The renovations to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center will wait one more year and not for a lack of funds or because of any impending departure by head coach Billy Donovan. It’s simply a matter of having all the plans and permits in place before the renovation begins. According to the press release by the University of Florida, the construction management team’s design plans are only 60% complete so building can’t proceed.
The O-Dome will have better seating and some other nicer features when the renovations are done, but this is like putting lipstick on a pig. A better idea would have been to gut the O-Dome and turn it into an indoor track/football indoor practice facility years ago while building a new arena on the west end of campus, where there is space and traffic could be better managed. As bad as it is for indoor track, at least the O-Dome gave UF a home facility for indoor meets. With the renovations there will be no indoor track facility.
Going west would have been a great idea, but it’s too late for that now. The renovations will wait a year and at some point in the future the O-Dome will have a few more features. It’s better than nothing at all.
FLORIDA: With the exception of the Alabama game in which the Gators gave up 672 offensive yards and 42 points, Florida’s defense was actually very good last season. New coordinator Geoff Collins doesn’t lack for talent although there are some holes at linebacker.
He has to have a great 2015: Nobody with a brain is going to throw the ball at Vernon Hargreaves Jr. which means the other corner is going to see a lot of balls thrown his way. This is Jalen Tabor’s chance to shine.
Biggest shoes to fill: Dante Fowler Jr. created as many plays for his teammates as he made. Can the Gators find anyone who can constantly disrupt opponents?
The big question this spring: There is a lack of depth at linebacker and a lack of coverage skills at the position. Will Collins go to a 4-2-5 which will better accommodate the skill set for Marcus Maye and Marcell Harris?
ALABAMA: Alabama got exposed against Auburn (44 points, 630 yards) and Ohio State (42 points, 537 yards). The linebacking corps has to be rebuilt and the secondary has to show dramatic improvement. Coordinator Kirby Smart moved from secondary to linebackers in the offseason to make room for Mel Tucker, whose aggressive Chicago secondaries were among the best in the NFL.
He has to have a great 2015: Nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson had a decent sophomore season when he had 6.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. He is the key for 2015. He has to control two gaps or Alabama’s defense is going to have trouble stopping the run.
Biggest shoes to fill: Landon Collins was Alabama’s last line of defense, leading tackler (102) and leader in interceptions. Finding a safety with his football IQ and instincts will be difficult.
The big question this spring: Can Alabama regain its defensive swagger or were those two games against spread teams (Auburn and Ohio State) the blueprint for how to attack the Crimson Tide?
Arkansas: A lot of folks expected a down year for the Razorbacks on defense after coordinator Chris Ash left to coach the Ohio State secondary last February. Under Robb Smith, who came to Arkansas from the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Hogs became one of the best defensive units in the SEC, giving up only 323 yards per game and posting back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Missouri. Only seven starters return but Smith played a lot of people so Arkansas should become one of the elite defenses in the league.
He has to have a great 2015: Tackle Darius Philon was terrific as a sophomore when he was in on 46 tackles including 11.5 behind the line of scrimmage, sacked the quarterback 4.5 times and returned a fumble for a touchdown. He could be a dominator as a junior.
Biggest shoes to fill: Trey Flowers got all the hype but linebacker Martrell Spaight made more plays. He had 128 tackles including 10.5 for loss and was a huge reason why opponents ran the ball for only 114.6 yards per game.
The big question this spring: If there was a weakness on the Arkansas defense last year it was getting to the quarterback (24 times). The emphasis this spring will be on getting more pressure, a tough job considering Trey Flowers has graduated and will play in the NFL next year.
AUBURN: The Auburn faithful believe that Will Muschamp’s no nonsense approach is just what the Tigers need to do a defensive turnaround. There is no lack of athletes and Muschamp has potential stars in Davonte Lambert and Montravious Adams. If Carl Lawson can play at the same level he played as a freshman, the Tigers will have a D-line that can apply plenty of pressure, something that lacked last year.
He has to have a great 2015: Jonathan Jones had six interceptions, 12 pass breakups and 36 tackles last year as a junior. With Muschamp and Travaris Robinson coaching up the secondary, he could have an All-SEC type of season.
Biggest shoes to fill: Safety Jermaine Whitehead wasn’t a great tackler (only 36 from his safety position), but he played the ball well and picked off six passes.
The big question this spring: How much difference will a healthy Carl Lawson make for Auburn’s defense? He missed all of last season after a brilliant freshman year in 2013 when he had four sacks, seven quarterback hurries and 7.5 tackles for loss.
Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt was supposed to do to the Georgia defense what he did for FSU in 2013 when the Seminoles won the national championship. It didn’t quite work out that way. Georgia gave up 30 or more points five times and had a stretch of five games when opponents averaged 274 yards a game on the ground. Pruitt was given a hefty raise in the offseason. His defense needs to raise its level of play.
He has to have a great 2015: Leonard Floyd was tabbed the next great pass rusher prior to 2014 but he only got to the quarterback six times and was vulnerable against the run. He’s got to do a better job stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback if Georgia’s defense is going to be a dominating unit.
The big question this spring: Can Jeremy Pruitt scheme a defense that can stop the run? Florida ran for 418 and Georgia Tech for 399 last year when the Bulldogs had experienced players in the trenches.
Kentucky: Five teams scored at least 40 points (Georgia scored 63) and two others scored in the 30s. From last year’s two-deep on defense, 17 players return but does being a year older make them a year better?
Returning defensive starters (7): Jason Hatcher, DE; Melvin Lewis, DT; Josh Forrest, MLB; Black McClain, NB; Fred Tiller, CB; Cody Quinn, CB; A.J. Stamps, S.
He has to have a great 2015: There are two ways to consider the season Josh Forrest had last year. He had 110 tackles, which is good since he was the top tackler on the team. However, Kentucky’s defense was so bad and on the field so much he probably should have had at least 40 more. If he’s not good in the middle this year, there will be a lot of bad days at the office for the Wildcats.
Biggest shoes to fill: Bud Dupree played himself into a first round draft pick when the NFL selects in May. Kentucky doesn’t have a defensive player of his caliber on the roster.
The big question this spring: Kentucky gave up more than 300 yards rushing three times and more than 200 another three times. Can the young guys on the D-line show some growth this spring and show signs that they’ll get some stops against the run this year?
LSU: Under John Chavis in 2014, the Tigers gave up only 316 yards per game but they had games when the defense was a no show. Chavis has departed for for Texas A&M, replaced by former Alabama linebackers coach Kevin Steele. Of more importance, the Tigers brought in Ed Orgeron to coach the D-line. That should pay serious dividends immediately.
He has to have a great 2015: Everybody talks about the potential of middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (77 tackles last year including 7.5 for loss). It’s time to produce big numbers if LSU’s defense is going to improve.
Biggest shoes to fill: Defensive end Jermauria Rasco made 71 tackles (7.5 for loss), led the team in sacks (4) and quarterback hurries (8) and forced a fumble. He was one of the few consistently disruptive players on the defensive unit.
The big question this spring: Can Coach O turn the Tigers into ferocious pass rushers? They only got to the quarterback 19 times last year, ridiculous considering the amount of talent on the D-line.
Mississippi State: Manny Diaz returns to Mississippi State after a four-year absence. When he was the defensive coordinator in 2010, the Bulldogs fielded one of the most improved units in the SEC. His first task is to shore up a pass defense that gave up 272 yards per game and 17 touchdowns.
He has to have a great 2015: Nose tackle Chris Jones has to rebound from a so-so 2014 when he only had 26 tackles and three sacks. He has to be a two-gap run stopper for the Bulldogs to play well defensively.
Biggest shoes to fill: It’s going to be tough to replace the physical presence of 6-4, 250-pound middle linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, one of the most physical linebacker in the country and a first team All-American.
The big question this spring: Can the youngsters in the secondary grow up in a hurry and cover someone?
MISSOURI: After 14 seasons at Missouri, the last four as the defensive coordinator, Dave Steckel left to become the head coach at D1AA Missouri State. His replacement is Barry Odom, a former Mizzou player whose Memphis defense forced 31 turnovers last year.
He has to have a great 2015: As good as he was last year (122 tackles), Kentrell Brothers will have to be better this year because the Tigers lost 23 sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss in Shane Ray and Markus Golden on the D-line.
Biggest shoes to fill: Ray was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-American with 13 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.
The big question this spring: The Tigers lost 34.5 of their 42 sacks last year to graduation. Can Odom coach up the youngsters and create a serious pass rush?
Ole Miss: In the regular season, the Rebels were the most difficult team in the country to score against. The D-line returns intact and might be as good as any in the country. The real concern is the secondary which lost All-Americans Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt.
He has to have a great 2015: When Nkemdiche moved inside to tackle, the entire Ole Miss defense benefitted. He has to command a double team on every play in 2015 for Ole Miss to make up for the loss of three key members of last year’s secondary.
Biggest shoes to fill: Senquez Golson was a unanimous first team All-America cornerback after a 10 interception season. He locked down his side of the field.
The big question this spring: Denzel Nkemdiche was having a poor 2014 when he broke his ankle against LSU. Can he come back from the injury and return to his 2012 form when he a second team All-SEC selection with 82 tackles and three interceptions?
South Carolina: The difference between a 7-6 season and what could have been a fourth straight 11-win season was the defense – or lack of – in the fourth quarter when the Gamecocks blew four winnable games. South Carolina gave up 30.4 points per game and 212.3 rushing yards. It was bad enough that Steve Spurrier brought in Jon Hoke from the NFL as his co-defensive coordinator.
He has to have a great 2015: Skai Moore was one of the few bright spots on a bad defense last year when he had 93 tackles and three interceptions. If he has a bad 2015, the Gamecocks are really in trouble.
Biggest shoes to fill: Strong safety Brison Williams was a poor tackler, but he was pretty good in coverage where he picked off four passes and broke up six others.
The big question this spring: The good news is that 19 of the 22 defenders on the two-deep are back including eight starters. That could also be the bad news. Can Hoke figure out a way to get pass rush (only 14 sacks all last year) and coverage (just 11 interceptions)?
Tennessee: Twenty of the 22 on the defensive depth chart return and most of them will be sophomores and juniors. Most of these guys were highly recruited coming out of high school. It’s time for the kids to grow up if the Vols intend to be anything more than a middle of the pack SEC defense.
Returning defensive starters (9): Derek Barnett, DE; Danny O’Brien, NT; Corey Vereen, DE; Jakob Johnson, MLB; Curt Magitt, SLB; Jalen Reeves-Mabin, WLB; Brian Randolph, SS; LaDarrell McNeil, FS; Cameron Sutton, CB.
He has to have a great 2015: Curt Maggitt finally had the kind of season that everyone had been predicting of him last year as a junior when he had 48 tackles, 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He’s one of only four seniors on the defensive roster so he’s got to lead.
Biggest shoes to fill: A.J. Johnson was a tackling machine before he was suspended after being accused of rape with two regular season games to go. He had 101 tackles and was the Vols best defensive player for three straight years.
The big question this spring: The Vols had issues with teams that ran the ball well. Can those young defensive tackles grow up this spring or will they lose their jobs to those talented freshmen in August?
Texas A&M: John Chavis left LSU for Texas A&M which is a huge step up for the Aggies, whose three previous defenses have done marvelous impressions of matadors. Chavis is known as a patient teacher. His patience will likely be stretched to the limits before things get better in College Station.
He has to have a great 2015: As a true freshman Garrett Myles had 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries. If Chavis can get Myles to repeat those numbers, the Aggies will have a foundation for improvement.
Biggest shoes to fill: Corner Deshazor Everett only had one interception last year but that’s because he could cover and the other guys couldn’t so they got picked on.
The big question this spring: In many places losing three starting defensive backs might be viewed as a big loss. At A&M, it should be celebrated. Can Chavis teach these replacements to cover anyone?
Vanderbilt: Derek Mason was the architect of great Stanford defenses. His first game as Vandy’s head coach was a 37-7 loss to Temple. That should have been the clue that 2014 would be a huge step backward. Nine defensive starters return. It’s wait and see whether that’s good news or bad news.
Returning defensive starters (9): Adam Butler, DE; Caleb Azubike, DET; Zach Cunningham, ILB; Nigel Bowden, ILB; Stephen Weatherly, OLB; Taurean Ferguson, CB; Torren McGaster, CB; Jahmel McIntosh, SS; Oren Burks, FS.
He has to have a great 2015: Stephen Weatherly was one of the few bright spots on a 2014 defense that gave up 33 points per game. He had 55 tackles including 12.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, plus he returned a blocked punt for a TD.
Biggest shoes to fill: Nose tackle Vince Taylor was adequate in the middle where he was in on 43 tackles including three for loss and had 1.5 sacks.
The big question this spring: The Commodores couldn’t stop anybody last year when only one team out of 12 was held to fewer than 300 yards. From last year’s depth chart, 19 return. Is that necessarily a good thing?
Which Florida defensive player needs to have a great spring practice?
Today’s music is “Change My Ways” by The Honey Island Swamp Band. They’re a bunch of New Orleans musicians who met in San Francisco in the aftermath of Katrina. They’re one of the real up and coming blues bands in the country and they play Florida on a fairly regular basis.