Spring football practices recently concluded around the Southeastern Conference.
Let’s take a tour around the league for a look at what took place:
New coach Bobby Petrino was pleased by the play of tailback Michael Smith, who will finally get his opportunity to play this fall after the departures of first-round NFL draft picks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
Smith rushed 13 times for 157 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. In 2007, he gained only 303 yards.
Quarterback John Parker Wilson, preparing for his third year as a starter, was the offensive star of the spring game. Alabama will need all it can get from Wilson when it opens the 2008 season against Clemson in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The Tigers figured to be ranked in the top 10 in most preseason polls.
Auburn broke in a pair of new coordinators this spring with Tony Franklin running the offense and Paul Rhoads taking over on defense.
Franklin, who came to Auburn in December 2007 after serving as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach the previous two seasons at Troy, got off to a fast start last January. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson last season, Franklin took over, and Auburn posted season-highs in total yards (423) and first downs (24).
Armed with a Heisman Trophy, quarterback Tim Tebow showed no signs of slowing down this spring. He is the fifth quarterback to return to school after winning the award, joining Roger Staubach, Ty Detmer, Jason White and Matt Leinart. Detmer, White and Leinart each finished third in the Heisman voting during the season that followed their Heisman-winning year.
Florida has posted 20 consecutive winning seasons, the longest streak in the SEC.
GEORGIA The Bulldogs, likely to be ranked in the top five of many preseason polls, got a boost this spring with the return of linebacker Akeem Hebron, who had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the spring game.
Hebron spent last season playing for Georgia Military College after being arrested in February 2007.
Quarterbacks Curtis Pulley and Mike Hartline rotated with the first- and second-team offenses as the Wildcats began the process of replacing former star quarterback Andre’ Woodson. Neither player seized the job.
Troubled quarterback Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed from the team last week after missing all of spring practice due to a suspension. Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch split time with the No. 1 offense in the spring. Lee connected on 7 of 13 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, while Hatch was 13-of-17 passing for 177 yards and two scores.
First-year coach Houston Nutt was quickly able to settle the quarterback position, as Texas transfer Jevan Snead nailed down the starting job after completing 20 of 26 passes for 269 yards in the spring game.
Nutt said he plans to use junior wide receiver Dexter McCluster in much the same way he used Darren McFadden in the “Wild Hog” formation at Arkansas. It will be called the “Wild Rebel” at Ole Miss.
Despite its improvement and bowl appearance last season, MSU is desperate for an improved passing attack. Senior wide receiver Jamayel Smith offered some hope by being named the team’s Offensive Player of the spring. He also led the team with six receptions for 135 yards in two scrimmages.
Injuries dominated the news for the Gamecocks, as several key players did not participate during the spring, including defensive tackle Nathan Pepper, tight end Nick Prochak, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, offensive lineman Gurminder Thind, wide receiver Kenny McKinley, linebacker Marvin Sapp and linebacker Dustin Lindsey.
In addition, star linebacker Jasper Brinkley was held out of contact drills. Safety Emanuel Cook suffered a broken thumb and missed the spring game.
Former Richmond head coach Dave Clawson took over as offensive coordinator, and his troops lit up the scoreboard in the spring game. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton, the likely starter this fall, passed for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, then underwent minor elbow surgery a few days later.
Senior tailback Arian Foster enters the 2008 season needing 684 yards to break Tennessee’s career rushing total of 3,078, set by Travis Henry from 1997-2000.
Uncertainty at quarterback marked VU’s spring, but drills ended without coaches naming a starter among four candidates, including Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams, who shared the starting job last season. The battle will rage into fall camp.
Coach Bobby Johnson will become the first Vanderbilt coach this fall to serve seven seasons since George MacIntyre (1979-1985).
Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt and the SEC for The City Paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.