Sallee: Spring Lessons Learned - SEC West
Arkansas RB Knile Davis
Arkansas RB Knile Davis
Posted Apr 19, 2011

Spring practice has wrapped up in the SEC West. Who emerged? What questions remain? CFN SEC columnist Barrett Sallee takes a look at what was learned about the SEC West this spring.

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Spring practice annually gives fans a peek into what their team might look like during the upcoming season. Who's going to start? Who will emerge as a star? With spring practice in the books, it's time to take a look back at what we learned about the SEC West during spring practice.

Alabama's holes on offense will be negated by a solid defense
All of the talk this offseason in Tuscaloosa will revolve around who will replace recently-departed quarterback Greg McElroy and wide receiver Julio Jones. But will it really matter? Nick Saban's philosophy is to run the ball and play good defense, and the Tide will be able to do that next year thanks to the return of running back Trent Richardson and a defense that could be as good as the group that led the Crimson Tide to the 2009 BCS National Championship. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's group is littered with NFL talent like safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dequan Menzie, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, and defensive tackle Jesse Williams. As long as the quarterback (AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims) can limit mistakes and take care of the football, Alabama will be right in the thick of the SEC West race.

Arkansas is going to be good…really good
When Knile Davis took over as the No. 1 running back last season, the Arkansas offense became a machine. Even if new quarterback Tyler Wilson has some growing pains, Davis' presence coupled with one of the best receiving corps in the country should give him a nice cushion to learn on the job. The Razorback defense is a question mark, but linebacker Jerry Franklin and defense end Jake Bequette lead a veteran group that's been through the SEC wars. Veteran defenses typically are opportunistic, and that might be all that the Hogs need to become SEC West champions.

Auburn's roster is thin…very thin
The defending national champions have largely become an afterthought in the SEC West thanks to the departure of 31 scholarship athletes from last season's roster. THIRTY-ONE. The 2011 season will be very similar to head coach Gene Chizik's first season on the Plains. The first team if talented (although inexperienced), and will be able to compete with any team in the SEC. But the second team will be very unstable, and the Tigers will have to rely on a lot of freshmen. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will adjust his system to fit Auburn's personnel, so I don't think the Tigers have a lot to worry about on offense. I mean, the guy turned Chris Todd into a record-setting quarterback, so something tells me he'll be fine with Mike Dyer, Emory Blake and Barrett Trotter/Clint Moseley. But if the Tigers suffer some injuries – especially in key spots like offensive line and linebacker – things could head south in a hurry.

LSU may have found its new offensive star
All of the attention in Baton Rouge has been focused on the battle at quarterback. Incumbent Jordan Jefferson appears to have that battle won for now, but the more important question that LSU answered this spring was who was going to replace departed running back Stevan Ridley – and it's Spencer Ware. The Tigers finished 11-2 last season, even with Jordan Jefferson's constant hiccups, and Ridley was the biggest reason why. Ware stepped up this spring to become the next running back in line, culminating with a 94-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring game. If the Tigers can match the running game they got last year, anything they get out of the quarterback position will be a bonus. Don't forget, despite Jefferson's mediocre play last season, LSU was essentially two quarters from playing in the BCS National Championship Game.

Stop me if you've read this before…Ole Miss has quarterback issues
South Carolina quarterback coach G.A. Mangus confirmed Tuesday night that Stephen Garcia is not transferring; so Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt can erase that option from chalkboard. For the second straight season, the quarterback battle in Oxford is riddled with uncertainty. Randall Mackey exited spring practice as the front-runner, and might be the winner by default if things stay the way they are right now. Veteran Nathan Stanley abruptly left the program a week before spring practice ended, Zack Stoudt missed the spring game due to an academic suspension and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti is waiting on a transfer waiver from the NCAA (which, if you recall last season's Jeremiah Masoli fiasco, might take a while for the boys in Indianapolis get to). At least with four quarterbacks, there are options in case one or two don't pan out. But the way things are going at Ole Miss, Nutt may be hitting the transfer market again sooner rather than later.

Chris Relf is ready to take control of the Mississippi State offense
Remember this time last year when Tyler Russell and Chris Relf were considered neck-and-neck in the offseason quarterback battle at Mississippi State? My how things have changed since then. Relf took control of the Bulldog offense during Mississippi State's run to the Gator Bowl, and hasn't looked back. The senior threw for more than 200 yards in each of his last three games of the 2010 season, and that momentum carried through spring, as he established himself as the unquestioned leader of the Bulldogs. Mississippi State's offense wasn't exactly intimidating last season, but a confident Relf coupled with an underrated rushing attack behind Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins, should bring that high-octane offense that Bulldog fans were promised when head Coach Dan Mullen arrived much closer to reality.

Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for He can be reached at, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

2010/2011 Off-Season Column Archive:
Spring Lessons Learned – SEC West – April 20, 2011
Five Thoughts On Kentucky's Spring – April 14, 2011
Five Thoughts On Bama's Calloway – April 13, 2011
Stephen Garcia, Winning! – April 6, 2011
Stephen Garcia Suspended Indefintely – April 6, 2011
Five Thoughts On Ole Miss' Spring – April 6, 2011
Five Thoughts On Auburn's Spring – April 4, 2011
Real Sports Much Ado About… – March 31, 2011
Ainge's Addictions, And What It Means For UT – March 29, 2011
Five Thoughts On Tennessee's Spring – March 29, 2011
Tressel-Gate Has Only One Conclusion – March 26, 2011
Five Thoughts on Bama's Spring – March 25, 2011
Five Thoughts on Vandy's Spring – March 24, 2011
Five Thoughts on Florida's Spring – March 23, 2011
Bama Star Arrested – March 20, 2011
Five Thoughts on South Carolina's Spring – March 16, 2011
Five Thoughts on Arkansas' Spring – March 15, 2011
Auburn Players Arrested, Dismissed – March 12, 2011
Five Thoughts on LSU's Spring – March 11, 2011
CFN Analysis – The Too Busy Offseason – March 11, 2011
Five Thoughts on Georgia's Spring – March 9, 2011
CFN Analysis – Should Jim Tressel Have Been Fired – March 8, 2011
Five Thoughts on Mississippi State's Spring – March 6, 2011
Wheels On Newton Saga Keep Spinning – February 28, 2011
Six SEC West Spring Storylines – February 24, 2011
Kiffin and the Tennessee Issue – February 23, 2011
Six SEC East Spring Storylines – February 17, 2011
CFN Analysis – The SEC Schedule – February 10, 2011
Ealey Suspension Leaves Georgia In A Bind – February 9, 2011
SEC Signing Day Review – February 3, 2011
CFN Analysis – Signing Day 2011 – February 2, 2011
Dream Team Won't Save Richt – January 31, 2011
Five Thoughts On Kragthorpe – January 24, 2011
Ridiculously Early SEC West Rankings – January 23, 2011
LSU Hires OC Four Years Too Late – January 20, 2011
Ridiculously Early SEC East Rankings – January 19, 2011
CFN Analysis: Cam Turns Pro – January 14, 2011
BCS National Championship Review – January 11, 2011
CFN Analysis: Cotton Bowl – January 8, 2011
Five Thoughts On Why Auburn Wins – January 7, 2011
Five Thoughts On Dan Quinn – January 5, 2011
Tuesday Question: Should Rich Rod Be Fired – January 4, 2011
Five Thoughts on Charlie Weis – January 4, 2011
CFN Analysis: Charlie Weis as the Florida OC – January 3, 2011
CFN Analysis: Outback Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Gator Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Capital One Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Liberty Bowl – December 31, 2010
CFN Analysis: Music City Bowl – December 30, 2010
End Of The Season Accountability – December 27, 2010
Pryor Can't Be Compared To Newton – December 23, 2010
Ranking The SEC Bowl Games – December 19, 2010
Malzahn Makes The Right Move – December 14, 2010
Five Thoughts on Muschamp – December 12, 2010
CFN Analysis: Florida Hires Muschamp – December 12, 2010
CFN Analysis: Cam's Heisman Landslide – December 11, 2010
Five Thoughts On Urban Meyer – December 9, 2010
Meyer Leaves Legacy, Question Marks – December 8, 2010

Click here for the 2010 regular season archive

Click here for the 2010 Three & Out archive