Spring ball has come and gone for many programs across the nation. After this upcoming weekend 10 of the 12 SEC teams will be finished with their spring practices.
It is this time of year that fans begin to turn their attention to summer practices.
With the arrival of summer practices comes the excitement of getting to see the incoming players signed in the year's recruiting class. If you are anything like me, the first day of summer practices has a Christmas Day type of feel.
Most coaches would typically prefer to redshirt an incoming freshman, and use a year to get them stronger and to learn the system.
However, in this new day and age with early entries into the NFL Draft, suspensions, injuries, and a large number of other variables, coaches are relying on freshman to make an immediate impact on more frequent basis.
In 2010 the SEC schools racked up a large pool of talent, and held down five the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation according to Rivals.com.
Today let's count down the top 10 SEC incoming freshman.
Coming in at No. 10 on the list is DE/LB Jacques Smith, who was ranked as the No. 9 DE in the 2010 recruiting class.
Smith committed to Phil Fulmer in 2008, and has stuck with the Vols through thick and thin (through Fulmer being fired and Kiffin coming and leaving).
According to Tennessee Featured Columnist Joel Barker, Smith "Already has the build and ability of a junior...As close to a can't-miss as he can be."
I agree with Barker's assessment of Smith, and at Tennessee Smith is going to be a star that sees the field early in his career.
Next on the list, coming in at No. 9, is tight end Gerald Christian. Christian has the opportunity to see the field early for the Florida Gators.
Coming in at 6'3" and 230 lbs., Christian has the size to be on the field right away at the TE spot. He also sports a 4.6 second 40-yard time, so he has the speed to match.
The Gators will be having a competition to replace star TE Aaron Hernandez, who entered early into the 2010 NFL Draft, and Christian has the talent to push the competition and earn playing time his freshman season.
According to Florida Gator Featured Columnist Jay Hendry, "He’s a real TE, who I think will get a lot of opportunities with Jordan Reed still learning the position and taking snaps at Wildcat."
Next up in the highlight of top incoming freshman for 2010 is incoming Georgia Bulldog Alec Ogletree.
Ogletree is a 6'3", 215-lb. Safety/OLB with incredible 4.5 speed. He is a playmaker in every sense of the word, and was an Under Armour All-American.
According to Georgia Bulldog Featured Columnist Kimberly Nash, "Alec Ogletree is the only freshman I can imagine making any impact this season. If he can come in and make some noise at OLB, he will definitely get some reps early in this new 3-4."
I see Ogletree finding a spot early in the rotation in the new Bulldog 3-4 defense as well as special teams. A player like Ogletree is likely to make an impact any time he steps on the field.
The seven spot ends in a tie between two incoming Auburn linebacker commits, Jake Holland and LaDarius Owens (pictured).
Both Holland and Owens are built as SEC LBs, and have tremendous speed. Holland reports 4.5 speed, and Owens reports 4.4 speed.
According to Auburn Featured Columnist Tiger Histalmos, "Easy pick would be Dyer, but I wouldn't expect him to play too terribly much due to Fannin and McCalebb. Two freshman to look out for 'cause they will play to shore up depth: Linebackers Jake Holland and LaDarius Owens. Those two have explosive capabilities and will get the opportunity to play early."
In 2009 the Ole Miss Rebels' passing game was not what everyone had expected it would be with Jevan Snead returning to QB the Rebels as a Heisman hopeful.
The Rebels had added highly touted Pat Patterson to the mix at WR, and expectations were that they were going to be a dynamic, balanced offense.
In 2010 the story is a little different. Snead is gone to the NFL, and the Rebels are in the middle of a QB battle.
The No. 6 impact freshman on this list is tall WR Vincent Sanders. Sanders chose Ole Miss over about 20 offers to top programs all over the nation.
According to Mississippi football Featured Columnist Jeb Williamson, "With the inexperience of the receiving corp as a whole, Sanders could see some time early."
Coming in at fifth on the list is DB Matt Elam. Elam is the second Florida Gator recruit to make the top 10.
Elam is a big and fast defensive back that will compete to win the spot as the Gators nickelback in the new nickel package.
According to Florida Gator Featured Columnist Jay Hendry, "DB/Special Teamer Matt Elam... He’s got some Will Hill in him... He’ll be on kickoff coverage to start the season and there’s an 80 percent chance he’ll be the starting nickelback. If the Gators continue the move to a nickel base set under Teryl Austin, then Elam should see the field early and often."
Next on the list is talented DB Craig Loston. Loston will bring talent and skill to the LSU secondary that are only needed to add depth, but that will make a big impact.
Loston will not have added pressure on him like incoming DBs at many schools replacing seniors. His size and speed will make him close to a sure thing to see early playing time, and to make a big impact for the Tigers' defense.
LSU Featured Columnist Henry Ball sees Loston having an even bigger impact than I predict. Ball has a feeling that, "Loston will be the second best player on the field for LSU's defense, but by the end of the year that could make him the second best DBack in the nation. Teams better be able to run (not going to be easy) on the Tigers, because the back four are going to be scary good!"
No. 3 on the list goes to Alabama incoming freshman DeMarcus Milliner.
Milliner is a big and fast cornerback who has the skill to compete and earn early playing time in the Alabama secondary.
Nick Saban is going to be looking high and low for talent to help shore up the secondary that is depleted by graduation and NFL Draft entries—here steps in Milliner.
I fully expect Milliner to be on the two-deep rotation by fall practices, and he will see significant playing time in 2010 in mainly a reserve/depth role, but his presence will be felt.
The runner-up as the biggest SEC impact freshman for 2010 is Arkansas newcomer Calvin Barnett of Tulsa, Okla.
Barnett made a late switch to Arkansas from Oklahoma State, and the decision is likely to prove to be a very good one.
Arkansas graduated their leader on the defensive line in DT Malcolm Sheppard, and Barnett will be expected to come in and compete right away with current Razorbacks and fellow 2010 incoming freshman DT Byran Jones.
As an Army All-American, Barnett has the size and speed of an SEC upperclassmen DT. His presence on the Arkansas DL is one that many believe can help improve the Arkansas defense immensely.
The top spot should come as no surprise, as perhaps the top prospect in the nation Marcus Lattimore enters his freshman season at South Carolina as likely the most highly regarded player the Gamecocks have signed in a decade.
In 2009 the South Carolina running game was awful, there is no way to sugarcoat it. Lattimore is believed to be the answer to the Gamecocks' running game woes, and will be given every opportunity to be the starting running back the moment he steps foot on campus.
According to South Carolina Featured Columnist Lee W., "Our running backs were bad last year... Marcus can change that."
Returning starting QB Stephen Garcia and the OBC should have greater success with the offense if the running game can get on track, and Lattimore appears by all means to be the answer to that problem.