Two of the best stories in the SEC Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have cranked it up for spring practice. These programs combined to win their last nine games and two bowl games. Both Hugh Freeze and James Franklin are terrific recruiters with magnetic personalities. There is still a very long climb to the top of their respective divisions but each school seems to have the right person in place and the one thing you need in the off-season, momentum.
I get the feeling the Rebels will have many new faces on the back end of their defense. Nick Brassell is a defensive back they feel can be an elite player if he can get his ducks in a row in the classroom. Brassell would be a nice addition to a young secondary that took their lumps in 2012. The defensive line will get help in the fall from some freshman, but the Rebels also hope to get a healthy Shackleford back at linebacker. The offense will be loaded and ready to go, however with Bo Wallace out because of shoulder surgery only two scholarship quarterbacks remain. Barry Brunetti did a nice job last year as the backup and change of pace person. One thing is evident in week one and that is Hugh Freeze sending a message to his team not to read all the press clippings and stay humble.
James Franklin likes what he has on the offensive line this spring. He will operate with a two deep for the first time in his tenure during spring practice. This is all a product of recruiting and while players are more ready to play than ever out of high school, every coach would like to red shirt lineman on both sides of the ball. The running game will feature Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow. Jordan Matthews is the least talked about “play maker “in the country. Chew on this for a second; he averaged 108 yards receiving per game versus SEC opponents. The defensive tackles will be the focus this week and Franklin seems to believe they are getting close to “SEC size”, but will continue to rely on scheme to win games.
Florida had two open practices over the weekend and I can tell you first hand their defense will be as good as or better than last season. The front seven may have three all conference guys with Dominique Easley, Antonio Morrison and Dante Fowler Jr. Morrison is the new middle linebacker and has that “salty” edge you’re looking for. The Gators are deep in the secondary and will be fast on defense once again. The offense will be a run first unit once again, but if the Gators are going to challenge Georgia and Alabama, they must get more out of Jeff Driskel. He worked on play action and middle to deep throws his first couple days with some success. The run game should set up the passing game and much like Alabama and Georgia he has to take advantage of the play action opportunities.
This and That…
Kentucky will air it out with new offensive coordinator Neal Brown from Texas Tech. He learned his craft under Hal Mumme and Mike Leach and took the “Air Raid” offense to Lubbock where he had a top ten passing offense all three years. Maxwell Smith could be a good fit if he learns to take care of the ball, but keep an eye on Patrick Towles who lost his red shirt in week nine last year and struggled. He has a ton of ability and along with Jalen Whitlow will provide Brown with three options this spring from which to choose.
Alabama’s logjam at running back may mean position changes in the spring. Dee Hart, who is returning could get a look on defense. He might be suited to play cornerback and the spring will test his skills. Cyrus Jones may be getting a look on the defensive side of the ball because of the emergence and depth at receiver. The prevailing theme though is spring is for experimentation and if any incoming freshman show they cannot handle the load or a starter gets hurt, I would expect these people to return in the fall.
Tennessee has already held a spring scrimmage under Butch Jones giving him a chance to evaluate what he has to work with. The approach for the Vols is to give them more than what they can digest both offensively and defensively and see what they can handle. The easiest way to analyze this is the quarterback situation. He was praised by Jones for his leadership and ability to communicate. This is likely because he is returning and just more comfortable handling the new surroundings. As the month goes on, I will be interested to see where Jones hangs his hat at the quarterback spot. It is a leadership position and he is trying to get people to buy in sooner than later. If the quarterback is established that could speed up the process.