Commentary: A Look at Next Season

Hawgs Illustrated Publisher Clay Henry takes a look at how the Hogs will line up next season, and the question marks that loom ahead of spring football drills.

I feel like this team will be solid in many areas, and should be picked in the top half of the SEC West. But, there are serious question marks right now.

I worry mostly about the offensive line. The loss of three starters there in what is already a shaky position concerns me more than a little. I think we'll eventually learn that the depth is decent. Playing time will help the likes of Bo Lacy, Jim Peters and Scott Davenport. But, that takes time, and I wonder how they will do. Until we know, we have to list the line as a serious question mark. I know that Bokermann and Andrews will continue to develop and become solid if not good SEC players. But, I worry about the other three spots. Can Josh Melton be a consistent force in the SEC? I don't know. It appears the coaches have doubts or they wouldn't have benched him in the first place. Can Nathan Ball move back to the offensive line, and help at guard? He'll need to spend some time in the weight room to give them the needed strength.

Otherwise the offense should be better. The quarterbacks will benefit from another spring under David Lee. It's going to be interesting to see the way they line up for the first day of spring practice ... who is one through four. I know if I was a quarterback, I'd be busting my butt to be in shape in the offseason program to make sure I didn't give the coaches a reason to dock my snaps in spring. If I was Matt Jones, I'd be out there for every day of the offseason, and skip hoops for this season. He needs to be throwing every day of the offseason and working on the mechanics and his arm strength. Same for the other three.

I look forward to seeing De'Arrius Howard with the first group in the spring. He had an excellen last two months of fall practice with the scout team. He can help this team at tailback. He and Fred Talley may be the best two tailbacks in the spring. I know Cedric Cobbs could be there, too, but, at this point, I like Talley and Howard more than Cobbs and Brandon Holmes. The speed and quickness of Talley and Howard put them ahead, in my mind.

Fullback is still a question mark. Mark Pierce did his best, but his shoulders took a beating. He can't be expected to block linebackers that outweigh him by 25 to 40 pounds and stay fit. It won't happen. He barely made it through this season with his shoulders still on top of his body. They need to find another fullback, or two. I don't have any answers there, just questions.

Tight end is another question mark, and it pains me to say that. Jason Peters has the body and athletic ability. Does he have the mind for it? I don't know. He didn't progress at the rate that I'd hoped for after he was moved there in preseason. Maybe he'll get it all down in spring practice. I suspect he'll continue to develop and be okay. But, I don't know if the defensive coaches will let him stay at tight end. The deal was that Bobby Allen wanted him back in the D-line in the spring. Nathan Ball is a warrior, but doesn't have the athletic ability needed for that position. He was easily covered. He'll probably move to offensive guard, leaving tight end shy on depth. Marcellus Poydras is not the answer. He knows the offense, but is not physically strong enough to handle the blocking in the SEC. He seemed to play less as the season progressed. He's had shoulder problems, but I don't know if that is a factor now.

Wide receiver needs an infusion of talent. I suspect that's happening with recruiting right now. We need more speed to go with Richard Smith and George Wilson. Those are our best two wideouts right now. I assume Steven Harris will be back in the fall to help. I've seen him running on the stands at the stadium, so he is rehabbing well. But, I doubt he's ready for the spring drills. Caleb Caesar and Michael Robinson are also in rehab and probably can't help in the spring.

Defensively, I'd rate finding some more help in the defensive line as the top priority. We lose Carlos Hall and Curt Davis there, and both were solid players and great leaders. However, I suspect that Arrion Dixon, Elliott Harris and Jayson Johnson are going to be good SEC players by the time the Hogs line up against Boise State in the fall. They were coming on in Cotton Bowl drills, and will benefit greatly from another round of workouts in the spring. They also will improve in the weight room this winter. Look for those guys to help us greatly in the fall.

At linebacker, it's only going to get better. Caleb Miller and Tony Bua were solid, and their backups are good, too. Jeb Huckeba and Gavin Walls will really makes strides in the offseason and spring to challenge for more playing time. Jermaine Petty was a stud at middle linebacker, but I don't worry so much about that with the way John Thompson develops players there. Walls may get a look there, and it appears that Pierre Brown is a keeper there after a solid redshirt season. Clarke Moore is another good prospect at middle linebacker. We'll be fine there. And, Shane Collins is doing fine in his rehab from knee surgery. He'll be able to practice in the spring, from what I'm hearing about his progress.

The secondary will be solid, and may be among the league's best. Dave Wommack did well there with a lot of young players learning a new defense. There is much talent there and with a spring to work them, it should be a good situation at all four positions. With Lawrence Richardson, Eddie Jackson, Ken Hamlin, Batman Carroll, Bo Mosley, Jimarr Gallon and Marvin Jackson, with have plenty of SEC talent to spread among the four spots. The only major loss back there is Corey Harris, and I think we'll be able to overcome that one with ease. I look for Carroll, Gallon and Jackson to make big moves in the spring. Jackson may have the most potential. He's never been in a solid weight program, and will probably be a different player in the fall after building up his legs to avoid the injuries that plagued him this fall. Lorinezo Robinson is a young player off the redshirt list that will get a look in the safety rotation, too.

The kicking competition in the spring should be entertaining. David Carlton and Brennan O'Donohoe will continue their fight, and look for Ross Novak to get a good look, too. At punter, we should be solid again with Richie Butler. Also, the special team coverage teams will continue to get solid work in the spring and should be among the SEC's best next year.

Depth should improve in every area. Last year's solid recruiting class will get its chance to fight for a lot of starting position in the spring. Players like Huckeba, Howard, Robinson, Brown and Moore are going to push hard to make it to the first team, and may just do that. And, what happens on the offensive line will be of great interest, too. For that reason, I think it's going to be one of

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