After the Oakland Raiders took Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the first pick in the NFL Draft, the next 20 overall selections included six defensive players from the Southeastern Conference.
No wonder SEC teams spent much of spring practice getting defensive.
Florida returns only two starters from the defense that dominated Ohio State in last year's national championship game. Arkansas must replace first-round draft pick Jamaal Anderson at defensive end and second-round selection Chris Houston at cornerback. Georgia must figure out who will take over for Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson at defensive end.
Of course, not all the concerns focused on defense. Quite a few teams enter the SEC with uncertain quarterback situations.
Ole Miss is wondering if Brent Schaeffer will ever live up to his promise. LSU is hoping Matt Flynn's 2005 Peach Bowl performance was a sign of things to come.
We spoke with publishers for every Rivals.com SEC site to discover which questions were answered and what issues remain unsettled for each conference team following the end of spring practice.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Source: Travis Reier of BamaOnLine.com What we learned from spring practice: Versatility is key in Nick Saban's multiple defense. Some ends will be asked to slide inside and play tackle when the Tide goes to a four-man front, while others will stand up as outside linebackers in the 3-4. With Saban's affinity for blitzing, Simeon Castille and the rest of the corners will find themselves in man coverage a good bit of the time.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Sticking with the defense, the front seven is home to question marks at tackle and linebacker. Most of the starting jobs appear to be set, but there are depth concerns almost across the board. Ten of the Tide's 24 signees in February were either defensive linemen or linebackers. Those who qualify academically will get their chance to impact the two-deep right away.
Source: Bryan Matthews of AuburnSports.com What we learned from spring practice: The biggest thing we learned about Auburn this spring was how much better the offense can be with a healthy Brandon Cox at quarterback. Auburn struggled on offense last year because injuries cost Cox his mobility and some of his accuracy. He was 100 percent this spring and played at an all-SEC level. The running game also showed it wasn't going to miss a beat despite replacing Kenny Irons and four offensive linemen. They ran all over the defense the last two scrimmages and have some very talented young backs behind junior Brad Lester.
The biggest question remaining for fall: While there are still some position battles at right tackle, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back, the biggest question mark for the team remains at backup quarterback. Auburn had nobody to turn to when Cox was injured last season, and none of the backups showed the ability or consistency to play at an SEC level this spring. Auburn needs one of the young quarterbacks to step up and begin preparing himself to be a solid backup this year and the starter in 2008.
Source: Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com What we learned from spring practice: Arkansas has some improved young talent at receiver, which should make it difficult to double Marcus Monk. That should benefit the Hog passing game. David Lee's new pro-style attack could produce more yards through the air if the blockers can master the complex protection schemes, which are based in large part on the 2006 Dallas Cowboys' offense.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The defense will not be as stout with cornerback Chris Houston and defensive end Jamaal Anderson leaving early for the NFL, but the Razorbacks still have eight players returning on defense with significant starting experience. That means they still should field a solid 11. The biggest question is depth on defense and how three true sophomores will adjust to new starting roles.
Source: Mark Wheeler of GatorBait.net What we learned from spring practice: The offense will more closely resemble the spread option attack that Urban Meyer utilized at Utah. With Tim Tebow taking over for Chris Leak at quarterback and an infusion of talent and speed at receiver, look for Florida to get the ball in the hands of the receivers much more on the edge. Also, look for more deep passes this coming year.
The biggest question remaining for fall: How will the talented-but-inexperienced defense grow over the summer and two-a-days? After replacing nine of 11 starters on defense, Florida looks to be faster – but much younger – on that side of the ball. Overall, the biggest question mark will be how well two sophomores (Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes) and one redshirt freshman (A.J. Jones) perform at linebacker.
Source: Steve Patterson of UGASports.com What we learned from spring practice: The biggest surprise of spring camp was how much of an impact that the mid-year guys (two JUCOS, one prep school and two early high-school graduates) would have on the offensive line. I am as skeptical as the next guy about unproven linemen making a name for themselves at this level of football, but not only were those guys able to step in and fight for playing time, two of them (Trinton Sturdivant and Scott Haverkamp) won starting jobs. The offensive line has been Georgia's Achilles' heel since the 2002 season, with career-ending injuries and poor recruiting (numbers-wise) always presenting problems. Now, for the first time in a long time, the Dawgs have a two-deep depth chart on the offensive line and have three more players scheduled to be on the field for fall camp. New offensive line coach Stacy Searels deserves major kudos for taking over a unit that was depleted and rebuilding it into a respectable unit that will buy quarterback Matthew Stafford time and open holes for the Bulldogs' running backs.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The front seven on the defensive side of the ball is a work in progress. The Bulldogs lost three players with starting experience at linebacker, two first-day picks in the NFL Draft at defensive end and two experienced defensive tackles. In all, only linebacker Brandon Miller - who moved over from Sam to Mike this spring - and tackle Jeff Owens return as starters. There is plenty of talent for the tackle and end spots. The Dawgs have done well to keep the pipeline full and redshirted several players at these positions last year, but experience is lacking. Meanwhile, at linebacker, the Dawgs have a redshirt freshman and a true sophomore starting outside of Miller. There are others in the mix, but with the dismissal of heralded redshirt freshman Akeem Hebron following two offseason arrests and the slow-to-heal injures of backup middle linebacker Marcus Washington, the Georgia coaches have to feel a bit apprehensive about the linebacker corps.
Source: Jeff Drummond of CatsPause.com What we learned from spring practice: The biggest thing they came out with was they had a lot of young guys and inexperienced underclassmen on the defensive side of the ball last year who contributed to some of their struggles when they ranked near the bottom of the entire NCAA in total yardage allowed per game. They got a little better in the last two games of the year and had really good efforts against Tennessee and Clemson. It carried over into the spring. Even though (former defensive coordinator) Mike Archer left for N.C. State to take the position there, they got Steve Brown as the new defensive coordinator. The guys have really responded to him well this spring and did a lot of good things. It's probably a combination of new leadership and those guys growing up and having a little more experience. There's more depth, more skill level and more athletic ability on that side of the ball. Everyone assumed the offense would dominate with Andre Woodson and the guys they had on that side of the ball, but the defense more than held its own on occasion.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The biggest is the offensive line. They worked with about seven or eight healthy scholarship guys all spring. They had a couple of kids who took about every snap. A walk-on redshirt freshman (Marcus Davis) took the majority of the snaps this spring because they didn't have a whole lot of depth up front. They've got to get some guys healthy, and have got to find out really fast in fall camp what their rotation's going to be on the offensive line. The spring really didn't give us a clear indication of what it's going to look like because at times they had two walk-ons and a converted tight end playing in the main five.
Source: Mike Scarborough of TigerBait.com What we learned from spring practice: They need to find some depth at (offensive) tackle and the offensive line. Obviously after losing Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis at wide receiver, there are some guys who need to step up - namely Brandon LaFell. He's a guy who's going to need to become more consistent. I think the defense is going to be as good as it's ever been despite losing LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels. The front seven is going to be outstanding.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The biggest question mark I guess would be to see if (quarterback) Matt Flynn can be the guy every week. He's a fifth-year senior, and it's now his baby. He had the great Peach Bowl two years ago, and he's worked hard. It's just a matter now of a lot of people wanting to base their projections of how he's going to do this year on that one football game. If he does that, LSU is in fantastic shape. But can he do it over 12 weeks?
Ole Miss Rebels
Source: James Bryant of RebelSports.net What we learned from spring practice: The offensive line is a lot better. Four of five starters are coming back. Corey Actis, Michael Oher and John Jerry are the three most important players on the line. The defensive line is young, but with the combination of two Rivals.com freshman All-Americans – Marcus Tillman and Greg Hardy – they really are continuing to improve. They're going to be big-time players for Ole Miss. The running game is looking good with BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming back and with Cordera Eason. They've got more depth at running back than they've ever had before. The wide receiving corps has grown up … they're sophomores now. They're a lot more mature and better than they were.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The play of the quarterbacks. Seth Adams probably has a leg up for the starting position over Brent Schaeffer. I think (Schaeffer) is just not being able to grasp the offense. He's more used to a gunslinger type of offense, and this is more of a pro style. He hasn't adapted. He came in the day before fall practice started last year and was way behind as far as physically being in shape, learning the playbook and developing chemistry. He seemed to be in a lot better shape (this spring), but he was still inaccurate with his throws and just inconsistent. Seth Adams is nothing flashy. He's more of a blue-collar type who doesn't make any mistakes and is more consistent than Schaeffer.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Source: Willie Lee of BulldogBlitz.com What we learned from spring practice: The offense will be more productive than in the past. In '07, the Bulldogs could have a 1,000-yard rusher, a 2,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard receiver. The offensive line continued to improve after only giving up six sacks in the last six games of last season. The receiving corps will be better and deeper. All the tight ends return. All the running backs return. The entire offensive line returns intact from last year. Look for the offense to be more explosive than in the past.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The biggest question mark has to be the defensive line. The Bulldogs lost three senior defensive linemen from last year. The guys replacing them have talent, but they don't have experience in SEC competition.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Source: Scott Hood of Gamecockcentral.com What we learned from spring practice:Blake Mitchell will be the starting quarterback when the 2007 season opens. Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley were expected to challenge Mitchell for the role, but inconsistent play and trouble grasping the offense doomed both quarterbacks. Mitchell, a fifth-year senior, has a wide lead. Barring a catastrophic injury, Mitchell should remain the starting quarterback for the entire season.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The biggest question facing South Carolina is who will replace Sidney Rice at wide receiver. The depth of the position did not develop as Steve Spurrier hoped in the spring. Kenny McKinley should seamlessly elevate to the No. 1 receiver role, but the next two receivers could end up being true freshmen Chris Culliver and Jason Barnes.
Source: Brent Hubbs of Volquest.com What we learned from spring practice: It became clear this spring that the offense is going to have to hang its hat on the running game. Their best offensive playmakers are their running backs. The defensive front made strides in the spring and ended spring practice on the brightest note of any group on the team.
The biggest question remaining for fall: This is a team full of question marks. Offensively, where are the playmakers at wide receiver? Can the incoming freshmen help? Can Tennessee get them ready this summer? There is no doubt that this is the biggest concern for the offense. Defensively, the Vols need help in the secondary, and they are counting on junior-college transfers DeAngelo Willingham and Nevin McKenzie. The bottom line is there are plenty of question marks for this team heading into the 2007 season.