<
>

SEC spring games: What we didn't learn

4/20/2015

Five SEC teams hosted their spring game Saturday, and similar to last week, there were just as many questions that came from them as answers. We didn’t learn who the starting quarterback is or how the defense will look under a new coordinator. In fact, it was just the opposite.

This is a look at what we wanted to learn and didn't learn from each of Saturday's spring games in the SEC.

Alabama

What’s the depth like behind Derrick Henry? Nick Saban called it a "business decision" and the entertainment was immediately sucked dry. Because putting Kenyan Drake in a black no-contact jersey is like throwing training wheels on a sports car. It was impossible to get a feel for how well the speedy tailback could run. On one play, Drake hit the hole, found daylight and had what should have been a long touchdown run in front of him. But the referees blew the play dead because a defender tapped him on the shoulder. Limited while he recovers from a season-ending injury, he just couldn't show what he was capable of. He was plenty fast, but we couldn't tell how he was able to run through contact. And because of that, we didn't learn how effective Alabama's running game will be. Henry will be a worthy leading man, but the rest of the rotation is a bit of a mystery. With Bo Scarbrough out with a knee injury, don't be surprised if Damien Harris vies for a significant role as a true freshman. -- Alex Scarborough

Auburn

Can Will Muschamp really turn around the defense? It was the lowest-scoring spring game since Gus Malzahn took over at Auburn. That has to be because of Muschamp, right? Before we give out too much credit, let’s not forget that Jeremy Johnson threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Oh, it was against the second-team defense? Well backup quarterback Sean White was surprisingly efficient, going 15-of-19 for 109 yards, against the first-team defense. Obviously, all of this doesn’t mean Auburn is going to revert back to its 2014 defense. The Tigers were missing two key pieces Saturday in defensive end Carl Lawson and cornerback Jonathan Jones. You can’t name a defense in the SEC that wouldn’t struggle without its top pass-rusher and top cover guy. And then there’s the rest of the 2015 recruiting class, a group that it includes the No. 1 overall player Byron Cowart, that will arrive this summer. Auburn should improve. How much so? We don’t know. -- Greg Ostendorf

LSU

How will LSU's defense change under Kevin Steele? The Tigers' new defensive coordinator gave away very little on Saturday, sticking with mostly vanilla looks on defense. Sure, the defensive linemen's splits looked a bit different at times, and the Tigers relied heavily on their nickel defensive package -- probably their most frequently-used defensive personnel group last season under John Chavis. But there wasn't much in the way of clarity concerning any tactical changes to expect. Nonetheless, LSU fans had to like what they saw from the starting defense. In the 45-6 win for the White team (composed of the first-team offense and defense), the starting defense allowed the reserves to muster just 91 yards of total offense on 40 plays. The White team also recorded five sacks (three by new defensive end Maquedius Bain) and held the reserves to 2-for-11 on third-down conversions. It would be pointless to make any declarations about how good Steele's defense can be based upon its performance on Saturday, but it's clear that the Tigers' new coordinator has plentiful talent with which to work in his starting 11. -- David Ching

Mississippi State

Who replaces Josh Robinson at running back? Dan Mullen is going to let the running backs duke it out with Robinson off chasing a career in the NFL. If a lead back emerges, so be it. If not, that's OK with Mullen. But if you're a Mississippi State fan, you want to see a top dog at running back. And on Saturday that didn't happen. Dontavian Lee led all rushers with 53 yards on the ground. Aeris Williams had 31. Ashton Shumpert had only 14. That's, by any measure, uninspiring. Shumpert is supposed to be the incumbent to Robinson, but he didn't play like it. Williams might have the most upside as the former Mr. Football in the state, but he didn't show it on Saturday. In Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs have a star at QB who is capable of running the football. But that doesn't mean he should. For State's offense to thrive, he'll need a capable running back alongside him, and we didn't see one emerge to end the spring. -- Alex Scarborough

Missouri

Will inexperience at wide receiver hurt Maty Mauk? If Mauk continues to develop at the rate he’s going, he has a chance to be one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in 2014. There’s just one problem. Missouri’s top three wide receivers all graduated and have moved on. That leaves very little experience at the position, and there has been a lack of chemistry between Mauk and his wide receivers all spring. Saturday was no different. Mauk missed an open Wesley Leftwich not once, but twice on deep balls. Even the positives, including a solid two-minute drill capped off by a 3-yard touchdown pass to J’Mon Moore, has to be taken with a grain of salt as it came against the second-team defense. The good news is that Mauk has all summer to work with his wide receivers and develop that chemistry, but we don’t know what to expect until Missouri plays its first game. Mauk could be really good. Or he could just as easily regress. -- Greg Ostendorf