SEC spring football roundup
04/30/2010 12:00 AM
06/17/2011 3:04 PM
When he wasn't getting into tiffs with reporters, coach Urban Meyer was gaining clarity on his quarterback situation. John Brantley inherited the job from Tim Tebow and looked comfortable in practices and the spring game. His backups did, too, especially freshman Trey Burton.
The receivers stood out more, particularly senior Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson.
Defensively, the young group saw a potential star emerge in redshirt freshman middle linebacker Jelani Jenkins. But replacing cornerback Joe Haden, a first-round NFL draft pick, is going to be a chore.
Teryl Austin, who replaced new Louisville coach Charlie Strong as defensive coordinator, said after the spring game that his players were going to be a "great collective unit."
The biggest story took place after the spring game, when redshirt freshman Zach Mettenberger was dismissed from the program. Aaron Murray may have won the starting quarterback job anyway, and Logan Gray provides better mobility.
Otherwise, the focus was on the defense and new coordinator Todd Grantham, who installed a 3-4 scheme. The dismissal of outside linebacker Montez Robinson hurt because that position is key in the 3-4. The good news for the Bulldogs was that they avoided injuries.
Incumbent Mike Hartline had the best spring among starting quarterback candidates, but new coach Joker Phillips did not name him the starter.
The other skill positions look to be in good shape, even with star receiver Randall Cobb held out of most drills for precautionary reasons. Tailback Derrick Locke performed well, while backup Donald Russell had a great spring game. Defensively, the secondary looks to be in solid shape despite the loss of All-SEC corner Trevard Lindley.
The concerns for Kentucky are on the lines. The offensive line was overwhelmed in the spring game, and the defensive group is small and inexperienced.
The big news was that quarterback Stephen Garcia went from unquestioned starter to questioned. Steve Spurrier doesn't like his off-field work habits, and freshman Connor Shaw, who enrolled early, performed well. Most still expect to see Garcia start the opener, and they figure Spurrier is trying to motivate him. But you never know with Spurrier.
The running back position remains in the air, with a number of potential starters, including stud prospect Marcus Lattimore.
Almost half of the defensive starters sat out with injuries. Devin Taylor emerged as the starter, and a potential breakout performer, at defensive end opposite All-SEC candidate Cliff Matthews.
It almost seemed a miracle that the Volunteers finished the spring with enough players to field a team. Quarterback Nick Stephens and highly touted tailback Bryce Brown were among those who have departed since coach Derek Dooley was hired in January.
Dooley has to find new starters at quarterback, tailback and all five offensive line spots. The quarterback position remains a mystery because Matt Simms and Tyler Bray each struggled in the spring game. But junior Tauren Poole showed he can play tailback in the SEC. Bottom line, however, is even the most optimistic in Knoxville expect a tough season.
Vanderbilt is one of the few programs without a quarterback competition, but maybe there should be one. Incumbent Larry Smith didn't have a great spring game, and the offense produced one touchdown - on the final play.
The defense fared better, even with its best player, linebacker Chris Marve, not playing because of an injury. So the Commodores basically are in the same position they were at the end of last season: with a solid defense but not much offense.
The defending national champs, expected to be the preseason No. 1 in the fall, offered a preview of what the Tide hope will be a more explosive offense. In the spring game, which was televised live on ESPN, the quarterbacks combined for 450 passing yards, while the tailbacks only rushed for 139.
The defense featured junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who is coming back from knee surgery and taking over as the captain of the defense. Junior end Marcell Dareus had a great spring (nine sacks over two scrimmages) and seems poised for a breakout season.
Special teams is an issue, with the punting and kicking duties unsettled entering the summer.
Star quarterback Ryan Mallett, a potential No. 1 pick in next year's draft, wore a protective boot and did not participate in the spring game. The result was a rough day passing the ball for the backups, a sore spot for coach Bobby Petrino throughout the spring. Mallett will be back for fall camp.
The SEC's worst-ranked defense last season gave up a bunch of long touchdown plays in the spring game and remains the big question. But the coaches thought there was progress this spring, and they hope safety Anthony Leon and ends Ryan Calender and Damario Ambrose will boost the unit.
The big news came more than a week after spring practice when Cameron Newton, a junior-college transfer who started his career at Florida, was named the starting quarterback.
It became apparent during the spring that the Tigers will have ample receiving targets for Newton: Darvin Adams (who caught 60 passes last season) didn't do anything to hurt his stock, while Quindarius Carr (who had two catches last season) was the star of the spring game with 152 receiving yards.
Stop us if you've heard this before: The LSU quarterback looked sluggish, but the defense looked good.
The Tigers entered the spring figuring Jordan Jefferson was set as the starting quarterback. But he struggled, opening the door for Jarrett Lee when preseason camp opens.
Remember Sam Montgomery, the Greenwood native who two years ago picked LSU over USC on the eve of Signing Day? He had two sacks in the spring game, as did fellow defensive end Barkevious Mingo. The pair highlights a defensive unit that made strides in the spring.
Sophomore Nathan Stanley will head into the fall as the favorite to be the starting quarterback, after spending most of the spring in the No. 1 role and having a solid spring game. But redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton performed well, too. The question for Cotton is whether he will undergo shoulder surgery or gut it out and compete with Stanley.
Elsewhere, the Rebels pronounced themselves satisfied after heading into spring with starters to replace at receiver, three offensive line spots and three secondary spots. Receiver Jesse Grandy emerged as a playmaker.
The offensive line is a problem spot, and replacing running back Dexter McCluster will be a joint effort until someone emerges.
Another team, another quarterback battle. Chris Relf had a good spring, although he has to answer lingering questions about whether he can run coach Dan Mullen's offense. Relf separated himself from backup Tyler Russell entering the fall, which was a mild surprise given Russell's hype.
Mullen is concerned about the receiver position, where he said depth was an issue. The running back situation is muddled, with expected starter Robert Elliott not doing much to cement the job. The defense, under new coordinator Manny Diaz, drew raves from Mullen for its aggressive approach.
- Seth Emerson
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