Tide, Tigers looking to replace two of SEC’s brightest stars
All-conference and All-America talent departs college football every year, and the SEC is no exception.
Here are the biggest shoes that need to be filled next season.
5 PLAYERS REPLACING THE BIGGEST NAMES IN THE SEC
Cam Sims, Rising sophomore WR, Alabama
Replacing: Amari Cooper (Heisman finalist, 228 career catches)
Replacing Amari Cooper’s production will be more of a team effort than just one individual for the Crimson Tide in 2015. Cooper was one of college football’s top players in 2014, catching 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 scores. While there’s no doubt losing an All-American receiver is a huge blow to any offense, Alabama also has to replace DeAndrew White (40 catches in 2014) and Christion Jones (19 catches in 2014). Sims was regarded as the No. 84 prospect in the 2014 signing class and caught seven passes for 62 yards and one score in his true freshman campaign. He was listed as the backup to Cooper at the “X” receiver position, and the 6-foot-4 Louisiana native figures to be an even bigger part of the receiving corps next season for coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Jeremy Johnson: Rising senior QB, Auburn
Replacing: Nick Marshall (3,330 total yards in 2014)
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott should be the early favorite to earn preseason first-team All-SEC honors next year. But don’t be shocked to see Johnson receive some consideration as the starter in a high-powered offense. The Montgomery native started two games over the last two seasons and appeared in 12 overall contests. In the 2014 season opener against Arkansas, Johnson started for Nick Marshall (suspension) and completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Razorbacks. In his two-year career, Johnson has completed 57 of 78 passes for 858 yards and nine scores. The junior isn’t as dynamic of a runner as Marshall but has 40 rushing yards on 11 attempts in two seasons. Coming out of high school, Johnson was ranked as the No. 165 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings and was regarded as a four-star recruit. Malzahn’s offense is adaptable to mobile quarterbacks or pro-style passers. Expect Johnson to thrive in his first year as the starter for Auburn.
Hunter Long: Rising senior C, Georgia
Replacing: David Andrews, 2014 second-team AP All-SEC
David Andrews was regarded as one of the SEC’s top lineman and was a three-year starter at center for the Bulldogs. He was a key cog in a line that helped Georgia lead the SEC in rushing offense in 2014 and finish fourth in 2012. Long was listed as the backup to Andrews the last two years, so the job should be his to lose this spring. The Tennessee native played in three games in 2011 but was forced to miss 2012 due to injury. After a year on the sidelines, Long played in two contests in 2013 and received playing time in nine games last year. There’s a lot of pressure on Long to replace Andrews and keep Georgia’s offensive line performing at a high level in 2015.
Marcus Loud/Charles Harris: Rising sophomore DEs, Missouri
Replacing: Markus Golden/Shane Ray, 24.5 total sacks in 2014
Missouri consistently churns out talent from the defensive line to the NFL. Three linemen were selected over the 2013-14 drafts, and the number drafted only grows if you expand into 2011 (Aldon Smith) and 2009 (Ziggy Hood and Stryker Sulak). The Tigers will add to that total in 2015, as Shane Ray (a likely first-round pick) and Markus Golden (a top-100 prospect) will be targeted high in the draft. The Tigers’ focus shifts in 2015 to Harris and Loud. Loud recorded 14 tackles in 14 games last season, while Harris registered 19 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks in 14 appearances. Golden and Ray leave big shoes to fill, but Missouri also has a track record of finding the right answers at defensive end.
JaMichael Winston, Rising junior DE, Arkansas
Replacing: Trey Flowers; 68 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 6 sacks in 2014
Winston isn’t technically stepping from a backup role to a starting job in 2015, but he’s the most experienced defensive end on the roster for coach Bret Bielema. In 13 games last season (12 starts), Winston recorded 26 stops (two for loss) and registered one quarterback hurry. Winston’s 2014 numbers were a solid improvement from his 2013 debut, which saw the Alabama native record just four stops and a forced fumble in 12 appearances. With Flowers and tackle Darius Philon departing Fayetteville, the Razorbacks are losing 10.5 of their 24 sacks from last season. Winston is still looking for his first career sack at Arkansas and will be asked to be more disruptive in 2015.
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