Spring practice is now over. What did we learn? Below are some of my impressions. I'll have more to say tomorrow.
1. Stephen Garcia has not taken the next step.
Last spring, Garcia put his best foot forward and showed marked improvement in contrast to his play against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. I was hoping that that would again be the case this season. It hasn't happened. Instead, Garcia showed up to practice overweight and doesn't seem to have improved in regards to any of the issues that plagued his play last year, such as a long-distance accuracy.
I still believe that Garcia will be the starter come fall, and I think he'll maintain his hold on the job throughout the season. However, that says more about the competition than it does about Garcia. Conner Shaw looks promising, but he's a true freshman and obviously needs to spend some time in the weight room, while Andrew Clifford lacks the wheels that make both Garcia and Shaw stand out. I doubt either will in the end be good enough to overtake Garcia. in 2011, though, I think all bets are off, as Shaw should be ready by that time to be an SEC QB. Garcia needs to get his attitude in check between now and then. He was good last year, but he's far from the finished product he seems to think he is.
2. We should again have a good defense.
It was hard to tell too much about the defense over the course of the spring because so many of our top players were out with injuries. I liked what I saw, though. First of all, the secondary projects to be one of the nation's best, as it has been in past years. We lose Darian Stewart, but Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman will be a year older, and others appear to be ready to step up. (LOHD has a good take on the secondary here.) I also liked what I saw from players like Devin Taylor, who I expect to have a big season in 2010. Getting strong play from guys like Taylor and Shaq Wilson will be really important for us, as the team will not be able to rely on Eric Norwood's ability to make big plays in the backfield. As a group, though, I think this team may end up being better on the pass rush. A lot depends on how healthy the defensive line is able to stay, but I think that, all in all, this could be one of our best defenses in some time, which is saying something.
3. The offensive line is still a question mark.
I like what I'm hearing from Shawn Elliott and I think his zone-read scheme will work well for us. The blocking scheme is easy for players to learn and it has produced some great running games at several schools across the country. All of that said, Elliott has his work cut out for him. During the Spring Game, the line--oftentimes playing against scrub defensive fronts--still had problems protecting quarterbacks and opening running lanes. That doesn't bode well for us, and--regardless of what Garcia, Shaw, Marcus Lattimore, or anyone else does--we'll never have a truly effective offense if we don't get better line play.
4. We still don't know who the starting tailback will be. Which is fine.
Jarvis Giles seems to have improved, which means that he may challenge Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox for playing time. Other than that, though, the running back situation appears to be the same: Miles still appears to be the best all-around back, Maddox is still the short-yardage go-to guy, and Bryce Sherman will likely see time in some packages. Considering that things seem to have stayed the same to some degree here, I really think that Marcus Lattimore will have a chance to see major playing time if he's as good as advertised.
5. Steve Spurrier is fired up about this coming season.
Many of Spurrier's comments in the press over the past few weeks have shown him to be ready to make a push in 2010. I think Spurrier senses that this might be a golden opportunity for us to have a breakthrough year, and he's going to push the team hard. I like that.