SEC: Chandler Burden

Now that you've seen the recruiting needs for the SEC Western Division teams, it's time to check what teams in the East needed to focus on when it came to recruiting for the 2012 class:

FLORIDA

Offensive line: There's no getting around how much Florida's offensive line struggled in 2011. Florida doesn't lose a lot from its line, but the Gators need more talent. There are a lot of questions surrounding this position and getting qualities bodies is a must.

Running back: Florida loses seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and will enter the fall with unproven players in Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. As Florida continues to move closer to a more traditional/pro-style offense, the Gators also need to add size to the position.

Wide receiver: Again, this is a position in which the Gators need to improve in the talent category. Florida lost just one senior from last year's squad, but unproven players lurk. What Florida needs to get in this class is a true playmaker at receiver. There is hope that Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can step up, but some solid competition won't hurt.

GEORGIA

Offensive line: Georgia loses three starters in Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson. The Bulldogs would like to add a few more big bodies up front in this class to help with all that unproven depth.

Linebacker: In Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense, linebackers are extremely important. The Bulldogs will likely lose a couple bodies at outside linebacker next year, including star Jarvis Jones, and would like to add a couple of true playmakers at that position in this class.

Wide receiver: Come 2013, Georgia will have taken some hits at its wide receiver depth. There is young talent in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, but veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten will be gone. Adding a couple standouts at wide receiver in this class would be nice.

KENTUCKY

Offensive playmakers: Whether it comes at quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, the Wildcats need to find players who can make plays when they get the ball in their hands. Kentucky's offense was hard to watch all season because there was no one who could consistently move the ball.

Offensive line: Kentucky loses three starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy -- from its offensive line and needs to load up here in this class. There is a handful of young players at each offensive line position, but the Wildcats need to think about adding more for the future.

Defensive back: Veterans are leaving the Wildcats' secondary, so it's time to stock up. Winston Guy, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley will all be gone, meaning the Wildcats are in need of adding some depth to both the cornerback and safety positions.

MISSOURI

Running back: Leading rusher Henry Josey suffered a severe knee injury toward the end of the 2011 season and the Tigers have some veterans jam packed at the top of the depth chart at the position. Getting help to add to future rosters would really help this offense as it moves to the SEC.

Defensive line: The Tigers are losing three starters along the defensive line and 10 players from 2011 will be gone by the end of next season. There are some youngsters there, but it's time to getting into restocking mode along the defensive line. Also, this is where games are won and lost in the SEC. Finding more athleticism here is crucial.

Offensive line: Like the defensive line, Missouri will lose three starters here. There are some bodies to fill in for now, but you can never have too many offensive linemen and now that the Tigers are headed to the SEC, getting some bigger, more athletic linemen will be key to survival in this jungle.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: The Gamecocks have gotten a ton of production from here lately, but South Carolina will lose two starters in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson. South Carolina might want to add to defensive end the most, with Ingram leaving and Devin Taylor getting ready to depart in a year.

Linebacker: Over the next two years, the Gamecocks will lose some quality players at linebacker and even the spur position. A handful of veterans occupy the depth chart at linebacker, so that means South Carolina needs to add a few quality bodies for the future.

Defensive back: South Carolina's depth in its defensive backfield could be considered thin. The Gamecocks are down two starters at cornerback and will lose solid players in D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman in 2013.

TENNESSEE

Running back: The Vols never figured out how to run the ball last year and will now turn to a group of unproven running backs. Marlin Lane has the talent to excel, but he needs to be more consistent. Finding a couple talented backs in this class would help this position tremendously.

Defensive tackle: The Vols need some help inside, and now that they are moving to the 3-4, getting quality nose guards is a must for Tennessee. Adding some girth inside will be very important in order to improving this position.

Defensive back: Tennessee will say goodbye to quite a bit of their defensive backs in the next couple of years, so getting a head start on adding to players to both safety and corner would be a plus.

VANDERBILT

Offensive line: The Commodores return the bulk of their offensive line next year, but after that, Vanderbilt will be pretty thin and very young up front. Adding four or five bodies to the offensive line would go a long way for Vanderbilt.

Linebacker: Vanderbilt loses one starter, in Chris Marve, here for next season, but the year after will see a lot of turnover at the position, with four rising seniors on the roster.

Defensive end: Two starters — Tim Fugger and T.J. Greenstone — are gone and Vanderbilt will lose a handful more after the 2012 season. Getting some help at this position is another must for coach James Franklin.

Lunchtime links

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
12:39
PM ET
Making the SEC rounds on a Thursday.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Gone are the offensive weapons that provided the excitement in Kentucky’s 2010 offense.

Do-everything athlete Randall Cobb is gone. Quarterback Mike Hartline, who was second in the SEC in passing a year ago -- adios. And running back Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews, who were both instrumental offensive cogs, have hit the road as well.

The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s full of new, shiny objects that have yet to really get much grease on them.

Except when you look up front.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillMorgan Newton is looking forward to working behind a veteran offensive line.
Kentucky returns four veteran starters on the offensive line that has the makings of being one of the best in this league, accumulating more than 60 combined starts in their careers.

Senior guard Stuart Hines leads the group with 24 career starts and has enjoyed the praise he and his other fellow linemen have received this year and expects it to be the guiding force for the Wildcats’ offense this fall.

“There’s a lot of pride behind that. We’ve worked hard as a group to be where we are right now and we just want to continue to improve and continue to get better,” Hines said. “It’s a great starting spot to build your offense around.

“People [say] we lost a lot of guys, well we return a lot of guys on the offensive line.”

Hines might be the heart and keeps the focus in the trenches, but a lot of the hype has surrounded second-year starter Larry Warford.

After playing mostly as a reserve during his freshman year, Warford burst onto the scene last season, starting 13 games and leading Kentucky’s line with 43 knockdown blocks. He enters his junior year with some nice preseason accolades as well.

Hines admits that Warford was a bit lazy when he first arrived, thinking his ability alone could carry him, but now he sees a determined athlete with relentless drive on and off the field.

“He’s worked his butt off to get into shape and shed a few pounds and keep his weight down,” Hines said. “He’s done a great job of doing of that and getting the extra stuff with Coach ‘Rock’ [Oliver]. It’s great to see a guy that dedicated to doing what he has to do to be a good player.”

Kentucky also returns junior Matt Smith at center and senior Chandler Burden, who missed spring but will return in August, at left tackle. Senior Billy Joe Murphy left spring as the starter at right tackle.

By last count, that makes three of the five up front residing in Kentucky’s senior class, a welcomed realization for new quarterback Morgan Newton.

“Everyone knows the offensive line is a big key,” Newton said. “Those guys are as good as anybody. That group, we talk about guys that work and don’t really say a lot, that’s that group.

“That’s one of the best offensive lines in the country. Having a group like that is a great start for a special offense.”

And it will have to be a great start. Along with the baby-faced Newton, the Wildcats also have a new group of young running backs to utilize. Hines said it’s important for the line to make those players feel comfortable about running up the middle. They need to provide quality holes for the backs to limit the dancing around in the backfield.

Like any offensive line, this one is very close-knit. Hines said one major reason is the pride four of them take in being from the state of Kentucky. To Hines, there is something about being Kentucky bred that contributes to their on-field success.

“I guess we eat a lot of Kentucky country food or there’s something in the water,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. A bunch of cornbread or something.”

SEC media days: One good thing

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
9:30
AM ET
AUBURN: The defending national champion Tigers won't have to look far for motivation in 2011. They've heard from their own coaches all spring and all offseason that "all the good players are gone."

Not that anybody on the Plains really believes that, but it's made for some fierce competition on the practice field and in the weight room.

It's also driven the returning players to prove that the foundation of the Auburn football program remains rock-solid despite the departure of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Antoine Carter, Josh Bynes, Lee Ziemba, Darvin Adams and 30-some other players who were on the roster in Glendale, Ariz., in January.

"We lost some great players, no doubt," Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "But we have a lot of other talented players who've just been waiting for their shot. Nobody expected us to do what we did last year, so why would this year be any different?"

GEORGIA: It's no secret that Georgia's depth on the offensive line has taken a considerable hit.

It started with Trinton Sturdivant's third torn ACL in the spring and continued with A.J. Harmon and Brent Benedict both leaving the program.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, though, is more interested in who he will have this fall up front, and it's a unit that's anchored by a guy, Ben Jones, whom Richt calls the "best center in America."

Richt knew from the time Jones attended Georgia's football camp that the Bulldogs were getting a great one.

"We're doing a little pass-rush drill," Richt said. "He's just whooping everybody. Finally, I stepped in and said, 'Look, I want every defensive lineman to line up. One by one, I want you to go against Ben, play after play after play.

"After about I don't know how many, 10 or 12, he was finally exhausted and somebody beat him. But he's a fierce competitor. He's mean as a snake on the field, but he knows what he's doing. He's a great leader. He's a great football player. I'm glad we got him."

KENTUCKY: A year ago, it was the Randall Cobb Show at Kentucky with Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews and Mike Hartline all playing supporting roles.

This year, it might not be as flashy offensively for the Wildcats (unless you like the big guys up front), but they enter the 2011 season with one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the league.

"Everybody knows that's where it starts … in your offensive line," said Kentucky junior quarterback Morgan Newton, who enters his first season as the full-time starter.

Stuart Hines and Larry Warford form perhaps the best guard tandem in the SEC, while center Matt Smith and left tackle Chandler Burden are also returning starters.

"We've all played together for two years now," Hines said. "We trust each other. We rely on each other, and we want it to be on our shoulders this year."

TENNESSEE: Quarterback Tyler Bray did a lot of things right last season as a true freshman.

He threw 16 touchdown passes while starting the final five games and led the Vols to a 4-1 record.

He also threw seven interceptions in his last three games and beat up on four teams (Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) who won a combined 13 games.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is as anxious as anybody to see what kind of encore his strong-armed sophomore has and whether he's ready to enter the next stage as a quarterback.

"He's made a tremendous investment in getting better, having a better command of the offense, being able to make better decisions and putting our offense in better positions," Dooley said. "It's only going to come with experience."

Hope and concern: Kentucky

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
2:00
PM ET
Today we look at what could power the Wildcats and what could hold them back this fall:

Biggest reason for hope: Veteran offensive line

The Wildcats are breaking in a new quarterback and running back this fall. What better way to boost their confidence than having the strength of the team be the big uglies up front? Kentucky returns four starters from a year ago and they aren't just experienced, they're big. The returning starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines, Matt Smith and Larry Warford -- average nearly 310 pounds across the line. Another good thing going for the Wildcats' line is that Jake Lanefski can play each position. He's listed as a center, but can play guard and tackle as well. Kentucky's offense lost a bit of its firepower from last year, so it will have to heavily lean on this line to keep it going this fall.

Biggest reason for concern: Unproven wide receivers

While Kentucky's coaching staff feels like starting quarterback Morgan Newton has the talent to be a star for the Wildcats, there isn't a ton of trust in the receivers he'll be throwing to. Losing Randall Cobb was a major blow to Kentucky's offense, and besides La'Rod King -- the only wide receiver with any real experience -- no one really stood out this spring at the receiver position. Making matters worse was that there were about 10 drops by Newton's receivers during the spring game. It didn't help that junior Gene McCaskill missed all of spring. There were improvements made by Brian Adams and Matt Roark, but Adams spent time playing baseball as well this spring. There aren't a lot of catches in Kentucky's receiver stable and that is worrisome around Lexington.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There were a few times this spring when Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton dropped back to pass and looked for No. 18.

The only problem was that he was usually somewhere on the sideline watching in street clothes.

Randall Cobb, who will be in New York City later this week at the NFL draft waiting for his name to be called, was the ultimate bail-out player the past few seasons for the Wildcats.

You could throw it to him, snap it to him, hand it off to him, and if none of those worked, he could always throw it.

He was the quintessential playmaker.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillMorgan Newton will have the luxury of operating behind an experienced offensive line in 2011.
“Sometimes you just wanted to tell him to jump back in there and run some of those old plays,” Newton joked. “Randall has been great and great for the receivers. It’s tough not having him out there, but we know what the standard is now and have some other guys who can step up and make plays.”

Perhaps so, but one of coach Joker Phillips’ biggest concerns coming out of the spring centered around who those guys would be on a consistent basis.

It wasn’t a stirring end to the spring for the Wildcats’ receivers, although Brian Adams made the most of his time on the football field while also playing baseball.

Sophomore Raymond Sanders emerged as Kentucky’s go-to running back this spring and also showcased his versatility, and Phillips can’t wait to get a look at incoming freshman running backs Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons.

But if you’re looking for the epicenter of Kentucky’s offense next season, look no further than the five guys up front.

The Wildcats return four starters on their offensive line, and two other seniors who’ve played a lot of football for them and are capable of playing different positions.

It’s an offensive line that should be one of the best in the SEC after finishing second in the league a year ago in sacks allowed (19 in 13 games) and paving the way for the Wildcats to finish fourth in total offense.

“That’s always a good place to start, when you think you have a chance to match up with anybody you play up front,” Phillips said. “We’ll lean on those guys a lot next season.”

Senior Chandler Burden returns at left tackle. He wasn’t supposed to do much this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, but returned for the final part of practice. Also back is junior center Matt Smith, who’ll be flanked by one of the better guard tandems in college football.

Junior Larry Warford plays right guard and was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. Senior Stuart Hines has 24 starts over the past two seasons and will be the Wildcats’ left guard.

Senior Billy Joe Murphy made starts at left tackle, right tackle and left guard last season, but will settle in at right tackle next season. Senior Jake Lanefski also returns and can play center or guard.

“We’re all on the same page with each other and are really starting to learn to play together even more than last year,” said Hines, one of the strongest leaders on the team. “We’re able to communicate well, and even if we don’t get calls made, we’re still able to be on the same page. I know the center is going to still be on his block.

“What that does with our young running backs coming up is hopefully give them confidence to run behind us.”

This will also be offensive line coach Mike Summers’ second year with this group, and Hines points out that Burden was just learning to play offensive line a year ago after moving over from defense.

“We have a solid group of guys who are continuing to learn, and continuity makes a big difference,” Hines said. “At this point last year, we’d only been together for 15 practices and only 15 practices with Coach Summers as well. We hadn’t really come together as a group yet, but now we’re really starting to come together as a unit and know what he expects from us.”

Hines welcomes the offensive burden being on the line’s shoulders next season.

With so many veterans returning, he said that’s the way it should be.

“We’re a group of guys who will take the blame if we have a bad game,” Hines said. “Put it on us. We can take it.

“It’s on us to give everybody a chance to make the kind of plays Randall and Derrick [Locke] did last season, and that’s the way we want it.”

Kentucky may lean on offensive line

March, 29, 2011
3/29/11
11:32
AM ET
Most of the questions surrounding Kentucky this spring center around who will make the plays next season for the Wildcats.

That’s understandable when you lose the likes of quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. Cobb was the quintessential playmaker for the Wildcats the last two years.

What’s not being talked about as much, and probably should be, is that Kentucky returns what could be one of the better offensive lines in the SEC next season.

Kentucky was vastly underrated up front a year ago, as Mike Summers did a terrific job in his first season as the Wildcats' offensive line coach. Despite having to replace four starters, they finished second in the league in sacks allowed (19 in 13 games) and paved the way for Kentucky to finish fourth in the league in total offense and fifth in scoring offense.

Returning are four starters from that unit -- senior left tackle Chandler Burden, senior left guard Stuart Hines, junior center Matt Smith and junior right guard Larry Warford, who was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. Hines, who battled through injuries, also got some All-SEC mention.

The Wildcats will be experienced up front in 2011, and they also have some depth that will allow them to move some guys around in case of injuries.

Senior Jake Lanefski, who started four games at right guard in 2008, will be the swing guy. He can play center or guard.

Senior Billy Joe Murphy slides in for Brad Durham at right tackle. Murphy can play both guard and tackle and has started nine games during his career. He ended last season as the starter at left tackle.

Burden, who started his career as a defensive end, is still recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t going through the spring. His absence has allowed the Kentucky coaches to get a closer look at redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared, who’s getting a lot of work at left tackle. The 6-7 Eatmon-Nared is up to 325 pounds after coming to Kentucky as a tight end.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said sophomore Kevin Mitchell also had a good offseason. The 6-6 Mitchell has trimmed down to 310 pounds and is another guy who could play guard or tackle.

Opening spring camp: Kentucky

March, 23, 2011
3/23/11
8:00
AM ET
Schedule: The Wildcats open spring practice on Wednesday morning and will hold their Blue/White spring game on April 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

What’s new: Rick Minter, the head coach at Cincinnati from 1994-2003, joins the staff as co-defensive coordinator and will oversee the defense. Minter was the linebackers coach at Indiana State last season, but has served stints as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, South Carolina, Ball State and Marshall. He plans to experiment with a three-man front, although the Wildcats will operate primarily out of a 4-2-5 alignment. Steve Brown remains as co-defensive coordinator and will coach the defensive backs. He takes over for Chris Thurmond, who was not retained. Steve Pardue replaces Larry Brinson as running backs coach. Pardue was previously the longtime head coach at LaGrange (Ga.) High School. Brinson was also not retained.

On the mend: Chandler Burden, who started 12 games at left offensive tackle last season, will be held out of contact this spring while he recovers from a shoulder injury. Receiver Gene McCaskill will be limited after experiencing some swelling in the knee that caused him to miss last season.

On the move: Senior Jake Lanefski will move from backup center to getting more reps at one of the guard positions. Junior Ridge Wilson will play a hybrid role, lining up as a defensive end in pass-rush situations and also playing some at his standard linebacker position.

Key battle: Replacing Randall Cobb and all he did will be difficult enough, but the Wildcats also have to find somebody to fill the shoes of top rusher Derrick Locke. Sophomore Raymond Sanders, redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer, junior CoShik Williams and sophomore Jonathan George are the top candidates.

New faces: The Wildcats grayshirted three players from the 2010 class -- quarterback Maxwell Smith, defensive lineman Jabari Johnson and linebacker Tim Patterson. They enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. Patterson is still rehabilitating a knee injury and might not be full go in contact drills.

Breaking out: Gainer has bulked up to the 215-pound range and is one of those guys the Kentucky coaches are eager to see in pads after redshirting last season. He’ll push hard for the starting tailback job. On defense, maybe this is the year that safety Winston Guy makes that jump and becomes a bona fide All-SEC player.

Don’t forget about: Kentucky returns four starters on the offensive line, and with a new quarterback, new tailback and new go-to receiver, the Wildcats will need to lean on those guys up front more than ever. It’s a veteran group and an underrated group, and it also looks like second-year offensive line coach Mike Summers will have some depth.

All eyes on: Junior Morgan Newton has nine career starts, but this is the first time he goes into a spring as the Wildcats’ clear No. 1 at quarterback. Ryan Mossakowski elected to transfer following last season. Even so, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips isn’t just going to hand the job over to Newton. Phillips wants to see Newton become more of a leader and play with more consistency. Of course, the reality is that there’s not a long list of quarterbacks on campus pushing Newton.

Lunchtime links: Alabama's best offense ever?

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
12:15
PM ET
A check of what's making headlines in the SEC:

SPONSORED HEADLINES