I love basketball, but I have to admit that, unlike any other sport - don't ask me why, I have no clue - a bad hoops game loses my attention quicker than my daughters can charge a pair of $200 shoes. And, brothers and sisters, that's quick.
During yesterday's convincing loss to Alabama - a team they had already beaten, at home no less, my mind wandered to spring football, which begins March 6 and culminates with the April 8 Grove Bowl.
All my meandering brain could come up with were questions and some not so convincing opinions/answers. Here's a sampling.
How will the offensive line shape up? I don't think there is a bigger question facing our grid staff going into spring football. Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself with a level of confidence, to a point. I'm confident that we have the right guy coaching them in Art Kehoe. I'm confident that guys like Michael Oher, Darryl Harris, Andrew Wicker and David Traxler are competent with the right direction and plan. I'm confident the year's experience they gained in 2005 will give them a positive approach to 2006 in terms of them now knowing what it takes to be an effective OL on this level and having time to get to that point. I'm confident that some others, like Marcus Cohen and Reid Neely and Maurice Miller, have a chance (note the word "chance") to get into the rotation if they are self and outwardly driven. But the questions cannot be answered yet on how Oher will adjust to tackle, how JUCO signee Corey Actis will respond to D-1 competition at center and how long it will take all of them to learn and fully understand Dan Werner's offense and Kehoe's OL system. Kehoe says the blocking schemes are simple. If so, the learning curve may not be a problem. Here's keeping our fingers crossed. And to take the OL question into August, what kind of impact will John Jerry and Aubrey McPhadden have on the unit? Common sense tells us we need it to be substantial, but it also dictates patience and a high probability of a tough transition without the benefit of spring training.
An equally important question is how will the front four on defense shape up? Remember, nary a starter from 2005 is back. Will DE Brandon Jenkins finally reach the potential of his immense ability? Is Jeremy Garrett an every-down type of DT? For that matter, is Chris Bowers an every-down DE? Will Hayward Howard, who looks the part of an SEC DT, play the part as well? How much improvement will sophomore DT Peria Jerry make? Where do Lamark Armour and Viciente DeLoach and Reterio Brown fit in the DE scheme? One thing is certain - there isn't an ideal number of candidates, similar to the OL, so health and improvement are key. Of course, we are all looking forward to the impact of some of the signees, like Jerrell Powe and Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett, et al, but - much like John Jerry and McPhadden - are those realistic expectations? We certainly hope they are.
What will the coaches do at quarterback in spring? Will they go ahead and teach Robert Lane the system at QB knowing he can easily convert in August to whatever position he will eventually play, or possibly win the QB job? Or do they go with JUCO signee Bruce Hall and Billy Tapp and any walkons who might appear on the horizon in spring in anticipation of the arrival of Brent Schaeffer? Will OC Werner be able to accomplish what he needs to accomplish in spring without Schaeffer being here? Installation of the offense will be the main focus of Werner's spring. No matter who is playing QB, that will be accomplished, but it sure would be nice to have Schaeffer on board since Coach O has already stated that Brent will be the QB in fall and there is no controversy or question about it. Can the Rebel offense establish any type of continuity with a "make-do" QB at the helm in spring?
At tight end, the questions are fewer, but just as vital. Will this be the year rising senior Lawrence Lilly reaches his potential and takes over? Or will JUCO Jason Hawkins impact that position in a hurry? We hope for both. Both are needed. How will Werner use Robert Hough, the remaining hold over at TE who is a little under-sized for the true value of that position? As much as Werner likes to use the TE, those are all critical questions. That has to be a productive position for the Rebs in 2006. Has to.
At running back, my biggest question, and I think I know the answer, is how good is BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the RB who sat out last year after transferring from Indiana? I believe he's real good, as good as any back we've had since Deuce. We certainly need him to be. Will Antonio Turner stay at TB or move, as has been rumored, to LB? Will Marcus Green make a contribution at TB or is he destined to be sent to WR? Will Mico McSwain stay at TB or will he move out wide or to defense? All those things have been discussed with Mico, I'm told. And, much like the other positions, when August rolls around how much impact will Coredera Eason, Derrick Davis, and Dester McCluster have on the position? At fullback, I look for Jason Cook to be stellar, much as he was prior to his season-ending injury late last year. Seth Michaelson could also figure in there due to his experience and knack for doing everything correctly. And signee Reggie Hicks seems to have the goods to contribute at that position in a hurry.
At wideout, graduation was critical, but that position may not be a bare as some anticipate. Will Carlos Suggs learn to be more consistent catching the ball? Is J.D. Lawhorn ready to step up after a redshirt year? Has Burnell Wallace matured his body enough to take the pounding? Will Michael Hicks remain at WR? Will Green and McSwain be moved out wide? Here's the deal, in my narrow way of thinking. The sheer talent at WR, with a couple of quick moves, could be good, but the experience factor there resonates with a resounding "we don't have any." Will signees Kendrick Lewis, Markeith Summers, Terry Levy, Shay Hodge, Allen Walker (maybe a WR, maybe a S) and LaDerrick Vaughn bolster that position enough to make it a strength? And what about a possible surprise like Greg Hardy? Coach O said he wanted to give WR a try and O had no objections to that experiment. Hmmmm, interesting. Wide receiver is, in my humble opinion, the most wide open, unsettled area of the team. Spring will be interesting. So will August with the inlfux of new talent.
Even though Patrick Willis will not participate in spring drills, the linebacker slots appear to be thin, but in good hands. Will Garry Pack continue his improvement and reach yet another level during his junior season? For our money, he was one of the most improved players on last year's squad. More of the same, and good health, are needed. Which of last year's frosh will step up to another level? Quentin Taylor, Rogers Loche, Robert Russell or LeRon King, who recently rejoined the team? Will Brandon Thomas "fit" better with new LB Coach David Saunders? Will signees Jonathan Cornell and Rory Johnson, who will have some age on him when he gets here, turn everything inside-out and make waves? We know what Patrick and Garry can do, but what about the others? They are the keys.
The secondary returns three of four starters in Charles Clark, Trumaine McBride and Jamarca Sanford. B. Brown is also valuable back there as the "fifth" guy. No worries there, but what about the other cornerback? Will it be Nate Banks (most likely), Dustin Mouzon or Terell Jackson or Tyson Andrus or will a newcomer take over in August, such as Cassius Vaughn? Or will the coaches possibly opt to move B. Brown back to CB - he's played there before. DB is in solid hands, but there are still questions even at one of our more proven units.
Sidney McLaurin is gone. Who will handle deep snaps? We have been spoiled the past couple of years, but don't ever doubt the importance of clean, quick, accurate snaps. Michaelson has some skills there as well as Andrew Wicker. What about walkon Brent Smith, a redshirt frosh last year? We'll certainly see, but to me that is something that needs to be answered and solidified by the time spring is over.
Then there is the $64,000 question. Placements and punts. I believe Rob Park will get the job done his second season punting the ball. His first-year jitters will be gone and he will settle in and punt to his potential. Will Moseley is an excellent kickoff guy, as good as there is in the conference. FGs and PATs? I have, in no way, given up on the returning candidates, but Matt Hinkle, Robert Bass, Justin Sparks or someone has to take that deal over and figure out a way to produce consistently. My hope lies in watching them succeed in practice and in remembering how our best kicker ever, Jonathan Nichols, progressed after his first year as the PK. Again, fingers crossed.
Questions, questions and more questions.
But, to me, that's what makes everything exciting. How else can you explain wanting to watch spring practice instead of playing golf or going fishing, for goodness sake?
I can't wait for March 6.
Daydreaming about spring football
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