can stretch the field and is dangerous in space. Being on campus now doesn’t mean he’ll start, Muschamp said, but it will give him a leg up during the installation process in a more relaxed learning environment that is spring practice.

Robinson brings that play-making ability that the Gators desperately need at receiver. Quinton Dunbar led Florida receivers with just 36 catches in 2012. Frankie Hammond Jr. was next for receivers with 22 catches. They were the only receivers with touchdowns and neither reached 400 yards.

As the Gators look to put more emphasis on the passing game this spring, Robinson is expected to be a crucial element in Florida’s offense.

His help arrives this summer, starting with ESPN 150 athlete Alvin Bailey, who played Wildcat quarterback in high school. He resembles a bigger Chris Rainey and is what Muschamp calls “just a play-making guy.”

ESPN 150 member Ahmad Fulwood stretches the field vertically, while ESPN 300 WR Marqui Hawkins is a bigger, more physical receiver who could be moved all around the offense. And Gainesville native Chris Thompson can really run and “take the top off of coverage,” Muschamp said.

“All five guys have been multisport athletes and can do a lot of things, have a big competitive edge, and can hopefully continue to progress forward in a positive way here at Florida at receiver,” Muschamp said.

It’s tough for true freshman receivers to make immediate, positive impacts, but it’s been done. Look at Percy Harvin, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Malcolm Mitchell in recent years. Do any of these players have that same ability? It’s unknown, but they’ll have to do something this fall for a Florida team that was last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game) and lost its best pass -atcher in tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns).

Dunbar is the lone returning receiver with double-digit catches from last fall, so it’s obvious quarterback Jeff Driskel needs a lot of help. Muschamp wants to continue to be a physical, tough offense, and he certainly has the rushing pieces for that, but he understands his team has to throw it more and throw it more efficiently.

The plan is to concentrate more on the passing game this spring and take what he calls a “different approach” to throwing the ball, and that will only improve when these youngsters start working. It’s a lot to ask of freshmen, but without their help, Florida’s offense could be even more one-dimensional this fall.

“Against some of the defenses we’re going to face on our schedule, now, there are going to come some days when you’re going to have to do some different things as opposed to just lining up and running the power and the counter,” Muschamp said. “We understand that we’re going to have to be more multiple on offense.”
Now that we've looked at five underclassmen's big shoes that have to be filled in the SEC East, it's time to check out five underclassmen leaving big holes for their respective teams in the SEC West:
  • Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas: Bailey's decision to turn pro early was a bit of a surprise, and he leaves a pretty big hole along the offensive line. He turned into a solid player for the Razorbacks, even though Arkansas' line struggled throughout the year. But the loss of Bailey means the Hogs will be down both starting guards next year. At this point, no one is quite sure who will step up to be the next big guard for Arkansas, but rising junior Luke Charpentier will have the first shot. He was in the three-man rotation at guard last year and has a lot of upside. With what this staff likes to do with the offensive line, anyone could emerge, so keep an eye on the offensive line signees in the 2013 class.
  • [+] EnlargeAlabama's Geno Smith
    Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsDefensive back Geno Smith was a key contributor late last season for Alabama.
    Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: Losing Lemonier was a big hit to Auburn's defense, but it wasn't a surprise at all. Now, the Tigers will have to turn to seniors Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae. Ford had a strong 2012 season after returning from injury, while Eguae spent the season rotating in and out. Both have good experience, but Lemonier was a very special player up front. If the Tigers can keep current commit Carl Lawson, he will definitely get his shot at Lemonier's old spot and would certainly be in the rotation for playing time this fall.
  • Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: He was arguably the nation's best cover corner by season's end, and losing him will hurt Alabama's secondary, which gave up big plays at times in 2012. There are still some talented bodies in the secondary, but losing Milliner's shutdown ability will hurt. He only grabbed two interceptions on the season, but he defended 22 passes, which tied for first nationally. Geno Smith will get a crack at Milliner's spot, after playing in 13 games last season with two starts. He made strides as a cover man as the season went on and added some much-needed bulk, but the pressure will be on him to make a real jump in Year 2.
  • Kevin Minter, LB, LSU: Minter was all over the field for the Tigers in 2012. He had a true breakout year with his team-high 130 tackles (55 solo) and 15 tackles for loss. He also tacked on four sacks and defended six passes. Losing all those defensive linemen will hurt, but replacing Minter at Mike linebacker will be very tough because of how versatile he was. Ronnie Feist and Trey Granier, both true freshmen, were behind Minter on the depth chart last fall. Feist played in five games, registering three tackles. Both will have the chance to take Minter's spot, but neither has much experience at all.
  • Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Losing left tackle Luke Joeckel was tough for the Aggies, but having Jake Matthews coming back helped soften the blow. Losing Moore is a major loss for A&M's defense. Not only is A&M's best defensive player (team-high 85 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks) but the Aggies are also losing Spencer Nealy up front. Tyrell Taylor backed up Moore, playing in 11 games and registering a sack. Julien Obioha also started 12 games up front, but grabbed just one sack on the year. There are young bodies to throw out up front, but any team would have a real problem replacing Moore's production.

GatorNation links: UF winning ugly

September, 11, 2012
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Michael DiRocco writes: Will Muschamp doesn't care if wins aren't big or pretty -- for instance, top receiver Frankie Hammond has several drops -- and wants UF to embrace winning ugly.

DiRocco: Offensive coordinator Brent Pease says don't be fooled -- the offensive line is the Gators' strength when they have the ball.

DiRocco: Several Gators likely didn’t advance their causes on postseason awards lists during Saturday’s dramatic win over Texas A&M.

Derek Tyson writes: Insider UF commit Alvin Bailey wrote a No. 5 on his helmet to honor former teammate Ronnie Thomas, a one-time top prospect whose injury last season ended his football career.

Note: Visit GatorNation at 9 p.m. ET to chat with Derek Tyson Insider.
Barrett JonesNed Dishman/Getty ImagesA move to center shouldn't slow Alabama's Barrett Jones, last season's Outland Trophy winner.
Our preseason SEC position rankings continue with the big uglies. The real muscle down in the trenches. Offensive lines are crucial in every level of football, but teams seriously do live and die by the play of their offensive lines in the SEC.

Past rankings:
On to the SEC's offensive line groups:

1. Alabama: Four starters return (with 95 combined starts), there's size, there's athleticism and this line just screams first-round NFL talent, starting with mammoth tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack. Reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones is moving to center, but with his versatility he should excel there. Add former top recruit Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and this is arguably the country's top offensive line.

2. LSU: Like Alabama, this line is full of experience, as four starters return and so does Josh Dworaczyk, who was granted a sixth-year after a knee injury caused him to miss all of 2011. Some think he was LSU's best lineman before last season began. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst are two of the best in the league and center P.J. Lonergan is tough to beat. Former highly-touted recruit La'El Collins should also contend for time this fall, too.

3. Texas A&M: This could be the strength of the team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is a future first-rounder, while right tackle Jake Mathews has All-SEC potential. Senior center Patrick Lewis provides a very sturdy anchor in the middle. Guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi are young, but both got good experience last year, as Harrison started five games and Ogbuehi started six. Depth could be an issue, as most reserves are younger.

4. Arkansas: The Hogs have one of the better center-guard combos in the league in Travis Swanson and Alvin Bailey. Both have received preseason accolades and should be even better in 2012. Sophomore tackle Brey Cook came in with a lot of hype and if he develops in his second season, this line will be really good. Sophomore Mitch Smothers proved he can play just about anywhere and big left tackle Jason Peacock is back, but is still in the doghouse after his arrest this spring.

5. South Carolina: Replacing Rokevious Watkins at left tackle won't be easy, but the staff feels like redshirt freshman Brandon Shell might be the man for the job. He's incredibly talented and athletic and improved his blocking ability during his redshirt year. Center T.J. Johnson and guard A.J. Cann are coming off of solid seasons, but the right side has questions. Right tackle Mike Matulis started five games last year, but missed spring while recovering from shoulder surgery and right guard Ronald Patrick recorded zero starts last year.

6. Tennessee: The good news is that everyone is back. The bad news is this is the same line that was incredibly inconsistent last year in the run game, as Tennessee ranked 116th in rushing offense. However, the staff feels it has a better lineup with the emergence of sophomore Antonio Richardson at left tackle. Stud Dallas Thomas moves to left guard and Ja'Wuan James, who has started 25 games at right tackle, provides some good stability. The line has 99 combined starts and allowed just 18 sacks last year, but the proving ground with this group is establishing that it can come off the ball and be a better running team.

7. Missouri: The Tigers lost three starters from last year, but that doesn't mean Mizzou is without experience. Old man Elvis Fisher was granted a sixth year after last year's season-ending knee injury and will provide a major boost at left tackle. And three other linemen return with starting experience from last year: tackle Justin Britt, who took over Fisher's spot last year, and guards Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth. One thing to keep an eye on is the line's durability. The average weight of this group is roughly 295 pounds.

8. Auburn: Three starters return to a line that has a ton of young depth. Center Reese Dismukes is the anchor and one of the top centers in the league. Guard John Sullen and tackle Chad Slade combined for 21 starts last year. The staff really likes redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle and former top recruit Christian Westerman will compete for time after sitting out last year. Guard Eric Mack made strides this spring before he was shot near the hip during the tragic shooting that occurred near Auburn's campus in June.

9. Mississippi State: Injuries and constant reshuffling along the line caused the Bulldogs' offense to struggle for most of last season. Three starters are gone, but junior guard Gabe Jackson, who is one of the league's best, is back and so is right guard Tobias Smith. If Smith, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early last year, is healthy, this line should be very strong along the interior. Dillon Day started six games last year and returns at center, while junior college transfers Charles Siddoway and Dylan Holley are pushing for time.

10. Florida: The Gators return four starters to a line that struggled all last season. Will Muschamp said he saw vast improvement up front this spring, but tackles Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan must show more consistency and leadership. Jonotthan Harrison is solid at center and guard Jon Halapio has improved each year. Sophomore tackle Chaz Green and impressive early enrollee D.J. Humphries will compete for time as well.

[+] EnlargeKenarious Gates
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.com Georgia may have O-line questions, but likely none concerning junior Kenarious Gates.
11. Georgia: Yet again the Bulldogs have questions up front. Junior Kenarious Gates is very versatile and athletic and is Georgia's most reliable lineman. The staff was pleased with guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette coming out of spring, but a lot is riding on sophomore David Andrews making it at center. If he has to move, Burnette will have to move to center and more reshuffling will come. Inexperience is worrisome and true freshman John Theus should get plenty of chances to take one of the tackle spots.

12. Vanderbilt: Thanks to offensive line coach Herb Hand, this group was one of the most improved in the league last year. He'll have a tall task again with a lot of youth and inexperience. Left tackle Wesley Johnson is one of the most underrated linemen out there, while Ryan Seymour has been solid up front. The right side has issues and the depth is a concern. Injuries made it tough for this line to get through spring practice, and six freshmen are coming in to compete for spots during fall camp.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost three starters from a line that struggled throughout 2011, but vets Larry Warford and Matt Smith are back to provide a solid center-guard combo. However, they'll be asked to help a cluster of youngsters. The left side is gone and will be replaced by youngsters Zach West (redshirt freshman) and Darrian Miller (sophomore). Right tackle Kevin Mitchell started just one game last year. Any sort of injury up front would be devastating for the Cats.

14. Ole Miss: This is arguably the Rebels' weakest position. Hugh Freeze wasn't thrilled with the line this spring, continuing to say it didn't handle the offense's tempo well. Guard Matt Hall, who had double-digit starts last year, left the team this spring. Center Evan Swindall was Ole Miss' most consistent lineman this spring, while senior A.J. Hawkins moved to guard. Comfort was an issue for everyone, and the tackle spots were filled this spring by Emmanuel McCray, who missed all of last season, and JUCO transfer Pierce Burton.
The SEC has a nation-leading 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best defensive player. Alabama leads the SEC with five players on the list, while LSU is second with four.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Nagurski Trophy list:
For the complete Nagurski Trophy watch list, go here.

The SEC also leads the country with 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Alabama leads the SEC with four players on the list, including reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Outland Trophy watch list:
For the full Outland Trophy watch list, go here.

DawgNation links: Recruiting mailbag

May, 31, 2012
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Kipp Adams writes Insider: The DawgNation recruiting mailbag this week covers several questions that all seem to branch from one potentially cataclysmic recruiting event: Four-star commit Derrick Henry could jump ship and roll to the Tide.

Radi Nabulsi (Video): Lifelong Gators fan D.J. Smith talks about his latest offers, from Florida and Georgia.

David Ching writes: For UGA's Athletic Association staff, finding new and innovative ways to keep fans coming back -- and coming back happy -- is at the forefront of the school's ever-expanding spectator amenities.

GatorNation links: Prospect countdown

May, 25, 2012
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There are six or seven spots left in Florida's 2013 class and a few needs to fill. Some of the top prospects in the nation are considering the Gators, and it would be difficult to turn them away. So GatorNation is ranking the top 12 uncommitted prospects for Florida this week, with two-a-days. Today, the top two: No. 2 and No. 1 Insider

Derek Tyson writes Insider: Four-star WR Alvin Bailey all but says he will not choose Florida, a program that has cooled its pursuit of him in recent months.
The first batch of big uglies are on the ranking slab Monday. No offense can operate without offensive linemen and the SEC has its share of talented big men.

Here's a look at our preseason rankings when it came to offensive lines. Let's just say we overestimated when it came to a couple of groups.

Here's what we though of after the 2011 season:

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide line pushed around its opponents all year long. Alabama was first in the SEC in rushing (and had the Doak Walker winner in Trent Richardson) and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Alabama was equipped with Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, who played just about every position up front and the top SEC in William Vlachos. Alabama got tremendous play out of D.J. Fluker and got a pleasant surprise out of Alfred McCullough. Alabama ranked first in the league by allowing just 17 sacks.

2. LSU: The Tigers' offense went as its running game went. And for 13 games the running game was great. The offensive line should take a lot of credit for that. With two Associated Press All-SEC members -- Will Blackwell and Chris Faulk -- LSU averaged 200.9 rushing yards against conference foes. Alex Hurst should also become a more familiar name in 2012. LSU allowed just 18 sacks and totaled only 234 negative rushing yards.

3: South Carolina: South Carolina put only one player on the All-SEC list, in Rokevious Watkins, but the Gamecocks' line had a pretty good season. Even after losing top running back Marcus Lattimore midway through the season, South Carolina finished the season third in the SEC in total rushing and rushing against conference opponents. South Carolina had to deal with Kyle Nunn's absence for most of the year as well, but found a budding star in A.J. Cann. Pass protection dipped, as South Carolina allowed 30 sacks.

4. Georgia: Before the season, the offensive line seemed to be held together by tape, but this line stayed together nicely through 14 games. The Bulldogs were fifth in the conference in rushing against SEC foes and had two All-SEC performers in Cordy Glenn, who might be a first-round draft pick, and center Ben Jones. Where Georgia's line came up short was in pass protection, as the Bulldogs were 11th in the league allowing 33 sacks.

5. Vanderbilt: The Commodores didn't put anyone on the All-SEC teams, but there's no question that this was the most improved line in 2011. Wesley Johnson proved to be one of the most underrated linemen in the league and the Commodores' offense was much more explosive than past years. Vandy was sixth in the league in rushing and had the league's No. 3 rusher in Zac Stacy. The Commodores gave up 18 sacks in SEC games.

6. Arkansas: The Razorbacks were dealing with a young line, but saw improvements as the season went on. Without Knile Davis in the lineup, the running backs were pretty inconsistent individually, but the Hogs averaged 134.3 yards in conference games. In each of Arkansas' two losses, the Razorbacks averaged just 32 rushing yards. Alvin Bailey was a second-team All-SEC member and should be star in 2012. Arkansas allowed 28 sacks, but also allowed quarterback Tyler Wilson take some punishing hits throughout the year.

7. Auburn: The Tigers could run the ball for most of the year. Auburn was fourth in the league in rushing and averaged 4.1 yards per carry against SEC play. Michael Dyer finished the year second in the league with 1,242 yards. Brandon Mosley was the only returning starter, but the Tigers got solid play out of freshman center Reese Dismukes and saw the reemergence of A.J. Greene after injury cut his 2010 season short. However, Auburn's passing game and pass protection struggled. The Tigers gave up 32 sacks in 2011 and were overwhelmed by more athletic defensive lines.

8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had to deal with a rash of injuries along their offensive line in 2011. Tobias Smith went out early and the Bulldogs watched as Quentin Saulsberry and James Carmon deal with injuries toward the beginning of the season. The Bulldogs were able to deliver a 1,000-yard running back in Vick Ballard, but ranked ninth in the league in rushing against SEC teams. Mississippi State gave up just under two sacks a game.

9. Tennessee: This was supposed to be a strong point for the Vols last fall, but Tennessee struggled all year to run the ball. The Vols ranked 116th nationally in rushing and averaged just 63.5 yards per game in SEC play. While Tennessee never generated much of a running game last season, its pass protection was one of the best in the league. The Vols gave up just 18 sacks on the season, despite playing three different quarterbacks.

10. Florida: The Gators experienced another year of sub par line play in 2011. With a relatively young group up front, Florida really struggled to provide much comfort in the pocket for its quarterbacks and rarely outplayed opposing SEC defensive lines. Florida's line was also flagged a bunch last fall. Florida gave up just 23 sacks, but 21 came in SEC play and Florida averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and scored nine rushing touchdowns against SEC defenses.

11. Kentucky: Before the season, we thought the Wildcats would be much higher on this list, especially considering the fact that they returned four starters. However, injuries ruined Kentucky up front. Larry Warford was Kentucky's best lineman, but for the first part of the season, the Wildcats failed to play its five original starters because of injuries. Kentucky gave up 21 sacks through the first five games and gave up a league-high 35 sacks on the year. The Wildcats also ranked 11th in the league in rushing.

12. Ole Miss:
Here's another line that returned so much but did so little last fall. We look pretty silly now after ranking Ole Miss' line second in our preseason rankings because the Rebels' line didn't do much protecting all year. Ole Miss' line didn't have the injury issues that Kentucky had and was still 10th in the SEC in rushing and scored just four rushing touchdowns in league play. The Rebels also gave up 31 sacks on the season, with a league-high 26 coming against SEC defenses.
Even as we turn our attention to the 2012 football season, there's always time to check back with the past from time to time.

The SEC released its last set of notes from the 2011 season this week, so we thought we'd take a look at some of the interesting facts and figures from the previous season.

For starters, how about a look at the SEC players of the week?

Week 1 (Games of Sept. 1-3): Offense - Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State; Defense - Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU; Special Teams - Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Rokevious Watkins, OT, South Carolina; Co-Defensive Lineman - Jaye Howard, DT, Florida; Luke McDermott, DT, Kentucky; Co-Freshman - Trey Depriest, LB, Alabama; Tre Mason, RB/RS, Auburn.

Week 2 (Games of Sept. 10): Offense - Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee; Defense - Mark Barron, S, Alabama; Special Teams - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Offensive Lineman - Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas; Defensive Lineman - Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt; Co-Freshman - Josh Clemons, RB, Kentucky; Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 3 (Games of Sept. 15-17): Co-Offense - Chris Rainey, RB, Florida; Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina; Defense -Trey Wilson, DB, Vanderbilt; Special Teams - Caleb Sturgis, PK, Florida; Offensive Lineman - Wesley Johnson, C, Vanderbilt; Defensive Lineman - Bennie Logan, DT, LSU; Freshman- Odell Beckham, WR, LSU.

Week 4 (Games of Sept. 24): Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Defense -Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Special Teams - Brad Wing, P, LSU; Offensive Lineman - Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama; Defensive Lineman - Jaye Howard, DT, Florida; Freshman- Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 5 (Games of Oct. 1): Co-Offense - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas; Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas; Defense - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Special Teams - Steven Clark, P, Auburn; Offensive Lineman - William Vlachos, C, Alabama; Defensive Lineman - Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU; Freshman - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia..

Week 6 (Games of Oct. 8): Offense - Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina; Defense - Mike Gilliard, ILB, Georgia; Special Teams - Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia; Offensive Lineman - Will Blackwell, OG, LSU; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Freshman - Tevin Mitchel, CB, Arkansas.

Week 7 (Games of Oct. 15): Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Co-Defense - Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn; D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina; Special Teams - Steven Clark, P, Auburn; Offensive Lineman - Chris Faulk, OT, LSU; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Co-Freshman - Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina; Ray Drew, OLB, Georgia.

Week 8 (Games of Oct. 22): Offense - Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas; Defense - Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Special Teams - Brad Wing, P, LSU; Offensive Lineman - Ryan Seymour, OG, Vanderbilt; Defensive Lineman - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU; Freshman - A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee.

Week 9 (Games of Oct. 29): Offense - Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn; Co-Defense - Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas; Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia; Special Teams - Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Freshman - Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina.

Week 10 (Games of Nov. 5): Offense - Jeff Demps, RB, Florida; Defense - Eric Reid, S, LSU; Special Teams - Dennis Johnson, RS/RB, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Co-Defensive Lineman - Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas; Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU; Freshman - Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky.

Week 11 (Games of Nov. 12): Offense - Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt; Defense - Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Special Teams - Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Defensive Lineman - Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina; Freshman - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 12 (Games of Nov. 19): Offense - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas; Co-Defense - Ron Brooks, DB, LSU; Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky; Special Teams - Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia; Offensive Lineman - Will Blackwell, OG, LSU; Co-Defensive Lineman - Malik Jackson, DT, Tennessee; Abry Jones, DE, Georgia; Freshman - Curt Maggitt, LB, Tennessee.

Week 13 (Games of Nov. 25-26): Co-Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina; Defense - Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU; Special Teams - Ryan Tydlacka, P, Kentucky; Co-Offensive Lineman - Kyle Fischer, OT, Vanderbilt; William Vlachos, C, Alabama; Co-Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia; Freshman - Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU.

SEC Championship Game MVP: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU

BCS (Yes, the SEC has won six straight)
  • Since 2006, more than half of the slots in the BCS National Championship Game have been taken by SEC teams (7 of 12). The Big Ten and the Big 12 have two each and the Pac-12 has one.
  • An SEC team has led or tied for the lead at the end of 20 of the last 24 quarters of BCS National Championship Game play.
  • Since 2006, an SEC team has been ranked first in the weekly BCS standings in 26 of the 48 weeks, with four different teams holding the top spot. Florida was first for seven weeks, Alabama for six weeks, Auburn for three and LSU for 10 weeks, including all eight polls of this season.
  • The SEC has had more teams ranked in the BCS standings for the most times than any other conference since 2006. The league has had 11 of its 12 teams ranked at one time or another since 2006 for a total of 238 times. The SEC breakdown: LSU (45), Alabama (35), Florida (33), Auburn (29), Georgia (23), Arkansas (23), South Carolina (21), Tennessee (14), Mississippi State (8), Kentucky (4) and Ole Miss (3).
  • Since 2006, the SEC has posted a 9-3 record in BCS bowl games, more wins and a higher winning percentage (.750) than any other conference. The win total equals that of the next two highest conferences.
Bowls
  • Since 2006, the SEC has accrued more bowl wins (36) and appearances (55) than any other conference. The conference’s .655 bowl winning percentage is third behind the Big East (23-10, .697) and Mountain West (20-9, .690) during that time.
  • In January bowl games, the SEC is 22-10 (.688) against nonconference competition. Since 2008, the league is 16-6 (.727) against nonconference opponents in January bowls.
  • In seven 2011-12 bowl games against nonconference teams, SEC defenses held opponents to less than its scoring average in five of those games. One of the two other games were in overtime (Michigan State-Georgia) and the other was Auburn holding Virginia to 24 points, when the Cavaliers season average was 23.2 points per game.
Random
  • Over the last five seasons, Alabama owns the SEC's best winning percentage with a 50-12 record (.806). LSU has the most wins with 53, while Vanderbilt owns the league's lowest winning percentage (.355). LSU owns the best winning percentage over the last 10 years (.795) with a 105-27.
  • SEC teams were 20-28 on the road against SEC opponents last season. Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt failed to win on the road against conference opponents.
  • LSU led the SEC with a touchdown efficiency on drives of 34.8. Alabama led in scoring efficiency (46.8). Ole Miss was last in scoring efficiency (20.1) and Kentucky was last in touchdown efficiency (13.2).
  • LSU led the SEC with 129 fourth-quarter points and a fourth-quarter scoring margin of plus-95. Ole Miss was last with 41 points and a scoring margin of -36.
  • Arkansas led the SEC in yards per scoring drive (61.9).
The votes have been tallied and we have a winner in the category of the SEC's top returning lineman.

It wasn't even close, as Alabama's Barrett Jones took home 52 percent of the vote with more than 7,500 votes being cast in last week's poll.

I'd like to say I'm shocked, but I'm not. Jones not only won the Outland Trophy in 2011, as the nation's top interior lineman, but he was one of the most versatile linemen in the country. He played just about every position on the offensive line last fall and never really saw any sort of drop off in his production.

Jones might be known as a scholar (and certified nerd) off of the field, but he's an animal on it. Don't let his very polite demeanor fool you. He isn't always so nice to opposing defensive linemen. Jones could have easily left for the NFL after his junior year, but decided to return to Tuscaloosa for one last season with the Crimson Tide.

Arkansas' Alvin Bailey came in second, earning 29 percent of the vote. Bailey was very impressive during his sophomore season. He had a solid freshman year in 2010, but really improved in 2011 and earned All-SEC second team honors. Bailey should enter the 2012 season as a first-team selection.

Kentucky's Larry Warford and Alabama's D.J. Fluker both grabbed single-digit percentages, while our "Other" category received 13 percent of the vote.

We said farewell to plenty of talented SEC offensive linemen after the 2011 season, but it's not like the conference will lack in line talent next year. There are a few big boys that will make sure all of your favorite quarterbacks are as comfy as they can be in 2012.
We're continuing to look at the future, as we take a glance at some of the big uglies returning in 2012.

The guys who get things started on offense and protect all those fragile quarterbacks deserve a little credit, don't ya think?

The SEC might be saying goodbye to a pretty good crop of offensive linemen, but next season won't lack much talent up front, either.

But who is the best one returning in 2012?

First, you have arguably the most versatile lineman in the country in Alabama's Barrett Jones, who found a way to play just about every position on the offensive line during Alabama's national championship run in 2011. Jones, who decided to return for his senior season, won the Outland Trophy last year as the nation's top interior lineman.

Jones is great, but one of his teammates might challenge him for the moniker of the SEC's top lineman. That lineman is tackle D.J. Fluker, who started 12 games at right tackle last season. At 6-6, 335 pounds, Fluker makes it hard for defensive linemen to get by him. Without Fluker anchoring the right side of the line, Alabama's offense wouldn't have had the success it did in 2011.

What about fellow SEC Western Division standout Alvin Bailey? Arkansas' young lineman really improved as the season went on. He was named to the All-SEC second team after a solid sophomore season with the Razorbacks and showed that he's one of the more athletic lineman around.

You also have Kentucky guard Larry Warford. The veteran has had a stellar career and was an All-SEC second team member in 2011. Kentucky's offense struggled mightily last season, but any team would love to have Warford blocking for it.

You also have youngster Chaz Green at Florida. The rising sophomore tackle was arguably Florida's most consistent lineman in 2011. While Florida's line struggled, Green made strides throughout the year and was named the No. 9 freshman overall by ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay.

With Alabama's William Vlachos and Georgia's Ben Jones departing, LSU center P.J. Lonergan will likely enter the year as the SEC's top center. He was banged up at times in 2011, but his teammates agreed that LSU's line is much better when he's in and healthy.

Then there's his teammate, rising junior Chris Faulk, who ranked third on the team with 73.5 knockdowns in 2011. He was a second team All-SEC member. He started 12 games at left tackle for the Tigers this season.

South Carolina guard A.J. Cann had a great freshman season for the Gamecocks and should become a bigger name among SEC offensive linemen during the offseason and next season.

And you also can't forget Vanderbilt's Wesley Johnson. He isn't the biggest lineman out there, but he certainly held his own on the Commodores' line in his second season. Johnson is another one of those youngsters who should really make some noise in 2012.

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