As spring games begin, every team in SEC has question of some sort at quarterback
Whether it’s the Week 1 starter or the primary backup, every program in the SEC has issues to solve at quarterback during spring practice.
South Carolina will hold its Garnet and Black game today — kickoff has been moved from 2:00 p.m. to noon due to the school’s appearance in the Final Four. The Red-White game at Arkansas on April 29 brings the spring festivities to a close.
Tennessee, for example, needs to find a new No. 1 after the graduation of Joshua Dobbs. Alabama and Georgia, on the other hand, must locate a No. 2 upon losing at least one experienced scholarship QB to transfer. As for Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M, the competition appears to be wide open at the top of the depth chart.
If a team is in trouble at the game’s most important position, then a new season can be over before it even begins. The days of hiding behind a strong running game and a staunch defense, with a few rare occasions, are long gome.
Here is a quick snapshot of what I’ll be watching throughout the spring game schedule when it comes to the passers.
Reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts is clearly the starter, although it will be interesting to see if he can improve as a passer with Brian Daboll as his coordinator instead of Lane Kiffin. Also, after a trio of transfers, incoming freshman Tua Tagovailoa needs to show that he can play in a pinch.
Austin Allen (above) is coming off a terrific campaign throwing the ball, so he should be in line for a big senior year. That being said, he took a ton of punishment behind some shaky blocking. Ty Storey was Allen’s backup a season ago, although that may not be the case in 2017. Cole Kelly is fresh off a redshirt and might be a better option.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated newcomer in the conference this year, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham will finally be on display for the Tigers. He should be the most gifted passer that coach Gus Malzahn has fielded during his tenure. Additionally, can former quarterback John Franklin III make an impact as a receiver?
Even if last year’s primary starter, Luke Del Rio, is still on the roster, the starting job looks to be a two-way race between Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. Both redshirted in 2016, despite the fact that Del Rio and Austin Appleby left a lot to be desired. While Franks surely has more upside, Trask might have the higher floor.
Despite the fact that Jacob Eason has all the tools to be a first-round draft pick one day, there has been a lot of buzz about fresh face Jake Fromm. Eason is expected to remain the starter, of course, although Fromm could push him more than some might think. With Brice Ramsey leaving UGA, Fromm is already No. 2 at worst.
A very interesting battle is unfolding in Lexington. Drew Barker was supposed to be the future, but a back injury derailed his progress last season. Stephen Johnson ran the offense pretty efficiently at times, albeit with a much heavier focus on the ground assault than the aerial attack. This could just be a question of fit.
No more Brandon Harris, so Danny Etling appears to be unchallenged right now. Just like Dave Aranda got more out of the Tigers defensively a season ago in his first year as coordinator, Matt Canada promises to do the same offensively. One way or another, this scheme better look new and improved by the spring game.
A year ago, the Rebels thought they had the best QB situation in the league with Chad Kelly coming off a 4,000-yard passing performance. But a late-season injury to Kelly forced the redshirt to be pulled off Shea Patterson. Now, it’s Patterson’s offense. He has a new coordinator, too. Out with Dan Werner, in with Phil Longo.
Nobody questions Nick Fitzgerald’s ability to run the ball. He brings a Tim Tebow-like physicality when his number is called. Nevertheless, his right arm is another story. Early-enrollee freshman Keytaon Thompson will also be a focal point of the spring game. Due to transfers and such, he might be Fitzgerald’s backup immediately.
Drew Lock ran the Tigers’ new offense at a million miles per hour, which resulted in big stats but not a lot of wins. Quite frankly, then-first-year coordinator Josh Heupel seemed to be going fast for the sake of going fast. Plus, backup Marvin Zanders left the program. There isn’t another QB on the roster who’s thrown a pass in college.
There’s no more uncertainty in Columbia: Jake Bentley (above) is the unquestioned field general for this club. But Perry Orth is out of eligibility, and Brandon McIlwain only lasted one year in Columbia. Former quarterback Lorenzo Nunez transferred away, as well. Coordinator Kurt Roper must find a No. 2 among a bunch of scout-team types.
Finding another Dobbs likely isn’t in the cards for the Volunteers. While he may not have taken the program to the heights many had hoped, he was a highly productive dual-threat quarterback and the dictionary definition of a student-athlete. Most of the chatter in Knoxville centers around Jarrett Guarantano, a former 4-star signee.
With Trevor Knight out of the way, Jake Hubenak could finally elevate to the starting role for the Aggies. That being said, he’s a senior with a relatively low ceiling. A pair of freshmen, one off a redshirt (Nick Starkel) and one right out of high school (Kellen Mond), are more exciting options despite their inexperience.
Now a rising junior with a thousand-yard stare, Kyle Shurmur can no longer use the excuse of being young and untested. It’s up to him if the Commodores ever want to become more balanced offensively and take some of the pressure off fabulous running back Ralph Webb. Most of all, Shurmur simply has to be more accurate.