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February 9, 2011

SEC spring primer: QB quandary

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12

Spring football always is a big deal in the SEC, but this year, there should be even more scrutiny than usual.

For instance, Florida is breaking in a new coaching staff, reigning national champion Auburn had massive personnel losses on both sides of the ball, presumed SEC West contenders Alabama and Arkansas are breaking in new quarterbacks and LSU, also a West contender, could have a quarterback controversy on its hands.

Mississippi State will be the first SEC team to start spring practice, but the Bulldogs don't open until March 4.

Here's a look at the start and end dates for spring drills, as well as a quick look at what each team hopes to accomplish.

ALABAMA
Practice begins: TBA
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The passing attack needs attention. The Tide will be breaking in a new quarterback, and that new quarterback -- it's likely to be A.J. McCarron, though Phillip Sims will be in the mix -- has to find a go-to wide receiver with the departure of Julio Jones to the NFL. In addition, the Tide have to establish a pecking order at tailback behind Trent Richardson. Defensively, finding some depth at end in the wake of the departure of Marcell Dareus will be important.
ARKANSAS
Practice begins: March 15
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Getting new starting QB Tyler Wilson acclimated is going to be important. Also important is finding two new starting offensive tackles. Defensively, the Hogs look to be in good shape, though coaches need to develop depth at linebacker.
AUBURN
Practice begins: March 23
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The reigning national champs are going to sport a radically different look. There will be a new quarterback, a revamped wide receiver corps, a rebuilt offensive line, a rebuilt defensive line, two new starting linebackers and two new starting defensive backs. Other than that ... . Obviously, finding some offensive playmakers is of the utmost importance. The defense was far from dominant this past season and should be shaky next season, too, so the Tigers will need to score a lot of points.
FLORIDA
Practice begins: March 16
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: A new coaching staff has to find a way to make the offense more productive. New coordinator Charlie Weis will be introducing a pro-style attack after six seasons of Urban Meyer's spread option. Is there a quarterback on the roster who can handle it? John Brantley returns, but he wasn't good in 2010. True freshman Jeff Driskel, the nation's top incoming quarterback, already has enrolled and will get a shot. Defensively, upgrading the pass rush is the top priority.
GEORGIA
Practice begins: March 10
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The offense bears watching. Georgia needs to find a go-to receiver and some complementary guys, as well; at least QB Aaron Murray is a known quantity. Coaches also wouldn't mind seeing more maturity and a tougher running style from holdover TB Washaun Ealey, who might miss part of spring practice because of a suspension. Defensively, coordinator Todd Grantham needs to find three new starting linebackers, which isn't exactly a position teeming with experienced talent.
KENTUCKY
Practice begins: March 30
Spring game: April 23
The buzz: The offense now belongs to QB Morgan Newton with the graduation of Mike Hartline and the transfer of Ryan Mossakowski. Newton needs to prove he can handle the job because the Wildcats are looking for a new starting tailback to replace Derrick Locke and a new go-to receiver to replace Randall Cobb, who had been UK's "Mr. Everything." Rebuilding the line is the top priority on defense. It obviously would help if a few more defensive playmakers stepped to the fore.
LSU
Practice begins: March 11
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: The quarterback battle should be a spring highlight. Holdover Jordan Jefferson will vie with JC transfer Zach Mettenberger in new coordinator Steve Kragthorpe's scheme. The tailback competition between Spencer Ware and Michael Ford also should be entertaining. The middle of the defense has to be rebuilt, and that will be coordinator John Chavis' first priority. The Tigers need a new starting middle 'backer and two new starting tackles.
OLE MISS
Practice begins: March 28
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The quarterback battle will take center stage; will it be Nathan Stanley or Randall Mackey? West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti is hoping a waiver will allow him to play immediately, so it could be a three-man battle at quarterback. Along with the competition at quarterback, new coordinator David Lee and the Rebels will be looking to spruce up the passing attack. There's a lot of work to be done on defense. What had been a shaky secondary is looking for two new starters. The Rebels also need two new starting linebackers and must retool their defensive interior with the loss of three of their top four tackles.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
Practice begins: March 4
Spring game: April 9 Final practice: April 11
The buzz: The Bulldogs have to replace their two best offensive linemen, T Derek Sherrod and C J.C. Brignone. Coach Dan Mullen also must work on revving up an anemic passing attack. The No. 1 job on defense is finding three new starting linebackers; it's hard to see a rebuilt linebacking corps coming close to matching the production of this past season's group. The Bulldogs also have to find a new starting end to replace Pernell McPhee.
SOUTH CAROLINA
Practice begins: March 15
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: Look for the offensive line to be tweaked again. The group made strides last season, but now has to replace two starters. The quarterback spot bears watching, too. Starter Stephen Garcia returns, but coach Steve Spurrier seems to really like backup Connor Shaw. Shoring up the secondary is important for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who also needs to do some retooling at linebacker.
TENNESSEE
Practice begins: March 22
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Tyler Bray looks to be a rising star at quarterback, so getting him comfortable with a young receiving corps is vital this spring. Finding depth behind starting TB Tauren Poole is important, too. The defensive front seven will have five new starters, and linebacker could be a trouble spot. E Ben Martin and T Marlon Walls are returning from injuries, and their health is important.
VANDERBILT
Practice begins: March 18
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Job One for new coach James Franklin is simple -- give Vandy some semblance of an offense. Actually, identifying the problem is simple; doing something about it could be tough. It would help if the offensive line can become much more physical. Rebuilding the linebacker corps is a priority on defense.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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