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April 24, 2012

SEC Sound Bites: All eyes on the quarterbacks as the SEC’s 14 teams wrap up spring football

If Tuesday’s SEC spring teleconference is any indication, Auburn isn’t the only school in the conference trying to identify a big-time player at the quarterback position.

After a so-so year at the position in 2011 — beyond Aaron Murray and Tyler Wilson, few quarterbacks consistently played elite football, whether due to injury or ineffectiveness — the SEC has a lot of quarterbacks who have a big task trying to solve the nation’s best defenses.

Five SEC defenses — Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida — finished the season ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense. The first four of those teams swept the top four spots.

Having somebody who has already played against those types of defenses certainly can’t hurt.

“In this league, it’s almost like that every year, with these defenses,” Vanderbilt’s James Franklin said. “But any time you have a guy returning, it helps. If you have a guy at that position, you have a chance. … Probably the quarterback position has to be more consistent than anybody.”

On the other hand, the SEC, because of its recruiting prowess, has a lot of developmental players who may be able to take the next step. Auburn’s Kiehl Frazier, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw are all players who were either highly recruited or have played some, which could mean a big leap.

“I think there’s a lot of good quarterback prospects in our league,” Alabama’s Nick Saban said, before mentioning A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson as proven guys. “I also think there are a lot of guys who are developing and might be ready to step up.”

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Around the SEC (spring edition)

  • Unfortunately for those wondering what Alabama is going to look like next season, the bulk of the questions to Nick Saban centered around big-picture SEC, NCAA stuff and the bevy of pro prospects the Crimson Tide have available in this weekend’s NFL Draft. Mostly, Saban said, the spring was centered around trying to replace all the playmakers Alabama lost from last year’s team, and he did say the Crimson Tide is hoping McCarron can become an upper-echelon SEC quarterback. As far as the plus-one goes, Saban says he likes the idea of seeding the top 4 teams, although he wants to preserve college football tradition. “”Keep the bowl system intact as much as possible,” Saban said.
  • Auburn isn’t the only team trying to put together a young offensive line this offseason. At Georgia, the Bulldogs will be relying on a cadre of new players and young players, including the possibility of some true freshmen winning spots in the fall. For the moment, Richt says Georgia is settled across the front five, and he cited a surprising move by Colby Houston, always a center-guard type, to move to right tackle. Richt thinks Georgia’s offensive line improved a lot.
  • Due to the hiring of John L. Smith as the head coach, Arkansas did not have a representative on the call, although most every other SEC coach was asked what they thought of the Razorbacks’ situation. Most coaches declined to comment on Petrino himself — Spurrier praised Petrino’s coaching ability — then almost universally offered praise to Smith himself.
  • For the first time in years, LSU’s Les Miles has a clear No. 1 quarterback in Zach Mettenberger. Miles also cited the influence of quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe as a big reason for his confidence in Mettenberger. “We feel like Zach Mettenberger has taken control of the passing game. He enjoys being the starter,” Miles said. “(A quarterback) is a guy who understands the significance of the play-caller. It’s a guy who stands in the huddle and makes the call. … He’s holding himself to a really tall standard, and I think our quarterback play will improve with each snap.”
  • New Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin enters the vicious SEC West without a starting quarterback. Right now, the Aggies still have another week before the spring is over, and Texas A&M has as many as four players competing for the job. As they install Sumlin’s wide-open offense — he taught Case Keenum at Houston — the Aggies have had no trouble installing it, but like a lot of SEC teams this season, Sumlin said the battle will go into the fall. “(The quarterbacks) are all still learning that there’s a bunch of other guys on the field, and they don’t have to make every play,” Sumlin said. Sophomores Jameill Showers and Johnny Manziell were mentioned first.
  • Randall Mackey, Ole Miss’s starting quarterback at the end of last season, was moved to receiver in the spring, leaving a competition between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti for the starting job that could last a long time.”It wouldn’t even surprise me if it went into the first few weeks of the season,” Freeze said. Mackey, who made the start against Auburn, will be used as more of a slash-type player. “We’re going to use him all over the field, in a lot of different ways,” Freeze said.
  • Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen didn’t say much about individual players, preferring instead to say that the Bulldogs have competition all over the field. Right now, Mississippi State is looking for playmakers at receiver, mostly, focusing on a group of big-play young guys and several older receivers that Mullen called “steady.”
  • James Franklin, after leading Vanderbilt to a 6-7 record and a bowl appearance, says the Commodores haven’t had to fight any sense of complacency after making a bowl. “Our kids are not satisfied,” Franklin said. “We had a good building-block season as a first year, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
  • Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, and the rest of the SEC’s coaches, fielded a lot of questions about whether or not the Tigers’ spread offense under offensive coordinator Dave Yost will be able to translate to the SEC. “We have a scheme that we believe in, so we’re going to run our scheme,” Pinkel said. “But we’re also going to adjust as necessary.” Expect the Tigers to line up in the spread, then adjust run and pass based on their talent. That’s been Pinkel’s track record at Mizzou. Asked if Missouri is starting to grow weary of all the adjustment questions, Pinkel responded by saying, “Any time you’re the new kids on the block, you have to go out and earn respect,” Pinkel said.
  • Florida’s quarterback battle, like Auburn’s, won’t be decided until after the summer. The Gators have two sophomores, Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who played as freshmen when John Brantley was injured last season. On the other hand, Gators coach Will Muschamp said his coaching staff met to discuss the depth chart, and he has a good idea of how it will shake out, save for a couple of position battles. “Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel both did a good job,”  Muschamp said. “We’ll continue that battle through the fall.”
  • Asked about his plan to ask the SEC to eliminate overall league record and only look at division record, Steve Spurrier took a moment to stump for the plan. “It eliminates scheduling as a factor in the league race,” Spurrier said. “I like it.” Spurrier also said the athletic directors and presidents are going to take “a little bit” of a look at it.” Spurrier wants the division title to be decided by only division record, citing Tennessee and Florida having to play LSU or Alabama last season when neither Georgia or South Carolina did last season.
  • Coming off of an injury, Tyler Bray had a good spring for the Volunteers. Bray should go into 2012 as one of the SEC’s top returning quarterbacks. “Tyler grew so much, not so much in the area of physical ability but in the area of leadership and all the things that go along with that,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “We’re seeing him improve in a lot of areas that may not show up on the field right away.”
  • At Kentucky, the Wildcats have a nice story in starting safety Mikie Benton, who came to the school on an academic scholarship for engineering. Benton tried out for the football team twice and wasn’t invited back to fall camp before finally landing a spot. Now, the walk-on is expected to play a big role in Kentucky’s defense in 2012.

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