SEC: spring-game-coverage-040811

Spring game: 6 p.m. ET Saturday on CSS and

[+] EnlargeChris Relf
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireMississippi State is expecting big things from returning quarterback Chris Relf this season.
Questions answered: Nobody questioned how much of an athlete quarterback Chris Relf was last season. However, his ability to match his feet with his arm was a bit of a concern until the end of the season, when he passed for more than 200 yards in the final three games with six touchdown passes and one interception. This spring, Relf has continued where he left off, and has cemented himself as the Bulldogs starting quarterback. He looked as confident as ever this spring and used his arm just as much as his feet to help Mississippi State’s offense shine during scrimmages this spring. Assisting Relf is a slew of quality receivers. Besides star Chad Bumphis, the Bulldogs got a ton of production from Arceto Clark, who moved from cornerback, and have reliable targets in Chris Smith and Ricco Sanders. The Bulldogs showed they could run the ball last season, but now it appears they can throw the ball as well.

Questions unanswered: The Bulldogs had the tough task of replacing three starting linebackers this spring. While the defense did well this spring under new coordinator Chris Wilson, it won’t be known how the Bulldogs’ new linebackers will fair until the season gets underway. Cameron Lawrence, who entered the spring as a starter, was the most productive at the position last year, so the rest of the unit should lean on him. Fellow starters Brandon Wilson and Chris Hughes combined for 30 total tackles last season. The Bulldogs will get boost at linebacker this summer when Brandon Maye, a three-year starter at Clemson, transfers in. The Bulldogs entered the spring looking to replace Pernell McPhee at defensive end. So far, no one has truly emerged, but rising juniors Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell are battling for the spot McPhee left. The two combined for 23 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss

Spring stars: Running back Vick Ballard picked up where he left off last season, having a very nice spring. While Ballard is the unquestioned starter at running back, LaDarius Perkins has helped with the distribution of carries this spring. He’s a speedier and shiftier back, who adds a different dimension to the position. Bumphis has continued to be the most consistent receiver the Bulldogs have, but Clark really impressed during scrimmages this spring and should be a very reliable No. 2 for Relf this fall. Defensive back Corey Broomfield continues to be a threat. He scored a touchdown, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in a scrimmage this spring. Defensive end Sean Ferguson isn’t McPhee, but he held his own at defensive this spring. Now, finding someone to play opposite him is the next step.

Of note: Tight end Marcus Green was limited after partially tearing the ACL and spraining the MCL in his right knee last season in the second game. … Despite breaking his collarbone and missing last season’s Gator Bowl, Bumphis was full go this spring. … Sophomore Baker Swedenburg has done well this spring at punter after taking over for last season’s starter Heath Hutchins. … Though Johnthan Banks has gotten work at safety, coach Dan Mullen said that move might not be permanent. … Defensive back Jamerson Love (hand) and offensive lineman Sam Watts (leg) both suffered injuries late this spring. Safety Nickoe Whitley (knee) didn’t practice this week and could miss Saturday’s game.

Exiting the spring: LSU

April, 8, 2011
Spring game: 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN and

Questions answered: Senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson showed that he was made of the right stuff. With all eyes on heralded junior college newcomer Zach Mettenberger, Jefferson stepped up his game considerably under the tutelage of first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe and heads into the spring game as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback. The Tigers also found out that they’re pretty good at running back even with Stevan Ridley leaving early for the NFL. Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue both had big springs, and don’t count out Michael Ford and Jakhari Gore, either. There’s depth and big-play potential to go around in the LSU backfield.

Questions unanswered: Defensive coordinator John Chavis knew that Kelvin Sheppard would be a big loss, but this spring only reaffirmed how much the Tigers will miss Sheppard at middle linebacker. They still have to solve that problem. Karnell Hatcher moved over from safety and got some snaps in the middle. Kevin Minter also got some first-team snaps after serving as Sheppard’s backup last season. Solidifying that middle linebacker spot remains one of the biggest concerns going into the summer. The unknowns on special teams are equally unnerving. The Tigers will have a brand new place-kicker and a brand new punter. Until the lights come on and they start keeping score, you never know about those guys. Not only that, but Patrick Peterson won’t be around to return kicks and strike the Heisman pose in the end zone anymore.

Spring stars: Coming up on his junior season, Russell Shepard took some of his biggest steps yet toward becoming a true receiver. He's somebody who is going to run crisp routes and make something happen once he gets the football. Shepard doesn't look as much like a quarterback trying to play receiver anymore. On defense, Craig Loston emerged as the starter at free safety. He was showered with a lot of hype coming out of high school, but it was his performance that made everybody sit up and take notice this spring. Cornerback Morris Claiborne said Loston is a much more instinctive player and a lot more vocal than he was a year ago.

Of note: The Tigers moved Chris Davenport from the defensive line to left tackle on offense. … Safety Brandon Taylor, defensive end Sam Montgomery and offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk were among the players being held out of contact this spring to fully recover from injuries. … Shepard wasn’t the only LSU receiver making waves this spring. Fellow junior Rueben Randle has that look of an All-SEC receiver next season. … Brad Wing, a 21-year-old native of Australia, is in line to be the Tigers’ punter. Wing played 15 years of Australian Rules Football before coming over to the United States. … It looks like Ron Brooks and Randle are the top two candidates to return kickoffs, while Tyrann Mathieu is at the head of the list to return punts.

Exiting the spring: South Carolina

April, 8, 2011
Spring game: 1 p.m. ET Saturday on

Questions answered: Marcus Lattimore was a workhorse last season as a true freshman for the Gamecocks, but it looks like he may get some help in 2011. Kenny Miles and Eric Baker both showed some burst this spring at running back. The Gamecocks will ride Lattimore next season, but they also don’t want to wear him out by the time they get to November. Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, thinks he’s found a few linebackers. Damario Jeffery moved from the hybrid Spur position to weakside linebacker. Quin Smith has also looked good at the weakside spot. Shaq Wilson returns at middle linebacker after missing all but one game last season. Reggie Bowens, who’s been beset with injuries, also got some work in the middle. If Bowens can stay healthy, he really helps the Gamecocks’ depth, especially when you consider that Rodney Paulk will be back in the fall.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesConnor Shaw has attempted only 33 passes heading into the 2011 season.
Questions unanswered: With senior quarterback Stephen Garcia indefinitely suspended (yes, for a fifth time), it’s hard to say the Gamecocks are set at quarterback. Garcia could be gone for good, which puts a ton of pressure on sophomore Connor Shaw. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier likes Shaw, but asking him to go the distance next season when he’s never started an SEC game is a tough way to break in a new quarterback in this league. On defense, nobody stepped up and won the strong safety job, which makes you wonder if the Gamecocks might have to move DeVonte Holloman back there in the fall. Johnson wants to keep the 230-pound Holloman at the Spur position. But with Corey Addison hurt all spring, nobody else staked claim to the strong safety spot. Perhaps true freshman Sheldon Royster will be able to help once he arrives this summer.

Spring stars: Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said entering the spring that one of the keys up front would be how well redshirt freshman A.J. Cann played at left guard. Well, Cann exits the spring as the starter, which allowed Elliott to experiment a little bit with different players. Free safety D.J. Swearinger stole the show on defense. He’s an All-SEC player in the making and was always around the ball and pitching in with big plays. Jason Barnes and Ace Sanders both showcased big-play potential at the slot receiver position. Finding other playmakers at receiver to help take the pressure off of Alshon Jeffery will be important. Redshirt freshman receiver Nick Jones is another guy who had his moments this spring.

Of note: Kenny Davis moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard, while Corey Robinson moved from offensive tackle to defensive tackle. … True freshman Martay Mattox shifted from cornerback to free safety and looks like he could be a fixture on special teams. Mattox played quarterback in high school. … Bruce Ellington, the starting point guard on South Carolina’s basketball team, plans to join the football team in June. He was a star football player in high school and could factor in at a number of positions, including receiver, kick returner and quarterback in the Wildcat formation. … Lattimore has beefed up to a rock-solid 231 pounds and has been a beast in the weight room. … Senior Rokevious Watkins has been working with the first unit at right tackle this spring, but could still slide back inside to guard if junior college newcomer Kaleb Broome or redshirt freshman Cody Gibson comes on at tackle. ... Offensive guard Ronald Patrick had his spring cut short after undergoing surgery for an abscess behind his right eye.