- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that almost all the SEC schools are officially going through spring practices, it's time to see who could break out in the weeks ahead.
It's a fun time to prognosticate about players we might know, but didn't know were that good. Spring practice doesn't tell us a lot, but it does get players ready for the fall and can separate guys from the pack before summer workouts and fall camp gets underway.
Today, we're taking a look at five players from each division who have a chance to break away from the pack this spring at their respective schools. We'll start with the Eastern Division and take a look at the West a little later.
Here are our five breakout players from the SEC East (in alphabetical order):
Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina: Now that Bruce Ellington is gone, the Gamecocks are in search of a No. 1 wide receiver. It's like this happens every year now. Cooper only caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown during his freshman season in 2013, but Steve Spurrier was a big fan of Cooper last year. And with Damiere Byrd still dealing with a knee injury, Cooper should get a lot of work this spring, especially in the slot, where he could be really dangerous. With his speed, Cooper could be a real threat in the open field.
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: The Gators return a solid group of linebackers, but Davis is one to really keep an eye on this spring. He was the least heralded of Florida's freshman linebackers last year but was the best of the young bunch, registering 24 tackles and a start in 12 games. He's a hard worker, has great football intelligence, and is a workhorse on the field and in the gym. Coach Will Muschamp has raved about Davis' leadership skills and how well he's adapted to the college game. Davis will work inside this spring and will push for one of the starting spots there with Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor.
C.J. Duncan, WR, Vanderbilt: The Commodores are in search of some offensive weapons this spring, and Duncan has the talent and versatility to make quite the impression on his new coaches. He can play receiver and running back and should get a chance at both positions this spring. The Commodores need help at receiver, especially with Jordan Matthews gone, so Duncan will have every opportunity to make an impact there first. He doesn't have any game experience, but this entire team is basically starting over fresh with a new coaching staff.
Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri: Henry Josey might be gone, but the Tigers are in good hands with Hansbrough, who was second on the team last year with 685 rushing yards and tallied four touchdowns. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and has a special blend of speed and power. This position is wide open, and Hansbrough will have to compete with a very steady and explosive Marcus Murphy, but he could be really special with Josey gone. Hansbrough can break the big plays and bowl you over with his strength. He'll have every chance to take the starting spot this spring.
Chris Mayes, NT, Georgia: The Bulldogs would love to get more consistency up front, and Mayes is a guy who quietly came into his own last season. He ended the season with seven straight starts at nose tackle and registered 31 tackles and a sack. He's an athletic, big body in the middle and should have a lot of fun learning from new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker. The junior will get some push from a couple other players in the middle, but if Mayes feeds off the momentum he gained at the end of last season, he could have a very good spring in Athens.
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