SEC Spring Football Notebook: Youth served at Alabama, Ole Miss seeks defensive improvement

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Alabama quarterback Bryce Young
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9)
(Photo: Kent Gidley)

Spring football is a time where teams can experiment, fine tune their schemes and sharpen the skills of their players. In some cases, it is also a time for new coaching hires to familiarize themselves with the troops. Let’s look into some of the SEC’s spring camps.

Alabama

QB Bryce Young was the 2019 USA Today offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 13,520 career yards with 152 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 194-pound former 5 star prospect is the leader in the clubhouse this spring to take over as the starter for Nick Saban.

“Bryce is probably a little ahead of everybody else,” Saban stated. “Even though he didn’t get to play much (in 2020), he got a lot of reps in practice. There’s a lot of carryover in him. I think he’s very confident and he’s done a really good job of preparing himself so far.”

Young had 23 pass attempts in ’20, appearing in seven contests.

Redshirt sophomore Paul Tyson (6-5, 220), great grandson of legendary coach Bear Bryant, is making a push to be the primary backup quarterback.

RB Brian Robinson (6-1, 226) seems heir apparent to Najee Harris, but keep an eye on sophomore Trey Sanders (6-0, 214).

OLB Will Anderson (6-4, 230), just a sophomore, was the top all-around rusher in the SEC last seasonm recording 52 stops, 10.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. This pring, he has been a leader.

Alabama paced the SEC in 2020 with 36 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions.

Former NFL head coach Doug Marrone now operates the Crimson Tide’s offensive line. Likely starters for Alabama this fall include” LT Evan Neal (Jr.) LG Pierce Quick (Fr.), OC Chris Owens (Sr.), RG Emil Ekiyer (Soph.) and RT JC Latham (Fr.). It is rare for the Tide to be so young in this unit but the talent is there to thrive, of course.

Ole Miss

The Lane Train continues to chug along at high speed. Head coach Lane Kiffin posted a 5-5 mark last season but the Rebels were explosive on offense.

There has been much hype around junior QB Matt Corral (6-1, 205), who is gaining some early ink for the Heisman Trophy. He tossed for 3,337 yards, 29 touchdowns and 14 picks last season.

The Rebels were the third ranked offense in SEC producing 555.5 yards per contest. On the ground, Ole Miss averaged 210.6 yards rushing.

Senior Ben Brown lined up at RG the past two years but he is now at center. The 6-5, 315-pounder has 34 starts under his belt. In 432 pass blocking assignments last season, he allowed no sacks.

RB Jerrion Ealy (5-8, 190, Jr.) was named third team All American, rushing for 745 yards and 9 scores. Top returning RR Donterio Drummond (6-0, 215, Sr.) snared 25 passes for 417 yards and 7 touchdowns. He recorded 6 catches for 110 yards and a TD in the Outback Bowl win over Indiana.

The Rebels showed signs of life on defense toward end of ’20, and the staff spent spring building on that.

LB Jacquez Jones (6-0, 235, Sr.) had 62 tackles (13 against Indiana). MLB Lakia Henry (5-11, 215, Sr.) also recorded 62 stops, 15 of those coming against LSU. Backup Momo Sanogo (6-1, 240, Sr.) will find a role. He had 60 stops and 4 tackles for loss in 2020 with 19 starts on his resume’ already.

CB Keidron Smith (6-2, 295, Sr.) was active with 64 tackles and 6 pass breakups. He had 12 tackles against both Florida and Auburn.

Georgia

Much attention is focused on the offensive line and signal-caller in Athens.

USC transfer J.T. Daniels (6-3, 210, Jr.) is the odds on favorite to start like he did late behind center in 2020 but “not so fast, my friend (ala Lee Corso).”

New 5 star signee Brock Vandagriff landed on campus for spring drills. He was the No. 1 dual threat QB in the country. Vandagriff (6-3, 208) has opened some eyes. He has picked up things quickly in the offense and made good decisions.

The o-line has numerous options to fill out the lineup.

Redshirt sophomore Xavier Truss (6-7, 330) and redshirt freshman Broderick Jones (6-4, 315) have waged a battle throughout camp trying to win the LT spot. Jones, a 5 star prospect in the ’20 class, is a superb pass blocker who may have the edge.

Jamaree Saylor (6-4, 325, Sr.) may land at one of the OG’s spots. Warren Easton product Sedrick Van Pran-Granger (6-4, 310) is making a case as the starting center.

TE Darnell Washington (6-7, 260) has been a coverage nightmare as a huge target who can wall off defenders from the ball.

Starting WR George Pickens tore his ACL early in drills, leaving a huge void to be filled by young talent.

WR Jermaine Burton (6-0, 195), fresh off 27 catches, 404 yards and three touchdowns last season, has demonstrated the look of game changer but he hyper-extended his knee.

Tykee Smith (5-11-195, Jr.), a transfer safety from West Virginia, is immediately eligible. He was a third team All American last fall with 61 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.

Senior safety Christopher Smith has made strides. He has made 24 appearances the past two seasons, producing 33 tackles. He arrived on campus as a freshman at 169 pounds but Smith is closing in on 200 as a playing weight these days.

LSU at Texas A&M 2020
Cordale Flott (#25) of the LSU Tigers chases
Isaiah Spiller (#28) of the Texas A&M Aggies during the second half of a SEC game at Kyle Field on November 28, 2020 in College Station, Texas (Photo By: Chris Parent / LSU Athletics).

Texas A&M

The Aggies have won 26 games the past three seasons. Are they ready to take the next step and reach Atlanta?

Last season, A&M averaged 439.2 yards per outing and 32.8 points. The biggest question this spring has been, who replaces QB Kellen Mond?

Haynes King (6-3, 200) has made strides. He shows a high IQ, playmaking skills, a galvanizing personality, good pocket presence, great work ethic and superb athleticism. The Longview, Texas product has gotten the support of the staff.

New LT Kenyon Green (6-4, 325, Jr.) was rated as one of the best guards in the country last season, earning 1st team All
American.

RB Isaiah Spiller (6-1, 225, Jr.) should be among the top runners in the SEC in ’21 after running for 1,036 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. Spiller has nearly 2,00 yard rushing with 49 catches the last two seasons.

Versatile RB/slot Ainias Smith (5-10, 190, Jr.) carried the ball for 293 yards and 4 scores and tallied 43 catches for another 564 yards and 6 additional touchdowns in 2020.

Luke Matthews (6-4, 320, Jr.) has looked outstanding at center as he replaces Ryan McCollum. His dad, Bruce Matthews, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer after a 19-year NFL career. His three siblings also played for the Aggies.

DE Tyree Johnson (6-4, 240, Sr.) had 4 sacks in ’20. He should be another force this fall.

Auburn

QB Bo Nix, Jr. was a team captain last season as a soph omore, which demonstrated the respect he commands from his teammates. The 2018 Alabama Mr. Football already has 4,957 career passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Offensive line spots are up for grabs under a new coaching regime.

LT Alec Jackson (6-5, 315, Sr.) converted from DT. LG Tashawn Manning (6-3, 334, Sr.), another former DT, moved to offense in 2018. OC Nick Brahms (6-4, 300, Sr.) has 21 career starts. RG Keondre Jones (6-3, 345, Soph.), a three-time Prep All American, is a mauler. RT Brodarius Hamm (6-5, 334, Sr.) is another returning starter.

Drawing interest during spring, WR Ja’varrius Johnson (5-9, 160, Soph.) lines up in the slot. He seems to have overcome injuries, developing into a dynamic target.

Under new defensive coordinator Derek Mason, Auburn has shown looks of a 3-4 front and even some 2-4-5 alignments, designed to bring pressure.

ILB Owen Pappoe (6-1, 22, Jr.) should flourish. He had 93 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 4 sacks last season. His running mate, ILB Zakoby McClain (6-0, 211, Sr.), led the SEC with 113 tackles last season.

The top Tigers cover man, CB Roger McCreary (6-0, 188, Sr.), had 45 stops, 7 tackles for loss and 3 interceptions in 2020. FS Smoke Monday (6-2, 196, Sr.), the leader in the secondary with 73 stops and interceptions, will be a key to potential success.

Florida

Redshirt sophomore QB Emory Jones (6-2, 210), who appears to be a lock to replace Kyle Trask, had moderate numbers last season (221 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT).

Expect redshirt Freshman QB Anthony Richardson (6-4, 233) to see the field.

Clemson transfer RB Demarkus Bowman (5-10, 190, 4.47 forty) is electric, showing great vision and burst. He’ll share snaps with Malik Davis (5-10, 205, Jr.), who had 310 yards last fall, and Dameon Pierce (5-10, 215, Jr.), who notched 503 rushing yards with 4 touchdowns.

WR Ja’Markis Weston (6-3, 215) has emerged possessing star quality. The redshirt sophomore will be one of the swiftest receivers in the SEC.

The strength of the Gators is the defense.

Talented transfers DaQuan Newkirk (Auburn) and Antonio Shelton (Penn State) make the defensive tackle position much stronger.

DE Zachary Carter (6-4, 290, Sr.) is ready to ascend after pacing the Gators with 5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2020.

Florida has a plethora of pass rushers who show great promise. Brenton Cox, a junior, contributed 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 42 tackles last year. Senior LB Ventrell Miller managed 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 86 tackles in a well-rounded 2020 effort. LB Mohamoud Diabate made 67 stops and 7 tackles for loss.

On the back end, CB Kaiir Elam (6-1, 187, Jr.) had 39 stops with two picks. Keep an eye on Jason Marshall (6-2, 180), the top ranked CB in the ’21 class.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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