Normally in spring practice, everything is positive. Everyone is undefeated and coaches are more than happy to run through a list of players that are âcompetingâ and âworking on fundamentalsâ during this period of organized, yet regulated, team activities. But thatâs not the real world, where injuries and depth concerns loom large along with program stability and ticket sales.
Below, weâve got some worst-case spring practice scenarios for the SEC. Some are serious, many are not, but all of the potential topics would not be good news if they surfaced at the end of April when the final spring games are done.
|Quarterback controversy: Nick Saban loves to keep the competition going into the fall, and often into the first weeks of the season, but Alabama fans would prefer to know that position is settled going into the fall. If word around town is that Jalen Hurts hasnât taken the steps forward to separate himself from the rest of the group after being named SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016, itâs going to great some consternation and high interest in how Tua Tagovailoa looks in the spring game.|
|More shuffling of offensive responsibility: At this point, all Auburn fans want is some consistency. A quarterback that can start 13 games, a play-calling setup that doesnât have fans questioning who does what behind the scenes, and an offense that wonât inexplicably and unexpectedly misfire against Georgia after a six-game winning streak.|
|Bad news for the running backs: Thereâs a lot of unknowns for the Razorbacks going into 2017, like the impact of new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads on a defense that struggled last season -- hopefully heâll be âSO PROUDâ come September -- and whether Austin Allen is, as some suggest after a 3,400-yard passing season, on the verge of being a first-team All-SEC quarterback. But Iâm most concerned with the continued development of Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley. The dynamic duo can be as dangerous a running combo as Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were in 2014 and 2015.|
|Matt Canada stops getting micâd up: Free content idea Iâd like to release to the marketplace: an alternate broadcast with Matt Canada micâd up when LSU is on offense and Ed Orgeronâs running commentary when the Tigers are on defense. In the two-minute video below this table (at 2:18 to be exact), which consists of clips from multiple practices, Canada says âbangâ 26 times, normally in rapid fire succession as heâs watching a play develop -- âBang, bang, bang, bang, bang!â He also says âthe ballâ about 12 times and only lowers his tone and volume to welcome athletic director Joe Alleva to practice. If Canada keeps this up, heâll be a content generation machine.|
|Lots of new faces around the facility: Thereâs nothing fun about an NCAA investigation. Hugh Freezeâs âfour-year colonoscopyâ line made for good headlines and plenty of laughs, but thereâs no disputing the discomfort created around a program by an active NCAA probe. Now that Ole Miss and the NCAA have moved into the litigation of the case, the stakes are higher and any current or future misstep is going to be amplified by the media and used against the school by the enforcement staff.|
|Everyone else figures out Nick Fitzgerald: When a star quarterback breaks out early in his career, itâs always fun to see how defensive coordinators spend their time adjusting. Because college football coaches are obsessives and have a longer offseason than any other sport, a particularly tough player or scheme to stop can get so much attention between December and August that the defensive staff has probably logged as many hours studying tape as pilots do to earn their license. Football Study Hallâs Ian Boyd did an excellent breakdown of Fitzgeraldâs sophomore season and how this âpretty goodâ passer and strong power runner is the perfect fit with Dan Mullenâs spread-to-run offense. When Mississippi State got rolling against better teams, it was usually off Fitzgerald hitting big plays with his legs. The SEC West was caught off guard by Fitzgerald in 2016, they wonât be this fall.|
|The Swag-Copterâs impact wears off: Has Texas A&M lost some of its swagger? The arrival of Kevin Sumlin and the instant impact of Johnny Manziel beating Alabama and winning the Heisman Trophy all lined up perfectly for the Aggiesâ first year in the SEC. A huge monster of buzz, energy and attention surrounded the Texas A&M program, Sumlin got a Swag-Copter and started pulling the best recruits in the country and everyone jumped on board. Kyle Field got massive renovation projects approved and the narrative that the SECâs new arrivals from the Big 12 wouldnât be able to hang in their new league was squashed immediately. After Johnny Football came top-rated recruiting classes that brought the likes of Myles Garrett, Christian Kirk and Daylon Mack to College Station. As long as Sumlin and his staff continue to recruit at a high level you are going to see Texas A&M get the dark horse label every year, but what happens if those recruits start to see past the hype machine and wonder why the Aggies havenât won more than eight games in the post-Manziel era?|
|No pass rusher emerges from the defensive line: Floridaâs had the luxury of leaning on one of the SECâs best defensive backfield in the last couple of years, allowing the defensive staff to mix things up with blitzes in the front seven to create quarterback pressure. Now that Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson are off to the NFL, thereâs an emphasis from the Gators on getting more of a pass rush from the defensive line in 2017. There are options, like Jabari Zuniga or CeCe Jefferson, but still no proven answers for who will be the next Dante Fowler or Caleb Brantley in Gainesville.|
|More setbacks to Trent Thompsonâs return: Thompson has the potential to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the SEC next season. He was recently the MVP of the Georgiaâs Liberty Bowl win against TCU and one of the teamâs top tacklers with 56 stops in 2016. But the road to that All-SEC future was stopped last month when Thompson withdrew from school, citing a âsignificant medical issueâ after an overnight hospitalization for what the schools says was an âadverse reactionâ to medication. Thompson was in attendance for Georgiaâs Pro Day, and he was spotted at spring practice, working out on the side with linebacker Roquan Smith, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His shoulder rehab allows him to spend time around the program while not in school and not officially practicing with the team, but itâs going to be a very different outlook for the Bulldogs up front on defense if he doesnât get the all-clear to return to school and re-join the team in time for fall camp.|
|Itâs already happened: The worst-case scenario for Kentucky fans this spring has already occurred. When Christian Laettner is bringing back 1992 memories and dancing on the ashes of Final Four hopes following Luke Mayeâs game-winner in the Elite Eight, that is as low as it gets for Kentucky fans. But guess what? Thereâs good football news this year! Former junior college quarterback Stephen Johnson II is joined by freshman All-American running back Benny Snell in the backfield, and eight of the top 10 tacklers from last season are back. The Wildcats have enough in place to consider them a threat to finish in the top half of the SEC East in 2017. Johnsonâs long road from Rancho Cucamonga, California, to Lexington makes him one of the most intriguing players to watch, but the lack of proven quarterback depth also makes him one of the most important to keep healthy this spring.|
|The doughnuts donât work: Missouriâs defense wasnât great last season, which was strange to see considering the success the Tigers had when now-head coach Barry Odom was a defensive coordinator on the sideline for Gary Pinkel. A big part of the problem, according to the coaches, was tackling, and now Missouri has joined the growing number of programs using the giant rugby doughnuts to practice form. âTackling was a glaring area of improvement we need to make,â Missouri co-defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross told the Kansas City Star. âWe did a little research and think the tackle circles or doughnuts, as some people call them, allow the kids to be a lot more aggressive and saves our kidsâ bodies, so weâre not hitting each other constantly. Itâs a good tool to have.â As a lifelong fan and supporter of the tasty pastry, Iâve spent tackling doughnuts and can only imagine how easy it must be to get fired up for practice knowing Iâll be chasing these rings around.|
|Spring game injuries: The Gamecocks are nearing the end of their spring practice already. That may come as a surprise because all of the recent South Carolina-related headlines have come from Frank Martin, Sindarious Thornwell and the basketball teamâs unlikely march to the schoolâs first-ever Final Four. While the basketball team has become the nationâs darling in the NCAA Tournament, Will Muschamp has been able to run through the spring without drawing too much attention. Saturday is a huge day for South Carolina fans with the spring game running right into the Final Four game against Gonzaga. The energy will be crazy with basketball hype feeding into hopes of what Jake Bentley and Muschamp can do in year two to the SEC East. Just make sure everyone stays healthy and gets to their seat in time for the 6 p.m. ET tip-off on CBS.|
|Grumbling from the new administration: John Currie is a rising star in the athletic director scene and the sensible end to Tennesseeâs search to replace Dave Hart. What Currie, 45, will be first tasked with managing is the expectations of a football program coming off two straight seasons where an SEC Championship mentality ended with a 9-4 record and a âChampions of Lifeâ quip that wonât die. Butch Jonesâ endless positivity might be infectious in the locker room, but itâs going to fall short of satisfying fan demands over time.|
|Derek Mason gets boring: Never stop dancing, Coach Mason.|