We now shift our attention to the West to examine some of the more promising developments to come out of spring practice.
The SEC champion has come out of the West each of the past four seasons, although nobody has repeated as SEC champion since Tennessee in 1997 and 1998. Alabama will be looking to end that 15-year drought this coming season.
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned so far this spring in the rugged West:
Aggies’ go-to guy: Ryan Swope made a ton of key plays for Texas A&M during his career and will be missed. But sophomore Mike Evans has picked up this spring right where he left off a year ago and looks more than capable of being the Aggies’ go-to guy in the passing game. He led the team with 82 catches for 1,105 yards last season as a redshirt freshman and should be even better his second time through the league.
Dialing up the pressure: The last thing Alabama coach Nick Saban is worried about is racking up a bunch of sack numbers, but he does want to harass the quarterback. Look for senior outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard to be even better in that role in 2013, and the guy who’s made a big push this spring is sophomore Denzel Devall, who looks like a natural as an edge pass-rusher when the Tide go to their nickel package.
Passing the test: With Cam Cameron taking over as offensive coordinator at LSU, the Tigers have zeroed in this spring on a passing game that failed them on more than one occasion the past two years. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has put up good numbers in scrimmages and has made what coach Les Miles described as more intuitive throws. The other encouraging thing for the Tigers is that junior receiver Jarvis Landry seems to be coming into his own.
Cox jumps right in: Three of the four starters in Mississippi State’s starting secondary last season are gone, including Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks. The Bulldogs needed some immediate help, and junior college cornerback Justin Cox has answered that call. He’s an aggressive cover guy, plays the ball well and isn’t afraid to be physical. Mississippi State needs a big season from him, and Cox looks like he’s up to the task.
Shackelford’s back: After fighting back from knee injuries and missing the past two seasons, senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is back on the practice field and pointing toward a healthy 2013 season. He gives the Rebels some much-needed depth at linebacker. But more than that, he’s their emotional leader, and having him back on the field and playing will provide a huge boost for a team that's still pretty young.