This week in the SEC East
Fall camp is in full swing around the country. It’s a time when hope springs eternal for SEC East fans, as most of the news coming out of camp is positive. The players made available to the media will almost always say that every position group is looking good and all the freshmen are quick learners and making significant contributions.
In the SEC East, more than half the teams have a good idea of their starting quarterback, but Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee continue to hold competitions. Jim McElwain and Butch Jones are unlikely to tip their hands this early, but the betting markets are shifting toward certain favorites.
In Bookmaker.eu’s latest odds, Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire has shifted from a +165 bet to -145, making him a clear favorite. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks remains in second place, with his odds moving from +175 to +180. Incumbent starter Luke Del Rio is now in third place, with his odds moving from +850 to +900. Redshirt freshman Kyle Trask was originally No. 3 in the Bookmaker odds (+380), but the latest update reflects his longshot status at +3850.
In Tennessee’s two-man race, Bookmaker sees junior Quinten Dormady solidifying his favorite status with his odds moving from -160 to -275. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano opened at +130 and is now at +215.
Bookmaker isn’t taking bets on the Kentucky quarterback competition, but Wildcats coach Mark Stoops has yet to name Stephen Johnson as the team’s starter for 2017. Word out of UK camp is that Drew Barker looks to be back to his pre-injury form and is pushing Johnson. Either way, Kentucky should have one of the better backup options as both quarterbacks have starting experience.
Here’s what else is going around the SEC East:
Kadarius Toney was rated as a 3-star athlete when he enrolled at Florida in January. With only two other healthy scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, Toney focused on that position in spring practice. In the spring game, he impressed with his ability to throw while scrambling and to take off on designed runs. Now that the Gators are up to five scholarship quarterbacks, Toney is working at wide receiver in fall camp. McElwain thinks Toney could be a key to solving the Gators’ red zone woes — worst touchdown percentage in the SEC.
“Every day he gets better,” McElwain said. “Here’s the amazing thing: you look the production piece, just the sheer production piece. Now some of it is also who they’re against, which is why this scrimmage like even today is going to be big for him. But when you look at our third down and red area, this guy has showed up in the production piece of it. He’s got natural hands. He’s got some make-you-miss ability.”
Kirby Smart isn’t giving any thought to redshirting freshman QB Jake Fromm. The early enrollee and 4-star recruit impressed this spring, but with Jacob Eason entering his sophomore season and Brice Ramsey changing his mind on transferring, some wondered if Smart might want to redshirt Fromm to create more separation for the future. But with Fromm just an Eason injury away from playing, the last thing on Smart’s mind is redshirting the Warner Robins product.
“I don’t know that you even think about that right now,” Smart said. “You have to let things happen as they happen. It is not a conversation where you go in and say, ‘okay, what do we have to do to let Jake Fromm redshirt; what do we have to do to make Jake Fromm play?’ That is not the consideration. The consideration is, we have to develop Jake Fromm as fast as possible because, as of today, he is one play away from playing. We don’t think like that. We don’t think ‘oh, we are going to redshirt this guy.’ I don’t think that is the way to really look at it.”
Kentucky’s top 2017 signee, 4-star athlete Lynn Bowden, was late to get officially cleared to join the team, but was finally able to take part in camp last week. As one might expect, the newcomer is playing catch-up.
“He’s swimming right now,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran told reporters. “He is just trying to learn the offense. He’s athletic, he can catch the ball. Just what we thought. He’s trying to get six practices in one. That’s really hard. We’re going to have to bring him along.”
Bowden was a high school quarterback, but is working at wide receiver for the Wildcats.
Tigers WR J’Mon Moore led all SEC wideouts in yards per game (84.3) last season, but Missouri OC Josh Heupel pointed to a different wideout, Johnathon Johnson, as the team’s most consistent pass-catcher.
“He’s probably our most purposeful, consistent wideout we have inside the room and on the practice field every single day,” Heupel said. “He’s an extremely mature individual at this point as far as in the football arena. That’s why we expect him to have a huge year.”
Pass rush is a big concern for the Gamecocks this season after USC finished No. 11 in the SEC in sacks last season despite strong play from senior DE Darius English. Defensive line coach Lance Thompson believes senior Taylor Stallworth will be one of the players to step up on the line.
“Taylor, without a doubt, is a special guy, SEC top level player. He needs to play really well for us and play a lot for us,” Thompson told reporters. “Last year, he had the (pectoral injury). This year, he is more healthy. He’s a smart guy, strong fella, has good feet, plays with good pad level, plays square to the line of scrimmage.”
Unfortunately for South Carolina, another defensive lineman, Shameik Blackshear, is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion.
With Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara no longer in Knoxville, the Tennessee offense, particularly the running game, is expected to have a much different look this season. Coach Butch Jones said he’s looking for freshman running backs Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan and Trey Coleman to learn quickly.
“All three of them are going to play,” Jones said after a recent practice. “I think they’re pushing John Kelly, and John Kelly is doing a great job also of bringing energy and teaching them the expectations. We’ve been very excited, very encouraged with all three. All three are going to have to play, and they’re going to be very important to the success of our season.”
Ralph Webb is one of the best running backs in the SEC, but get ready to see him line up at wide receiver this season.
“You’re going to see him in the I-formation or behind the quarterback more than you will (see him) flexed out as a receiver,” Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “But we are going to move him around, use him as a receiver.”
Derek Mason joked that Webb might even get in some time as a Wildcat quarterback. Maybe that’s just the spark the Vanderbilt offense needs.
— Justin Beasley (@JBeasleyWSMV) August 10, 2017
Tweet of the week
Commodores writer Adam Sparks isn’t helping Vanderbilt’s reputation as the nerds of the SEC. When’s the last time you’ve thought of ticket prices in terms of calculators?
— Adam Sparks (@AdamSparks) August 9, 2017
Quote of the week
Steve Spurrier isn’t coaching any more, but that doesn’t mean the Head Ball Coach has changed even a little bit.
Speaking at the Independence Bowl kickoff luncheon in Shreveport, La., Spurrier zinged LSU as only he can.
“You can have good ball players and still not win football games — all you LSU fans know about that.”
The SEC East misses you, HBC.