That's a wrap: How SEC West Division teams look after spring football practice

That's a wrap: How SEC West Division teams look after spring football practice

May 3rd, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts could display whether he's improved as a pocket passer during this afternoon's A-Day spring game in Tuscaloosa.

Photo by Robert Sutton

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Where West Division teams in the Southeastern Conference stand after spring football practice:

 

ALABAMA

Spring-game recap: Sophomore quarterback and reigning SEC offensive player of the year Jalen Hurts completed 16 of 25 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and an interception to lead the Crimson to a 27-24 win over the White on April 22 before an announced crowd of 74,326 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama reclaimed the SEC's largest spring crowd a year after Georgia had 93,000. Crimson Tide fans looking for any hints about what Brian Daboll's offense could look like instead witnessed an aerial free-for-all, as Hurts and freshman backup Tua Tagovailoa combined for 495 passing yards in the first half alone. Hurts and Tagovailoa combined for 13 passes of at least 20 yards, with freshman receiver Jerry Jeudy earning MVP honors with five catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Fifth-year senior Robert Foster had two catches for 115 yards and a score.

Moving forward: Running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough sat out A-Day, and that is clearly the strongest position group on the team. Jonah Williams flipped from right to left tackle this spring, taking over for second-round pick Cam Robinson, and the biggest offensive shoes are being assumed by sophomore tight end Miller Forristall, who is taking over for first-round pick O.J. Howard. Seven of Alabama's draft selections last weekend were on defense, including the outside linebacker tandem of Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams. Those two roles will be shared later this year by Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Hall. Minkah Fitzpatrick is arguably the most talented member of this year's defense and got to play his preferred position of cornerback during the first half of spring drills before having to move back to safety.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Florida State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

 

ARKANSAS

Spring-game recap: The Razorbacks were the last SEC team to conclude spring practice and had to scratch their spring game when inclement weather invaded Fayetteville last weekend. They instead held an indoor scrimmage that quickly became troubling when junior Rawleigh Williams III, the SEC's leading rusher last season, went down with an injury and had to be carted off the field. Arkansas fifth-year coach Bret Bielema said that Williams suffered a "stinger" and that it was unrelated to a previous neck injury. Senior quarterback Austin Allen, senior center Frank Ragnow, junior safety Santos Ramirez and senior cornerback Kevin Richardson II have been named captains for the upcoming season.

Moving forward: Having Allen, Williams and backup tailback Devwah Whaley back puts Arkansas in excellent position for a fourth consecutive bowl bid under Bielema, but reaching nine or 10 wins for the first time in his regime could be hindered by the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under coordinator Paul Rhoads. The recent track record of programs shifting to a 3-4 is not great within the SEC, with Alabama going 7-6 in 2007, Georgia going 6-7 in 2010 and Tennessee going 5-7 in 2012. The biggest task offensively is finding reliable receivers following the departure of Drew Morgan and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. Filling Sprinkle's void could be Jeremy Patton, who was the No. 1 junior-college tight end in the 2017 signing class out of Arizona Western College.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Florida A&M at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

 

AUBURN

Spring-game recap: Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed 16 of 20 passes for 267 yards and earned the offensive MVP honor April 8 as the Blue team of starters defeated the White 37-13 before an announced crowd of 46,311. The Tigers won the 2010 national title with a Florida transfer (Cam Newton) at quarterback, and they played for the 2013 national championship with a former Georgia defensive back (Nick Marshall) at quarterback. Auburn reached the Sugar Bowl last year despite inconsistent quarterback play for roughly half the season. "The goal this spring was to have an understanding of the base offense," Stidham said after A-Day. Sophomore Nate Craig-Myers collected five catches for 154 yards in the spring game, which did not contain returning 1,000-yard rusher Kamryn Pettway.

Moving forward: Sean White started at quarterback most of last season but sat out the spring due to an injury, so fifth-year coach Gus Malzahn still has to choose Stidham or White as the starter. All four of Auburn's drafted players last weekend were on defense — linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson and backs Rudy Ford and Joshua Holsey — so most of the intrigue could be with a unit that ranked seventh nationally last season, allowing 17.1 points per game. Second-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said former Georgia safety Tray Matthews is the "CEO" of his unit, and there is no shortage of talent among the front seven with Marlon Davidson, Byron Cowart, Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell and Jeff Holland. Outside linebacker Paul James III was the defensive MVP at A-Day, and kicker is no worry with Daniel Carlson back.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Georgia Southern in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

 

LSU

Spring-game recap: Another SEC spring game with another weather-related issue, as lightning forced the moving of Ed Orgeron's first spring event in Baton Rouge as the head coach indoors. An announced crowd of 35,000 had watched the Purple lead the White through the late stages of the first half, but the White rallied for a 26-7 triumph following the change in locale. Senior quarterback Danny Etling took first-team reps throughout spring but struggled in the April 22 finale. "The quarterback competition is open," Orgeron said afterward, "and it's going to stay open until someone proves they are our No. 1 quarterback." The offensive line also struggled in the outdoor/indoor contest, but the Tigers were without juniors Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby.

Moving forward: Leonard Fournette was the No. 4 overall pick in last Thursday's opening round of the NFL draft, but nobody in Baton Rouge is concerned as long as junior Derrius Guice picks up where he left off. LSU has to get better quarterback play to become a truly elite program again, and there are defensive holes to fill following the departures of inside linebacker Kendall Beckwith and defensive backs Jamal Adams and Tre'Davious White. The Tigers are very young at linebacker but signed three promising ones — Jacob Phillips, Tyler Taylor and Patrick Queen. "Those guys will have to play," Orgeron said.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Brigham Young in Houston.

 

OLE MISS

Spring-game recap: Sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson completed 21 of 30 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns April 8 before an estimated Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 8,000. Sophomores A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf all had big receiving afternoons, only bolstering the unquestioned strength of the team. The receivers thoroughly dominated the defensive backs throughout the spring, leaving sixth-year coach Hugh Freeze a little unsure whether to celebrate the offensive talent or lament the secondary struggles. Like a lot of other spring games in the league, Ole Miss aired things out, with senior tailback Jordan Wilkins playing sparingly. Senior defensive end Marquis Haynes didn't play much either, for that matter.

Moving forward: Freeze said after the spring game that he believes his offensive line could be "really solid" later this year, leaving most every concern on defense. That is no surprise, given that the Rebels were ravaged on that side of the ball and concluded their 5-7 disappointment by allowing 38 points at Vanderbilt before losing the Egg Bowl 55-20. Ole Miss surrendered at least 27 points in every October and November contest. "We have a long way to go defensively, and we've known that," Freeze said. "The energy and the discipline is better, but we still have a ways to go." Freeze added that the biggest issues defensively are with the middle linebackers and safeties.

Opener: Sept. 2 against South Alabama in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring-game recap: The league's most bizarre spring game took place April 8 in Starkville, when Bulldogs starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald completed 14 of 27 passes for 127 yards but was intercepted four times. It was an eye-popping stat line, but ninth-year MSU coach Dan Mullen was not sounding any alarms afterward. "That might bother a younger quarterback, but it's not going to bother a veteran," Mullen said. "A veteran is going to keep firing. He was trying to make plays, and practice is the time when you take more chances. He understands that." The White beat the Maroon 21-10 before an announced crowd of 16,630, but the game was halted with seven minutes left after Georgia transfer safety Jonathan Abram leveled reserve running back Bennie Braswell. Mullen immediately sent Abram to the locker room as medics tended to Braswell.

Moving forward: This spring may have been the ninth one for Mullen, but it was the first with Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator. The defense certainly had an impact in the spring game, returning two interceptions for touchdowns. Cameron Dantzler had two interceptions, returning one 81 yards for a score, while Brian Cole had a 54-yard score off a pick. Fitzgerald was among the SEC's top individual surprises last season, throwing for 2,423 yards and rushing for 1,375, but he now will be without receiver Fred Ross, who had 72 catches for 917 yards. Yet considering the Bulldogs allowed 109 points in consecutive games to Alabama and Arkansas late last season, most worries are on a defense that Grantham now oversees. "We have a lot of young faces on that defense," Mullen said. "There are not a lot of seniors."

Opener: Sept. 2 against Charleston Southern at Davis Wade Stadium.

 

TEXAS A&M

Spring-game recap: The Aggies have yet to have a quarterback be productive enough or stay healthy enough for an entire season since the Johnny Manziel era, and who knows what to expect after an April 8 spring game in which Jake Hubenak, Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel were inconsistent in the Maroon's 23-7 victory before an estimated crowd of 21,000. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone tailored his offense last year to suit the dual-threat talents of Trevor Knight, and Mond offers the most versatility in this year's bunch. Until the Aggies settle on their starter, look for the offense to potentially revolve around the proven tailback tandem of Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams. The versatile Christian Kirk is back for his junior season at receiver, a position that could be stronger had the undrafted duo of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil stuck around.

Moving forward: After three consecutive 8-5 seasons that contained 5-0 starts, Kevin Sumlin is obviously facing an important sixth season. Sumlin irritated media members after the spring game by not holding a news conference, the only league coach to do so, but he did issue some quotes about the afternoon and the road ahead. "We've got to find a pass-rusher, but we've got help coming," Sumlin said. "We've got a couple of junior-college guys who are going to come in here and come off the edge. We'll get that solidified." Texas A&M's top two edge-rushers the past two seasons, Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, were drafted last week, with Garrett becoming the first No. 1 overall pick in program history.

Opener: Sept. 3 at UCLA. The game will be televised by Fox with a 7:30 p.m. EDT kickoff.


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