The heavy lifting is done with spring football.
There’s a walk-through practice on Friday that is closed to media and fans. The Grove Bowl is Saturday at 1. It’s not a day that will count a great deal toward position battles. There aren’t many of those this spring anyway. It’s been more about building depth. Hugh Freeze knows who most of his starters are.
Saturday is a day about not getting hurt.
Here are a few players to watch:
Channing Ward. We knew this would be an important spring for Ward, who missed most of August camp last year as a true freshman. Even with junior starter C.J. Johnson out with a broken leg, Ward hasn’t been running first team. The consistent message from the staff has been that Ward needs to “turn it loose,” that the understanding of the defense is not the biggest thing for him right now.
Mark Dodson. I’m slow to jump on the bandwagon for freshmen and anoint them as “the next big thing,” but Dodson, an early enrollee, has been impressive. Nice blend of speed and power. Ask Nick Brassell about his power. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dodson take away snaps from I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton as the No. 2 back behind Jeff Scott. That would be more from Mathers than Walton, who has a different skill set.
Maikhail Miller. He’s benefited from getting so many reps this spring with Bo Wallace out injured. He’s made some good throws, some not so good, but he’s still young, still learning, and still very physical. It would not be surprising to see Freeze with his creativity find a package or a play for Miller, a big and powerful guy who can handle the ball.
D.T. Shackelford. What he’s attempting is very rare, to get back to playing form — and his playing form is very good — after two years away. If he can get back to the level he showed in 2010 — even if it’s only for 15 plays a game — this will be a much better defense. Shackelford has had a good spring, but I don’t think questions can really be answered until he experiences game day speed. And he’ll experience SEC speed right away with the Aug. 29 opener at Vanderbilt.
Quadarias Mireles. Wide receiver depth has been extremely low this spring. Numbers were already down, and there have been injuries too. When August arrives three starters returns, but there’s a wealth of opportunity for newcomers to break into the rotation. Mireles has been feeling his way around and hasn’t played as fast as Freeze believes he will play in August. He can be a playmaker in the slot.