(Our spring wraps are a recap of events from spring practices from around the country. For more detailed information on each team see our Conference Look Aheads)
While it doesn't bear a resemblance to the Big XII just yet, there are some definite signs that the rough and tumble SEC is in the early stages of a transformation to an offense-first conference. Maybe this development has been inspired by the incredible success of Urban Meyer, or maybe it's just another example of college football's cyclical nature. Whatever the reason the recent hires of offensively-inclined coaches like Houston Nutt, Dan Mullen, Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik (Gus Malzahn) depict a brave new world down South.
Movers and Shakers (newbies that made noise)
*QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
QB Jordan Jefferson, LSU
QB Russell Shepard, LSU
QB Greg McElroy, Alabam
QB Joe Cox, Georgia
*RB Jarvis Giles, South Carolina
*RB Montario Hardesty, Tennessee
RB Brian Maddox, South Carolina
RB Carlton Thomas, Georgia
RB Onterio McCalebb, Auburn
*WR Deonte Thompson, Florida
WR David Nelson, Florida
WR Frankie Hammond Jr.
WR Joe Adams, Arkansas
WR London Crawford, Arkansas
WR Jarius Wright, Arkansas
WR Mario Fannin, Auburn
WR Jacarious Lucas, Mississippi
WR Quintin Hancock, Tennessee
TE Jeff Cottam, Tennessee
TE Ben Cleveland, Arkansas
* denotes draft worthy player in BCS-only leagues
** denotes draft worthy player in All-120 leagues
Both Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch saw a light workload due to their respective bumps and bruises, and we're still worried that Mark Ingram will not see carries befitting a #1 back. He'll be the lead horse, but there will be others (Upchurch, Terry Grant and even Trent Richardson) making an impact.
Greg McElroy is the clear favorite at the quarterback spot, and while he'll be asked to manage games he'll be wise to take shots to Julio Jones as often as possible. Speaking of Jones he underwent a late-spring hernia surgery, which causes a wee bit of concern. These hernia things can linger.
And the season opener in Atlanta vs. Virginia Tech makes me wish summer away.
Ryan Mallett emerged from spring as the starting quarterback but it wasn't the runaway we had anticipated. Tyler Wilson held his own, and while we still like the rocket-armed Mallett a great deal we've tempered our enthusiasm just a little bit.
Michael Smith missed spring ball, and normally a back sitting out the month of April doesn't cause a great deal of concern; but in Smith's case we are a little worried. The burner has had trouble staying healthy, and the emergence of De'Anthony Curtis during drills does make split carries feel like more of a possibility.
Joe Adams, London Crawford and Jarius Wright exit spring as the most viable fantasy options at wide receiver for the Razorbacks. While there is still uncertainty as who will emerge as the leader, the tight end spot appears set up very nicely. Not only is D.J. Williams one of the best around, but backup Ben Cleveland impressed many with his recent work.
Gus Malzahn is working his magic, though things would be much nicer if a clear starter at quarterback had been named. This battle will continue to be waged well into fall camp, thus if you're really convinced that Gus will get it rolling right away you'll need to take a leap of faith.
Ben Tate had a nice spring, though don't discount young speedster Onterio McCalebb. This offense emphasizes getting speed into open spaces, and McCalebb can run like the wind blows.
Mario Fannin, a favorite of ours, is going to be moved around a whole bunch this season. Fannin is an electric performer with the ball in his hands, and yes I'm very tired of writing Fannin and electric in the same sentence. Please have a big year Mario.
Emmanuel Moody, the USC transfer who had a very strong spring game, must think he's switched coasts while the song remains the same. Frustrated with his role as a Trojan Moody sought more carries; and now as a Gator he's still dealing with a by-committee approach to the running game. Moody was impressive in camp, but Jeffrey Demps, Chris Rainey and Brandon James will be factors, even though all three missed time with nagging injuries.
While one of our freshman favorites from a year ago, Frankie Hammond Jr., will be in the mix, we like Deonte Thompson to emerge as Tim Tebow's favorite target. David Nelson will be a factor, as will Riley Cooper who spent his spring with the baseball team.
We're pessimistic that one running back will emerge as Knowshon Moreno's replacement. Caleb King has yet to take the bull by the horns, and for all of his speed it's hard to envision undersized burner Carlton Thomas holding up during the SEC slate. So we give a more than a puncher's chance to Richard Samuel when he returns from wrist surgery this summer.
Joe Cox is the clear starter and quarterback, and news that A.J. Green is back to 100% is music to the ears of all Dawgs, but especially Mr. Cox. The torn labrum that will sideline Kris Durham for the season is a definite loss, and it will take a summer and fall camp to find a clear #2 WR target in Athens.
All-around athlete Randall Cobb has been moved to wide receiver...for now. And we do have an office pool on when he'll be moved back to quarterback. I like week five. For now the job belongs to Mike Hartline, and a key to his success will be the health of running back Derrick Locke, a versatile runner/receiver who has been cleared to begin workouts in early June.
We learned a few things from spring in Baton Rouge. Jordan Jefferson is the starter at quarterback. Les Miles will find a way to get freshman Russell Shepard the ball in some fashion. Charles Scott will be a workhorse, even if he does lineup at fullback once in a while. And Brandon LeFell and Richard Dickson remain the key receiving weapons.
The defense seemed to get the best of the offense this spring which is a bit of surprise considering the returners at the skill positions. And this is also a good thing because we know how dynamic the Ole Miss offense will be. Thus the question must be asked: will the Ole Miss defense be a unit to consider on draft day? We're thinking yes.
The running game has yet to have a #1 back really emerge, thus Dexter McCluster and Jevan Snead remain the only legitimate fantasy stars in Oxford. Though we do have some hope for running backs Brandon Bolden and Cordera Eason as well as wide receiver Jacarious Lucas.
Dan Mullen's first spring as head man at Mississippi State has certainly provided some hope that the Bulldogs will one day be a team to raid on draft day. Though for now we may only have one fantasy factor.
Anthony Dixon's spring performance leads us to believe the new coach will rely on his senior back and use him in a multitude of ways. And when teams are forced to focus on Dixon then Tyson Lee appears ready to make some plays in the passing game.
Stephen Garcia didn't have any officers of the law asking him to blow so this spring was a resounding success. The quarterback is the clear starter heading into 2009, and it'll be interesting to see if he can actually provide Spurrier with a quarterback capable of recalling the days of the Fun 'n' Gun.
Incoming freshman Jarvis Giles and Brian Maddox both looked strong at tailback, thus Giles remains one of our top keeper prospects. And we still believe he can become one of the top freshman runners in the country.
We won't focus on new new coach Lane Kiffin's wacky off-field antics nor the fact that 11 players have bolted Knoxville since the new coach's arrival. After all a large percentage of Kiffin's moves, idiotic or not, appear calculated, and any time a new sheriff comes to town there is attrition.
On the field Montario Hardesty ran like he'll be a serious fantasy player this fall, and while the move of Brandon Warren from TE to WR diminishes his overall fantasy value he could emerge as a nice goal line option, thus a key fantasy cog in SEC leagues. If you're forced to nab a Tennessee wide receiver or two then Gerald Jones and Quintin Hancock seem pretty solid bets.
Jonathan Crompton leads the quarterback derby, thus prompting B.J. Coleman to transfer to Tennessee at Chattanooga. He'll battle a healthy Nick Stephens (wrist surgery) for the starting job this fall.
RB Jared Hawkins sat out spring ball with a foot injury. Mackenzi Adams is in a battle with Larry Smith (Music City Bowl starter) and Jared Funk for the starting QB spot. Young tight end Brandon Barden appears to be the only fantasy-worthy Commodore, unless you're a 50-year old woman and you're thinking of Lionel Ritchie.