Taking a trip around the SEC East schools to get updates on the most pressing issues leading into the season.
Perhaps the biggest need for Florida going into this fall is improved play from the quarterback position. John Brantley is comfortably ahead of his backups according to Will Muschamp, and starting DT Jaye Howard expects big things from him. Howard said that his quarterback is "on fire right now", even going so far as to call him a Heisman candidate. Early entry freshman Jeff Driskel has put himself ahead of his competitors for the backup spot, also gaining effusive praise from Howard. Just because Steve Addazio is gone, however, it doesn't mean Brantley will take every snap. Trey Burton, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have all been getting in work from the Wildcat.
With Caleb King and Washaun Ealey gone, running back is the most uncertain spot on offense for the Bulldogs. As it turns out, it was the only position on offense that excelled in Georgia's first scrimmage. True freshman Isaiah Crowell and tailback turned linebacker turned tailback again Richard Samuel shined in the scrimmage, and they will be UGA's two primary ball carriers to begin the season. Both are dealing with injuries right now though, with Samuel having a strained quad and Crowell dealing with a groin injury. Neither running backs coach Bryan McClendon nor Mike Bobo are concerned with the injuries, with McClendon chalking them up as normal training camp maladies.
The Wildcats are hoping to have an improved season, and a big part of making that happen is replacing the offensive stars who left after last year. Morgan Newton is replacing Mike Hartline under center, and he is drawing rave reviews from some in the program. Former quarterback Andre' Woodson, who is now a graduate assistant, says that Newton is much improved, comparing the difference to "night and day". Wide receivers coach Tee Martin, himself a pretty good quarterback in his day, praised the veterans on the offensive line who he believes will give Newton plenty of protection this fall. As for the rebuilt receiving corps, competition is high between the veterans and freshmen after the spring game went by with no real standouts.
From the start of camp, Steve Spurrier has been praising the nation's top-rated recruit DE Jadeveon Clowney. He said Clowney doesn't know how to stick to "practice speed" and must be taken out to be slowed down. Clowney was the standout in the Gamecocks' scrimamge yesterday, picking up a pair of sacks including a forced fumble that he returned for a touchdown. Spurrier joked that he learned that he can't run reverses to Clowney's side after he got a five-yard tackle for loss on one. Backup QB Connor Shaw had his thumb pop out of place during the scrimmage, but Spurrier didn't consider it a serious injury.
With a small veteran core being pushed by a large number of talented (and sometimes more talented) freshmen and sophomores, competition is running high in Vols camp this year. Head coach Derek Dooley is still the clear leader as far as saying interesting things goes, as he invoked the Bard of Avon in one object lesson. One critical position for the team is wide receiver, after losing three of the four players from last year who caught more than 20 passes. The fourth guy who actually is back? It's RB Tauren Poole. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, who looked promising as freshmen last year, are growing into their new roles as leaders of the unit. Sophomore Matt Milton, who did not register a reception last year, is also turning some heads at practice.
New coach James Franklin is trying to do what he can to keep the energy level up at practice. In a typical coaching "turn a good play into a bad one" moment, he complained of defenders not giving it their all while giving chase on a 70-yard Zac Stacy touchdown run. That's the sort of thing he wants to see less of, and he's even swapped out players he thinks aren't working hard enough. He's also been functioning as quarterback during defensive practices, despite having a glut of them on the roster. After throwing an interception to LB Archibald Barnes in one practice, he leveled Barnes by the sideline during the return. Franklin is keeping the positive energy up for now, but he's also not coached a game yet.