SEC: Justin Malone

Schedule: The Bulldogs begin practice today and will conclude with Mississippi State's annual Maroon-White Spring Game on April 12 at 1 p.m. ET. Fourteen of the Bulldogs' practices will be open to the public.

What's new: Former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Les Koenning left the Bulldogs to become the new wide receivers coach at Texas. Former Utah offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson was hired to coach Mississippi State's quarterbacks. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy are listed as co-offensive coordinators.

[+] EnlargeBenardrick McKinney
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBenardrick McKinney returns at linebacker after leading the Bulldogs in tackles last season.
On the move: Tight end Rufus Warren will get work at left tackle this spring. Dee Arrington is switching from safety to linebacker. Brandon Holloway, who is a real speedster, could have the chance to move from wide receiver to running back. Also, keep an eye on cornerback Justin Cox, who switched to safety during the Bulldogs' bowl practices last season. He worked well at safety during the week and could have a chance to play there this spring.

On the mend: Offensive guard Justin Malone is coming back from a season-ending foot injury that he suffered in last year's season opener. The Bulldogs are also hoping to get some work out of safety Jay Hughes, whose season ended with Malone because of an Achilles injury. Arrignton is also going to be limited this spring after suffering a season-ending injury last fall.

New faces: The Bulldogs welcomed early enrollees Nick Fitzgerald (quarterback, high school) and Jocquell Johnson (offensive line, junior college).

Question marks: With the reliable LaDarius Perkins gone, Mississippi State will have a relatively fresh start at running back. The coaching staff likes the depth it has there, but there isn't a proven back on the roster right now. Junior Josh Robinson did well as Perkins' backup last season, rushing for 459 yards and three touchdowns, so he'll have the early edge to replace Perkins. He's still learning to block and mature on the field. Behind him there is senior Nick Griffin, who is finally healthy for the first time and could push Robinson this spring. Obviously, not having Gabe Jackson means the Bulldogs have a pretty big hole to fill up front. Jammal Clayborn played last season as a freshman and could take Jackson's spot, but getting Malone back and at 100 percent is key for the line. The right tackle spot remains a mystery as well with Charles Siddoway gone. Johnson should compete with Damien Robinson and redshirt freshman Jake Thomas for that tackle spot.

Breaking out: The guy everyone is excited about on the defensive side in 2014 is defensive lineman Chris Jones, who could be a household name in this league before he takes off for the NFL. He only had three sacks last season as a freshman, but he eventually caught double-teams from opponents despite his youth. With his talent and skill, the former top-flight recruit could be special in 2014. Again, he'll get work at both end and tackle for the Bulldogs. Also, keep an eye on sophomore receiver De'Runnya Wilson, who caught 26 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder is the total athlete and also suited up for the Bulldogs' basketball team. He's fast, has high football IQ and can really leap. He could be a good red zone threat and wouldn't surprise anyone by taking a starting job.

Don't forget about: Junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney returns as one of the SEC's top linebackers. With all the big names that come through this conference, McKinney has gotten lost in the shuffle at times, but he led the Bulldogs with 71 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks. Two years ago, he recorded 102. With Deontae Skinner gone, more onus will be put on McKinney this fall, but that shouldn't bother him. McKinney has a chance to throw his name near the top of the SEC linebacker board this season.

All eyes on: Of course everyone is waiting to see what quarterback Dak Prescott will do as the man in Starkville. This is his football team and he's even been viewed as a dark horse in the Heisman Trophy race with his dual-threat ability. He ended the 2013 season with two impressive performances in wins against Ole Miss and Rice. But the pressure is on. Prescott will see an increase in the attention he receives and the hype will only continue to grow. He has to continue to develop and make better decisions in the pocket. He can hurry throws too often and has to take care of the ball going forward.

 
Setting up the spring in the SEC West:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
  • What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
  • Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
  • A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
  • Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
  • Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
  • Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
LSU

Spring start: March 7

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
  • Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
  • Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
OLE MISS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
  • Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
  • A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)

What to watch:
  • Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
  • Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
  • New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.

Offseason spotlight: Mississippi State

February, 19, 2014
2/19/14
1:30
PM ET
Mississippi State returns several players from its two-deep last season and also gets a key player who was injured in the opener.

Spotlight: Offensive guard Justin Malone, 6-7, 320 pounds, rising junior

2013 summary: Malone was the Bulldogs' starter at right guard to open last season, but suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the first game against Oklahoma State and missed the remainder of the season.

The skinny: It's all lining up for the Bulldogs to have a big season on offense in 2014 , and really, a big season -- period. If quarterback Dak Prescott continues to blossom, the offense has a chance to be as explosive as it has been under Dan Mullen. Malone's health and development will be a key. The Bulldogs need a road-grader to emerge at guard with All-SEC selection Gabe Jackson departing. He's one of two seniors the Bulldogs are losing on the offensive line. Malone is plenty big enough and showed promise as a redshirt freshman when he filled in at guard while Tobias Smith was battling knee problems. Malone played in 12 games that season and started four. He was unlucky last season and went down in the fourth quarter of the opener against Oklahoma State. The most important part of this offseason for him is that he makes sure he's ready to go in the fall. The Bulldogs will have some experience up front with senior tackle Blaine Clausell and senior center Dillon Day returning. But to really get that offensive line where it needs to be, offensive line coach John Hevesy needs an enforcer at guard to slide in for Jackson, and that's where a healthy Malone comes in.

Past spotlights:

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
1/21/14
4:10
PM ET
Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.
Every year, players come and go in college football. With the turnover, teams can either grow or take steps back.

It's time to check out Mississippi State's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season:

Strongest position: Offensive line

The Bulldogs have the luxury of bringing back a very talented offensive line that is led by first-team All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. Jackson could have tested the NFL waters after last season but decided to stay for his senior year. That's great news for the Bulldogs, who return three other starters. Both tackles -- Blaine Clausell and Charles Siddoway -- return, but they have to be better in pass protection. Quarterback Tyler Russell took far too many hits last year, and offensive line coach John Hevesy made it a point to make his line much tougher this spring. Expect to see the tackles play at a much higher level this fall. Dillon Day is also back at center, giving the Bulldogs four upperclassmen returning up front. Filling the right guard spot is the next step for Mississippi State; sophomore Justin Malone left the spring as the starter. The coaching staff has some pretty good depth to work with all along the line. Pass protection should get better and the Bulldogs should once again be fine running the ball with this line coming back.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

The Bulldogs are basically starting over at wide receiver, as four seniors, including three starters, are gone. Those seniors accounted for 148 receptions, 2,096 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. The Bulldogs' top three receivers from last year were all seniors, including Chad Bumphis, who caught a team-high 58 passes for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns. Replacing this group won't be easy, and there isn't a lot of experience there to help. Juniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis are the leading returning receivers -- having combined for 27 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns, both by Johnson. The good news is that both had good springs, but they'll need help this fall. Sophomore Joe Morrow has all the potential to be a deep threat for Mississippi State, but he has to become more consistent on the field and in practice. He dealt with a bad knee last year, but will have much more responsibility this fall. Junior-college transfer Jeremey Chappelle enrolled this spring and has a chance to start. He could provide another deep threat for the Bulldogs, too. Getting junior Michael Carr back helps, too.

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