This is Part 1 of a two-part Spring Review series. On Tuesday, we’ll post spring reviews for the SEC East.
Big Story: For once, LSU’s top storyline during spring wasn’t quarterbacks. Well, maybe it was, but we chose to focus on new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s defensive overhaul. He’s installing the 3-4, moving players like safety Corey Thompson to outside linebacker, end Tashawn Bower to OLB and tackle Davon Godchaux to nose tackle. A busy summer awaits. Aranda only installed three packages during spring.
Leonard Fournette signs autographs after LSU’s student day at spring practice. (Patrick Dennis)
Side Story: It’s the quarterbacks, of course. For the first time since 2013, LSU will have an upperclassman starting at QB (presumably Brandon Harris). Coaches believe a more mature Harris is ready to improve on last year’s completion percentage of 53.8 and 180-yard average, but Purdue transfer Danny Etling is waiting if Harris falters.
Rising Star: OLB/DE Arden Key. This rangy sophomore will only get better in his new spot, coaches and players say. He’s shifted into a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role in the 3-4, standing up at the snap. As a rookie, he led the team in QB hurries (9).
Eagerly Awaiting: DT Rashard Lawrence. The Monroe native is one of two five-star signees. He’s a 305-pound versatile talent who could play at several spots on the line.
Kickoff: vs. Wisconsin (at Lambeau Field), Sept. 3
Big Story: Coach-turned-broadcaster Jon Gruden called Dak Prescott the best dual-threat QB in the 2016 draft. That’s the guy Mississippi State must replace. The two leaders after spring appear to be redshirt sophomore Nick Fitzgerald, a triple-option high school QB, and junior Damian Williams, a Metairie native and 2015’s backup to Prescott. A preseason camp battle is expected to unfold between the two.
Dak Prescott is done giving LSU trouble. (Bill Feig)
Side story: Just like LSU, a new defensive coordinator installed his new 3-4 defense during spring practice. Peter Sirmon replaced Manny Diaz after he left for Miami, and he’s overhauling State’s D into a 3-4, equipped with a Viper position (a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker that Will Coleman is expected to man).
Rising Star: DT Nick James. Somebody has to replace the 6-6, 300-pound Chris Jones, the 37th pick in the draft. James, a top 10 defensive tackle out of Long Beach, Mississippi, appears ready as a redshirt junior.
Eagerly Awaiting: DE Jeffery Simmons. The five-star prospect’s future is uncertain after an arrest on simple assault charges in March, but he’s talented (No. 3 strong-side DE).
Kickoff: vs. South Alabama, Sept. 3
Vs. LSU: Sept. 17 at Tiger Stadium
Big Story: Much of Ole Miss’ spring was spent trying to figure out who will start where on an offensive line that returns just four starters. No loss is bigger than Laremy Tunsil’s departure at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Alex Givens and senior Jeremy Liggins, the ex-LSU QB signee-turned-lineman, worked there. Junior Roderick Taylor, backup left tackle last year, is a wild card. He was arrested this spring and charged with shoplifting.
Side story: Senior Chad Kelly is the Rebels’ starting quarterback in 2016, but Ole Miss got a glimpse of its potential starter in 2017 this spring. Kelly missed the latter half of spring after having sports hernia surgery. True freshman Shea Patterson, a five star signee, and redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin battled in a preview to next spring.
Rising Star: DE Marquis Haynes. Some might say Hayes has already risen, but he was overshadowed by tackle Robert Nkemdiche. Haynes led the team last year with 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. The junior is a potential high-round draft pick.
Eagerly Awaiting: OL Greg Little. The No. 1-ranked offensive tackle in the nation arrives this summer. The Texas native is expected to compete on the line immediately.
Kickoff: at Florida State, Sept. 5
Vs. LSU: Oct. 22 at Tiger Stadium
Bret Bielema has beat LSU and Les Miles the last two years. (Bill Feig)
Big Story: Alex Collins – his 1,577 yards and 20 touchdowns – are gone. It’s up to senior Kody Walker and sophomore Rawleigh Williams to fill the void. Walker, 394 yards last season, missed the second half of spring after breaking his foot. Williams did not face any contact in the spring because of a neck injury he suffered last season. As summer workouts crank up in Fayetteville, the running back position is most uncertain.
Side story: The quarterback name on the back of the jersey will be the same, “Allen,” but the quarterback is Austin Allen, brother to former Hogs starter Brandon Allen. Austin’s only thrown 19 passes during his college career, but easily won the starting quarterback job during spring practice – a good sign for Razorback fans.
Rising Star: DE McTelvin Agim. The Hope, Arkansas, native is the first consensus five star product to sign with the Hogs since 2009. He enrolled in January and participated in spring practice, already a projected rotating player at defensive end.
Eagerly Awaiting: RB Devwah Whaley. The third-ranked running back in the 2016 class should add much-needed depth to a critical position.
Kickoff: vs. Louisiana Tech, Sept. 3
Vs. LSU: Nov. 12, at Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
Big Story: Preseason camp is normally the time for raging quarterback battles and dramatic starting QB announcements. A&M coach Kevin Sumlin took care of things during spring practice. He named Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight the starter following Knight’s spring competition with Jake Hubenak. Knight will run new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s tempo-centric offense.
Side story: A&M’s linebackers are a work in progress, and their best one, sophomore Richard Moore, missed spring with injury. The Aggies allowed 213 rushing yards a game last season, 108th nationally, stunning for a John Chavis unit. Another sophomore, Otaro Alaka, made strides in spring, and JUCO transfer Claude George is expected to help.
Rising Star: WR/PR Christian Kirk. As a freshman last year, Kirk led the team in receptions (80), yards (1,009) and TDs (7), and he returned two of 14 punts for touchdowns, averaging more than 24 yards a return.
Eagerly Awaiting: DE Justin Madubuike. A top-50 player nationally and the 5th-ranked DE in the class, Madubuike spurned offers from Auburn, Bama, Ohio State and Florida.
Kickoff: vs. UCLA, Sept. 3
Vs. LSU: Nov. 24, at Kyle Field (College Station, Texas)
Big Story: Losing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is bad enough, but the Tide also lost his speedy counterpart, Kenyan Drake. Naturally, the running back situation took center stage during drills, especially when sophomore running back Ronnie Clark tore his Achilles tendon midway through spring. He’s out for the season. The depth behind Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris includes walk-ons and true freshmen.
Cooper Bateman, here during Bama’s spring game, has the lead in the QB race. (AP)
Side story: QB Cooper Bateman appears to have the edge in what seems to be a three-way battle to replace Jake Coker. Bateman’s spring resembled that of Coker last year and starter Blake Sims the year before. He didn’t do anything to lose the edge he’s got over redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and sophomore David Cornwell.
Rising Star: DE Da’Shawn Hand. Hand, the nation’s No. 1 strong-side DE in the 2014 recruiting class, worked on the first string during spring. A’Shawn Robinson and Jerran Reed’s departures have opened the door for the 6-4, 280-pounder fro Virginia.
Eagerly Awaiting: WR Gehrig Dieter. The Bowling Green graduate transfer will arrive this summer. He caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 TD as a junior last year.
Kickoff: vs. Southern California, Sept. 3 (Arlington, Texas)
Vs. LSU: Nov. 5, at Tiger Stadium
Big Story: Maybe the most wide open quarterback race in the SEC unfolded on the Plains this spring. Junior college transfer John Franklin battled Jeremy Johnson and Sean White, a pair of QBs who rotated during Auburn’s disappointing 7-6 season in 2015. The result: a tossup. Many think Franklin – all 6-1, 174 pounds of him – has the edge. He was the most accurate of the group in the spring game, completing 7 of 11 attempts.
Side story: AU’s defense held its counterpart to a 1-for-22 third-down clip during the spring game. That’s probably more of a critique on Gus Malzahn’s offense, but don’t sleep on this D. The Tigers’ D-line lost zero guys from last year’s two-deep depth chart.
Rising Star: DB Carlton Davis. An SEC all-freshman honoree last season, Davis rolled up 56 tackles and picked off three passes as a rookie. The Miami native’s three picks were the most of any freshman in the league.
Eagerly Awaiting: DT Derrick Brown. This five star from Georgia is ranked as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the 2016 class.
Kickoff: vs. Clemson, Sept. 3
Vs. LSU: Sept. 24, at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn, Alabama)
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