11 biggest takeaways from the SEC’s spring practice
The SEC’s spring practice concluded Saturday with Arkansas’ and Kentucky’s spring games. Before we know it, SEC Media Days will be filling up your Twitter timeline and the season will be right around the corner.
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Specifically this spring, new quarterbacks headlined the entire conference, and teams started their move toward being a playoff contender (it’s fun to say that isn’t it?).
Here are the 11 biggest takeaways from spring practice:
6 QB jobs still up for grabs
The passing of the torch of the veteran SEC quarterbacks was the biggest spring storyline, and six teams still have quarterback battles to sort out. Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt will ensure more storylines entering spring camp. Newcomer Jacob Coker and Blake Sims will battle for the Tide’s job. Patrick Towles leads Kentucky’s race, while there’s little separation in Tennessee’s race. LSU and Texas A&M each have two quarterbacks battling, and in both scenarios, it’s hard to argue against freshmen Brandon Harris (LSU) and Kyle Allen (TAMU) winning the job. Vanderbilt has a nice battle with Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary, but they’ll likely welcome LSU transfer Stephen Rivers come fall camp. It’s, uh, unsettled compared to last season at this time.
Three true freshmen QBs could start
Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen and LSU’s Brandon Harris are the frontrunners exiting spring practice for their respective teams, and Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker still has time to win the job over Patrick Towles. True freshmen rarely start, but Allen, Harris and Barker could be three who certainly do. Allen is the Aggies’ pocket passer, who’s so poised for a freshman, and he’ll continue battling Kenny Hill through fall camp. Barker is the hyped Kentucky star who fans cannot wait to watch through his career, and he can sling it all over the yard. Harris, on the other hand, is just an electric playmaker whose raw skill will be honed in the coming years. Will we see three true freshmen starting in 2014?
It’s a running back’s league
The torch was officially passed from the former veteran and elite quarterbacks to arguably the SEC’s best crop of running backs, maybe ever. Every team has two to three legit SEC caliber running backs. Alabama and Georgia headline the conference’s backfields, but even rising programs Kentucky and Vanderbilt have multiple weapons at running back. Will the SEC return to a good ole’ fashioned smashmouth running game and defensive league? Several running backs are Heisman worthy backs who are set to explode this season like Todd Gurley, TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Mike Davis and Alex Collins, among others. The main thing is nearly all of them stayed healthy this spring.
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Jeremy Pruitt brought renewed energy
Anytime you hear Mark Richt bending the way he approaches spring practices or the practice schedules specifically, you know someone brought fresh ideas to the table. That’s Jeremy Pruitt, and to see Richt energized this spring had to empower and excite the players and the fan base. UGA is changing the physique of the defensive players, too, making them lighter and ready for up-tempo attacks. That, too, is all Jeremy Pruitt. Although Georgia hasn’t played in one football game yet, Pruitt is already making an impact on the team, and the players raved all spring how he simplifies the defense.
Alabama’s success could hinge on Jacob Coker
Jacob Coker could be the single biggest deciding factor in the SEC West and maybe the conference’s most intriguing and important player in 2014. No pressure, right? Coker enters Alabama following his FSU spring graduation and will be eligible to play this fall. Coker measures up and passes the eye test, but he’s such a big unknown. How will he fare once on campus? Does he live up to the hype? One thing is for certain: Alabama needs him…now. Playmakers will surround the quarterback; now, the Tide need someone under center to efficiently execute the offense.
Florida is more comfortable in its new skin
By all indications, Florida’s personnel adapted well to Kurt Roper’s new offensive scheme. The spread-style attack will be a welcomed sight in Gainesville, and getting the ball in playmakers’ hands will be the main agenda. Jeff Driskel looked more comfortable, and it will help with quicker decision making. Running backs Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor looked great, along with younger receivers Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fullwood and emerging slot receiver Chris Thompson. Will Muschamp is beating down Roper’s door this spring telling him, “Just find a way to average 28 points per game.” If Roper’s offense does that, Florida could have a big turnaround.
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Auburn’s offense will be more explosive
Last year it was Tre Mason. Auburn’s difference-maker this year is Nick Marshall, and he could become a Heisman contender, especially if the Tigers make the College Football Playoff. But aside from Marshall, a veteran offensive line returns four starters, and they have threats everywhere at receiver and a deep backfield. Gus Malzahn is getting more toys to work with, and big-time players headline the roster. If you thought Auburn’s offense was nasty last season, look out in 2014, especially if the passing game improves even just a little.
Still QB questions for Arkansas
Although Brandon Allen will likely start the season, the spring game left doubts to the overall picture or just how much he has solidified himself as the starter. It’s not an ‘open’ job, per se, and his brother Austin Allen didn’t exactly steal the show Saturday, as he also threw two INTs. The one thing Arkansas can’t do is beat themselves, because the margin of error is so slim. The elder Allen finished 12-of-21 for 108 yards, one touchdown and two INTs, while his brother finished 11-of-17 for 139 yards, two touchdowns and two INTs. Questions still loom under center entering 2014.
The state of Mississippi
Ole Miss and Mississippi State both had strong springs and stayed primarily healthy. That will be key in both teams trying to become the SEC West’s darkhorse contender. The Rebels and Bulldogs have returning quarterbacks and are loaded on both sides of the ball. You get a sense this is ‘the year’ for Mississippi State, while Ole Miss fans have been looking at 2014 as ‘the year’ since the 2013’s top recruiting class. This year is setting up to be big turning points for each program, but will it live up to the hype?
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Butch Jones is more concerned about his defensive line
Much has been made about Tennessee’s offensive line, but Butch Jones’ quotes leave us to believe he’s more concerned about the defensive line. Jones had grown frustrated by his defensive line this spring. The Vols struggled to build depth and, plainly, struggled to be consistent. And in a line-of-scrimmage league, Jones knows depth has to come fast before the start of 2014.
Two who are ready
Although Missouri and South Carolina replace starting quarterbacks, they are sitting in a better situation than most. Missouri loses James Franklin, but Maty Mauk is ready to assume leadership and cemented himself as the offensive leader this spring. USC replaces Connor Shaw with Dylan Thompson, another semi-experienced signal caller who is Carolina’s leader. Each quarterback will open 2014 looking for an SEC East crown, and each have experienced weapons returning.
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