SEC West: Updates Around Fall Camps After Week One
With almost a full week of practice behind them, SEC West football programs have reached the point of two-a-days and full gear. There is no way of judging the type of team you have until players can start going full speed.
Freshmen who look like gods during non-contact drills suddenly look very mortal once they are run over by an SEC-quality linebacker.
Arkansas still has a long way to go before figuring out exactly what personnel will be used in their running game. Michael Smith rushed for over 1,000 yards his junior year.
Many among the Arkansas faithful are concerned though that the diminutive Smith lacks the size to give them the physical running game they need.
True freshman Ronnie Wingo Jr. has more than enough size and speed to be successful pounding the ball between the tackles. Razorback coaches feel that's what they need to open things up for quarterback Ryan Mallet and the Arkansas passing game.
Sophomore De'Anthony Curtis came out of spring in the No. 1 spot. He too has the build to be successful in a physical running game.
The biggest question on the defensive side of the ball for the Hogs probably comes in their secondary. Their returning starters are on the smallish side. The coaching staff tried to address that this past off-season signing several corners with more size, including Darius Winston and Rudell Crim.
The Auburn Tigers have entirely different concerns. They came into fall camp with only 71 scholarship players. Just a week into camp, they've already had several players banged up.
Things have gotten so bad head coach Gene Chizik opted not to go with full gear the first day the Tigers were eligible.
The Tigers were so limited at linebacker that at one point they were down to four scholarship players healthy enough to practice. That is not a good sign considering the rough-and-tumble SEC.
Another thin spot for the Tigers is on their offensive line. Auburn has enough quality among their starting five to have success. What happens when those starters have to come out of the game is anyone's best guess.
Freshman OL Aubrey Phillips has missed significant time this fall with a mystery illness. There is no word when he is expected to return.
The quarterback competition has yet to have anyone step up. The Tigers are hopeful that their first scrimmage of the Fall will provide some separation.
The LSU Tigers had their struggles last year. Unstable play at the quarterback position stymied their offensive production and led to far to many turnovers.
Sophomores Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee are back and looking to improve. Highly rated true freshman Russell Shepard also waits in the wings.
Whoever ends up under center will have bullish tailback Charles Scott to hand the ball to. He'll also have a strong receiving corps headed by Brandon Lafell. Terrance Tolliver will line up opposite Lafell.
New defensive coordinator John Chavis has his work cut out for him. The Bengal Tigers return only four players on that side of the ball. Their biggest challenge will be in replacing their entire defensive line.
Fortunately for Chavis, the Tigers have recruited well so there is talent to work with. The early schedule is also forgivable leaving them time to gel.
All the stars have aligned for the Ole Miss Rebels. With so many returning senior starters the Rebels will have few real position battles on the first team.
Most of the positional scrambling will take place at backup positions. Running back is one of the few spots on offense that you could see an underclassman come away with a starting role.
Offensive line depth is a concern. The Rebels hope that highly thought-of signee Bobbie Massie will be able to step in and provide instant depth at right tackle. If not, there may be further shuffling in an attempt to shore up Ole Miss's depth chart.
Just looking at various guesses at the Rebels' depth chart, one thing becomes very clear, if they ever hoped to win an SEC Championship this is the year. With so many seniors starting and on the depth chart, next season has rebuilding year written all over it.
Dan Mullen knew coming out of spring practice that he had his work cut out for him in fall camp. He had to teach an entirely new offense and then hope they retained enough over the summer not to have to start entirely over.
Then there was the incoming freshmen and getting them up to speed.
Apparently senior quarterback Tyson Lee and the rest of the returning offensive players worked hard enough this summer to not only retain what they learned but also show some improvement by the time fall camp started.
It will be interesting to see how Mullen adapts his spread offense to the talent he has on hand. Running backs like Christian Ducre and Anthony Dixon are typical power backs that would seem a more practical fit to a pro-style offense.
It wouldn't be entirely surprising to see the Bulldogs' offense resemble the version Mullen used his first year at Florida with Chris Leak than the version with Tebow.
At Alabama, a few answers have started to take shape. It's well known the coaching staff would like to be able to move Dont'a Hightower to the "Jack" linebacker spot.
So far, no one has stepped up to fill the "Will" linebacker position that Hightower started at last season.
If they are unable to move Hightower, it appears right now as if Eryk Anders, Courtney Upshaw, or Milton Talbert are most likely to start at the Jack position. All of them have looked good at times this fall.
The "Will" position is much tougher to learn in Saban's defensive scheme than is either outside backer position.
At wideout, it appears as though Marquis Maze appears to be having a great fall camp. Best guess is he would start in the slot in three-wide formations and opposite Julio outside in two-wide sets.
Among the incoming freshmen, Michael Bowman has really stood out. He doesn't have blazing speed but he does have great hands and runs strong routes.
He also adjusts very well to the ball in flight. It will be interesting to see how well he does when the Tide scrimmages this fall.
At running back, if the Tide played today it's likely Ingram and Upchurch would be the starting combination at tailback. That could change now that the Tide has gone to full pads.
Freshman Trent Richardson will have ample opportunity to climb the depth chart once scrimmages start. He will have to prove himself capable of picking up blitzers in pass protection before he climbs too far, though.
We'll see how much things change around the West in the next week.
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