SEC Football: 10 Top Performers from Spring Practice
Spring practice is in the books around the SEC, and several stars emerged as potential game-changers in the SEC in 2014.
Tennessee's offense looks tough thanks to the emergence of early enrollee running back Jalen Hurd and early enrollee wide receiver Josh Malone, Auburn's offense looks to be even more balanced thanks to wide receiver Duke Williams and Arkansas' two-headed monster at running back added a third party with Korliss Marshall's spring game performance.
Who were the top 10 performers in the SEC in 2014 spring practice? Picks are in this slideshow.
10. Florida WR Demarcus Robinson
Who's going to step up and become a downfield threat for new Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper in a make-or-break year for head coach Will Muschamp?
The sophomore was in and out of the doghouse last season, but he stepped up this spring as a go-to weapon in Roper's hurry-up, no-huddle attack. The 6'2", 202-pounder had five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in the Gators' spring game, according to stats released by Florida, putting a cap on a solid spring.
It seems impossible based on Florida's track record of high-octane offenses under former head coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, but there's has been a noticeable absence of a legitimate downfield threat in Gainesville during the Muschamp era.
Robinson will change that this year, and it started this spring.
9. LSU QB Brandon Harris
The best LSU true freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris could do this spring was give himself a shot at winning the starting quarterback job this fall.
Harris completed 11 of 28 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, and he added six carries for 77 yards and a touchdown on the ground, according to stats released by LSU.
He and sophomore Anthony Jennings will enter fall camp locked in a battle to win the job. Considering Jennings looked hesitant in the pocket and inconsistent in the passing game—which was a carbon copy of his Outback Bowl performance—it's safe to say that Harris has all of the momentum at the quarterback position in Baton Rouge.
He'll have to be a little bit more consistent through the air, but more time with his new wide receivers should go a long way toward developing that consistency.
8. Kentucky QB Patrick Towles
All eyes were on true freshman early enrollee Drew Barker at the quarterback position at Kentucky this spring, but a funny thing happened in the Kentucky spring game.
Patrick Towles showed up in a big way.
Towles, a 6'5", 236-pound sophomore who, like Barker, was also a 4-star prospect coming out of high school, was fantastic, going 11-of-15 for 126 yards combined between the Blue and White teams.
"Patrick, along with the other two, were a little bit shaky at times, as well, like you'd expect, a rushing a few things, missed a few throws, things that they would like to have over," head coach Mark Stoops said in quotes released by Kentucky. "But Patrick is improved, you saw him a year ago and you see him now, you see the improvement and I'm proud of that.
Is he the future of the quarterback position in the bluegrass state? He certainly made his case this spring, which will make this fall's battle even more intriguing.
7. Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Replacing Aaron Murray won't be an issue for Georgia thanks to quarterback Hutson Mason.
Mason capped off a strong spring with a sizzling performance in the Georgia spring game that saw the redshirt senior complete 18 of his 27 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown.
Solid, right? It was much better behind closed doors, according to head coach Mark Richt.
"The other two scrimmages were even better than today, and I thought today he did well," Richt said in his postgame press conference. "He's just very knowledgeable. Very comfortable. I think he's accurate. I think he's a competitor. He's ready for all of his challenges."
With weapons all around him, including wide receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and running back Todd Gurley, all Mason has to do is be a caretaker for Georgia's offense to click.
His spring served as proof that he won't be just a caretaker, but that he'll be a difference-maker.
6. LSU DE Danielle Hunter
LSU has established itself as "defensive line U," thanks to the success of Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Anthony Johnson and several other former Tigers during Les Miles' era has head coach.
The next superstar in the trenches for the Tigers looks like defensive end Danielle Hunter, who was an absolute monster this spring in Baton Rouge.
Hunter capped off spring practice with two sacks in LSU's spring game, added two quarterback hurries and generally created havoc in the backfield. He was recognized as one of 12 winners of the Alvin Roy Fourth Quarter Award, given to the players with outstanding performances in LSU's offseason conditioning program.
“I think he’s a very talented guy," Miles said in quotes released by LSU. "I think he has range and speed. The more snaps he gets, the more significant he’ll be and the more impact he’ll give us in the fall. I think he’ll start fast and finish fast.”
LSU needs a pass rush, and it looks like Hunter is going to provide one consistently this season.
5. Arkansas RB Korliss Marshall
Arkansas already had a two-headed monster at running back with stars Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams sharing snaps in second-year head coach Bret Bielema's backfield.
There's now a third party-goer, and his name is Korliss Marshall.
The 6'0", 203-pound sophomore rushed six times for 99 yards and two touchdowns in Arkansas' spring game, including a 59-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. Marshall's emergence and his ability to work within the system with two other stars is a "rich man's problem" for Bielema.
"We all don’t mind taking just three reps then getting a breather," Marshall said in quotes released by Arkansas. "It just keeps everybody fresh. That is the way we look at it. I feel if we look at is as we are fighting against one another for the spot, it will break the chemistry between us."
This is nothing new for Bielema. He has produced nine 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college head coach, and five more have topped the 700-yard mark.
4. Alabama CB Tony Brown
Who's going to step up in Alabama's defensive backfield?
True freshman early enrollee Tony Brown made his case this spring.
The 6'0", 190-pounder from Beaumont, Texas, had two tackles, one interception and two pass breakups in the spring game. He was one of six players recognized with the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award, according to Alabama's official website.
With two starting jobs at cornerback up for grabs this spring, the door was open for Brown to make an early statement in the push for playing time this fall.
Consider that statement made and Brown to be a big contributor for the Crimson Tide defense this fall.
3. Tennessee WR Josh Malone
Who's going to step up and put stress on defenses opposite Marquez North in Tennessee's wide receiving corps?
True freshman early enrollee Josh Malone looks like a solid option.
All the 6'3", 202-pounder did in the spring game was haul in six passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns, according to stats released by Tennessee, raising the bar not only for his fellow competitors for a starting spot opposite North, but for North himself.
Head coach Butch Jones was pleased with Malone's performance in post-spring game quotes released by Tennessee:
Josh is a competitive young man and very, very talented and you can see he adds a whole other dynamic to our offense. I said it in the offseason, we have to be able to throw a five yard pass and turn it into a twenty yard gain. That was missing from our offense last year and we've really helped ourselves in recruiting. Still not there yet but just has been an individual that right from practice one he can be as good as he wants to be.
Malone is just one of several potential superstars that have arrived on Rocky Top since Jones got the job prior to the 2013 season.
2. Auburn WR D'haquille "Duke" Williams
Speaking of complementary wide receiver pieces, Auburn found a great one to Sammie Coates in junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams.
The 6'2", 216-pounder was the buzz of spring practice, and he showed off why in the spring game with five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown on a beautiful fade route to the back corner of the end zone.
He proved that he can be a weapon over the middle, has the speed to burn defenses deep and can be a tremendous asset in the red zone—especially with Coates lining up on the other side of the field and Auburn's multidimensional rushing attack always being a threat.
"With Duke, he's an aggressive receiver. He wants the ball," running back Corey Grant said after the spring game. "He goes up and grabs it. We have big guys in the red zone, and that's going to be a big attribute this year."
With Williams in the fold and head coach Gus Malzahn working with a quarterback (Nick Marshall) for a full offseason for the first time in his college coaching career, this Auburn offense is going to be tough to stop.
1. Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd
Did Jalen Hurd live up to his seemingly insurmountable offseason hype in his first spring on Rocky Top?
The 6'3", 221-pounder had 11 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, which capped off a stellar spring that saw him burst on to the scene in his first scrimmage as a Vol, according to Tennessee's practice reports.
"Hurd is a young guy, obviously wanting to impress the coaches," offensive lineman Mack Crowder said in quotes after the spring game. "He comes with a good attitude every day. He just has to get some things worked out which will come with time."
Hurd's time is coming this fall. It may be as a goal-line and short-yardage specialist early in his career behind senior Marlin Lane, but he'll be a big contributor this fall for the Vols. Once he picks up on the blocking schemes, look out.
The Lane/Hurd tandem will be tough to stop.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all college stats are courtesy of each school's website.
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