With 2013 in the books, teams and coaches have already turned their attention to 2014 and building a new team to attack next season. Every team has holes to fill, some more than others.
Here is the SEC East offseason checklist for every team:
- Three things that stick out the most about Florida’s spring: 1. Get Jeff Driskel healthy and comfortable in the new offense 2. Find somebody who can make big plays on offense and 3. Rebuild the offensive line.
- Driskel is returning from a broken leg suffered last season, and the new offense should fit him much better: less reads, quicker passes and more running. That can take Driskel from a decent quarterback to being a difference maker, assuming he picks up the offense quickly.
- The Gators’ offense has to find one player who can make a big play. Whether that’s WR Demarcus Robinson, RB Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane, or whether it’s freshman early enrollee Brandon Powell, the offense has to find a player that scares defenses. Roper’s scheme should simplify the offense for the bigger playmakers.
- The biggest immediate worry on defense is the secondary. With CBs Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy leaving for the draft and senior safety starter Cody Riggs transferring, there are holes to fill. Watch out for early enrollee Jalen Tabor to find his way into the starting lineup at corner.
- The offense this spring is all about QB Hutson Mason and the offensive line.
- Mason replaces Aaron Murray, and while he received great experience in three games while Murray was injured, there’s still some worry about the position. The worry isn’t physical, as Mason has all the tools, but reading defenses and commanding the offense is. The good thing for Mason is that there will be plenty of talent around him in 2014 to where he doesn’t have to be Aaron Murray.
- The offensive line loses three starters, including LT Kenarious Gates. This is the biggest worry for Mike Bobo and Mark Richt. Identifying replacements and gelling the unit could be the key to Georgia’s 2014 season.
- Jeremy Pruitt takes over the defense, and his toughest goal will be simplifying the defense for 10 returning starters. The D-line and linebackers are stacked, but the secondary is still a concern. And that’s Pruitt’s specialty.
- Lastly, Mark Richt has to get something figured out with the special teams. It was one of the country’s worst units, and he still says special teams will be coached by committee, meaning several assistants will have their hands in the unit.
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- The Wildcats welcome early enrollee and top QB prospect Drew Barker, and OC Neal Brown has a tough task getting a QB ready to play in 2014. Barker has all the skills needed, but as always, it’s tough for freshmen QBs to pick up the offense immediately. Barker will battle with returners Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow, along with Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. Phillips and Barker may be the two leading players exiting spring.
- Kentucky returns four of five starting linemen, as RG Kevin Mitchell is the group’s only senior. Creating better rapport along the line of scrimmage is huge.
- Three key components of Kentucky’s defense are now gone in DTs Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph and LB Avery Williamson, and replacing the key parts to the defensive line is the most important.
- One of the most important positions aside from QB or RB for the Tigers to replace is LT Justin Britt. The senior was a standout in 2013, and his veteran leadership and presence will be tough to replace. Along with Britt, the Tigers also lose senior guard Max Copeland but return three along the offensive line.
- Josh Henson and Gary Pinkel obviously have full confidence in QB Maty Mauk to replace James Franklin, and he played very well at times, but his decision making and accuracy stand to improve. Mauk completed just 51.1 percent of his passes, and that’s expected for a freshman; however, more will be expected of him this season, and he can take the offense to a whole new level.
- Replacing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy will be tough, too, but the players are on campus in Markus Golden and Shane Ray, among others. However, the secondary is a greater concern. The Tigers lose two senior CBs EJ Gaines and Randy Ponder and also lose free safety Matt White. Gaines was arguably the top corner in the league, and Ponder and White will be tough to replace. Safety Braylon Webb returns as the lone starter in the secondary. This is already on Dave Steckel’s mind.
South Carolina Gamecocks
- The offense loses just three starters in QB Connor Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington and RG Ronald Patrick, and the O-line will be good once again. This spring will be important for Dylan Thompson to assume command of the offense. It will look different under Thompson than it did with Shaw, who was a dual-threat attack. Thompson is more of a pocket passer, and this spring is so important for freshman Connor Mitch to get ready, too.
- The biggest worry is replacing three starting defensive linemen in Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton. Early enrollee DT Abu Lamin will get a head start in helping to replace Quarles. Finding all three players’ replacements tops the list.
- The other position of concern for the Gamecocks is at corner. With Vic Hampton and Jimmy Legree both gone, it leaves a sizeable hole at corner.
- Tennessee is the only team in college football not to return a starter on either line of scrimmage, and in a line of scrimmage league, that’s tough to overcome. Early enrollee JUCO OT transfer Dontavius Blair will get an early crack to replace one tackle spot. The staff is already high on freshman early enrollee Coleman Thomas, too.
- The position of most importance is QB. Who will win the job? Josh Dobbs, Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson will all compete for the job, and Ferguson could escape spring as the early leader, despite being the only one who hasn’t taken a live game snap.
- Tennessee’s defense should improve overall, despite losing four starters along the defensive line that includes DT Dan McCullers and DE Jacques Smith. The defensive unit should take a big step forward this spring, with emphasis on the new defensive line. The linebackers and secondary should be big strengths.
- Derek Mason won’t be judged on his first season, but he has the talent in the program to win now. It’s important he and his coordinators establish a great relationship and rapport with the players they inherited.
- The immediate concern on offense is replacing OT Wesley Johnson and WRs Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause. Rising sophomore WR Jordan Cunningham will be a major part of the picture next season, and this spring is crucial for him.
- Vanderbilt has had a very strong defense over the last few years, thanks in part to a dominant secondary. Now, three of those starters in CB Andre Hal and safeties Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler are gone, and their replacements will have to be identified and groomed this spring. The front seven should be strong, but the secondary is a concern.
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