SEC: Nathan Stanley

On the move in the SEC

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
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We’re starting to see the normal attrition across the league, players leaving on their own accord or being asked to leave.

If you toss in a few of the injured players who aren’t expected to play next season, you could put together a pretty decent team of those SEC players who have either moved on or won’t be on the field this fall for various reasons.

Here’s a sampling:

OFFENSE
  • Nathan Stanley, QB, Ole Miss
  • Washaun Ealey, RB, Georgia
  • Broderick Green, RB, Arkansas (injured)
  • Mike Blakely, RB, Florida
  • Eric Smith, H-back, Auburn
  • Shaun Kitchens, WR, Auburn
  • Trinton Sturdivant, OL, Georgia (injured)
  • Brent Benedict, OL, Georgia
  • A.J. Harmon, OL, Georgia
  • Seth Oxner, OL, Arkansas
  • Alex Smith, TE, Kentucky
DEFENSE
  • Chris Martin, DE, Florida
  • Kerry Murphy, NG, Alabama (injured)
  • Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee
  • D.T. Shackelford, LB, Ole Miss (injured)
  • Clarence Jackson, LB, Ole Miss
  • Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
  • B.J. Scott, CB, Alabama
  • Mike McNeil, S, Auburn
  • Robby Green, S, Alabama

On the move in the SEC

June, 9, 2011
6/09/11
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Coaches refer to it as attrition, while another name for it might be roster management.

Every team in the SEC has lost at least one player since the end of last season for a variety of reasons. Some have been kicked off the team for getting into trouble. Others were unhappy with playing time and opted to transfer elsewhere. Academics and injuries have also played a role.

Here's a team-by-team list of some of those players who've left prematurely since the end of last season or were injured and won't be on the field in 2011:

ALABAMA
ARKANSAS
  • TE Ryan Calendar
  • PK Eddie Camara
  • OG Cam Feldt
  • LB Austin Moss
  • C Seth Oxner
  • WR Lance Ray
AUBURN
FLORIDA
  • RB Mike Blakely
  • WR Chris Dunkley
  • CB Janoris Jenkins
  • WR Javares McRoy
GEORGIA
  • LB Marcus Dowtin
  • RB Washaun Ealey
  • WR Logan Gray
  • DE Jeremy Longo
  • S Nick Williams
KENTUCKY
LSU
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • LB Michael Hunt
  • S Dennis Thames
OLE MISS
  • WR Jesse Grandy
  • LB Clarence Jackson
  • DE Delvin Jones
  • QB Nathan Stanley
SOUTH CAROLINA
TENNESSEE
  • DT Montori Hughes
  • CB Ted Meline
  • RB David Oku
  • C Cody Pope
  • OL Kevin Revis
VANDERBILT

Top SEC quarterback battles

May, 25, 2011
5/25/11
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McCarron/SimsUS PresswireAlabama QBs AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims finished the spring in a dead heat for the starting job.
It seems like just about every team in the SEC has a battle on its hands at the quarterback position. Some are turning out to be very entertaining, while others are a bit nerve-racking.

At Alabama, redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims left spring even under center.

Ole Miss has three quarterbacks taking snaps in Oxford -- and it would have been four had senior Nathan Stanley stuck around.

Auburn has two unproven quarterbacks looking to replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who directed the Tigers to a national championship last season. They'll add another body to the mix this summer when true freshman Kiehl Frazier arrives.

Here's a look at the best SEC quarterback battles to keep an eye on this preseason. And some could even bleed over into the season:

1. Alabama: AJ McCarron vs. Phillip Sims -- They exited the spring neck-and-neck for the starting spot. McCarron has the most experience, which isn't saying much, considering he only played mop-up duty last fall, completing 30 of 48 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns. He was the favorite heading into spring, but Sims quickly caught up to him, and is a solid pro-style passer as well. Neither will blow past defenders, but are athletic enough to make plays with their feet. Most importantly, the players and coaches are impressed with their leadership skills and most feel pretty comfortable with either one taking the position this fall. Coach Nick Saban hasn't ruled out playing both this season. My pick: McCarron

2. Ole Miss: Randall Mackey vs. Barry Brunetti vs. Zack Stoudt -- Ole Miss could have the most exciting battle on its hands. The Rebels left spring with Mackey, a junior college All-American who redshirted last season, having the edge. But just weeks later Brunetti was granted immediate eligibility to play this fall after transferring from West Virginia in January. Both are your typical dual-threat quarterbacks, but Brunetti might have more all-around skill and word is that he's a tougher runner. He's also got the only Division-I experience, after playing sparingly for West Virginia last fall. Stoudt can't be counted out, either. He's not mobile, but he might have the best combinations of arm accuracy, arm strength and pocket awareness of the bunch. This one won't be decided until fall camp is underway. My pick: Brunetti

3. Auburn: Barrett Trotter vs. Clint Moseley vs. Kiehl Frazier -- Trotter and Moseley were on campus this spring, so even while they each struggled at times, they are clearly ahead of Frazier, who will be on campus this summer. None have the skill Newton had, but with time, it seems like each would be a viable starter. This one will come down to the end of camp. Trotter has the most experience after playing in five games last fall. We saw the offense shine when directed by a dual-threat quarterback last season, but will Trotter's limited experience pay off? My pick: Trotter

4. LSU: Jordan Jefferson vs. Zach Mettenberger vs. Jarrett Lee -- This one is really between Jefferson and Mettenberger, but Lee is still on campus and he'll get his shot for playing time. It's not a secret that Jefferson's numbers last year were hard to stomach. However, this spring, new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe helped revamp his game. He worked extensively on Jefferson's technique, adding some more zip to his passes. Jefferson left having his best spring and the starting job is his to lose. But don't expect Mettenberger to just accept his role as the No. 2 guy. He'll continue to push Jefferson because he's got the best pure quarterback talent of the three. If Jefferson struggles, coach Les Miles might not hesitate to throw Mettenberger out there. My pick: Jefferson

5. Florida: John Brantley vs. Tyler Murphy vs. Jeff Driskel vs. Jacoby Brissett -- This race has the most bodies competing, but new coach Will Muschamp left spring making it clear that Brantley is his starter. Players and coaches were thrilled with his spring (outside of a miserable spring game), but no one outside of Florida's practice field knows what Brantley looked like in Charlie Weis' new pro-style offense. Murphy was a bright spot at the position and drew high praise from Weis this spring. Driskel enrolled early at Florida as the nation's top high school quarterback, but was slow at picking up the offense. However, fans are already revving up the Driskel bandwagon in and around Gainesville. Finally, there's Brissett, who was an All-American as a senior in high school. By not reporting this spring, he's behind everyone, but he's done some major playbook studying and will show up prepared this summer. My pick: Brantley

It looks as though former Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has found a potential new home.

The Omaha Nighthawks drafted Masoli in the eighth round of the United Football League draft Monday night. The Nighthawks described Masoli as "a potential steal" who "has the potential to excite the Nighthawks faithful."

Masoli impressed Nighthawks coach Joe Moglia and general manager Rick Mueller at an all-star game in January.

“[Jeremiah] stood out to Joe and the entire staff at the Stars and Stripes all-star game," Mueller said. "He fits what we are doing and has a chance here to play the quarterback position.”

Masoli was at the center of a controversial transfer to Ole Miss after he was dismissed from Oregon in June 2010 following two run-ins with the police.

He first pleaded guilty to a second-degree burglary charge in March after an incident that included stolen laptops from a fraternity house in Eugene, Ore. In June, he was cited for driving with a suspended license and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Masoli transferred to Ole Miss in August 2010 and after being granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA in September he won the starting job over Nathan Stanley after the season-opening loss to Jacksonville State.

With the Rebels, Masoli orchestrated a very up-and-down season in Oxford, passing for 2,039 yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran for 544 yards and six touchdowns during Ole Miss’ 4-8 season. In two seasons with Oregon (2008-09), Masoli threw for 3,891 yards and 28 touchdowns and ran for 1,386 yards and 23 touchdowns.

However, Masoli's future might not be with the Nighthawks. He's been working out with the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos and is a part of the Eskimos' negotiation list.

Regardless, it looks like Masoli has a couple of options for where he wants to play football this fall.

Omaha also drafted two other former SEC players.

With the No. 2 overall pick, Omaha took former Florida cornerback Reynaldo Hill. Hill played for the Tennessee Titans from 2005 to 2008, appearing in 48 games with 26 starts. Hill recorded six interceptions (including one returned 52 yards for a touchdown as a rookie), 11 pass breakups, and 126 total tackles.

“A guy our scouting staff has liked since he came out of Florida in 2005," Moglia said. "Solid cover corner that should come in and compete.”

The Nighthawks later took Kentucky running back Derrick Locke in the ninth round. Locke rushed for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior year with the Wildcats. He also caught 34 passes for 318 yards.

“Derrick is an extremely explosive player at the running back position,” Mueller said. “He is an electric runner, an outstanding receiver out of the backfield and would be a great addition to our football team.”
Now that spring practice is over with, it’s now in the players’ hands to figure out where they want to line up on the depth chart.

For now, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt says junior college transfer Randall Mackey leads a heated quarterback race.

With senior Nathan Stanley leaving the program during the latter part of spring practice, the Rebels will concentrate on JUCO transfer Zack Stoudt and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti.

Mackey, a dual-threat quarterback, took the early lead in practice, but found the other two creeping behind him toward the end of spring ball.

“I feel real good about these there that we have,“ Nutt said. “Probably the best three we’ve had on campus at one time.”

Brunetti, who might have the best tools of any of the quarterbacks with his ability to run and pass, has yet to be granted a waiver from the NCAA to make him eligible for the fall.

Stoudt, who was suspended from Saturday’s spring game because of academic reasons, might have the best arm of the three, but isn’t nearly as mobile.

“He can throw just about every ball,” Nutt said.

During Saturday’s spring game, Mackey led a comeback for the Red team, finishing with 151 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Brunetti had 211 yards with two touchdowns.

Mackey has the lead, but nothing will be finalized until the fall, Nutt said.

“Right now, Mackey is probably ahead,” he said, “but we’ll know for sure around those first 10 days when we get back in August.”

Exiting the spring: Ole Miss

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
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Spring game: 2 p.m. ET

Questions answered: The Rebels’ running game should be solid this fall. Work horse Brandon Bolden didn’t miss a beat before suffering an ankle injury during one of the scrimmages. The injury doesn’t seem to be serious, which is a good sign. He’s gotten some help from speedster Jeff Scott and Enrique Davis. Davis appears to be having his best spring. The offensive line will also be one of Ole Miss’ strengths. With All-SEC candidates in tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie, the Rebels return seven players that started two or more games each on the offensive line last year.

Questions unanswered: Ole Miss entered spring with a massive quarterback battle and will end it that way. With senior Nathan Stanley abruptly leaving the program, Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti will look to put on a show in Saturday’s spring game. Mackey made the most progress, taking the lead at the position, but word out of Oxford is that Brunetti might have the best set of tools, but has yet to be granted a waiver by the NCAA to be eligible to play this fall after transferring from West Virginia in January. Stoudt might not have the speed, but he could have the best arm. The wide receiver position still seems to be very inconsistent. Playmakers haven’t been found, which doesn’t help the inexperience at quarterback. Junior Melvin Harris has the most experience, but even he has been shaky at times. The secondary is still a concern for the Rebels as well. Only three cornerbacks entered spring with experience, but Marcus Temple missed all of spring after hernia surgery.

Spring stars: Mackey really impressed this spring. The former junior college standout has great wheels for a quarterback, but has also shown tremendous arm strength. He’s overcoming a speech impediment to become a real leader for the Rebels. Corner Wesley Pendleton also came from the JUCO ranks and while he’s still pretty raw, he’s had a solid spring. He’s got great speed and athleticism, which helps him overcome some of his coverage mistakes. Fellow corner Charles Sawyer has also made strong improvements after being benched earlier in the spring. Linebacker Mike Marry had a pretty successful spring for the Rebels.

Of note: The most crushing news of the spring came when linebacker -- and defensive leader -- D.T. Shackelford suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee this spring. He’s likely done for the year, leaving a gigantic hole on Ole Miss’ team. … Defensive end Kentrell Lockett (knee) was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and while he didn’t practice this spring he will be back this fall. … Junior linebacker Joel Kight underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear, but should be fine for the fall. ... Cornerback Julian Whitehead left the team before spring for personal issues. … Offensive lineman Michael Brown missed spring with a disc issue in his back. … Defensive end Gerald Rivers is out with a knee injury.

Nathan Stanley leaves Ole Miss

April, 13, 2011
4/13/11
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Ole Miss is now down to three quarterbacks this spring.

Wednesday night, junior quarterback Nathan Stanley informed coach Houston Nutt that he is leaving the program.

The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger first reported Stanley’s decision to leave Ole Miss for unspecified reasons.

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach David Lee confirmed to ESPN.com that Stanley was leaving, but wouldn’t comment further on why the junior decided to part ways with the university.

Nutt addressed Stanley’s situation in a statement from the university.

“After meeting tonight, Nathan has decided to leave the program,” Nutt said. “I wish him the best and I am going to help him find a new school. I appreciate all that he has done for Ole Miss and the type of student-athlete he has been.”

Stanley won the starting job last spring, before Jeremiah Masoli transferred in from Oregon. Stanley started in the season-opening loss to Jacksonville State, passing for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 6-of-10 passing. However, he lost his starting job to Masoli afterward and played in just three more games, finishing the season with 261 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

With Masoli gone, Stanley figured to get the majority of the action at quarterback this spring, but improvements by junior college transfer Randall Mackey, who redshirted last season, junior college transfer Zack Stoudt, and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti diminished his reps.

Mackey has recently pushed ahead in the quarterback race, while Stoudt and Brunetti continue to make solid strides behind him.

Brunetti, who transferred to Ole Miss in January, is still waiting to be granted a waiver by the NCAA in order to eligible to play this fall.

Lee said that he doesn’t plan to name a quarterback at the conclusion of spring and probably won’t decide on that until the middle of two-a-days this summer.

For now, Lee is anxious to see what his trio can do during Saturday’s spring game.

“I’ve got three unique guys and I’m excited about all three of them,“ he said.

“I’m really excited to watch Brunetti and Stoudt and Mackey this Saturday, with the crowd and some people there. All three of these guys are in the hunt (for the starting spot).”

Opening spring camp: Ole Miss

March, 28, 2011
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Schedule: The Rebels open practice on Monday afternoon and will hold their annual Grove Bowl spring game on April 16 at 2 p.m. ET. The Rebels’ practices are open to the public.

What’s new: David Lee, previously the quarterbacks coach with the Miami Dolphins, reunites with Houston Nutt and will serve as Ole Miss’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and will also call plays. He takes over for Dave Rader, who was not retained. Nutt had always called plays in the past. He and Lee spent two different stints together at Arkansas. Gunter Brewer comes over from Oklahoma State and will be the Rebels’ receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Brewer takes over for Ron Dickerson Jr., who was named the head coach at Gardner-Webb. Keith Burns will coach the Ole Miss secondary next season. He was previously the secondary coach at Kansas State and has also been a defensive coordinator at several schools, including Southern California and Arkansas.

On the mend: Cornerback Marcus Temple will miss the spring while recovering from a sports hernia. Defensive end Kentrell Lockett, who’s waiting to see if he gets a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL and won’t go through the spring.

Key battle: The Rebels hope to come out of the spring with their starting quarterback and have several to choose from. Junior Nathan Stanley won the job last year until Jeremiah Masoli came along. This time, Stanley has to hold off junior college signee Zack Stoudt as well as West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti, who’s hoping to get a waiver from the NCAA and be eligible to play right away and not have to sit out a season. Junior Randall Mackey redshirted last season after coming to Ole Miss as one of the top-rated junior college quarterbacks in the country. Mackey is the most dynamic runner of the bunch, while Lee is probably mentally ahead of everyone at this point.

New faces: Five junior college players were added to the roster in January and will go through spring practice. In addition to Stoudt at quarterback, Philander Moore will factor in at both receiver and as a return specialist, Gilbert Pena at defensive tackle and Wes Pendleton and Ivan Nicholas in the defensive secondary. Pendleton’s speed should make him a strong candidate to help out at cornerback.

Breaking out: Finding more playmakers at receiver will be a priority this spring, which places the spotlight on guys like junior Melvin Harris, sophomore Ja-Mes Logan and redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders.

Don’t forget about: The Rebels were the SEC’s third best rushing team a year ago, and returning for his senior season is running back Brandon Bolden. One of the league’s most underrated players, Bolden rushed for 976 yards last season, scored 17 touchdowns and led the Rebels in receptions (32) and all-purpose yards (1,320).

All eyes on: Gone are four senior defensive tackles, including Jerrell Powe, which means the Rebels will be on the lookout this spring for anybody who can help them in the middle of that defensive line. Senior Justin Smith and sophomore Corey Gaines are the only returnees with any experience. Redshirt freshmen Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin will get every chance to show what they can do, and the Rebels are also counting on Pena to make an immediate impact.

Timing was right for Lee, Nutt reunion

February, 25, 2011
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After 13 different coaching jobs in college and pro football, David Lee wasn’t necessarily looking to make another move.

But he can take a hint.

In this case, the hint was Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross flying out to the West Coast to court Jim Harbaugh in early January and also reaching out to Bill Cowher while Tony Sparano and his staff were still intact in Miami.

[+] EnlargeDavid Lee
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyDavid Lee did not hesitate to leave the Miami Dolphins and reunite with Houston Nutt at Ole Miss.
Lee was a member of that staff as the Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach, and it was about that time that old pal, Houston Nutt called and wanted to know if Lee had any interest in reuniting with him at Ole Miss as offensive coordinator.

Not only that, but Nutt was offering a chance for Lee to call the Rebels’ plays.

“There was a lot of turmoil in Miami, and it was unsettling, especially with the lockout looming,” said Lee, who did two different stints under Nutt at Arkansas. “Houston came to me and said there was going to be an opening and wanted to know if I would be interested.”

It didn’t take Lee and his wife long to make a decision.

“Of all the coaches I’ve worked with, I didn’t enjoy working with anybody as much as I did Houston,” Lee said. “He has the ability to make it fun, and that’s very, very rare. Plus, I really enjoy coaching this age group.

“I feel like I’ve been rejuvenated and am jumping out of bed every morning to help get this program turned back in the direction we all want it headed in.”

Lee will call the Rebels’ plays next season, and that’s significant. That’s typically been Nutt’s baby. But in 2007 at Arkansas, Nutt’s final season in Fayetteville, Lee also called the plays, and the Hogs averaged 38.8 points and 457.4 yards per game in total offense.

With Darren McFadden and Felix Jones lighting up opposing defenses that season, Arkansas rushed for an average of 286.5 yards per game, which was fourth nationally.

Lee won’t have McFadden and Jones at his disposal next season, but he does like what the Rebels have returning in the way of a running game. Brandon Bolden, who rushed for 976 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry while also leading Ole Miss in receiving with 32 catches, was one of the most underrated players in the SEC last season. He returns after scoring 17 touchdowns in 2010.

“It looks like the strength of this team is at running back, and I like what I see on tape,” Lee said. “Both Brandon Bolden and Jeff Scott make things happen running the football. So if you ask me right now what we’re going to be on offense, we’re going to pick up on doing what they did best, which is run the ball, and try to be really good at play-action.”

Lee said the Wild Rebel formation, along with other direct-snap packages, would remain a big part of Ole Miss’ offense.

He concedes that his greatest challenge this spring is developing a couple of quarterbacks.

“We have our work cut out, but we have some guys who do different things,” Lee said.

Junior Nathan Stanley and junior college transfer Zack Stoudt are both drop-back passers, while Randall Mackey and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti are more multi-dimensional.

Mackey, who redshirted last season after coming over from junior college, will be limited during the spring after undergoing surgery to remove cartilage in his knee. Brunetti will be there, but he still needs a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to be eligible next season.

“You’d love to have one guy who can do it all -- go under center and make it happen in the drop-back game and also get in the shotgun and run some of the zone read option,” Lee said. “I don’t know if that guy is here. We have to find out. We may have to play two quarterbacks. I don’t want to, but have done it before.”

Lee had some other opportunities come his way the past few years, but turned them down.

The fact that it was Nutt reaching out this time made it different.

“Houston and I have a lot in common,” Lee said. “We grew up riding in the back of the bus, shooting baskets in the gym. He was a quarterback, and I was a quarterback. We both have a strong faith. It’s hard to find somebody like that in this profession that you can relate to, relax and be yourself.

“It came at a good time.”

Plus, Lee figures he owes Nutt.

“He helped rescue me from Rice (in 2000 as Arkansas’ quarterbacks coach),” Lee said. “I wanted to do what I could to help him this time.

“By not having to call plays, it gives him a chance to spend more time than he has in the past with the defense and in other areas. When you’re running the offense and calling plays, that’s where you are 90 percent of the time. This way, he gets to spread himself around a little better.”

SEC spring preview: Western Division

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
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Mississippi State hits the practice field next Friday to kick off spring practice in the SEC, and several other teams will follow the next week.

Football is back, and here’s a snapshot of what to watch this spring in the Western Division:

ALABAMA

Start of spring practice: March 21
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • McCarron or Sims? If you’re looking for one of the more intriguing position battles of the spring, it doesn’t get much better than A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims battling it out for the Alabama starting quarterback job. Both players are extremely talented and were highly rated coming out of high school, and they’re vying to replace a guy who was the essence of precision, smarts and productivity all wrapped into one -- Greg McElroy. McCarron played a little bit last season as a redshirt freshman, while Sims redshirted. We’ll see if one separates himself enough this spring for Nick Saban to name a starter.
  • Back in the SEC: In addition to settling on a starting quarterback, the other thing the Crimson Tide would like to determine this spring is who will be protecting that quarterback from the left tackle position. Junior college signee Aaron Douglas is probably the guy to beat. He’s already on campus after attending Arizona Western College last year and drawing a wide array of interest from schools. He started his career at Tennessee, where he earned Freshman All-American honors in 2009 while playing right tackle for the Vols.
  • Rushing the passer: The Crimson Tide would like to amp up their pass rush next season, which means getting there without having to blitz all the time. Jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw finished last season on fire and lived in the opposing backfield his last two games. This is an important spring for middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who’s also been used outside in pass-rushing situations. Hightower was coming off reconstructive knee surgery last season and didn’t appear to be all the way back. He’s eager to show this spring that he is all the way back and poised to be an All-SEC player again.
ARKANSAS

Start of spring practice: March 15
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Mr. Wilson: A year ago, Tyler Wilson got a chance to show what he could do with the first unit because Ryan Mallett broke a bone in his foot and missed the spring after undergoing surgery. This spring, it’s Wilson’s show again, although Mallett won’t be coming back this time. Wilson, a sophomore, is the odds-on favorite to win Arkansas’ starting quarterback job. He passed for 332 yards and four touchdowns against Auburn last season on the road after Mallett was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he thinks Wilson can be a terrific quarterback, but wants to see him beat out Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker for the job before handing him the keys to the Hogs’ offense.
  • Getting defensive: The Hogs’ defense took the kind of step last season that was required to get them to 10 wins. They went from 89th in the country in total defense in 2009 to 36th in the country a year ago. The key figures from that defense return next season, and Petrino has said he thinks Arkansas will be even better on defense in 2011 than it was last season. Finding a replacement for Anthony Leon at one of the linebacker spots will be important this spring, and the Hogs could still use some more speed in the secondary.
  • Fourth-quarter blues: Special emphasis was placed on winning the close games last season and getting it done in the fourth quarter. That will be a familiar cry on the practice field again this spring. All three of Arkansas' losses last season came on the heels of fourth-quarter breakdowns. The Hogs couldn’t hold a lead at home against Alabama, and the Crimson Tide rallied from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter to win. At Auburn, the Hogs were snowed under by a 28-point Auburn avalanche in the fourth quarter. And in the Sugar Bowl, the Hogs couldn’t capitalize in the final minutes despite blocking a punt and recovering inside the Ohio State 20.
AUBURN

Start of spring practice: March 23
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Playing with a target: Auburn emerged from the shadows last season to go 14-0 and win its first national championship since 1957. Nobody really saw the Tigers coming. Now, even though they lost great players the caliber of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, everybody will be circling the Auburn game on their calendars. With so many new faces in key positions, this team will have to establish its own identity and be prepared to get everybody’s best shot every weekend.
  • Rebuilding the O-line: It’s hard to imagine Auburn playing a game without departed senior offensive line starters Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Byron Isom and Ryan Pugh. They were together so long and made so many career starts alongside each other. This spring, the Tigers start the process of replacing their four rocks up front. The lone holdover from the BCS National Championship Game is right tackle Brandon Mosley, although A.J. Greene was also a starter last season until he injured his ankle. Redshirt freshman Ed Christian is definitely somebody to watch at one of the guard spots, and don’t forget about junior John Sullen, who can play guard or tackle.
  • Trotter in the race: Even as great as Newton turned out to be, coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn were careful to make sure Newton was clearly the guy before naming him the starter at the conclusion of spring practice and heading into the summer. Junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley were two of the guys battling with Newton last spring. But this spring, they will be battling each other for the starting quarterback job, a battle that’s likely to continue into preseason practice once heralded true freshman Kiehl Frazier arrives on campus this summer.
LSU

Start of spring practice: March 11
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby: Perhaps the most closely watched quarterback battle this spring will occur at LSU, where seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee will try and hold off talented junior college signee Zach Mettenberger. Jefferson played better toward the end of last season, but the Tigers’ passing game was nonexistent for much of the 2010 season. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Mettenberger put up huge numbers in junior college last season after starting his career at Georgia. He obviously didn't sign with LSU to sit and watch.
  • Kragthorpe to the rescue: Former Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe takes over as LSU’s offensive coordinator and does so after the Tigers finished 11th in the SEC last season in total offense and last in the SEC in 2009. Kragthorpe wants to make sure LSU is getting the ball in the hands of its best playmakers, but he also wants to make sure the Tigers are balanced. Their running game improved dramatically last season. With Stevan Ridley leaving early for the NFL draft, Spencer Ware is next in line after rushing for 102 yards in the Cotton Bowl.
  • Special-teams makeover: The Tigers were gutted on special teams. Even special teams coordinator Joe Robinson left to take a job on North Carolina’s staff. Also gone are All-SEC place-kicker Josh Jasper, All-SEC return specialist Patrick Peterson and punter Derek Helton, who was second in the SEC with a punting average of 45.7 yards per game. LSU will be looking to fill voids across the board this spring in its kicking game, which was a big reason the Tigers won 11 games last season.
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Start of spring practice: March 4
Spring game: April 9
End of spring practice: April 11

What to watch:
  • New defensive chief: Manny Diaz was hired away by Texas to be the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator, meaning co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is now the guy running things in Starkville. Diaz and Wilson worked together closely last season, so it’s doubtful much will change. Dan Mullen did bring in Geoff Collins to serve as co-defensive coordinator to Wilson and also coach the Bulldogs' linebackers.
  • Lining up linebackers: The Bulldogs lost all three of their starting linebackers from last season, including their top two tacklers in Chris White and K.J. Wright. Emmanuel Gatling was the other starter, although he shared time with Cameron Lawrence at one of the outside spots. So while Lawrence might have first dibs on one of those three starting jobs this spring, the competition will be fierce. Redshirt freshmen Felando Bohanna and Christian Holmes are two to watch in the middle. Chris Hughes played some last season as a true freshman on the outside, and third-year sophomore Michael Hunt will also be in the mix for a starting job.
  • Relf’s supporting cast: Chris Relf enters his senior season as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC, and he’s also one of the league’s most improved players. The Bulldogs’ top threats in the running game return, but Relf will have several new guys he’ll be hooking up with in the passing game. Junior receiver Chad Bumphis has been working out and is expected back this spring after missing the Gator Bowl with a broken collarbone. The Bulldogs also redshirted several receivers last season they have high hopes for, including Malcolm Johnson, Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis. Getting a healthy Marcus Green back at tight end will also make Relf's life easier.
OLE MISS

Start of spring practice: March 28
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Lee to call plays: The last time Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt didn’t call his own plays was 2007 when David Lee called them during Nutt’s final season at Arkansas. Well, Lee has reunited with Nutt at Ole Miss for the 2011 season after coming over from the Miami Dolphins, and Nutt has again turned over the offensive play-calling duties to Lee in order to spend more time focusing on other areas of the team. Lee will build what the Rebels do offensively around an underrated stable of running backs, led by Brandon Bolden.
  • Quarterback questions: Jeremiah Masoli popped in at the last minute a year ago. But this time, it appears that the guy who separates himself this spring will be the Rebels’ quarterback for the season. Junior Nathan Stanley has the edge in experience. Randall Mackey is probably the most athletic, but will be limited this spring after undergoing knee surgery. Junior college signee Zack Stoudt is already enrolled and also eyeing the starting job, while West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti will be in the middle of the race as well if he receives a waiver from the NCAA and is allowed to play this coming season.
  • Building back the defense: After back-to-back seasons in 2008 and 2009 when Ole Miss’ defense was outstanding, Tyrone Nix’s unit came crashing down last season. More than anything, it’s a group that needs to regain its confidence this spring and play with that same attacking mentality that made the Rebels so effective on defense the previous two seasons. Linebacker D.T. Shackelford is a leader and the kind of guy you win with in this league, but Nix & Co. need to find a few more like him this spring, especially in the secondary.

SEC quarterback battles this spring

February, 8, 2011
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We’re coming up on a month from the start of spring practice for some of the SEC schools.

There could be several interesting quarterback battles brewing. Here’s a quick glance at a few of those that are up for grabs:

LSU

[+] EnlargeJordan Jefferson
Tyler Kaufman/Icon SMIJordan Jefferson will face competition from Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger.
First-year offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has already said it’s going to be wide open among seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee and junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger. Obviously, the Tigers have to get more production out of their passing game than they did in 2010, but at least Jefferson played some of his best football toward the end of the season. If he’s made of the right stuff, Mettenberger’s arrival will only raise Jefferson's level of play this spring. The 6-5, 245-pound Mettenberger has a big arm and the kind of work ethic coaches love. He’s clearly a talented player and one the Georgia coaches hated to lose after his off-the-field trouble last year. This is a battle that will almost certainly extend into preseason practice in August.

FLORIDA

Does John Brantley transform into the kind of passer everybody thought he was going to be last season now that he’s in a pro-style system with a new head coach and new offensive coordinator? Jeff Driskel might be a true freshman, but he’s oozing with athletic ability and will be worth the price of admission this spring. Having him enroll early was big for the Gators. It’s yet to be determined how Trey Burton and Jordan Reed will fit into the quarterback equation in Charlie Weis’ system.

OLE MISS

Nathan Stanley has been down this road before. He won the Rebels’ starting job last spring, but Ole Miss brought in Oregon castoff Jeremiah Masoli during the summer. Masoli took over in the second game and was the starter for the rest of the season. Stanley, now a junior, gets another shot to win the job this spring. Masoli is gone, but Ole Miss went out and signed junior college quarterback Zack Stoudt, and he’s already enrolled in school. Randall Mackey redshirted last season after coming over from junior college and is more of a multi-purpose threat. Former West Virginia quarterback Barry Brunetti is transferring to Ole Miss and has applied for a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play right away and not have to sit out for a season.

ALABAMA

Sophomore A.J. McCarron is the guy to beat. He’s entering his third year in the program after redshirting his first year on campus and has all the physical tools to be a great one. Redshirt freshman Phillip Sims was ESPN’s top-rated quarterback in the country coming out of high school. There were some rumblings earlier this year that he might be looking to transfer, but his father said in January those rumors were untrue and that he’s looking forward to battling for the starting job this spring.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Rising senior Stephen Garcia played with more consistency for much of the past season, although he threw five interceptions in his final two games. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier plans to take a long look at sophomore Connor Shaw in the spring, and if Shaw outplays Garcia, don’t be surprised if you see a lot more of Shaw next season than you did in 2010.

AUBURN

Touted freshman signee Kiehl Frazier won’t be on campus until this summer, so the spring will be junior Barrett Trotter's stage to show what he can do. Sophomore Clint Moseley will be the other guy to watch this spring.

VANDERBILT

Everything's new at Vanderbilt, which means the Commodores may well have a new quarterback next fall. Senior Larry Smith is back, but he figures to get a stiff challenge this spring from Jordan Rodgers, who redshirted last season. Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, signed with the Commodores out of junior college, but a shoulder problem kept him from competing for the job. He ended up having surgery. The Commodores also signed three freshman quarterbacks in the 2011 class who will be on campus this summer.

ARKANSAS

Judging from the way Tyler Wilson stepped in and performed in the Auburn game, the Hogs have supreme confidence that he can pick up where Ryan Mallett left off this past season. A third-year sophomore, Wilson has all of his top playmakers at receiver coming back. His competition this spring will be a pair of redshirt freshmen -- Jacoby Walker and Brandon Mitchell. Walker is coming off a torn ACL in last year’s spring game.

Breaking down the West returnees

January, 26, 2011
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We took a look Tuesday at who in the SEC had what coming back on defense in terms of the top 20 tacklers on the team.

Next, we take a peek at the number of starters returning on each team, which is anything but absolute when making predictions for that next season.

Sometimes, guys come out of nowhere to be great players. Nick Fairley comes to mind this past season.

Anyway, here’s a look at who has the most starters returning next season. As will be our rule all offseason, we’ll begin with the Western Division, starting with Mississippi State since the Bulldogs return the most starters on offense and defense with 16:

MISSISSIPPI STATE: 16 (9 on offense, 7 on defense)
  • Key returnees: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, WR Chad Bumphis, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Josh Boyd, CB Johnthan Banks, S Charles Mitchell
  • Key losses: OT Derek Sherrod, LB Chris White, LB K.J. Wright, DE Pernell McPhee
  • Rising stars: RB LaDarius Perkins, LB Ferlando Bohanna
LSU: 15 (8 on offense, 7 on defense) ALABAMA: 14 (6 on offense, 8 on defense) ARKANSAS: 13 (6 on offense, 7 on defense) OLE MISS: 13 (8 on offense, 5 on defense) AUBURN: 8 (4 on offense, 4 on defense)
  • Key returnees: RB Mike Dyer, RB Onterio McCalebb, DE Nosa Eguae, CB Neiko Thorpe, S Mike McNeil
  • Key losses: QB Cam Newton, WR Darvin Adams, DT Nick Fairley, LB Josh Bynes, LB Craig Stevens, S Zac Etheridge
  • Rising stars: DE Corey Lemonier, WR Trovon Reed

SEC lunch links

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
12:05
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Some Thursday linkage for your viewing pleasure:

Ole Miss trying to hang on

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
6:27
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Jeremiah Masoli made his debut Saturday for Ole Miss, but sophomore Nathan Stanley was the one on fire to start the game.

Stanley threw touchdown passes on the Rebels’ first two possessions and has thrown three for the game. But it’s been anything but easy for Ole Miss, which has turned it over three times and is trying to hang onto a 31-26 lead in the fourth quarter.

SEC lunch links

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
12:05
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A check of what's making news around the SEC:

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