SEC: Needs to come through spring 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The spring surprises are always sweet. The same goes for that star who takes his game to another level in the spring.
But what about the guy who wasn't around for the bulk of the spring either because he was recovering from surgery, serving a suspension or concentrating on his academics?
Here's a look at the player on each team who didn't go through spring practice for some reason that needs to come through next fall:
RB Roy Upchurch: He was held out of contact all spring after undergoing surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his neck. Nick Saban likes to rotate his running backs, and Upchurch is one of the most versatile of the bunch and also excels on special teams.
RB Michael Smith: After carrying the entire Arkansas offense on his back last season, the 173-pound Smith wore down toward the end and underwent hamstring surgery in the offseason. He's a special player who should be even more special now that he's healthy.
WR Montez Billings: An academic issue that remains unresolved kept Billings out of spring practice. He's the Tigers' leading returning receiver, and it's a position where they can use all the help they can get. His experience would also be invaluable.
RB/KR Brandon James: One of the main reasons the Gators' special teams are some of the best in the country is because of James' ability to change the complexion of a game with a punt return. He missed the spring after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured bone in his right foot.
DT Jeff Owens: Owens is on track to be 100 percent by the start of preseason practice. He blew his knee out in the opener last season and didn't go through the spring. He and Geno Atkins give the Bulldogs what should be the best defensive tackle tandem in the league.
RB Derrick Locke: Despite a serious knee injury midway through last season, Locke still led the Wildcats with 812 all-purpose yards. They need his speed and big-play ability in the backfield, although there are no guarantees that he'll be recovered in time to start the season.
C T-Bob Hebert: The son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert was held out of contact in the spring following knee surgery that forced him to miss most of last season. He's the missing piece for the Tigers on the offensive line at center.
WR Brandon McRae: The Bulldogs need receivers in the worst way, and McRae was one of the few who stood out last season. He broke his leg in the season finale against Ole Miss and was severely limited this spring. He said he was about 60 percent at the time, but is determined to be ready to go for the fall.
DE Greg Hardy: The only time he was really healthy last season was against Florida, and Hardy dominated that game. He missed the spring after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot that has lingered. If healthy and focused, Hardy makes an already strong Ole Miss defensive line scary good.
DT Ladi Ajiboye: One of the Gamecocks' top run-stuffers last season, Ajiboye was suspended for the entire spring following his arrest on a drug charge. He remained in school, though, and has been making steady progress toward being reinstated.
S Eric Berry: This one's a no-brainer. Berry is the heart and soul of the Vols' defense, but was held out of contact in the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. He said the shoulder is no longer an issue and is raring to go in Monte Kiffin's new defensive scheme. Berry already has 12 career interceptions.
RB Jared Hawkins: Held out of spring practice while recovering from a foot injury, Hawkins is one of the keys' to the Commodores' running game next fall. He led the team in rushing last season with 593 yards and is one of the more underrated players in the league.
12:00 PM ET Troy 13 Georgia 3:30 PM ET 6 Texas A&M SMU 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Alabama 4:00 PM ET Indiana 18 Missouri 7:00 PM ET Northern Illinois Arkansas 7:00 PM ET Mississippi State 8 LSU 7:30 PM ET 14 South Carolina Vanderbilt