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 bulletin board 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 2019, 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 2019
"Maybe the best thing for this year's team was losing that national title game the way they did. They were outplayed, outcoached and got whipped on the lines. Now they're going to reload with the best roster in the league, but Nick Saban has all the motivation he needs."
"I think the coaching staff was an issue last season. The turnover at coordinator and some of those position guys, maybe Saban underestimated that impact on the players."
"Pete Golding could be the next great Alabama defensive coordinator. This is his year to show it."
"They'll be a better defense this year. The secondary was freshman young, and now they're experienced. Pay attention to the competition up front; replacing Quinnen Williams will be key. LaBryan Ray is the next man up there, he'll be really good. Raekwon Davis is an absolute monster. NFL ready."
"If there's a questionable unit, and there really isn't, it might be offensive line. Jonah Williams is a first-round talent. They'll need a new center and it's a new offensive system."
"Kyle Flood was a good pick for OL coach because he’s worked with Sark a while at the NFL level but he knows college linemen."
"I think they’ll miss Josh Gattis, he did a really great job with those receivers. What they return is probably the best in the SEC."
"Najee Harris needs to come out strong and show he can be an actual feature back. It's his backfield."
"What can you say about Tua Tagovailoa? He plays hard, he plays hurt, he's great with pressure and competes his ass off. He's the ideal Saban quarterback."
"This is another national championship team, and they have the benefit of building off of last year's loss. They'll come out angry and focused."
"There's a lot of work to do, and it's going to take a while."
"The weakest point on offense is the line. They've got returning production, but there's a big shift in what they're being asked to do from the Bret Bielema era to now. They went from downhill to spread; that's tough on a line."
"The good news is that in Chad Morris' system it's possible for talented freshmen to contribute right away at receiver and running back. They can get going and play them young."
"Everyone respects Chad as an offensive mind, but fixing this roster is a huge job."
"They're going after a lot of transfer portal guys. Can't blame 'em. This is just not a personnel fit right now."
"Right now it looks like their QB race is going to be wide open through the summer. I think it comes down to having system experience in the SMU transfer (Ben Hicks) or the transfer from Texas A&M (Nick Starkel), who is the most talented."
"Chief's (John Chavis) defense in Year 2 is going to be aggressive. They have to be. Their linebackers are average, and their front doesn't have any depth. They're going to struggle against most teams because the physicality isn't there. That's not on Chief, it's just the roster."
"Right now the job is to keep momentum in recruiting and build on that. It can turn quick if they recruit like they have been, because they're out selling immediate playing time in a high-scoring system in the SEC, and kids are noticing."
"The most talked-about school in the league right now."
"Gus Malzahn is back calling the plays again. Usually that works out pretty well for his teams, and if they get back to their old ways this year, I can bet you he won't give up play calling for the rest of his career. The bowl game (vs. Purdue) was old-school Gus Malzahn."
"It's all about the quarterback race here. We think it's wide open. And don't think they won't start a true freshman, either"
"Their offensive line was young last year and should be much improved."
"The wide receivers need work; there isn't a particular guy that knocks you over on tape."
"I think the big thing is how deep their personnel really goes. It's not the first-level guys with Auburn, it's the second string. How much depth do they really have?."
"I think their defensive talent is better than their offensive talent again this year, which for Malzahn is pretty strange. Derrick Brown was their biggest returnee. Bringing him back kept a really great defense together. They could have the best defensive line in the nation if they stay healthy."
"You can't say enough about what Kevin Steele has done with that defense."
"There's more pressure at Auburn than maybe anywhere else in the SEC because Alabama is your in-state rival. But this isn't really the season to make a call on Malzahn unless the wheels completely fall off."
"Dan Mullen did a really nice job with his Year 1. He got the culture back and got the locker room back."
"They're not nearly what they used to be, but you saw Florida football at times, especially down the stretch. But they're losing a lot this year."
"Could be an interesting kind of quarterback battle between Feleipe Franks and Emory Jones. Jones can run better than Feleipe but doesn't have the arm or the experience. Dan is really good at making his quarterbacks look more versatile than they really are. How are they going to feature Jones more often? I don't think Franks is in danger of losing the job, but they want to bring Jones along and use him as a weapon more often."
"The running backs and receivers are solid but not spectacular, but we expect that offense to be humming so long as they can find the right replacement starters for the offensive line."
"Defensively, they lose some ends, but they always recruit well to that position."
"The good news is they get their corners back. They lost Marco Wilson on the first drive vs. Kentucky, and CJ Henderson was banged up all year. Henderson had a great year, but he'll be even better if they're both playing. They could be one of the best 1-2's at that position."
"The state of the program is that they're ahead of schedule but still not comparable to Georgia or Alabama or LSU. You can't get that far in one year."
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2019
"I think it's fair to say Kirby got Georgia to that Alabama level faster than Nick Saban got Alabama there. They're ready to roll."
"Obviously, they lose some guys, some wideouts, but on offense Kirby's recruiting already has this program in a reload mentality. It's scary how fast they've recruited. There are a few spots you can look at where they need someone to step in, center, and receiver. At tight end they got hit with another early declare (Isaac Nauta) and a transfer (Luke Ford). But there's competition at every spot."
"The two young backs, James Cook and Zamir White, they look exactly like what you expect in a Georgia backfield. They might not miss a beat."
"I think with Jake Fromm coming back and Jim Chaney leaving they're going to throw the ball a little bit more, I think they'll spread it out a little bit more in their base stuff."
"The biggest question mark is James Coley as a first-time play-caller in the SEC. That's going to be scary at first. And in that situation, the responsibility is solely on you if it goes bad, because the talent is all over the field. But Fromm helps you out there. He's comfortable with his stuff."
"Really impressed by the secondary and linebacker play. The kid Monty Rice could have a breakout season. They’ve got an absolute freak at the nose (Jordan Davis). Just an absolute monster who will play on Sundays."
"This is the best roster, both talent and depth, in the division and the best or second best in the league with Alabama. They'll develop that defense just fine. It comes down to play-calling and that SEC title game."
"Tons of questions. Maybe the team that will look the most different on both sides this season."
"They lose a ton on defense. You don't replace a Josh Allen at Alabama, and you sure as hell don't at Kentucky. He was the best edge rusher in the game."
"Their secondary is basically starting over."
"The good news is that it's a line of scrimmage league and they're really solid on both the offensive and defensive line. They get their left tackle Landon Young back from the ACL tear. He'll be a huge asset."
"I'd worry more about the offense — the needs are obvious. Losing Benny Snell is a huge blow, he's their all-time yards guy, but they've got a stable behind Snell of faster, more dynamic guys, not grinders."
"Eddie Gran will have to go back to that Cincinnati stuff, spreading the ball around, going faster, but they have to get more efficient quarterback play. Terry Wilson can run, but he's got to improve throwing the ball on third down. They need better execution passing and receiving. They won't have the defense to bail out short drives."
"They're going to fall back some this year because of how good the league is, but I think Mark Stoops has done a great job. Even if they end up .500 this season, they're still going in the right direction. They're just not a reload team. They're going to need more than one year to build. But Stoops has them in a really nice spot."
"This team could be their best chance to catch Alabama in a long time. You see athleticism and size everywhere. They're big and strong on both lines. They're going to be physical all over."
"Joe Burrow is the best quarterback to play for the Tigers in a long time, and he's definitely one of the (SEC's) best returning quarterbacks. His development will change that offense."
"They should have enough starting talent at running back for at least two SEC teams."
"Foster Moreau was a great tight end, they don't have anyone like that to replace him."
"Great linebacker play even with Devin White being gone. Patrick Queen came in for him vs. Alabama (after a targeting call on White) and did really well."
"Solid secondary play still on the roster despite them losing a lot to the NFL. They recruit really well to that position."
"The focus will be on the offense and what the new offensive guy (former Saints assistant coach Joe Brady) brings in. Expect some newer stuff passing. I know they're talking about installing RPO, but they still want to smash you running the ball, and if you have the bigs that's what you do in this league. And Ed Orgeron has a history with his play callers. He doesn't stray too far from what he's comfortable with no matter what he says when he hires them."
"This is the best team Orgeron has had. If they expand the offense they can beat anyone."
"Joe Moorhead didn't forget how to coach offense, but they never figured out how to use Nick Fitzgerald to do what they wanted."
"A lot of the pressure to win last year was because of the defense — they were so, so talented — and now it's gone. They're not empty, but that was a really special, talented group that could hurt you in every phase. You had NFL talent all over that defensive line. They have to build the front back up, but they might have the best linebackers in the SEC right now and they're all back. Erroll Thompson, Leo Lewis and Willie Gay Jr., all three of those guys could start for any program in our league."
"I'd be on the lookout for Bob Shoop to change up some things with their scheme. You can't call a defense the same way without that pressure up front. They're going more 4-2-5, more even front than odd."
"The offensive line always does a great job with the run. They always have great looking personnel, big wide guys."
"They're recruiting really well, better than a lot of coaches expected a non-Southern guy going into Mississippi to do so early."
"They need to come out and show success throwing the ball. They need to show consistency and build in Year 2 to survive in the West. They've got a high ceiling and a low floor this year."
"Losing Drew Lock is massive for them. He might've been the best QB in the SEC besides, or maybe even including, Tua (Tagovailoa)."
"What's Derek Dooley gonna do with Kelly Bryant? He can be a special talent, but you need to build around him. He's not Lock. If Dooley is smart, they're going to bring in a lot of the stuff Bryant did at Clemson rather than fit him into Lock's shoes."
"They could have a really solid backfield with Bryant and the running back Larry Rountree. He might be the sleeper running back in college football. They were really banged up there last year, but he really caught on well. If they can stay healthy running the ball, they've got a great receiving corps — all their top guys are back. The offensive line is solid enough with returning guys that they could be really good right away."
"Barry Odom is the secret weapon on defense. He gets a group of OK players and just a few legit SEC guys and then they're always in good position. They fit gaps really well, they're always where they're supposed to be. They're not an easy defense to wear down. Jordan Elliott, the kid from Texas, could be really special up front. They'll really miss (Terry) Beckner.
"I think they can jump up and scare a lot of teams in the conference if they can keep things together with the (NCAA investigation). Take away the controversy stuff and this could be a really fun offensive football team."
"The Rebels are in a better place than the last two years, but now is when the hurting starts on those NCAA penalties. Recruiting always pays off most two years down the road, and now they're replacing those superstar kids like A.J. Brown with the two- and three-star kids they had to take during the Freeze scandal."
"We hear they're really excited about Matt Corral. They like his arm, and he's really competitive. He should fit well with what Rich Rodriguez wants to do if they can run the ball."
"Obviously they lose Brown and D.K. Metcalf, but that's the one position where they've recruited depth."
"They're going to struggle up front, and they're probably going to struggle running the ball. They don't have the personnel to do what RichRod wants. Will Jerrion Ealy play? If he chooses football over baseball, that could change a lot of things, because he'd be their best running back the first day of camp. Sustaining drives is going to be interesting."
"Mike MacIntyre is a great coordinator, but he's stepping into a rough deal there. They're going to a 3-4 like Georgia and Tennessee, but how well does that personnel fit?"
"Benito Jones is probably their best player on that side of the ball."
"It will be interesting to watch Matt Luke as a head coach. He's hired two former head coaches to radically change their schemes on both sides of the ball. He's putting a lot on those two, and that could come back to bite him."
"This is the season where we're going to figure out how good Will Muschamp can make this program. A lot of us thought it would be last year, but I don't know if defensively they were where they needed to be."
"They've been injured a lot, but especially in the stretch last season. That's the biggest unknown this season for them, just to stay healthy."
"You've got one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league with Jake Bentley and a good core on the offensive line. They've got to take advantage of that. What hurts them is losing Deebo (Samuel) and not having a run game. There's no one on their roster at wideout like Deebo. (Quarterbacks coach) Dan Werner is a good fit for Bentley, he's really changed their passing game, and I think he gets what Will wants to do there. They just need better running backs."
"The secondary is really thin. That's gotta piss Will off, because they've brought in some top guys in the front these last few years."
"The five-star lineman they signed (Zacch Pickens) could start right away; that was a big get for them. They're really talented up front. If Javon Kinlaw returns healthy he's a hell of a force. But they weren't that tough against the run at all — you could sort of impose your will on them."
"They didn’t tackle all that well, the linebackers were out of position a lot."
"Overall, they're a talented team that's built really well in recruiting; you just haven't seen it all come together quite yet."
"Jarrett Guarantano is a longtime starter who has been through it with that program. Combine him with Jim Chaney, a veteran play caller who knows the program and the roster, and in the second year of Jeremy Pruitt's culture they should be better."
"The standout position group here is at wide receiver. Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer should help them build out something on the outside. Jauan Jennings coming back is big. They have a lot of athleticism on offense, they just didn't know how to utilize their skill guys."
"There is no reason that offense was so bad last year. I know the line wasn't good, but they have players."
"Secondary is an obvious strength; they were playing freshman corners last year and now those guys are back. They run a lot of stuff out of the nickel, too, so they'll be able to do even more this year."
"They’ll be young up front on defense, but they have some talent there."
"They just need to get to a bowl this year and beat Vanderbilt and Missouri and the conference teams who aren’t as talented on their rosters. Just show that the plan is working long term."
"Butch Jones did a better job recruiting than what they're telling media. The players he brought in are still playing the bulk of the time, and not a lot of the Pruitt recruits have broken past them on the depth chart, though that could change this year. They've recruited well so far for the system Jeremy wants."
"Kellen Mond should be a lot better this season, and he wasn't bad at all last year. That's just the jump you expect with Jimbo Fisher."
"They basically get everyone back at receiver. They're a big, athletic group and there's a lot of them. They can hit you at four or five spots on a given play, that's the leftover spread roster from Kevin Sumlin."
"They really don't have a tight end, and that's the safety valve for Jimbo quarterbacks. Jace Sternberger made them go last year, he was their Nick O'Leary. They want to build that position up big time. The big freshman (Baylor) Cupp is going to be that guy. He could be a breakout player because of the amount of attention the receivers will command."
"Watch the offensive line, it could get rough there as they keep transitioning over to Fisher's offense. (Former OL coach) Jim Turner was a big, big loss."
"They need to replace Trayveon Williams. Look out for the UCF transfer (Cordarrian Richardson), but that's a pretty deep group."
"What a job Mike Elko did last year. They got better in the middle of the field but then lost those guys. They have to do it all over again this year."
"If they can improve this year as much as they did last year on defense this is going to be a really dangerous team."
"The way they finished last season and with Mond, everyone is really hot on them right now, but this is still a 2020 team. They're not Georgia or Alabama or LSU deep. They're not going to sneak up on anyone. But they're not as far off as we want to admit."
"What's the offense going to look like? Are they confident about this kid from Ball State (Riley Neal) at quarterback? He's probably the most talented guy they've got if he can get comfortable in their system."
"Their running back (Ke'Shawn Vaughn) could be one of the best in the league this year. You like everything you see when he runs the ball. He's as mean as he is disciplined. You love seeing that. The tight end (Jared Pinkney) is a really great player. So they've got some chances to help the QB. I expect they'll try to slow it down. They've lost some of the offensive line so they're lacking experience, but they have enough depth to get by."
"Replacing Kyle Shurmur and (offensive coordinator) Andy Ludwig are the biggest things they need to address."
"Their defense could be even better this year without most of those guys coming back. Derek Mason stays involved on the defense so much that you know they're always going to play above their ability."
"They'll be really young up front, but we expect them to be nasty every year."
"The secondary could struggle for a while; a guy like Joejuan Williams will be really hard to replace."
"(Defensive coordinator) Jason (Tarver) does a great job, too. That's as solid a group of defensive coaches as you can find."
"The problem for Vanderbilt as a program is that they're good but never great, and the division keeps getting better."