Plenty of SEC East teams exit spring unsettled at QB
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Missouri has a head start in at least one respect as the Tigers aim for their third consecutive Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
With Maty Mauk returning for his junior season, Missouri is one of only two SEC East teams that exits spring practice with a settled quarterback situation. The only other program with a clear-cut starter at quarterback is Tennessee, which believes it can take a step forward this year thanks to the late-season emergence of Joshua Dobbs last fall.
''You can't put a price tag on experience,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''Experience is everything, especially in this conference - understanding the day-to-day, week-to-week rigors of playing in the SEC.''
Even a couple of programs with experienced quarterbacks have ongoing competitions.
Kentucky's Patrick Towles, who started 12 games last season, must hold off a challenge from Drew Barker. Florida's Will Grier closed spring practice with a slight lead in the Gators' quarterback competition over Treon Harris, who started six games last season.
Vanderbilt lost its most experienced quarterback last month when Patton Robinette announced he was giving up football to concentrate on medical school. His departure leaves Wade Freebeck, Johnny McCrary, Shawn Stankavage and Kyle Shurmur competing for the job.
At Georgia, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta shared time working with the first-team offense in the spring game while Jacob Park worked mostly with the second- and third-team units. Connor Mitch got the most work for South Carolina in the spring but is still competing with Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia.
''We're always trying to find out who the best player is,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. ''And if they're pretty close in ability, then you play more than one, simple as that. We've still got a lot of time to decide who's our quarterback.''
Quarterback competitions aren't the only issues facing SEC East teams. Here are some of the other major concerns:
FLORIDA: The Gators had major worries on the offensive line even before projected starting tackle Rod Johnson had to give up football this month due to a spine problem. Johnson's absence leaves Florida with just six healthy returning scholarship offensive linemen - experienced center Trip Thurman is out indefinitely with a chronic shoulder injury . Six freshman linemen will be joining them in training camp.
GEORGIA: The Bulldogs spent the spring learning new terminology brought over by first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who came over from the NFL's St. Louis Rams. The adjustment process to a new coordinator could take time since Schottenheimer replaces Mike Bobo, who held the position for eight seasons before taking over Colorado State's program.
KENTUCKY: After giving up 40-plus points five times in a six-game losing streak to end the 2014 season, Kentucky now must try to upgrade that defense while replacing Alvin ''Bud'' Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, who combined for 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2014. Dupree is a projected first-round draft pick.
MISSOURI: The Tigers may have a stable quarterback situation, but there's plenty of uncertainty in their receiving corps. Missouri's returning wideouts combined for just 114 yards receiving last season. Nate Brown is one of Missouri's top returning wideouts, but he missed most of spring practice with a knee injury.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks are counting on the arrival of new co-coordinator Jon Hoke to help upgrade a defense that produced a league-low 14 sacks last season. South Carolina ranked 12th in the SEC in scoring defense and 13th in total defense.
TENNESSEE: An offensive line that gave up a league-high 43 sacks last season must find a way to protect Dobbs. Tennessee had some linemen working out at multiple positions this spring to increase the Volunteers' options as they search for the right combination of starters.
VANDERBILT: The Commodores must adapt to staff changes on both sides of the ball following the offseason firings of offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator David Kotulski. Andy Ludwig arrived from Wisconsin as the new offensive coordinator. Head coach Derek Mason, a former Stanford defensive coordinator, has put himself in charge of the defense.
AP Sports Writers Gary Graves, Pete Iacobelli, Mark Long, Charles Odum, Teresa Walker and AP freelance writer Jake Kreinberg contributed to this report.