SEC: Larry Warford

2012 record: 2-10
2012 conference record: 0-8 (seventh, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Key losses

RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Raymond Sanders* (669 yards)
Passing: Maxwell Smith* (975 yards)
Receiving: La’Rod King (488 yards)
Tackles: Avery Williamson* (135)
Sacks: Alvin Dupree* (6.5)
Interceptions: J.D. Harmon* (2)

Spring answers

1. Stout defensive line: New coach Mark Stoops has to be very happy with the foundation he has along his defensive line. There has always been potential with guys like Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, but they've never truly put things together. However, the entire line impressed this spring and should be driving force for Kentucky’s defense. Rumph missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but should be fine this fall. Having Dupree at end in the new 4-3 scheme now provides the Cats with a top-notch pass-rusher. Add junior-college transfer defensive end Za'Darius Smith, and Kentucky should certainly hold its own up front this fall.

2. Comfort at running back: Stoops is still searching for more playmakers on offense, but he was pretty happy with what he saw from his running backs this spring, especially senior Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley. Sanders has been around for a while, but he’s battled health issues. Mobley did well last season as a freshman, but really stepped up this spring. Josh Clemons is back from his 2011 knee injury and showed flashes of his old playmaking self at times this spring.

3. Offensive line feeling fine: The Wildcats might have lost two mainstays up front in Larry Warford and Matt Smith, but it sounds like the line did well without them around. Redshirt freshman Zach Myers spent the spring in Matt Smith’s spot, and both tackles -- Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller -- return. However, Mitchell worked inside this spring and the very large Jordan Swindle spent the majority of his time at right tackle with the first-team line.

Fall questions

1. Whitlow’s time?: The Cats have a three-headed quarterback competition on their hands, but it sounds like Jalen Whitlow, who was a true freshman last year, has the edge heading into summer workouts. He moved past Maxwell Smith (last year’s starter before injuries ended his season early) and Towles after having the most impressive outing during the spring game. Whitlow really showed a lot of improvement this spring and is probably the most athletic of the three. Still, Stoops has said competition will continue this fall.

2. Searching for a go-to receiver: La'Rod King is gone, so the coaches are searching for someone to be a consistent target for whichever quarterback wins the starting job. There were only six scholarship receivers on the team this spring and there isn’t a ton of experience there. Demarco Robinson returns with 28 catches from last year and has shown that he’s an explosive player, but he has to be more consistent going forward. Daryl Collins is next in line and has shown playmaking flashes as well, but caught just 17 passes last year.

3. Help at linebacker and the secondary: The Cats are thin at linebacker and throughout the secondary. Kentucky lost three starters in the secondary and Dupree moved to defensive line this spring. Avery Williamson will provide an anchor at middle linebacker and Miles Simpson is back on the outside, but there isn’t a lot of experience at linebacker, and Stoops didn’t sign any in his first class. Junior starting safety Ashely Lower's recent car accident has his status for the season unknown, and there isn’t much experience in the secondary. Help is on the way in terms of numbers with the 2013 class, but the youth back there will likely have to deal with a lot of growing pains this fall.

Lunchtime links

April, 24, 2013
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Checking out some SEC links in the mid-week.
Now that you've seen Mel Kiper Jr.'s updated Big Board, take a look at where his position rankings stand Insider after the NFL combine. In his last batch of rankings, 28 SEC players made the cut, and the league was represented by at least one player at every position, except fullback.

In Kiper's post-combine rankings, 26 SEC players were listed. Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Tennessee offensive guard Dallas Thomas, South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger, and Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden were left off this time. The head-scratcher to me is the absence of Gooden, who was ranked fourth at outside linebacker in Kiper's pre-combine rankings. He blew up the combine and proved to have the best speed of any of the linebackers working out and showcased tremendous strength and athleticism.

Making it on Kiper Jr.'s list this time were Texas A&M running back Christine Michael, Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg and Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter.

Here's where Kiper put SEC players in his post-combine position rankings:

Quarterbacks

4. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Running backs

1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama

3. Christine Michael, Texas A&M

Fullbacks

None

Wide receivers

2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

4. Justin Hunter, Tennessee

Tight ends

3. Jordan Reed, Florida

5. Chris Gragg, Arkansas

Offensive tackles

2. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

4. D.J. Fluker, Alabama

Offensive guards

1. Chance Warmack, Alabama

3. Larry Warford, Kentucky

Centers

3. Barrett Jones, Alabama

Defensive ends

2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

Defensive tackles

1. Sharrif Floyd, Florida

4. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

Inside linebackers

2. Alec Ogletree, Georgia

3. Kevin Minter, LSU

5. Jon Bostic, Florida

Outside linebackers

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

5. Cornelius Washington, Georgia

Cornerbacks

1. Dee Milliner, Alabama

4. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

Safeties

2. Matt Elam, Florida

4. Eric Reid, LSU

Kickers

2. Caleb Sturgis, Florida

Punters

2. Brad Wing, LSU
Players are gathering in Indianapolis, so that means this year's NFL combine is officially underway. The first two days are all about the interviews and eye tests, while the on-field workouts begin Saturday.

But before any of them stepped foot in Indy, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. released his pre-Combine Big Board Insider. Naturally, it's loaded with SEC players. Twelve of the 25 players on Kiper's Big Board are from the SEC, including six of the top 10 players.

Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones kept his place in the No. 1 spot, while Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel jumped in front of teammate Damontre Moore to move from No. 3 to No. 2.

Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd made a major move up Kiper's rankings, moving from No. 15 to No. 8.

Here's where all 12 SEC players ranked on Kiper's Big Board heading into the Combine:

1. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia

2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

3. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M

6. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

8. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

10. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

12. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU

15. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

16. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

18. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

21. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

25. Matt Elam, S, Florida

Kiper also updated his position rankings Insider this week. Twenty-eight SEC players made Kiper's position rankings, and the league was represented by at least one player at every position, except fullback.

Here's where Kiper put SEC players in his position rankings:

Quarterbacks

4. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Running backs

1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

Fullbacks

None

Wide receivers

1. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

Tight ends

3. Jordan Reed, Florida

Offensive tackles

1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

3. D.J. Fluker, Alabama

Offensive guards

1. Chance Warmack, Alabama

3. Larry Warford, Kentucky

4. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee

Centers

2. Barrett Jones, Alabama

Defensive ends

1. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

4. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

Defensive tackles

2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida

3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

Inside linebackers

1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia

3. Kevin Minter, LSU

5. Jon Bostic, Florida

Outside linebackers

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

4. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri

5. Cornelius Washington, Georgia

Cornerbacks

1. Dee Milliner, Alabama

3. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

Safeties

2. Matt Elam, Florida

4. Eric Reid, LSU

5. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina

Kickers

2. Caleb Sturgis, Florida

Punters

2. Brad Wing, LSU

SEC pre-combine NFL draft rankings

February, 20, 2013
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It's NFL combine week, and that means a lot of former college players will begin running, jumping, throwing and talking their way either up or down the NFL draft rankings as April approaches.

Players are arriving today. Things start with interviews, and on-field workouts begin Saturday. It's a fun time, but it can also be very nerve-racking because so much is on the line.

Before players get poked, prodded and asked a trillion questions about anything and everything, NFL.com draft expert Mike Mayock released his top five rankings at every position, and the SEC is well represented.

Twenty-one SEC players made the rankings and the conference was represented in every position but quarterback.

Here's how SEC players ranked:

Quarterbacks

None ... I wonder where Georgia's Aaron Murray or Alabama's AJ McCarron would be if they had entered the draft.

Running backs

1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

Wide receivers

1. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

Tight end

5. Jordan Reed, Florida

Center

3. Barrett Jones, Alabama

Guard

1. Chance Warmack, Alabama

3. Larry Warford, Kentucky

Tackle

1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

4. D.J. Fluker, Alabama

Defensive end

2. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

4. Sam Montgomery, LSU

Defensive tackle

1. Sharrif Floyd, Florida

3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

Outside linebacker

2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

4. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

Inside linebacker

1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia

3. Kevin Minter, LSU

Cornerback

1. Dee Milliner, Alabama

3. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

Safety

2. Matt Elam, Florida

4. Eric Reid, LSU

2012 SEC Super Seniors

December, 27, 2012
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For the fourth straight season on the SEC blog, we pay homage to the top seniors in the league.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and their overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls and a lot of terrific seniors in the league again this season, meaning several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2012 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks: The 2012 Thorpe Award winner as the top defensive back in college football, Banks has four interceptions on the season and 16 for his career, which matches the school record. He's been a playmaker on that Mississippi State defense since he was a freshman.

Florida RB Mike Gillislee: Without Gillislee, who knows where the Gators would be right now? He was the heart and soul of their offense and became the first Florida player since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 to rush for 1,000 yards. He has 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns heading into the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Arkansas WR Cobi Hamilton: It wasn't a season to remember at Arkansas, but Hamilton helped keep things from completely unraveling on offense with a record-setting performance. He set school marks with 90 catches for 1,335 yards -- both tops among SEC players -- and caught five touchdown passes.

Alabama C Barrett Jones: One of the most decorated student-athletes in SEC history, Jones made the transition to center this season and earned All-America honors for the second straight year after playing left tackle in 2011. He's smart, tough and the kind of leader and player that makes everybody else around him better.

Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy: One of the toughest runners in the league, Stacy rushed for 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He's one of only eight players in the SEC to do that over the past 10 years. He has 1,034 rushing yards entering the bowl game and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Florida PK Caleb Sturgis: Florida coach Will Muschamp didn't shy away from calling Sturgis the best kicker in college football, and Sturgis' numbers certainly warrant that praise. He has great range, but is equally clutch on the pressure kicks. He's made 23-of-27 field goals this season and has six field goals of 50 yards or longer in the past two seasons.

South Carolina S D.J. Swearinger: One of the top safeties in the league, Swearinger is second on South Carolina's team with 70 total tackles. He's a big hitter and one of the main cogs in a South Carolina defense that collected an SEC-high 40 sacks and also forced 22 turnovers.

Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope: With Johnny Manziel playing his way to the Heisman Trophy, Swope was Mr. Dependable for the Aggies and led them with seven touchdown catches. He had 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown in the 29-24 win over Alabama.

Tennessee OG Dallas Thomas: The Vols' offensive line developed into one of the best in the league, and Thomas showcased his versatility by sliding inside to left guard after starting at left tackle in 2010 and 2011. He was a second-team All-SEC selection and is rated as one of the top guard prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.

Kentucky OG Larry Warford: A three-time All-SEC selection, Warford became the first Kentucky lineman to earn All-America honors in more than 20 years when he was named third team by the Associated Press this season. He didn't allow any sacks this season from his right guard spot and graded out at 90.3 percent.

Alabama OG Chance Warmack: Already one of the most dominant interior offensive linemen in the country, Warmack also emerged as one of the Crimson Tide's strongest leaders this season. He's a mauler inside at his left guard position and a big reason Alabama had two 1,000-yard rushers this season.

Georgia S Shawn Williams: In a season that saw Georgia's defense ravaged by injuries and suspensions, Williams has been a steadying force for the Bulldogs. He's second on the team with 87 total tackles and lit a much-needed fire under the defense with his comments prior to the win over Florida that propelled Georgia to the SEC championship game.

SEC Senior Bowl invitees

December, 27, 2012
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Here’s a look at the most recent list of SEC players confirmed for the 2013 Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala.:

SEC players of the week

September, 10, 2012
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Here are the SEC players of the week as announced by the league Monday:

SEC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State: Russell led Mississippi State to a 28-10 victory over Auburn in the SEC opener for both teams. It was Mississippi State's first win in an SEC opener since 1999. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Russell led the Bulldogs on three touchdown drives in its first four second half possessions as State scored 21 unanswered points to seal the game. He completed passes to nine different receivers.
SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: Jones had the second-most tackles for the Bulldogs (nie), two sacks, an interception, forced a fumble and had five quarterback pressures during Georgia’s 41-20 victory over Missouri. Jones now has 16.5 sacks over his last 16 games and 24 tackles for loss in that span and is leading the SEC in tackles for loss this season. Jones’ first career interception came midway through the final quarter with the Bulldogs up 27-20 as he managed to grab the pick and return it 21 yards to the Tiger 1-yard line. On Missouri’s next possession, Jones sacked James Franklin for a loss of 11 yards and forced a fumble that the Bulldogs recovered deep in Tiger territory.
SEC SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida: Sturgis connected on both of his field goal attempts and accounted for eight points in Florida’s 20-17 win at Texas A&M. He connected on a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter, which closed the Aggies' lead to 17-10 going into halftime. Sturgis extended his school record of 50-plus yard kicks to seven, which is also tops among all active kickers nationally.
SEC Co-OFFENSIVE LINEMAN PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky: Warford graded out at 91.7 percent with eight knockdown blocks, no penalties and allowed no sacks in Kentucky’s 47-14 win against Kent State. Kentucky's 47 points and 539 yards total offense were the most since 2010.
  • A.J. Hawkins, OG, Ole Miss: Hawkins helped the Ole Miss offense rack up 538 total yards, including 332 on the ground, in a 28-10 win over UTEP. He made his 18th career start and second at right guard after playing center and left guard his first three seasons.
SEC Co-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
  • Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Montgomery registered four tackles, one sack (3-yard loss) and 1.5 tackles for loss (4-yard loss) in LSU’s 41-3 win over Washington. He also added three QB hurries as the Tigers held Washington to only 12 first downs and 183 yards of total offense.
  • Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Moore registered 10 total tackles, seven solos, and had three sacks (-21 yards) in Texas A&M’s 20-17 loss to Florida. Moore now leads the nation in sacks per game (3.00) and is fifth in tackles for loss per game (3.00).
SEC FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
  • Jalen Mills, CB, LSU: Mills, a true freshman, made his second straight start at cornerback for the Tigers and was second on team with seven tackles to go with first interception of career in 41-3 win over Washington. He added one pass breakup as the Tiger defense dominated the Huskies, holding Washington to just 183 yards of total offense (26 rushing, 157 passing).

For more top performances in the SEC, check out the league's official website.

SEC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.

A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.

For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.

Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:

1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.

2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.

3. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino is gone, and that could be tough for the Razorbacks to overcome in the long run, but the team has bought in to what interim coach John L. Smith is saying. We still need to see how this team -- and Smith -- acts when adversity enters the picture. The offense has two of the league's best in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, who is back from a serious ankle injury. Wilson lost three NFL receivers, but his receiving corps doesn't lack talent. Questions still surround the defense, which lacked depth last season.

4. Georgia: A load of talent returns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Murray could be a Heisman candidate, while linebacker Jarvis Jones might be one the country's best players, regardless of position. Isaiah Crowell is gone, but the Bulldogs seem happy with their stable of running backs and were probably going to run by committee again this season anyway. The defense will take a hit with a couple of key stars suspended to start the year, but this group has elite status. The schedule is set up again for a run to Atlanta.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a filthy defense headlined by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive line should be one of the best in the league with Clowney and Devin Taylor on the ends and Kelcy Quarles coming back in the middle. The secondary has issues, especially with Akeem Auguste going down, but safety D.J. Swearinger and hybrid safety/linebacker DeVonte Holloman are studs. Marcus Lattimore is one of the nation's best, and he appears to be 100 percent after his ACL injury. The hope is that quarterback Connor Shaw will help take some pressure off of him.

6. Florida: The Gators return a fierce defense that should be strong across the board. End/tackle Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, but has the ability to be one of the top linemen in this league. But for Will Muschamp, his second-year success will be determined by what the offense can do. Questions are everywhere, starting with a quarterback battle that isn't close to being settled. There are unproven pieces at receiver and the offensive line, which returns most of last year's parts, struggled mightily in 2011.

7. Tennessee: The Vols have a chance to challenge Arkansas for the league's best passing game. Tyler Bray can throw it all around a bit and has two potential stars in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. However, Da'Rick Rogers is gone, which means the pressure is on Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Patterson, who is in from the juco ranks. The defense has a lot of experience and talent, but four new coaches are on board, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville, and it's no secret that Derek Dooley's seat is very hot there.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of confidence in quarterback Tyler Russell, who can finally call this team his. He'll have quite a bit of experienced weapons to throw to, including seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who have combined to catch 221 passes for 2,782 yards and 22 touchdowns in their careers. The running game should be strong with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, while the offensive line is just hoping to stay healthy this year. The defense should be solid with a talented front seven and a very gifted secondary, starring potential All-American Johnthan Banks. The schedule is also very favorable in September and October.

9. Missouri: The newbies don't lack confidence, but on paper they lack size up front -- on both sides. The staff and players say it's not a problem, but let's see come mid-October. Quarterback James Franklin appears to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery and might be the league's best dual-threat QB. He's the key to a spread offense that returns a lot of speed. The defense is experienced and has a strong linebacker group. Ends Brad Madison and Kony Ealy could form a pretty good tandem this fall.

10. Auburn: The Tigers are still a young team and there are two new coordinators in town. Now that Kiehl Frazier has been named the starting quarterback, the offense can start molding around him. He'll have a solid group of running backs to work with, but the line is young and he needs more reliable receiving targets alongside Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. The defense is loaded up front, headlined by end Corey Lemonier. But the defense as a whole still has a lot of questionable parts for new coordinator Brian VanGorder to work with.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a new coaching staff, have to replace some key starters from last year and will be working with a very green quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The good news for him is that the offensive line is very strong, starting with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Helping Manziel will be senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and stud running back Christine Michael, who is coming back from an ACL injury. The defense is moving to a 4-3, but is stacked at linebacker. The secondary is dangerously young and thin.

12. Vanderbilt: This team surprised a lot of people last year, but opponents won't be caught off guard by the Commodores in 2012. There is good offensive firepower coming back, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Plus, there is some good, young offensive talent. But the offensive line has depth issues and will have to use a lot of young guys this fall. The defense is also replacing some key components from last year's team.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats saw their five-year postseason run end after having the SEC's worst statistical offense in 2011. Joker Phillips thinks he has more potential playmakers this fall and is excited about quarterback Maxwell Smith's potential. The offensive line is younger and can't afford an injury to either Matt Smith or Larry Warford. The defense will be strong up front, but is replacing all four linebackers and two starters in the secondary.

14. Ole Miss: New coach Hugh Freeze isn't working with a lot of numbers, as attrition from the past few years is catching up. The offense was one of the league's worst last year, and still has a quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti going on. The offensive line struggled mightily to grasp Freeze's spread this spring and has to improve quickly. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have a lot of upside, while the defense should be better, especially in the secondary. Still, depth is an issue overall.

SEC lunch links

August, 16, 2012
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Making the rounds on a Thursday:

Video: Kentucky OL Larry Warford

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
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video
Edward Aschoff talks with Kentucky offensive lineman Larry Warford about being the veteran on the line.
Earlier, we ranked all 14 SEC offensive line groups, so it's time to look at the league's top linemen.

Past rankings:
Here are our top 10 SEC offensive linemen:

1. Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama: The reigning Outland Trophy winner is one of the most versatile lineman in college football. He played just about every position on Alabama's line last year and is moving to center this fall. He isn't the biggest lineman, but he's one of the toughest.

[+] EnlargeBarrett Jones
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIThe versatile Barrett Jones will move to center this fall to anchor Alabama's offensive line.
2. Chance Warmack, Sr., Alabama: He was overshadowed by Jones last year, but Warmack is an absolute stud. The athletic guard has great size, strength and mobility and some people at Alabama think he might be the best pro prospect on this extremely talented offensive line.

3. Luke Joeckel, Jr., Texas A&M: He isn't just a legit All-America candidate, as Joeckel could be a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft. He's very imposing at left tackle and should anchor the Aggies' solid line this year. He'll make whichever young quarterback that takes the starting job feel much more comfortable.

4. Chris Faulk, Jr., LSU: He started 13 games at left tackle last year and was one of the toughest linemen to beat in the conference, registering 73.5 knockdowns. He's very explosive, quick, powerful and is very effective in both pass protection and blocking in running situations.

5. D.J. Fluker, Jr., Alabama: He's Alabama's biggest offensive lineman, standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 335 pounds. Fluker probably deserved more attention than he received last year, but pro scouts are enamored by his athleticism and power. The right tackle is currently projected by many to be an early first-round pick in next year's NFL draft.

6. Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU: This will be his third straight year to start at right tackle for the Tigers. He registered 71.5 knockdowns last season, with 10.5 coming against Arkansas. The 6-6, 340-pounder isn't just a monster on the field, he's also one of LSU's top performers in the weight room.

7. Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky: Warford has come a long way since his freshman year. He's been Kentucky's top lineman for the past couple of seasons and is rated high on a lot of NFL draft boards out there. He's an athletic and versatile player, who could line up at other positions if needed.

8. Alvin Bailey, Jr., Arkansas: He's the Hogs' most talented lineman and has started all 26 games of his Arkansas career. The right guard has been essential to helping Arkansas' running game, but he's also very good in pass protection. He was a second-team All-SEC member last year.

9. Gabe Jackson, Jr., Mississippi State: He's the linchpin of the Bulldogs' line and has 26 starts in his career. The left guard is easily Mississippi State's most gifted lineman and showed his worth over and over last season by being very consistent, even when the Bulldogs were forced to constantly reshuffle things up front.

10. Jake Matthews, Jr., Texas A&M: The son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews will help solidify Texas A&M's side opposite Joeckel. He might have only been an All-Big 12 honorable mention last year, but with his impressive power and ability, he's a legit All-SEC candidate this fall.
Barrett JonesNed Dishman/Getty ImagesA move to center shouldn't slow Alabama's Barrett Jones, last season's Outland Trophy winner.
Our preseason SEC position rankings continue with the big uglies. The real muscle down in the trenches. Offensive lines are crucial in every level of football, but teams seriously do live and die by the play of their offensive lines in the SEC.

Past rankings:
On to the SEC's offensive line groups:

1. Alabama: Four starters return (with 95 combined starts), there's size, there's athleticism and this line just screams first-round NFL talent, starting with mammoth tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack. Reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones is moving to center, but with his versatility he should excel there. Add former top recruit Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and this is arguably the country's top offensive line.

2. LSU: Like Alabama, this line is full of experience, as four starters return and so does Josh Dworaczyk, who was granted a sixth-year after a knee injury caused him to miss all of 2011. Some think he was LSU's best lineman before last season began. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst are two of the best in the league and center P.J. Lonergan is tough to beat. Former highly-touted recruit La'El Collins should also contend for time this fall, too.

3. Texas A&M: This could be the strength of the team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is a future first-rounder, while right tackle Jake Mathews has All-SEC potential. Senior center Patrick Lewis provides a very sturdy anchor in the middle. Guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi are young, but both got good experience last year, as Harrison started five games and Ogbuehi started six. Depth could be an issue, as most reserves are younger.

4. Arkansas: The Hogs have one of the better center-guard combos in the league in Travis Swanson and Alvin Bailey. Both have received preseason accolades and should be even better in 2012. Sophomore tackle Brey Cook came in with a lot of hype and if he develops in his second season, this line will be really good. Sophomore Mitch Smothers proved he can play just about anywhere and big left tackle Jason Peacock is back, but is still in the doghouse after his arrest this spring.

5. South Carolina: Replacing Rokevious Watkins at left tackle won't be easy, but the staff feels like redshirt freshman Brandon Shell might be the man for the job. He's incredibly talented and athletic and improved his blocking ability during his redshirt year. Center T.J. Johnson and guard A.J. Cann are coming off of solid seasons, but the right side has questions. Right tackle Mike Matulis started five games last year, but missed spring while recovering from shoulder surgery and right guard Ronald Patrick recorded zero starts last year.

6. Tennessee: The good news is that everyone is back. The bad news is this is the same line that was incredibly inconsistent last year in the run game, as Tennessee ranked 116th in rushing offense. However, the staff feels it has a better lineup with the emergence of sophomore Antonio Richardson at left tackle. Stud Dallas Thomas moves to left guard and Ja'Wuan James, who has started 25 games at right tackle, provides some good stability. The line has 99 combined starts and allowed just 18 sacks last year, but the proving ground with this group is establishing that it can come off the ball and be a better running team.

7. Missouri: The Tigers lost three starters from last year, but that doesn't mean Mizzou is without experience. Old man Elvis Fisher was granted a sixth year after last year's season-ending knee injury and will provide a major boost at left tackle. And three other linemen return with starting experience from last year: tackle Justin Britt, who took over Fisher's spot last year, and guards Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth. One thing to keep an eye on is the line's durability. The average weight of this group is roughly 295 pounds.

8. Auburn: Three starters return to a line that has a ton of young depth. Center Reese Dismukes is the anchor and one of the top centers in the league. Guard John Sullen and tackle Chad Slade combined for 21 starts last year. The staff really likes redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle and former top recruit Christian Westerman will compete for time after sitting out last year. Guard Eric Mack made strides this spring before he was shot near the hip during the tragic shooting that occurred near Auburn's campus in June.

9. Mississippi State: Injuries and constant reshuffling along the line caused the Bulldogs' offense to struggle for most of last season. Three starters are gone, but junior guard Gabe Jackson, who is one of the league's best, is back and so is right guard Tobias Smith. If Smith, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early last year, is healthy, this line should be very strong along the interior. Dillon Day started six games last year and returns at center, while junior college transfers Charles Siddoway and Dylan Holley are pushing for time.

10. Florida: The Gators return four starters to a line that struggled all last season. Will Muschamp said he saw vast improvement up front this spring, but tackles Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan must show more consistency and leadership. Jonotthan Harrison is solid at center and guard Jon Halapio has improved each year. Sophomore tackle Chaz Green and impressive early enrollee D.J. Humphries will compete for time as well.

[+] EnlargeKenarious Gates
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.com Georgia may have O-line questions, but likely none concerning junior Kenarious Gates.
11. Georgia: Yet again the Bulldogs have questions up front. Junior Kenarious Gates is very versatile and athletic and is Georgia's most reliable lineman. The staff was pleased with guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette coming out of spring, but a lot is riding on sophomore David Andrews making it at center. If he has to move, Burnette will have to move to center and more reshuffling will come. Inexperience is worrisome and true freshman John Theus should get plenty of chances to take one of the tackle spots.

12. Vanderbilt: Thanks to offensive line coach Herb Hand, this group was one of the most improved in the league last year. He'll have a tall task again with a lot of youth and inexperience. Left tackle Wesley Johnson is one of the most underrated linemen out there, while Ryan Seymour has been solid up front. The right side has issues and the depth is a concern. Injuries made it tough for this line to get through spring practice, and six freshmen are coming in to compete for spots during fall camp.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost three starters from a line that struggled throughout 2011, but vets Larry Warford and Matt Smith are back to provide a solid center-guard combo. However, they'll be asked to help a cluster of youngsters. The left side is gone and will be replaced by youngsters Zach West (redshirt freshman) and Darrian Miller (sophomore). Right tackle Kevin Mitchell started just one game last year. Any sort of injury up front would be devastating for the Cats.

14. Ole Miss: This is arguably the Rebels' weakest position. Hugh Freeze wasn't thrilled with the line this spring, continuing to say it didn't handle the offense's tempo well. Guard Matt Hall, who had double-digit starts last year, left the team this spring. Center Evan Swindall was Ole Miss' most consistent lineman this spring, while senior A.J. Hawkins moved to guard. Comfort was an issue for everyone, and the tackle spots were filled this spring by Emmanuel McCray, who missed all of last season, and JUCO transfer Pierce Burton.
The SEC has a nation-leading 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best defensive player. Alabama leads the SEC with five players on the list, while LSU is second with four.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Nagurski Trophy list:
For the complete Nagurski Trophy watch list, go here.

The SEC also leads the country with 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Alabama leads the SEC with four players on the list, including reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Outland Trophy watch list:
For the full Outland Trophy watch list, go here.

Kentucky spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
10:00
AM ET
2011 record: 5-7
2011 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters:: offense: 6; defense: 5, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners:
C Matt Smith, OG Larry Warford, WR La’Rod King, QB Maxwell Smith, RB CoShik Williams, DE Collins Ukwu, DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

Key losses:
OT Chandler Burden, OG Stuart Hines, OT Billy Joe Murphy, WR Matt Roark, LB Ronnie Sneed, LB Danny Trevathan, LB Ridge Wilson, CB Anthony Mosley, S Winston Guy, CB Randall Burden

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: CoShik Williams* (486 yards)
Passing: Maxwell Smith* (819 yards)
Receiving: La'Rod King* (598 yards)
Tackles: Danny Trevathan (143)
Sacks: Trevathan (3)
Interceptions: Trevathan (4)

Spring answers

1. Finding more playmakers: Coach Joker Phillips feels like he has more firepower to work with on offense again. After struggling mightily to find consistent playmakers on offense in 2011, Phillips left spring with more confidence about players he felt he could rely on going forward. The biggest standout was receiver Demarco Robinson. He became one of the most consistent players at practice and caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Also, freshman receiver Daryl Collins surprised coaches with his playmaking ability. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson also stepped up and should help take pressure off of Kentucky's running game.

2. Adjusting to Minter's defense: Strides were definitely made by Kentucky's defense in Year 1 with Rick Minter, but it looks like the defense felt even more comfortable in it this spring. While there is still work to do and bodies to replace, Minter has said he sees more aggression and attitude out of this unit. The defensive line also progressed this spring and could finally be the strength of this unit. The goal is for Kentucky's defense to be a much more physical and tougher group and both Minter and Phillips see it shifting that way.

3. Caffey's move: Kentucky entered the spring trying to replace two starters at cornerback, so the staff moved running back Marcus Caffey there. The experiment appeared to work, as Caffey was one of the more impressive looking players this spring. He caught on quickly at his new position and ended the spring as a starter. He's also a bigger body and the coaches say he's very durable. Both will come in handy against bigger receivers in this league.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: Three starters up front had to be replaced this spring and the Wildcats ended practice knowing that the offensive line is still a work in progress. There is leadership and experience in Larry Warford and Matt Smith, but after that there's a lot of inexperience. Behind Warford and Smith, rising sophomore Darrian Miller and junior-to-be Kevin Mitchell combined for three starts last year. There were bright spots here and there this spring, but the inexperience up front is still a concern for coaches heading into the offseason.

2. Defensive holes: While the Wildcats got more comfortable in the defense, there are still a lot of missing starters at linebacker and in the secondary. There will be four new starting linebackers, including the Spur, and two new starting corners. The coaches feel good about Caffey at corner, but questions still remain at the other corner spot. Players must also replace the production created by Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ridge Wilson, who was dismissed this spring. They accounted for 310 tackles, including 28.5 for loss. Alvin Dupree and Avery Williamson turned heads at linebacker, but Malcolm McDuffen and Miles Simpson struggled to fill in for Trevathan and Guy and could be pushed by incoming freshmen.

3. Smith as the guy: Outside of the spring game, Maxwell Smith had a pretty impressive spring in Lexington. He seemed to develop his game the way the coaches wanted and needed him too, but his mistakes in the spring game brought some worry. He rushed his play and reverted back to some bad habits. While he'd be the starter if the season started today, the coaches hinted that the race is still open with Morgan Newton coming back from shoulder surgery and incoming freshman Patrick Towles arriving this summer. Smith might have improved, but Newton and Towles will get every chance to win the starting job. If Smith regresses again, he might fail to win the job he thinks is his to lose.

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