Eight of the 12 SEC schools (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Tennessee) will have their spring games on Saturday. Here are five questions that may or may not get answered but inquiring minds want to know:
1. What will LSU do with Russell Shepard? The Houston native, who was considered to be the nation’s No. 1 high school quarterback in 2008, enrolled in school early and took part in spring practice. When the spring began Shepard did a number of things on offense. But during a conference call on Thursday LSU coach Les Miles said that Shepard will only play quarterback during the spring game.
“We’re looking to do what we can with Russell but for now keeping him at quarterback is probably the best,” Miles said.
Rising sophomore Jordan Jefferson, who came on late in his freshman year, is expected to be the starting quarterback when LSU opens the 2009 season at Washington on Sept. 5. Jarrett Lee, who started eight games last season and threw 16 interceptions (seven which were returned for touchdowns) is still in the mix.
Expect LSU to come up with a package of plays for Shepard because he is too good an athlete not to be on the field somewhere.
2. How much will Florida’s Tim Tebow work under center? Urban Meyer has made it pretty clear that he is going to do everything he can to help the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner get to the NFL. He hired a new quarterbacks coach (Scott Loeffler) to help Tebow and the other Florida QBs work on their throwing mechanics and footwork. Florida has put in an I-formation package with some play-action passes that will take advantage of the talents of backup quarterback John Brantley. It will also show the NFL scouts that Tebow is comfortable taking the snap from center.
“We continue to make adjustments to try and stay ahead of the curve with our offense,” Meyer said. “Teams are doing a much better job of defending what we do. So we do a lot of quality control on our offense. One of the things we want to do is put Tim under center.”
It will be interesting to see how much of that I-formation package Tebow runs in the spring game.
3. Is Jonathan Crompton REALLY going to be the quarterback at Tennessee? On Thursday, as he has for most of the spring, new head coach Lane Kiffin said that senior quarterback Jonathon Crompton is in the lead for the starting job over sophomore B.J. Coleman and junior Nick Stephens.
“He (Crompton) has been very competitive in his approach to the position,” Kiffin said. “B.J. Coleman started a little slow but he’s much younger. He has done well over the last week and a half. Nick Stephens had a setback (broken wrist) so he hasn’t gotten as many reps.”
Crompton, a Parade All-American in high school (Waynesville, N.C.), took the brunt of the criticism for last season’s poor offensive performance at Tennessee. He was not a fan favorite but has persevered and played the best of the three quarterbacks this spring. He still has a lot to prove to win over the vast majority of the Volunteer Nation.
4. How will Alabama handle its quarterbacks? There is no doubt that Greg McElroy, the rising junior from Southlake, Texas, is going to be the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide this fall. He played sparingly behind John Parker Wilson last season but he did play. This is his fourth year at Alabama and his second year in Jim McElwain’s offensive system.
“McElroy has done a really good job all spring,” head coach Nick Saban said. “He’s smart and he makes good decisions.”
In short, the staff trusts McElroy to hold the fort while redshirt freshman Star Jackson and true freshman A.J. McCarron prove that they are ready to play. I’m intrigued by Jackson’s athletic ability and want to see how McElwain will use him on Saturday and once the season starts.
5. Does Auburn HAVE a quarterback who can run this offense? New head coach Gene Chizik hired Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator to put some juice back into the Auburn attack. But Malzhan, whose Tulsa team led the nation in total offense last season (569.86 ypg), is used to having a guy who can pull the trigger and make plays at quarterback. No one, not even Chizik, has any idea who that will be for Auburn in 2009.
Malzhan told me last week that he wanted to cut the quarterback list down to two and now that has been done.
Junior Kodi Burns was the starter during the second half of last season after OC Tony Franklin got the boot. Burns is a good athlete but completed only 52.5 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and seven interceptions. Junior Neil Caudle is No. 2 and has shared most of the reps with Burns in the final practice sessions. Redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter is now third and won’t get as many snaps. Senior Chris Todd was also a part time starter last season (five touchdowns, six interceptions) but has not been a factor this spring as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery last December.
“I don’t anticipate naming a starter after spring,” Chizik said Thursday. “Kodi has done really well. It has been a three-man race since the beginning of spring practice. I wouldn’t rate them right now. It’s a good neck and neck race.”
Translation: Nobody has blown our socks off.