Spring football begins next month, and for many teams it's an opportunity to take a closer look at young guys who did not play last season. Most players make their biggest improvements from the first season to the second. It doesn't matter whether they were a redshirt or just played special teams in their freshman season, but the acclimation to college is complete by spring ball.
I believe this is most critical for lineman as they are the ones who are the most likely candidates. Offensive and defensive linemen get the opportunity to bulk up as freshman without losing much because they are not in a game-week routine.
Most strength coaches build position-specific programs for these types of players so they can maximize the opportunity. The other key factor for lineman in their freshman season is diet. They will eat more and healthier in college than they did in high school. This will also allow for maximum gains which will give them the best chance to compete.
Regardless of whether its lineman or skill positions, most guys perform with more confidence in their first spring practice because they understand what to expect.
I mentioned a few weeks back the quarterback battles in the spring and the impact of losing so many great signal callers in the SEC. I believe the quarterback position is the most important right now in football at any level. While many teams need to replace a great player at that position, there are three teams that just need to figure out who is going to be their leader.
Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky all had losing seasons, but with the right man under center those fortunes could flip in their favor.
The Gators seem to be ready to give the job back to Jeff Driskel who could get a sixth year of eligibility. Driskel will get to work with his third offensive coordinator of his career in Kurt Roper.
I believe Roper can bring out the best in Driskel, but he has been hampered by the injury bug in his career. Will Grier is a highly decorated freshman along with Treon Harris from Miami. I would not be surprised if the Gators use the same philosophy as Roper's former team Duke, and played two quarterbacks.
Tennessee needs a consistent guy under center. Senior Justin Worley, like Florida's Driskel, would seem the logical choice, but he seems limited in his big-play capability.
The Volunteers did get Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman some experience last season, as they were thrown into the fire for some big games. Riley Ferguson was also highly recruited and redshirted last season. I have to believe Butch Jones is looking for one of the young guys to emerge and grab hold of the job.
Kentucky and Mark Stoops have a similar issue to Tennessee.
The Wildcats have seen a lot of guys play, but no one has proven to be the “guy.” Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow are guys like Worley, who seem to be missing that something special so far, while Reese Phillips was recruited by this staff and redshirted last season. The wild card is freshman Drew Barker out of the state of Kentucky.
The one thing all three of these teams have in common is lack of big plays on offense. That starts and ends with consistent quarterback play.
This and that
- The NFL combine winners and losers from the SEC vary on who you talk to that covers the NFL. Based on the results, and what I expected, the three biggest winners should be Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt, Odell Beckham from LSU and Greg Robinson from Auburn. All three guys showed great speed with Matthews and Robinson providing strong bench numbers. It would not surprise me if Robinson ends up being the No. 1 lineman taken. A couple of lineman had bad weekends in Tiny Richardson from Tennessee and Cyrus Kouandjio, because of health related issues. It was reported the highly touted Kouandjio failed a few team’s physicals which cannot be good. Both guys have red flags after this weekend.
- The first team to begin spring football in the SEC will be Texas A&M on Friday. The Aggies will not have a spring game because of the Kyle Field renovation, but will have 15 very important practices to accomplish two major goals. First, A&M must find a replacement, or at least establish a depth chart, for the departed Johnny Manziel at quarterback. Secondly, the Aggies need to build a tougher, more physical defense. The Aggies played a lot of young guys last season on defense, and I would expect Kevin Sumlin to have a physical spring practice.
- South Carolina begins March 4 and Ole Miss begins March 5, as the next two schools to start spring practice. The last two teams to begin will be Florida on March 19 and Kentucky on March 28. Most schools build their schedule around student’s spring break as well as their spring recruiting calendar. Kentucky is usually the last to start every year because of the weather, even though they have an indoor facility. The Florida situation is unique. The Gators are hoping to have healthy bodies for an important spring under Will Muschamp.