What We Learned from Spring - Part I
This group has much more coaching stability but includes two SEC schools with major personnel changes on the field from last year as well as Florida's obligatory 1-AA cupcake.
KENTUCKY - Rich Brooks has led his team to back-to-back Music City Bowl wins but now has to replace a giant chunk of their offense. With guys like Andre Woodson, Jacob Tamme and Keenan Burton gone to try their fortunes in the NFL, rebuilding will be a major task. Who gets to try and fill Woodson's shoes under center is unclear. Neither Curtis Pulley or Mike Hartline completed 50 percent of their passes in the Wildcats' spring game, and Brooks said their battle will continue into the fall. Only Dicky Lyons, Jr. returns as a prominent weapon in the passing game, meaning UK may run the ball quite a bit more this season with experienced backs like Derrick Locke. UK lost some experience at the receiver spot when junior DeMoreo Ford ruptured a patellar tendon - he may miss their entire season.
On defense, UK is happy about its secondary depth but has concerns in its front seven where two players are coming off surgeries. At DT, Ricky Lumpkin's return from the removal of a calcium deposit is not a sure thing. DE Nii Adjei Oninku is expected back from a knee surgery but might not be 100 percent for a while. Further injuries could be a major issue at either spot for the Wildcats. Braxton Kelley gets the difficult assignment of replacing Wesley Woodyard at LB and reportedly is still learning how to handle pass coverage responsibilities.
GEORGIA - Georgia's skill guys will get lots of attention this fall, but Knowshown Moreno and Matthew Stafford still need blocking to produce the seasons expected of them. There isn't an established starter at center, where guard Chris Davis is moving over to fill the spot but will continue to battle freshman Ben Jones into fall. The overall play of the offensive line was one of the question marks during the spring, and the kicking position is up for grabs. Keeping his players from getting caught up in the wave of hype as a possible number one team could be a much bigger challenge for Mark Richt than any specific on field issue.
Little news came out of spring for the Bulldogs on defense. Their G-Day game was extremely limited due to a number of player injuries as well as personnel being held out of action.
VANDERBILT - The Commodores have a massive rebuilding job on the offensive side of the ball after losing eight starters, including their entire starting offensive line and star wide receiver Earl Bennett. To say it's not off to a great start would be an understatement. Last year's two quarterbacks do return, but Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson combined for a total of 25 yards of offense in the Vandy spring game. In addition, Vandy receiver and leading punt returner Alex Washington is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Commodores are going to need contributions from freshmen or a major surge in production by fall or this could be a very difficult season.
Vanderbilt does have experienced talent back on defense, particularly in the secondary. Their biggest questions will be on the defensive line and replacing a future NFL player in Jonathan Goff at linebacker. It's difficult to tell how the unit progressed in spring - did it turn into a top unit and cause the offensive struggles, or is it looking better because the other side of the ball is so depleted?
SOUTH CAROLINA - Steve Spurrier's squad is still looking for a quarterback after his two current candidates, redshirt junior Tommy Beecher and redshirt sophomore Chris Smelley, combined to throw seven interceptions in the first half of the Gamecocks spring game. Redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia was supposed to be the answer at the position but was suspended from spring football due to off field issues for the second year in a row. No new weapons surfaced for the Gamecocks in spring, but they may use two tight end sets to take advantage of the depth at the position this fall.
With Garcia suspended from school until August 15 and his chances of returning at all tenuous at best, Spurrier may have to depend more than he was hoping on new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's unit. Johnson has moved Eric Norwood from defensive end to linebacker as a way to improve the pass rush from that position. Several expected South Carolina starters missed spring with injuries, including potential all-SEC players cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
CITADEL - Sophomore Bart Blanchard appears to be taking over as Citadel's new quarterback. The Bulldogs are installing a 3-4 defense to try and deal with spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks better. Since there's no way Citadel beats UF at The Swamp without using actual military weapons rather than military school students during the game, there's really no reason to go much deeper into them than that.
FSU - Senior QB Drew Weatherford missed a large portion of spring with an injury, providing more reps for redshirt sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson. While most reports on their performance in practice were positive, once they got to Doak Campbell Stadium something happened. Neither was able to direct a scoring drive during the Garnet and Gold game. It's expected Weatherford will begin the year as starter but should he struggle Ponder might get his shot to run the team. Richardson may see action under center as a change of pace player even though he's not expected to be a factor for the starting job this year. The offensive line remains extremely thin and will depend upon true freshmen to add depth. Taiwan Easterling, a redshirt freshman, appears to be the only new playmaker who's emerged at wide receiver so far.
FSU's defense is farther along than the offense, but questions continue about the depth at spots like linebacker and defensive tackle. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has expressed concern with the unit's performance in the red zone. Kicker may be another serious issue with Gary Cismesia's eligibility having expired. With two 1-AA opponents to open the season, whoever is in that role should have some low pressure opportunities to work through any butterflies in their stomach.
The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM
What We Learned from Spring - Part II
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