Spring Football has begun and one thing is for certain, it’s time to talk some football! There is always a common theme with spring and that is opportunity for young players to step up and fill needs whether as a starter or a contributing back up.
When watching or following your favorite teams you hope that the competition is deep and fierce at linebacker, defensive back and receiver. These are the key components to strong special teams which can win you a championship.
You are also hoping to go through spring with no major injuries to returning players. Very few times over the last decade have we seen this as practices is more and more controlled. The spring game is the one practice where you might see a serious injury, so let’s hope not.
Finally, if you’re only going to see your team in their spring game look for positives. It makes no difference and the game is usually set up to entertain.
Did your quarterback look confident?
Did your running back run hard?
Did your defensive backs break on the ball?
But most of all enjoy it; it’s football and gets us that much closer to the regular season.
Around the League
Bret Bielema made a terrific hire in Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator. He has SEC experience and will likely have to modify the offense around Brandon Allen or Brandon Mitchell. Bielema’s system has evolved from a ground and pound to more of a pro style play action attack. Chaney has had very little run game at Tennessee the last four years so look for this to be an interesting mesh in the spring. Jonathan Williams should get a good look at running back with Alex Collins coming in the fall. The Hogs must get better on 3rd down after finishing 9th in the league at 36%.
Tennessee opened practice with a new look as far as practice goes. The new coaches under Butch Jones were more hands on and faster pace than the prior staff. Justin Worley is the most experienced quarterback but the he should get pushed by Nathan Peterman.
The key for the Vols in the spring will be learning the system and the coaches. How polished they look after 15 days would be unfair to judge. The other issue that Jones will address is turnover margin in which the Volunteers finished 12th in the SEC at -6.
I spent a day at South Carolina last week and while they were missing some key players (Connor Shaw, Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd) they did have some young guys that look ready to compete at receiver and quarterback.
Shamier Jeffrey, who is the younger brother of Alshon, and Shaq Roland are both looking to make some noise for the Gamecocks in the spring. Dylan Thompson looks more confident and is working on throwing to his left more effectively.
As for the defense Jadevon Clowney is there leader but I was impressed with the front line size at least on the one deep. I do think some freshman will have to play on defense for Steve Spurrier this season. Spurrier’s passing game was 8th in the league in 10+ passing plays and he would like to see more in that intermediate range.
Missouri and Gary Pinkel will open looking to let the battle for the quarterback job unfold in the spring. James Franklin had a tough first year in the SEC and Corbin Berkstresser did some good things last year.
Franklin must learn to change pace on his throws if he is going to be an elite quarterback. He relies too much on his athletic ability and arm strength and that was great in the Big 12, but this is not the Big 12.
Dorial Green Beckham is looking to be a bigger playmaker, and keep an eye on the return of Henry Josey at running back. He was a 1,000 yard rusher two years ago and missed all of last season.
I say all this and they lost a top ten pick on defense in Sheldon Richardson. They will need to plug holes in the front seven as well in the spring. The Tigers need to work on their red zone offense (hello Green-Beckham) which finished 10th in the SEC.
The Gators get under way this week with plenty of goals for spring football. The offense hopes the hiring of Joker Phillips will energize the receiving corps and most notably Andre Debose. He must learn to practice hard if he wants to reach his potential.
There will be some young guys in the fold as well, but the development and confidence of Jeff Driskel will be important. I think with Brissett off campus and transferred he will relax and play even better. Remember he won 11 games and has a great competitive fire he just needs to be more accurate in the passing game.
Matt Jones is the new running back but keep an eye on early entry Kelvin Taylor who is Fred Taylor’s son.
Defense the Gators will be better off than most folks even know. Dominique Easley will move inside to Sharrif Floyd’s spot and true sophomores Alex Bullard and Dante Fowler will be the defensive ends. They both played a lot last season and don’t forget about Ronald Powell.
Florida must improve its big plays in the passing game they ranked last in the SEC in explosive pass plays (20+ yards) and 106th in the country.
Congrats on the sales job Mark Stoops has done at Kentucky. The Cats have over 30,000 tickets sold for their spring game; now go put on a show coach.
I will be with James Franklin on Thursday, the eve of their start of spring practice and really looking forward to the visit. You have to give him credit for the job he has done in two years and the fact that his staff is the only one intact in the SEC. I believe he is changing the culture and it’s up to Vanderbilt to keep him.
I was at Auburn last week as well as they go to spring break and the fans are ready to wipe the slate clean with football. The facilities for football are top notch and they have the best grass surface in the stadium in the country. I could break a 5 flat on Auburn’s field; it is a beautiful fast track.
Alabama will get plenty of ink this spring but let me tell you they could have the best receiving duo in the league this fall. Amari Cooper is a bona fide star, but don’t go to sleep on Chris Black. He is a tough, fast kid out of Jacksonville, Florida and could force teams to keep both safeties out of the box against Bama this fall. If that happens, TJ Yeldon might run for 2,000 yards.