published Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Most SEC programs still have QB issues

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches White team's A.J. McCarron, right, during the fourth quarter of Alabama's annual A-Day spring college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, April 17, 2010. (AP Photo/The Tuscaloosa News, Dusty Compton )

ALABAMA

Greg McElroy obviously is entrenched as the starter after guiding the Crimson Tide to last season’s national title, but redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron solidified second-team status ahead of sophomore Star Jackson. McCarron completed 12 of 28 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in front of 91,312 fans at A-Day, while Jackson was 6-of-11 for 100 yards and a score.

Early enrollee Phillip Sims completed 1 of 7 attempts for 12 yards.

“We’re really pleased with the progress that the quarterbacks have made,” coach Nick Saban said after A-Day, “so we feel really comfortable about the strength and depth we have there.”

ARKANSAS

Returning starter and NFL prospect Ryan Mallett missed spring practice after breaking his foot in offseason conditioning, but Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino doesn’t believe he let the 15 practices go to waste.

“I think he’s helped the other quarterbacks,” Petrino said, “and I’m impressed when I turn around and they are talking about the previous play. I think Ryan mentally has gotten a lot out of spring ball.”

Sophomore Tyler Wilson worked with the first team most of this spring, with redshirt freshman Brandon Mitchell as Wilson’s backup. Wilson had a first scrimmage in which he completed 17 of 20 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns.

AUBURN

A record spring crowd of 63,217 at Jordan-Hare Stadium watched as senior Neil Caudle completed 17 of 21 passes at A-Day for 199 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Barrett Trotter completed 7 of 9 passes for 154 yards and two scores. Junior Cam Newton, who led Blinn (Texas) Community College to a junior college national championship last year, likely had the best spring overall but did not have gaudy A-Day stats (3-of-8 for 80 yards).

Redshirt freshman Clint Moseley, who went 10-of-12 for 55 yards at A-Day, often held his own against the more veteran counterparts.

“All four are quality quarterbacks, and all can perform,” Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “They are four quality people.”

Auburn is destined to provide quarterback intrigue for a third consecutive year in preseason camp. Kodi Burns nudged out Chris Todd two years ago to start the opener in Tommy Tuberville’s final season, but Malzahn gave the reins to Todd last August and shifted Burns to receiver.

FLORIDA

John Brantley’s 15-of-19, 201-yard performance in the spring game earned a quick “Boy, he was good out there” response from coach Urban Meyer.

The Gators also experimented with some short-yardage and goal-line situations by taking Brantley out and using either versatile backup Trey Burton or tight end Jordan Reed. Forida is hoping to provide a similar 1-2 punch that Chris Leak and Tim Tebow produced in 2006, when the Gators won their first of two national titles under Meyer.

GEORGIA

Coach Mark Richt announced this past Thursday that redshirt freshman Aaron Murray would be No. 1 entering preseason camp, with junior Logan Gray as the backup. Murray had two solid scrimmages before looking somewhat mediocre at G-Day, completing 10 of 22 passes for 96 yards and an interception.

Signee Hutson Mason automatically assumes the No. 3 spot in August now that Zach Mettenberger is dismissed, which creates a thinner predicament than Richt would prefer.

“If we don’t get hurt, I feel fine,” he said. “If we have injuries, it could be tough. It could be very tough.”

KENTUCKY

The most underrated quarterback race this spring took place in Lexington, where first-year coach and former Wildcats offensive coordinator Joker Phillips opened the competition among 6-foot-6 senior Mike Hartline, 6-4 sophomore Morgan Newton and 6-4 redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski.

Hartline started the first five games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and he led the Wildcats to a 167.4-yard average in both rushing and passing. Newton replaced Hartline and could not match his statistics, but he did engineer upset wins at Auburn and Georgia.

Mossakowski may be the long shot, though he did possess one of the strongest arms nationally in the 2009 signing class.

Saturday’s spring game did nothing to separate the trio, with Phillips claiming, “This competition is way too close to decide in April.”

LSU

Jordan Jefferson capped an erratic spring by going 8-of-23 for 94 yards and an interception at the Purple-Gold game March 27.

Jarrett Lee was 10-of-20 for 114 yards and a touchdown, but he also was intercepted by touted safety Craig Loston, who returned the pickoff 22 yards for a touchdown. Lee set an NCAA record in 2008 by having seven interceptions returned for scores.

“There were some throws out there that were not ideal,” coach Les Miles said after the spring game.

OLE MISS

In what once was expected to be Jevan Snead’s final spring in Oxford, Nathan Stanley worked instead as the starter. The 6-5, 200-pound sophomore completed 11 of 16 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions last weekend in the Grove Bowl.

Snead, incidentally, went undrafteddid not get drafted until the seventh (???) round Saturday after announcing in January that he would forgo his senior season.

“Nathan Stanley will go out there first,” Rebels coach Houston Nutt said of preseason camp. “In those opening series, we saw exactly what we needed to see.”

Backup Raymond Cotton went 5-of-7 for 178 yards with two touchdowns in the Grove Bowl, playing despite a recent MRI that revealed a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Cotton may have to undergo surgery, which would have a recovery time of four to six months.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Junior Chris Relf continued his momentum from last season’s Egg Bowl by completing 13 of 24 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the Maroon-White game. Relf became the favorite after rushing for 131 yards and accounting for three touchdowns (two passing) in the 41-27 win over the Rebels. MSU coach Dan Mullen used two quarterbacks successfully as Florida’s offensive coordinator and could again his season with Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell, who completed 12 of 27 passes for 125 yards and two picks in the spring game. Should the dynamic Relf match the arm strength of Russell, a former Parade All-American, there may not be the need to play two.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spurrier continues to struggle with Stephen Garcia, who was 8-of-15 for 79 yards in the spring game and ended last season by going 16-of-38 for 129 yards and an interception in a 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl. The 6-2, 230-pound junior is 8-8 as a Gamecocks starter.

Where could Spurrier turn? Redshirt freshman Andrew Clifford and former walk-on Zac Brindise produced some good and bad this spring, as did early enrollee Connor Shaw. Spurrier has proven he can abandon the “Fun-N-Gun” days he enjoyed at Florida, so look for the possibility of some packages involving the versatile Shaw, who might fit in well with touted tailback classmate Marcus Lattimore.

TENNESSEE

Before leaving the Volunteers, Nick Stephens entered spring as the favorite, having started six consecutive games during the 2008 season before unraveling in a 3-for-9, two-interception showing in the 13-7 loss to Wyoming.

Simms assumed first-team status for the last 10 days of spring practice but struggled April 17 in the Orange-White game, completing 12 of 26 passes for 125 yards and throwing three interceptions. He also was sacked five times.

Early enrollee Tyler Bray, still with a high school build at 6-6 and 190 pounds, completed 18 of 40 passes in the spring game for 200 yards and two scores.

VANDERBILT

The Commodores could not manage a touchdown at their spring game until the 14th and final possession, when fifth-string quarterback Matt Casas threw for a 9-yard score. Returning starter Larry Smith played three series, completing 1 of 5 passes for 4 yards

“Sometimes it was inexcusable,” coach Bobby Johnson said.

Neither Jared Funk, Charlie Goro nor junior-college transfer Jordan Rogers threw for more than 50 yards, and they will enter August chasing Smith. Though he completed just 46.7 percent of his passes last season with seven interceptions and only four scores, Smith is the only returning quarterback with experience.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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