One Player on Every SEC Team with the Most to Prove in Spring Practice
Now that signing day is in the books, football programs across the nation begin to turn their attention to the upcoming spring practice session.
In the SEC, several players departed for the NFL, leaving gaping holes at key positions for several of the conference's elite teams.
This list runs down the one man, or unit, that will need to step up and prove himself the most during spring practice.
Each man on this list will be key to his squad's efforts, and with a bad spring, could really put a wrench into his dreams of starting, or the team's of making a major bowl game.
Alabama: John Fulton/Geno Smith
Dee Milliner was one of the best cornerbacks in the nation this past season, and he left Alabama early for the NFL due to the skill and potential he showed on the field of play.
While the Tide lost plenty of other talent, including safety Robert Lester and running back Eddie Lacy, it will be Milliner that Nick Saban's squad misses the most.
Having a corner that can play on an island and lock everyone down is a luxury not everyone enjoys.
That's where Fulton and Smith come into play.
Smith emerged as a budding star last season, and he has the potential to snatch the starting job away from Fulton in spring practice.
He has the most upside and appears ready to take the next step, but don't count out Fulton with an excellent spring.
Arkansas: Brandon Allen, QB
Tyler Wilson, despite suffering a severe injury in 2012, left Arkansas as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the program.
Enter Brandon Allen.
Allen appears to be the guy who needs to step up and replace Wilson.
During limited time last season, Allen showed his inexperience, but in new head coach Bret Bielema's system, he has the skills to flourish.
Auburn: Gus Malzahn
No, Malzahn is not a player, but he's got tons to figure out, and the tenure of a coach in the SEC can be incredibly short.
Just ask Gene Chizik, who, two seasons removed from a national title, found himself out of work after a couple of rough seasons for Auburn.
Malzahn must immediately identify a quarterback who can be a consistent contributor, especially considering the Tigers started three guys at the position last season.
Malzahn must reverse the losing trend, and reverse it early if he wants to stay on at Auburn for any length of time.
That means starting in spring practice, and implementing a winning program as soon as possible.
Florida: Matt Jones, RB
Mike Gillislee was a key cog in the Florida offense in 2012, a season that saw the Gators march to a one-loss regular season.
He's since departed for the greener pastures of the NFL, leaving behind a pretty big gap to fill.
Junior Matt Jones is next in line to take over rushing duties, but has some excellent talent challenging him at the position.
Early enrollee Kelvin Taylor and freshman Mack Brown will both push Jones for carries, so if Jones wants to remain at the top of the depth chart, he needs to show out in spring practice and set the tone early.
Georgia: Jordan Jenkins
By the end of the 2012 season, it was pretty obvious to everyone who was not a Notre Dame fan that Jarvis Jones was the best linebacker in college football.
The man was dominant, and keyed a defense that was vicious, if not always as stingy as might be hoped for.
The man who steps in to fill his shoes will be Jordan Jenkins.
Jenkins was just a freshman in 2012, but demonstrated such tremendous talent, that he earned some significant playing time and gave Bulldog fans a glimpse into the future of the defense.
He played in all 14 games last season, but needs to step up and demonstrate that he can handle starting duties for Mark Richt's squad.
Kentucky Wildcats: Defensive Ends
Mark Stoops has inherited a mess, and there are plenty of places to look for some fresh faces at Kentucky.
But its defensive end that needs to most attention.
There is not a single end on the roster that has registered a sack going into 2013.
It's going to be another tough season for Kentucky football, and Stoops needs to identify someone who can produce at the end position early in spring practice.
LSU: Jermauria Rasco, DE
LSU lost a ridiculous number of players on the defensive side of the ball to the NFL draft.
That number included two defensive ends, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, who decided to depart early.
With their decisions to depart, the Tigers lost five of six players at the position going into 2013.
On top of that, top recruit Robert Nkdemiche signed with Ole Miss instead of Les Miles' squad.
Rasco, as the only end with time in the program, needs to step up and lead at the position.
Though he does not have the talent of Mingo or Montgomery, he has the potential to emerge as a solid contributor at the position.
Mississippi State: Jamerson Love, CB
For the 2012 Bulldogs, there was no more talented player than cornerback Johnthan Banks.
He has a chance to go in the first round of the NFL draft, after an excellent season that saw him pick off four passes and defend seven passes.
Dan Mullen will likely replace his stud cornerback with Jamerson Love, a junior who has some game experience and has shown the ability to play the position well.
However, Love has to step up and demonstrate that he can be the primary shutdown corner for the Bulldogs' defense.
Missouri: Lucas Vincent
Sheldon Richardson was the cornerstone of the Tigers' defense in 2012 at the defensive tackle position.
He finished the season with 75 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
But now, he's gone.
Vincent was his backup in 2012, and will look to take over starting duties during spring practice.
He's had limited game experience and only posted three total tackles during the 2012 season, but demonstrated his talent in 2011 as a freshman, when he put up 11 tackles, including two for loss.
If he wants to take over for Richardson, he needs to step up.
Ole Miss: Bo Wallace, QB
It was a ridiculous signing day for Ole Miss in 2013, as the Rebels pulled in a top five recruiting class.
While it's possible that some of the talented freshmen that will join the team in the fall will have an impact on the field, it will be a year or two before this class really makes some noise in the SEC.
This season, it's up to quarterback Bo Wallace to help the team take the next step.
He tied for the national lead in interceptions with 17.
He needs to prove to the team that he can cut down on that number so that the team can take the next step.
If he does, the Rebels are going to be very dangerous in the upcoming seasons.
South Carolina: Dylan Thompson, QB
Since the sixth game of the 2011 college football season, Connor Shaw has been the starting quarterback for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
He's out for the spring with a foot injury, opening the door for backup Dylan Thompson to create a quarterback controversy.
Thompson has had opportunities to fill in at times when Shaw has been injured, and he has done a pretty solid job of it.
He's thrown 10 career touchdowns to only two interceptions, and he has the mobility to extend a play.
If he can have a great spring, Thompson could emerge as the Gamecocks' quarterback come fall.
Tennessee: Justin Worley, QB
With Tyler Bray departing early for the NFL, Worley seems to be in line to take over the reins as the next starting quarterback of the Vols.
Worley, a former Gatorade National High School Player of the Year, has spent limited time under center since arriving in Knoxville, and that time has not been over-productive.
In 110 attempts over the past two seasons, he's completed only 63 passes, tossed only one touchdown and five interceptions.
Going into his third season with the team, Worley must learn Butch Jones' new system, as well as deal with the loss of the program's top three wide receivers.
On top of that, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, who was recruited by Jones during his time at Cincinnati, is a more athletic quarterback with dual-threat capabilities, better suited to Jones' up-tempo style.
Texas A&M: O-Line
The Texas A&M offensive line is going to be interesting come spring practice.
With Luke Joeckel headed to the NFL, stud Jake Matthews will likely be asked to switch sides and take over Joeckel's former position on the left side of the O-line.
That means he will have to adjust to playing there, on the side where he is unaccustomed to playing, and somebody will have to fill in the gap he left, whether it be someone currently on the line or another player stepping in to fill the gap.
Whatever the case, wunder-kind Heisman winner Johnny Manziel is going to be operating from behind a line that is bereft of Joeckel's talent and that will feature at least two players at new positions.
This offensive line must step up and show it can play at an elite level immediately if the Aggies hope to enjoy the same level of success they enjoyed in 2012.
Manziel is a wizard when scrambling, but if the offensive line is not solid, it's going to be difficult for him to find room in which to maneuver.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Brian Kimbrow
Brian Kimbrow is the man that needs to get this Vandy offense going in 2013.
He's taking over at running back for the departed Zac Stacy—at least he will with a good performance in spring practice.
Kimbrow had limited touches in 2012, gaining only 413 yards on 66 attempts, but averaging over six yards per carry.
With an offense breaking in a new quarterback and two new guards, he must be at the top of his game for the 'Dores to continue progressing as a unit.
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