SEC: SEC spring team wraps 2010

Alabama spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
11:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 14-0, BCS national champions

2009 conference record: 8-0, SEC champions

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 3; Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram, RB Trent Richardson, WR Julio Jones, OG Barrett Jones, DE Marcell Dareus, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron

Key losses

TE Colin Peek, OG Mike Johnson, NG Terrence Cody, DE Brandon Deaderick, LB Rolando McClain, CB Javier Arenas, CB Kareem Jackson, PK Leigh Tiffin

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Mark Ingram* (1,658 yards)

Passing: Greg McElroy* (2,508 yards)

Receiving: Julio Jones* (596 yards)

Tackles: Rolando McClain (105)

Sacks: Marcell Dareus* (6.5)

Interceptions: Mark Barron* (7)

Spring answers

1. Running to glory: Imagine having the two best running backs in the SEC on the same team. There’s no imagining to it for the Crimson Tide, who will seek to ride Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to a second straight BCS national championship next season. Ingram won the Heisman Trophy last season, but there are some in and around the Alabama program who think Richardson is even better. They both are fabulous after-contact runners and can also break the long one. The only problem will be splitting up the carries. What a problem to have, huh?

2. Hightower’s return: Despite a complete reconstruction of his left knee last year following his injury against Arkansas in the fourth week, linebacker Dont’a Hightower was back on the practice field this spring and even went through some contact the final week. Getting him back was critical, because he plays so many roles for the Crimson Tide. He’ll step in for Rolando McClain at middle linebacker in the base defense, plays in the nickel and rushes the passer from his jack linebacker spot on passing downs. If Hightower is indeed close to 100 percent next season, he’ll be one of the better defenders in the league.

3. Loaded at quarterback: Everybody knows what Greg McElroy did in his first full season as the starter. He made the plays he had to, protected the football – and most importantly – didn’t lose a game. He returns as the starter, but also has a ton of talent behind him. Nick Saban said it’s the best the quarterback situation has looked at Alabama since he took over in 2007. Redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron threw the ball as well as anybody this spring and is ready if something should happen to McElroy. And true freshman Phillip Sims, who enrolled early and went through spring practice, might have the best upside of all three.

Fall questions

1. Inexperience in the secondary: With the exception of junior safety Mark Barron, who led the SEC in interceptions, the Crimson Tide lost everybody in the secondary who made a play for them last season. That means a lot of new (and inexperienced) faces will be on the field next season from the outset, which is never the way you want to go into a season. At least, the Crimson Tide will be talented in their defensive backfield. Sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has star potential, and true freshmen DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton also showcased their talent this spring. But Saban will be the first to tell you that inexperience in the secondary can be a killer. It also didn’t help that junior college signee DeQuan Menzie ruptured his Achilles tendon and won't be available next season.

2. Kicking and punting: The unsung hero for Alabama last season was place-kicker Leigh Tiffin, who was so clutch and made 30-of-35 field goal attempts. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald was also solid. Both of those guys are now gone, though, and chances are a couple of freshmen will be filling their shoes. Place-kicker Cade Foster went through spring practice, while punter Jay Williams will be on campus this summer. Replacing Javier Arenas' return skills won't be easy, either.

3. Staying the course: Don’t ask Saban about the chances of Alabama defending its national championship. He’ll quickly tell you the Crimson Tide aren’t defending anything. And he’s right. The key in coming back after a championship season and doing it again is keeping your focus straight ahead and not getting caught up in what you’ve just accomplished. That’s easier said than done. Is the leadership on this team good enough to do that? Can Alabama keep that same game-to-game concentration that made the Tide so good last season? Are these guys still hungry? We’re going to find out.

Arkansas spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
11:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 9; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Ryan Mallett, RB Ronnie Wingo Jr., WR Greg Childs, WR Joe Adams, TE D.J. Williams, OT DeMarcus Love, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin

Key losses

RB Michael Smith, OG Mitch Petrus, DE Adrian Davis, DT Malcolm Sheppard, LB Wendel Davis


2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Broderick Green* (442 yards)

Passing: Ryan Mallett* (3,624 yards)

Receiving: Greg Childs* (894 yards)

Tackles: Jerry Franklin* (94)

Sacks: Adrian Davis and Jake Bequette* (5.5)

Interceptions: Jerry Franklin* and Tramain Thomas* (3)

Spring answers

1. Secondary shuffle: With hopes of shoring up their pass defense – which ranked last in the SEC a year ago – and to get more speed in the secondary, the Hogs moved Rudell Crim from cornerback to safety this spring. Crim played safety in junior college, and it’s a look the Hogs will probably stick with in the fall. Junior cornerback Isaac Madison returns from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season, while senior Ramon Broadway and sophomore Darius Winston are two other cornerbacks the Hogs think they can count on in 2010. Winston was more physical this spring.

2. Pick your playmaker: The hard part for Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett may be picking which of his favorite targets to throw to. He's surrounded by guys who can change the game in a hurry. Receivers Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton combined for 22 touchdown catches last season. D.J. Williams is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino envisions using all four running backs. Ronnie Wingo Jr. is up to 230 pounds and hasn’t lost a step, and Dennis Johnson had his best spring yet.

3. Keeping the faith: When Arkansas went into Bryant-Denny Stadium a year ago to take on Alabama, Petrino wasn’t sure his team really thought it could win. In a way, that was a turning point for the Hogs, who played much better in their big games the rest of the season. Confidence doesn’t figure to be a problem next season. This is a team that has supreme belief in itself, believes it will find a way to win those close games in 2010 and fully expects to be right there in the middle of the SEC championship race.

Fall questions

1. Proving it on defense: Petrino thinks the defense will be better. The players on that side of the ball insist that they will be better, and the talent and experience certainly suggest that they’ll be better. But now the Hogs have to go out and prove it after some embarrassing outings a year ago where they were torched for big plays and even bigger points. To be fair, they played solid defense in spots last season. The trick will be doing it more consistently and not giving up so many big gainers.

2. Linebacker shortage: One of the trouble spots on defense again figures to be linebacker. There’s not a lot of depth, and some new faces are going to have to come through. Terrell Williams and Jermaine Love battled it out at middle linebacker this spring. That’s a key spot for the Hogs. Junior Jerry Franklin has played a lot of football and will start out on the weak side, but the Arkansas staff has challenged him to get stronger in the weight room. This is a position where Arkansas simply can’t afford to have any injuries next season.

3. Kicking it straight: It wasn’t the best spring for senior place-kicker Alex Tejada, who was inconsistent in scrimmages as well as end-of-practice situations. He also missed an extra point in the spring game that didn’t sit well with Petrino. The Hogs are sure to be in a bunch of close games next season, meaning field goals inside 40 yards and extra points are must-makes. Two freshman kickers arrive this summer, so it could get interesting when practice resumes in August.

Auburn spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
10:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Onterio McCalebb, RB Mario Fannin, WR Darvin Adams, OT Lee Ziemba, C Ryan Pugh, LB Josh Bynes, LB Daren Bates, CB Neiko Thorpe

Key losses

QB Chris Todd, RB Ben Tate, TE Tommy Trott, DE Antonio Coleman, CB Walter McFadden

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Ben Tate (1,362 yards)

Passing: Chris Todd (2,612 yards)

Receiving: Darvin Adams* (997 yards)

Tackles: Josh Bynes* (104)

Sacks: Antonio Coleman (10)

Interceptions: Walter McFadden (6)

Spring answers

1. Newton named No. 1: Auburn went out and got Cameron Newton from the junior college ranks to be its quarterback, and Newton didn’t disappoint this spring. He’s a 6-6, 242-pound specimen who can both run and throw and quickly earned the confidence and trust of his teammates with the way he performed and diligently went about his business. Auburn coach Gene Chizik named Newton the Tigers’ No. 1 quarterback at the conclusion of the spring, and it’s going to be hard to wrest the job away from him.

2. Picking up the pace: If you think the Tigers played fast on offense last season, wait until you see them in 2010. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn wants to play even faster, keeping defenses off balance, and thinks he has the personnel in place to do that next season. It helps that it will be the second time through Malzahn’s system for most of these guys. If Newton responds in the fall the way the Auburn coaches think he will, look for the Tigers to delve even deeper into Malzahn’s playbook.

3. Bates moving up: Even though he didn’t practice this spring because of a bum shoulder, Daren Bates made a little news. The Tigers plan on moving him to a hybrid linebacker role after he earned Freshman All-SEC honors last season at safety. The idea is to get faster on defense, and Bates was one of the Tigers’ most aggressive tacklers last season. It’s also a way to build depth at linebacker, which was a huge problem a year ago. Bates is a quick learner. He proved that last season after arriving in August and starting all 13 games.

Fall questions

1. In a rush: Chizik says the Tigers have to be a better power running team next season. Who’s going to be the go-to guy at running back now that Ben Tate is gone? Senior Mario Fannin will get the first crack after bouncing around between receiver and running back the last two years. Onterio McCalebb is healthy again and more of a change-of-pace guy, while redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock has also shown some promise. And, oh yeah, coveted freshman signee Michael Dyer arrives this summer. The best news is that Auburn returns four of five starters in the offensive line.

2. Defensive depth: The Tigers simply didn’t have the numbers nor the depth a year ago to play consistent defense for 12 games, which is a big reason why they lost five of their last six SEC games. They should be a little deeper next season, especially when everybody from the 2010 signing class gets on campus. Still, there are concerns. It’s never ideal to count on true freshmen, which means players such as sophomore linebacker Eltoro Freeman and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Nosa Eguae need to come through in a big way next season.

3. Walking wounded: The Tigers have three veteran safeties returning from serious injuries – Mike McNeil, Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge. There’s a chance all three could come back and make major contributions, and there’s also a chance that they won’t ever be able to get back to where they once were. Savage has missed the last two seasons because of injuries, and Etheridge had a scary neck injury last season. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof is hopeful on all three, but will reserve judgment once he sees them on the field in the fall.

Florida spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
10:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 13-1

2009 conference record: 8-0, lost in SEC championship game to Alabama

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Jeffery Demps, RB Emmanuel Moody, WR Deonte Thompson, C Mike Pouncey, LB Brandon Hicks, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Ahmad Black

Key losses

QB Tim Tebow, WR Riley Cooper, TE Aaron Hernandez, C Maurkice Pouncey, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Jermaine Cunningham, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, S Major Wright

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Tim Tebow (910 yards)

Passing: Tim Tebow (2,895 yards)

Receiving: Riley Cooper (961 yards)

Tackles: Ryan Stamper (78)

Sacks: Carlos Dunlap (9)

Interceptions: Joe Haden (4)

Spring answers

1. Brantley steps in: We’ve been hearing about how well John Brantley can throw the football for a couple of years now. We finally get to see it next season. For the second straight spring, he looked polished and comfortable in directing the Gators’ offense. Obviously, he’s a different type of quarterback than Tim Tebow, and the Gators will gear their offense around what Brantley does best, which is throw the football. He’ll take his lumps like any first-year starter in this league, but he also has the ability to put up big numbers.

2. Options to replace Tebow: Other than Tebow's leadership, the hardest thing to replace will be his ability to convert third downs in short-yardage situations and his presence on the goal line. The Gators think they found a couple of guys this spring. Converted tight end Jordan Reed looked very good running the “Tebow” package, while true freshman Trey Burton is also more than capable. Granted, nobody is expecting either to be Tebow, but the Gators also know they still have that part of the offense available to them.

3. Young talent on ‘D’: How good was the Gators’ signing class? We shouldn’t have to wait long to find out. Already, a few of the early enrollees have shown their stuff. Cornerback Joshua Shaw will certainly play as a freshman, while safety Matt Elam and tackle Leon Orr will also be difficult to keep off the field. End Ronald Powell and tackle Sharrif Floyd arrive this summer, and they also figure to play early. This defense won’t lack for talent, just experience. Guys like Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Omar Hunter, who haven’t played starring roles because of the people in front of them, are poised to break through.

Fall questions

1. Generating more big plays: The Gators will be looking for more big plays down the field next season and were lacking in that area a year ago. They hope redshirt freshman receiver Andre Debose can fill that void. Hamstring surgery caused Debose to miss all of last season, and he was limited this spring. But he came back toward the end of practice and provided a glimpse of how explosive he can be. It’s also a big season for junior receiver Deonte Thompson, who needs to be more consistent. Former running back Chris Rainey has moved to the slot, and the Gators are hoping to get the ball to him any number of ways and better utilize his speed.

2. Defensive line firepower: The Gators were stocked at defensive end the past two seasons and had dominant interior defensive linemen when they won the 2006 national title. With Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham both gone to the NFL, Florida will have to lean on some younger guys up front. Several of the freshmen will get long looks, while senior Justin Trattou will be counted on to be more of an every-down player at end. This is a group that should be outstanding in another year or two, but they will fight some inexperience next season.

3. Meyer’s health: Let’s face it. Pinning down how much longer Urban Meyer plans to coach at Florida, what his state of mind is going into this season and what kind of impact the last five months have had on him are things nobody really knows … with the exception of him. And he’s not saying much, nor is anybody around him saying much. It’s been a bizarre past few months, to say the least. But the Gator Football Machine seems to roll right along. The real test, though, may come this fall.

Georgia spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
9:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 10; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Washaun Ealey, WR A.J. Green, TE Orson Charles, OT Clint Boling, C Ben Jones, OLB Justin Houston, CB Brandon Boykin, P Drew Butler

Key losses

QB Joe Cox, DT Jeff Owens, DT Geno Atkins, LB Rennie Curran, S Reshad Jones

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Washaun Ealey* (717 yards)

Passing: Joe Cox (2,584 yards)

Receiving: A.J. Green* (808 yards)

Tackles: Rennie Curran (130)

Sacks: Justin Houston* (7.5)

Interceptions: Reshad Jones (4)

Spring answers

1. Murray’s the man: There’s no quarterback controversy going into the preseason. Georgia coach Mark Richt named redshirt freshman Aaron Murray the Bulldogs’ No. 1 quarterback coming out of the spring. Murray’s ability to do a little bit of everything was the difference. It helped that fellow redshirt freshman Zach Mettenberger had been dismissed from the team a week earlier. But Murray was already on his way to winning the job. In reality, he was the favorite all along. He just had to go do it.

2. Ealey and Green together: The idea of running back Washaun Ealey and receiver A.J. Green on the field together (and healthy) at the same time is an enticing one for Georgia fans, not to mention Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. When Ealey started to get it going last November, Green was struggling with injuries. And when Green was tearing it up at the beginning of the season, Ealey wasn’t playing. They should be dynamite together in 2010 and keep defenses from ganging up on one or the other.

3. Switching to the 3-4: One of the toughest parts of the transition is over. First-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has installed his 3-4 defense. Defensive ends have made the switch to outside linebackers, and a few other guys have swapped positions. Grantham was pleased with the way his guys picked up on the terminology and how fast they played this spring, especially given now new everything was. He’ll obviously want to see them play even faster in the fall, and there will be a strong emphasis placed on getting after the quarterback.

Fall questions

1. Numbers at quarterback: Even though Murray got the nod, and Richt insists that he still has to hold onto the job in preseason camp, the Bulldogs all of a sudden have some numbers issues at quarterback. Mettenberger was kicked off the team, and junior Logan Gray is still deciding whether or not he wants to be on the team, and if so, if he wants to play quarterback. Richt would certainly like for him to stay. Because after Murray, all the Bulldogs really have at the position is incoming freshman Hutson Mason. Remember when the Bulldogs' quarterback position almost looked crowded?

2. Outside linebacker play: One of the keys to being a good 3-4 defensive club is having enough outside linebackers, and more importantly, enough guys who can effectively play the position. Justin Houston, who had 7.5 sacks last season, has moved over there from defensive end and should adapt nicely. But one of Grantham’s concerns going into the spring was whether he had enough guys who could legitimately play there, and that was before Montrez Robinson was booted from the team. Senior Darryl Gamble made the move from inside to outside linebacker later in the spring.

3. Defending the pass: Georgia lost most of its defensive backfield from a year ago, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing when you look at how poorly the Bulldogs defended the pass at times. Sophomore cornerback Branden Smith should be better the second time around, and the addition of junior college safety Jakar Hamilton was huge. He was one of the stars of the spring. Junior cornerback Brandon Boykin is adamant that the Bulldogs will be just fine in the secondary next season. One thing’s for sure: They can’t give up 25 touchdown passes again and expect to be better on defense.

Kentucky spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
9:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Mike Hartline, RB Derrick Locke, WR Randall Cobb, WR Chris Matthews, OG Stuart Hines, DE DeQuin Evans, LB Danny Trevathan, FS Winston Guy

Key losses

FB John Conner, OT Zipp Duncan, DT Corey Peters, LB Micah Johnson, LB Sam Maxwell, CB Trevard Lindley

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Derrick Locke* (907 yards)

Passing: Mike Hartline* (802 yards)

Receiving: Randall Cobb* (447 yards)

Tackles: Micah Johnson (105)

Sacks: DeQuin Evans* (6)

Interceptions: Sam Maxwell (6)

Spring answers

1. No Joking matter: Everybody knew Joker Phillips’ day was coming. He was named the Wildcats’ coach-in-waiting back in 2008. But with Rich Brooks retiring following last season, it’s now Phillips’ time to see what he can do with a program that’s made four consecutive bowl appearances. A sharp recruiter, Phillips understands the importance of continuing to upgrade the talent, which was obvious the last few years as Kentucky won seven or more games four years in a row.

2. Hartline states his case: He’s never been the most popular guy among the fans, but you’ve got to hand it to senior Mike Hartline. He doesn’t discourage easily and bounced back from a knee injury that ended his season a year ago to have a solid spring. His experience and understanding of the offense gave him the edge this spring over Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski, and Hartline has made it clear that he’s preparing as if he’ll also be the guy come fall. A big senior season by Hartline would go a long way toward sending the Wildcats to a fifth straight bowl game.

3. New faces on defense: Much of the progress Kentucky made under Brooks can be traced to the caliber of defensive players he was able to bring into the program and the depth the Wildcats built on defense. Some key guys are gone on that side of the ball, but some newer faces such as linebackers Danny Trevathan and Qua Huzzie and tackle Mister Cobble made big steps this spring. Trevathan will be one of the leaders of this defense. Senior end DeQuin Evans, in his second year in the program, returns as one of the top pass-rushers in the league.

Fall questions

1. Padding the passing game: The No. 1 objective this spring was to improve the passing game. After Hartline went down last season, the Wildcats weren’t able to generate much of anything through the air and had to rely way too much on Randall Cobb in the Wildcat formation. Ideally, Phillips would like to ease some of the load on Cobb, which should make him even more effective as a receiver. The other key is Chris Matthews, who now in his second season after coming over from junior college has the size and speed at receiver to be a major headache for opposing defenses.

2. Getting it done on ‘D’: Even though the Wildcats feel good about the way they’ve recruited on defense the last couple of years, you don’t lose the likes of Corey Peters, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell and Trevard Lindley and not have some type of drop-off, especially early. There may be some growing pains for this defense as new guys settle into starting roles. How long those growing pains last could prove crucial because the middle part of the schedule is grueling, starting with the trip to Florida on Sept. 25

3. Molding the offensive line: The only starter returning on the Wildcats’ offensive line is guard Stuart Hines, and he’s a good one. Some of the guys who will step in have at least played some in the past, and a few have started. But this is a group that will need to establish some continuity pretty quickly. Protecting the passer will be key, particularly if the Wildcats are serious about being a better passing team. That means tackles Brad Durham and Billy Joe Murphy better hit the ground running.

LSU spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
8:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 4; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Jordan Jefferson, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Terrance Toliver, WR Russell Shepard, OT Joseph Barksdale, DT Drake Nevis, LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Patrick Peterson

Key losses

RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, TE Richard Dickson, DT Al Woods, LB Perry Riley, LB Harry Coleman, S Chad Jones

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Charles Scott (542 yards)

Passing: Jordan Jefferson* (2,166 yards)

Receiving: Brandon LaFell (792 yards)

Tackles: Kelvin Sheppard* (110)

Sacks: Rahim Alem (4.5)

Interceptions: Chad Jones (3)

Spring answers

1. Shepard on the move: It looks like the Tigers are finally serious about getting the ball into Russell Shepard’s hands. He’s washed his hands of wanting to be an every-down quarterback and moved to receiver full time this spring. He’ll still line up in some different spots, and the Tigers would like to get him touches throwing it to him, handing it to him and snapping it to him in the Wildcat formation. The bottom line is that Shepard is too talented and too good of a playmaker to be playing a part-time quarterback role.

2. Establishing the run: LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers worked overtime on running the football this spring, and he’s confident that they will be a better running team in 2010. That part of the offense let them down in most of the games a year ago. Steven Ridley has all the tools to be a big-time back in this league. Speedy Richard Murphy hopes to be all the way back from his knee injury, and Miles is also eager to see what redshirt freshman Michael Ford can do.

3. Speed in the secondary: By moving Jai Eugene to safety, the Tigers essentially have four cornerbacks in the secondary. And most importantly, they all have outstanding top-end speed. Junior cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best shut-down corners in college football, and the LSU defensive staff thinks that sophomore cornerback Morris Clairborne will be equally difficult to throw against on the other side. Brandon Taylor is the other returning starter at safety. Taylor also started his career as a cornerback.

Fall questions

1. Next step for Jefferson: Even though his numbers last season as a first-time starter were solid, Jordan Jefferson was hesitant at times in the pocket, and the Tigers’ passing game tended to go belly-up in key situations. Jefferson didn’t have his best spring, either, which caused some concern in the LSU camp. He’s still the guy to beat, but Miles has been talking up Jarrett Lee, who threw 16 interceptions two years ago as a redshirt freshman. Fall camp should be interesting on the Bayou at the quarterback position.

2. Making more plays: The Tigers lacked a lot of explosive plays down the field last season, and having to go the distance all the time against SEC defenses is like beating your head into the wall. Shepard certainly fits that playmaker mold and will get more chances next season. Receivers Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle combined for five touchdown catches last season. The Tigers would like to see that number climb to 10-plus in 2010. Neither Toliver nor Randle had a pass reception over 45 yards a year ago.

3. Playing better up front: There’s no other way to say it other than just to say it: The Tigers played poorly on the offensive line a year ago, as evidenced by the fact that their top guy, senior tackle Ciron Black, didn’t even get drafted. They’ve moved some guys around. Joseph Barksdale switched from right tackle to left tackle, while right guard Will Blackwell and right tackle Alex Hurst both won awards for their performance this spring. Of course, the real test will come this fall.

Mississippi State spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
8:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Chris Relf, WR Chad Bumphis, TE Marcus Green, OT Derek Sherrod, DE Pernell McPhee, LB K.J. Wright, FS Johnthan Banks, SS Charles Mitchell

Key losses

QB Tyson Lee, RB Anthony Dixon, LB Jamar Chaney, CB Marcus Washington

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Anthony Dixon (1,391 yards)

Passing: Tyson Lee (1,444 yards)

Receiving: Chad Bumphis* (375 yards)

Tackles: Jamar Chaney (90)

Sacks: Pernell McPhee* (5)

Interceptions: Corey Broomfield* (6)

Spring answers

1. Relf’s improvement: He was more of a specialty player last season, sort of a designated runner from the quarterback position. But junior Chris Relf was one of the Bulldogs’ most improved players this spring, in particular with regard to his passing. At 240 pounds, he’s one of those guys nobody wants to take on head-on when he takes off down the field, but he should be much more of a legitimate passer in 2010 than he was a year ago. Plus, throwing the football is what redshirt freshman Tyler Russell does best, so it should be a good combo.

2. Muscle in the defensive line: The Bulldogs struggled to stop people when they really needed to last season, which made defensive line play a priority this spring. Tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are both bigger and stronger after playing as undersized freshmen a year ago, and junior college newcomer James Carmon is massive at 345 pounds. The bell cow of the group is senior end Pernell McPhee, who had 12 tackles for loss last season in his first tour through the SEC. He has a chance to be one of the best defensive linemen in the league in 2010.

3. Second time around: Now that Dan Mullen has laid the groundwork, he feels like the second season will go much smoother. There shouldn’t be any questions about expectations or how Mullen wants it done. He does have a few new staff members, notably defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Look for the Bulldogs to attack a little more next season on defense and really go after the quarterback. The Bulldogs also played a bunch of freshmen on defense last season who are now battle-tested entering their sophomore seasons.

Fall questions

1. Finding Dixon’s replacement: Anthony Dixon was the heart and soul of Mississippi State’s offense last season. The Bulldogs leaned on him all year, and he delivered. They won’t be able to replace him with one guy. It’s probably going to take three, as nobody really jumped out there and won the job this spring. Junior Robert Elliott has the most experience, but junior college transfer Vick Ballard and redshirt freshman Montrell Connor will both factor into the rotation.

2. Development at receiver: Chad Bumphis had a nice freshman season, but Mullen still wants to see him become a more complete receiver. He was good once he got the ball in his hands. The next step is becoming more proficient at getting open and running better routes. Mullen thinks the Bulldogs are thin right now across the board at receiver, especially when you consider they’re running a spread offense. He wants to see more development, period, at the receiver position.

3. Winning the close ones: The Bulldogs took LSU, Houston and Florida to the fourth quarter last season, but couldn’t close the deal. Learning how to win those games is what separates teams in the SEC. With so many young guys on the field a year ago, Mississippi State found itself on the short end of the experience factor more times than not in crucial situations. We’ll see how much the Bulldogs have grown up and how much they learned about keeping their poise during those key moments in games.

Ole Miss spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
7:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 3; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Brandon Bolden, WR Markeith Summers, WR Jesse Grandy, OT Bobby Massie, DE Kentrell Lockett, DT Jerrell Powe, LB Jonathan Cornell, S Johnny Brown

Key losses

QB Jevan Snead, RB Dexter McCluster, WR Shay Hodge, OG John Jerry, C Daverin Geralds, DE Marcus Tillman, LB Patrick Trahan, S Kendrick Lewis

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Dexter McCluster (1,169 yards)

Passing: Jevan Snead (2,632 yards)

Receiving: Shay Hodge (1,135 yards)

Tackles: Kendrick Lewis (84)

Sacks: Marcus Tillman and Emmanuel Stephens (5.5)

Interceptions: Kendrick Lewis, Cassius Vaughn, Patrick Trahan and Fon Ingram* (2)

Spring answers

1. Front seven dominance: The Rebels return six of their seven players in a front seven that should be as good and as experienced as any in the league. Senior end Kentrell Lockett and senior tackle Jerrell Powe are All-SEC caliber players, and if junior college newcomer Wayne Dorsey continues on the pace he set this spring at the other end, the Rebels again should rank right up there near the top nationally in tackles for loss. Senior linebackers Allen Walker and Jonathan Cornell are both underrated and have played a lot of quality football for the Rebels.

2. Sophomores to the rescue: The Rebels’ sophomore class looked poised this spring to really break out. Nathan Stanley takes over at quarterback. Receiver Patrick Patterson will be a key in the passing game, assuming he returns from suspension. Jesse Grandy is that big-play guy on offense and special teams that Ole Miss will need now that Dexter McCluster is gone, while Rodney Scott is Houston Nutt’s kind of running back. Offensive tackle Bobby Massie returns as the anchor up front, while linebacker D.T. Shackelford has star potential written all over him.

3. A Davis sighting: The Rebels don’t have anybody that can do what McCluster did for them at running back last season, but one of the more encouraging parts of spring practice was the way junior Enrique Davis ran the ball. He’s elusive, has breakaway speed and can make people miss. He’s been a disappointment so far after coming to Ole Miss with so much hype, but maybe the light has come on and it’s his time. Davis would be a nice complement to Brandon Bolden, who’s lost weight and also looks poised for a big season.

Fall questions

1. Stanley’s time to shine: Nathan Stanley came out of spring practice as the Rebels’ starter at quarterback. He threw the ball well, made good decisions and was effective in moving the team. Can he hold onto the job? A lot of that will depend on redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton’s shoulder issues. He also looked good at the end of the spring, but is battling a partially torn labrum and is trying to hold off from having surgery until after the 2010 season.

2. Protecting the passer: Nobody struggled more last season for the Rebels up front than left tackle Bradley Sowell. His nightmarish outing against South Carolina’s Eric Norwood just seemed to set an ominous tone. To his credit, he hung in there and did get better as the season progressed. His experience a year ago should prove valuable in 2010. The biggest question now for the Rebels in their offensive line is solidifying their inside positions.

3. Help in the secondary: The Rebels lost three of their four starters in the secondary, including both cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix liked what he saw in the spring in some of the new faces, but it’s never ideal to go into a season with so much inexperience in the secondary. Redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer had a big spring at one cornerback, while UCLA transfer Jeremy McGee may be the answer at the other cornerback. Safety Johnny Brown is the lone returning starter, but junior college newcomer Damien Jackson may end up being the best of the bunch.

South Carolina spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
7:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Stephen Garcia, WR Alshon Jeffery, TE Weslye Saunders, C T.J. Johnson, DE Cliff Matthews, LB Shaq Wilson, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Chris Culliver.

Key losses

WR Moe Brown, DE Clifton Geathers, LB Eric Norwood, SS Darian Stewart

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Kenny Miles* (626 yards)

Passing: Stephen Garcia* (2,862 yards)

Receiving: Alshon Jeffery* (763 yards)

Tackles: Shaq Wilson* (85)

Sacks: Cliff Matthews* and Eric Norwood (7)

Interceptions: Eric Norwood (2)

Spring answers

1. Spurrier back in charge: It’s been a hot button around Columbia for the last two years, but South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made it clear this spring that he would be calling all of the plays next season on offense. He insists that he called most of them last season. But there’s no gray area now. Moreover, he says he’s going back to the way he was at Florida, and in his words, start being more of a jerk and doing more yelling to cut down on what Spurrier says has been too much soft play.

2. Young talent: There’s no debating the young talent in this program, and lot of them are sophomores. The likes of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, receiver Alshon Jeffery, receiver Tori Gurley, safety DeVonte Holloman and running back Jarvis Giles make for a solid nucleus. Prized freshman running back Marcus Lattimore is on the way along with three freshman offensive linemen – A.J. Cann, Tramell Williams and Ronald Patrick – that Spurrier thinks will be able to help sooner rather than later.

3. Defensive pride: The Gamecocks have finished in the top 15 nationally each of the last two years in total defense, and they have the pieces in place to be just as good in 2010 under Ellis Johnson, the assistant head coach for the defense. Cliff Matthews was injured this spring, but is an All-SEC defensive lineman. There’s outstanding speed across the board, and Gilmore returns as one of the top corners in the league. It’s a defense that has consistently played with pride and purpose under Johnson.

Fall questions

1. Garcia’s commitment: Spurrier has made it known (loud and clear) that Stephen Garcia better not get too comfortable this summer as the starting quarterback. The Head Ball Coach is down on Garcia’s commitment and work ethic and is seriously considering playing freshman Connor Shaw if Garcia doesn’t have a good summer. Spurrier has never been hesitant about criticizing his quarterbacks. But this is a gamble, especially if Garcia doesn’t respond and Spurrier loses him.

2. Offensive line stability: The Gamecocks are on their third different offensive line coach in three years. But that’s not the worst part. They’re still extremely unsettled up front, so much so that Spurrier isn't ruling out that a freshman or two could come in and play. New offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has his work cut out. South Carolina gave up 37 sacks a year ago and was last in the SEC in rushing offense. The two stalwarts are Jarriel King at left tackle and T.J. Johnson at center. The Gamecocks could use a healthy Quintin Richardson at right tackle in the fall. He was injured this spring.

3. Handling expectations: With 15 starters returning and the East race seemingly more wide open than it has been in a while, there’s a growing feeling that this may be Spurrier’s best chance yet at South Carolina to contend for a title. The players are all talking a good game and say they’re committed to making it happen this season. We’ll find out soon enough if they’re sincere. Georgia comes to Columbia the second week of the season. If the Gamecocks are going to be a legitimate contender, that’s a game they’ve got to win.

Tennessee spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
6:30
AM ET
2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 4; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Tauren Poole, WR Gerald Jones, WR Denarius Moore, TE Luke Stocker, DE Chris Walker, DT Montori Hughes, LB Nick Reveiz, S Janzen Jackson

Key losses

QB Jonathan Crompton, RB Montario Hardesty, OT Chris Scott, OT Aaron Douglas, DT Dan Williams, LB Rico McCoy, CB Dennis Rogan, S Eric Berry

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Montario Hardesty (1,345 yards)

Passing: Jonathan Crompton (2,800 yards)

Receiving: Gerald Jones* (680 yards)

Tackles: Rico McCoy (119)

Sacks: Chris Walker* (6)

Interceptions: Eric Berry, Wes Brown and Chris Walker* (2)

Spring answers

1. Poole of talent: Junior running back Tauren Poole proved this spring what most people on the team already knew (with the exception of former coach Lane Kiffin), and that is that he has what it takes to be a featured running back in this league. He broke a long run in just about every scrimmage, rarely goes down on the first hit and is hungry to show what he can do in the fall.

2. Dooley’s way: First-year coach Derek Dooley spent much of the spring establishing the way it was going to be under his regime. It’s the second straight spring the Vols have undergone a transition to a new coach. Last spring, it was Kiffin marking his turf. One of the priorities for Dooley and Co. this spring was finding out who could do what and who couldn’t do what for a Tennessee team that will be hurting for depth in 2010.

3. Replenishing the secondary: Sophomore safeties Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles Jr. both had big springs and will be the answer back there for the next two years. Answers for players the caliber of Eric Berry aren’t easy to come by, which is why it was so pleasing for the Vols to see Jackson and Myles make the number of plays they did. Now they both need to prove they can behave themselves off the field. Also keep an eye on junior Art Evans, who has the potential to be a very good shutdown cornerback in this league and comes highly endorsed by Berry.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line experience: Dooley sheds the best perspective on where the Vols are offensively when he asks if there’s ever been a team faced with having to replace all five starters on the offensive line, its top running back and its quarterback. The Vols will likely start two freshmen up front, Ja’Wuan James at tackle and JerQuari Schofield at guard, and another one, James Stone, could end up figuring into the rotation when he gets on campus. This is a unit that has some young talent, but will almost certainly struggle this first season.

2. Settling on a quarterback: Senior Nick Stephens left the program this spring after being demoted, leaving junior college newcomer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray to battle it out for the job. Simms, the younger brother of Chris Simms, is well-liked by his teammates and worked hard to establish himself this spring, but Bray may have a bigger upside. An extremely thin player, Bray looked good in the Vols’ Orange and White spring game and will almost certainly have to play some next season.

3. Kicking game issues: The Vols had so many holes to fill that the kicking game sort of got lost in the shuffle. But with so much inexperience on offense and defense, they have to be able to hold their own on special teams next season, or it could really get ugly. Given how shaky the kicking and punting looked this spring, incoming freshman Michael Palardy may end up doing all of the kicking in the fall. Palardy doesn’t arrive until this summer, but was rated as one of the top kicker prospects in the country.

Vanderbilt spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
6:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 2-10

2009 conference record: 0-8

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Larry Smith, RB Warren Norman, RB Zac Stacy, TE Brandon Barden, DT Adam Smotherman, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, S Sean Richardson

Key losses

OT Thomas Welch, C Bradley Vierling, DE Broderick Stewart, LB Patrick Benoist, CB Myron Lewis, S Ryan Hamilton, P Brett Upson

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Warren Norman* (783 yards)

Passing: Larry Smith* (1,126 yards)

Receiving: John Cole* (382 yards)

Tackles: Chris Marve* (121)

Sacks: Greg Billinger (3.5)

Interceptions: Myron Lewis (4)

Spring answers

1. Strength in the secondary: The Commodores will again be strong in the secondary under the guidance of defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jamie Bryant. Losing a cornerback the caliber of Myron Lewis always stings, but the duo of Sean Richardson at safety and Casey Hayward at cornerback gives the Commodores a solid core. Eddie Foster returns as the nickel back, while cornerback Jamie Graham is one of the most versatile players on the team.

2. A May find: Redshirt freshman defensive end Walker May had two sacks and two hurries in the Black and Gold spring scrimmage to cap an outstanding spring. With the loss of senior ends Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone, the Commodores were looking for pass-rushers, and May fits that bill.

3. Running game options: The Commodores won’t have any shortage of options in their offensive backfield. Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Kennard Reeves all had their moments this spring. If Warren and Stacy can both stay healthy next season, that’s a combo that should be plenty effective in 2010. Plus, the Commodores will add Wesley Tate to the mix in the fall. He missed the spring with a foot injury.

Fall questions

1. Finding some points: After struggling to score points last season, Vanderbilt’s offense wasn’t much better this spring. The Commodores went the first 13 possessions of the Black and Gold spring scrimmage without scoring a touchdown. But in one final scrimmage to end the spring, the offense fared a little better by scoring on its first three drives to at least go into the summer with a little momentum. It's an offense that needs more playmakers. John Cole was a one-man show last season at receiver. Maybe freshman receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews are the answer.

2. Quarterback uncertainty: Nobody won the quarterback battle, and it's not because everybody was so effective. Jared Funk pushed Larry Smith, and junior college newcomer Jordan Rodgers started to come on after a slow start to the spring. Smith is still the guy to beat, but he’s going to have to prove to the coaches and his teammates this summer and then in the preseason that he’s going to be more consistent and more efficient under center. Otherwise, you could see a couple of different players taking snaps for the Commodores in the fall. Rodgers is a redshirt candidate if he doesn't win the job.

3. Settling on the offensive line: There’s still several different directions the Commodores could go in their offensive line. One of the keys will be tackle James Williams returning from a broken ankle he suffered last season. It also didn’t help that Ryan Seymour, expected to be the other tackle, missed most of the spring with a shoulder injury. Finding a right guard will be critical in the preseason, although senior Joey Bailey entrenched himself at center.

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