Spring Practice Preview: SEC

Spring Practice Preview: SEC

This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEW: SEC

With extra years of eligibility and more relaxed transfer rules, the portal has become an increasingly useful way to instantly upgrade your program at a variety of positions, instead of only relying on incoming freshmen to infuse new life and talent into your squad.  The SEC still being the crown jewel of college football has caused transfers to flock to the conference in the hopes of playing against elite competition, vying for a National Championship, and showcasing their talents en route to being drafted into the NFL.

There is no shortage of job battles as Spring Practice begins in earnest.  This article will highlight intriguing position competitions among the schools in the Southeastern Conference, focusing on those units with a certain level of uncertainty attached.

Let's jump right into this year's preview, beginning with the defending SEC Champions (though not the defending National Champions).

Alabama

Position of Interest: Running Back

The most important piece of information for the Tide is that Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is back under center piloting the offense.  While Alabama will also be attempting to replace its entire wide receiving corps, we'll focus more on the running game here, where Alabama has some uncertainty for perhaps the first time in a decade.

Brian Robinson finally got his shot at the starting running back job last season after biding his time behind the likes of Najee Harris, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs, and did not disappoint.  Robinson rushed for 1,343 yards, averaging

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEW: SEC

With extra years of eligibility and more relaxed transfer rules, the portal has become an increasingly useful way to instantly upgrade your program at a variety of positions, instead of only relying on incoming freshmen to infuse new life and talent into your squad.  The SEC still being the crown jewel of college football has caused transfers to flock to the conference in the hopes of playing against elite competition, vying for a National Championship, and showcasing their talents en route to being drafted into the NFL.

There is no shortage of job battles as Spring Practice begins in earnest.  This article will highlight intriguing position competitions among the schools in the Southeastern Conference, focusing on those units with a certain level of uncertainty attached.

Let's jump right into this year's preview, beginning with the defending SEC Champions (though not the defending National Champions).

Alabama

Position of Interest: Running Back

The most important piece of information for the Tide is that Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is back under center piloting the offense.  While Alabama will also be attempting to replace its entire wide receiving corps, we'll focus more on the running game here, where Alabama has some uncertainty for perhaps the first time in a decade.

Brian Robinson finally got his shot at the starting running back job last season after biding his time behind the likes of Najee Harris, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs, and did not disappoint.  Robinson rushed for 1,343 yards, averaging an even five yards per tote, and found the end zone 14 times on the ground.  Robinson is gone, and while the eventual starter for the Tide is unknown, that does not mean the running back room lacks for talent.

Trey Sanders is the leading returning rusher and was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, but Roydell Williams did more with fewer carries last season, averaging 5.9 yards per tote.  Jase McClellan also returns and should certainly figure into the mix as well.

The biggest wildcards for the Tide are the transfers and freshmen.  Jahmyr Gibbs comes over from Georgia Tech after two seasons with the Ramblin' Wreck.  His ability to rush as well as catch the ball out of the backfield could make him an intriguing option.  Gibbs racked up over 1,200 yards from scrimmage last season.  Incoming freshmen Jamarion Miller and Emmanuel Henderson round out the group.  There's no shortage of talent here, and while the experience of Gibbs may give him the edge, Sanders and Williams in particular will get their fair share of reps.

Arkansas

Position of Interest: Wide Receiver

The undisputed No. 1 target for quarterback KJ Jefferson last season was Treylon Burks, who was one of the top wideouts in the conference.  Burks has taken his talent to the NFL.  Not only is Burks gone, but so are Tyson Morris and De'Vion Warren, the No. 2 and No. 4 receivers in terms of yardage through the air last season.  As a result, the Razorbacks are looking to replace over 1,500 yards worth of production.

Warren Thompson is the leading returning receiver, though had just 19 catches for 304 yards in his first season with the Hogs after coming over from Florida State.  The attention at this position will likely be on Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood, though.  The No. 1 ranked high school wideout in the 2019 class, Haselwood's talent largely did not translate to production during his time with the Sooners, though he did manage a three-touchdown performance against TCU last season.  Crawford followed Haselwood from Oklahoma to Arkansas, though Crawford has barely sniffed the field during his collegiate career, switching between defensive back and wide receiver.

Arkansas is thin on experience otherwise at the position.  Sophomore Ketron Jackson could emerge as the big-play threat after limited duties a season ago, though former track star Isaiah Sategna enters as a true freshman with eyes on the same job.  Redshirt freshman Bryce Stephens will also get reps on the outside; Stephens had just three catches all of last season.

All eyes appear to be on Haselwood to fill the big shoes vacated by Burks; we will see if he can live up to the hype, or if someone else emerges from the fray.

Auburn

Position of Interest: Quarterback

The Bo Nix Experiment has mercifully come to an end for the Tigers.  Junior T.J. Finley has the inside track at the starting job, as he replaced Nix during the final three games of the season, including the Birmingham Bowl. Finley wasn't particularly impressive, though perhaps an additional offseason with the program after transferring from LSU the previous year will provide him with some continuity.  Finley's accuracy has been suspect during his brief collegiate career, something that also plagued Nix, so it will be interesting to see how short of a leash coach Bryan Harsin gives Finley if he is indeed named the starter.

There are two intriguing transfers to watch, though.  The first is former Texas A&M starter Zach Calzada, who threw for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.  Calzada is still recovering from offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, though, and the timeline for his return is unknown.

Oregon transfer Robby Ashford has been on the field and splitting second-team reps with redshirt freshman Dematrius Davis.  Ashford's arm strength and ball placement have been noted during the early portions of the spring practice schedule.  Freshman Holden Geriner is the final piece to the puzzle and could end up redshirting when all is said and done.  Finley is technically the incumbent, but he could have competition breathing down his neck.

Florida

Position of Interest: Quarterback

Emory Jones recently decided to transfer after waffling on the issue for some time leaving Anthony Richardson as the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job.  Richardson was electric at times with his legs last season in what was otherwise a dismal season for the Gators, though was not asked to throw the ball much.  Certainly, that will change under new coach Billy Napier.  Richardson is the most experienced signal-caller on the roster, and he is only a true sophomore.  Ohio State transfer Jack Miller threw just seven passes last season for the Buckeyes, while Jalen Kitna and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson both redshirted last season.  Jalen has NFL bloodlines, as his father Jon Kitna played parts of 14 seasons in the professional ranks.  Nobody in Gainesville wants to hear about a rebuilding season, so it could be Richardson or bust under center.  That being said, it is far from a guarantee that Richardson – or any other quarterback on the current squad – fits what Napier truly wants to accomplish on offense.

Georgia

Position of Interest: Running Back

The return of Stetson Bennett as quarterback solved a huge potential issue for the defending champions, and he will have plenty of returning weapons in the form of tight end Brock Bowers and wideouts Kearis Jackson, Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell.  The top two running backs from last year's National Championship squad are gone, though, so Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton will ultimately vie for carries.

As can be expected with a Kirby Smart backfield, the two will likely split carries, at least to begin the season. The senior McIntosh was more productive as both a runner and receiver last season, though, so it would appear that he would have the inside edge over Milton overall for touches.  McIntosh caught 22 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns out of the backfield; by contrast, Milton had just two receptions.  However, any notion that McIntosh could only fill the vacated James Cook role needs to be put on hold for now as well; McIntosh averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season as compared to just 4.7 for Milton.  They had about the same amount of carries a season ago as well.

Junior Daijun Edwards should be the next man up on the depth chart, but watch out for beastly incoming freshman Branson Robinson, who is already a man among boys in terms of physique and strength.  His one-rep maxes in the weight room are supposedly already legendary.

Kentucky

Position of Interest: Wide Receiver

Will Levis is back in the fold at quarterback and should provide some stability at the position.  Chris Rodriguez also returns as one of the top running backs not only in the conference but in the entire nation.  That leaves wide receiver, where Josh Ali graduated, and Wan'Dale Robinson departed for the NFL after an extremely successful season in Lexington.  However, hopes are high for a possible replacement in the form of former Virginia Tech wide receiver Tayvion Robinson (no relation).  Tayvion is also viewed as a big-play threat with both speed as well as agility and elusiveness.

Otherwise, the Wildcats remain fairly thin at wide receiver.  Redshirt junior DeMarcus Harris has just 26 catches during his time at Kentucky.  Clevan Thomas is a redshirt senior who missed the entirety of the 2021 campaign due to a torn ACL.  The remainder of the options, Chauncey Magwood, Chris Lewis and Dekel Crowdus, are all redshirt freshmen.  Someone will need to step up and provide a target for the aforementioned Levis, though the Wildcats will remain committed to the run behind the talents of Rodriguez.

LSU

Position of Interest: Quarterback/Running Back

There's been a lot of upheaval at LSU, with Brian Kelly bolting Notre Dame while also picking up a new accent.  The quarterback battle under Kelly should be particularly interesting, as Myles Brennan, Garrett Nussmeier and newly signed Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels will vie for the starting spot under center.  Kelly convinced Myles Brennan not to transfer, only to pluck Daniels from the transfer portal and deem no starting position set in stone.  Classic Brian Kelly.

Brennan was off to a sensational start during the 2020 campaign, passing for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns in just three games before suffering an abdominal injury which ended up sidelining him for the remainder of the campaign.  He was set to return in 2021 before breaking his non-throwing arm in a freak accident while falling on a fishing dock.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Brennan is healthy now but will have to deal with Nussmeier, who played in spurts last season for the Tigers, as well as the multi-talented Daniels, who passed for 2,340 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while also rushing for 710 yards and six more scores on the ground.  The dual-threat ability of Daniels could put him in the driver's seat despite the lack of time with the program and practice.

Shifting to running back, John Emery's LSU career has not exactly gone as planned.  The senior came to Baton Rouge back in 2019 as a five-star recruit, hailed as the next Leonard Fournette, but saw limited carries as a freshman.  He received a bit more run as a sophomore and appeared poised to become a focal point of the LSU rushing attack as a junior.  However, he was deemed academically ineligible for the 2021 campaign, and ultimately never even saw the field.  Tyrion Davis-Price instead rushed for over 1,000 yards, but then decided to jump to the NFL.  That leaves Emery as the likely starter when LSU begins the 2022 campaign.

That being said, he will have some competition.  Penn State transfer Noah Cain has entered the fold, while sophomores Corey Kiner and Armoni Goodwin also received opportunities as a freshman while Emery was shelved.  Emery's talent is difficult to ignore, but it has not yet translated to on-field success, and it is far from a foregone conclusion that he will end up as the lead back for the entire season.

Mississippi

Position of Interest: Quarterback

Perhaps no school in the SEC has bigger shoes to fill than that of the Rebels with quarterback Matt Corral, who was a Heisman candidate for much of the 2021 campaign and is now projected to be a first-round pick in this year's NFL Draft.  Ole Miss actually lost seven starters from an offense that finished sixth in the country in total offense, though.  The running back room will look completely different as well, but quarterback is where the focus will end up.

Luke Altmyer and Kinkead Dent were with the Rebels last season and will each make their case at QB.  Altmyer threw 37 passes as a freshman, while Dent threw four as a sophomore.  USC transfer Jaxson Dart will also make his presence felt and has the most experience, though he played in just five games as a freshman at Southern Cal.  Pressed into action last year with the Trojans, Dart passed for 1,353 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions over that five-game span.  He will have to learn a new system while transferring schools, but Dart might have the most upside of the trio.

Mississippi State

Position of Interest: Wide Receiver

The wideouts in the high octane spread offense of coach Mike Leach will have plenty of opportunities in 2022, as quarterback Will Rogers posted sensational numbers last year.  Leading receiver Makai Polk has left early for the professional ranks, though, taking with him 105 receptions that need to be replaced.  However, five of the remaining six leading wide receivers from last year will return, including Jaden Walley (55 catches, 628 yards, six touchdowns) and  Austin Williams (52 catches, 617 yards, four touchdowns).

Rara Thomas also snagged five touchdowns and will be back in Stark-Vegas, as will Lideatrick Griffin and Christian Ford.  It will be interesting to see if Walley, Williams or someone else emerges as the go-to receiver for Rogers, or if the distribution remains more evenly spread out across a very deep receiving corps.

Missouri

Position of Interest: Running Back

The Tigers also have to replace their quarterback, but admittedly Connor Bazelak was mediocre at best during his time at the helm for Mizzou.  The more pressing need will be the huge hole left by Tyler Badie, who was wildly productive last season out of the backfield.  Badie was almost the entire offense for the Tigers last season.  He led the SEC in rushing with 1,604 yards, scored 14 times on the ground, and also added 54 catches for 330 yards through the air along with four more scores.

Elijah Young had extremely limited duties last season but would appear to be the next man up in the backfield.  Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat is an intriguing addition, as he averaged 5.1 yards per tote for the Cardinal as a junior in 2021.  He and Young are similar sizes and could end up vying for the featured back role.  Michael Cox is also on the depth chart, though at 6-foot-1, 227-lbs he is a bruiser and could serve as the goal line back.  The Tigers have been spoiled with Larry Rountree and Badie in recent seasons, but it is clear coach Eli Drinkwitz still wants the running backs heavily involved even without those familiar faces.

South Carolina

Position of Interest: Running Back

The easy discussion here would have been the transfer of Spencer Rattler from Oklahoma, but the notion of a quarterback of Rattler's pedigree and stature having to "earn" his job is borderline laughable.  Barring injury, Rattler will start the season opener for the Gamecocks.  There will be no quarterback competition.

On the other hand, the running back position appears to be wide open.  The two leading rushers from a season ago, Kevin Harris and ZaQuandre White, are both attempting to head to the NFL.  That leaves almost 250 carries to replace.  Juju McDowell and MarShawn Lloyd were on the South Carolina squad last season, but each saw fewer than 75 carries and had only moderate success.  Much like the quarterback position, the running back slot may ultimately be occupied by a transfer, or perhaps even two.  Christian Beal-Smith comes over from Wake Forest having rushed for at least 600 yards and five touchdowns in consecutive seasons.  Meanwhile, Lovasea Carroll was a highly-touted running back recruit coming out of high school, but Kirby Smart shifted him to defensive back at Georgia.  It appears Carroll will attempt a return to his natural position and throw his hat into the ring as well.

Beal-Smith has the edge on in-game experience, while McDowell and Lloyd have been with the program longer.  Carroll is the wildcard.  Whoever ends up as the bell cow in this backfield could be in line for a huge campaign, as defenses will certainly attempt to stop Rattler first and foremost, which should lead to plenty of room to roam between the tackles.

Tennessee

Position of Interest: Tight End

The Vols actually have some continuity at the majority of the skill positions heading into the 2022 season.  Hendon Hooker was convinced to return to Knoxville after a scintillating campaign in which he threw 31 touchdowns, completed over 68-percent of his passes, and also rushed for 620 yards.  Jabari Small will reprise his role as the lead running back, and Cedric Tillman returns after posting a 1,000-yard season through the air.  The loss of Velus Jones and deep threat JaVonta Payton to graduation stings, but otherwise the Vols have rather known commodities at all skill positions.

That includes tight end, where a competition is brewing once again between Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren.  Fant has cousins in the NFL, but Warren is a huge target at 6-foot-6.  Fant led the Volunteer tight ends in receiving yards last season, while Warren led in receptions.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Warren cashed in on more red zone opportunities, as he scored three touchdowns as compared to just one for Fant.  Both players figure to be utilized more frequently due to the lack of depth behind Tillman and Jalin Hyatt at wide receiver.  Will one tight end emerge over the other?  Or will Fant and Warren essentially split the production yet again?  Stay tuned to find out.

Texas A&M

Position of Interest: Quarterback

Haynes King started the season opener just one year ago but provided mixed results before ultimately succumbing to a season-ending injury.  Zach Calzada left for Auburn, so the job would seem to be King's to lose.  However, Max Johnson comes over from LSU after a surprisingly successful campaign for the Tigers, racking up 2,815 yards, 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions.  Coach Jimbo Fisher also loves true freshman Conner Weigman, arguably the top-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2022.  King's familiarity with the program and scheme should give him a leg up initially, and Johnson has already experienced some success in the SEC.  However, as we know Fisher is not afraid to run with a green quarterback (see Jameis Winston at Florida State).  As such, Weigman is the dark horse here, and if he is the best option, Fisher will not hesitate to deploy him.

Vanderbilt

Position of Interest: Quarterback

It always seems to come down to the quarterback positions for the Commodores, as Vandy continues to search for an answer to their long national nightmare.  Vandy has won just one SEC conference matchup in the last three seasons, and the Commodores have not even been .500 in conference play since James Franklin was the head coach in 2013.  Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much help in sight, as Mike Wright and Ken Seals return from dismal sophomore campaigns.  Wright may have the slight edge due to his running ability, though he completed just 53.1-percent of his passes last season.  Seals was not much better even as a supposed pocket passer, completing 56.7-percent of his throws and tossing more picks (8) than touchdowns (5).

The Commodores could also attempt to infuse new blood into the program with freshmen A.J. Swann, Drew Dickey, and Walter Taylor.  Swann appears the most ready to contend for the starting spot out of the gate.  He had offers from Virginia Tech and Colorado but initially committed to Maryland, only to decommit last November and switch to the 'Dores.  He is considered a pocket passer but can take a hit and is unafraid to use his wheels.  Nevertheless, just because something is new, does not necessarily mean it is better.  Expect Vandy to continue to run the ball with Re'Mahn Davis, Rocko Griffin, and Patrick Smith as its primary focus on offense, at least until this mess at the quarterback position gets patched up.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only College Football Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire College Football fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
Spring Practice Preview: Pac-12
Spring Practice Preview: Pac-12
Spring Practice Preview: AAC
Spring Practice Preview: AAC
Spring Practice Preview: ACC
Spring Practice Preview: ACC
Spring Practice Preview: Sun Belt
Spring Practice Preview: Sun Belt