published Friday, March 7th, 2014

SEC spring football synopsis

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

Worth following: The Crimson Tide have to replace several prominent players, including quarterback AJ McCarron, offensive linemen Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen and linebacker and defensive leader C.J. Mosley. The quarterback mix this spring will feature Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and early enrollee David Cornwell, but coach Nick Saban already has stated that he and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin are in no hurry to name a starter. Jake Coker will join the competition this summer after graduating from Florida State. There are eight early enrollees in Tuscaloosa, including five-star Louisiana offensive lineman Cameron Robinson, who could press for a tackle spot. One area that could have significant improvement is the defensive line, which will have A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen back from their freshman seasons, Dalvin Tomlinson back from a torn ACL and D.J. Pettway and Jarran Reed arriving from junior college. Dee Liner also is hoping to make his mark, but the touted Da'Shawn Hand doesn't arrive until the summer.

ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

Worth following: The Razorbacks were 3-9 last season and 0-8 in conference play, their first winless season within a league since going 0-6 in the Southwest Conference in 1942. Brandon Allen did not provide Arkansas a lot of consistency at quarterback last season as a sophomore, which is why early enrollee Rafe Peavey will be among the more closely watched Razorbacks in upcoming weeks. The talented tailback tandem of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins returns, but the offensive line is very young and looking for a leader following the departure of standout center Travis Swanson. Of the 44 players on the Arkansas two-deep roster last season, 22 were freshmen or sophomores.

AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

Worth following: After coach Gus Malzahn and quarterback Nick Marshall teamed to guide Auburn to an SEC championship and a berth in the BCS title game, the two will work together for the first time at a spring practice. Marshall could be the preseason choice for All-SEC quarterback, but he also could be challenged in upcoming weeks by Jeremy Johnson, who is a better pocket passer but doesn't possess Marshall's quickness or running ability. Cameron Artis-Payne will get the first crack at replacing tailback Tre Mason, while Avery Young and Patrick Miller will look to keep the tackle positions strong following the early departure of potential No. 1 NFL pick Greg Robinson. Auburn led the nation in rushing last season but could develop quite a 1-2 receiving punch this spring with the return of Sammie Coates and the arrival of junior college transfer D'haquille Williams.

FLORIDA

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 12

Worth following: The Gators are usually among the first SEC schools to start spring practice but backed up their start a bit to ensure quarterback Jeff Driskel being able to do as much as possible under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Also looking to impress under Roper, who arrives from Duke, is early enrollee Will Grier, who could claim the top spot behind Driskel. This spring will be a key stretch for the five receivers Florida signed in 2013, a group headlined by Ahmad Fullwood and Demarcus Robinson, with their potential development going a long way in aiding the improvement from a 4-8 debacle. The Gators lost cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson early to the NFL but could be just as stout or even better with the return of Vernon Hargreaves and the arrival of Jalen Tabor.

GEORGIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

Worth following: This spring was supposed to be about the adjustment from Aaron Murray to Hutson Mason at quarterback, but that occurred late last season. The health of tailback Todd Gurley (ankle) may be Georgia's top storyline this summer if Gurley doesn't do much this spring, but the chore for now is replacing Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette on the offensive line. John Theus has moved from right tackle and will get the first opportunity at replacing Gates at left tackle. There are nine starters back on defense with four new coaches, headed by coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who had the same role at Florida State last season. Pruitt looks to improve a secondary that was young last season and had to learn on the fly, which resulted in several disastrous moments.

KENTUCKY

Spring start: March 28

Spring game: April 26

Worth following: Auburn and Tennessee had quarterback derbies last year that carried well into preseason camp, and that could be the case this year in Lexington. Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith were the top two last season, but they will be challenged next month by Signal Mountain's Reese Phillips, who redshirted last year, and touted in-state early enrolleee Drew Barker. Tailback will have a makeover with Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George out of eligibility and with Dyshawn Mobley having transferred, and the beneficiary could be Braylon Heard, who sat out last season after transferring from Nebraska. The Wildcats got a boost in January when defensive linemen Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith elected to return for their senior seasons, but middle linebacker is a concern following the graduation of Avery Williamson.

LSU

Spring start: Today

Spring game: April 5

Worth following: Anthony Jennings is the leader at quarterback but had mixed results late last season, when he delivered a thrilling victory over Arkansas before proceeding to go 7-of-19 for 82 yards with an interception and four sacks in an Outback Bowl escape of Iowa. He could be challenged this spring by early enrollee Brandon Harris as the Tigers install more spread concepts in their attack. No position group in the SEC may be more on hold than LSU's receiving corps, which bid farewell to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry in January and must wait until this summer for the arrivals of Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre. The Tigers also must replace defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, a tandem many NFL analysts believe underachieved last autumn, with Christian LaCourture and Quinton Thomas getting the first cracks at those spots.

OLE MISS

Spring start: Began Wednesday

Spring game: April 5

Worth following: No program needed spring football to start more than the Rebels, who have experienced four player arrests since their Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech. The most notable of those players, linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, has been suspended for the opener against Boise State. Otherwise, the Rebels have a lot to be excited about following seven- and eight-win seasons in the first two years under coach Hugh Freeze. The biggest cause for optimism could be having nine defensive starters back. After losing receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-mes Logan from last year's team, Freeze announced this past week that sophomore Laquon Treadwell has moved from the slot to outside receiver.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

Worth following: Once upon a time, the top concern might have been Tyler Russell turning the quarterback reins over to Dak Prescott, but Prescott was surprisingly stout when thrust into action last season and could challenge Auburn's Nick Marshall for preseason All-SEC laurels. Prescott's running ability gave the Bulldogs a needed dimension during their late-season drive to a Liberty Bowl championship, and he returns this season along with proven receivers Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson. Mississippi State is the only SEC team with at least eight returning starters on each side of the ball, but replacing offensive guard Gabe Jackson is a top priority.

MISSOURI

Spring start: Tuesday

Spring game: April 19

Worth following: This is quarterback Maty Mauk's team, though there were Missouri fans in the Cotton Bowl wishing Mauk could have finished out that game instead of former starter James Franklin. Mauk kept things together midway through last season when Franklin was injured, and his favorite target this year is expected to be junior receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the former No. 1 overall recruit who had six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns in last December's SEC title game loss to Auburn. The losses of defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam should be eased by the return of Shane Ray, and the bigger challenge may be replacing cornerback E.J. Gaines.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring start: Began Thursday

Spring game: April 12

Worth following: Dylan Thompson steps in for the beloved Connor Shaw at quarterback, and vying for Thompson's old spot will be Connor Mitch and Brendan Nosovitch. Also needing to be replaced is the defensive end tandem of Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, with Darius English and Gerald Dixon the likely pair for that. Shaw, Clowney and former tailback Marcus Lattimore may be the three most cherished Gamecocks of the Steve Spurrier era, though Mike Davis wouldn't mind joining that list after rushing for 1,183 yards last season as a sophomore. The biggest problem area for now is at cornerback, where Victor Hampton's early exit to the NFL has left Rico McWilliams as the only scholarship corner this spring who played at that position last season.

TENNESSEE

Spring start: Today

Spring game: April 12

Worth following: The Volunteers have 14 early enrollees who could find prominent roles sooner than later. Tailback Jalen Hurd and receiver Josh Malone arrive highly touted and figure to get quality touches this spring, though the first newcomer to land a starting spot offensively could be mammoth junior college lineman Dontavius Blair. All five starting offensive linemen from last year's team have moved on, as have six of the defensive front seven, but the attention-grabbing headlines could come from a second consecutive four-man quarterback race. Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Josh Dobbs combined to throw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season, which is a big reason why Riley Ferguson, who redshirted last season, is the current favorite of many Volunteers fans.

TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Began Feb. 28

Spring game: None

Worth following: The Aggies were the first SEC team to get started on spring workouts and will be the only program, at least for now, that will not hold a spring game -- that's due to construction at Kyle Field. Replacing the NFL-bound trio of quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews would seemingly be too tough a task, but the Aggies do have four linemen returning and some coveted early enrollees. Quarterback Kyle Allen was rated the best at his position nationally in the 2014 signing class and is expected to challenge senior Matt Joeckel and sophomore Kenny Hill, while Speedy Noil is expected to get in the receiver mix quickly. Noil was the No. 1 athlete prospect in this year's class.

VANDERBILT

Spring start: Tuesday

Spring game: April 12

Worth following: Placing names with faces will be first and foremost in Nashville, with Derek Mason serving as the league's only new head coach. Mason arrives after coordinating Stanford's defense, and the Commodores will be shifting from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That could result in veteran defensive ends Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann moving to outside linebacker. The offense expects to be solid at running back and up front but has questions at quarterback, where Patton Robinette could be challenged by Johnny McCrary, and at receiver, where Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause must be replaced.

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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