SEC Football: Biggest Remaining Questions of Spring Football
It seems like national signing day was just yesterday, but here we are in April with spring practice winding down and some spring games kicking off over the weekend.
We went through some of the biggest spring practice battles before camps opened, and some of those questions remain unanswered.
Which issues facing SEC teams are the biggest problems as spring winds down? Due to inexperience and too-close-to-call competition, the following position groupings are question marks heading into Spring ball. The top nine are in this slideshow.
9. Alabama's Quarterback
Alabama's real quarterback battle won't take place until this summer when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives on campus, and this spring has been all about establishing a contender to Coker.
Who's that contender?
Nobody knows yet.
Senior Blake Sims is the only quarterback in camp who has attempted a college pass. The Gainesville, Ga., native has been working on becoming a more prolific pocket passer who doesn't have to rely on his dual-threat capabilities to be successful.
Will that experience pay off, or will Alec Morris, Parker McLeod, Cooper Bateman or David Cornwell unseat him and carry some much-needed momentum into summer conditioning?
Bateman is the most likely of the underclassmen to take the next step. He was a 4-star prospect coming out of high school, is accurate downfield and is a perfect fit for what first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wants to do.
These last two weeks aren't the two most important weeks of the Alabama quarterback battle, but for four of the five candidates in spring camp, it will be their last shot at winning the job.
8. Arkansas' Quarterback
Arkansas needs a quarterback who can complete more than 50 percent of his passes, and that quarterback could be a familiar face.
Brandon Allen completed just 49.6 percent of his passes (128-of-258) last year and is in the midst of a battle this spring to retain his job with his younger brother Austin Allen, last year's backup AJ Derby, redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell and true freshman early enrollee Rafe Peavey.
The elder Allen, a junior, probably has the edge right now based on his previous staring experience. But naming a No. 1 quarterback shouldn't be the top priority for head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney right now. Naming the top two should be.
Bielema and Chaney can't enter fall camp with a crowded field at quarterback, because at that point they'd be taking away valuable reps with the "ones" for the eventual winner. It'll be interesting to see which quarterbacks rise to the top over the next few scrimmages and during Arkansas' spring game on April 26. Only then will we get a true glimpse of what this Razorbacks offense will look like.
7. Tennessee's Quarterback
Much like Arkansas, Tennessee has a crowded quarterback battle brewing this spring, with senior Justin Worley, sophomore Joshua Dobbs, sophomore Nathan Peterman and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson.
Worley and Dobbs each saw significant snaps last season, but head coach Butch Jones has been impressed with the play of Ferguson.
"Riley has an innate ability to create plays," Jones told B/R. "I've been very encouraged. We've tried to simulate as many game-speed repetitions as possible."
But while Ferguson brings something to the table with his athleticism, Worley's experience and the progress he's made this spring make him very attractive to Jones and the Vols' staff.
"Justin Worley has really improved greatly, from leadership to his ability to make all of the throws, particularly the deep balls," Jones said.
Tennessee can't let a four-man battle brew in fall camp, so Jones' top priority as spring practice winds down should be to narrow it to two leading into the fall.
6. Georgia's Secondary
Bringing in new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt means that every defensive player on Georgia's roster has to win back their job. For members of the Georgia secondary, that may take a lot of work.
The Bulldogs finished ninth in the SEC last season in pass defense (227.4), and never felt comfortable with former coordinator Todd Grantham's system.
Sheldon Dawson will likely man the "star" position former safety Josh Harvey-Clemons dropped down to last year at times, but he could be pushed by running back-turned-defensive back J.J. Green. Green tied for a team-high seven tackles in Georgia's last scrimmage and impressed head coach Mark Richt, according to Connor Smolensky of The Telegraph.
“He is very tough, very physical,” Richt told Smolensky. “For a guy that hasn’t played defense in a while I really like what he’s doing.”
That's important, because physicality—namely tackling—was a big issue for the Georgia secondary last year in addition to the confusion. Pruitt has options. Green, Dawson, Shaq Wiggins and Damian Swann are all talented cornerbacks who can be successful; and safeties Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger all have experience.
Figuring out how those pieces of the puzzle fit together as spring winds down is important for Pruitt, so that they can avoid a repeat of the uncertainty that plagued last year's group.
5. Auburn's Secondary
Like Georgia, Auburn's secondary didn't exactly impress last season in the Tigers' run to the SEC title. They finished 13th in the SEC in pass defense at 257.7 yards per game and are forced to replace starting safety Ryan Smith and cornerback Chris Davis from last year's group.
So who's going to step up?
Derrick Moncrief was brought in from junior college to battle for Smith's former spot at boundary safety, and he has been impressing defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, according to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser.
“Moncrief has been an extremely pleasant surprise,” Johnson said. “When you get a junior college player who’s not played in your system, you always wonder how long is it going to take him to transition? He’s making some mistakes out there as you would expect. I think at this point, he is way beyond all of the new safeties."
He's joined by a talented group of safeties that includes the versatile Josh Holsey and Johnathan "Rudy" Ford.
Jonathan Jones got some experience last season at cornerback but could be challenged by sophomore T.J. Davis and wide receiver turned cornerback Trovon Reed for the vacant spot opposite Jonathon Mincy.
4. Florida's Wide Receivers
Florida has its quarterback in Jeff Driskel, but who's he going to throw to?
Sophomore Demarcus Robinson has been impressive this spring, and I wrote earlier this week that his emergence as a deep threat would be huge for the progression of the 2014 Gator offense, which desperately needs to find a way to stretch the field.
The spring hype surrounding Robinson needs to translate to the fall, and he needs some teammates to join him.
Will Quinton Dunbar take the next step and join Robinson as a deep threat, which would create headaches for opposing defenses? Can Ahmad Fulwood live up to the hype? Where will Andre Debose fit into the mix once he returns to full speed?
These are legitimate questions that would be better answered this spring so that head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper can fine-tune the offense this summer.
3. LSU's Quarterback
Sophomore Anthony Jennings was the veteran of the group vying for LSU's vacant quarterback spot, but he looked less than stellar in his only career start—a 21-14 win over Iowa where he completed just 36.8 percent of his passes (7-of-19) for 82 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
His primary challenger is true freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris, as the two have separated from redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig. Harris and Jennings have been splitting first-team reps of late, and if Harris impresses on LSU's biggest spring stage this weekend, don't be surprised if he's the guy taking snaps when the Tigers take on Wisconsin in Week 1.
Even if Harris doesn't win the job and no decision is made, he's pushed Jennings for the job this spring, which has created an interesting storyline at the quarterback position as LSU enters the summer conditioning phase.
2. Texas A&M's Quarterback
The Texas A&M quarterback battle got thrown a curveball late last week when, according to The Eagle in Bryan-College Station (Texas), sophomore Kenny Hill was arrested and suspended after police found him passed out in a planter full of rocks and plants outside of a local College Station bar.
Without Hill in the mix, senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen will get first-team snaps as the Aggies close spring practice this week.
Will this be the week that Allen takes control of the job, or will the added snaps allow Joeckel to earn even more trust with the Aggies coaching staff?
Hill will likely be back for fall camp, but if one of the two primary contenders takes the job and runs with it during the final week of spring practice and summer workouts, it'll be hard for him to get back into the mix come August.
1. Alabama's Cornerbacks
How is Alabama's depth chart at cornerback looking?
That's a bit of a mystery thus far, but AL.com's Andrew Gribble provided a bit of a glimpse of how things are shaking out earlier this week when he pointed out that sophomore Eddie Jackson—a part-time starter last year—was paired with hot-shot early enrollee Tony Brown during Tuesday's practice.
Does that mean they're the two starters? Who knows. Juniors Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones were also paired together during the same practice. Saban is likely mixing and matching his defensive backs this spring in the hopes of finding the right combination to help the defensive backfield take the next step.
Make no mistake, it needs to take the next step.
Despite finishing second in the SEC in pass defense last season (180.3 YPG), the Crimson Tide's secondary lacked consistency and benefited from a schedule that didn't include many potent passing teams.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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