I cannot remember the last time that the SEC had this many questions at the quarterback position as Spring practice draws to a close.
It’s just one man’s opinion, but:
**–There are only two solid locks returning at quarterback in this league.
**–There are four returning starters who I will call “on the bubble.”
**– There will definitely be six new starting quarterbacks in the SEC when the 2010 season starts.
Here’s the breakdown. Feel free to tell me where you agree or disagree:
These guys will go the distance if they stay healthy:
Greg McElroy, Alabama: Led his team to a national championship last season and is 29-0 as a starter dating back to high school. He completed almost 61 percent of his passes last season for 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Redshirt freshman AJ McCarron is the backup and is going to be very, very good.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: Mallett, who is sitting out the spring while recovering from foot surgery, led the SEC in passing (3,624 yards) with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He should only be better in the second year working in Bobby Petrino’s offense. Mallett is the best NFL prospect in the league.
ON THE BUBBLE
These guys started a year ago and will start again. But there are no guarantees they will keep the job for the entire season:
Mike Hartline, Kentucky: Hartline, a rising senior, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game against South Carolina and was replaced by true freshman Morgan Newton. Hartline’s experience has given him an edge this spring but he will be pushed by Newton and sophomore Ryan Mossakowski. Newton gives the ‘Cats bigger play-making ability. He also makes more mistakes.
Jordan Jefferson, LSU: Jefferson (2,508 passing, 17 TD) has all kinds of talent but he is wildly inconsistent and I don’t believe the coaching staff trusts him enough to turn really him loose. He will start against North Carolina in the opener (Sept. 4 at the Georgia Dome) but watch this one closely. I’ve spoken to enough football people to believe that Jarrett Lee, who has had an up and down career, is talented enough to regain the job if he can find his confidence again. Lee has talent but has not been developed well.
Stephen Garcia, South Carolina: Coach Steve Spurrier has made no secret of the fact that he is not completely pleased with the junior from Tampa. Garcia’s numbers were decent (2,862 yards, 17 TD) but he still makes too many bad decisions (ninth in the SEC in passing efficiency) and doesn’t work hard enough in the off-season. Freshman Connor Shaw (from Flowery Branch, Ga.) played well in the spring and will push Garcia this summer. Garcia will be on a very short leash once the season begins.
Larry Smith, Vanderbilt: When Smith led the Commodores to a win over Boston College in the 2008 Music City Bowl, the coaching staff thought they had their quarterback of the future. But Smith (46.7 percent passing) and the Vanderbilt offense (ranked 110th nationally) struggled last season. JUCO transfer Jordan Rogers, freshman Charile Goro, and redshirt junior Jared Funk all got snaps in the final spring scrimmage. Head coach Bobby Johnson shook up his offensive coaching staff hoping to get more production so a change in quarterback could also be possible.
THE NEW GUYS
(Last year’s starter in parentheses)
Cameron Newton, Auburn (Chris Todd): The former Florida backup is a great athlete at 6-6, 247-pounds. He won a JUCO national championship and is going to get the chance to run Gus Malzahn’s spread offense. The coaching staff is mum on the subject but it’s hard to see Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley or Neil Caudle running this offense better.
John Brantley, Florida (Tim Tebow): The junior had a good spring but that was expected. The unexpected news for the Gators this spring is how well freshman Trey Burton and tight end Jordan Reed can run the “Tebow package.” Florida can’t replace Tebow’s leadership and intangibles, but it looks like the offense is going to be very good again.
Aaron Murray, Zack Mettenberger, Logan Gray, Georgia (Joe Cox): Mettenberger has a very good arm, which he showed in the spring game. Gray is a versatile athlete who can do a lot of things. He is one of those “glue guys” who holds a team together. Yes, I know that the coaches are saying that the quarterback competition will carry over until this summer. But barring injury Murray, my Bulldog friends, will be your starting quarterback when the season begins on Sept. 4. He is the complete package. He has what (Duke coach) David Cutcliffe calls the “it” factor that good quarterbacks have.
Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss (Jevan Snead): Stanley has all but locked up the job because an expected challenge from redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton never materialized. Stanley, a redshirt sophomore, is an accurate passer with good mobility. Cotton, a redshirt freshman, is more mobile. JUCO transfer Randall Mackey will get in the mix this summer and could spice things up with this athleticism.
Chris Relf, Tyler Russell, Miss. State (Tyson Lee): Relf, a redshirt junior, played well in the 2009 season finale against Ole Miss (three touchdowns) and has had a very good spring. But Russell is a special talent and, after redshirting last season, is just too good to keep on the bench. Coach Dan Mullen is going to have some nice options in 2010.
Matt Simms, Tyler Bray, Tennessee (Jonathan Crompton): Nick Stephens, the only Tennessee quarterback with experience, has transferred leaving the field open for Simms, a junior college transfer, and Bray, a true freshman. With back-to-back games against Oregon and Florida in September, it’s hard to believe that Simms won’t start the first game if he stays healthy. With a very young offensive line, it could be tough sledding for whoever wins this job.
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