What a difference a year makes.
This time last year there was NO spring football practice because of COVID-19.
Today, one SEC team (Missouri) has already completed Spring ball.
Eight other schools will have their Spring games a week from this Saturday (April 17). Tennessee, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and South Carolina will have their spring games on April 24.
Kentucky will not have a spring game as Kroger Field has been set up for COVID testing and vaccine distribution.
There have been a number of interesting story lines this spring, particularly with eight coaches in their first or second year.
But we’re here today to talk about quarterbacks. As we enter the final weeks of spring ball there are still seven SEC quarterback situations that I’m watching closely.
To assist me in this effort I called on former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, the MVP of the 2005 SEC championship game and current analyst for the SEC Network.
So let’s get started:
1—Can Emory Jones be an every-down quarterback for Florida? Gators’ coach Dan Mullen is good at maximizing the skill set of the quarterback in front of him. And he certainly did that with Kyle Trask, who became a Heisman finalist in 2020. And he certainly did it with Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. But can Mullen do it with Jones?
Shockley says “yes.”
“There were times last year when he came in for Trask and played well. He has the ability and the arm strength. With opportunity and a good game plan he can do it,” said Shockley.
Sophomore Anthony Richards will push Jones, but not enough to win the job if Jones stays healthy.
2—Bryce Young, Alabama. No pressure here, right? All the sophomore from California has to do this season is replace Mac Jones, who directed one of the greatest offenses these old eyes have ever seen while leading the Crimson Tide to yet another national championship. He’ll do it with a new offensive coordinator in Bill O’Brien.
“He’ll be fine because he’ll have great players surrounding him,” said Shockley. “He watched Mac last season and learned. He will be a very good player.
“But it’s not easy following Tua and Mac Jones.”
Nick Saban’s comments on Young have been very positive this spring. Published reports said Young played well in Alabama’s first scrimmage last week.
“I thought Bryce did a pretty good job of managing the game and was accurate with the ball,” Saban told reporters on Monday.
3—Will Bo improve under Bobo? Auburn’s Bo Nix is going to be a more consistent and productive quarterback with Mike Bobo as his coach this season.
Says who? Says Shockley, who played for Bobo at Georgia (2001-2005).
“Coach Bobo takes a quarterback and coaches him from the ground up,” said Shockley. “He’ll start with the footwork and work all the way up to his arm and on to his decision making. Bo has talent but he needs this kind of coaching. I think he’ll have his best year.”
4—A new quarterback for Jimbo: After what seemed like nine years of eligibility, Kellen Mond has left the building at Texas A&M. He led the Aggies to a 9-1 season in 2020, the only loss coming to Alabama (52-24), and a No. 5 ranking in the final CFP standings.
More simply put, the new quarterback will take over a program, not a team.
Sophomore Haynes King and redshirt freshman Zach Calzada have combined for 28 total passes in their careers. King is more athletic. But Calzada has more arm talent.
Whoever it is, he will face a steep learning curve from Jimbo Fisher, who coaches quarterbacks hard, especially in game.
“It will take some game time action to get them into form,” said Shockley. “You learn a lot from him in practice. But it’s the game where you really learn how he works.”
5—We know what Tennessee’s Josh Heupel wants to do at quarterback. But does he have a player on his roster who can do it?
“Heupel wants to push the ball down the field and put a lot of stress on the defense,” said Shockley.
With star-crossed Jarrett Guarantano having departed for Washington State, the choices for 2021 include sophomore Harrison Bailey (who started three games last season), sophomore Brian Maurer (who started four games as a true freshman in 2019), and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker. Freshman Kaidon Slater is currently on suspension.
My guess? Harrison Bailey.
6—Kentucky starts over with (hopefully) a more wide-open offense. But who will pull the trigger?
One of the toughest decisions made by a coach in the off-season was when Kentucky’s Mark Stoops parted with his friend, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. The Wildcats were 105th in scoring last season.
Enter Liam Cohen, 35, who has been with Sean McVay of the L.A. Rams the past three season. His job is to bring the Kentucky offense into the 21st century.
But he’ll need a quarterback. Terry Wilson, a three-year starter, is gone. Joey Gatewood is a transfer from Auburn who has started one game last season for the Wildcats. Beau Allen has played a little. Penn State transfer Will Levis will arrive this summer. He played in 15 games for the Nittany Lions.
This is Stoops’ ninth year at Kentucky and it may be his most interesting one.
“Coach Stoops had total trust in Eddie Gran,” said Shockley. “With somebody new it will be interesting to see how it works out.”
7—Who IS the best man at LSU? When spring practice started LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said of the quarterback race: “The competition is open. Let the best man win.”
Myles Brennan started the first three games last season but injured his abdomen and didn’t play again. Max Johnson came on to lead LSU to a big win at Florida and another big win against Ole Miss. TJ Finley (6-6 250 pounds) started five game with mixed results.
The good news is that LSU has some depth at the position.
Who will start? My guess is Myles Brennan.