New coordinators mean new starts for several players in 2014.
Talented offensive and defensive playcallers can transform and elevate good players into great players, and the conference welcomes four new coordinators this season. Specifically, let’s break down players who should be the biggest beneficiaries of new coordinators:
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Lane Kiffin should have Amari Cooper giddy about 2014. A quick glance at receivers in Kiffin’s system should make Cooper wake up ready to work and improve his game. He’s already one of the country’s most talented pass catchers and playmakers, but his biggest season has yet to come. In USC’s offense under Kiffin, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee both posted 1,000-yard seasons, with Woods topping 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns and Lee posting 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. The very next year, Lee exploded with 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kiffin gets flack for every stop during his career, but Cooper should be the biggest beneficiary of the Kiffin train rolling into Tuscaloosa.
Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida
Under former offensive coordinator Brent Pease, Florida used Jeff Driskel all wrong. Playing a ball-controlled, power running attack, the Gators tried to make Driskel into an AJ McCarron game manager-type signal caller, when he may be better compared to the dual-threat Nick Marshall. With Kurt Roper rolling into town, expect Driskel’s game to improve. Making quicker reads and using the legs more is the mindset of Roper. Driskel’s strengths don’t include sitting in the pocket and reading. Roper should let Driskel attack defenses, with the biggest reads being the pitchman, not the receivers. I really like Driskel’s focus in the new offense, and how Roper plans to use him.
Damian Swann, CB, Georgia
By process of elimination, cornerback Damian Swann should take a big step forward in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. A secondary coach by trade, Pruitt will be taking the reins of a talented, yet semi-depleted defensive backfield. Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews are all gone, and last year, Swann’s game took a step back. The All-SEC caliber cornerback should shoulder the leadership burden of the secondary, and improved pass rush should help the passing defense numbers. Swann looks to regain his 2012 midseason form, helping one of the SEC’s most improved units.
Front Seven, Arkansas
I just had to throw a front seven into the beneficiaries. When Chris Ash bolted for Ohio State, many were shocked. Arkansas took a while to make its coordinator hire public, but it was clear Robb Smith was targeted from the beginning. The former coordinator for Rutgers who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year stands to improve the overall unit. Smith’s schemes aim to disrupt protection and confuse quarterbacks on passing downs. The one area Arkansas’ defense should improve is stopping the run, an area where they finished 11th in the league. Known as a simplifier of schemes and coverages, the secondary should take a big step forward, thanks to added pressure by the pass rush. Maybe there isn’t one main player beneficiary after Smith’s hire, but the entire unit should make progress under his watch.
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