What got done: Quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel improved under new coordinator Brent Pease and combined for 380 yards in the spring game. Blitzing was not allowed in the spring game, and the Gators were without defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), linebacker Jon Bostic (back) and safety Matt Elam (groin). Florida suffered the league’s worst spring injury when junior defensive end Ronald Powell tore his ACL, but Powell is determined to play this season, and Will Muschamp isn’t ruling it out. The receiver position remains in need of a significant upgrade.
Quoting Will Muschamp: “We’re much better up front offensively. I’m really pleased with our progress on the offensive line, and with our two good, young quarterbacks, Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. I think we can win with both of them. Both of those guys will continue to battle into the fall, and we’ll make a decision on that when the time is right.”
Season opener: Bowling Green in Gainesville on Sept. 1.
What got done: A veteran front seven defensively had its way with the youthful offensive line, which ended spring with Kenarious Gates at left tackle and Kolton Houston at right tackle. Houston may have been the biggest story after freshman tailback Keith Marshall and receiver-turned-cornerback Malcolm Mitchell had their springs cut short by hamstring injuries. No tailback ran for more than 50 yards in any scrimmage, but Ken Malcome and Isaiah Crowell had a couple of impressive plays during the G-Day game.
Quoting Mark Richt: “We had a good spring, and the most exciting thing for me might have been the fact that no one had an injury that would have lasted any longer than a week or two after spring ball. We actually have the entire team that should be healthy in June to go through the entire offseason program. If we don’t have any setbacks this summer, we’ll be rolling into camp for the first time in the 12 years I’ve been at Georgia where we don’t have somebody in the Red Cross area.”
Season opener: Buffalo in Athens on Sept. 1.
What got done: The starters defeated the backups 35-28 before a crowd of 4,500, but the backups were spotted a 14-0 lead. Quarterback Morgan Newton missed all spring after offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder, so that left the first-team work to Maxwell Smith, who had 45 attempts in the spring game. Smith passed for two touchdowns in the spring game to Demarco Robinson, who also had two scores in the second scrimmage. Heading the defense was safety Martevius Neloms, a two-year starter, while the up-and-comers are defensive end Alvin Dupree and middle linebacker Avery Williamson.
Quoting Joker Phillips: “We got a lot of our goals accomplished, including making sure our players are in the right positions. We had some position changes early that gave us a chance to get the best players on the field, and we feel good about those changes. We moved Marcus Caffey from running back to one of the corners, and he finished the spring as our starting boundary corner. We moved Josh Forrest, who came in as a wide receiver, to outside linebacker, and he has settled in.”
Season opener: at Louisville on Sept. 2.
What got done: Starting quarterback James Franklin missed most of spring with a shoulder injury that has him questionable for the start of preseason camp, and missing all 15 workouts were defensive ends Sheldon Richardson and Brad Madison. Those two were sidelined due to offseason shoulder injuries. Their absences made it challenging to develop the defensive tackle position, which is the biggest concern on the team. Coach Gary Pinkel said Matt Hoke, a former tight end, and Lucas Vincent made the most progress but acknowledged that depth there is an issue.
Quoting Gary Pinkel: “I tell our players that any time you’re the new kid on the block, you have to earn respect. People are going to say, ‘Can they do this or that?’ We know that’s going to happen. It’s real simple to me. You have to go out there and earn it, and I have no problem with that. Our players have great pride in who they are, and they hear it a lot: ‘Can you survive in the SEC?’ And that’s OK that it bothers them that way. You’ve got to earn respect, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Season opener: Southeastern Louisiana in Columbia, Mo., on Sept. 1.
What got done: Defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor were held out of a lot of drills simply because they were too disruptive. Senior Byron Jerideau, who was arrested in January on a disorderly conduct charge after walking out of a Columbia bar and trying to stop traffic, developed into the top defensive tackle. Jerideau has lost more than 50 pounds over the past two years. Quarterback Connor Shaw continued to display leadership qualities that Stephen Garcia never could, and the best spring was turned in by starting receiver Ace Sanders.
Quoting Steve Spurrier: “Our spring game was encouraging for the quarterbacks and the receivers. We threw the ball and caught it better than we have in any spring game. ... I think we hit around 70 percent or so. I don’t know how much correlation there is between spring ball and the real season, but we’re looking forward to it, because we’ve got a lot of good players and should have a pretty good team.”
Season opener: Vanderbilt in Nashville on Aug. 30.
What got done: After finishing last in the SEC in rushing offense two consecutive seasons, the Volunteers developed a little confidence in that area when Marlin Lane rushed nine times for 106 yards in the spring game. The line had a new look with Dallas Thomas, the starter at left tackle the past two years, shifting to left guard to make way for mammoth Antonio Richardson. Ja’Wuan James is the top right tackle, and there appears to be a little more depth up front. The return of senior linebacker Herman Lathers, who missed last season with an ankle injury, was a welcome sight.
Quoting Derek Dooley: “Tyler Bray made a big jump this spring, not so much in a lot of his physical skills but more in his approach and his understanding the commitment that it will take to be a complete quarterback. We saw a lot of progress in so many areas that are hard to see tangibly on the field. If Tyler continues that track, I think his best ball is ahead of him. History will show the more experienced your quarterback and your teams are, the better chance you have to win, but you also have to be good. Being experienced is one thing, but playing well is another.”
Season opener: North Carolina State in Atlanta on Aug. 31.
What got done: Jordan Rodgers solidified his hold on the quarterback job, and receiver Jordan Matthews was the star of the spring game with seven catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. The spring game was held before 8,500, the largest crowd since Watson Brown was coach. Quarterback-turned-receiver Josh Grady had three rushes for 35 yards in the spring game and went 2-of-2 passing for 58 yards and a score. Defensively, Chase Garnham claimed Robert Marve’s linebacker vacancy, and Andre Hal is the likely successor to cornerback Casey Hayward.
Quoting James Franklin: “It couldn’t be more positive right now in terms of in the community, around the SEC and out recruiting. Our kids are not satisfied. We had a good first, building-block season that showed us headed in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go”
Season opener: South Carolina in Nashville on Aug. 30.
— 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 ...