Yesterday we looked at the SEC West and identified five burning questions that need to be answered heading into the start of practice this week. Today let’s look at the SEC East.
1. Is Georgia REALLY going to get after it in the preseason? Here is what I mean by that. A year ago when the injuries started piling up the Georgia coaches had to back off contact work in practice. They really had no choice. But the downside to that is that players lose their edge, particularly the when it comes to tackling on defense. Coach Mark Richt has stated on more than one occasion that he won’t make that mistake again. Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez is candid that his group must practice at a high level, and that means hitting, in order to play like an SEC defense. But what happens if Georgia suffers a couple of significant injuries early like it did with DT Jeff Owens and LT Trinton Sturdivant? Will Georgia be able to stick to its guns and keep getting after it in practice?
2. Is Florida REALLY serious about this I-formation thing? Urban Meyer tweaked his offense in the spring to add some I-formation. He did it for several reasons: He wants to put Tim Tebow under center to prove to the NFL boys that the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner can do it. He wants a power running game for goal line and short yardage where somebody other than No. 15 carries the ball. And he wants to get backup quarterback John Brantley ready to take over in 2010. With Brantley’s arm, which is big-time, the play-action passing game out of the I-formation will be a difficult change of pace for Florida’s opponents. But that was in the spring. Now it’s time to get ready to play the games. This spring I sat in the office of new OC Steve Addazio and he was adamant: This was not an experiment. This would become part of the offense. Meyer told me the same. We’ll see.
3. Is Tennessee REALLY going to throw these rookie running backs into the fire right away? This much we know about Tennessee’s first team under Lane Kiffin: All season it is going to be a struggle between getting the team ready to play the next game and preparing for the long haul. That will again be the case when Kiffin and OC Jim Chaney decide how to use the highly-recruited running backs, Bryce Brown and David Oku. How much these guys actually get on the field, I believe, is up to the offensive line. If Tennessee had to play tomorrow, instead of Sept. 5 against Western Kentucky, it’s a pretty good bet the Vols would have five seniors starting up front. This is significant. If this group really jells, then Kiffin and Chaney can be a little bolder. If not, you stick with the proven players in Montario Hardesty and Tauren Poole and you spot play the freshmen. The toughest things for young running backs to learn are how to block (because the game is much faster) and picking up pass protection schemes. You wonder how much a highly-recruited kid like Brown was asked to block in high school.
4. Is Stephen Garcia FINALLY ready to become the leader at South Carolina? Steve Spurrier has been giving Garcia his props for behaving himself and getting through a spring and a summer without incident. Now it’s show time and the Gamecocks have a pretty tough opening opponent in N.C. State (in Raleigh on Sept. 3). Garcia is going to have to overcome some things. South Carolina looks to be pretty average at wide receiver. The offensive line, which has been a weak point since Spurrier got to Columbia, is still underwhelming. If there is no running game then there is no play-action passing game and Garcia is going to spend a lot of time just running around for his life. I would like to see some of their early scrimmages, especially with Eric Norwood applying pressure from the other side. And how does Garcia react if things don’t go well?
5. Vanderbilt is going to use a no huddle. Seriously? The Commodores, who went 7-6 and won their first bowl game since 1955 last season, must do something about their offense, which was last in the SEC and 117th (out of 119) nationally last season with only 256.23 yards per game. Vanderbilt has two proven quarterbacks (Mackenzi Adams and Larry Smith) and a veteran offensive line. So coach Bobby Johnson wants to shake things up. They played with the idea of a no-huddle offense in the spring. Do they continue to use it this summer and into the season? Smith, the MVP of Music City Bowl, is perfect for that kind of offense. And if the Commodores use it in the opening game against Western Carolina, will it still be in place when they go to LSU on Sept. 12?
Does Kentucky freshman Morgan Newton insert himself into the quarterback competition early? Since their record-breaking offense of 2007, Kentucky fans have waited for the second coming of quarterback Andre Woodson. It looks like he has arrived in the person of Morgan Newton (6-4, 217) of Carmel, Ind. As a senior Newton threw for 1,938 yards and ran for 1,664 more. He scored 48 touchdowns. He led his high school team to three straight state championship games and was 38-7 as a starting quarterback. Mike Hartline is the starting quarterback at Kentucky and Randall Cobb, a full-time wide receiver, will get some snaps out of the Wildcat formation. How quickly can Newton pick up the offense of Joker Phillips and will he be a factor early in this season?
Coming Wednesday: Five burning questions about the ACC Atlantic.
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