published Sunday, March 14th, 2010

SEC spring practice goals

New coaches and new quarterbacks aside, spring football is about addressing needs, especially in the SEC. A player here or there to fill a hole. A newcomer to step forward to replace a familiar name.

It's about depth and it's open for debate. There is hope and promise in what might be and fear of what might not happen -- especially in the SEC.

More than half of the league has some sort of questions around the quarterback position, and that figures to be job No. 1 for just about every team in the SEC not named Alabama, Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina.

That said, here's an overview of the spring practice sessions for each team with some of the goals that do not involve securing the quarterback job:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 17

Spring goals: The defense has several stars to replace, but the secondary will be one of coach Nick Saban's biggest areas of focus in the days ahead. His first move was moving Kendall Kelly from receiver to safety to increase the numbers there. Look for Dre Kirkpatrick, who played in 12 games last season as a freshman, to lock down one cornerback job. Talented 2010 recruits and early enrollees Demarcus Milliner and John Fulton could figure into the secondary mix sooner rather than later.

ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 30

Spring game: April 24

Spring goals: The Razorbacks are one of the few SEC teams that have zero questions about a starting quarterback. But record-setting Ryan Mallett will miss spring drills recovering from a foot injury, so Arkansas will spend a big part of the preseason finding Mallett's backup and the program's heir apparent. The main objective for Bobby Petrino and Co. will be finding playmakers for a defense that ranked near the bottom in the league in almost every category last season.

AUBURN

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 17

Spring goals: One of many of the SEC teams that has to replace a star running back. Ben Tate somewhat quietly engineered a strong senior season with more than 1,300 yards. He will be difficult to replace -- just ask him. Tate, who made headlines by saying he was better than Alabama's Heisman winner Mark Ingram, will be tough to duplicate, but the Tigers have a list of talented names, including Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Dontae Aycock. If no one steps up and claims the job, the odds increase for five-star recruit Michael Dyer, who signed with Auburn in February.

FLORIDA

Spring start: March 17

Spring game: April 10

Spring goals: A lot of the Gators' 2009 starters must be replaced, but there is talent everywhere. Still, the large number of underclassmen leaving -- led by cornerback Joe Haden, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey -- creates more holes than normal in Florida's two-deep. It also will be interesting to see how the offense as a whole embraces the A.T.T. (After Tim Tebow, of course) approach that figures to cater more to John Brantley's skills as a passer.

GEORGIA

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 10

Spring goals: The Bulldogs have the biggest quarterback question in the league, primarily because the rest of the offense returns intact and merely capable quarterback play could mean big things for the Bulldogs offense. The transition to new coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense will be a work in progress that likely won't be completed by the G-Day game.

KENTUCKY

Spring start: March 31

Spring game: April 24

Spring goals: Starting later this month, the Wildcats will be an interesting test case for the new "head-coach-in-waiting" fad. Joker Phillips takes the reins and has a number of questions to address other than the obvious quarterback conundrum that is a three-player debate including two players (Mike Hartline and Morgan Newton) that started multiple games last year and a third (Ryan Mossakowski) who may be the most talented. Finding Micah Johnson's successor at linebacker will be a starting point for Phillips, but the transition will be made easier with the return of running back Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb, the Swiss Army knife of the SEC.

LSU

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: March 27

Spring goals: The Tigers started before the rest of the league, and they will be done before everyone else, too. Early returns for their search for offensive linemen have been positive, and the reports on the play of the two Shep(p)ards has been encouraging for LSU fans. Russell Shepard has dropped the slash, dual-position role of receiver/quarterback and embraced the move to full-time wideout. Kelvin Sheppard has continued to look like the league's next great linebacker.

MISSISSIPPI

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 17

Spring goals: Few programs would put a Cotton Bowl victory in the trophy case and call the season a disappointment, but that's what the Rebels face after last year's senior-laden squad reached the top five in the polls but then stumbled. That disappointment was pronounced because of the pieces of last year's team, including do-it-all star Dexter McCluster, who flourished in the second half of 2009 when he was moved full-time to running back. Finding a bellcow ball carrier from a talented but somewhat inexperienced group that includes Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Rodney Scott is spring's main objective.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 23

Spring game: April 17

Spring goals: Dan Mullen's first year coaching the Bulldogs was a success, highlighted by a whipping of rival Ole Miss to end the season. Mullen, the former Florida offensive coordinator who integrated the spread offense in Starkville, now has to replace the biggest offensive weapon in school history. Looking for players to pick the workload of Anthony Dixon, MSU's all-time leading rusher, has to be job No. 1 this spring. The answers will be hard to find from one player and in one preseason.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 10

Spring goals: There will be some close examination on which Steve Spurrier (father or son) does most of the play-calling, and the running backs in spring drills, led by Jarvis Giles, will try to secure the starter's role. Both of those pursuits will be determined in August when Spurrier Sr. decides who will call the plays on Saturdays and uber-recruit running back Marcus Lattimore shows up for practice. The main mission of spring may be finding a replacement for Eric Norwood, the middle linebacker of a defense that kept the Gamecocks close in almost every game the last two years. Shaq Wilson appears to be the front-runner to fill Norwood's role.

TENNESSEE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 17

Spring goals: Much of the attention on the field will be focused on new coach Derek Dooley and the search for the Vols' next starting quarterback. The biggest mission may be finding the next wave of leaders for this program. Last year's best player and leader, Eric Berry, is in Florida training for next month's NFL draft. Dan Williams, Rico McCoy, Montario Hardesty and Jonathan Crompton also are gone. The program has found its new coach in Dooley, but the Vols still are searching for leaders on the field.

VANDERBILT

Spring start: March 17

Spring game: April 10

Spring goals: After a disappointing 2009 and a tragic start to 2010, the Commodores would have to consider spring a success if they can find something -- anything -- good. On the heels of its Music Bowl win after the 2008 season, Vandy struggled mightily last year. Other than freshman running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, the offense was severely limited. Less than a month ago, Rajaan Bennett, the Commodores' top 2010 recruit, was killed in a domestic dispute. Morale could be coach Bobby Johnson's first priority.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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