Burning SEC spring football questions (cont.)
Did Florida lose anything from last year's national title team?
Yes, but not enough to keep the Gators from again competing for an SEC and a national title. Don't expect a post-title slide like the one that occurred two years ago in Gainesville. The 2007 team had to replace 10 defensive starters. This team doesn't have to replace any. The offense won't find a replacement for receiver Percy Harvin, because Harvin can't be replaced, but if coach Meyer and recently promoted offensive coordinator Steve Addazio spread Harvin's touches between Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Deonte Thompson, the Gators could recoup some of Harvin's yardage. Or they could just let that Tim Tebow guy throw or run.
The Gators only suffered significant losses at offensive tackle. It appears Carl Johnson, a starting guard in 2008 who was expected to take over one of the tackle spots, will remain on the team. Johnson was arrested for violating a restraining order he didn't know existed, and the woman who filed the restraining order has declined to press charges for the any of the accusations contained in her petition. Still, Johnson's attorney told The Orlando Sentinel Johnson will testify at the April 7 hearing -- if the petition isn't withdrawn -- to discuss the restraining order in an attempt to clear his name. After all that, Johnson (knee) may not be healthy enough to participate in spring practice. Meanwhile, lineman James Wilson, who planned to transfer to Wake Forest this time last year, stayed in Gainesville and will have a chance to win a starting guard spot.
Could Georgia get better despite losing quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno?
Sometimes fans and media types get a little too caught up watching the ball to notice what's going on around it. Most teams must deal with five or six season-ending injuries a year. Eighteen Georgia players suffered season-ending injuries in 2008. The two worst came early. Offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant (knee) went down during preseason practice, while defensive tackle Jeff Owens (knee) went down in the season opener. Both players may be limited this spring, but they should be healthy by preseason practice. (In the meantime, keep up with Owens by reading his blog.)
Freshmen quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger have enrolled and will play this spring, but the starting job is fifth-year senior Joe Cox's to lose. Don't be shocked if junior Logan Gray, an excellent runner who came to Georgia in 2006 with Stafford, also takes snaps as part of a change-of-pace package. If the circumstances surrounding Cox's ascension seem familiar, they should. In 2005, Georgia was supposed to take a step back after losing quarterback David Greene, but D.J. Shockley, who waited for four years behind Greene, finally took over as the starter and led the Bulldogs to an SEC title.
Will LSU look like more like the 2007 national championship team or the five-loss squad from 2008?
Teams typically fall off after a national title, and it makes sense. It takes significant veteran leadership to win one, and those leaders typically exhaust their eligibility the year they win the title. After losing all those leaders, dismissing projected starting quarterback Ryan Perrilloux only exacerbated the falloff.
The Tigers should be better this season, but they enter spring with some unanswered questions. Former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis takes over the defense. He'll try to find a more cohesive mix of players than predecessors Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto, who never seemed to settle on a lineup. Defensive tackle Charles Alexander, whom the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility, should help provide leadership. Defensive end Rahim Alem led the Tigers in sacks (eight) last season despite starting only one game.
On offense, the return of left tackle Ciron Black and tailback Charles Scott should provide a huge boost for quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who solidified his hold on the job with a breakout performance in the Chick-fil-a Bowl drubbing of Georgia Tech. But all eyes will be on Russell Shepard, the freshman quarterback from Houston who enrolled in January. Shepard has said all along he plans to compete with Jefferson for the starting quarterback job, but even if Shepard doesn't win the job, he may be too valuable to leave on the sideline. "He's a good learner and he works hard and has a great enthusiasm for learning," LSU coach Les Miles said. "He'll be at quarterback most of the spring, but there's going to be some opportunities for him to move around a little bit and look at some other spots. He has to develop, and to develop at quarterback will take some time."
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