Five position battles to watch in the SEC

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Some of the fiercest battles for starting jobs are waged in the spring.

Granted, there's always that chance that a player could win a job back, or for that matter, lose a job once preseason practice begins in August. But spring practice is where it all starts.

Here's a look at five of the most compelling position battles around the SEC this spring:

1. LSU quarterback: When the season ended a year ago, true freshman Jordan Jefferson was in charge. He led LSU to a 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, marking his second straight start. Jefferson was steady in both of his starts and was the Tigers' leading rusher in the 31-30 loss to Arkansas, so he can definitely make things happen with his feet. He also didn't turn the ball over in either start. He'll be pushed this spring, though, by another true freshman. Russell Shepard was one of the most dynamic high school athletes in the country a year ago out of Houston and enrolled early to be able to go through spring practice. He and Jefferson will duel for the job with sophomore Jarrett Lee not completely out of the equation. Lee suffered through a nightmarish redshirt freshman season by throwing seven interceptions for touchdowns before LSU coach Les Miles turned to Jefferson at the end of last season.

2. Alabama left offensive tackle: Andre Smith has been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons, but there's no debating what he meant to Alabama's football team last season. He was a dominant left tackle, one of the best to come through the SEC in a long time, and those guys aren't easy to replace. There are several different ways the Crimson Tide could go at left tackle, although one of the candidates won't be on campus until this summer. Signee D.J. Fluker, rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 1 tackle prospect in the country, could be a definite factor once he arrives. But this spring, newcomer James Carpenter of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College will get a head start in the race, as he's already on campus. One of the last options could be moving seniorMike Johnson from guard to left tackle. Johnson started for Smith in the Allstate Sugar Bowl before getting hurt, and Alabama then slid Drew Davis from right tackle to left tackle and played true freshman John Michael Boswell at right tackle. The other guy to watch this spring will be Tyler Love, a big-time recruit who redshirted last season.

3. Tennessee quarterback: The debate is ongoing about the last time Tennessee struggled as much at the quarterback position as the Vols did last season. Was it 25 years ago? Was it more than 30 years ago? Now that Lane Kiffin and a new staff are aboard, the race will be as wide open as ever in the spring among the three guys who shared the job a year ago -- Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman. None of the three had much success. Crompton has the most experience and would seem to have the physical tools, but never found any kind of rhythm last season. For what it's worth, Kiffin and the Vols' coaches told some of the receivers they were recruiting this winter that Crompton was more than capable and that it was the system that held him back a year ago. We're going to find out this spring.

4. Florida "Percy" position: How good was Percy Harvin? So good that they're calling the position he played the last couple of seasons by his name -- part running back, part receiver and all playmaker. The Gators won't find one just like him. He was big enough and strong enough to take the pounding as a runner and fast enough to get open and run away from everybody at receiver. There's a long list of speedy guys on Florida's roster, but identifying somebody this spring who can do everything Harvin did will be a stretch. One of the guys to watch is Deonte Thompson, who has blazing speed and unbelievable athletic ability. Brandon James may see his role grow on offense, too, although he won't be around in the spring because of foot surgery. David Nelson came on at the end of last season, but he's strictly a receiver. Florida fans can't wait to get touted signee Andre Debose on campus. Some have already tagged him as the next Harvin. The 6-foot, 180-pound Debose played quarterback, slot receiver and wideout in high school. Sound familiar?

5. South Carolina cornerback: The Gamecocks lost their three top cornerbacks from a year ago. Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson were seniors, and Captain Munnerlyn compounded the situation by leaving early for the NFL draft. It will be a free-for-all for playing time at that position, and it starts this spring. Akeem Auguste played safety as a true freshman last season and played well despite a hamstring injury. The Gamecocks, though, are moving him back to cornerback, which is his natural position. They're also keeping their fingers crossed that C.C. Whitlock will continue on the course he's kept for most of this offseason and make a run at one of the starting cornerback jobs in the spring. Whitlock is a game-breaking athlete who struggled with maturity issues last year as a true freshman. And speaking of true freshmen, the guy everybody wants to see this spring is Stephon Gilmore, who enrolled early as a highly rated signee out of Rock Hill, S.C., and will start out at cornerback.