College Football Players Who Can Make the Biggest Strides This Spring

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterMarch 7, 2014

College Football Players Who Can Make the Biggest Strides This Spring

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Spring practice is underway for many teams, meaning the next couple of months will be all about competition and development. 

    With so many stars departing, like UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who steps up to fill their shoes? 

    Other players, meanwhile, are looking to bounce back from tough and/or injury-filled seasons. A sold spring would be a good place to start for them. 

    Either way, so many players are looking to take the next step. So which ones can make the biggest strides at their position this spring? The answers, as always, are in the following slides. 

Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    In many ways, Trevor Knight made huge strides as a passer in 2013 from Week 1 to the Sugar Bowl. In his first start against Louisiana-Monroe, Knight completed just 39 percent of his passes. Against Alabama, Knight completed 73 percent of his passes, dropping dimes to his receivers for 348 yards and four touchdowns. 

    That's an encouraging sign as Knight enters 2014 with a stronger footing as the starting quarterback. Still, Knight has to demonstrate two things this offseason:

    First, he must continue to do the little things right. Improving his footwork, accuracy, decision making and ball security are going to make him a more consistent passer next season.

    Secondly, Knight has to emerge as the leader of the offense with several veteran players like center Gabe Ikard and receiver Jalen Saunders moving on. 

    There's no questioning Knight is a gifted runner. If he can stay healthy and continue to develop as a passer, he can easily be the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the Big 12. 

Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    If you like top-end talent, Ole Miss' 2013 recruiting class was sinfully exciting. A major pickup from that class was 5-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. 

    Treadwell made an immediate impact for the Rebels, catching a team-best 72 passes. His 608 receiving yards and five touchdowns were second on the team. 

    As a sophomore, Treadwell can make an even bigger leap. 

    As B/R's Michael Felder writes, Treadwell's biggest improvement needs to come in the vertical passing game. The freshman caught a lot of balls last year, but never broke 100 yards receiving in a game. Not that it's an easy task, but at 6'3" and 215 pounds, he has the size to be a No. 1 receiver for the Rebels.

    Treadwell has good body control and can win one-on-one battles with shorter defensive backs. Being a more consistent deep threat is the next step for him next season. 

Florida QB Jeff Driskel

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Coming off of a season-ending ankle injury, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel needs to get off on the right foot this spring.

    (Awful pun fully intended.)

    Driskel struggled even before last season. In 2012 as a sophomore, he threw for just 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. With a new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, Driskel will be going back to basics this spring. 

    In many ways, that's probably a good thing for him. 

    Roper did great things at Duke, but the Blue Devils' quarterback situation was far better than it is in Gainesville, Fla. It's going to take a lot of patience and persistence to make this a workable marriage between Roper and Driskel. 

    But it certainly can be done. 

UCLA LB Myles Jack

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Myles Jack was famously known for his performance in a 31-26 win over Arizona—as a running back. 

    Against the Wildcats, Jack became a two-way player, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown on six carries. 

    The need was filled out of necessity, and as B/R's Kyle Kensing wrote in January, Jack's natural position is at linebacker. That's what he will focus on this spring. 

    Jack is a productive linebacker, too. In 2013 as a true freshman, Jack started 12 games and saw action in all 13. He finished fifth on the team with 75 tackles and third with seven tackles for loss.

    With Anthony Barr moving on, Jack becomes the immediate go-to guy to lead the Bruins' linebacker group. It all begins with a solid spring.

Michigan State LB Shane Jones

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Unlike other players on this list, Shane Jones didn't see playing time in 2013. Instead, the 4-star linebacker redshirted his freshman year. 

    That doesn't mean he can't make an impact next season. The Spartans lose linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, meaning Jones can push for playing time as a redshirt freshman. 

    Michigan State should still be excellent up front with defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, taking the pressure off of the younger guys. 

    Jones was considered one of the bigger gets in Sparty's '13 recruiting class. With the linebacker competition wide open, he'll have a chance to show he's part of the next great defense for coordinator Pat Narduzzi.  

Texas QB David Ash

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    David Ash is presumably the front-runner for the starting quarterback job at Texas, but with USC transfer Max Wittek reportedly still eyeing the Longhorns, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News, nothing is a sure thing. 

    Ash missed most of the season with a concussion, so it will be interesting to see how well and how quickly he gets going. He'll also be working with a new coaching staff and position coach, Shawn Watson.

    Watson did a tremendous job at Louisville with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, so Ash will be in good hands. The question is whether Ash is reliable enough to keep the starting job. Freshman Tyrone Swoopes, and potentially Wittek, are also physically gifted athletes.

    There's going to be an intense competition at quarterback for the Horns. 

Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    With Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall gone, Ohio State's running back competition is wide open. The most experienced running back the Buckeyes have coming back is Ezekiel Elliott. 

    As a freshman, Elliott saw limited carries, but still racked up 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Yes, a little over half of those yards came in his biggest game against Florida A&M, but he had nice moments against Penn State and Purdue as well. 

    And at 6'0" and 210 pounds, Elliott has the size to be Ohio State's next every-down back.

    He'll compete with guys like Rod Smith and Warren Ball for significant playing time. However, anyone watching Elliot last season knows he has a nice wiggle to his game for a guy his size. He seems like he's ready to take on a bigger role in the offense. 

Clemson QB Cole Stoudt

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    RAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    Now that Tajh Boyd is gone, Clemson's quarterback spot is up for grabs. 

    It's generally believed that the starting job is eventually going to go to one of three players: Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly or Deshaun Watson. 

    Stoudt was the No. 2 guy for the Tigers last season, throwing for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Now, he can go from career backup to the starter. 

    He's the veteran of the group. Kelly is a sophomore and Watson is a freshman. There's a lot of young talent at quarterback for Clemson; the question is whether head coach Dabo Swinney goes for experience or potential. 

    Stoudt can answer that question for him by taking big strides this spring and cementing himself as Boyd's successor in his senior season. 

    Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports