SEC Football: 4 Teams Having the Best Spring Camp
As players jockey for starting positions and coaches experiment with new schemes and formations, teams across the Southeastern Conference are building toward the 2014 football season. The losses on both sides of the football, but particularly on offense, are acute, and the need to rebuild is significant.
Through key injuries or emerging players, new schemes and coordinators, spring camps have a massive impact on the performance of teams during the regular season. This year's sheer amount of questions that teams have to answer makes that even more true in 2014.
Several teams have either answered those questions outstandingly, have had leaders emerge or simply are fulfilling expectations, and those great spring performances follow.
The Crimson Tide are putting new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin through the initiation process, and it seems to be paying dividends. The Alabama receivers have enjoyed a tremendous spring, and the previously hyped quarterback position battle seems to have already resolved itself as senior Blake Sims has stood out as the favorite.
Filling the hole at the starting quarterback spot was a main concern of head coach Nick Saban this spring, and it was important to get it done early. With Sims now at the helm, he'll have all spring to learn Kiffin's system. That should benefit the Tide in the fall.
Saturday brought the second UA scrimmage, and though the run game looked to have some work to do, Sims once again showed why he's the favorite. Via unofficial stats, Sims went 24-of-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Linebacker Trey DePriest continued his breakout spring, forcing a fumble, recording a tackle for loss and notching six tackles.
With the quarterback settled, at least until Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives this summer, Alabama can round out some areas of opportunity and give Kiffin a smooth transition back into a coordinator role.
Another team breaking in a new offensive coordinator, Florida's questions are far greater than those in Tuscaloosa. Following a disastrous four-win 2013 campaign, the Gators have to find a reliable, healthy quarterback, implement a system that favors his training and start living up to the potential that a program this elite has.
The Gators, in short, have been doing just that.
Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is working with starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, who returns from a broken leg, to mold an offense around his pro-style tendencies, and it's showing the improvement most expected to see.
Florida's spring game ended in a 23-23 tie and saw Driskel complete 19-of-33 passes for 171 yards and, more importantly, show that he's recovered from the injury by becoming a bit of a running threat. The offensive pace was quick, and the offense seemed to respond well. It will need to, as last year's offense couldn't have been much more putrid.
The challenge will be the Gators' wide receivers. There aren't a whole lot of playmakers with experience in the unit, and it showed in the spring game. The quarterbacks were freed up to sling the ball a bit more, but the regular drops from the receivers closed up any vertical attack that was presented.
There are still questions to answer, but the pieces are coming together for this popular dark-horse SEC pick to bring a much more competitive team into 2014.
Over 46,000 people flooded into Sanford Stadium for the Bulldogs' spring game, no doubt looking forward to seeing the quarterback battle play out after the graduation of Aaron Murray.
Presumed starter Hutson Mason didn't disappoint, hitting 18-of-27 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown. This battle seems to be over, as redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey looks to be filling the backup role. Running back Todd Gurley's recovery from an ankle injury will be crucial to UGA's 2014 success, and he's responding well. Though not fully back to form, he looks to be on track to be ready to go in the fall. If that's the case, look for this ultra-speedy back to challenge for SEC Player of the Year.
Wide receiver Chris Conley is another name that's emerging as an SEC all-star, as he's dominated the unit throughout the spring. His spring game performance of six catches for 124 yards and a touchdown was yet another highlight.
The Bulldogs are hitting their stride, getting guys healthy and building momentum in a spring that's been tailor-made for it. The 2014 campaign should be a solid one in Athens.
Perhaps the most surprising spring performance this year has come out of Starkville. Joining Florida as a popular underdog SEC pick in 2014, the Bulldogs have seen huge performances from some expected, and unexpected, places.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, who put up massive numbers in a small amount of time as a starter in 2013, has simply been exquisite. His control, leadership and dual-threat nature has shown through and given tantalizing glimpses of what 2014 could have in store. Prescott, as the obvious starter, had his role limited in the spring game but still connected on 7-of-9 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
More surprising has been the development of backup quarterbacks Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald. Neither are well-known or have been expected to become SEC-quality athletes, but both have had impressive springs and put up big numbers in the State spring game.
The Bulldogs' defense ranked in the top 20 a year ago, and it should only improve as massive lineman Chris Jones, at 6'5" and 300 pounds, has shown potential to be one of the best in the league. With an athletic stable of wide receivers at the disposal of the offense, this well-rounded, experienced team is showing some huge potential for 2014.