QB Questions Abound in SEC

A quick look around the SEC makes John Brantley's spring game struggles not look so bad. No matter where you look, there's an SEC team that used spring practice trying to figure out who its starting quarterback would be in the fall. Some questions were answered, but most teams are heading into the off-season uncertain of who the quarterback will be.

It starts with the defending national champion. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton left early for the NFL Draft where he could be the top pick overall, and the Tigers started the spring looking for who would take over. Barrett Trotter served as the backup last season and went 6-for-9 for 64 yards in mop up duty. The junior brings stability and knowledge of the offense that would make the transition easier.

Sophomore Clint Moseley, who appeared in one game in 2010, is also battling for the starting spot.

"Our quarterbacks did some nice things this spring," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "We would've liked for them to be more consistent, but they've both been in the system to know what we're trying to accomplish. We're just looking for more consistency at the position. It's a battle that will continue going forward."

Freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier will enroll this summer, and the five-star quarterback could see immediate playing time and challenge to start.

"We don't look at how old they are," Chizik said. "They're faceless and nameless. We're going to play the best player. If Kiehl comes in and he's the best player through the course of studying on his own and working through two-a-days, then he'll be the one that plays."

In Baton Rouge, the team that is being picked as the favorite in the SEC isn't certain who will be under center when the Tigers open the season. It looks like senior Jordan Jefferson will start, but transfer and former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will push Jefferson.

The hiring of offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has helped Jefferson early.

"Jordan Jefferson had the best spring he's had since I've been here," LSU head coach Les Miles said. "He has continued to improve, and I think Kragthorpe has really improved him."

The improvements from Jefferson have been mechanical. His lengthy arm swing before throwing the football has been toned down, making the ball come out of his hand faster than in years past.

"He gets it out of his hand so quickly after going through reads and regressions," Miles said. "There is much less hesitation in the decision process. That's his best improvement. Going into a guy's senior year, there's a general want to be one of the best in college. That's a goal of his. Leadership is a piece that the quarterback position must embrace. He understands it and wants for it. It's something that he's going to be much better at as we go forward."

Staying in the West, Alabama spent the spring trying to find a replacement for Greg McElroy. The only progress that was made came in head coach Nick Saban believing he could start the season with a two-quarterback system, using both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims.

"Until somebody separates, I have no problem (playing both)," Saban said. "We have confidence in both guys, and I think our players do."

That doesn't mean there aren't any uncertainties. If anything, the lack of one starting quarterback only increases the uncertainty around the Alabama offense.

"One guy (Sims) hasn't played at all as a college player, and the other (McCarron) has played as a backup player," Saban said. "It's important that those guys continue to develop the knowledge, experience and confidence in their job, as well as the people around them. How that all develops will determine how far we can go as an offensive team next year."

At Arkansas, Tyler Wilson looked like the quarterback who was a lock to take over for Ryan Mallett. When Mallett got hurt at Auburn last season, Wilson went 25-for-34 for 322 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. The performance looked as if it put him in line to start at Arkansas in 2011. Not so fast.

Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino still sees a competition between Wilson and sophomore Brandon Mitchell.

"We learned a lot about our quarterbacks and our competition there," Petrino said. "You can't put everything into the spring game. You have to evaluate what went on in the weeks, which let us learn what they need to work out.

"They still have a ways to go. Some of it was concentrating on doing their own job to get better, but they need to understand that another part of their job is to help the guys around them be better players. They both have great leadership qualities."

South Carolina didn't expect to have a quarterback battle, but when Stephen Garcia was suspended from team activities halfway through spring practice, they didn't have a choice. Connor Shaw would start if Garcia doesn't return, and that's something head coach Steve Spurrier didn't rule out.

"(Garcia is) all set to graduate in May as long as he passes the courses he's taking now," Spurrier said. "With his degree in hand, he can play anywhere in the country. Hopefully it'll work out and he'll be back with us with a lot better attitude."

If that doesn't happen, Spurrier has confidence in Shaw.

"If Stephen doesn't make it back, we have complete confidence Shaw can run the offense and be a good quarterback," Spurrier said. "We think he just needs playing time and a lot of snaps. Hopefully he does that this summer.

"We've given him a plan, but hopefully Connor will follow it to throw 100 balls for five days a week. If he does that, he'll be ready to play."

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen is also going through a quarterback battle. Chris Relf, Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre are the three competitors, but Mullen did say that Relf has "done nothing to not be our starting quarterback."

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