Coaches dish on all 14 SEC teams
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2018, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2018
"If only we were all so lucky to have the problem Nick (Saban) has: Two quarterbacks with the talent to win it all. But I absolutely think he’s going to have to manage that dual-quarterback problem like he never has had to. Don’t believe that idea that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one. That’s ridiculous. We’d all kill for (Jalen) Hurts and Tua (Tagovailoa). Nick will do what’s best for the team, not what’s best for the ego of either of the two players, I guarantee that.
"I was just blown away watching that national title game last year, and all of those true freshmen running around making play after play for that offense. Three receivers, a left tackle, a stud tailback who barely saw the field, and of course, Tua. What a future there. They’ve always been strong offensively because they could dictate the pace of the game. But with those guys now, they’ll be more dynamic than they’ve ever been under Nick."
"The one thing that is more impressive than any with that program is the way they just reload with not only players, but assistant coaches. They’ll have two new coordinators this year, and a new quarterbacks coach, and does anyone really think they’ll take a step back? Nick gets those assistant coaches in there and they learn what he wants -- what he demands -- from the first day."
"They’re losing a lot on defense; that front will be completely retooled. They still might have the best edge guy in our league with Raekwon Davis."
"They’ve struggled in the secondary at times over the last three or four seasons and have given up some big plays. They gamble a lot -- something you can do when you get after the QB like they do. But like most seasons, if you’re going to expose them, you better do it early. By the time November rolls around, they’ll have it worked out."
"I feel really badly for Chad (Morris), who has been put in a difficult situation. That roster was built for (Bret) Bielema’s run-first, play-action offense. Chad will spend at least the first two years turning over that roster to fit his scheme."
"One thing Chad will benefit from is the way Bret ran a clean program. There won’t be character problems in that locker room. As a new coach, that’s a huge relief. Those guys may not be the perfect fit for what Chad wants to do, but they’ll bust their ass for him. There won’t be push back, at least at the level most of us deal with when you arrive as the new guy on the block. Look, new guys are there because the other guy failed. The other guy usually failed because he lost the team. Bret never lost that team."
"I just can’t see 270-pound Cole Kelley running Chad’s offense. My guess is Chad gets him to drop 20-30 pounds. He has a strong arm, though he wasn’t exactly the most accurate guy on the field. Whoever plays quarterback is more than likely a bridge to Chad’s first big quarterback recruit next year."
"I don’t expect any change with (new defensive coordinator) John Chavis in charge. His defensive lines have always been aggressive and given a lot of leeway. Their problem has been in the back seven. They’re bad in coverage, and they haven’t had that dominating linebacker. That has to be fixed."
"The best thing Chad will do for Arkansas — and I think he’s a terrific Xs and Os guy -- is recruit. He got a lot of those key guys, including Deshaun Watson, that turned things around at Clemson. He has to do that at Arkansas. Bret couldn’t recruit Texas the way Chad can."
"It took more than half the season, but Jarrett Stidham really turned into a legit SEC quarterback. Not saying any of us thought he wouldn’t, but you could tell it took time before Gus (Malzahn) and his staff trusted him, and I guarantee he’s going to take a huge step from where he was last season."
"Too many people are focusing on Tua and Jake Fromm as the best quarterbacks in this league. Stidham has more arm talent than anyone."
"Auburn surprised folks last year because they were so good on the lines of scrimmage. Will Muschamp was there for one year as defensive coordinator, but he made such an impact on the way Auburn recruited. He pushed the idea of building from the inside out, from the lines to the skill players. That’s where Auburn is right now, that’s why they will continue to grow under Gus."
"The defensive line has been the biggest growth area under Gus. They’re serious about it, and they’re as good as anyone in our league on the two-deep."
"They’re big and fast on the edge and can get to the quarterback, and they’re so stout up the middle. (Dontavius) Russell and (Derrick) Brown are just beasts."
"Gus’ offense, for some reason, has been treated as a high-flyin’, pass-happy offense. Gus’ offense is based on power running, pure and simple. They may run between the tackles differently than others with some zone-read deception, but it’s power ball. It sets up everything they do in the pass game, and that means they have to find a go-to tailback. I wouldn’t worry about that; (Kamryn) Pettway was a fullback one year, and one of the best tailbacks in our league the next."
"Auburn got over the hump with Alabama last year, and I really feel like they exhaled heading into the SEC Championship Game. Everyone was talking about Georgia as the team to knock off Alabama as SEC king. Auburn had better personnel than Georgia last year. But you’ve got to produce every week."
"The last two games, and the way Auburn looked overmatched when they shouldn’t have been, is definitely an issue that has to be addressed moving forward."
"Tennessee and Florida have some of the same problems. They have some good players, but they have made some mistakes -- not so much from a talent perspective but from a character perspective. Player development is something they didn’t do a great job of either. But Florida doesn’t lack for talent, that’s for sure."
"I think Dan Mullen is a really good offensive coach. He was a smart recruiter at Mississippi State. He had a plan for his guys, and he put them in positions to succeed. He did a good job with the offense, developing a spread, quarterback-run offense that played to the strengths of their personnel"
"(Defensive coordinator) Todd Grantham is really good. Mississippi State was outstanding on defense last year. They weren’t on the field for 70 or 80 plays a game, which showed that Coach Mullen wasn’t just an offensive coach trying to put up yards and points. He had a plan how to manage and win games. And that really helped them on defense."
"I don’t know if Feleipe Franks is exactly what Dan Mullen wants at the quarterback position at Florida, but I think Franks is a pretty talented dude. Big, athletic guy who can make plays with his feet and his arm. He needs to continue to develop the finer points of being an upper-level quarterback. But I’m sure Dan will do a good job with him."
"They need to identify some playmakers, but Dan will get that offense going. They will score some points."
Related: SEC Football 2018 Predictions
"They took a huge leap last year. When they came on the field, you could tell that their bodies had changed from 2016 to '17 -- also their mindset and their confidence. When they walked on the field, they just looked like a championship football team. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team make the strides from one year to the next that Georgia did. I don’t think that was a fluke by any stretch. The East is somewhat down, but for them to be as dominant as they were for most of the year, that was very impressive."
"I think Jake Fromm is a baller. I don’t know what ‘it’ is, but he’s got it. All year, he heard from everyone, ‘They are just running the ball. When they get into a real game, he won’t be able to pass.’ Well, to the best of my observation, every time he was asked to do it, he stepped up, whether it was the SEC Championship Game or three quarters of the National Championship Game, he played very, very well."
"I think it will be interesting this year, with what Fromm did last year, and then them bringing in Justin Fields, because some people believe Fields is a once-in-a-generation talent. I think that will be an interesting competition to watch in camp."
"They could run five running backs out there last year that could have started on most SEC teams."
"They are going to run away with the East. Nobody is close to them right now."
"I thought Stephen Johnson was one of the more underrated players in the league. I think he was really good. Made plays with his feet and his arm. You looked at his stats, and they were very consistent. They will miss him. And with Drew Barker no longer on the team, I’m not sure what they will do at quarterback."
"Eddie Gran did a good job with the offense last year. Found the things that they were good at. Ran the Wildcat a bunch. It will be interesting to see how their offense evolves and adapts with a new quarterback."
"Benny Snell is a workhorse. Anybody who can gain 1,000 yards in back-to-back years in the SEC deserves some recognition. I don’t put him in the same class as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at Georgia or some of the backs at Alabama, but to me he is a tough player who runs hard and doesn’t just gain the yards the play is blocked for. He can gain above and beyond and get to the second and third level. When he was ejected from (Music City Bowl), that really hurt them. He’s a very confident player. A hard worker. He will be the featured player in the offense."
"Lynn Bowden is an exciting young player. They did a lot of creative things to get him the ball. He will be a good player for that program, and he's still really young."
"Mark Stoops has done a nice job. His defenses play hard. I don’t know if they are that talented, but they play hard."
"They have gone .500 in the SEC two years in a row. Any time you can do that at Kentucky, you are doing something right. And they have a chance to be pretty good again this season."
"I like Ed (Orgeron), I really do. He can win there, and maybe he can develop into a guy that stays there a while. But he has to let his coaches coach. What he did with (former offensive coordinator) Matt Canada was ridiculous. You paid him all that money to get on board, and then a couple weeks into the season, you’re bailing on him. I don’t know all the specifics and if Canada wasn’t a good fit with the rest of the staff, but I know what Canada has accomplished in this game. He knows what he’s doing. If you’re an LSU fan, your hope is Ed does, too -- and that his new OC will fit."
"The quarterback has been a problem there since Les (Miles) first started out. They haven’t been able to figure it out for years. The one season with (Zach) Mettenberger has really been the only time they’ve been able to pressure defenses with the passing game since they won it all. To me it doesn’t matter who the guy is because whoever is playing quarterback will have new guys all around him. If a rebuilt line isn’t a big enough question, who are they going to throw to, and who’s going to run with power like they always have to keep pressure of the quarterback?"
"A lot of questions there on offense. And (Steve) Ensminger is your guy to run that show? That hire will define Ed, no question about it."
"I don’t know how Dave Aranda hasn’t been more of a factor in these Power 5 job searches. His defenses there have been fantastic, better than the groups he put together at Wisconsin -- and they were really good. They had a lot of young guys play last year, and they’re going to be even better this year."
"I’ve heard about how Joe Moorhead doesn’t know the Mississippi State ‘culture’ or that he doesn’t ‘understand the South.’ Come on. You know what every high school recruit and every mamma and daddy understand? Winning. You think Dan Mullen understood it when he first got there? He’s from New Hampshire!"
"Joe will put those kids in position to win on offense, and he made a critical hire at defensive coordinator (Bob Shoop), who knows how to recruit this league and how to defend it. Joe is an extremely likable guy who will win in recruiting, and that’s the first big step to winning on Saturdays. James (Franklin) swears by him, and that’s enough for me."
"I don’t know if Nick Fitzgerald can be ready by August. That was a brutal injury. You’re not just bouncing back from something like that. But that’s one tough son of a gun. If anyone can do it, he will."
"I love watching him (Fitzgerald) play and compete. If he’s full-go, it will be fun to watch him develop under Joe."
"I don’t think you can underestimate the loss of Dan Mullen. The truth of the matter is Dan probably took that program as far as he could take it, and took it where many thought it couldn’t go. That’s a big bar to reach for Joe. It was time for Dan to leave; he knew it, we all knew it. Sometimes it’s just the natural turn. We all see it as coaches."
"You know what helps a first-year coach? A good pass rush. Montez Sweat and (Jeffery) Simmons are just beasts. Both of them. As disruptive a pair as you’ll see in the college game. We recruited Simmons, and he went through a tough time before he even got there. You know what? Second chances work sometimes. He has become a model student-athlete there."
"I think Drew Lock is really, really good. I am curious to see how losing (offensive coordinator) Josh Heupel will hurt him, because I thought their system was outstanding. Lock might throw too many interceptions, and he is a little bit a product of the system, but I think he is a very good quarterback."
"The two receivers on the perimeter, Emanuel Hall and J’Mon Moore, were really good players. The tight end (Albert Okwuegbunam) is a really good player."
"They did feast on teams not playing well at the end of the year, but they were blowing teams out. I was surprised they didn’t play better in the bowl game. The offense was just bad."
"The Derek Dooley hire (at offensive coordinator) was off the radar. I don’t know what he’s going to do there. I don’t necessarily think it was a bad hire. Just surprising."
"Whoever called the plays in the bowl game, that looked like a bad offense. Texas just suffocated them."
"Their running backs are good. Possibly a product of the system, but they are good. They run the ball well as a team. Their offense is balanced. They don’t just throw the ball all over the field. You have to make a decision against those guys, because they do so many things. They make you define yourself as a defense: Are we committed to stopping the run or are we committed to defending the pass? My point is that the running backs aren’t running against loaded boxes a lot. They are running in optimal run situations. But those guys are good. They can make you miss in the second level."
"I think Barry Odom is good. If they give him time, I think he can do there what Pat Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern. He is a Missouri guy who really wants to be there."
"I don’t care what anyone says or how they try to spin it there, this is dead program walking. At least for a couple of years. They lost an elite quarterback and receiver because they didn’t want to hang around for the NCAA fallout, and they’re still dealing with that on the road in recruiting. Hey, there’s no honor among thieves in recruiting. The big thing right now is what happens with the NCAA. Once that gets resolved, you at least have a plan."
"There were some really qualified coaches who wanted that job, but only with a significant commitment to security. I’m talking six or seven years of commitment. I truly believe that’s why Matt (Luke) was retained. It’s easy to move on from him once it hits rock bottom. And I don't say that lightly because I really enjoy Matt. He’s a good guy who’s in an untenable situation."
"A.J. Brown might be the best receiver in our league. A physical, tough, catch anything receiver. And he can run. The question is, can (Jordan) Ta’amu get him the ball consistently? I know everyone is talking about the great numbers Ta’amu put up last season when Shea Patterson got hurt. But he wasn’t facing the best defenses in our league. He had a few gimme putts there. I want to see if he can do it when the big boys are on the field."
"The one place where you’re really going to see the NCAA stuff impact this program is depth. I know people always laugh when we talk about depth, but in this league, you’re in deep trouble without it. They’re just not as deep on the lines of scrimmage as they need to be."
"I love that defensive front, but if any of those front-line starters get hurt or get tired, who’s next? I think you’re going to see that a lot at various positions."
Related: SEC Football 2018 Predictions
"I think they are very good. I know they had some games during the regular season they could have lost, like the Tennessee game and the Louisiana Tech game and even the Vanderbilt game, but they won them, so give them credit. I don’t think they were a fluke at all. You ask me right now, I think they are the second-best team in the East."
"They led the conference in takeaways last year. There is a mindset there with (Will) Muschamp and T-Rob (Travaris Robinson) about what they want to do on defense. They are very simple on defense, but they play fast and they execute well."
"This league has some good young quarterbacks, and Jake Bentley is one of the best. He’s really, really good. He’s a tough dude who makes all of the right plays. He has some great leadership characteristics. He can run enough to be a pain in the butt."
"Their best receiver (Deebo Samuel) got hurt last year; when he comes back, he will really help them. He’s a great weapon on offense and in the return game."
"They will miss the tight end, (Hayden) Hurst. He was a good player, but (Bryan) Edwards is back at receiver. He’s very good."
"They need to run the ball better, but they had some injuries there last year. They should be better."
"People questioned the (Muschamp) hire, but he’s getting the job done."
"There are some really good quarterbacks in this league, and not many were more highly ranked than Jarrett Guarantano. But he sure didn’t play very well last year when he got a chance. He holds onto the ball too long and takes some unnecessary hits. He has to step his game up. People thought he would step in and be like Joshua Dobbs, but Dobbs is a better thrower than people thought, and he made plays with his feet. Guarantano, I don’t think, is a dual threat like people think. He has a good, live arm, but he’s not a dynamic spread-offense runner. To be fair, I don’t know that he is surrounded by a lot of weapons on the perimeter."
"It will be interesting to see what they do with Tyson Helton as the coordinator. I think they are going to more of a pro-style or traditional offense. We’ll see if that fits with what Guarantano can do well."
"Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer are obviously very good defensive coaches. It will be interesting to see how they transition to what Tennessee has done in the past few years to their scheme."
"They have done a poor job stopping the run in the past few years. I don’t think they are very big or strong in their front seven, and I don’t think they have the players on the perimeter at the corner positions that Coach Pruitt and that group is used to having. I think they are okay at safety. They have a good player in Nigel Warrior. He’s someone they can build around."
"Darrin Kirkland is a key guy at linebacker. If he comes back from injury, he has the potential to be an upper-level SEC linebacker. But other than that, I don’t see a lot of playmakers on that defense."
"I’ll tell you what, if Jimbo (Fisher) thinks the media was too harsh on him at FSU, wait until he finishes fourth again in the West. It’s going to be a process there. When you recruit, you’re looking for guys who want to work and want to be coached. To me, it just looked like those players weren’t having fun on Saturdays and didn’t take too well to coaching. That’s what we talk about when we say a ‘culture change.’ Jimbo has a big one in front of him."
"It’s not talent; they’ve got dudes on that team. Sometimes you just need to hear a different voice. Jimbo’s will be unlike anything they’ve heard in a while there. He’ll rattle some cages."
"Jimbo can coach quarterbacks. Look at the NFL Draft if you don’t think so. The question is, who is his next project? I like what (Nick) Starkel did last year. He was solid and safe for the most part. But do you want solid and safe, or something more? Can Jimbo get Kellen Mond ready to play?"
"I like Jhamon Ausbon. He’s the real deal. Whoever wins the quarterback job will have a legit threat with (Ausbon). That’s one area where the previous staff really struggled: getting the most out of a group of talented wide receivers. The quarterbacks, despite those big rankings, didn’t develop, and that impacted the receivers. In a couple of years, we’re all going to watch Christian Kirk as a star in the NFL and wonder how he wasn’t used more in college."
"Kyle Shurmur is hot and cold. When he’s good he’s really good, and when he’s not, he’s not. You see him make some throws and say: ‘Wow, that is really, really good.’ But then other times he holds onto the ball too long, and he throws it to the other team. Consistency is the key for him as he advances in his career. For them to make the steps they want to make on offense, Kyle will have to take the next step and be a more consistent performer this year."
"Ralph Webb earned my respect. One of the top leading rushers in the history of the SEC. He’s not exactly running behind the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line. The players I talked to in the league say he ran as hard as any player in the SEC. Played with a chip on his shoulder every week. Would not surprise if he has a really good pro career. He strikes me as if he was the heart and guts of the offense."
"I guess the kid from Illinois (transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn) is going to be the top running back. He’s a good player. (Khari) Blasingame is a big kid who has done some good things for them."
"I think they are struggling to find playmakers on both sides of the ball. I don’t see those same athletes that they had a few years ago on defense, and I don’t see Jordan Matthews or Jonathan Krause or some of those guys on the perimeter on offense. I don’t think they are the same."
"Joejuan Williams is a really good player, a really good corner. Probably their best player on defense."
"I respect that coaching staff. They are putting their players in position to be successful, but I don’t think they have the talent that they need across the board. They got mauled at times on defense last year."
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