Spring football should have just ended, so here's 1 thing we could have learned about every SEC team
It would have been nice.
Spring football in its usual form has never sounded so appealing. Intrasquad scrimmages? Shenanigans with former players? Fans showing up to a stadium to watch live sports? Where do I sign?
Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of that this year because of COVID-19. We got random videos of home workouts and hype videos of programs telling us to wash our hands so we get football this fall (Georgia’s was the best). Those came in place of regular press conference updates and live practices.
Again, it would have been nice.
Because we didn’t get much actual football this spring, I looked back on the questions that we would have had answered for every SEC team:
Alabama — How healthy Dylan Moses is
It would have been meaningful to see how Moses was doing on a daily basis in the spring. Coming off his season-ending knee injury last August, we knew that he was rehabbing at the Citrus Bowl and reportedly looking like he was ahead of schedule. All signs point to Moses recovering from the ACL injury and being a candidate for the unofficial bounce-back player of the year in college football. Still, you can bet that Alabama fans would have been comforted to see their All-American linebacker going sideline to sideline in a limited contacted scrimmage.
The chase down by Dylan Moses tho… pic.twitter.com/SS2hTr8Iru
— Alabama Crimson Tide | BamaInsider.com (@bamainsider) September 4, 2018
Arkansas — What kind of a coach Sam Pittman is
We know what kind of recruiter he is — a darn good one. That’s true with players and coaches. Pittman did an admirable job making the best of a tough situation so far, but the leadership and the Xs and Os still remain a huge question. I would have loved to have seen how he would have handled regular media availability. Those are when you see how a coach talks about a quarterback battle, or how a coach addresses a player who isn’t in good standing with the team. We knew Pittman’s chops as a head coach were going to be a mystery because of his non-existent experience as even an FBS coordinator, and now, they’ll be an even bigger mystery.
Auburn — How the Chad Morris-Gus Malzahn dynamic is going
To be clear, I’m not talking about a press conference. I’m referring to seeing how much they were on the same page in the spring game. Would Morris be throwing the ball more than Malzahn preferred? Would we see Bo Nix tear it up and wonder if he’s going to take a massive step in Year 2? I don’t know. This is absolutely going to be an adjustment for all 3 of those integral pieces of this offense. And with all of those new starters on the offensive line, this could still be a work in progress when the season starts.
Florida — If the quarterback position is truly up for grabs
I know what Dan Mullen said. I get why he said it. Emory Jones is entering his third year at Florida. Mullen wants him to stay. Duh. What would have been interesting is if we saw a spring game with Kyle Trask and Jones getting equal reps with the first-teamers. Do I still think Trask will unquestionably be named the opening day starter? Yes, health permitting. In fact, Trask will likely garner 1st- or 2nd-team All-SEC love this preseason. But it really would have stirred things up in Gainesville if Gator fans got to watch Jones dominate the spring game and make a serious play for the starting gig.
Georgia — How the new-look offense is being established
This is the most obvious one on this list. Georgia is running a new Air Raid system with 9 new starters, which includes a new quarterback in Jamie Newman. You know, in case you haven’t heard. It would have been the most interesting spring game to watch. How much would we have seen of the new offense? A lot, hopefully. Every practice is crucial for getting on the same page.
Remember last year when LSU’s new-look offense was all the rage in the spring game? Georgia, perhaps, could have gotten that kind of buzz. Instead, the new offense remains a total mystery until fall.
Kentucky — If Terry Wilson is ready to roll
Wilson was still rehabbing early in March, and from the sound of it, he has a ways to go. We had Mark Stoops on The Saturday Down South Podcast this week, and here’s what he had to say about his quarterback’s recovery from his season-ending leg injury last September:
“Terry’s doing a really good job. He’s still got some work to do. We’re rebuilding that quad and getting his quad back up to full strength. That’s the one issue with his injury is just making sure he returns to play that he has full strength in his quad, but he is throwing and moving around pretty good and progressing quite well, and we expect him to have a full recovery.”
What does that sound like? Well, the spring would have been important, but the plan was always going to be back to some level of normalcy by fall. The good news is that Stoops is optimistic that Joey Gatewood’s waiver for immediate eligibility will be granted. Surely both could have benefitted from a full spring in their new circumstances.
LSU — What Bo Pelini and his defense will look like
I don’t really think the concern over the switch to a 4-3 is that important. LSU’s strength is with Tyler Shelvin and the defensive line, which makes 2020 an ideal time to make that switch. Pelini has a different defensive philosophy than Dave Aranda. That’s OK. As much as LSU fans are anxious to see what the post-Joe Brady era LSU offense looks like, I actually think it’s the defense that has bigger questions to answer. I just wanted to see Pelini back on the sidelines again in a spring game.
Would he be the same, over-the-top Pelini? Or would he be a bit more subdued at this stage of his career? It’ll be worth monitoring whenever we get football back.
Mississippi State — Are we getting the same Mike Leach?
My guess is that Leach isn’t going to tweak who he is on or off the field. But it would have been interesting to get regular media availability with him in spring to hear how blunt he is. How would he talk about the quarterback situation? How would he talk about his new SEC surroundings? He went 3 weeks — as of Thursday morning — without tweeting after his apology for the meme he posted about the woman knitting a noose.
On the field, would we have seen Garrett Shrader running the Air Raid? Or would Leach have catered the game plan to his skill set in the spring game? K.J. Costello wouldn’t have played in the spring game — he’s set to enroll in June — so who knows what conclusions we would have been able to come to anyway. The mindset of the late-arriving Leach will remain a bit of a mystery.
Mizzou — Who and what does Eli Drinkwitz want to build the offense around?
We’ve seen Drinkwitz use a relatively balanced spread system during his brief time running offenses, and he said he prioritizes an up-tempo style. What will that look like at Mizzou? Will it be like SEC East version of what Auburn ran under Gus Malzahn? We did at least briefly get a look at Drinkwitz’s style during Mizzou’s brief spring practice. Early takeaways? He’s pretty intense:
🗣️ Set the standard, meet the standard. We have no time to waste. Let’s go meet our goals.
— Mizzou Football (@MizzouFootball) March 11, 2020
A spring game would’ve given us a look at the plans for former TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, as well as the plans for backfield duo Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie.
Ole Miss — Are we getting the same Lane Kiffin?
The new Rebels coach is back in Boca Raton during this quarantine because that’s what you do when you can’t host recruits, have practice or meet with coaches … and when your backyard looks like this:
Some dudes are out here showing off their degrees or their extensive book collections.
Lane just wants you to know he’s got palm trees for days, y’all. pic.twitter.com/4L15n3aCNO
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) April 23, 2020
Joey Freshwater, indeed.
But like with Leach, the question is how similar they’ll act on and off the field in the SEC. Kiffin hasn’t had any sort of bad press from his social media behavior because he actually doesn’t post anything that could be considered a “jab” or “offensive.” On the field, I’m eager to see how much Kiffin’s offense relies on Ole Miss’ promising ground game. Few in the sport — if any — are better at adjusting their offense to their quarterback’s strengths. We wouldn’t have seen John Rhys Plumlee this spring because of baseball, which probably hurt Matt Corral’s chances of winning the favor of his new coach. It would have been interesting to see Kiffin’s tweaks in each quarterback’s usage with Ole Miss’ bevy of underclassmen at the position.
South Carolina — How Dakereon Joyner is doing at receiver
I know. You could have picked Mike Bobo’s offense or Ryan Hilinski’s recovery here. I wanted to get way too excited about Joyner making plays in the spring game. Every South Carolina fan should be forever grateful that he didn’t leave the program when so many in his position would have left last year.
We got some early updates out of fall camp that Joyner was embracing the full-time move from quarterback to receiver, and that he was confident in Bobo’s offense being the SEC’s best, but I wanted to see him get 5 touches in the spring game. That would have been telling for Bobo’s fall plans with him.
Tennessee — Which quarterback is transferring
Based on the dynamics at play, I’ll be surprised if Tennessee finishes the season with Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer, J.T. Shrout and Harrison Bailey all on the roster. I’ll take Bailey out of the transfer conversation because he’s only a true freshman, and if Tennessee fans can prevent a coach from being hired, they can prevent a quarterback from leaving (though I’d be stunned if that thought entered his mind).
Had we gotten a full spring camp in Knoxville, we could have had some clarity on the pecking order in the 4-quarterback battle. Think Auburn last year. Gus Malzahn named Gatewood and Nix his leaders right after spring camp, and Malik Willis subsequently left. Or if there’s a mid-summer transfer addition of J.T. Daniels, think back to LSU in 2018 after Joe Burrow arrived when Justin McMillan and Lowell Narcisse both left Baton Rouge. Tennessee might have a wide-open battle — at least publicly — but we would have gotten some development on the starter because nobody wants to split first-team reps 4 ways in fall camp.
Texas A&M — Who are Kellen Mond’s new targets going to be
We know that Jhamon Ausbon is back after leading the Aggies in receiving, as is prolific pass-catching tight end Jalen Wydermyer. But gone are the likes of Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis, both of whom made plenty of highlight-reel catches. In Jimbo Fisher’s system, Mond needs to find guys who can step into those roles.
The good news is that Fisher recruited talented replacements. The top tight end recruit in the 2019 class, Baylor Cupp, is expected to return after he missed all of 2019 with a broken ankle. And A&M fans would have liked to have seen Dylan Wright and Kam Brown in a spring game after the former 4-star recruits redshirted their freshman season in 2019. True freshman Moose Muhammad could have earned Mond’s trust with a full spring, as well. Five-star freshman Demond Demas is also expected to make an immediate impact, though he’s a late enrollee. For those pass catchers who were already enrolled, though, spring would have served as an ideal time to develop a rapport with Mond.
Vanderbilt — A clue what’s going on at quarterback? Maybe?
Out with the old, in with the new? Here’s what we know.
Vanderbilt lost Riley Neal (graduation), Deuce Wallace (transfer), Mo Hasan (transfer) and Allan Walters (transfer). But Vanderbilt gained a whopping 4 new quarterbacks this offseason. JUCO transfer Danny Clark (originally at Kentucky) is set to enroll this summer — and is the favorite to win the job — while JUCO transfer Jeremy Moussa enrolled in January, as did true freshman Ken Seals. True freshman Michael Wright will enroll this summer.
Got all of that? Good. Basically, we would have only watched Moussa and Seals during the spring. Would Derek Mason have given any sort of hint as to who the starting quarterback will be? Probably not. OK, I guess we’d still have no idea what the quarterback situation is going to look like in Nashville.