Every team has multiple players it's counting on to either step into a new role, contribute early, replace a longtime starter, bounce back from a rough season or simply raise their level of play to meet expectations they have for the individual. This week we're looking at one “player under pressure” on each SEC team that falls under that umbrella. We begin by looking those layers in the SEC East:
Luke Del Rio, QB, soph.: The Florida quarterback competition isn't over but Del Rio came out of spring as the leader and figures to be the favorite going into training camp as the starter. Florida had trouble in recent years finding a reliable option who could consistently provide good quarterback play -- until Will Grier showed up, but now he's gone following a suspension and transfer. Can Del Rio provide the level of play the Gators need to repeat as SEC East champions?
Jacob Eason, QB, Fr.: Eason hasn't been named the starting quarterback and it's not even certain he will be as the competition between he, Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert stretches into training camp. But after a shining performance in Georgia's spring game, which followed significant recruiting hype (he was the No. 1 pocket passer in the 2016 class), makes the outside expectations astronomical. The pressure isn't inside the program -- coach Kirby Smart is rightfully bringing Eason along slowly -- but fan appetite to see the true freshman is high. If Eason isn't the starter out of the gate, either Lambert or Ramsey will be under plenty of pressure since the star recruit/backup quarterback is often a fan favorite.
Matt Elam, DT, Jr.: Elam arrived with plenty of fanfare after the Wildcats beat out Alabama on signing day in 2014 and he made his first start last October against Mississippi State. This spring, he entered practice as the starter at defensive tackle and coach Mark Stoops noted that the Wildcats are counting on him to improve and take on a more significant load of playing time. Kentucky lost three starting defensive linemen from the 2015 squad, including Melvin Lewis, who started ahead of Elam at nose guard. Elam's time has arrived.
Drew Lock, QB, Soph.: The Tigers' offense was abysmal last season and some of that can be chalked up to having to start Lock, a true freshman, at quarterback following Maty Mauk's suspension. With Mauk gone, Lock and Marvin Zanders competed this spring for the starting job and, though coach Barry Odom didn't name a starter, it appears that Lock and his eight starts begins the season as QB1. If the Tigers are to bounce back from their 5-7 campaign, the offense has to get better and that means Lock improving upon his 2015 totals (1,332 yards, four touchdowns, eight interceptions, 49 percent completion rate).
Bryson Allen-Williams, LB, Jr.: An ESPN 300 prospect in the 2014 signing class, Allen-Williams has yet to provide the kind of impact his status as a recruit suggested was possible. He has started only three games in his first two seasons on campus. The junior came out of spring listed as the starter at strongside linebacker and he could see time at the “Buck” pass-rush specialist position. The Gamecocks sorely need to improve their pass rush and Allen-Williams could play a key role in that effort.
Drew Richmond, OT, Fr.: A top-100 recruit in the 2015 signing class, Richmond redshirted his first season on campus after switching from right tackle to left tackle. Richmond got plenty of work in the spring at left tackle and could potentially succeed All-SEC left tackle Kyler Kerbyson. Richmond doesn't have the starting job yet -- he is competing with 2015 SEC All-Freshman pick Chance Hall and redshirt junior Brett Kendrick -- but regardless, there are high expectations for Richmond.
Andrew Jelks, OT, Sr.: The Commodores struggled up front last season and were without Jelks, who started 21 games spanning 2013 and 2014 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015 training camp. Now the left tackle is back healthy and if Vanderbilt's offense is to take a step up from the depths it reached last fall, the offensive line must improve. Jelks, a fifth-year senior, will be counted upon to anchor the group.