The Crimson Tide will spend most of their spring getting a new offensive line combination together. Barrett Jones has to be replaced at center and the Tide has plenty of good young players to step up. The key will be the cohesion for which this unit has displayed the last three years. It was one of the great units in SEC history.
I am looking forward to seeing a healthy Chris Black at receiver and watch TJ Yeldon move into the one spot at running back. With AJ McCarron back you would like to see Blake Sims and some other guys get some quality reps in the spring.
Defensively I think the Tide are in great shape and will look to improve their “edge” pressure. They were not as dominant in the pressure game as in year’s past, but with the experience they may be able to do more things in the spring under Kirby Smart. They have to replace Robert Lester but no one has recruited safeties better than Alabama. Landon Collins seems to be the “next” safety in Tuscaloosa.
The Tigers lost a lot of players to the NFL, some unexpectedly however they do return the improving Zach Mettenberger. With Jeremy Hill back and the starting receivers the Tigers should be set on offense for the spring. They need to fill a couple of offensive line spots, but most teams have to do that.
Defense will be the challenge in spring football and for coordinator John Chavis. There is no doubt they have recruited well but they lost a ton of “playmakers” on that side of the ball. Anthony Johnson should be a star on the defensive line, but after that it’s all new bodies for Les Miles. The secondary needs guys to step up. Just two years ago this was the deepest most talented unit in the country. Kwon Alexander should emerge at linebacker, but there again are holes to fill. Jalen Mills is a cornerback to keep an eye on as well.
I think LSU’s spring will be an educational experience for all of us, who want to see what John Chavis is going to do.
The biggest loss for the Aggies is Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech as the head coach. Jake Spavital comes over from West Virginia where he mentored Geno Smith and will work with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Spavital was on Sumlin’s staff at Houston so the transition should be pretty smooth.
The Aggies must replace there two best lineman in Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore. On defense they need to fill five spots but the end is the most important.
Deshazor Everett returns in the secondary to lead a group that got better as the season went on. Tyrell Taylor is the guy will get first crack at replacing Moore at the rush end spot.
On offense they do bring back three offensive lineman and year two in Kevin Sumlin’s system will bring better results.
I think the Aggies will work in the new receivers in the spring and look to work on the down field passing game. I also expect to see the Aggies add some diamond formations to their run game. I don’t think Manziel will be running a lot of “called” run plays in the spring. Ben Malena emerged as a threat at running back, but depth there is important in the spring as well.
This program has the most momentum of any 7-6 team in history. Hugh Freeze cleaned up in recruiting and I would expect most of those top recruits to play this fall when they get on campus.
On offense the passing game was effective but Bo Wallace needs to work on his decision making. The interception number was higher than Coach Freeze would like and I imagine having another spring under his belt will help him. With nine starters on offense and all of the starters back on defense this spring will be about raising the level of play and the expectations.
Ole Miss secondary was young and gave up big plays last year so that is a point of emphasis. They did have some injuries back there but overall I look for Denzel Nkemdiche and Senquez Golson to shine on the back end. The defensive front played a lot of guys and of course Nkemdiche’s brother will be a factor in the fall but in the spring look for CJ Johnson to take the next step at defensive end.
On offense other than working on the passing game, look for the Rebels to be a more consistent inside run team. The ability to get the short, tough yards in the league will be key against heavyweights like Alabama and LSU.
Dan Mullen has shuffled his staff a bit and brought in receivers coach Billy Gonzalez who worked with him at Florida. Gonzalez will have to find a replacement for Chad Bumphis who had a career year last season before heading to the NFL. The top four receivers on the team graduated leaving Robert Johnson and his 17 receptions as the most experienced guy.
With Tyler Russell back at quarterback I would expect Mullen to continue to work on the passing game and guys like Joe Morrow and Jameon Lewis will get a good look. Junior College transfer Jeremy Chapelle will also be a guy that Gonzalez can work with right away. He is 6’3” and should benefit from going through the spring.
The Bulldog defense was hit and miss last season. In the Bulldogs five losses teams averaged 476 yards per game against them. They return six starters and several key reserves, but the secondary will be the point of emphasis in the spring. They lost NFL talent across the board and will need someone to step up in the spring. Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun should get a serious look at corner while Jay Hughes gets a look at safety. The Dogs will look to the junior college ranks here as well with Justin Cox coming in to fortify the safety position in the spring.
New coach Bret Bielema has a major overhaul in Fayetteville and like the other new coaches this will be a very important spring. On offense replacing Tyler Wilson and Kobi Hamilton will be a priority. However running back is the biggest concern for the run heavy Bielema. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell will compete at quarterback in the spring. The running back situation may fall to incoming freshman Alex Collins in the fall, but the spring Jonathan Williams should be featured.
Defensively the Hogs return nine starters and that is a good sign. The bad news is they gave up more big plays than just about anyone in the SEC. Chris Smith and Trey Flowers are back and should be a foundation to build the front around.
The biggest keys will be identifying what they want to do and how they will go about their business. Bielema has had tough physical defenses under his guidance in the past.
Gus Malzahn should be pretty familiar with the roster and personnel at Auburn. I would think finding a quarterback in the spring will be his first chore. Jonathan Wallace and Kiel Frazier will be joined in the battle by junior college transfer Nick Marshall. I would not be surprised if Marshall wins the job by the end of spring.
Tre Mason is back and he may have had the quietest 1,000 yard season in history. He is a perfect fit for the up tempo offense and should flourish under Malzahn. Most of the spring will be trying to get the offense to “speed up” and get the right tempo. I think this should be a quick and easy adjustment for a program that was already doing this two seasons ago.
Defensively the talent is there but the scheme and depth wasn’t. First the tigers need a physical inside presence at tackle and middle linebacker. Ellis Johnson is a long time defensive coordinator in the SEC and that will be his focus in the spring.
I really believe the reason Auburn is not starting practice till March 27th is Malzahn wanted this team to get a full two months plus in the weight room. They need to get bigger and stronger and it’s an approach that could help turn this program around quickly.