Who has most to gain this spring in SEC West?
Alabama is no stranger to quarterback competitions.
The defending champion enters this spring trying to sort out another one. Being Alabama, its QB race will be one of the most-watched developments, but every SEC West team has someone or some group with something to gain.
And yes, five of the seven have QB questions, but those aren’t the only concerns as we enter spring practice.
Alabama — Defensive line
We’ve talked plenty already this offseason about Alabama’s QB race and Bo Scarbrough’s task to replace Derrick Henry, but the Tide also must replace two defensive line forces they lost in A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed.
Alabama under Nick Saban has proven it can win on an off-day offensively because its defense has been so dominant. The Tide has led the SEC in scoring defense in six of the past seven seasons.
It’ll be up to the next wave, Da’Shawn Hand and Daron Payne, to help extend that trend.
Arkansas — Backfield
It’s more than just the well-documented quarterback race to replace Brandon Allen. The Razorbacks also must replace Alex Collins and his 1,577 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing.
Kody Walker will get the first and best chance to impress this spring.
Walker had 17 carries last season in the win at LSU, which was one more than Collins.
He’ll have competition this summer from four-star running back Devwah Whaley, but this spring belongs to him.
Auburn — Jeremy Johnson
Coaches don’t bring in JUCO standouts to sit behind established players. Johnson must approach this spring as if the QB job belongs to newcomer John Franklin III and reclaim it with his play.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn clearly seems ready to move on and already has said Franklin has a chance to win the job.
Sean White has time to sit, if that’s the case. Johnson, a rising senior, doesn’t.
LSU — Cam Cameron
In a break from recent history, most of LSU’s top juniors returned to school, thereby eliminating the need to fill gaping holes earlier than expected.
With that in mind, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron clearly is on the hot seat. Les Miles nearly lost his job last season, primarily because the Tigers’ offense seems stuck in 1980.
With Travin Dural returning to rejoin Malachi Dupre, Cameron’s goal this spring should be to find innovative ways to get them touches and take more shots down field.
LSU was tied for ninth in the SEC last season in pass plays longer than 20 yards. Kentucky and South Carolina had more. There’s too much talent for that to happen again.
Mississippi State — Quarterbacks
Nick Fitzgerald was Dak Prescott’s understudy last season but has completed just one pass against SEC teams.
That’s still one more than Elijah Staley, who left the basketball team to focus on football and his showdown with Fitzgerald for the starting spot.
With both candidates lacking game experience, Dan Mullen could opt for a rotation or part-time rotation.
He chose that route in 2014, when Damian Williams split series on several occasions with Prescott in an attempt to develop Williams.
Williams, who redshirted in 2015, also is part of the mix.
In October, Mullen told the Clarion-Ledger that past results wouldn’t matter in selecting a 2016 starter.
“The second No. 15 walks out the door, the whole slate’s clean,” Mullen told the paper. “Whatever you did in the past no longer exists in my mind.”
Ole Miss — Offensive line
Somewhat lost in all the talk about Chad Kelly’s return and pursuit of another 4,000-yard passing season is the fact that most of the men who protected him in 2015 won’t be around in 2016.
Laremy Tunsil was the headliner at left tackle, but the Rebels lost three other starters on the line as well.
Developing the line and putting people in proper positions will be spring priority. Javon Patterson, Jordan Sims and Rod Taylor all have started multiple games at guard.
Gregory Little was the nation’s top-rated offensive tackle, and while many project him to replace Tunsil, he won’t be part of the mix until the summer.
Texas A&M — Myles Garrett
While everybody is watching and grading Trevor Knight vs. Jake Hubenak this spring, it will be interesting to gauge Garrett’s interest level.
Garrett sets the tone for the Aggies. More than anybody else on the roster, he has the most at stake next season.
Garrett already has accomplished more than enough to solidify himself as a early first-round draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
WalterFootball.com already projects Garrett to be the No. 2 pick, behind Deshaun Watson and in front of Leonard Fournette.
Jadeveon Clowney was in a similar situation after his sophomore season. Many questioned whether he should even play as a junior. He did, and was oft-criticized throughout that year for taking plays off.
Fournette, too, has faced similar questions about whether he should play his junior year.
It’s a distraction for any elite rising junior, knowing they’re one hit from becoming Marcus Lattimore.
How Garrett handles it, beginning with spring practice, will set the tempo for teammates to follow this fall.