With spring football in full swing for 13 of 14 teams (Kentucky starts today), let’s take a trip around the SEC West and check out this spring’s most important players.
Alabama: Geno Smith, S (JR)
2013 stats: 10 tackles, 4 pass breakups
Buzz: Alabama’s quarterbacks are the biggest concern and most important factor this spring, but I don’t think any of the four currently competing will win the job – it will be FSU transfer Jacob Coker. So, the next immediate concern is the defensive secondary and replacing two starters, including likely first-round pick Haha Clinton-Dix. Geno Smith was suspended for one game last year due to a DUI, and he now becomes crucial to Nick Saban’s secondary. He can play a variety of positions: corner, nickel and safety. He’s very talented, but he hasn’t played up to expectation yet. It’s important he does that this spring.
Arkansas: QB Brandon Allen (JR)
2013 stats: 128 of 258, 1,552 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs
Buzz: Brandon Allen is finally healthy. He was banged up all last year with a shoulder and leg injury. The coaching staff wants Allen to take the quarterback job and run with it, and he’ll have every opportunity to do that this spring. If Arkansas is going to double their wins and go bowling, Brandon Allen has to lead the offensive charge. It’s not AJ Derby; the staff can’t count on early enrollee Rafe Peavey or redshirt freshman Austin Allen. The elder Allen becomes crucial to Bielema’s plan for turning around the program immediately.
Auburn: QB Nick Marshall (SR)
2013 stats: 3,044 total yards, 26 TDs
Buzz: Nick Marshall is immensely talented, and he’s arguably the top returning playmaker in the conference. So, why is he so important this spring? His upside should excite everyone, especially the coaching staff. He can turn the corner in the running game as fast as any player in the country; he has a strong arm and has nice touch on the deep ball, but it’s the shorter touch passes that are a worry. All indications point to Marshall as becoming a real leader this spring, and that’s big news for Auburn.
LSU: Christian LaCouture, DT (SO)
2013 stats: 11 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Buzz: The quarterbacks are extremely important, and the most important position on the field for the Tigers, but it’s anyone’s guess whether Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris win the job this spring. So, I’m going to be different. I love Christian LaCouture’s game; he’s an animal and plays like one. Now, even with limited experience, he will play a crucial role without Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson. He has natural strength and explosion, and he looks like a seasoned veteran from a physical standpoint.
Mississippi State: Jamaal Clayborn, OL (SO)
Buzz: Clayborn is one of the most talented offensive linemen the Bulldogs have on the roster, and he showed he was a complete gem as a true freshman. Clayborn’s role is the most important because he’s replacing MSU’s best player in top pick Gabe Jackson. Clayborn’s also versatile enough to play several positions in the trenches, and his development this spring will be fun to watch unfold. He’s going to be an O-line anchor before his days are up at State.
Ole Miss: DeVante Kincade, QB (rFR)
2013 stats: Redshirted
Buzz: Ole Miss returns a loaded roster with multiple starters returning on both sides of the ball. While the offensive line may be the biggest concern as a complete unit, the Rebels need Bo Wallace’s backup quarterback to emerge. Hugh Freeze has proven he’ll play two quarterbacks within any game, but with Barry Brunetti gone, Kincade is the one player who can duplicate his production. He’s winning the backup job this spring, and he’ll play a bigger than expected role for the Rebels this year. Wallace is the obvious starter, but having a changeup in the repertoire like Kincade could help win a couple of extra games or more.
Texas A&M: Kenny Hill, QB (SO)
2013 stats: 16 of 22, 183 yards, 1 TD; 37 rushing yards
Buzz: It’s Kenny Hill’s position to lose this spring. Yes, Kyle Allen could be a better quarterback of the future, but Hill gives the offense a bigger weapon right now. Matt Joeckel will play an important role, too, as the likely primary backup. The 6-2, 210-pound Hill is a bigger weapon because he can scramble and make plays as a runner. Does that really matter? I’m just not convinced a true freshman can win the starting job. Although he hasn’t said it, I envision Kevin Sumlin wanting Hill to win the job, leaving the talented Allen a redshirt year.
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