As spring practice nears, 1 question I have about every SEC East team
After nearly a decade in the shadows, the SEC East is back.
The division followed its 2017 SEC title — its first since 2008 — by going 9-5 against the West in 2018 and nearly winning a second consecutive conference championship.
New coaches are no longer new. Every coach returns. And two of the divisions magic names appear ready to rejoin Georgia as a Big 3.
There is work to be done, sure. As such, as spring practices opens for some this weekend, here is 1 question I have about every SEC East team.
Florida: Can the Gators find a role for Emory Jones?
That role will not be QB1. That belongs to Feleipe Franks. The Gators are in an interesting situation with Jones. He’s an athlete, but there’s really nothing they can design for him that Kadarius Toney can’t do. Toney was a QB, too. Maybe Jones is a better option on trick plays designed for passing, but by how much?
Jones’ situation is further complicated by the fact that Dan Mullen added another 4-star QB in Jalon Jones, the No. 10 dual-threat in the 2019 class.
It will be interesting to watch how Mullen handles the quarterback room.
Georgia: When will Zamir White be ready to go?
Remember White? Dawgs fans obviously do, but for those just joining: He was the No. 1 running back recruit in the 2018 class. He tore his right ACL as a high school senior, and tore his left ACL last spring shortly after enrolling at Georgia.
This isn’t so much about how Georgia will cope without him. As long as D’Andre Swift, James Cook and Brian Herrien are healthy, the Dawgs are better than fine.
This is more about White and how much can one running back’s knees take.
Kentucky: What happens to the running game now?
For the past 4 years, Mark Stoops never had to worry too much about his running game. Boom Williams ran for 855 yards as a sophomore in 2015. Williams and Benn Snell both topped 1,000 yards in 2016. Snell carried the team in 2017 and 2018, topping 1,000 each time.
Snell is off to the NFL, leaving a gaping hole not only in the Wildcats’ offense but also their identity. Stoops has spent years building his offensive line to SEC standards. He wants to run the football. A.J. Rose will get the first shot at RB1.
Missouri: Is Kelly Bryant really who we think he is?
That is, a good college quarterback, but not to be confused with pro prospects like Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence or even Drew Lock.
Or, can Bryant rebrand himself under Derek Dooley and erase the labels that he’s not a threat in the passing game.
This spring, he’ll take the first steps toward answering that question. Missouri’s offense will reflect his progress.
South Carolina: How short is Jake Bentley’s leash?
I’ve written before that Will Muschamp has hitched his wagon to Bentley, and given the state of the program Muschamp inherited, it has largely worked out.
That’s the scouting report on Bentley. There have been some “wow” moments, but there are quite a few “but” times as well.
Muschamp doesn’t have the luxury of staying patient much longer because he doesn’t have Steve Spurrier’s resume. Spurrier raised the bar for every SC coach who comes after him.
Muschamp has recruited well at QB. He has younger options of varying skill-sets. Bentley has done enough, certainly, to be considered the front-runner, but he hasn’t done so much that he can’t be unseated. More of the same isn’t good enough, not for a returning senior.
Tennessee: How many freshmen OL start in 2019?
Jeremy Pruitt is quickly rebuilding the Vols, not brick by brick, but boulder by boulder. His OL recruits are noticeably bigger than Butch Jones. His line quickly is looking a little bit more like those he saw at Alabama.
More and more, we’re seeing elite true freshmen start on the OL and leave after 3 years. That 5-year plan has never seemed more out of touch.
Wayna Morris is 6-6, 312. The 5-star tackle already is on campus. Darnell Wright is 6-6, 320. Another 5-star, he was rated even higher than Morris.
There are plenty of Vols fans who want to see both in the lineup, now, paving holes for Eric Gray.
Vanderbilt: Can Vandy get Ke’Shawn Vaughn some help?
This reminds me of Vandy’s offseason entering the 2015 season. Ralph Webb was coming off a breakout freshman campaign in which he rushed for 907 yards — most ever by a Vandy freshman. Kyle Shurmur had played some at QB, but he was about to enter his first season as the full-time starter.
Webb carried the ball a program-record 277 times as a sophomore while Shurmur learned on the job. Webb was the offense.
Vaughn was even more electric in his first year on campus last season. He finished with 1,244 yards, needing just 40 more to break Webb’s single-season school record that he set as a junior.
He’ll enter his final season as the unquestioned leader on offense … carrying the unit while it breaks in a new quarterback. This spring, Vandy has to find Vaughn some help.