The SEC East will again be a race that is up for grabs with the big three Georgia, Florida and South Carolina leading the way. They all return experienced quarterbacks and will focus on defense during spring practice. Vanderbilt is poised to challenge the big three but must replace Zac Stacy at running back. Kentucky and Tennessee will use the spring to implement new systems and familiarize the players with the coaches.
Here is an SEC East Spring preview.
The Dogs offense should be explosive with record setting quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley. Throw in the fact that Malcolm Mitchell will be a full time receiver and Mike Bobo will spend most of spring experimenting on offense. It could be a good spring to get some quality reps for the backup quarterbacks. Christian Lemay should get a lot of work at the qb position.
The defense is the area of concern and the good news is that Todd Grantham is back as defensive coordinator. The bad news is he may be the only one back. Jordan Jenkins, Amario Herrera and Damian Swann should be the top guys on a unit that has a lot of holes to fill. Key areas will be defensive line, outside linebacker (which is where I see Jenkins) and safety.
The Gators have an important spring in front of them for two reasons. First they lost leadership and productivity from their defense. Secondly they need to work on the passing game with Jeff Driskel. He has all the physical tools to be successful but will need some help.
I expect Brent Pease to open up the offense in the spring and new receiver coach Joker Phillips to have an immediate impact. Loucheiz Purifoy the dynamic defensive back will move to receiver for the spring. Florida also lost Mike Gillislee but Matt Jones and freshman Kelvin Taylor should fill the void nicely.
On the defensive side of the ball look for Dominique Easley to move inside to tackle to shore up that position. Antonio Morrison has a shot to be a real good linebacker and played a lot as a freshman. They key spot will be safety where the Gators lost Matt Elam and Josh Evans. Keep an eye on Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and Valdez Showers.
The Gamecocks will go into the spring without starter Connor Shaw, but Dylan Thompson and early enrollee Connor Mitch will be more than suitable. Thompson has show the ability to make plays in big games and Spurrier will look to develop Shaq Roland at receiver. Bruce Ellington will be back while Ace Sanders has gone to the pro’s. Running back is also a priority and Mike Davis should get a long look there.
Defensively the Gamecocks may be relying on some young freshman this fall to play a lot. They do have Jadeveon Clowney back but they need holes filled at linebacker and the other defensive end spot. Chaz Sutton could be the next start opposite Clowney on the line. As for linebacker, this may not get resolved until the fall.
The Commodores will turn the offense over to quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in the spring after Jordan Rogers’s departure. He will have All SEC receiver Jordan Mathews back to throw to as well as Chris Boyd. Wesley Tate will be in a battle for the running back job with Brian Kimbrow the highly touted recruit out of Memphis.
James Franklin will have a couple spots to fill on the offensive line but the offense should be in good shape. Remember Samuels started and threw for 195 yards in a 58-0 rout of Presbyterian.
Defensively the front four will be key in the spring. Look for young players like Caleb Azubike and Jimmy Stewart to make an impact during spring ball. I think you will see a lot of young guys get reps on defense in the spring to build depth.
The Tigers had a rough spring last year with regards to injuries and personnel. This year look for Gary Pinkel to tweak his offense during spring ball. Quarterback James Franklin got knocked around too much this past season in the Tigers four wide attack. I do think the change at offensive coordinator will bring a new look as Pinkel promoted Josh Henson on his staff.
Henry Josey will return at running back after missing all of last season. He had 1,168 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2011. The Tigers will also look to refine Dorial Green-Beckham into one of the elite receivers in the league.
Defensively they must find a replacement for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The Tigers lose five of their top eight tacklers from last season. They will also need some guys to step up at linebacker due to graduation and the early departure of Zaviar Gooden. Keep an eye on Lucas Vincent at defensive tackle. Andrew Wilson will be a big time key at linebacker as he was their leading tackler and only returning starter. Kony Ealy is a young defensive end who is also got big time potential.
Butch Jones is one of two new coaches in the division and four in the league. He has a lot of work to do in the spring, especially on offense. He needs to find a quarterback, receivers and put in a new system. Justin Worley is a junior who has played some and could be a good fit for Jones’s system.
Keep an eye on Nathan Peterman a red shirt freshman out of Jacksonville, Florida. The top four receivers are gone and Marlin Lane who is a running back was fifth. A group of guys will get a long look including Alton Howard, Jason Croom and Vincent Dallas.
The Volunteer defense will work on getting a new system as well. One thing new defensive coordinator John Jancek will have to do is work on getting pressure on the quarterback. Tennessee was last in the league with just 17 sacks last season. The good news is that nine starters return on defense and that experience should help in the spring.
Mark Stoops will go through his first spring with some young quarterbacks competing for the right to run the “Air Raid” offense. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has had a lot of success with the system, which should be fun to watch in the spring. Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will battle at the quarterback spot.
The receiving position will be wide open with the graduation of three seniors. Demarco Robinson is back and should benefit from the new system, but at least six or seven guys will need to step up to make the offense work.
The defense returns nine guys including Avery Williamson the league’s second leading tackler. The Cats really weren’t that bad on defense, but it was their offense that could not do anything last season averaging just 17.9 points per game which was last in the league and 119th in the country.