Now that spring practice is under way for everybody in the SEC but Texas A&M, let’s take a look at a few sophomores worth keeping an eye on next season.
These aren’t necessarily the most promising freshmen from a year ago, but rather, a group of players poised to make the biggest jump in Year 2:
Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell: Even though he rushed for 850 yards last season as a freshman, Crowell wasn’t very durable, and he was lacking in the mental toughness department. By all accounts, Crowell has grown up considerably in the offseason, and he also knows he has a deep running back stable nipping at his heels, led by heralded freshman Keith Marshall.
Mississippi State running back Nick Griffin: A knee injury has held the talented Griffin back. But even at less than 100 percent, he’s shown enough speed and power that the Mississippi State coaches can’t wait to see what a healthy Griffin can do with the ball in his hands this fall.
Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard: He’s got the height, length and athleticism to be a marquee pass-rusher in this league. The 6-6, 237-pound Hubbard backed up last season at three linebacker positions, but appears to be best suited to replace Courtney Upshaw at Jack linebacker.
Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio: A knee injury cut short Kouandjio’s freshman season, but everybody who saw him play agreed that it was just a matter of time before he was one of the SEC’s most dominant offensive linemen. He’ll step in at left tackle this fall with 2011 Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones moving to center.
LSU receiver Jarvis Landry: Last season, Landry made his presence felt on special teams and delivered some crushing hits on kickoff returns. Look for him to make a similar impact catching the ball and making big plays in the passing game in 2012.
Auburn running back Tre Mason: As the Tigers search for a starting tailback to replace Michael Dyer, Mason is making a strong bid this spring to be the guy. He’s gotten stronger and is weighing right around 200 pounds. He hasn’t lost any speed, either, and the coaches love his toughness.
Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel: After making seven starts last season as a true freshman and earning SEC All-Freshman honors, the 6-1, 185-pound Mitchel has everything it takes to be one of the premier cornerbacks in the league next season. He’ll also have experience on his side.
South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles: He was overshadowed by another freshman on the Gamecocks’ defensive line last season (Jadeveon Clowney), but Quarles was playing his best football by season’s end. He’s extremely active for an interior lineman and ticketed for a big sophomore season.
Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson: One of the Vols’ top signees a year ago, Richardson picked up some much-needed experience as a freshman. He didn’t start any games, but played in all 12. The 6-6, 325-pounder is now working as the first-team left tackle and has been good enough that the Vols moved senior Dallas Thomas from left tackle to left guard.
Auburn cornerback Jermaine Whitehead: As first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder puts in his defense this spring, one of the things that has jumped out to him is Whitehead’s versatility. He can play cornerback and safety and is also working as the Tigers’ nickel cornerback when they go to five defensive backs.