SEC East spring recap

Updated: May 12, 2006, 4:07 PM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Will there be a quarterback controversy in Florida between Chris Leak and Tim Tebow? Who will be under center at Georgia? Is there hope for Kentucky's defense? Can David Cutcliffe resurrect Tennessee's offense? Take a look at what questions were answered in the SEC East this spring, and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Florida Gators
2006 Schedule
9/2 Southern Miss
9/9 Central Florida
9/16 at Tennessee
9/23 Kentucky
9/30 Alabama
10/7 LSU
10/14 at Auburn
10/28 vs. Georgia*
11/4 at Vanderbilt
11/11 South Carolina
11/18 Western Carolina
11/25 at Florida State
*at Jacksonville

2005 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: DeShawn Wynn* (621 yds)
Passing: Chris Leak* (2,639 yds)
Receiving: Chad Jackson (900 yds)
Tackles: Earl Everett* (72)
Sacks: Jarvis Moss* (7.5)
Interceptions: Vernell Brown (3)

Spring Answers: Chris Leak is the starting quarterback. Chris Leak will be the starting quarterback. The starting quarterback will be Chris Leak. How many more ways does Urban Meyer have to say this before the QB question goes away? Is heralded freshman Tim Tebow a more natural fit for this offense than Leak? No question. Did Tebow outplay Leak in the spring game? No question. But over the course of the spring, after having the same offensive coordinator for the first time in his career, did Leak look sharp and much more comfortable running the team? No question. There is no quarterback controversy here, folks. Tebow is the future. Leak is the present. … While the media focused on the big stuff, like Tebow's favorite meal at the cafeteria, it was actually a former Gator QB who quietly stole the show. Cornelius Ingram admitted he thought about transferring when he got lost in the quarterback shuffle, but he stuck it out and now his head coach is comparing his catching skills to those of former NFL star Cris Carter, who starred at Ohio State when Meyer was on the staff. Ingram isn't going to blow past anyone with his speed, but he will get open and he will overpower many corners when he goes up and gets the ball. Meyer still isn't convinced his team has a true playmaker on the outside, but we see four legit guys who can make plays everywhere else and two more stud freshmen arriving in August. Somehow, we think the Gators will survive. … Billy Latsko flies under the radar a bit, but he's perfect for this offense. Primarily a fullback, the senior spent some time at tailback this spring and was the best thing the Gators had going at the position. He can run, catch, block and pick up a blitz in no time. Meyer loves the guy, and his role will continue to expand. … DE Jarvis Moss might've led the team in sacks last season, but he was never quite 100 percent healthy, and he never really has been in his hard-luck career. Well, he looked pretty good this spring -- like the prototype rush end he was during his All-American high school career. If he can stay injury-free this fall, the SEC better look out.

Fall Questions: People underestimate how essential a solid running game is in this kind of offense. So shouldn't Gator fans be troubled by the static play of DeShawn Wynn and Markus Manson? Although he said the attitude and effort were getting better, Meyer was not pleased with the lack of progress from this position, even calling it "trash" at one point. It didn't help that Kestahn Moore missed contact drills with a bulging disc and that Manson continues to go down after the first hit. … Oh, and that the offensive line lost four starters. Did we mention that? That doesn't help, either. Center Steve Rissler, the lone senior of the group, is the only player on the line with more than four career starts to his name. The coaches have hinted this group will be better than most think and they were pleased four replacements emerged this spring: Ronnie Wilson and Jim Tartt at guard and Drew Miller and the vastly improved Phil Trautwein at tackle. However, the fact remains none of the starting five began last season in the places they will be this season. And at this point, the depth is shaky at best. … Of course, the Gators might consider shaky to be an upgrade at strongside linebacker. Brian Crum continues to struggle and Jon Demps can't seem to stay healthy. So is SS Tony Joiner going to have to be the option here? Or might a true freshman such as Brandon Spikes claim the spot during preseason practice? There is a precedent here, after all. Remember how great Channing Crowder and Brandon Siler were as freshman linebackers? … After the departures of Vernell Brown and Dee Webb, the Gators needed to find two new starters at cornerback, and that wasn't much of a problem since there were two candidates to choose from. Reggie Lewis and Avery Atkins sewed up the jobs despite having logged a combined two starts between them. The depth behind that pair is scary-thin, however. Three incoming freshmen will be needed immediately. … Ever wonder why the SEC doesn't win as many national championships as its fans would like? All you have to do is look at Florida's four-week stretch between Sept. 30-Oct. 28. First Alabama. Then LSU. Then Auburn. And then the World's Largest Cocktail Party against Georgia to top it all off. And oh yes, there's trips to Knoxville and Tallahassee flanking that nightmare, as well. Ever wonder whether Urban gets sentimental about his days in the MAC and Mountain West?

Georgia Bulldogs
2006 Schedule
9/2 Western Kentucky
9/9 at South Carolina
9/16 UAB
9/23 Colorado
9/30 at Ole Miss
10/7 Tennessee
10/14 Vanderbilt
10/21 Mississippi State
10/28 vs. Florida *
11/4 at Kentucky
11/11 at Auburn
11/25 Georgia Tech
*at Jacksonville

2005 overall record:
10-3
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 4, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Thomas Brown* (736 yds)
Passing: D.J. Shockley (2,588 yds)
Receiving: Leonard Pope (541 yds)
Tackles: Greg Blue (96)
Sacks: Quentin Moses* (11.5)
Interceptions: Tim Jennings (4)

Spring Answers: Here's a newsflash: Georgia looks pretty dangerous in the rushing department. Shocking, we know. Still, it's worth noting how dominant Thomas Brown looked this spring. And it's not like we don't know what juniors Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware can do. Chances are you didn't know what Jason Johnson could do, though. The walk-on, alternating between tailback and fullback, quickly became a favorite of head coach Mark Richt, who swears Johnson will contribute somewhere on the field in 2006. … Speaking of unexpected contributions, how about Mikey Henderson? What turned into an experiment might just end up producing a breakout player at receiver. A cornerback who wasn't seeing much movement on the depth chart, Henderson moved to the offense and already looks like a serious deep threat. At a position of need, that's huge. … For years now it seems, Georgia has been ridiculously good at both ends of its defensive line. Nothing ever changes. Exit Will Thompson? Fine. Enter Charles Johnson, who was only the most dominant defensive player of the spring. Team him up with Quentin Moses and his 11.5 sacks, and the beat goes on.

Fall Questions: Let's see, maybe deep snapper? Actually, it is a concern if you listen to the coaches, but who are we kidding? In Athens, no question, sports or otherwise, doesn't somehow tie into the quarterback situation for the Bulldogs. You've got fifth-year senior Joe Tereshinski III, a local product who had an accurate spring and is well-regarded by his teammates. And you've got a Texas gunslinger in true freshman Matthew Stafford, a guy Richt said was the best thrower he'd ever seen at the high school level. Sophomore Blake Barnes and redshirt freshman Joe Cox, another prep legend, are also in the mix. Tereshinski likely will start the opener, but Richt has hinted he'll play more than one guy at the beginning of the season. Where it goes from there is anyone's guess. … And what about protection for the unknown quarterback? The Bulldogs lost three starters up front, including the massive and talented Max Jean-Gilles. The starting five probably will be OK, but depth is a concern. And it'll be interesting to see how former guard Nick Jones handles the transition to center. … Georgia also lost three starters in the secondary. Not only that, but all three were first-team All-SEC performers. Ouch. One potential August showdown involves the starting cornerback job opposite Paul Oliver. Asher Allen was one of the six early enrollees this spring and nobody impressed the coaches as much as he did. Allen is not only creating a buzz as a punt returner, but he's giving a serious push to start right away over junior Thomas Flowers.

Kentucky Wildcats
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Louisville
9/9 Texas State
9/16 Ole Miss
9/23 at Florida
9/30 Central Michigan
10/7 South Carolina
10/14 at LSU
10/28 at Mississippi State
11/4 Georgia
11/11 Vanderbilt
11/18 Louisiana-Monroe
11/25 at Tennessee

2005 overall record:
3-8
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Rafael Little* (1,045 yds)
Passing: Andre' Woodson* (1,644 yds)
Receiving: Little* (449 yds)
Tackles: Wesley Woodyard* (100)
Sacks: B. Jay Parsons (3.5)
Interceptions: Bo Smith* (2)

Spring Answers: One of the best answers actually involved a UK player sitting out the spring after reconstructive ankle surgery. In a decision that could've easily gone either way, the NCAA granted a medical hardship to UK center Matt McCutchan, who was awarded a sixth year to complete his eligibility. The 24-year-old will start for the third straight year on a line that all the sudden has some (gasp) depth. If asked these days, head coach Rich Brooks would admit he's had trouble scraping together just five quality linemen in the past few years. Well, not only do the 'Cats return all five starters up front this year, they also welcome back former starter Aaron Miller, who sat out last season for personal reasons. … This is good news for the running game, which needs to become the focus point of the Kentucky "attack." Rafael Little underwent wrist surgery and missed drills, but his numbers across the board speak for themselves. In addition, redshirt freshman Alfonso Smith showed plenty of promise and Tony Dixon returns after missing all of last season with a fractured ankle. The latter sailed by defenders this spring as if he hadn't missed a day of practice. … It's been awhile since UK's front four developed anything resembling a pass rush, but two players -- tackle Myron Pryor and end Dominic Lewis -- emerged this spring as possible help. When Kentucky signed Pryor, the Dewayne Robertson comparison was evoked. If Pryor follows up his tremendous spring with a productive fall, that talk will return. As for Lewis, he's always been a great physical specimen, but has been kicked around from tight end to fullback to tailback to defensive end. It didn't look like it was working at end last year, either, but the light bulb went on this spring for whatever reason. A nomad roaming around Bluegrass country, Lewis finally has found a home.

Fall Questions: Andre' Woodson or Curtis Pulley? How about: C) None of the above? It was like Fayetteville East, as neither quarterback made enough plays or showed enough leadership to claim the starting role this spring. When Woodson is in there, we know he can pass, but his confidence wavers by the minute. When Pulley is under center, we know he can run the quarterback draw, but what about the quarterback throw? Brooks said he doesn't mind playing both until someone emerges as the clear-cut pick. Frankly, it might just come down to the one who is least likely to lose the game. … Of course, a receiving corps with a pulse is important to the development of any passing game. Keenan Burton can be a good one, but he's missed much of the past two years with various injuries and sat out the spring contact drills due to an injured foot. After seeing three of his top four receivers depart, Brooks borrowed Ravi Moss from the UK basketball team, but that's still a work in progress. Sadly, so are the actual scholarship receivers. … For years now, fans of the Big Blue have grown accustomed to bad defense from their football program -- basically resigning themselves to expect it. What they cannot accept, however, is an inept offense. And that's exactly what they've gotten lately. The Wildcat offense actually improved last season and still finished 107th nationally in total yards (297). If those stout SEC defenses don't respect the Kentucky passing game, is there any reason to believe this year will be any different production-wise? … This defense has to do something if the program wants to be taken seriously. In each of the last two seasons, the 'Cats ranked last in the conference in total and scoring defense. In 2005, this group held only three conference opponents under 40 points -- the crummy offenses at Tennessee and the two Mississippi schools. One of the biggest problems has been that teams are able to just pound away at the weak run defense (nearly 200 YPG in '05), building sizable leads that can't be overcome by this team. … Two more questions concerning the defense: Can they force more than 16 turnovers this fall? Is Micah Johnson, one of the program's highest profile recruits since Tim Couch, ready to contribute right away?

South Carolina Gamecocks
2006 Schedule
8/31 at Mississippi State
9/9 Georgia
9/16 Wofford
9/23 Florida Atlantic
9/28 Auburn
10/7 at Kentucky
10/21 at Vanderbilt
10/28 Tennessee
11/4 Arkansas
11/11 at Florida
11/18 Middle Tennessee St.
11/25 Clemson

2005 overall record: 7-5
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Mike Davis* (666 yds)
Passing: Blake Mitchell* (2,370 yds)
Receiving: Sidney Rice* (1,143 yds)
Tackles: Ko Simpson (103)
Sacks: Stanley Doughty* and Dakota Walker* (3.5)
Interceptions: Johnathan Joseph (4)

Spring Answers: Sidney Rice's 70-catch, 13-touchdown freshman campaign was nothing short of remarkable. Midway through the year, opponents pretty much knew who was getting the ball and it still made no difference. Now what happens if Kenny McKinley plays as well as he did this spring? What happens when defensive rover-turned-receiver Mike West starts leveling defenders downfield? What happens now that Noah Whiteside looks like his old self instead of the ineffective receiver who never really recovered mentally from an ankle injury suffered last spring? What happens? A lot of sweating secondary coaches happens. … TB Mike Davis had a nice spring and wasn't awful in his first year, but there's no question the Gamecocks, who ranked 108th in rushing (95 ypg), could've used the suspended Cory Boyd last season. He's one of those true homerun threats who has the ability to gain a big chunk of those 95 yards on any given play, like he did when he broke off a 71-yard TD in the spring game. Boyd is not only the team's biggest and fastest back, but he's also taken on a significant leadership role. Sounds like someone got a wakeup call. … If you're looking for a real darkhorse, it might be TE Jared Cook. The redshirt freshman (6-5, 230) showed good hands and speed and could present some matchup problems for teams expecting South Carolina to ignore this position again. … The Gamecocks couldn't be happier with their new wave of talent at linebacker. Sophomore Marvin Sapp earned defensive MVP honors for the spring, along with a starting spot on the outside. Then there was JC transfer Jasper Brinkley, who was actually told by coaches to tone it down a bit after one too many ferocious hits. When he's starting in the middle this fall, you can be assured that harness will not be in place.

Fall Questions: How about some holes for the tailbacks this year? The offensive line wasn't as good as it could've been last year (see the ineffective running game and the 30 sacks surrendered). Now three senior starters are gone and it looks like it's going to be up to a host of newcomers to step right in, especially at right guard and left tackle. Could you pick a worse conference to break in fresh faces on the O-line? … There's still all kinds of uncertainty on defense, where South Carolina lost seven starters. It looks like Marque Hall won a tackle spot, but has Stanley Doughty lost his? He hasn't lost any weight, so yes. If the 330-pounder doesn't trim down, Nathan Pepper will start. Ryan Brown is in a good battle with Dakota Walker at end and for now Brent Davis has supplanted Cody Wells at outside linebacker. Then there's the secondary, which was hit hard by the early departures of CB Johnathan Joseph and rover Ko Simpson and the graduation of FS Tremaine Tyler. Sophomore Carlos Thomas looks set at corner, but it's still wide-open at the other two spots. In August, the rover competition will be between Brandon Isaac vs. Chris Hampton and the free safety scramble will be Mychal Belcher vs. Ty Erving and, well, who knows what Syvelle Newton is going to do. When he returns from an Achilles injury, Newton wants to try out the secondary. Where else can this guy play? Can he kick? The Gamecocks no longer have the clutch and reliable leg of Josh Brown, who was the team's punter and placekicker. Sophomore Ryan Succop probably will take over both duties, but there might be a battle at kicker if he doesn't show more consistency from close range.

Tennessee Volunteers
2006 Schedule
9/2 Cal
9/9 Air Force
9/16 Florida
9/23 Marshall
9/30 at Memphis
10/7 at Georgia
10/21 Alabama
10/28 at South Carolina
11/4 LSU
11/11 at Arkansas
11/18 at Vanderbilt
11/25 Kentucky

2005 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Arian Foster* (879 yds)
Passing: Rick Clausen (1,441 yds)
Receiving: Robert Meachem* (383 yds)
Tackles: Kevin Simon (88)
Sacks: Parys Haralson (8.5)
Interceptions: Jonathan Hefney* (3)

Spring Answers: Like most college football fans, it seems Tennessee loyalists always are clamoring for the tight end to be more involved in the passing game. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, beginning his second go-around in Knoxville, says he's committed to doing just that -- and it sure looked that way this spring. Junior Chris Brown is a good route runner with good hands and the 6-8 Cottam brothers (Brad and Jeff) show plenty of potential. … While he won't start ahead of Turk McBride or Justin Harrell, DT Dan Williams was probably the biggest surprise of spring. He dropped 55 pounds and a few jaws at practice. Somewhat surprisingly, Matt McGlothlin also has worked himself back in the mix. … He missed part of spring practice healing from foot surgery, but the Tennessee coaches saw enough from LB Rico McCoy. The redshirt freshman is quick and has a keen football instinct for such a young player. Don't be surprised if he's starting early in the season. … The secondary was a question mark last spring and that question didn't exactly get answered to UT's satisfaction in the fall. Look for more of a satisfactory response this year. All four starters return, with Antwan Stewart, Jonathan Hefney and star-in-the-making Demetrice Morley locked in a highly competitive battle for two starting safety spots. Also, look out for CB Jonathan Wade, who admitted he didn't always believe in his abilities in the past. With the mental part behind him, many inside the program think he's headed for a breakout season.

Fall Questions: The offense can't get any worse, right? While we were still trying to understand how a team ranked No. 3 in the preseason could finish 101st in scoring (19 ppg) and plummet to its first losing season in 17 years, coach Phillip Fulmer decided to bring back his old friend Cutcliffe (UT's offensive coordinator for most of the 1990s before becoming head coach at Ole Miss). Will he alone cure what ails this unit, though? QB Erik Ainge said all the right things this spring, but he took a major slide during that disastrous, season-long duel with Rick Clausen. If Ainge struggles early, will he start feeling the heat from impressive redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton? … And how much heat will he be feeling from oncoming defenders? The Vols lose four starters off the O-line and players like Ramon Foster, Anthony Parker and Eric Young didn't exactly make anyone feel better about the situation this spring. Trouble up front will mean trouble on the scoreboard -- again. … Do you realize it's been three years since UT had a receiver gain at least 500 yards in a season? Lucas Taylor looks like a potential playmaker and Robert Meachem might finally tap into that unfulfilled potential, but the jury is still out on this group. Cut down on the drops when it counts and we'll listen. … D-coordinator John Chavis never seems all that worried when hit hard by graduation and nothing is different this year -- even with Cal and its two-headed running back monster coming to town for the opener. Still, the Vols do lose six of their front seven from a defense that quietly ranked sixth in the country last fall. The situation at end is particularly worrisome. Antonio Reynolds made a name for himself in the spring, but he's in the unproven category just like everyone else. And the recent surgery of JC transfer Walter Fisher, who might not be ready for the start of the season, doesn't help matters.

Vanderbilt Commodores
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Michigan
9/9 at Alabama
9/16 Arkansas
9/23 Tennessee State
9/30 Temple
10/7 at Ole Miss
10/14 at Georgia
10/21 South Carolina
10/28 at Duke
11/4 Florida
11/11 at Kentucky
11/18 Tennessee

2005 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cassen Jackson-Garrison* (539 yds)
Passing: Jay Cutler (3,073 yds)
Receiving: Earl Bennett* (876 yds)
Tackles: Moses Osemwegie (118)
Sacks: Osemwegie, Reshard Langford* and Herdley Harrison (3)
Interceptions: Langford* (3)

Spring Answers: QB Jay Cutler might be gone, but the receivers who helped him look so good in 2005 are not. At times, Earl Bennett looked like an All-American as a freshman last fall, and nothing changed this spring. George Smith and Marlon White are also around, along with sleeper redshirt freshman Alex Washington. The Commodores will miss the steady play of TE Dustin Dunning, but sophomore Brad Allen has been a pleasant surprise. … Vanderbilt will no doubt miss the leadership of tackling-machine Moses Osemwegie at strongside linebacker, but Marcus Buggs has been waiting his turn and he looks like he's ready to pounce. The junior had a great spring and is every bit the hitter that Osemwegie was. In the middle, be on the look out for Jonathan Goff, who really came on late last year and might be the next great Vandy linebacker. … The coaches saw what redshirt freshman Ryan Hamilton could do on the practice field last fall. They saw it again this spring. If he keeps it up in August, he'll win the starting job over senior Ben Koger, and everyone will see for themselves in 2006.

Fall Questions: A program like Vandy doesn't just replace a player like Cutler. Not overnight, at least. This isn't Texas and this isn't USC. Head coach Bobby Johnson doesn't get to choose between Parade All-Americans. He gets to choose between sophomore Chris Nickson and redshirt freshman Mackenzi Adams, who have three collegiate passes between them. Although they refused to name a starter until preseason camp, the coaches really like the elusive Nickson. Regardless, how easy will it be to replace a guy who carried the show for so many years? … Speaking of irreplaceable, what happens if TB Cassen Jackson-Garrison goes down? Jeff Jennings is trying to recover from ACL surgery, but he likely won't return until around midseason. The 'Dores literally have one backup, untested redshirt freshman Jared Hawkins. … Vanderbilt needs to get better up front on both sides of the ball. The offensive tackles are strong, but the interior is a question mark and Hamilton Holliday needs to prove he can play center. All of this is nothing new on the D-line. The Commodores aren't very big and they aren't very deep. Herdley Harrison has to be replaced at end and Gabe Hall and Ray Brown need to figure out who is going to start at the vacated tackle spot. … After the loss of 14 key seniors, how quickly can all the redshirt freshmen contribute? Out of the 25 fresh faces last season, only two suited up in real, live games. Whoever wins playing time will be thrown to the wolves immediately. Vandy opens with road trips to Michigan and Alabama before returning home to face an Arkansas team with everyone back.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.

ALSO SEE