SEC Spotlight: The five biggest position battles
Spring football is already rolling at several schools around the SEC, with teams from around the conference looking to sort out depth charts and replace valuable contributors from last season. Today, we take a look at five spring position battles that are worth keeping an eye on over the next few months.
RELATED: Big Ten position battles
The quarterback position is always under the microscope, but it will be a big topic for Auburn when the season gets close to kicking off. Who will Gus Malzahn run out there to lead the Tigers' offense at quarterback? That is a big question.
There is not a lot of experience on campus. Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg are returning quarterbacks, but they had a total of 46 passing yards among them last season. Jarrett Stidham has been the man under center for Auburn the last two seasons. So where do the Tigers turn in 2019?
Will it be true freshman Bo Nix? The five-star quarterback is an Auburn legacy and he has shown he is a winner (back-to-back state titles). He has shown great composure and we don’t believe the moment will be too big for him. The trio on campus may have a leg up on Nix, knowing the system and being on campus for at least one season, but Nix is without a doubt the most talented quarterback at Auburn.
The question is not really about who the quarterback will be, but when Nix will take over full time. He could be that guy right out of the gates when Auburn opens against Oregon on Aug. 31.
GEORGIA EDGE RUSHER
Georgia finished with fewer than two dozen sacks as a team in 2018. That's a full dozen from when the Bulldogs played for a national title the previous year. The Dawgs saw Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy go off to the NFL before last season, then outside of D’Andre Walker (7.5 sacks), nobody on the team had more than two sacks in 2018.
Walker is now gone and he will be drafted by an NFL team, so who steps up and becomes the next threat off the edge for the Bulldogs?
There is a big (very big) need for pass rushers in Athens, and the talent seems to be there, but who will it be? Who will win the starting spot, who will wreak the most havoc between the hedges in the fall and who will help Georgia become stronger in the pass-rushing department in the 2019 season?
TENNESSEE OFFENSIVE TACKLE
It’s very possible the Vols go into 2019 with two new starting tackles, a pair of elite true freshmen. Five-star Darnell Wright and Rivals100 Wanya Morris both are in the mix to play early. While Wright hasn’t made it to campus yet, Morris was an early enrollee and is already in the mix to fill the void left by grad transfer Drew Richmond, who started all 12 games at right tackle last season.
Ideally, one-time freshman All-American Trey Smith would return and play left tackle, but his status is still in doubt as he deals with blood clots that have kept him off the field since the middle of last season. With Smith still out and Wright not on campus yet, the door is open for veterans Marcus Tatum and K'Rojhn Calbert to lock down one of the spots heading into another competition during fall camp.
LSU RUNNING BACK
Nick Brossette has moved on and will try his luck in the NFL. So who gets to carry the ball in Baton Rouge? Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for nearly 700 yards last season, and Lanard Fournette has some experience, but are they big-time backs that can help the Tigers compete in the SEC West?
LSU signed the top two running backs in Louisiana in 2019, John Emery and Tyrion Davis, and both are expected to compete for early playing time. Both Emery and Davis have the size and strength to play in the SEC and they will add instant talent, instant big-play ability and instant depth to the running back room.
Teams don’t have a Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson’s anymore – a running back who carries a team and totes the pigskin 30 times a game. It is much more of a rotation in today’s college game, and Emery and Davis will be the two most talented backs on the LSU roster in the fall. Can Edwards-Helaire hold them off? Will Ed Orgeron start a true freshman? This is a battle worth watching.
The Razorbacks used several different quarterbacks during Chad Morris’ first year in Fayetteville, but the two that played the most, Ty Storey and Cole Kelley, have both moved on as transfers. That means the job is up for grabs, and it appears Morris is giving several players a shot.
SMU graduate transfer Ben Hicks is already on campus and practicing. He would seem to be the early favorite, considering his familiarity with Morris and his offense. But challengers include redshirt sophomore Daulton Hyatt as well as redshirt freshman Connor Noland, who saw action in games last fall. While the battle will likely have a leader when spring practice ends, Texas A&M grad transfer Nick Starkel will be on campus for fall camp and should factor heavily into the final decision.