SEC football finally has a pulse with Georgia, Texas A&M, Tennessee and South Carolina already kicking off spring practice. All 14 teams open up in the few weeks, and six teams will start their quest of chasing another national championship for the conference’s eighth in a row. But first, several burning questions must be answered.
Alabama: How big of a concern is the offensive line? Aside from keeping the current roster healthy throughout spring practice, the offensive line will be the key to another championship run. 2012’s line was one of the best in college football history, but four key cogs are gone, starting with position coach Jeff Stoutland. Along with Stoutland, starters DJ Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack aren’t walking through that Crimson door either. So, where does Alabama and new position coach Mario Cristobal turn? Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio return a combined 28 starts, and after those two, that’s where it gets fuzzy. Center Ryan Kelly must continue to develop, and transfers Brandon Hill and Leon Brown should be impact newcomers. The offensive line is crucial to Nick Saban’s formula to win – besides Johnny Manziel, the offensive line is Saban’s biggest concern this spring.
Arkansas: What will be Bret Bielema’s biggest impact this spring? Bret Bielema is more known for his smash mouth pro-style running game, but his biggest impact will come on defense. As a former defensive lineman, Bielema has a strong front four to work with in Chris Smith, Trey Flowers, Bryan Jones and Robert Thomas. And developing an inexperienced linebacking corps and underachieving secondary will be key to his success in his first season. Arkansas’ secondary was among the country’s worst in ‘12, and Bielema will address his primary concern this spring. Arkansas’ defensive improvement from ‘12 to ‘13 will be obvious.
Auburn: What is Gus Malzahn’s biggest worry – offense or defense? Gus Malzahn can coach mediocre players on offense and make impact players out of them. And his sleepless spring nights are spent thinking about his defense. Aside from Tennessee, Auburn’s defense was the most putrid bunch in the league. They couldn’t tackle, they couldn’t cover, and the defensive line didn’t live up to the hype. But now Ellis Johnson takes over this group, and Johnson and his staff are addressing the ‘broken tackles’ issue this spring. Malzahn’s offense will score points, but the ‘13 season will be more about the jump the defense makes.
LSU: What will be the effect of Cam Cameron on Zach Mettenberger? Cam Cameron is known more for developing quarterbacks than high-flying offenses. Cameron helped develop Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Joe Flacco into three of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. And his newest prospect, Zach Mettenberger, will be his toughest one yet. Mett’s development as an accurate pocket passer could define LSU’s ‘13 season. Except for a handful of games, Mett never looked comfortable as a passer and as a leader on offense. He didn’t pick up blitzes well, and he left big plays on the table by overshooting his receivers downfield. Cameron will have an impact on Mett this spring, but how much? LSU’s offense must improve if they want to contend for an SEC Championship.
Mississippi State: What’s the next step for the program? Dan Mullen is 29-22 in four years at Mississippi State, and he’s led the program to three straight bowl appearances. But is that good enough? Most Bulldog fans contend that Mullen will never be fired unless he’s sub .500 and loses to Ole Miss at least three years in a row. MSU looked very lethargic on offense to close out 2012. They lost five of their last six games, including the frustrating Egg Bowl and Gator Bowl losses. Mullen must be more innovative on offense and rely more on the running game with LaDarius Perkins. That starts this spring. Will eight wins remain good enough at MSU?
Ole Miss: What’s the biggest concern during spring practice? Hugh Freeze’s biggest concern isn’t even practicing this spring. Quarterback Bo Wallace was a rollercoaster in 2012. Sunshine looked so good several times, but he also threw 17 INTs along with his 22 touchdowns. And he’s out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery. Ole Miss’ continued improvement will hinge on Wallace’s health and productivity, as well as his ability to minimize turnovers in ‘13, and Freeze can’t feel good about his lack of reps and continued development this spring.
Texas A&M: Where will the pass rush come from? One of the most underrated defenses in the SEC lost one of the best pass rushers in the country. In fact, the Aggies lose three starting defensive linemen, headlined by two defensive ends Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy. Texas A&M registered 31 sacks in ‘12, and Moore accounted for more than 60 percent of them. So, where will it come from? All total, the Aggies lose more than 60 percent of their sack production from 2012. The one player Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder are counting on is defensive end Brandon Alexander. Alexander may be the one Aggie with the most to prove this spring.
Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports