Spring games are in the books around the Southeast, and several SEC players laid the foundation for what could be breakout years in the nation's toughest football conference.
Spring game MVPs aren't always superstars, but sometimes we get a glimpse of what's to come. Players like Rudi Johnson, T.J. Yeldon and John Jenkins are just a few of the SEC stars who first made their names known in the spring.
Which players who shined this spring will continue that momentum into the fall?
Texas A&M RB Brandon Williams
The world got a glimpse of what Williams, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma, could do in Texas A&M's spring game. With the defense not allowed to hit quarterback Johnny Manziel, the running backs had to carry the ground attack, and Williams delivered..
He rushed seven times for 59 yards, caught three passes for 29 yards and scored two touchdowns, drawing unsportsmanlike penalties for celebrating after each score. It's been a while since he has found the end zone, so a little celebrating on his part was understandable in a spring game.
Consider Williams' performance a sign of things to come.
He's part of loaded backfield that features incumbent starter Ben Malena, home-run hitter Trey Williams and Oregon transfer Tra Carson. Due to the abundance of weapons in the backfield, expect all of them to play a part in the offense both as running backs and as receivers out of the backfield.
Simply put, Manziel won't rush for 1,410 yards in 2013 because he won't have to. Brandon Williams will be a big reason why.
Georgia S Tray Matthews
Matthews was one of the centerpieces of the 2013 Georgia recruiting class. He enrolled early and probably will start when Georgia travels across the state line to take on Clemson in its opener.
Not only will he start, he will star—as in, he could be an All-SEC performer this season.
He's that good.
Matthews had four tackles in Georgia's G-Day Game and displayed the type of game-changing ability Georgia needs in its rebuilt secondary. One of his tackles came after he was upended on a screen pass, regained his feet and stopped wide receiver J.J. Green for a minimal gain. He broke up a pass in the the end zone on the next play, and then stopped running back Keith Marshall on 4th-and-1 to win the game for team Black.
Along with fellow safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, he will solidify the back end of the Georgia defense and be a big part of Georgia contending for the BCS National Championship in 2013.
Auburn "Star" Justin Garrett
Running back Cameron Artis-Payne stole most of the headlines during Auburn's A-Day, but the big story was hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett.
Garrett was the recipient of a ton of hype this spring, and he didn't disappoint in front of the 83,401 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium. On the first play for the starting defense, Garrett scooped up a fumble over the head of quarterback Jonathan Wallace and scored the game's first touchdown.
He only made two tackles—one of which was a bone-jarring hit on wide receiver Ricardo Louis on a screen pass—but don't be fooled by his rather modest statistics. He was all over the field and disrupted play after play.
A lack of fundamentals has been a major issue on the Plains ever since Tommy Tuberville resigned following the 2008 season, but Garrett doesn't seem to suffer from the epidemic. He flies over the field, takes proper angles and has a nose for the football. Auburn fans are hoping that he isn't the exception to the rule, but the start of a trend for the new-look Tiger defense.
South Carolina RB Mike Davis
Who's going to step in for Marcus Lattimore as the feature back for the South Carolina Gamecocks? Sophomore Mike Davis answered that question in a hurry this spring for head coach Steve Spurrier's crew.
Davis only rushed two times for 40 yards and one touchdown in the Gamecocks' spring game, but consider that a direct result of the head ball coach trying to hide his budding superstar.
After the spring game, Davis told reporters that he was told that the job is his.
"I just wanted to try to separate myself from other people, and kind of stand out so I could get the starting job,” Davis told the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier. “I was told (Saturday) that I have the starting job so far.”
That speaks volumes, because the man he beat out—sophomore Brandon Wilds—was an absolute boss filling in for Lattimore in 2011.
South Carolina is legit, folks. There are some issues defensively, but the head ball coach has playmakers all over the field on offense, with Davis being one of the players who stepped up this spring.
Tennessee RB Alden Hill
Rajion Neal entered this spring as the No. 1 running back for first-year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, but redshirt freshman Alden Hill may have something to say about that.
Hill rushed 18 times for 101 yards in the Orange & White game, signalling that the 6'2", 217-pound redshirt freshman will be a major part of the attack for Jones' first offense on Rocky Top.
Jones' offenses have been predicated on spreading the ball around to a variety of players, but Hill's ability to pound the ball between the tackles behind that talented and experienced offensive line will kick the offense into overdrive. About Hill, quarterback Nathan Peterman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Without a doubt, Alden Hill has showed up huge this spring. Ya'll 'all need to be talking about him the most. I was on scout team with him last year, and to see his improvement from last year to this year is unreal, really.
When Tennessee needs a closer to dominate a worn-out defense, Hill is going to be that guy. When Jones needs that critical yard in a third- or fourth-and-short situation, Hill can be that guy.
He won't be flashy, but Hill is going to be a big part of the Vol offense in 2013.
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