Every team in the SEC is now up to speed with spring practice except Kentucky, and the Wildcats get started on Wednesday. Despite rainy conditions, a bunch of teams had scrimmages over the weekend. So what did we learn? Here are five things to ponder.
(Note: We’ll do the ACC on Tuesday).
1. Jonathon Crompton may be a serious QB contender at Tennessee after all: I’ll admit it, after watching Crompton struggle so much last season, I was totally convinced that he didn’t have what it takes, physically and mentally (especially mentality), to play quarterback at this level. I saw a guy with bad mechanics who didn’t make good decisions. The reports I was getting back from Knoxville were that the offense of new OC Dave Clawson was simply too complex for him and that Crompton was simply being asked to do more than he was physically and mentally capable of doing. I believed that B.J. Coleman and Nick Stephens, when he got healthy, would quickly pass this guy. But based on the reports I’ve read and what I’ve heard Crompton looked good during Saturday’s scrimmage of about 120 plays. Local media reports quoted other players noticing that Crompton looked more comfortable out that. That is a first big step. Sometimes we forget that Crompton was a Parade All-American in high school in Waynesville, N.C.
2. LSU is loaded on defense: With only a couple of exceptions, John Chavis fielded very good defenses in his 14 seasons as the DC at Tennessee. But with the athletes Chavis has inherited at LSU, expect the Tigers’ defense of 2009 to be one of the most improved units in the entire SEC. According to reports out of Baton Rouge, LSU had three defensive touchdowns in Saturday’s scrimmage. The secondary, which was thought to be a concern going into the spring, is looking like a strength because of FS Chad Jones and the emergence of sophomore cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is going to be a star in this league. Yeah, Chavis has to find a couple of defensive linemen but when has LSU not had defensive linemen?
3. Gus Malzahn is throwing the kitchen sink at the Auburn offense: There are two ways to teach college football players a new system. You can spoon feed it to them and let them absorb it slowly and get comfortable with it. Or you and just dump everything on them at once, throw them in the deep end of the pool, and expect them to swim. It looks like Malzahn, the new OC at Auburn, is going to do the latter. It makes for some ugly scrimmages and the players get very frustrated early in the process. But eventually they are able to come up for air. Players, Nick Saban once told me, can absorb a lot more than you think. Malzahn has also dispelled the notion early on that this offense will lack toughness, something critics often say about the spread. The offensive linemen, who were asked to get leaner under former OC Tony Franklin, have been putting their weight back on. Some have gained 20 or more pounds in the offseason.
4. Florida fans are worried about replacing PH. They should be worrying about OT: Yes, when he was healthy, Percy Harvin created more matchup problems for opposing defenses than any other player in the SEC. And yes, Florida will probably have to replace him by committee. But if Florida doesn’t find a couple of offensive tackles in the spring none of that is going to matter. Both starters from the national championship team, Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins, are gone. The starters will probably come from a group that includes junior Carl Johnson, sophomore Matt Patchan (who is still recovering from a knee injury), and junior Marcus Gilbert. Coach Urban Meyer was clearly not pleased with the position after Saturday’s scrimmage in Gainesville. The thing about good offensive tackles is that we all take them for granted until they are gone. Examples: Andre Smith at Alabama this year and Trinton Sturdivant at Georgia last year.
5. I’m starting to get a little concerned about the South Carolina defense: Six starters were set to return from a defensive unit that kept the Gamecocks in most games while the offense was doing very little. The holes created by the losses of CB Captain Munnerlyn, a player I really liked, SS Emmanuel Cook, and LB Jasper Brinkley were going to be tough enough to fill. Now DT Ladi Ajiboye, who has started 22 games, and sophomore cornerback C.C. Whitlock, who was contending for a starting spot, have now been suspended. Ajiboye, from Riverdale, Ga., was arrested and charged with marijuana possession. Whitlock is a sophomore who played in nine games last season. Coach Steve Spurrier would only say that Whitlock had not been adhering to team requirements but reports say there are academic issues involved. I think Ajiboye has a chance to eventually get back after going through a diversion program. Don’t know about Whitlock. Spurrier’s not saying. I do know that South Carolina can’t afford to lose many more SEC caliber players at this point.