SEC media days preview: SEC East

Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell is back and by all accounts healthy after injuries derailed his past two seasons. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

In just a few days, another session of the popular SEC media days will commence in Hoover, Alabama.

The event often has 1,000 media members credentialed. The hotel lobby gets packed with fans, especially when it's Alabama's day. Chants billow inside the hotel, as coaches and players parade around in fancy attire. They come ready to talk about just about everything under the sun as it relates to themselves, their teams and college football.

In anticipation of the event, we thought we'd preview all 14 teams attending. I'll handle the SEC Eastern Division participants, and Sam Khan will look at the SEC Western Division teams later.

Let's see what the East has to offer.


Welcome back, McElwain: This certainly isn't Jim McElwain's first stint in the SEC, but his days at Alabama were limited to the coordinator life. He didn't have to deal with the media days circus or being the face of a program. The laid-back McElwain, who replaced Will Muschamp after three years at Colorado State, likely won't be overwhelmed by all the faces, cameras, tweets and tape recorders that come with media days, but he will have to answer myriad questions about restoring a once dominant program. What's the plan at quarterback? How do you feel about the offensive line? Do you have an SEC receiver not named Demarcus Robinson? Will your dog be coaching at all this season? How much have you talked to Nick Saban since you took the job? How many times have you talked to Nick Saban since you woke up today? Get ready, Jim.


Malcolm Mitchell's return: The Bulldogs have questions at quarterback and issues along the defensive line. So what? We get to interact with Mitchell again after he spent the past two seasons plagued by injury issues. His devastating knee injury in 2013 was one thing, but having lingering knee issues in 2014 had to be incredibly frustrating. But Mitchell is back and by all accounts up to speed and ready to lead the Dawgs' seemingly unproven receiving corps. When Mitchell was healthy, he was one of the SEC's best athletes, and he can do this. He's one of the good guys in the league, and he's in a book club.


Can the offense actually carry this team? It's still a fluid situation at quarterback, but Kentucky's coaching staff believes it has the right weapons at running back and wide receiver to help whichever guy takes over under center. Running back Stanley "Boom" Williams might be the team's best player after he led the Wildcats with 1,159 all-purpose yards, including 486 rushing yards. With Braylon Heard gone, Jojo Kemp appears to have some motivation this offseason, and you could see a solid one-two punch at running back for Kentucky. At receiver, the loss of Demarco Robinson and Javess Blue hurt, but junior Ryan Timmons could be in line for a breakout season after leading the team in catches (45) and yards (536). Blake Bone is a legitimate deep threat, and Garrett Johnson is an explosive player after the catch. Add Shannon Dawson's more up-tempo air raid scheme, and the Cats could have a more imposing offense than we're used to.


Maty Mauk's resurgence: We all expected great things from Mauk as the Tigers' full-time starter, but he was wildly inconsistent last year. A shoulder injury affected his arm strength and caused him to press more during the second half of the season, but he still threw nine of his 13 interceptions before he suffered his injury against Kentucky on Nov. 1. Mauk is healthy now, but he has to deal with a very unproven wide receiver group that returns just 10 catches from last year. What's the chemistry like with Mauk and his receivers? How have 7-on-7s gone with them? Who's stepping up and standing out? Can Mauk get back to being a more reliable quarterback with this group?


The Head Ball Coach: What will Steve Spurrier say this year? He's so used to throwing out quips and barbs whenever a microphone is put in front of him, and he makes headlines whenever he shows up in Hoover. What will he say about his team, especially the defense and quarterback position? What will he say about being picked by the media to win the East last year? How will he officially introduce new commissioner Greg Sankey to the SEC? How many jabs will he take at Alabama and Nick Saban? How long until he squeezes in some shots at Georgia and Tennessee? What topical subjects impacting college football will he bring up? What will the SEC's greatest mouth say in Hoover to raise eyebrows?


Time to walk the walk, Vols: The momentum is growing, the wins have increased, a bowl game was reached -- and won -- and the recruiting has been superb. That's all well and good, but it's time for Tennessee to really win and really make strides on the field. Butch Jones has been a refreshing social figure in the SEC, but if he really wants to rule the Iron Throne, he needs to be in real contention for the SEC East at the end of November. Three stars in Joshua Dobbs, Curt Maggitt and Cameron Sutton will all be in Hoover, so they should expect to tell everyone why this season will be different. Eighteen starters are back, so a move in the East has to happen. This is a young team, but it has better experience than many. The Vols will be a top-three pick in Hoover.


Commodores' growing pains: There's no question Derek Mason was in over his head at times during his first year as Vanderbilt's head coach. The former Stanford defensive coordinator had a lot of evolving to do as a head coach, and he believes this team grew on and off the field during the latter part of the 2014 season. The wins didn't come, but Mason and his players say this team is a lot closer than it was at any point last year. Mason changed his offseason procedures to better develop guys. Players who didn't fit his system or philosophy are gone, and while this team still has ways to go in the talent department, the chemistry is a lot better. Now, will that translate into wins in 2015?