Spring football is only a couple of weeks away from taking place for most of the teams in the SEC. During these scheduled practices, teams will try and iron out any weaknesses, help put together a complete depth chart and figure out who deserves more playing time. This may not be an exciting time for the fanbase that wants to see real football, but the success of any season begins with the work put in spring practice.
Even though the SEC is a conference that has dominated college football over the last decade, every team in this conference has work to be done. Whether you are the defending national champions, or one of the new teams that is still trying to get their feet wet, there are areas that can be improved and spring practice gives each team a chance to do just that.
With these important dates quickly approaching, here are the goals that every SEC team should have once spring practice finally arrives.
Patch Up the Offensive Line
If there is one area that Alabama must address, it would be the offensive line. With only two starters returning, the Tide must replace three guys who will be selected high in the upcoming NFL draft with Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack no longer on the team.
Alabama just hired a new offensive line coach in Mario Cristobal, and it will be critical to find some of the answers this spring to make this unit as effective as it was in years' past.
When you are the defending national champions and the overwhelming favorite to win the title again this year, the key of the spring is to stay healthy. It doesn't matter what happens the rest of the way, or if there are more questions than answers entering fall camp, keeping bodies close to 100 percent is a priority.
This is a team that is arguably the most talented in the country and the last thing the coaching staff wants to see are injuries that raise a few more concerns.
Get the Offense off the Ground
Bret Bielema wants to build his Arkansas Razorbacks the same way he did the Wisconsin Badgers by adding massive offensive linemen and becoming a run-first offense. While he recruited fairly well in his first season, Arkansas must find a new quarterback, running back and needs depth at the wide receiver position.
Once one of the more talented offenses in this conference, the Razorbacks only return four offensive starters. There is a lot of work that needs to be done on this side of the ball.
Inspire Improved Defensive Play
While the offense has been completely gutted during the offseason, the defense actually returns seven starters from a year ago, giving Arkansas something to build on. The problem is that this team ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense last year and allowed four different teams to top 500 total yards.
You can never go wrong with experienced players, but if the Razorbacks are going to compete for a bowl game in Bielema's first year, the defense must improve drastically.
Find a Starting QB
Gus Malzahn is a bright offensive coach and you know it is only a matter of time before this Auburn offense is scoring at a high rate. But before touchdowns begin to come easy for the Tigers, they must find out who the starting quarterback is going to be.
Last year the team went through three different quarterbacks and none of them developed any type of consistency. Will Kiehl Frazier be given another shot to live up to expectations, or will Jonathan Wallace be given the keys to the offense? There is a quarterback controversy going on for this SEC team.
Surround Him with Playmakers
Once the quarterback position is answered, Auburn then must develop as many playmakers around him as possible to really get the most out of this offense. This team will have all new starters at wide receiver and must find at least two solid running backs that are capable of taking some of the pressure off the young signal-caller.
The defense will come later in the fall when talented 2013 recruits step on campus, but right now it is about the offense and guys need to step up.
Discover Offensive Playmakers
I'm not sure I can recall the last time a Florida Gators team looked so lost on the offensive side of the ball. Ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense, this was a team that struggled to put points on the board no matter who the opponent was.
The quarterback play was rocky, the receivers didn't help much and it was a one man show at running back with Mike Gillislee doing all of the heavy lifting. While Florida could use an upgrade at quarterback, providing Jeff Driskel with elite guys at the skill positions would be a step in the right direction.
Get the Young Guys Ready
Florida only returns five starters on the defensive side of the ball, which means the last two recruiting classes are going to be tested early and often. There will be three new faces on the defensive line and the secondary will feature a couple of new starters, as 2013 recruit Vernon Hargreaves III will be given every opportunity to start as a true freshman.
Make Sure the Offense Is Still Firing
If there is any team in the country that doesn't have many worries on offense, it would be the Georgia Bulldogs. Returning 10 starters on this side of the ball, Mark Richt and company have themselves a unit that should have little problems going up and down the field this season.
With arguably the best quarterback in the SEC in Aaron Murray and a two-headed monster at running back, the Bulldogs' offense will be worth the price of admission. Now it is all about knocking the rust off and making sure guys are in game shape and ready to go.
Address Issues in the Secondary
With eight defensive starters either graduating or leaving early for the NFL draft, the Bulldogs will have the youngest defense in the SEC. And while you could make an argument that any part of the defense is in question, the secondary likely needs to most work during the offseason.
The Bulldogs had the eighth best passing defense in college football last year and now only one familiar face is returning. This team has potential along the defensive line and at linebacker, but the defensive backfield holds the most questions entering the spring.
Change the Culture
Kentucky has not won a bowl game since 2008 and is a combined 2-14 in conference play the last two years. While every other SEC program is either on the rise, making moves or already a contender, Wildcats fans only look forward to basketball season and cringe when the thought of football comes to mind.
We can talk about what the team needs to do to improve, but success in this conference isn't going to happen overnight. With a new head coach in Mark Stoops, a culture change should be the focus for Kentucky. Convince these guys that this program is making the right moves and will make progress on a year-to-year basis. Add confidence and start getting these players to believe that they can win and will soon be competing with the big boys.
It is not going to be easy and a bowl bid is likely not in the cards in 2013, but baby steps are all you can ask for at this point. And the first thing that needs to be done in order to improve is to get your team to believe you can get the job done.
Fix the Defense
LSU has been known for terrific defensive play the last several years and it is much of the reason this team consistently competes for conference and national championships. But Les Miles and his troops have their work cut out for them as only five starters return.
Sure, thanks to unfair recruiting classes, the Tigers have the talent to replace future NFL stars, but much like Florida, there is going to be a ton of youth on the defense. Getting guys to understand their assignments and take on larger roles is going to be key.
Find an Actual QB
Unless Zach Mettenberger performs even worse in spring practice, he will remain the starting quarterback for the Tigers. And with that being the case, he must improve his game and become more accurate and consistent with his throws.
This was somebody who was supposed to be a true quarterback and actually give the Tigers a legit passing game. Mettenberger fell far short of expectations last season, and it will be important to the team's overall success that he gets on the right track and becomes more of a threat throwing the ball.
See Improved Play from Tyler Russell
Tyler Russell broke many school records in his first year as a starter and showed that he does have what it takes to lead this team. He threw 24 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and was a big part in Mississippi State getting off to a 7-0 start.
However, he also made his fair share of bad throws and finished the final two games with a combined three touchdown passes and six interceptions. Russell has the ability to be one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country and could lead Mississippi State to great things. It all starts with an impressive spring practice.
Answer Defensive Questions
The Bulldogs were shaky at best on the defensive side of the ball and have even more questions now that guys such as Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks aren't around anymore. Mississippi State finished eighth in the SEC in total defense and the 42.08 percent third-down conversion rate was 13th in the conference.
If Dan Mullen and his guys are ever going to be taken seriously, the effort on this side of the ball must get better.
Make Sure James Franklin Is Healthy
Missouri was considered a dark horse last season because of what was expected from the offense. The Tigers were given a shot to compete because of the offensive weapons the team had heading into the first season in the SEC. That was until quarterback James Franklin suffered multiple injuries throughout the year and wasn't himself.
When healthy, Franklin is one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and has the ability to take over football games. Getting him back on the field at 100 percent will mean the world to this team.
Tweak the Defense
The Tigers return six starters defensively, but the best player on that side of the ball is not one of them in defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. This is a unit that ranked 10th in the SEC in total defense and finished the final three games allowing more than 500 total yards apiece.
Missouri has answers offensively, but the defense must take a couple of steps forward if it is going to win more games than a year ago.
Get Guys to Settle Down a Bit
Maybe you haven't been paying much attention to college football lately, but Ole Miss is receiving a lot of attention. With a stellar 2013 recruiting class and the job head coach Hugh Freeze has done in a short amount of time, the Rebels bandwagon is a bit crowded at the moment.
Some have this team winning 10 games next season, and with the elite recruits coming in, others believe that an SEC title is only a year or two away. It is cool to be excited and positive about the future, but Freeze must get his players to understand they haven't accomplished anything yet. The talent is there, but the hard part has really just begun.
Play as One
Mississippi returns the most starters in the SEC with 18 guys coming back from last season. When you add the fact that one of the best recruiting classes in the country will soon join them, you have yourself a team that is built to win right away.
Because of the overwhelming experience and talent that will soon step on campus, Ole Miss doesn't have as many questions as some of the other teams do. Now it is a matter of playing together as a team and improving last season’s efforts. We should see a crisp spring practice from this up and coming program.
Find a Replacement for Lattimore
South Carolina had the 13th-best rushing attack in the SEC last season and things really took a nose dive once Marcus Lattimore went down with a knee injury. Now that he is no longer a South Carolina Gamecock, the team must find a reliable replacement at the running back position.
Sophomore Mike Davis seems to be the front-runner, but with only 52 carries under his belt a season ago, he must prove he can handle an increased workload. South Carolina is a team that wants to run the ball and it must find that back that can carry the offense.
Patch Up the Linebacker Position
The Gamecocks have little worries on the defensive line with Jadeveon Clowney returning for his third year, but the linebacker position is missing every starter from last year. Keep in mind that includes last year’s leading tackler in Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who finished third on the team in tackles.
Clowney is a superb talent, but he can only do so much. The defense must find replacements for the next level of this defense.
Find a Quarterback
The first thing that new head coach Butch Jones must address is the quarterback play. With a handful of candidates to choose from, it is really an open competition due to the lack of experience every one of the players has.
Justin Worley enters the competition as the favorite, and he has only played in nine games throughout his career. The other candidates include a redshirt freshman in Nathan Peterman and a 2013 recruit in Joshua Dobbs. This is a battle that will likely be decided in the fall, but getting closer to a decision is key.
One of the most frustrating parts of this Tennessee team was the defense from a year ago. Ranked dead last in the SEC; the Volunteers couldn't slow down a parked vehicle, and allowed 10 teams to produce at least 400 yards of total offense.
The good news is that eight starters from this unit are returning and the only way to go is up after the brutal performances from last season.
Keep a Close Eye on Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel has become a college football icon and seems to be drawing attention no matter what he does. Every week there seems to be an update on the latest Heisman Trophy winner and the most recent is that the kid signed up for online classes.
If it wasn't the hoopla of him sitting courtside at sporting events, it was him flashing a large sum of money and drawing unnecessary attention. There is little doubt that Manziel will continue to play well and this is really somebody who is living the college dream. However, the coaches around this young man may want to reel him in a bit and make sure that his focus is on the right things.
An off-the-field incident is the last thing the Aggies need.
Iron out the Issues on Defense
Texas A&M had many rocky performances on defense last season and there are questions heading into the spring. The Aggies are missing all of the starting linebackers from last year and the best defensive player in defensive end Damontre Moore is also gone.
We know this team is capable of scoring with the best of them, but it is defense that wins games in this conference. There are more questions than answers right now on this side of the ball for Texas A&M and that will need to change.
Find a Starting QB
Vanderbilt has one of the top receiving corps in the country and three starting offensive linemen returning, but no quarterback to throw the football. The pieces are certainly in place for anybody to be successful; it is just a matter of finding the best possible fit and giving him the keys to make things work.
The Commodores had an inconsistent offense a year ago, but if somebody can help lead the team similar to how Jordan Rodgers did, the offense should be in good shape when the season kicks off.
Improve the Defensive Front
Surprising defense play has been the reason Vanderbilt is making positive steps in the right direction. That should continue with upperclassmen filling in the secondary, but the defensive line that only returns one starter needs work.
There were a few young players such as Kyle Woestmann who ended up panning out and it will be interesting to see how they handle a full-time role. If the defense for Vandy can continue to hold its own, we are looking at a dark-horse SEC contender.