10 things we're looking forward to most in spring practice
Spring practice is already underway at Vanderbilt, Texas A&M gets going today and the other SEC schools will follow suit over the next few weeks.
Since we’re going to have to wait until September for some honest to goodness college football games, we’ll use a bit of spring practice drama to tide us over.
Here are the SEC spring practice schedules:
|School||Practice begins||Spring game|
|Alabama||March 11||April 16|
|Arkansas||March 29||April 23|
|Auburn||March 1||April 9|
|Florida||March 9||April 8|
|Georgia||March 15||April 16|
|Kentucky||March 8||April 16|
|Mississippi State||March 9||April 16|
|Missouri||March 8||April 16|
|Ole Miss||March 2||No game|
|South Carolina||March 15||April 9|
|Tennessee||March 7||April 16|
|Texas A&M||Feb. 29||April 9|
|Vanderbilt||Feb. 22||March 25|
With that in mind, here are the 10 things we’re most looking forward to in spring football:
ALABAMA’S QB BATTLE
There are quarterback battles raging all over the SEC this spring, but any time the defending national champions have one, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett are the front-runners to replace Jake Coker. Bateman is the more experienced option, while Barnett is a former five-star recruit.
History tells us that this won’t be a problem for the Crimson Tide, who have gone through this during the past couple of springs. Don’t be surprised if neither separates himself early and the contest lingers into the regular season.
Former Tide defensive back Cyrus Jones isn’t worried.
“They both have great arms,” Jones told seccountry.com at the NFL Combine Saturday. “Both of them are very athletic. More than people give (them) credit for. So I think they’ll be fine with whoever gets the starting job this year.”
FLORIDA’S QB BATTLE
The suspension and transfer of Will Grier and the position change for Treon Harris have sparked a quarterback competition in Gainesville, too.
The contenders for the 2016 job are Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.
Franks probably has the highest ceiling and most natural ability, and Trask is an intriguing prospect, but it’s unlikely that either is ready to step in and run a college offense.
Del Rio has been around, with stops at Alabama and Oregon State, but only has 14 career passes on his resume.
Appleby is the most experienced, with 17 career games under his belt. He passed for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in three seasons as a Boilermaker.
HOW WILL AUBURN’S OFFENSIVE LINE TAKE SHAPE?
Auburn has its own quarterback derby planned for this spring, but there’s also the small matter of just who will be blocking for the eventual winner?
Shon Coleman and Avery Young were two of the SEC’s better tackles in 2015, and the search for two new bookends is on.
Senior Robert Leff made a pair of starts and played in 13 games last season. He’s probably penciled in on the left side right now.
Former five-star recruit and Texas transfer Darius James likely will have to fight off redshirt freshman Mike Horton on the right side.
CAN GEORGIA FIND A KICKER?
Sure, there are other questions to be answered in Athens, but finding a field goal kicker needs to be a priority.
For the first time in a decade, there are no scholarship kickers on the roster. There is an in-house contender for the job, though.
Rodrigo Blankenship came to Georgia as a preferred walk-on, despite kicking in the U.S. Army All-American Game, and figures to start the spring atop the depth chart.
“At field goal kicker, we want to find out what we have here in the spring,” coach Kirby Smart told DawgNation.com. “We really don’t know as a staff exactly what we’ve got. We’ll find that out in the spring. We’re going to try to get some kids in here whether it’s by way of transfer or by way of walk-on.
“We’re going to try to get the best kickers we can to try to make that a competitive environment and improve the kicking game and essentially find a guy that can be the field goal kicker for us.”
WHO’S LINING UP AT LB FOR LSU?
There’s plenty of returning talent on the defensive line, but who’s going to emerge at the outside linebacker position for the Tigers?
Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith passed on a chance to declare early for the NFL Draft, but the other two starters in 2016 will need to be found this offseason.
Duke Riley and Donnie Alexander combined for 36 tackles last year, and offer at least a little experience as potential starters.
True freshman Michael Divinity is in for spring and should also compete for playing time at the position.
CAN JOSH HEUPEL FIX THE MISSOURI OFFENSE?
Missouri’s offense was among the worst in college football last season. Enter new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who will begin the rebuilding project this spring.
There’s plenty to be done, too.
Can he help Drew Lock improve his completion percentage and cut down on his interceptions? Is Ish Witter the answer at running back?
And what about the offensive line? Four new starters will need to be found. Of course, as poorly as the unit played in 2015, so much change might not be a bad thing.
Heupel will be at the heart of all of these issues, and how he handles them will help shape the course of Missouri’s 2016 season.
WHO’S THE STARTING RB AT SOUTH CAROLINA?
South Carolina went 3-9 and hired a new coach, so it’s not surprising that there are so many position battles. One of those competitions is at running back, and it’s wide open.
This spring, David Williams will begin as the starter. He had 86 carries for 299 yards last season in a support role.
Hoping to impress the new coaching staff in the coming weeks will be true freshman CJ Freeman, redshirt freshmen Mon Denson and A.J. Turner and transfer Rod Talley. Another true freshman, Rico Dowdle, will join the fray in the summer.
New coaching staffs tend to favor their own recruits in open competitions, which makes Freeman and Dowdle worth watching.
CAN TENNESSEE FIND SOME PLAY MAKERS AT WR?
There’s off-field drama swirling around Knoxville, but there is some on-field work this spring to be done at the wide receiver position.
Jauan Jennings, a former quarterback recruit, will likely get the first crack at the vacant starting spot left by Von Pearson, but Preston Williams and JUCO transfer Jeff George will be nipping at his heels.
Returning starters Josh Malone and Josh Smith will also look to raise their level a bit to give the Volunteers more of a threat downfield.
WHO’S MANNING THE CORNERS AT TEXAS A&M?
There are a few big questions to be sorted out in College Station, and the Aggies will get started answering them today.
One concern is at corner, where both starters will need to be replaced.
Brandon Williams and De’Vante Harris combined for 68 tackles, 15 passes broken up and two interceptions last season, and UCLA transfer Priest Willis figures to get the first crack at one of those vacancies.
Nick Harvey (29 tackles), Roney Elam and Alex Sezer Jr. — among others — will fight it out for the other spot.
CAN VANDERBILT BECOME MORE BALANCED?
The Commodores were stout defensively for much of 2015, but struggled to find enough offense in too many games. Finding a remedy is at the top of the to-do list in spring practice.
Running back Ralph Webb is a good piece to build around, but Kyle Shurmur will need to continue (and accelerate) his development at quarterback behind a rebuilt offensive line.
The offense took a step back in coordinator Andy Ludwig’s first season last fall. It will need to move in the other direction if the Commodores want to improve on last season’s 4-8 record.