Now that Spring practice has been officially wrapped up at all of the SEC schools, I figured now was as good of time as any to give a brief update on the big developments that occurred. Here goes:
Arkansas: The times have definitely changed in Fayetteville, with Bobby Petrino bringing in his spread attack to replace the quasi-single wing system that his predecessor Houston Nutt had used the previous two seasons. And it looked very impressive in its debut. Casey Dick, probably the worst passer in the conference, went 33-49 for 404 yards and two touchdowns, while Michael Smith -- the third string tailback from a year ago, and the man who couldn't put us away with a third down conversion late in the Alabama game a year ago -- ran for over 150 yards. So is an offensive powerhouse about to begin in Fayetteville? Don't count on it. Ryan Mallett was ruled ineligible this year by the NCAA, and while the gaudy statistics look impressive, Petrino split the two squads about as evenly as Mike Price did for the A-Day game in 2003. Gaudy statistics aside, the Hogs should struggle offensively this year, and even with the stacked rosters, the sheer amount of yardage allowed makes you really wonder about a defense that has to replace so many key players.
Auburn: After returning fifteen starters from the 9-4 team of a year ago, Auburn went into Spring practice with an experienced group, and were looking mainly to find a quarterback and then smooth out the few other rough spots they have on the rest of the roster. On the quarterback front, there is still no consensus. Kodi Burns and junior college transfer Chris Todd are listed as co-number ones on the depth chart. Tony Franklin says he will make a decision this Fall, but both of them will likely see playing time, and in all honesty either will likely be an upgrade over the now departed Brandon Cox. Defensively, Sen'Derrick Marks had a great Spring, and showed why most "experts" think he will be a first round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, and the front seven as a whole showed a good deal of both talent and depth. Auburn did need some people to step up in the secondary, and to that end Walter McFadden had a great camp and looks poised to win a starting job, and the projected starter on the opposite side, Jerraud Powers, had a good Spring as well. Finally, safety Mike Mcneil -- a highly-touted safety prospect out of Mobile that we pursued very hard in 2007 -- has locked up one of the starting safety spots, and he looks poised to live up to the hype early in his young career. All in all, a lot of positive developments for Auburn this Spring.
Florida: The Gators came into Spring practice looking to accomplish two things: (1) keep Tim Tebow healthy, and (2) find a consistent running game outside of Tebow. And in all fairness, they accomplished both with no real troubles. Tebow looked, well, Tebow-esque and the only health scare he had was a fever the day before the Spring game. The running game also saw some positives. Emmanuel Moody, the highly-touted transfer from USC, struggled some with the responsibilities of the back in the spread options, and also had some fumbleitis issues, but generally speaking he was highly impressive with the ball in his hands. And beyond that, Chris Rainey, a five-star scatback from a couple of years ago, was also highly impressive. All told, the Gators essentially accomplished what they needed to during the Spring period.
Georgia: The biggest development of the Spring for the Dawgs was the emergence of Caleb King. For those who may not remember, King was arguably the top tailback prospect in the country in the 2007 recruiting class -- and was regarded as such despite missing nearly his entire senior year with a broken leg -- who spent last season taking a redshirt. King is fully recovered now, though, and he is going to pair with Knowshon Moreno to form what will almost certainly be the best two-back set this conference has seen since Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown carried Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004. And actually, UGA brought in former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges this Spring, presumably to help them install elements to the offense that would allow them to effectively use both King and Moreno on the field at the same time, much like Borges did with Williams and Brown in 2004. In Athens, the rich just got a bit richer.
Kentucky: After losing several key offensive skill position players from a year ago, the biggest question mark for the 'Cats was regarding the quarterback position. Andre' Woodson moved on to the NFL, and UK fans were hoping they would get a definite starter to emerge during Spring drills, but they found no such luck. Junior Curtis Pulley and sophomore Mike Hartline were, as admitted by head coach Rich Brooks, still even at the end of the Spring, and perhaps more concerning, neither played well. In the final scrimmage, both players failed to complete 50% of their passes, and frankly it seems like a big drop-off in production is coming. Dickey Lions, Jr. looked good at wide receiver, and tailback Alfonso Smith looked good as well, but it certainly does seem that the Wildcats are in for a long year with guys like Andre' Woodson, Jacob Tamme, Wesley Woodyard, and others gone.
LSU: As you are well aware, the news on the bayou was all about Ryan Perrilloux. He was suspended for Spring practice, and in his place Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch took snaps in the Spring. Unfortunately for the Cajuns, neither of those did anything particularly impressive, and they emerged from the Spring effectively even. And then things got interesting. After being part of a federal counterfeiting investigation, arrested for illegally attempting to enter a casino underage with a false identity, starting a bar parking lot fight, and then being suspended again for the Spring, it seems that a failed drug test marked the Waterloo for Mr. Perrilloux. He's gone for good now, and that most certainly means that Jarrett Lee will be starting this Fall. There are a lot of other things that need to be looked at on this team, but the Perrilloux situation got most of the attention this Spring, and that will be the case this fall too.
Mississippi State: With these Bulldogs the biggest developments of the Spring were off the field, not on the field. All told, it's been an offseason full of attrition for MSU, as they have now lost nine players from last year's squad. Former quarterbacks Michael Henig and Josh Riddell quit, as did three others, and that's just the easy part. It gets worse from there. Michael Brown and Quinton Wesley were dismissed from the team after firing guns on campus in March, and Anthony Johnson is currently not enrolled after being a part of the same incident. Those are very big losses for the Bulldogs, to put it mildly. Brown was the best offensive lineman that they had, Wesley was going to be a starter on the defensive line, and Johnson was a starting cornerback. More so than anything that actually happened on the field, it was the off-field incidents and concerns that dominated the Spring for the Bulldogs.
Ole Miss: The big story this Spring in Oxford was the debut of quarterback Jevon Snead. For those who don't remember, Snead was a highly-touted quarterback who originally signed to play for the Texas Longhorns, but he eventually transferred after very narrowly losing out on the starting quarterback job to Colt McCoy. After sitting out last season, Snead made his debut this Spring, and was highly impressive. In the Spring game he completed 20-26 passes for 269 yards with two touchdowns, and at this point it's just a given that he will easily be more productive than any other quarterback Ole Miss has put on the field since Eli Manning. And beyond that, Cordera Eason looked very good at tailback, as did Mike Wallace and Dexter McCluster at wide receiver. Defensive concerns may hurt Ole Miss in 2008, but given the rise of several players, and the continued good play of left tackle Michael Oher, Spring practice has given us good indication that the Rebels will be a pretty good offensive team next season. We should not be expecting the continued offensive incompetence that has plagued them since Eli Manning left.
South Carolina: Though some, and admittedly those some are shrinking in number by the minute, still think that Steve Spurrier is an offensive genius, Spring practice for his Gamecocks continued the theme that has dominated his tenure in Columbia: pretty good defense, bad offense. After suspending Stephen Garcia for the Spring, it looked like the starting quarterback job would belong to Chris Smelley. However, Smelley struggled greatly, and at the end of the Spring even Spurrier himself said that former third-stringer Tommy Beecher -- a lowly recruited two-star quarterback from 2005 who only had offers from South Carolina and Richmond -- looked to be ahead. But much like with Kentucky, the real problem is that both struggled, and actually combined for eight interceptions in the final scrimmage. The defense looked stout, as was expected, but the offense's incompetence seemingly will not go away.
Tennessee: Going into the Spring the two major issues for the Vols were the successor for now-departed quarterback Erik Ainge, Jonathon Crompton, and trying to shore up what was the worst secondary in the conference last year. As for Crompton, he looked pretty decent, but given the way the coaching staff structured the Spring, it's really hard to say. They severely toned down the defenses, and most skill position players barely played in the Spring game, so it's really still a big question mark. As for the defensive backfield, the return of Demetrice Morley should help a good bit, but again, given the structure of the Spring, it's really hard to say anything overly definitive about anything the Vols have to offer.
Vanderbilt: It's hard to do anything in-depth on Vanderbilt because, well, it's Vanderbilt. The team opened up the Spring with some major holes in several key places, and a quarterback battle. Regarding the quarterbacks, both Chris Nickson and McKenzie Adams split snaps evenly, and they left the Spring still tied atop the depth chart. That's no shock, honestly, they each had six starts a piece last year in a dual role, and that will likely continue next year as well. Beyond that, though, it's hard to say, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The defense may be decent -- especially with all four starters returning in the secondary -- but the offensive line has to replace five starters, and they also have to replace their starting tailback, plus Earl Bennett. Long story short, the 'Dores usually aren't very good, and there was nothing this Spring to indicate that they would buck that longstanding tendency.