A look around the SEC

jkendall@thestate.comMarch 12, 2013 

Start date: Saturday Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: The offensive line that powered the Crimson Tide to the 2012 BCS title loses sixty percent of its starters with the loss of Mr. Versatility Barrett Jones, mammoth tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack, who was the best college player of the trio. Quarterback A.J. McCarron and tailback T.J. Yeldon should be OK, though.
Start date: March 10 Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: First-year coach Bret Bielema is picking up the pieces from the Bobby Petrino debacle/John L. Smith era. He will have to start with an offense that returns three offensive line starters, two second-tier wide receiver starters and nothing else. Bielema is expected to transition the ‘Hogs from a pass-first team to a run-first team and leading returning rusher Jonathan Williams had 231 yards last year.
Start date: March 27 Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: It’s Back to the Future on The Plain as Gus Malzahn returns as head coach and brings back his fast-paced, spread offense, one of the most respected in the nation. Finding the right quarterback is job one, and Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier will battle for the job this spring.
Start date: Wednesday Spring game: April 6 Spring storyline: An offense that finished No. 12 in the SEC must get better if the Gators are going to compete in the SEC East. Running back Mike Gillislee, the most productive player on that offense, is gone and must be replaced. Quarterback Jeff Driskel needs to develop this spring and bring the rest of the offense with him.
Start date: March 2 Spring game: April 6 Spring storyline: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was linked to two NFL jobs this season but is returning to Athens and a defense that must replace nine starters. A 35-7 loss to South Carolina being the exception, the defense was the Bulldogs’ strength last year. This year, it will have to be senior quarterback Aaron Murray and tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Start date: March 18 Spring game: April 13 Spring storylines: Normally the football coach at Kentucky, even a first-year coach like Mark Stoops, gets to go about spring practice out of the spotlight as Wildcat fans watch the basketball team or bask in its season. However, this year’s Kentucky hoops team has left its fans looking for another outlet. The Wildcats finished last in the SEC in scoring offense and next-to-last in scoring defense last year so there’s work to be done everywhere.
Start date: Thursday Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: The biggest question is – Will the Tigers have enough players for a decent scrimmage much less a Spring game? Along with the usual attrition due to graduation, LSU lost 11 underclassmen to early entry into the NFL Draft. Seven of those players are defensive starters so there’s a lot of reloading to be done there. On offense, NFL veteran Cam Cameron is now on board.
Ole Miss
Start date: Sunday Spring game: April 13 Spring storyline: Speed is the key word in Oxford. Under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels exceeded expectations with a spread offense. With most of the starters returning on that side of the ball, Freeze wants to use spring practice to get faster. Complicating that plan is the fact starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss spring practice due to a shoulder injury.
Mississippi State
Start date: March 21 Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: Quarterback Tyler Russell had a quiet but quality year in 2012, and he’ll need to make another jump this spring to lead the Bulldogs the right way in the SEC West. Mississippi State once was the hot team in the state, but Ole Miss has taken that away, and this could be a critical year for Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen.
Start date: March 12 Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: The Tigers finished 2-6 in their first season in the SEC and most of the blame fell on offense that was expected to be a team strength. Offensive coordinator David Yost left in the offseason, leaving the rebuilding job to new coordinator Josh Henson. The good news is quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey are expected to be healthy and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one year older.
South Carolina
Start date: March 5 Spring game: April 13 Spring storyline: The Gamecocks have plenty of quarterbacks to share snaps even with starter Connor Shaw on the sideline this spring due to a foot injury. Backup Dylan Thompson will get plenty of work this spring and could earn himself more playing time development. Where South Carolina needs bodies is at linebacker, where there’s plenty of playing time to be earned this spring.
Start date: March 9 Spring game: April 20 Spring storyline: First-year coach Butch Jones has made a nice career taking over for Brian Kelly and keeping good programs on the right track. His challenge is much different now. The Volunteers are a mess from their depth chart to their athletic department budget. The defense was a disaster last year, one of the worst in the program’s history, and this spring the Volunteers have to find replacements for quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter.
Texas A&M
Start date: March 2 Spring game: April 13 Spring storyline: Don’t let the return of Johnny Manziel fool you, there are some questions in College Station. Linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel all must be replaced. Manziel’s biggest job this spring probably will be getting his mind right after a season that included a Heisman Trophy and an offseason filled with praise.
Start date: Friday Spring game: April 13 Spring storyline: The Commodores have to break in a new quarterback. Austyn Carta-Samuels, a former starter at Wyoming, is the odds-on favorite, but redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is 6-foot-4, 204 pounds and an Elite 11 quarterback two years ago. Johnny McCrary, the kind of quarterback prospect the Commodores rarely sign, will come on board in the fall so the two veterans need to make strides this spring.

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