SEC: spring-game-coverage-041511

Exiting the spring: Tennessee

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 2 p.m. ET on Saturday

Questions answered: Even though Tauren Poole topped 1,000 yards rushing last season, the Vols’ running game lacked consistency. Coach Derek Dooley felt like they left too many yards on the field. This spring, they added another piece to that running game in sophomore Rajion Neal, who had some big scrimmages. Dooley feels like you have to have two No. 1 running backs to make it in the SEC, and both of the incoming freshmen (Marlin Lane and Tom Smith) will get their shot when they arrive this summer. The Vols’ continued development in the offensive line was also one of the highlights of the spring, and they’re building depth up front. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James, right guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone are all returning starters who played last season as true freshmen. Sophomore Alex Bullard, who transferred from Notre Dame, has worked at left tackle and is somebody who will definitely be in the rotation if he gets a hardship waiver from the NCAA. Marcus Jackson, a highly rated true freshman who enrolled early, has been a starter all spring at left guard.

Questions unanswered: Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray added a few pounds, got a lot stronger and gained a deeper understanding of the Vols’ playbook. But it remains to be seen if he’s the kind of leader who can help take this team to the upper echelon of the SEC. Bray said he made a conscientious effort to be more vocal this spring. What’s not up for debate is his ability to throw the football. He has a big-time arm and is fearless in the pocket. The entire front seven on defense also remains a huge question mark. Tennessee lost five of its seven starters from a year ago, including key leaders such as Nick Reveiz and Chris Walker. The Vols were still shuffling guys around on the defensive line this spring to find the right combination, and the jury’s still out on whether they have enough SEC-quality linebackers. Staying on defense, the Vols will probably be counting on a pair of junior college players (Byron Moore and Izauea Lanier) to come in and play right away in the secondary, especially with no guarantees that safety Janzen Jackson will be back.

Spring stars: Sophomore Da’Rick Rogers has All-SEC receiver written all over him. He’s a 6-foot-3, 215-pound specimen who can go get the football with the best of them. He made huge strides this spring in the finer points of playing receiver and made as many big plays as anybody on the team. He and fellow sophomore Justin Hunter as a combo should be something to see. Sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith was one of the Vols’ top defenders this spring and has a chance to be a dominant pass-rusher. He suffered an injury to his foot (believed to be a broken bone) this week in practice that will likely sideline him until June. Sophomore Brent Brewer, who made a big impact a year ago in his debut, has been lighting people up at safety and made even more improvement this spring.

Of note: James has missed the past two and a half weeks of practice with mono. … The Vols would like to get sophomore fullback Channing Fugate more involved in the offense. The 251-pound Fugate rushed for 3,000 yards as a junior in high school. … Tennessee appears set at the kicking positions with sophomore Michael Palardy handling the place-kicking duties and redshirt freshman Matt Darr doing the punting. … Junior safety Prentiss Waggner broke one of his fingers and has played the last two weeks with one of those clubs over his cast. … True freshman Vincent Dallas has made a strong push this spring to be a part of the receiver rotation next season, and Bray said sophomore Matt Milton is also coming on. Milton, who’s 6-foot-5, would fit in nicely with the 6-4 Hunter and 6-3 Rogers. The Vols also have heralded freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett arriving this summer.

Exiting the spring: Alabama

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 3 p.m. ET on ESPNU and

Questions answered: Julio Jones might not be out there anymore, but Alabama will still have a solid group of receivers this fall. Returning starters Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have bee flying around this spring. Neither has the skill Jones had, but both will be formidable matchups for defenders this fall. Alabama should also be fine at running back without former Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Trent Richardson returns and he’s healthy, while newcomer Dee Hart has added a lot of speed to the position. Richardson not only has tremendous talent, but he has increased his leadership skills. This offense will be leaning on him quite a bit this season.

Questions unanswered: Greg McElroy is gone, but his replacement hasn’t been named. There are two guys -- A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims -- still battling for the spot and it looks like a starter won’t be named until the fall. McCarron entered as the favorite, but Sims has made a major push this spring. Players have been pretty tight-lipped about the quarterback position, making Saturday’s spring game that much more interesting. Alabama’s secondary was an issue for the Tide in 2010 and this spring most of the unit was on the mend. Barron, Jarrick Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick and Nick Perry all dealt with injuries this spring. True evaluation of this unit won’t come until summer and fall workouts.

Spring stars: Hart was supposed to be getting ready for prom around this time, but instead he’ll be getting reps in Alabama’s spring game Saturday. Hart has played well in scrimmages and with his shiftiness and speed, he’ll add another element to Alabama’s bruising running game. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower seems to have his legs back this spring. After suffering a major knee injury in 2009 that even slowed him last year, Hightower has been solid in spring practices and is back to 100 percent. Linebacker C.J. Mosley made a ton of plays in scrimmages this spring. Receiver DeAndrew White was a bright spot on offense as well.

Of note: Defensive tackle Kerry Murphy, receiver Kendall Kelly and defensive back Wesley Neighbors missed spring practice with injuries. … Senior safety Mark Barron was limited as he recovered from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. … Linebacker Alex Watkins underwent knee surgery that kept him out of the latter part of spring practices, but should ready for preseason camp in August. Former linebacker Ed Stinson is now at defensive end. ... Former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, the son of Cris Carter, is finishing up at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and plans to enroll at Alabama in June and will be eligible next season.

Exiting the spring: Auburn

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 3 p.m. ET on

Questions answered: Auburn finally said so long to kicker Wes Byrum after last season. This spring, Cody Parkey did his part to somewhat ease that loss. He’s been very solid on field goals and nailed kicks of 49 and 60 yards in a scrimmage. While quarterback Cam Newton was a major factor in the Tigers’ running game in 2010, Auburn will again be well equipped in that department. Michael Dyer was tremendous as a freshman last year and doesn’t appear to be headed for a sophomore slump after a productive spring. His running buddy Onterio McCalebb is as fast as ever and will be the Tigers home run threat out of the backfield. The Tigers didn’t exactly replace receiver Darvin Adams, but junior Emory Blake, who had a team-high eight touchdown catches in 2010, looks to be the go-to-receiver.

Questions unanswered: Filling Newton’s quarterback shoes wasn’t going to happen overnight and it wasn’t going to happen after 15 spring practices. Clint Moseley and Barrett Trotter split reps with the first team, but both had a tough spring. Strides were made, but neither really separated himself. Things should get even more interesting for this duo when freshman Kiehl Frazier gets on campus this summer. Auburn also had the task of trying to replace potential top-10 pick, defensive tackle Nick Fairly. It would be hard for anyone to make a push like Fairly did, but sophomores Ken Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker have the responsibility of just that. As a whole, the Tigers will be young on defense, with only three returning starters.

Spring stars: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Travon Reed, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, has been a guy the coaches have tried to get the ball to a bunch. He’ll line up in the slot, as a wildcat quarterback and could help in the return game. He’s a dynamic athlete and has bounced back this spring. Junior receiver Quindarius Carr had a solid spring. He didn’t put up great numbers in 2010, but has really come along this spring, drawing high praise from his coaches. Defensive end Corey Lemonier has really made strides this spring as well.

Of note: Senior Neiko Thorpe moved from cornerback to safety. … There was a lot of shuffling going around on the offensive line this spring. Senior A.J. Greene is the guy at left tackle, but redshirt freshman Chad Slade, junior Donnie Riggins and senior Bobby Ingalls all spent time there as well. Senior Brandon Mosley is at right tackle. … Redshirt freshman linebacker Jawara White returned to practice this spring after suffering a severe spinal cord injury last year. … Linebacker Jessel Curry and safety Ryan Smith are dealing with personal issues and missed the latter part of spring practices. … Ladarious Phillips worked at H-back. … Offensive tackle Shon Coleman, who signed as part of the 2010 class, didn’t go through practice, but is on the roster after battling leukemia last year.

Exiting the spring: Arkansas

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN and

Questions answered: Even before spring practice began, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino felt like this would be his best defense since arriving in Fayetteville in 2008. And while the true test will come next fall, neither Petrino nor defensive coordinator Willy Robinson saw anything this spring that would make them think otherwise. The Hogs have depth and size up front. They’ve greatly improved their speed and have more experience than they've ever had across the board on defense. This is also a team with strong leadership. Senior defensive end Jake Bequette, senior safety/linebacker Jerico Nelson, senior safety Tramain Thomas and senior receiver Jarius Wright were already key guys who’d taken on leadership roles, but others such as junior running back Knile Davis stepped up and answered that call this spring.

Questions unanswered: The Hogs will be breaking in a pair of new offensive tackles in the fall. True freshman Brey Cook is one of those, and while he’s light years ahead of where most guys who just turned 18 would be, there’s still the unknown of going to battle in this league with a first-year player at tackle. Petrino is also looking for junior quarterback Tyler Wilson to give everybody in the huddle “more of a calming effect” with his consistency. Wilson had a solid spring, although he’s still trying to shake loose from sophomore Brandon Mitchell and nail down the starting job. On defense, Robinson said the Hogs came up short at cornerback in the depth department and will need some young guys to come in and help next season.

Spring stars: Coaches and players alike were raving about the athleticism of 325-pound junior college newcomer Robert Thomas, who showed off what he could do at defensive tackle with projected starters Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones sitting out the spring while recovering from injuries. The Hogs are already deep and talented at receiver, but might have found another playmaker in sophomore Julian Horton. And speaking of talented receivers, senior Joe Adams just gets a little more dynamic every time he steps onto the field. He caught 12 passes in last Saturday’s scrimmage, including touchdown passes of 59 and 35 yards.

Of note: Senior Bret Harris has been one of the surprises of the spring. He’s worked the last two weeks as the Hogs’ starting weak side linebacker, although junior Terrell Williams is also pushing for that spot. … Petrino said the job John L. Smith has done with with Arkansas’ special teams has been “awesome," in particular the way Smith has handled the Hogs’ place kicker (Zach Hocker) and punter (Dylan Breeding). … True freshman receiver Quinta Funderburk returned to the team this week after missing six practices for undisclosed reasons. Funderburk’s high school coach had told a newspaper that Funderburk was quitting football. … Strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp said this is the most team speed the Hogs have had under Petrino “by far.” ... Arkansas returns players that scored 48 of the team's 58 offensive touchdowns last season.