Like every other team in the SEC, the Georgia Bulldogs have completed their spring-practice sessions. Now their attention turns to completing classes and final exams, then organizing voluntary workouts.
As has been the case for the past two years, quarterback Aaron Murray is in charge of planning and organizing the players’ efforts this summer. It’s a job he takes pride in.
“It’s all on us, the seniors,” Murray said this past week. “I’ve been doing it for two years now, organizing the summer. I get everything set up as far as times. I try to get with the leaders at each position, each segment group, that way they can talk to their guys and get them organized and on the same page. It works out well.”
Georgia’s spring goals were pretty obvious. With seven defensive starters departed and as many nine heading to NFL careers, the Bulldogs’ chief priority was getting younger players ready to play. Many positions remain unsettled heading into the summer.
“There’s an awful lot of competition right now for jobs, especially on defense,” coach Mark Richt said. “I think that’s healthy for us. I think we’ve got the right ingredients. We’re going to have to wait and see until we start playing somebody besides ourselves.”
That’s where Georgia was at the conclusion of spring practice. Here’s a look at the rest of the SEC:
Alabama: The top priority was rebuilding the offensive line, which had three starters taken in the first round of the NFL draft (OG Chance Warmack, OT D.J. Fluker and C Barrett Jones). Having Cyrus Kouandjio back at left tackle to protect quarterback A.J. McCarron’s blindside is a good start.
Arkansas: This was the Razorbacks’ first spring under new coach Bret Bielema, and his first priority is retooling an offense that lost quarterback Tyler Wilson and almost all the playmakers at wideout and in the backfield. Brandon Allen appears to have the edge in the quarterback battle with Brandon Mitchell, but adjusting to Bielema’s more physical philosophy is a work in progress.
Auburn: Quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who played for coach Gus Malzahn as a freshman in 2011, gets new life. But he was rotating with Jonathan Wallace in the spring and junior-college transfer Nick Marshall, a former Georgia player, gets added to the competition this summer. New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and line coach Rodney Garner are trying to fix the defense.
Florida: Coach Will Muschamp continues to search for the most important component of a pro-style offense — a dominant ball carrier. It appears that sophomore Matt Jones emerged as the winner in the sweepstakes to replace the graduated Mike Gillislee. But the competition will continue into the preseason, with Mack Brown of Lithonia and Fred Taylor’s son, Kelvin Taylor, battling for playing time. The search continues for a big-play wide receiver to help quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Kentucky: Sophomore Jalen Whitlow appeared to have taken the lead in the quarterback competition with Max Smith and Patrick Towles. Whitlow completed 17 of 28 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 49 yards and leading the offense on three touchdown drives. More than 50,000 attended the Wildcats’ spring game in a continuation of the incredible job of energizing the fan base done by new coach Mark Stoops.
LSU: Former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger solidified his status as starter, and he has a lot of impressive playmakers around him, including tailback Jeremy Hill and wideouts Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone. The Tigers were hit hard in the NFL draft, however, and are trying to replace three starters on the offensive line and defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.
Mississippi State: Things are getting a little less comfortable in Starkville for coach Dan Mullen, who saw his team drop five of its last six games last season and lose big to Alabama (38-7) and Ole Miss (41-24). The Bulldogs entered the spring looking to resurrect the running game and ratchet down the defense. The return of quarterback Tyler Russell gives them a good building block.
Missouri: The Tigers, who struggled on defense last season, are having to replace five starters, including first-round NFL draft pick Sheldon Richardson on the defensive line. And even quarterback James Franklin is having to fight for his position as he adjusts to a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson.
Ole Miss: The Rebels will try to manage expectations as 19 starters are back from last season’s 7-6 team, and optimism is high after coach Hugh Freeze landed one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Quarterback Bo Wallace missed the spring following January shoulder surgery. He needed the work to cut down on last season’s tendency to make big mistakes, but he is set to return this summer.
South Carolina: The tailback competition was the main focus of spring as the Gamecocks adjust (again) to life after Marcus Lattimore. Sophomore Mike Davis of Stone Mountain would appear to be the heir apparent, but coach Steve Spurrier called the battle between him and Brandon Wilds “pretty tight.” Quarterback Connor Shaw missed the spring recovering from shoulder surgery, but backup Dylan Thompson looked good and could give him a run in the fall. Every linebacker is being replaced.
Tennessee: New coach Butch Jones pronounced the quarterback competition between Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman unresolved, so that will continue over the summer and into the fall. The same goes for finding replacements for receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. But defense is what let down the Volunteers in 2012 that unit under new coordinator John Jancek.
Texas A&M: Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and a host of playmakers are back to run coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-octane offense. But the real key on offense will be the success of right tackle Jake Matthews’ switch to left tackle to replace Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL draft. Defense also is an issue as the Aggies seek to replace seven starters from that group.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are having to rebuild at some critical positions, including quarterback, tailback and defensive line. There’s a lot of experience everywhere else, including wide receiver, led by Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.