published Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

SEC spring football, team by team

Quarterback AJ McCarron  lines up under football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 20.
Quarterback AJ McCarron lines up under football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 20.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ALABAMA

Spring recap: Senior quarterback AJ MCarron threw for 610 yards and nine touchdowns in the first two scrimmages, and sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon earned his second consecutive MVP award at the A-Day game. Tailback Derrick Henry, an early enrollee, earned rave reviews before breaking his leg in the second scrimmage. The defense never was at full strength, with linebackers C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest and cornerback John Fulton each missing multiple workouts.

Nick Saban on his defense: "We've got some really good players coming back in C.J. Mosley and Ed Stinson and Adrian Hubbard and Deion Belue, but it's a work in progress to put 11 guys out there who are going to do things with the discipline to be able to execute and play together as a unit. Our success here is because guys really put a premium on playing together and everybody doing their job. We've had really good players doing that, but I think playing team defense has been the real key to success. I think our players have got to buy into that and believe in it."

Opener: Virginia Tech in Atlanta on Aug. 31.

ARKANSAS

Spring recap: The Razorbacks drew a record 51,088 fans for the first spring game under new coach Bret Bielema, who came to Arkansas after leading Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen appeared to lock down the starting job after completing 11 of 16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in four series during the spring game, but Bielema has not made that official.

Bret Bielema on entering the SEC: "I'm obviously going to get a lot more educated about it in the fall. I have dabbled into our first three opponents of Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina, and the thing that jumps out about A&M is not just their quarterback but their offensive philosophy and the tempo it takes place in. It's going to be a neat opportunity for us to start out with them in SEC play. Overall, the size and athletic ability of the defensive line makes a big jump in this league that's very, very apparent, and every team has two or three of those guys who are just exceptional players that jump out on film."

Opener: Louisiana-Lafayette in Fayetteville on Aug. 31.

AUBURN

Spring recap: Quarterbacks Kielhl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace experienced highs and lows throughout the 15 workouts, but junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne thrived at tailback and rushed for 117 yards at the A-Day game. New head coach Gus Malzahn said Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will be nice complements to returning 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, but Malzahn is looking for the receivers to improve. Auburn had the league's largest spring crowd at 83,401, and the dying oaks at Toomer's Corner were rolled one final time after the game.

Gus Malzahn on an emotional A-Day: "It was really a wild reaction. We feel like we have some of the best fans in all of college football, and they made a statement to the rest of college football about Auburn and the Auburn family. It did nothing but give our coaches and players a shot in the arm, and it's going to be great for the future and even recruiting."

Opener: Washington State in Auburn on Aug. 31.

FLORIDA

Spring recap: There were no shared snaps this time around with Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett following Brissett's transfer to North Carolina State, and the running game should stay solid with Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor taking over for Mike Gillislee. Florida did not conduct a spring game due to a slew of nagging injuries in the offensive line, but the biggest need appears to be at tight end, where Jordan Reed must be replaced. Junior cornerback Louchez Purifoy spent the first seven practices at receiver.

Will Muschamp on Purifoy in August: "The way I've got it planned is for him to go the first 12 days with him strictly on defense. I want to see how these young wideouts continue to develop through the summer, and you're not going to find that out those first 12 practices if you play him on offense. After that, we'll make a decision. He's going to play offense for us, but how much will depend on those first 12 to 14 practices and how we develop at that position. He's an electric guy with no fear on the field, and he's got really good ball skills and vertical speed down the field."

Opener: Toledo in Gainesville on Aug. 31.

GEORGIA

Spring recap: The Bulldogs have 10 of 11 starters returning on offense but were somewhat nicked up with receiver Malcolm Mitchell and tackle John Theus missing some of the 15 workouts and guard Chris Burnette missing all of them. Sophomore tailback Todd Gurley wasn't needed much. With only four starters back defensively, there were plenty of new names making marks, most notably sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and early enrollee Tray Matthews, who appear to be the starting safeties in base package.

Mark Richt on his team: "There is an awful lot of competition for jobs right now, especially on defense. I think that's healthy for us, and I think we've got the right ingredients. We're going to have to wait and see when we start playing somebody other than ourselves, but I think we've got enough of a talent base to get it done."

Opener: At Clemson on Aug. 31.

KENTUCKY

Spring recap: Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles received equal looks at quarterback, with Whitlow dazzling the record spring-game crowd of 50,831 by completing 17 of 28 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 49 yards on seven carries. Early enrollee Reese Phillips from Signal Mountain also was impressive, completing 10 of 12 for 75 yards, including a 4-yard score to tight end Patrick Ligon. Touted junior college defensive end Za'Darius Smith made an impact with six tackles and a tackle for loss.

Mark Stoops on moving forward: "We need help at every position, and we need to improve across the board. What stands out the most right now are the skill positions on offense and defense. We need to get a lot better in the secondary, and we need to get a lot better at receiver."

Opener: Western Kentucky in Nashville on Aug. 31.

LSU

Spring recap: The Tigers set a program record with nine NFL draft picks last weekend, but coach Les Miles is very optimistic for the upcoming season. Miles believes LSU will be just as strong on the defensive front with Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter, and he said new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been a nice addition. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 12 of 19 first-half passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the starters to a 37-0 thrashing of the backups in the spring game.

Les Miles on his offense: "We will have more balance and be more of a 50-percent pass, 50-percent run team. I think our quarterbacks are much improved. I think Zach Mettenberger continues to improve on the things that he can do, and I think [Stephen] Rivers and [Anthony] Jennings both had very impressive springs. At quarterback we will be better, and it will be an offense that will challenge a defense to defend both the run and the pass."

Opener: TCU in Dallas on Aug. 31.

OLE MISS

Spring recap: With quarterback Bo Wallace sitting out following offseason shoulder surgery, the offense struggled. At the spring game, backups Barry Brunetti and Robert Ratliff combined on 6-for-24 passing with two interceptions. Hugh Freeze said Wallace will resume throwing at some point this week. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche stayed on a roll with 10 tackles in the spring game, which was his last performance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium before the arrival of his younger brother, heralded defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.

Hugh Freeze on the Rebels: "I think we're going in the right direction, particularly defensively. We were able to stay healthy on that side of the ball, and I thought they pretty much dominated the entire spring. We had some injuries on the offensive side that really showed our lack of depth. We're still early on our journey, but the attitude of our kids was phenomenal in all 15 practices. I wish I felt better about what we got accomplished offensively. We've got a lot of work to do between now and fall on that side."

Opener: At Vanderbilt on Aug. 29.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring recap: The Bulldogs have only 11 seniors this year, but among them is quarterback Tyler Russell, who is looking to atone for a disappointing end to his 2012 season. Russell was decent but nothing spectacular in MSU's spring game, completing 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He was overshadowed by the sophomore rushing tandem of Brandon Holloway and Derrick Milton, who combined for 227 yards and four touchdowns.

Dan Mullen on Russell: "He's a guy who has experience on the field and has played in just about every stadium that we're going to have to play in this year. He understands the pressures and the expectations of being a Southeastern Conference quarterback. He also knows our offense inside and out and understands why we're trying to do things. He has an input on checks and decision-making overall, and that's because of the understanding he has of our offense. We expect him to have a huge year this year."

Opener: Oklahoma State in Houston on Aug. 31.

MISSOURI

Spring recap: Coach Gary Pinkel gave his backups a 14-0 lead at the spring game, but the starters rallied to pull out a 21-14 victory. Senior quarterback James Franklin completed 9 of 15 passes for 80 yards and had 24 yards on two consecutive runs, while sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham caught three throws for 49 yards. Redshirt junior tailback Henry Josey had eight carries for 13 yards in his first action since a gruesome knee injury in November 2011.

Gary Pinkel on his staff changes: "We have a new offensive coordinator in Josh Henson, who was on our staff before [as line coach], and we moved [receivers coach] Andy Hill to quarterbacks. [Receivers coach] Pat Washington is a new member of our staff, and I think those moves went well. I feel very good about where we're at right now."

Washington, incidentally, is at his fifth SEC school, having previously worked at Auburn as a graduate assistant and at Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky.

Opener: Murray State in Columbia on Aug. 31.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring recap: Quarterback Connor Shaw did not participate after offseason surgery on his foot, but he should be ready June 1 for summer workouts. The biggest challenges were on defense, where six starters -- including both linebackers, end Devin Taylor and strong safety D.J. Swearinger -- had to be replaced. Talented junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had a cameo reception in the spring game, which had fans gasping when he slipped to the turf before getting up.

Steve Spurrier on his tailbacks: "We've got two good ones. We've got Brandon Wilds, who played two years ago when Marcus [Lattimore] got hurt, and Mike Davis. Mike really came on during spring practice and had a long run in our spring game. Those two will be our running backs, and whoever starts is sort of up in the air. They'll both play."

Opener: North Carolina in Columbia on Aug. 31.

TENNESSEE

Spring recap: Neither Justin Worley nor Nathan Peterman put his stamp on the starting quarterback spot, as the two combined on 17-for-41 passing during the Orange & White game, with Worley throwing a touchdown and an interception. The Volunteers suffered a monstrous blow early last season when Brian Randolph tore his ACL against Florida, but the junior safety returned and had an interception in the spring game that drew an impressive 61,076 fans. Early enrollee Corey Vereen made his mark up front defensively.

Butch Jones on the SEC: "Coming in, we had no preconceived notions. It's like I've told everyone in our football program, they are responsible for building their own identity. They are all at ground zero, so they are responsible for the resume they put on film and the way they live their lives off the field. We had five early enrollees, and an individual who really stepped up was Corey Vereen. He came in as a linebacker, and we moved him to the defensive line. He had a great spring game, and we're really looking forward to having a number of years with him."

Opener: Austin Peay in Knoxville on Aug. 31.

TEXAS A&M

Spring recap: A program-record 45,212 fans saw Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel pick up where he left off in the Cotton Bowl dismantling of Oklahoma. Manziel completed 24 of 30 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns, with a trio of receivers benefiting. Junior LeKendrick Williams had seven receptions for 105 yards, with senior Derel Walker adding five for 79 and sophomore Mike Evans five for 73. Sophomore Trey Williams led the rushers with 67 yards on seven carries, while Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams added 59 yards.

Kevin Sumlin on his offensive line: "I thought we came through spring with a solid five on our offensive line with Mike Matthews sliding in at center, Germain Ifedi moving in at guard and kicking Jake Matthews out to left tackle and moving Cedric Ogbuehi -- the five offensive linemen who went through spring really solidified themselves. That was a real positive. Obviously we need to address issues up front being in the SEC, and I think we're making some strides to get there."

Opener: Rice in College Station on Aug. 31.

VANDERBILT

Spring recap: Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels widened the gap to replace Jordan Rodgers as the top quarterback, though coach James Franklin refrained from naming him the starter. The Commodores should enter this season with a stellar receiving duo with Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd and a solid tailback tandem with Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow. Former Baylor School standout Barrett Gouger worked as the first-team right guard, and Franklin was thrilled with the move of Adam Butler from the offensive line to defensive tackle.

James Franklin on his third spring: "We went with the ones versus the twos, and it was a competitive game. The twos almost beat the ones. The gap that we have between the first team and the second team is not nearly as significant as it's been in the past, and I think that is going to help us and allow us to continue to grow and be able to sustain for four quarters and be able to play a whole year with the type of effort and enthusiasm that we want because of the depth we're starting to get. We typically have at least three scholarship players at every position now, which was not nearly the case in the past."

Opener: Ole Miss in Nashville on Aug. 29.

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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