Depth concerns around the SEC
Spring practice is often a time when teams will discover where their strengths will be come the fall. It can also be a time where weaknesses get exposed.
Now that we’re heading into summer, some of the teams around the conference — both contenders and rebuilding teams — have depth issues that could hold them back in the upcoming season and will need to be addressed come fall practices.
Alabama — running back
“Alabama” and “depth” generally go hand in hand thanks to Nick Saban’s recruiting dominance. However, following a rash of injuries, dismissals and transfers, Alabama will actually be thin at running back. While they’re still stocked with as much talent as anyone in the conference, the options are going to be limited. Derrick Henry will be the workhorse, while Kenyan Drake will pick up carries behind him. After that, it could be up to incoming freshman Damien Harris and early enrollee DeSherrius Flowers to pick up the slack after Tyren Jones was dismissed, Altee Tenpenny transferred and Bo Scarbrough tore an ACL.
Florida — offensive line
Martez Ivey and the rest of Florida’s freshman class can’t arrive on campus soon enough. Three members of Florida’s offensive line from last year have moved onto the NFL. Then, this spring, Rod Johnson was diagnosed with a spinal condition that forced him into early retirement. That leaves the Gators with one lineman with starting experience — guard Trip Thurman, who missed the spring with what’s been described as a chronic shoulder injury. While the Gators have six freshmen coming in, including the top offensive tackle from the recruiting class in Ivey, they could wind up with five fresh-faced starters this fall.
Mississippi State — defense, offensive line
Last year, MSU’s defense went 22-deep, basically able to run out line changes like a hockey team on defense. That was great when the team was loaded with veterans, but now that a huge number of starters have graduated from last year (13 in total on both sides of the ball) it becomes a concern. After losing middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney to the NFL, three defensive line starters (including star DE Preston Smith) and three members of the secondary, many of those backups will step into starting roles. The problem is that the players behind them no longer have the ample playing experience the Bulldogs enjoyed last year.
Along the offensive line, MSU loses three more starters, including stalwarts Ben Beckwith and Dillon Day. The Bulldogs are very short on experience, especially since many of the players they brought in this past recruiting cycle are expected to need some time to develop. Mississippi State’s offense hinged on the running game last year, and it’s operated that way since the start of the Dan Mullen era. As a result, the unit could falter if the offensive line can’t get up to speed quickly.
South Carolina — wide receiver, offensive line
The Gamecocks return Pharoh Cooper at wide receiver, giving them one of the best pass catchers in the SEC. The problem is that they lost the next four leading receivers from last year’s team, including transfers Shaq Roland and K.J. Brent (the Gamecocks also lost Damiere Byrd to the NFL and Nick Jones to graduation). Three receivers join the team from the 2015 recruiting class, but Shamier Jeffery is the only returning receiver with any career catches.
Along the offensive line, South Carolina is already dealing with injuries. Four offensive linemen missed time with injuries, while Mike Matulis has been kept off the field by an array of ailments for most of his career. After losing A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson to the draft, the Gamecocks are light on experienced players up front, and neither of these issues will help the team’s new quarterback.
Texas A&M — quarterback
Kyle Allen is the present and future at Texas A&M, mostly because there’s literally no one behind him at the moment. Kenny Hill, who started 2014 red-hot before being benched in favor of Allen, transferred to TCU. That left Allen as the only scholarship quarterback in spring practice, and there’s a chance that could be the case this spring if Kyler Murray decides to pursue professional baseball instead of college football; the five-star signee is considered a first-round prospect for the Major League Baseball draft later this spring.