published Friday, April 22nd, 2011

SEC East outlook after spring football

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (8) throws a pass during the third quarter in an NCAA college football game against South Carolina at Williams Brice Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, in Columbia, SC.  (AP/Rich Glickstein)
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (8) throws a pass during the third quarter in an NCAA college football game against South Carolina at Williams Brice Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, in Columbia, SC. (AP/Rich Glickstein)

FLORIDA

Florida got down to five scholarship offensive linemen at one point this spring when Nick Alajajian (knee), Xavier Nixon (ankle), Matt Patchan (wrist), James Wilson (knee) and David Young (knee) were ailing. The Gators also lost running back Mack Brown with a broken fibula, but none of the setbacks were anywhere close to season-ending.

“We expect all of the guys that were injured by around June to be full speed,” first-year coach Will Muschamp said. “Especially when we hit fall camp in August, we expect to be at full speed. Most of the injuries were two- or three-week deals.”

Muschamp added that Brown is the last of the injury situations and will be cleared June 22.

The Gators were hindered offensively with quarterback John Brantley learning a new system and tailback Jeff Demps running track, so the defense had its way on a daily basis. Four five-star players who signed in 2010 — defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, defensive end/outside linebacker Ronald Powell and strong safety Matt Elam — flourished and could each be starters come September.

GEORGIA

The biggest setback for an SEC East team was Georgia’s loss of fifth-year senior left tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a right ACL tear. Cordy Glenn, who had been flipping tackle spots with Sturdivant under first-year line coach Will Friend, will assume the left-side spot.

Coach Mark Richt said the candidates to back up Glenn are Justin Anderson, Austin Long, A.J. Harmon and Kenarious Gates. Anderson and Harmon exited spring vying to start at right tackle, and Gates likely will start at left guard.

“A lot is going to depend on who is going to be the starting right tackle,” Richt said. “My guess is whoever we think is the third-best tackle, he may end up having to cross-train between the left side and the right side. Of those names, somebody is going to end up learning what’s going on over on the left side.

“We do have some true freshmen coming in, too, that could end up playing extremely well and throwing their hat into the ring.”

The best news Georgia received was the development of Kwame Geathers at nose. The Bulldogs could have two quality players at that spot in preseason camp with the arrival of junior college transfer Jonathan Jenkins after lacking a presence at the point of attack last season.

KENTUCKY

Second-year coach Joker Phillips hired Rick Minter to run his defense during the offseason, which has led to some role reversal. Minter guided Cincinnati to four bowl games from 1994 to 2003, and Phillips was on his staff in ’97-98, coaching Bearcats receivers the first year and defensive backs the next.

“It’s not weird, because we’ve always had a great working relationship when I was an assistant under him,” Phillips said. “He understands now that he’s an assistant here, and we have a great relationship. He is the head coach of the defense, but I am the head coach of this football team, and we both understand that.”

The Wildcats will be the last league team to complete spring practice, with their spring game set for Saturday. Replacing the versatile Randall Cobb has been an objective, and that will occur by committee.

“It will take a number of people to do the things that he did for us,” said Phillips, who listed running back Raymond Sanders, quarterback Morgan Newton and receivers LaRod King and Brian Adams as those who could pick up the slack. Adams is playing baseball this spring.

Those skilled players will work behind an offensive line that Phillips believes is the most experienced part of the team.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Lost in the shuffle of quarterback Stephen Garcia’s umpteenth suspension were productive springs by sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore and sophomore receiver DeAngelo Smith. Lattimore is better built than a year ago after adding 10 or 12 pounds, while Smith joined the mix of Tori Gurley, Ace Sanders and D.L. Moore as a legitimate receiving option behind all-world Alshon Jeffery.

There will be a lot to follow in upcoming weeks, most notably Garcia’s future and the fate of South Carolina’s recruiting class, which was the SEC’s exhibit A in the ongoing oversigning debate.

“We like the way the rule is now, because we actually sign four or five who are on the bubble of qualifying or not,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “This year, we’ve got about five who haven’t quite done it and probably three who will not make it, so we were able to bring in all the guys who we got qualified. We could not sign them all on signing day, which was a little embarrassing to us and them, but sometimes time heals a lot of wounds.

“With our state and its education, a lot of our kids are borderline of qualifying or not, so it’s helpful for the University of South Carolina to be able to oversign.”

Gamecocks coaches remain optimistic that Rock Hill defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s No.1 overall prospect, will qualify.

TENNESSEE

Second-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was asked on Wednesday’s league teleconference if the honeymoon was over, and Dooley responded by saying it ended at kickoff of last year’s opener against UT-Martin.

“That’s how it is in the SEC,” Dooley said. “The honeymoon lasts up until kickoff. It is a results business. As long as the expectations are consistent with some of the realities, I don’t think it’s unfair.”

Dooley said the hardest part of spring was not having players who will be counted on this fall, such as junior linebacker Herman Lathers. Dooley added that help would be needed from the 20 freshmen arriving this summer.

The rebuilding efforts in Knoxville should be aided by a 2011 nonconference schedule devoid of a marquee team. Tennessee long has led the league in imposing matchups, with a past decade that includes Notre Dame (2001, ’04-05), Miami (2002-03), California (2006-07), UCLA (2008-09) and Oregon (2010).

VANDERBILT

New Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin has a gigantic goal of “turning around a university’s football history,” but he isn’t in a rush.

Franklin has not released a depth chart since Sunday night’s spring game and doesn’t plan on revealing one until days before the Sept. 3 season opener against Elon. The former Maryland offensive coordinator also hasn’t decided whether he will call the plays or if offensive coordinator John Donovan, who was running backs coach for the Terrapins, will have that responsibility.

“My job is to be the CEO of Vanderbilt football, and I understand that,” Franklin said, “but I do think that I can help and have an impact offensively also. John and I talked about this in detail before he took the job, and we’re just going to keep working through the summer and summer camp and make a decision we feel is in the best interest of our program.”

The Terrapins went 9-4 last season with a disciplined offense that made only 12 turnovers, the third-fewest nationally. After Franklin accepted the offer from Vanderbilt, Donovan called the plays in Maryland’s 51-20 whipping of East Carolina in the Military Bowl.

Vanderbilt ended a 26-year postseason drought with a Music City Bowl upset of Boston College in 2008, but the Commodores were 4-20 in the two years since and 1-15 in SEC play. Only once since 1960 has Vandy produced a winning league record (1982), and Franklin realizes a turnaround won’t occur overnight.

“I’m not really a results-oriented guy,” he said. “I’m a process-oriented guy. What we focus on here at Vanderbilt is that we wake up every single morning and attack the day.”

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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