Georgia Bulldogs: Jeremy Pruitt

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Once again, Georgia took home the victory on G-Day.

The Bulldogs' annual spring game ended with the Red Team, comprised mostly of the first-team offense, defeating the Black Team, headed by most of the first-team defense, 27-24 in front of an announced crowd of 46,073 inside Sanford Stadium.

You can learn only so much from spring games, but there are always some nuggets here and there that you can take away from them.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason looked in full command of the offense in Georgia's spring game.
Here are five things we learned from Georgia's G-Day:

1. Mason looks pretty comfortable: It's easy when the quarterback isn't getting hit, but Hutson Mason looked very comfortable on Saturday. He was quick with his delivery, very accurate and very sharp. Again, he wasn't asked to do too much, but you can tell that he's more than comfortable running coordinator Mike Bobo's offense. I mean, he has been there for what feels like a decade now, so he better be. Even without some of his best targets in Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley (both were out this spring recovering from ACL injuries), he didn't skip a beat, as he passed for 241 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 27. "I felt good about my accuracy and my completions," Mason said. "Just wish I would have thrown the deep ball a little better."

2. Floyd and Johnson could be a solid combo: There's no question that Georgia's defense still needs a lot of work. The secondary had its issues and the defensive line is still looking for more playmakers. But one thing that really stood out on Saturday was the play of defensive lineman Toby Johnson and linebacker Leonard Floyd. Both required constant double teams on Saturday. We all knew Floyd had the potential to be a very, very special player, and he constantly harassed the Red Team's quarterbacks. He finished with six tackles and broke up two passes. Floyd can play with his hand down when the Dawgs are in a 4-3 formation or at outside linebacker in a 3-4. As for Johnson, he could be one to watch for the Dawgs this year. He made his way to the quarterback early and often in the game before the Black Team's line adjusted to put an extra body on him. Still, he was able to break through even with that extra set of arms to battle.

3. Gurley ran with purpose: There has been plenty of talk this spring about running back Todd Gurley's toughness, but he didn't look like he was holding back on Saturday. While he was limited to just six rushes (32 yards and a touchdown) and caught three passes (38 yards), Gurley was trying his hardest to bowl guys over. Coach Mark Richt sat Gurley down earlier in the spring to talk about his toughness and his practice habits, and it clearly paid off. Gurley didn't look hesitant, despite still not being 100 percent with nagging ankle issues. We don't know if Gurley will ever truly be healthy at Georgia, but it's a good sign that he doesn't have an issue playing through pain. He just wanted to deliver it Saturday.

4. Battle for No. 2 continues: Mason is clearly Georgia's starting quarterback, but the fight behind him should be a fun one for the months to come. It's down to redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey. On Saturday, Bauta was the more impressive of the two, passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Ramsey, who suited up for both teams, finished with 78 total yards and an interception on 2 of 13 passing. While Ramsey wasn't as accurate as he'd like to be, he has a cannon of an arm and might have the most arm talent on the team. He just has to get that thing under control before he can take another step in the process. "I obviously could have thrown it a lot better, but at the same time I feel good about my performance," Ramsey said. "I was picking up blitzes, making the right reads. I just need to put the ball on. I had a bad day throwing." As for Bauta, he shed the black non-contact jersey in order to take some contact and finish plays after defenders got their hands on him. He was certainly a lot more efficient than Ramsey, but he said he knows that he can't slow down when it comes to winning this job before the fall.

5. The secondary has a ways to go: New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have his hands full with Georgia's secondary. A unit that surrendered 227 passing yards per game and 18 touchdowns last year showed some of the same issues it had last season during the spring game. Now, injuries to guys like Tray Matthews and J.J. Green, who was at running back last year, contributed to that, but the offenses were able to make too many big plays in the passing game. If not for a couple of overthrown deep balls, the offenses could have put up a few more points. It didn't help that the defenses were called for six pass interference penalties with half of the starting receivers out. Six players averaged 15 or more yards per reception against the secondary on Saturday. "We're getting better," cornerback Damian Swann said. "Everything that happened today can be fixed, and that's why you have games like this. ... I think we did pretty good as a secondary."
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC's lunch links

April, 1, 2014
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College football's most high-profile head coach weighed in on the Northwestern players' bid to unionize yesterday. Nick Saban said after practice at Alabama that players should be compensated and deserve a voice in what happens. Are we seeing the beginning of a movement, the start of a never-ending legal process or both? Whatever it is, it's moving along as the next step is Washington, D.C.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia, which is trying to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 8-5 finish, is finishing up its second week of spring practice.

It’s the Bulldogs’ first spring under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who directed Florida State’s defense during the Seminoles’ national championship run last season. Pruitt replaces Todd Grantham, who left UGA for Louisville after a couple of underperforming seasons with the Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIOutside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who started eight games as a freshman, has been a "beast" during spring practices.
Here are a few early observations from Georgia’s spring:

• Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, a sophomore from Eastman, Ga., added more than 20 pounds during the offseason and now weighs about 248. Floyd started eight games as a freshman in 2013 and finished with 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Pruitt will be looking for even more production from Floyd this coming season, and one UGA assistant called him the “best player on the team -- period.”

“He’s always making plays and setting the tone,” linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “He stands out every play. He’s just a beast right now.”

• After running for 1,385 yards with 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, tailback Todd Gurley was limited by a high ankle sprain during his sophomore campaign and finished with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.

The Bulldogs weren’t sure how much Gurley would be able to do during spring practice because of the lingering ankle injury, but he has participated in almost every aspect of practice so far. He’s also expected to play a lot in Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage, the first of the spring.

“He’s been practicing every day in full-contract drills,” Wilson said. “He’s getting us better as a defense. He’s the best running back in the country. He’s not taking any plays off.”

• One of the early surprises of the spring has been sophomore flanker Blake Tibbs, who played in only two games last season. Tibbs, from Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia, Ga., was one of UGA’s best performers during the offseason “mat drills” conditioning program. He also has looked good in practice so far, according to UGA coaches and players.

“He’s doing really well,” Wilson said. “It looks like he’s added about 10 pounds and is blocking more physically. He’s trying to show the coaches that he can contribute. If he keeps doing the things he’s doing, he’ll get on the field.”

• UGA’s coaches are hoping left tackle John Theus has finally turned the corner after a couple of so-so seasons. Theus, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., started 22 games the past two seasons, including 14 as a freshman in 2012. He has moved from right tackle to left tackle this spring and will protect quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.

Theus was bothered by a wrist injury the past two years but has been healthy during the offseason and excelled in the conditioning program, according to UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

With Theus moving to left tackle, senior Mark Beard, who briefly left the team during the offseason, is lining up at left guard. Senior David Andrews is back at center, with sophomore Brandon Kublanow at right guard and senior Kolton Houston at right tackle on the No. 1 unit.
The Madness is all around us, and while basketball is having all the fun, we thought we’d give football a go at the craziness that this month embodies.

While we’ll have to wait a few months until a playoff takes over college football, we thought we’d have a little fun with our own SEC tournament now that the first weekend of games have concluded in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As a tribute to the Big Dance, Chris Low and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s). We’ll spice things up by having different seedings for all 14 teams in our individual tournaments. We have different sites, the top two seeds will receive an opening-round bye and we’ll have an upset or two.

Our first round will feature the No. 3 seed facing the No. 14 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 13 seed, etc.

I’ll debut my bracket first, while Chris will have his prepared later Monday.

After countless hours of deliberation with the selection committee, namely my cat Meeko, here’s what my seedings look like:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Ole Miss
5. Missouri
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. LSU
10. Florida
11. Tennessee
12. Vanderbilt
13. Arkansas
14. Kentucky
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Kentucky: The Bulldogs might be without Aaron Murray for the first time in a long time, but Hutson Mason has plenty of offensive options to pick from. Not having Todd Gurley as an option hurts, but Georgia has enough to get past the Cats in Nashville. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Tennessee: You'd better believe the Gamecocks are still fuming after that loss to the Vols that eventually cost them a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last fall. A lot is different for the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson works some magic late to avoid the first upset of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Arkansas: The Rebels could be a dark horse to win the SEC this fall, and with so much talent coming back on both sides, Ole Miss could make a nice run in this tournament. Arkansas just has way too many questions on both sides to pull the shocker. Winner: Ole Miss

No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. There's always one. But the Tigers still have a lot of firepower returning on offense, a stout defensive line and are playing in front of what should be a home crowd. Also, James Franklin and Jordan Matthews are both gone. Winner: Missouri

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Florida: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise after winning their last three to close the 2013 season. They return a lot from their two-deep and could have a special player in quarterback Dak Prescott. The Gators suffered a rash of injuries, but have quarterback Jeff Driskel back with an offense that fits his skills more. Playing close to home will give the Gators an advantage and the defense will make a stop late to pull our first upset. Winner: Florida

No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 LSU: Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and playmakers at receiver. LSU's defense is getting revamped again, but there's still a lot of athleticism across the board. This one is coming down to the wire, but LSU's young, yet stealthy corners will be the difference in another upset. Winner: LSU

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: Last fall, this was the game the served as the emotional turning point for Auburn, even though it was a loss. Auburn has a lot to work with once again on the Plains, and while the defense still has its questions, these Tigers will get revenge in a fun one in the Sunshine State. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Florida: The Gators will be more consistent on offense in this one. Alabama is still looking to find its defensive playmakers, but will have the advantage in the running game. This one is coming down to the fourth quarter, where corner Vernon Hargreaves III seals it for the Gators with a pick in the end zone on a Cooper Bateman pass intended for Amari Cooper. Winner: Florida

In Houston

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Missouri: Two fast offenses take the field, and the Rebels would love to get back at the Tigers after last season's loss. Maty Mauk has what it takes to direct this Missouri team to a deep run, but Ole Miss' defense is the difference in this one. Keep an eye on that defensive line, which gets a major upgrade in the return of end C.J. Johnson. Winner: Ole Miss

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The hope in Athens is that the defense will be improved with Jeremy Pruitt running the show, but watch out for Mike Davis. South Carolina's pounding running back gets the edge in this one with Gurley on the mend. Expect a lot of points in this one, but Davis grinds this one out for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Winner: South Carolina

FINAL FOUR

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Ole Miss: You want fast, fast, fast? How about these two teams playing? I mean, Ole Miss got to see tons of speed against Mizzou, and now has to take on Auburn? Expect marathon of scoring, but Bo Wallace is the hero in the end. A gritty fourth-quarter performance puts the Rebels in the title game. Winner: Ole Miss

In Arlington, Texas

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Florida: It's been a fun run for this spring's Cinderella. Florida's offense is catching up to its defense, but the Gamecocks will find holes in the Gators defense. Thompson hits a few big plays to receiver Shaq Roland and defensive end Gerald Dixon forces a late fumble on a sack of Driskel to run out the clock. Winner: South Carolina

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is back in Atlanta with a gritty team hungry for a title. The Rebels have the advantage with that high-flying offense and will get some huge catches out of Laquon Treadwell against the inexperienced secondary. Thompson and Davis will keep the Gamecocks in this one for most of the game, but true freshman safety C.J. Hampton seals it for the Rebels with a game-ending interception at midfield. Winner: Ole Miss
Say this for Jeremy Pruitt: He knows what a national championship defense looks like.

He'll try to bring that same dimension to Georgia as the Bulldogs' first-year defensive coordinator, and the fans voting in our SportsNation poll obviously think he has what it takes.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
Fred Kfoury III/Icon SMIAt Florida State, Jeremy Pruitt oversaw the No. 1 scoring defense in the country last year.
With nearly 10,000 votes cast, Pruitt was the runaway winner as the most significant assistant coaching addition in the SEC. He received 43 percent of the vote, while Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin finished second with 19 percent of the vote.

Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was third with 16 percent of the vote, followed by LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes with 15 percent and Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith with 7 percent.

Pruitt, who will also coach the secondary at Georgia, has been a part of a national championship staff for three straight seasons. He was Florida State's defensive coordinator last season, and the Seminoles led the country in scoring defense (12.1 points per game). Before going to FSU, Pruitt was the defensive backs coach for three seasons at Alabama, and the Crimson Tide won BCS titles in both 2011 and 2012.

The good news for Pruitt is that he has just about everybody returning from last season's Georgia defense. On the flip side, the Bulldogs took their lumps a year ago defensively and finished 11th in the SEC in scoring defense against league foes. They gave up an average of 31.8 points per game and allowed 30 or more points in six of their eight league contests.

With safety Josh Harvey-Clemons booted from the team last month, Pruitt's job could get even tougher depending on what happens to sophomore safety Tray Matthews, one of four Georgia players arrested earlier this week on theft charges. The Bulldogs were already lean at safety.

Opening spring camp: Georgia

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Schedule: The Bulldogs will open spring practice on Tuesday at 4:25 p.m. ET. Their annual G-Day spring game is scheduled for April 12 at 1 p.m. in Sanford Stadium, followed by two more practices on April 15 and April 17 to wrap up the spring.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason gets his chance to take over as Georgia's QB after being behind Aaron Murray for four seasons.
What’s new: Georgia enters the spring with an entirely new defensive staff. Jeremy Pruitt, after helping lead Florida State to a national championship last season, takes over for Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator. Grantham left to be the defensive coordinator at Louisville. Joining Pruitt, who will also coach the secondary, will be former Auburn All-American Tracy Rocker, who will coach the defensive line and weakside linebackers, while Kevin Sherrer will coach the strongside linebackers and star position/nickelbacks and Mike Ekeler inside linebackers and special teams.

On the move: Redshirt freshman Tramel Terry, who was injured and didn’t play last season, is moving from receiver to safety. Sophomore J.J. Green, who rushed for 384 yards last season as a freshman, is moving from running back to cornerback, and sophomore Quayvon Hicks is moving from fullback to tight end. A couple of outside linebackers, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson, are moving to defensive end.

On the mend: The Bulldogs will have several players who won’t participate in contact drills, and in some cases, will miss the entire spring while recovering from injuries/surgeries. Among them: running back Todd Gurley (ankle), running back Keith Marshall (knee), receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (knee), receiver Malcolm Mitchell (knee), tight end Jay Rome (foot) and cornerback Reggie Wilkerson (knee).

New faces: Quarterback Jacob Park, an ESPN 300 prospect from Goose Creek, S.C., was Georgia’s only early enrollee for the 2014 class and will go through spring practice.

Question marks: Solidifying the secondary is crucial, especially with safety Josh Harvey-Clemons being dismissed from the team. In Harvey-Clemons, the Bulldogs lost a starting safety and the "star" in their nickel package. They should be OK at cornerback, particularly if Green can make the transition. Damian Swann and Shaq Wiggins also return at corner, and heralded freshman Malkom Parrish will arrive this summer. But the Bulldogs need to be more consistent across the board on the back end of that defense next season. They also have to get better on special teams. Mistakes plagued them last season, and they were last in the SEC in punt return average and kickoff returns and next-to-last in kickoff coverage. Finding three new offensive line starters will be another priority this spring.

Key battle: Both of the safety positions are right there at the top of the list. Senior Corey Moore played better down the stretch last season, and sophomore Quincy Mauger was forced into action last season as a true freshman. Terry also could be a factor at one of the safety spots. The Bulldogs wouldn't have moved him if they didn't think he would be in the rotation. At the free safety spot, the Bulldogs need sophomore Tray Matthews on the field. He was injured for much of his freshman season and also battled some maturity issues. He's a terrific talent, and the Bulldogs need him to play that way.

Breaking out: Sophomore Reggie Carter gives the Bulldogs more speed and athleticism at inside linebacker. He didn't play a lot last season as a freshman, but could give veterans Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera a run for their money. Redshirt freshman Paris Bostick could be another player to watch at inside linebacker. Junior nose tackle Chris Mayes was one of the more underrated players on Georgia's team last season. He and senior Toby Johnson could both be primed for big seasons up front for the Dawgs defensively. Johnson wasn't completely healthy last season after coming over from junior college, but should be 100 percent in 2014.

Don’t forget about: Sophomore Leonard Floyd should be even better his second time through the league. He led Georgia with 6.5 sacks last season and is exactly what Pruitt is looking for as a pass-rusher in his 3-4 scheme. The good news for Floyd and all of the Georgia defenders is that they're not changing defenses. The system will be very similar to what they ran under Grantham, with Pruitt making a few tweaks.

All eyes on: Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, which means senior Hutson Mason finally gets his chance to be the Bulldogs' starting quarterback. Mason stepped in at the end of last season after Murray was injured, and there's no question that he has a big arm and can stand in the pocket and throw it. He also has plenty of playmakers around him. He will get a chance to show that he can lead this team over the course of an entire season.

SEC lunchtime links

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Yes, it's that time of year where the talk is centered on the hardwood and brackets, but don't forget, spring football and pro days are in full swing, so there is still much to talk about on the gridiron. A sampling of news, notes and nuggets from around the SEC today:
It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first-team workout, this week we're making five predictions related to the upcoming practices.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann seems like the only safe bet to hold on to a starting job in the secondary next fall.
Today’s final prediction: The secondary remains in flux

No element of Georgia’s defensive drop-off was more concerning than the secondary, where the Bulldogs tumbled from eighth nationally in passing defense in 2012 to 60th last season, with their yards-allowed average jumping nearly 50 yards per game, from 175.6 to 227.4.

It was somewhat understandable, given that the Bulldogs had to replace four longtime contributors at safety (former All-American Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams) and cornerback (Sanders Commings and Branden Smith), three of whom were drafted. But the secondary’s growing pains were the most obvious and anger-inducing element of Georgia’s defensive struggles a season ago.

Coach Mark Richt and his staff certainly hope that the experience the group gained last fall will lead to a smoother fall -- and we do expect the secondary to improve under first-year defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt -- but today’s prediction is that the depth chart will remain in flux beyond spring practice.

That will be for a variety of reasons. One is that some players who could compete for immediate playing time -- I’m thinking of the versatile Shattle Fenteng, whom ESPN listed as the top junior-college cornerback prospect for 2014, and cornerback Malkom Parrish -- are not even on campus yet. Another is that Tramel Terry is only a few practices into his transition from receiver to safety, while cornerback Reggie Wilkerson is still on his way back from a torn ACL suffered last summer.

We know who the leading contenders are in these position races -- senior Damian Swann, junior Sheldon Dawson and sophomores Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley all return at cornerback, while safeties Corey Moore, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger all gained starting experience last fall -- but Pruitt shouldn’t be in any hurry to anoint anyone as a starter. After last year’s results, he has no reason to do such a thing.

Swann is the safest bet to remain in the starting lineup. He has started 27 games in a row, after all, and is by far the most experienced player in this bunch. But beyond the senior cornerback, the other slots should be completely up for grabs. That grew even more certain when Richt booted starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons off the roster about a month ago.

Pruitt has a couple of nice pieces to work with in this youthful secondary, but the group has a long way to go before it could be considered consistent -- or even competent. The coach has gotten impressive results from his defensive backs in previous stops at Alabama and Florida State, and he will almost certainly repeat that success at Georgia.

Don’t expect it to occur overnight, however. The improvement process will begin this spring, and it seems highly likely that competition at the various secondary positions will continue well into preseason practice.
We took an expansive look earlier on Thursday on the SEC blog at the coaching changes in the league.

SportsNation

Who is the SEC's best assistant coach hire for 2014?

  •  
    15%
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    19%
  •  
    42%
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    16%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,290)

Vanderbilt had the most, including the only head-coaching change with Derek Mason coming over from Stanford. Georgia was second, as the Bulldogs have an entirely new defensive staff.

Who was the most significant assistant coach addition in the SEC for the 2014 season? We'll let you tell us by going to our SportsNation poll and voting.

Interestingly enough, the guys on the Big Ten blog conducted a similar poll, and three of their five choices are moving over from the SEC -- Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to Michigan, Taver Johnson from Arkansas to Purdue and Chris Ash from Arkansas to Ohio State.

Four of the five candidates we've come up with in the SEC are coordinators. Go cast your vote, and we'll go over the results in the coming days.

Here's a quick look at the five candidates (listed alphabetically):

Jeff Grimes, offensive line coach, LSU: Grimes spent last season at Virginia Tech as the Hokies' offensive line coach, but he's no stranger to the SEC. He was Auburn's offensive line coach from 2009-12 under Gene Chizik and a part of the Tigers' 2010 national championship staff. Grimes, a 20-year coaching veteran, will also assume the role of running game coordinator at LSU. The Tigers return four starters in the offensive line.

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Alabama: Kiffin and Nick Saban may seem like an odd pairing to most, but Saban has long respected Kiffin's mind for the game and his feel for calling plays. He's also a proven recruiter. Kiffin returns to the coordinator ranks after three head-coaching stints. He spent the past three-plus seasons at USC before being fired and was at Tennessee for a season (2009) before that. Kiffin was also the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 season before being fired.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary, Georgia: Pruitt is back in the SEC after spending last season as Florida State's defensive coordinator. His FSU defense led the country in scoring defense in helping the Seminoles to the national championship. Pruitt, a finalist for the Broyles Award last season as the nation's top assistant coach, was the defensive backs coach at Alabama for three seasons (2010-12) and has been a part of three straight national championship staffs.

Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Florida: After a long association with David Cutcliffe, Roper moves back to the SEC to try and pump some life into a Florida offense that has struggled under head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators have never finished higher than 10th in the SEC in total offense under Muschamp. Roper spent the past six seasons as Duke's offensive coordinator. The Blue Devils set a school record with 54 total touchdowns last season. Prior to going to Duke with Cutcliffe, Roper spent all of his time in the SEC with stops at Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary, Arkansas: Smith spent last season in the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebackers coach, but his previous 14 seasons were spent in the collegiate ranks. He was at Rutgers for four seasons and promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. His defense that season was ranked fourth nationally in points allowed (14.2). Smith was the defensive coordinator at Maine before joining the Rutgers staff. He inherits an Arkansas defense that finished 12th in the SEC in scoring defense in 2013, allowing an average of 30.8 points per game.
The only head-coaching change in the SEC following this past season was at Vanderbilt, where Derek Mason took over for James Franklin.

That's down from four head-coaching changes the previous year. In fact, Mason will be the 38th different head coach to coach in a game for one of the current SEC schools since the start of the 2004 season.

Even in the volatile world of the SEC, that's a ton. But change is a part of this league's fabric. With 11 of the 14 head coaches making $3 million or more per year, there is no such thing as a five-year plan anymore. Some would argue there's not even a four-year plan.

[+] EnlargeRoper
Jeff Barlis/ESPNFlorida hopes new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will help improve its anemic offense in 2014.
Since the end of last season, we've also seen several changes in the assistant-coaching ranks in the SEC. The five coaching staffs that will return intact next season are Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee.

One assistant, Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, left for a head-coaching gig at Florida Atlantic. His former colleague with the Hogs, Chris Ash, left his post as co-defensive coordinator for the same job at Ohio State.

Georgia's entire defensive staff has a new look, triggered largely by Todd Grantham's move to Louisville as defensive coordinator. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt replaces Grantham along with three other new defensive assistants.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has his fourth different offensive coordinator since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Lane Kiffin, who's no stranger to the SEC after his turbulent 14 months as Tennessee's head coach in 2009, will call the Tide's plays in 2014.

One of the most critical hires was at Florida, where offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes over from Duke with the mission of resurrecting the Gators' offense.

Here's a rundown of the coaching changes (head coaches and position coaches only; number of new coaches in parentheses):

ALABAMA (2)

Who's in?

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bo Davis, defensive line

Who's out?

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Rumph, defensive line coach
Greg Brown, secondary

Other moves

  • Kevin Steele moves onto the field as inside linebackers coach and will serve as special assistant to the head coach. He was the Tide's player personnel director last season.
  • Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will coach the secondary after coaching linebackers last season.
ARKANSAS (3)

Who’s in?

Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary
Clay Jennings, secondary
Rory Segrest, defensive line/specialists

Who's out?

Chris Ash, defensive coordinator
Charlie Partridge, defensive line
Taver Johnson, secondary

Other moves

  • Randy Shannon was promoted to senior associate head coach.
FLORIDA (3)

Who’s in?

Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Summers, offensive line
Coleman Hutzler, special teams coordinator

Who’s out?

Brent Pease, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Davis, offensive line
Jeff Choate, special teams/outside linebackers

GEORGIA (4)

Who’s in?

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary
Tracy Rocker, defensive line/weak-side linebackers
Mike Ekeler, inside linebackers/special teams
Kevin Sherrer, strong-side linebackers/nickel backs

Who’s out?

Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator
Chris Wilson, defensive line
Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers
Scott Lakatos, secondary

KENTUCKY (1)

Who’s in?

Craig Naivar, special teams/safeties

Who’s out?

Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams/safeties

LSU (2)

Who’s in?

Jeff Grimes, offensive line/running game coordinator
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams coordinator

Who’s out?

Greg Studrawa, offensive line
Thomas McGaughey, special teams coordinator

MISSISSIPPI STATE (1)

Who’s in?

Brian Johnson, quarterbacks

Who’s out?

Les Koenning, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

TEXAS A&M (1)

Who's in?

Terry Joseph, secondary

Who's out?

Marcel Yates, co-defensive coordinator/secondary

Other moves

  • Jake Spavital will call plays in 2014 as offensive coordinator. He was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season.
  • Clarence McKinney moves back to running backs after calling the plays last season as offensive coordinator.
VANDERBILT (9)

Who’s in?

Derek Mason, head coach
Karl Dorrell, offensive line/quarterbacks
David Kotulski, defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Marc Lubick, receivers
Keven Lightner, offensive line
Gerry Gdowski, tight ends
Brett Maxie, secondary
Kenwick Thompson, outside linebackers
Frank Maile, defensive line

Who’s out?

James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/running backs
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Herb Hand, offensive line
Josh Gattis, receivers
Brent Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Sean Spencer, defensive line
George Barlow, secondary

SEC's lunch links

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
12:00
PM ET
Half of the SEC teams have started officially-sanctioned football-related activities with Missouri and Vanderbilt opening spring practice on Tuesday. There's a lot going on.
It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first team workout, this week we'll make five predictions related to the upcoming practices.

Today’s prediction: Slow and steady on defense

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreNew coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's redesign of the defense will draw plenty of attention in the spring.
Patience will be the buzzword for Georgia’s reconstructed defense this spring, particularly in the early practices.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt hired an entirely new defensive coaching staff this offseason -- most notably new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt -- so not only will the new coaches need time to figure out the capabilities of players at their respective positions, they will use these practices to get a feel for one another and how their different coaching styles fit together.

That’s one of the big reasons spring practice is valuable. There’s no pressure. The Bulldogs don’t play a real game until Clemson visits on Aug. 30, so there is plenty of time for learning without having to worry about being prepared for an opponent each Saturday like they would in the fall.

This is the time each year when Richt’s staff takes another look (and sometimes a first look) at its personnel and begins making initial evaluations on how those players might be able to help during the season. They work on fundamentals. They begin teaching new elements of the scheme they plan to employ -- which is particularly important at Georgia this spring since Pruitt will begin installing his own tweaks to the 3-4 base defense the Bulldogs used under Todd Grantham.

But don’t expect early practice reports to break down how the defense dominated the day. Georgia’s offense is loaded with experienced players and veteran starters, aside from the three starting linemen and a pretty decent quarterback that it must replace. The defense also has experienced personnel returning, but that group wasn’t nearly as effective a season ago, plus it will be learning new roles from brand-new position coaches.

The defense will be a work in progress this spring, which is perfectly understandable and to be expected.

What you want if you’re a Georgia fan is to hear coaches and players discuss the learning process early in these practices, but for such comments to evolve into compliments on how things are coming together as G-Day approaches. And then you’d like to see the group cap off the spring by showing some competence and enthusiasm when it takes the field for the early series at Sanford Stadium on April 12.

There is only so much you can take away from a spring game, but fans want a little something to feel good about as they enter the four-month break before the team returns to the practice field, which is also understandable.

Given his track record in previous stops at Alabama and Florida State, Pruitt deserves the benefit of the doubt. Our bet is that by the end of spring practice, the potential for this group to become a competitive defense will be evident -- even if the players’ and coaches’ heads might be swimming in the early practices.
We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week we will take a look at five position battles worth watching this spring.

We've already covered the competitions at safety, defensive line and offensive tackle. Today let's move to the star position, which lost starter Josh Harvey-Clemons last month when Bulldogs coach Mark Richt kicked him off the team.

Returning starters: None

Departures: Harvey-Clemons started 11 games between playing the star -- essentially a nickelback -- and safety positions. He ranked third on the team with 66 tackles, added 5.5 tackles for a loss, an interception and tied for the SEC lead with three fumble recoveries.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWill Damian Swann be the one to take over the star position?
Returning reserves: Cornerback Damian Swann (57 tackles, team-high eight pass breakups) and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (55 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks) are among the players who have handled the star role in the past.

Newcomers: To be determined. With a new defensive coaching staff and a new coach (Kevin Sherrer) specifically handling the star and strongside linebackers, it's anybody's guess which newcomers might get a look playing the position.

What to watch: Because of his athleticism and the mismatches he could create, Harvey-Clemons seemed like a good fit for the star position. He was big enough to function like an outside linebacker and still quick enough to handle the coverage responsibilities that come while playing nickelback. He was a unique player, though. The question now facing Georgia's coaches is how they disperse the snaps at star. Will it be mostly a linebacker type in that slot defender position? Or will it be a third cornerback (someone like Swann, who played a lot of nickelback in 2012) when they are in a nickel package? It seems likely that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and company will test several different players in that role this spring to see who best suits the new staff's philosophy. The Bulldogs will surely use both defensive backs and linebackers in the nickel role this fall depending on the situation -- Pruitt was known for mixing things up last season as Florida State's defensive coordinator -- but as for specific personnel, it's far too early to make a prediction with any confidence. Keep an eye on the position when the Bulldogs play a nickel defense during the G-Day game, as that will likely provide an early idea of which way the new coaches are leaning.
The votes are in, and Florida has been picked by our readers to have the biggest rebound in 2014.

With nearly 11,600 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, the Gators narrowly edged Georgia by collecting 36 percent of the vote, while the Bulldogs grabbed 33 percent. Tennessee finished third with 17 percent of the vote, Arkansas was next with 12 percent, and Kentucky finished with two percent.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesAfter a 4-8 season in 2013, Will Muschamp and Florida hope to rebound this fall.
A year removed from winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl, the Gators succumbed to a rash of injuries and won just four games in 2013. Now, coach Will Muschamp finds himself on the hot seat, and the Gators are looking to vastly improve an offense that ranked last in the SEC in total offense last year.

The hope is that the injury bug won't sink its teeth into the Gators this fall like it did in 2013 and that new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's more spread attack will help open things up for quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is coming off of a season-ending leg injury. Adding a trip to Alabama won't make things any easier for Florida in 2014 but having LSU and South Carolina at home will be better.

The Bulldogs have a shot to rebound from their eight-win season by making it back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. The Dawgs have the offensive talent to continue that scoring spree from last season, and there’s a sense that new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can sure things up on a unit that was inconsistent.

As for Tennessee and Arkansas, they are looking to find their identities on both sides of the ball. Both have quarterback questions and are looking for valuable offensive playmakers. Both need work in their front sevens and have challenging schedules as well. However, a change of attitude could propel both teams. The Vols have shown it ever since Butch Jones arrived, while the Hogs are still looking to get tougher under Bret Bielema.

Kentucky had talent deficiencies all over the field in 2013, leading to just two wins in Mark Stoops' first year. Like Arkansas and Tennessee, a change in attitude and confidence will go a long way for the Wildcats. Stoops has recruited well and expects to get a lot out of his youngsters. But making sure offensive playmakers emerge, a quarterback takes the lead and the secondary comes together remain Stoops' biggest challenges going forward.

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