Offseason checklist: SEC West

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With 2012 in the books, teams and coaches have already turned their attention to 2013 and building a new team to attack next season. Every team has holes to fill, some more than others.

Here is the SEC West offseason checklist:

Alabama

  • The 2013 team has to be like the 2012 team and not like the 2010 team. The ‘10 team underachieved and took success for granted, while the ‘12 team overachieved. It all started with the leadership after last year’s championship, and that’s where it starts now. Leaders AJ McCarron, Anthony Steen and CJ Mosley have to step up and be the guiding light for the younger players to be able to handle the success of the dynasty.
  • The biggest replacements needed on offense are along the offensive line. With seniors Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and junior DJ Fluker gone, the Tide have to fill those three holes before next season.
  • The defense returns more in ‘13 than they did in ‘12, but filling the holes left behind by Damion Square, Jesse Williams, Nico Johnson, Dee Milliner and Robert Lester are huge. I’m not worried about the linebackers or the secondary, but the defensive line is the biggest item on the agenda for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart in the offseason.

Arkansas

  • Bret Bielema must identify playmakers on both sides of the ball this offseason and get comfortable with his team. He must figure out what the strengths are for ‘13 right away.
  • Bielema’s biggest impact in ‘13 will be on defense. It will be a tougher unit, and that starts right now. Bielema has to transform one of the worst defensive units in the SEC into a difference-maker in the toughest division in college football.
  • QB Tyler Wilson, WR Cobi Hamilton and RB Dennis Johnson were huge playmakers in 2012, and all three leave big shoes to fill. Wilson and Hamilton are two of the most decorated players to ever play at Arkansas. And he won’t have Knile Davis to help do it either.

Auburn

  • Gus Malzahn is quite familiar with his new team because he recruited most of the players two years ago. That’s big for both Malzahn and the players.
  • Malzahn must build his offense around the quarterback. And he has three to choose from in sophomore Kiehl Frazier, freshman Jonathan Wallace and incoming freshman Jeremy Johnson. Malzahn’s success in his first year revolves predominantly around the quarterback.
  • New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has five starters to replace, and his work is certainly cut out for him, as evidenced by how poorly the defense played in ‘12. Defenders couldn’t tackle, and the defense lost their will to compete about four games into the season.

LSU

  • LSU lost 10 underclassmen to the NFL Draft, and all 10 were impact players. Six of the 10 were defensive stars, and replacing the defensive line trio of Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan is the biggest item on the agenda this offseason.
  • Because of the hit the Tigers took on defense with the draft, the offense must step up and put up better numbers in ‘13 to help compensate for the losses. Other than two offensive tackle vacancies and the center, the Tigers return virtually everyone. The loss of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are nothing when you have Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard.
  • QB Zach Mettenberger must make a big step forward this offseason. It starts with his development from Les Miles, Steve Kragthorpe and Greg Studrawa. The passing game must improve, and Mett’s rapport with his receivers starts now.

Mississippi State

  • Dan Mullen promoted Geoff Collins to defensive coordinator, and he’ll have to replace four impact players on defense this offseason. MSU’s defense was pushed around in the trenches in their last six games. Collins has to improve the toughness of his unit right away.
  • QB Tyler Russell’s four top receivers all graduate in Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith, Arceto Clark and Marcus Green. They combined for 160 catches for 2,188 yards and 21 touchdowns in ‘12. It’s an understatement to say that the Bulldogs must identify receivers this offseason.
  • Mullen must also get back to his exciting and innovative offensive style. MSU’s offense was lethargic over the last half of the season, and he must recapture his energetic spread attack. Russell is a good QB, but he may have to get Dak Prescott prepared to play more meaningful snaps to get the offense moving.

Ole Miss

  • The Rebels and their staff must continue the wave of momentum on through national signing day. Freeze engineered a miraculous turnaround in ‘12, and inking a top signing class looks to be doable.
  • QB Bo Wallace will have surgery and miss spring ball, but it’s a great opportunity for backup Barry Brunetti. Freeze is still likely to play two quarterbacks, and Brunetti’s added experience and reps could pay big dividends next season, as only one offensive starter is lost.
  • Freeze must continue to develop the defense. All impact players return, and this group’s health and development will go a long way whether the Rebels will win 10 games or win seven again.

Texas A&M

  • The biggest item on the agenda is Johnny Manziel getting to know his new QB coach Jake Spavital. Spavital and Kevin Sumlin are on the same page because of their coaching history, and it will be very important for Manziel to get on that page.
  • Early enrollee JUCO LBs Kenny Flowers and Tommy Sanders must get comfortable with the defensive scheme, as both Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter graduate. Those two left big holes to fill.
  • Jake Matthews’ return was key for the Aggies, and getting his little brother Mike Matthews ready to replace center Patrick Lewis will also be key. Little Matthews has some big shoes to fill, but big brother will help him ease into it this offseason.

Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

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