SCOTT: Midsummer SEC Roundup - Part 2
Part 2 of Tiger Rag’s Midsummerlook at SEC Football; Today the SEC Eastern Division
At left: Is Phil Fulmer’s job in jeopardy?
FLORIDA: The Gators need a running back or two to step up and help take some of the load off quarterback Tim Tebow in the running game, but that’s old news by now.
With the exception of Derrick Harvey, the Gators started over on the defensive line last year after winning the national championship in 2006. Now they’ve lost Harvey, a first-round draft choice, and new defensive line coach Dan McCarney has a lot of work to do to get the line playing up to previous Florida standards.
The most experienced returning starter is junior end Jermaine Cunningham, who started 13 games last year. Senior tackle Javier Estopinan started nine games last year but missed the spring because of a knee injury. The Gators need immediate help from JUCO transfer end Troy Epps, but no one faces more pressure than Harvey’s most likely replacement, sophomore Justin Trattou, who started one game as a true freshman in 2007.
The older guys on the line better pick it up, because players such as Trattou, sophomore tackle Terron Sanders, and freshman tackle Matt Pachan outperformed some of the more experienced players in the spring.
GEORGIA: Georgia’s first-team offensive line enters the preseason with one junior and four sophomores and could get even younger.
The Bulldogs lost a valuable leader at center when Fernando Velasco completed his eligibility. Redshirt sophomore Chris Davis started at left guard last season and moved to center in the spring, but true freshman Ben Jones, who enrolled in January, spent the spring pushing for the starting job. The coaches like his toughness and intensity, and coach Mark Richt has hinted that he won’t be afraid to start Jones if it gets the best five on the field.
Fullback appeared to be the least of Georgia’s concern over the summer until the Bulldogs learned that senior Brannan Southerland’s injured left foot wasn’t healing as quickly as expected. Southerland needed surgery in June and will likely miss five games. It’s tough enough losing Southerland, who has started 25 games at Georgia, but the problem is exacerbated by the fact that backup Fred Munzenmaier has been suspended for the first two games of the season. That leaves redshirt sophomore Shaun Chapas as the only remaining fullback with any game experience.
KENTUCKY: It’s obvious the Wildcats have big shoes to fill with the loss of quarterback Andre Woodson, wideouts Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, tight end Jacob Tamme, and running back Rafael Little.
Those players will be tough enough to replace, but Kentucky must also replace its most accomplished defensive player, weak-side linebacker Wesley Woodyard, the SEC’s leading tackler the past two seasons.
Woodyard will be difficult to replace but not impossible because of the presence of senior Braxton Kelley. Junior Micah Johnson and Kelley shared the middle linebacker spot last year, so the Kentucky coaches decided to get them both on the field together by moving Kelley to the outside. The move looked good in the spring, but both players must take over more of the leadership role Woodyard held for the past three years.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks haven’t been very consistent on the offensive line the past two seasons and now they’re starting over without center William Brown, their most consistent lineman.
Junior Garrett Anderson opened the spring as the top candidate to replace Brown, but Anderson sustained a back injury midway through the spring. Then sophomore Seaver Brown, who started six games at left guard last season, moved to first-team center for the remainder of the spring.
Ideally, the Gamecocks would prefer to use both Anderson and Brown; but if Anderson doesn’t return, they may be scrambling for help at either center or guard once they have decided what to do with Seaver Brown.
TENNESSEE: It’s easy to focus on the loss of Erik Ainge, which is big, but the Vols have other concerns as well. Losing both Mayo and fellow linebacker Ryan Karl leaves two big holes to fill.
That means junior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy must play more of a leadership role, something he did not provide last December when he was ineligible for the Outback Bowl.
The Vols also need some combination of seniors Ellix Wilson, Nevin McKenzie and Adam Myers-White must step up at the other two spots.
VANDERBILT: It will be tough enough trying to replace wide receiver Earl Bennett, the SEC’s all-time leading receiver, but the real question is how the Commodores are going to replace all five starters on the offensive line, including left tackle Chris Williams, a first-round NFL Draft pick.
It appears junior Thomas Welch will get the first chance to replace Williams. Welch came to Vanderbilt as a quarterback, played tight end for two years, and then moved to tackle before last season. He is athletic enough to play on the left side and has grown to 6-6, 300 pounds, but he’s still raw as an offensive lineman.
Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and Tiger Rag’s SEC expert. Reach him at email@example.com.