SEC: Jason Jones

Five SEC schools -- Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- will close spring practice with their annual spring games Saturday.

These really are just glorified scrimmages, but they're a chance for fans to see what players and coaches worked on during all those practices.

Here are five things to watch this weekend:

1. Defending down low: Ole Miss might return a host of starters on the defensive side of the ball, but the Rebels are very thin along the defensive line this spring. Defensive tackle Isaac Gross went down with a groin injury on the first day of spring practice and end C.J. Johnson has missed most of spring with a broken fibula. The Rebels were already dealing with the departures of seniors Gilbert Pena, Uriah Grant and Jason Jones. Injuries and graduation have left the Rebels down six bodies up front this spring. Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been impressed with Carlos Thompson and Woodrow Hamilton this spring, but also keep an eye on sophomore Channing Ward and juco transfer Lavon Hooks. Ward is getting more comfortable, while Hooks has the talent to be a stud for the Rebels.

2. Quarterback musical chairs: Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has been playing his quarterback cards very close to the vest this spring. Maxwell Smith entered as the favorite, but the staff has handed out a good amount of reps to rising sophomores Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who shared reps last year while Smith was out with injuries. The reps will be split evenly among the three quarterbacks, and all three are expected to line up for both the Blue and White teams Saturday. This battle is far from over, and Saturday could be really big for one of these guys.

3. New defensive faces: Texas A&M lost a lot of defensive firepower from its 2012 team. All-American defensive end Damontre Moore is gone and so are linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Overall, the Aggies are having to replace five starters from the front seven. Defensive end Julien Obioha and linebacker Steven Jenkins (projected starters) are out with injuries, so fans will have the opportunity to see a lot of youngsters on defense Saturday. Keep an eye on early enrollee linebackers Tommy Sanders, Reggie Chevis and Brett Wade and young linemen Tyrone Taylor, Tyrell Taylor and Alonzo Williams.

4. Wideout help: With Ace Sanders gone, South Carolina is searching for more receiving help this spring. Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 600 receiving yards and caught seven touchdowns last season, needs someone to help out and take some of the pressure off of him. Speed demon Damiere Byrd was third on the team in receiving yards last year but caught just 14 passes. Then there's Nick Jones, who caught 12 passes but entered the spring as one of the Gamecocks' three starting receivers. There's also rising sophomore Shaq Roland, who has all the talent to be a star but has struggled with his focus. He has the ability to excite the crowd here and there Saturday.

5. Replacing Rodgers: Now that Jordan Rodgers is gone, Vanderbilt has a real quarterback competition on its hands. Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette entered the spring as the top two quarterbacks, but Josh Grady moved over to the position from wide receiver. While Grady is a big-time athlete, it looks like things will really come down to Carta-Samuels and Robinette. Both are athletic, but Robinette brings a little more to the table with his legs. Both will quarterback opposite teams, so we'll really get to see these guys compete on Saturday.

Opening spring camp: Ole Miss

March, 15, 2013
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Schedule: The Rebels open spring practice at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, and will conclude the spring at 2 p.m. ET April 13 with the BancorpSouth Grove Bowl at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Practices are open to the public this spring.

What's new: After losing cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff to the New Orleans Saints last month, the Rebels replaced him with former Oklahoma State assistant Jason Jones. Jones will coach Ole Miss' cornerbacks, and holds the title of co-defensive coordinator.

On the mend: Starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss all of spring practice as he recovers from offseason clavicle surgery. Junior wide receiver Collins Moore will only take part in non-contact drills this spring, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Junior left guard Aaron Morris is expected to miss spring drills after having shoulder surgery.

On the move: With Wallace out for the spring, senior Barry Brunetti will take the majority of the first-team snaps at quarterback, but there's a chance he could play multiple positions this fall when Wallace returns. Junior college transfer Quadarias Mireles arrived at Ole Miss this spring as an athlete and will start the spring at cornerback. Moore could play safety once his shoulder heals. Sophomore wide receiver Cody Core could also plays some safety this spring, and redshirt freshman Temario Strong is moving from defensive tackle to linebacker.

New faces: The Rebels welcomed Mireles and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks from juco this spring. Freshman running back Mark Dodson and freshman tight end Christian Morgan also enrolled early. Nick Brassell is also back with the team after going the juco route in 2012 due to academic issues. He was a two-way player for the Rebels at both receiver and cornerback as a freshman in 2011, but will start the spring at corner.

Question marks: The Rebels return four starters along the offensive line, but will be without their best lineman from a year ago in right guard A.J. Hawkins. Ole Miss has some solid options to work with this spring, but replacing a guy like Hawkins won't be easy. The Rebels have to replace their top three tight ends from last season, including full-time starter Ferbia Allen. Senior Justin Bigham, who mostly played on special teams last season, is the lone letterman returning to the position. Morgan and redshirt freshman John Youngblood will also compete there this spring. Starting kicker Bryson Rose is gone, leaving redshirt senior Andrew Ritter and freshman Andy Pappanastos to compete for that spot.

Key battle: The departure of Hawkins leaves the Rebels with a major hole on the offensive line. He had the best season of any of Ole Miss' offensive linemen last season, and replacing him will be very tough. Versatile senior Patrick Junen will take the first snaps at right guard this spring, but he will really be challenged by athletic sophomore Justin Bell. The coaches expect a few others to compete for Hawkins' old spot as well.

Breaking out: Sophomore defensive end Channing Ward arrived at Ole Miss last year with a lot of hype surrounding him. He played in 12 games, registering 21 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, but much more is expected from him in Year 2. Ward has all the tools to be a major player up front for the Rebels. Senior wide receiver Philander Moore could be poised to have a big spring as well. He only played in eight games last season, catching four passes for 38 yards and touchdown, but he's been around the program long enough that the coaches are looking for him to take the next step. The coaches are also excited to see what redshirt junior defensive end Carlos Thompson and senior wide receiver Korvic Neat can do this spring.

Don't forget about: Senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is finally back on the playing field after two straight years with knee injuries. Even during his absence from the playing field, he's still been one of the team's top leaders. That role should only expand with him coming back. He's an extremely versatile players, who has played well at both linebacker and defensive end during his career. He registered five sacks back in 2010 and was a part of the SEC All-Freshman team in 2009. He should be 100 percent this spring, and having him on the field this fall will instantly make this defense better.

All eyes on: Brunetti has had a very interesting career with the Rebels, but he's getting yet another chance to prove that he can be the quarterback when his number is called. Coach Hugh Freeze liked to switch Brunetti and Wallace in and out at times last seaosn, but Brunetti was used as more of a runner. This is a great chance for him to develop more as a passer and become an even bigger weapon for the Rebels this fall.

Ole Miss adds Jason Jones to staff

March, 5, 2013
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After losing cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff to the New Orleans Saints last week, Ole Miss is set to replace him with Jason Jones of Oklahoma State.

Jones, who played safety at Alabama, has been on the Oklahoma State staff for the past five seasons.

McGriff made a huge splash at Ole Miss on the recruiting trail in just one year. He was instrumental in the recruitment of both Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.

So while coaching up the Rebels' defensive backs will be a big part of Jones' job, Ole Miss will also need him to be a prolific recruiter.
The preseason SEC accolades just keep coming.

On Tuesday, six SEC players were nominated for the 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for their distinguished community service contributions. There were a record 132 nominees this year.

According to the award's website, it "recognizes the selfless contributions to volunteerism and community service made by college football athletes."

This year marks the program’s 20th year honoring players who stand out for their “good works” in the community.

Here are the SEC nominees:
The off-the-field work includes White volunteering at an organization that saves dogs from euthanasia and puts them up for adoption, Lewellen befriending a 3-year-old cancer patient in Lexington, Ky., and visiting him frequently, and Jones reading to students at local elementary schools.

Demps earned his nomination by visiting sick children at a local hospital, while Miles served food to needy children over Thanksgiving and Bell played baseball with handicapped youths and adults in Opelika, Ala.
The moment outside linebacker D.T. Shackelford’s injury proved to be season-threatening, distress signals circulated throughout Ole Miss’s football team.

Offensive coordinator David Lee said the severity of Shackelford’s knee injury, which is expected to sideline him for his senior season, felt like a shot to the figurative heart of the football program.

Not only was he an outstanding linebacker -- and arguably the Rebels’ best player -- he was a tremendous leader. On a team lacking a ton of seniors, losing an emotional leader like Shackelford is devastating.

However, in the weeks since Shackelford’s freak ACL tear, coach Houston Nutt has found some potential candidates who could step into Shackelford’s leadership role.

Right now, Nutt is relying on veteran defensive ends Wayne Dorsey and Jason Jones. Dorsey, a senior, enrolled at Ole Miss last January and played in nine games in 2010, starting four.

Jones, a junior, played in 12 games last season, starting four.

[+] EnlargeKentrell Lockett
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSenior defensive end Kentrell Lockett is a strong candidate to fill the leadership void left after D.T. Shackelford's injury.
Neither is a household name for the Rebels, but Nutt said he saw both step up in place of Shackelford shortly after he went down.

“They showed real signs [of becoming team leaders],” Nutt said.

Sophomore Mike Marry, who worked some in Shackelford’s spot after he went down this spring, also took on a leadership role for the team during that latter parts of spring practice, Nutt said.

One guy who could provide that leadership spark this fall is senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett. Lockett, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after tearing his ACL last fall, missed all of spring practice, but is someone Nutt said he’s really hoping steps up soon.

It shouldn’t be hard for Lockett to grab the attention of his teammates. He’s the most experienced guy on Ole Miss’ roster and has great locker-room presence.

While each of these players could become dynamic leaders for this team, finding someone with the same electricity Shackelford possessed seems like a long shot.

“D.T. just took complete ownership,” Nutt said. “It was just unbelievable the way he went about things.”

That won’t easy to replace.

As for finding someone to fill his playing shoes, besides a little work from Marry, the Rebels also rotated sophomore Clarence Jackson and redshirt freshman Ralph Wilson in at Shackelford’s position this spring.

The player to keep an eye on this fall will be incoming freshman C.J. Johnson, who was the top recruit out of the state of Mississippi in 2010. He accumulated 149 tackles and two interceptions as a high school senior and despite playing inside linebacker he should be able to move outside.

Johnson has the skill to come in and immediately contribute, but developing his leadership qualities will be the next step in his maturation process.

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