Spring practice is always full of question marks. How will this team replace its left tackle? Or how will this top recruit fare at the college level? Inevitably, this leads to position battles on both sides of the ball for every team in the SEC.
Today, we begin a new series going team-by-team and breaking down the top position battles in the conference.
First up is Vanderbilt, which plays its spring game Friday.
1. Wide receiver: Other than Kris Kentera, Vanderbilt didn't lose any wide receivers from a year ago. That doesn't mean the position is locked in. There have been a handful of players competing this spring, hoping to earn a starting job. Trent Sherfield probably has an advantage over the others after enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign in which he led the Commodores with 51 receptions, 659 yards and three touchdowns. Then it gets interesting. Caleb Scott and Latevius Rayford were the second- and third-leading receivers on the team after Sherfield, but they're being pushed this spring by C.J. Duncan and DeAndre Woods, two promising players who missed all or most of 2015 because of injury. Duncan, in particular, was tabbed as a breakout star before he suffered a leg injury in fall camp. And don't sleep on Darrius Sims, a converted defensive back, who took snaps at running back and receiver last year.
2. Outside linebacker: Inside, Vanderbilt might have one of the best linebacker tandems in the SEC with Zach Cunningham and a healthy Nigel Bowden. But outside, there are question marks. The Commodores lost Stephen Weatherly, arguably the team's best pass-rusher, after he declared early for the NFL draft. Nehemiah Mitchell and Landon Stokes are back, but they struggled opposite Weatherly trying to play in space. Mitchell might be better suited for Weatherly's former role where he can focus on getting to the quarterback. However, the team might have found a more natural replacement in Caleb Peart, a redshirt freshman who has impressed the coaching staff this spring. True sophomore Josh Smith is also in the mix to earn a starting job. He appeared in all 12 games as a freshman.
3. Quarterback: Most probably thought Kyle Shurmur won this job last fall. The freshman took over for Johnny McCrary in October and played well down the stretch. He led the Commodores to a win over Kentucky, and he threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns in the season finale against Tennessee. However, Derek Mason made it clear that there's still a quarterback battle going on this spring. Shurmur is going to have to earn the starting job. McCrary has since transferred, leaving Wade Freebeck, Shawn Stankavage and true freshman Deuce Wallace as the only other competitors. Of the three, Freebeck is the only one with any real experience. He started four games as a freshman in 2014 and saw action against Austin Peay last year. Still, this is Shurmur's job to lose.