More than a month of spring football practice has helped a few teams in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division find a new starting quarterback.
For others, the competition continues.
Alabama – the defending national champion – is choosing between holdovers Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and David Cornwell and freshman mid-year enrollee Jalen Hurts. Bateman has the edge in experience, but it was the younger quarterbacks like Barnett and Hurts who looked the best during Saturday’s spring game.
Coach Nick Saban said the Tide looked ”a little quicker, a little faster, in terms of how we’re moving on offense when those two were in there, especially in the first half.”
Auburn’s trying to decide between Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and junior college transfer John Franklin III. Johnson and White have SEC experience, but Franklin is the most athletic and arguably the best suited to run coach Gus Malzahn’s zone read offense.
The next Mississippi State quarterback has the unenviable task of replacing Dak Prescott, who is widely regarded as the best player in program history after throwing for more than 9,000 yards and running for about 2,500 more in his career.
Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley, Damian Williams and Nick Tiano are locked in a four-man race for the job. Fitzgerald was Prescott’s primary backup last season, but the redshirt freshman Tiano has impressed the coaching staff.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the major issues facing each of the SEC East teams as they exit spring practice.
ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide will try to replace Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, who ran for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. The two main candidates are sophomores Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, who were both former five-star prospects. Harris ran for 114 yards in an impressive spring game, but that was mostly against the team’s backup defense.
ARKANSAS: Austin Allen, who is the younger brother of last year’s starting quarterback Brandon Allen, came into spring practice as the favorite to become the next Arkansas quarterback and didn’t disappoint. Coach Bret Bielema was confident enough in the younger Allen’s performance that he named him the starter last week. The Razorbacks will play their spring game on Saturday. The Razorbacks do have some questions at running back following the early departures of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Sophomore Rawleigh Williams was held out of spring drills because a neck injury and senior Kody Walker, who is back for a sixth season, broke his foot and is out until June. Incoming freshman Devwah Whaley will also be in the mix.
AUBURN: The Tigers might have uncertainty at quarterback, but no such concerns exist on the defensive line. Auburn should be very deep at that position with talented veterans like Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams being supplemented by young players like Byron Cowart and Marlon Davidson.
LSU: The Tigers have a sturdy, star running back in Leonard Fournette, who wasn’t asked to do much this spring considering coach Les Miles is well aware of his talent. LSU does have 18 starters returning, including quarterback Brandon Harris. The Tigers hope Harris continues to improve – he threw for 2,165 yards and 13 touchdowns last season while completing 53.8 percent of his passes. LSU also must replace both of its offensive tackles from last season. Sophomore Maea Teuhema, who started 11 games at guard last season, sophomore Toby Weathersby and junior K.J. Malone are among top candidates to fill those two spots in the fall.
OLE MISS: The Rebels should be fine under center with Chad Kelly returning for a second straight season as the starter. Now they’ll try to replace three potential NFL first-round draft picks in receiver Laquon Treadwell, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. Ole Miss hopes talented players like defensive lineman Breeland Speaks and receivers Damore’ea Stringfellow and Quincy Adeboyejo can step into larger roles. Ole Miss was the only school in the SEC that didn’t have a spring game because Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is undergoing substantial renovations.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs‘ defense has had an extensive makeover during the offseason after coordinator Manny Diaz left for Miami. Coach Dan Mullen hired former USC assistant Peter Sirmon as his replacement. The Bulldogs have several experienced players returning on defense, including defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson, linebacker Richie Brown and safety Brandon Bryant.
TEXAS A&M: The Aggies hope they’ve found their starting quarterback in Trevor Knight, a senior who transferred from Oklahoma. He started 15 games during his time with the Sooners. Knight was recently named the starter by coach Kevin Sumlin.
AP Sports Writers John Zenor, Kurt Voigt and Brett Martel contributed to this story.
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