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SEC spring practice: Georgia, Florida

3/19/2015

Spring practice has begun. Stats & Information looks at the three biggest storylines facing the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS (10-3, 6-2 SEC last season)

2014 postseason: Defeated Louisville in Belk Bowl
Final AP rank: 9th
Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists (via Phil Steele)
2015 ESPN FPI rank: 9th
Spring game: April 11

2015 storylines:

•  Mark Richt: Quarterback competition is open

Brian Schottenheimer succeeded Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator, and he will have to teach his offense to a new starting quarterback. Last season, Georgia led the SEC in offensive efficiency (barely ahead of Alabama in offensive expected points added per game).

Coach Mark Richt has said he doesn't expect to designate a starter after spring practice. Brice Ramsey was the primary backup to Hutson Mason (third in the SEC in Total QBR in 2014) last season but was 4-of-9 passing with an interception in the Belk Bowl win against Louisville.

•  Nick Chubb takes over at running back full time

Nick Chubb was the SEC offensive freshman of the year in 2014 and rushed for 1,547 yards, 69 yards shy of Herschel Walker's SEC freshman record. Over the final eight games of 2014, Chubb averaged 165 rush yards and more than seven yards per carry.

Expect Schottenheimer to become familiar with his running backs. Over the last two seasons, the St. Louis Rams ran the ball 41 percent of the time (10th-highest rate in the NFL) with Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator.

•  Youth movement on defense

Thirteen true freshmen played last year for the Bulldogs, and expect that number to go up in 2015. Georgia returns five primary starters on defense, second-fewest among SEC teams. Georgia will need to replace the production of Amarlo Herrera, who exceeded 110 tackles in each of the last two seasons.

Georgia signed the No. 8 recruiting class this year. The Bulldogs’ top seven recruits from 2015 could end up on defense, headlined by defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, the No. 3 recruit in the country. Look for early enrollees Jonathan Ledbetter (No. 11 defensive tackle in ESPN 300) and Natrez Patrick (No. 12 defensive end in ESPN 300) to see time this spring.

FLORIDA GATORS (7-5, 4-4 SEC last season)

2014 postseason: defeated East Carolina in Birmingham Bowl
Final AP rank: NR
Returning starters: 4 offense, 6 defense, 0 specialists (via Phil Steele)
2015 ESPN FPI rank: 22nd
Spring game: April 11

2015 storylines:

• Can new coach Jim McElwain fix the Gators’ offense?

Defense was not a problem under former coach Will Muschamp. The Gators’ SEC ranks in defensive expected points added in his four seasons were sixth, second, second and second. Offense was another story. Florida never ranked better than fourth-worst in the conference in offensive expected points added under Muschamp.

McElwain took Colorado State from 115th in the FBS offensive expected points in his first season as coach in 2012 to 22nd in FBS in his final season.

•  Who will emerge at quarterback?

In the five seasons since Tim Tebow left, Florida ranks 60th out of 65 Power 5 teams in Total QBR. Only Georgia Tech and Kansas have fewer touchdown passes than Florida (67) in the past five years among Power 5 teams. (Tebow himself threw 83 touchdown passes in his three seasons as Florida’s full-time starter.)

Treon Harris played in nine games last seasons and ranked 14th in the SEC in Total QBR out of 16 quarterbacks with at least 200 action plays. Look for redshirt freshman Will Grier to compete with Harris for the starting spot. Grier was the No. 44 player in the 2014 ESPN 300.

•  Which true freshmen will have an impact?

Florida returns 10 starters, ahead of only Mississippi State (nine) in the SEC, according to Phil Steele. After a rough run for much of the recruiting season, Florida added a couple of ESPN top-10 players on National Signing Day.

No. 1-ranked offensive tackle Martez Ivey might start early on an offensive line that returns one starter from a crew that ranked fourth in the SEC in sack rate (5 percent) last season. No. 2 defensive end CeCe Jefferson should add pass-rush ability to a defensive line that returns two starters, who combined for 6.5 sacks.

Stats & Info SEC spring practice series:

Alabama Crimson Tide

Auburn Tigers

Missouri Tigers

South Carolina Gamecocks

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Arkansas Razorbacks

Tennessee Volunteers