SEC East Notebook

Spring football is over and the long offseason has started in the SEC East. There are still many programs searching for answers at multiple positions. The spring provided a chance for players to learn under new coaching staffs and some players to make a big jump up the depth chart.

Georgia: Head coach Mark Richt experienced a feeling this spring that most SEC coaches didn't. It's the calming feeling of having a settled quarterback position. Aaron Murray has the starting quarterback spot locked down after completing 61% of his passes while throwing for 3,049 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

"I'm very thankful to have him," Richt said. "Since the minute he came to campus, he has been preparing for his moment to start at Georgia. He puts in extra time in the film room. He's the kind of guy who is result oriented and will do whatever it takes to get prepared. He loves to prepare to be great. There's not one guy on our team who would say Aaron isn't paying the price."

Murray rushed for 167 yards and four touchdowns last season, although many of those rushes came while leaving the pocket too early. One year in the offense allowed him to learn his role more in-depth, and Richt has seen his starter be more patient in the pocket this spring.

"He's much more comfortable with our system overall," Richt said. "He's learned to stay in the pocket longer. He's willing to stay in and take a shot to throw the ball. Because of his anticipation and knowledge, I've seen better touch on some passes."

Kentucky: The Wildcats were 10th in scoring defense last season, but Kentucky is hoping the addition of Rick Minter as defensive coordinator will make the group better.

"I've been pleased with the growth of our team defensively," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said. "The new terminology and schemes went well for our team. We're getting our best personnel on the field and getting them closer to the ball."

On offense, the Wildcats need stability. They're hoping an upgrade at quarterback will do just that. Morgan Newton has been on campus for limited time, but he showed positive signs this spring.

"I was happy with the development at quarterback," Phillips said. "We wanted to come into this spring as a more efficient passing team. Morgan has taken a hold of this offense, and we're pleased with his progress so far."

Newton started the Music City Bowl against Clemson in 2009, but he didn't get many snaps in 2010 with Mike Hartline under center. Despite not getting many snaps, Newton showed enough in spring to make the team comfortable with him.

"Watching him go from that bowl game to only having one game in significant time, it was good to see how he improved and how much different he looked," Phillips said. "He has improved a lot. We're happy with the command he has of the ball, and he knows our offense and is comfortable with where the ball should go."

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are focused on preparing Connor Shaw to start at quarterback this fall in case Stephen Garcia doesn't return to the team. Head coach Steve Spurrier said they will make a decision this summer on Garcia after checking his progress.

"We have complete confidence Shaw can run this offense and be a good quarterback," Spurrier said. "He just needs a lot of playing time and snaps, and hopefully he'll do that this summer. We've given all our quarterbacks plans over the summers, and I'm not sure we've always followed them well, but hopefully Connor will and he'll be ready to play."

Tennessee: The honeymoon is over for head coach Derek Dooley, and he knows it. It's time for his team to perform on the field.

"(The honeymoon) lasted up until kickoff last season," Dooley said. "That's about how it is in the SEC."

As he hits the road this offseason to speak with boosters and represent the Tennessee program, Dooley knows the expectation on his program will start to grow.

"I hope they see a coach who wants to be here and appreciates the tradition and history of Tennessee football," Dooley said. "I hope they see a coach who has a good, systematic approach to get our team to represent this place on and off the field in the way our fans expect. I want them to develop a little confidence."

Improvement starts at the quarterback position with Tyler Bray. The sophomore went 5-for-30 in the spring game, but Dooley won't judge his quarterback based only on one day in the spring. He knows the performance wasn't what he wanted to see, but it doesn't outweigh the improvement seen during the practices.

"Tyler's performance on paper was horrible," Dooley said. "There were a lot of reasons for it. Some were his fault, but most of it had to do with extenuating circumstances."

Vanderbilt: James Franklin knows he's stepping into a tough situation in his first year as head coach of the Commodores. He wouldn't have taken the job if he thought it was an impossible situation.

"It's an opportunity and a challenge," Franklin said. "Like everything else in life, it's how you look at it. We have a chance to do something special and be a part of turning a program around. This year will be our first year to take that step, but we're excited about it. It's just about how you perceive it.

"I'm not result oriented. I'm process oriented. We wake up every day here and attack the day. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself."

The spring provided a chance to put their new scheme in on both sides of the ball, and the results were positive.

"We laid a foundation. Our kids learned our scheme, and they reacted well. As you can imagine, they're hungry about the future and the opportunities that we have. Everybody bought in, and it's an exciting time to be here."

Franklin won't make any decisions at quarterback until the three freshmen quarterbacks he signed show up on campus this summer. Larry Smith has taken plenty of snaps for the Commodores, but Franklin wants to wait and give everyone on the team a shot at the position.

"Larry Smith has taken a lot of the blame and it's unwarranted for the lack of success here," Franklin said. "He's got natural leadership ability and a strong arm."


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