With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.
However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.
Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice.
5 Players to Watch in SEC Spring Practice
Paul Harris, WR, Tennessee
It’s always risky to bank on true freshmen to make an impact in their first season on campus, but Tennessee desperately needs Harris to deliver on his recruiting hype. With Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Mychal Rivera departing, the cupboard is bare with proven receiving options on Rocky Top. Harris is getting a jumpstart on learning the offense, as he enrolled early and is participating in spring practice. He ranked as the No. 7 player in Maryland and was a four-star recruit by Rivals.com. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Harris has the size to be an immediate factor in the redzone and should help Tennessee’s new quarterback (likely Justin Worley) ease into the starting lineup. Fellow freshman MarQuez North will join the fray in the fall, but Harris has a chance to impress and earn a starting spot this spring.
Related Content: 2013 Tennessee Spring Preview
Danielle Hunter/Jermauria Rasco, DE, LSU
We are going to cheat just a bit and list both of LSU’s starting defensive ends in this space. The Tigers were arguably the team hit the hardest by early departures to the NFL, as defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan were just three of 11 LSU players to forego their eligibility in Baton Rouge. With the defensive line replacing six players from last season’s unit, Hunter and Rasco are being counted on to fill the void left behind by the departed linemen. Neither player made a start last season, but they combined for 24 tackles and two tackles for a loss. The Tigers appear to be set at tackle with Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson stepping into the lineup. Now LSU needs to see two former top recruits (Hunter and Rasco) live up to their billing at defensive end.
Related Content: 2013 LSU Spring Preview
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Before a devastating knee injury, Josey was on his way to being one of college football’s top running backs. In 10 games in 2011, he rushed for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns and was averaging a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry. Considering the seriousness of Josey’s injury, there’s no guarantee he is able to return to full strength in 2013. However, the Texas native is participating in spring practice and worked hard rehabilitating his knee last season to get back on the field. Even if Josey doesn’t return to his 2011 form, he should still be a major contributor in Missouri’s backfield. And this spring should give the coaching staff a good idea of what can be expected from the junior in 2013.
Related Content: 2013 Missouri Spring Preview
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
With the departure of three of the nation’s best blockers and a new coach, the line is a major area of focus for Nick Saban this spring. Considering the recruiting classes Saban has been able to reel in, there’s no shortage of talent waiting to step into the starting lineup. However, the Crimson Tide has to get all five starters on the same page, along with developing depth in case of injury to one of the new linemen. Kelly is expected to replace Barrett Jones at center this year, and the Ohio native has big shoes to fill. Not only was Jones an excellent player, but he also played a key role in terms of leadership on the offensive side. Kelly was impressive in a backup role last year, as he recorded playing time in 10 games. There will be a drop off from Jones to Kelly. However, if Kelly’s performance last season was any indication, the Crimson Tide’s offensive line isn’t going to take too much of a step back in 2013.
Related Content: 2013 Alabama Spring Preview
Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas
Thanks to the departure of quarterback Tyler Wilson and running backs Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis, the Razorbacks are essentially starting from scratch on offense. Coordinator Jim Chaney has been successful at each of his stops, but Arkansas’ offense has a lot of work to do this preseason. With touted freshman Alex Collins arriving this summer, Williams needs to impress the coaching staff this spring to stake his claim for the No. 1 job. In his freshman campaign in 2012, Williams rushed for 231 yards on 45 attempts and caught eight passes for 208 yards and two scores. The Texas native averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 61 yards against South Carolina. Williams showed potential in limited work last season. And with Collins expected to push for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, he needs to have a big spring to put some distance on the talented freshman.
Related Content: 2013 Arkansas Spring Preview
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