Who has the most to gain this spring in SEC East?
Spring practices are around the corner and most of the SEC East will use the workouts to get a better handle on its quarterback situation.
Tennessee doesn’t have that issue, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t goals to accomplish.
Here’s a look at who has the most to gain from each SEC East team this spring.
Florida — Quarterbacks
Transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby have a chance to create some separation and turn a four-man race into a two-man sprint to opening day. Appleby has the most college experience, having started for Purdue. Del Rio has more frequent flier miles, having transferred twice already.
Georgia — Greyson Lambert
Guess who had the SEC’s best TD-to-INT ratio in 2015? It wasn’t Chad Kelly. Or Dak Prescott, though his 29-5 ratio was awfully close.
Greyson Lambert threw 12 TD passes and just 2 interceptions. His 6-1 ratio led the SEC.
This isn’t the NFL, where the wily veteran QB doesn’t mind taking a backseat to the first-round pick because the job pays so well. This is Lambert’s last chance to impress, too. And he’ll need a very impressive spring to hold off five-star QB Jacob Eason — the most popular man in Athens.
Kentucky — Drew Barker
It’s time. It’s past time. Barker is surrounded by playmakers in the backfield and on the outside.
Kentucky’s dramatic collapse last season was tied to its offensive issues. It scored more than 21 points just once in its final five games against SEC schools and rival Louisville. Not surprisingly, it lost all five. The Wildcats scored 26 and 21 in the only two SEC games they won.
Assuming Barker takes the next step in his development — obviously not a given — Kentucky returns enough weapons — Boom Williams, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, etc., — to get back in the 30 points per game range.
Missouri — Defensive line
Missouri’s offense is a construction area right now. Actually, it’s still in the architect’s hands. No ground has been broken — so obviously that’s the side of the ball to watch this spring.
However, whatever success the Tigers have in 2016 under first-year coach and former defensive coordinator Barry Odom will be because of its defense.
The Tigers allowed 16.2 points per game in 2015, second-best in the league. The offense scored just 13.6, last in the league.
Missouri needs Walter Brady, Charles Harris and their crew to play even better in 2016 — and the biggest area for improvement is in creating turnovers, which usually creates shorter fields, which is what Missouri’s offense needs.
The Tigers, for all of their defensive prowess in 2015, forced just 16 turnovers, second-to-last in the league.
South Carolina — Lorenzo Nunez
South Carolina also has a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper likes dual-threats, but the key to a good dual-threat is being able to throw. Dual-threat QBs who can’t throw are running backs, and that doesn’t work.
Nunez is an exceptional athlete. Nobody questions that. The issue is: Can he move the ball with his arm? He’ll have this spring to show Roper he can. If he can’t, Roper has three other capable options, including two-sport, true freshman Brandon McIlwain — the No. 2-ranked dual-threat in the 2016 class.
McIlwain already is playing baseball for the Gamecocks but told The State that he’ll be at every football practice this spring.
McIlwain is an outfielder who wears No. 44. Gamecocks fans are hoping that works out as well for them as it did for FSU — which a a couple of years ago had an outfielder who wore No. 44 and played quarterback well enough to win a national championship.
You might have heard of him: Jameis Winston.
Tennessee — Preston Williams
The Volunteers have cornerstone pieces just about everywhere. The lone possible exception is at receiver, where they have a strong group but not an established, No. 1 threat.
Williams was the No. 7 receiver in the 2015 class, the No. 48 player overall. We saw last year what Calvin Ridley (No. 1 receiver) and Christian Kirk (No. 4) could do.
Williams, at 6-4, 209, is much bigger than both and presents a more difficult matchup.
Hamstring injuries cut short his freshman season, but there were glimpses. He had seven catches in his first four games, including one for 33 yards and another for 49.
Tennessee had just two passing plays longer than 50 yards last year — the same as Missouri and South Carolina. If the Vols can add that element in 2016 … oh, my.
Vanderbilt — Passing game
The problem last year wasn’t just the numbers. It was how the complete lack of faith impacted play-calling and shrunk the playbook to essentially Ralph Webb right, Ralph Webb left.
Kyle Shurmur wasn’t close to accurate in 2015, but he did manage to throw more TDs (5) than interceptions (3).
Webb will be back, but Vanderbilt’s breakout offensive player in 2016 might be WR Trent Sherfield, who despite the QB issues still had 51 catches for 659 yards and 3 TDs.
At any rate, the Commodores’ biggest area of need and improvement this spring is in the passing game, which ranked 112th nationally last season.