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SEC football spring training winds up with five Saturday scrimmages

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper is a returning star for the Crimson Tide. (Source: Alabama Media Relations) Alabama receiver Amari Cooper is a returning star for the Crimson Tide. (Source: Alabama Media Relations)
Auburn's new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has his work cut out for him. (Source: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics) Auburn's new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has his work cut out for him. (Source: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

(RNN) - Spring practice in the SEC climaxes Saturday when five more teams hold their annual spring scrimmages. Interesting fact: So far the biggest attendance at a spring game this season was at Kentucky last week. The 'Cats drew a little more than 50,000.

Three of Saturday's five games are on TV. Here are the rundowns:

Alabama 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2

This year's weakness was last year's strength – the Alabama offensive line needs to be rebuilt after three starters depart. A new OL coach has to do it. Mario Cristobal came to UA from Miami to replace Jeff Stoutland after he left to take a job in the NFL.

Cyrus Kouandjio (LT), Arie Kouandjio (LG), Ryan Kelly (C), Anthony Steen (RG), Austin Shepherd (RT) are the projected starters.

Bama is loaded with receivers. In last week's scrimmage, wide receiver Amari Cooper caught six passes for four TDs and 106 yards. The week before, DeAndrew White caught seven passes for 132 yards and two TDs.

QB AJ McCarron has been dominating in spring. He has won two national titles as the Tide starter, so he's a known quantity. It'll be interesting to see what backup Blake Sims does.

Eddie Lacy is gone, which clears the way for T.J. Yeldon to get more carries and rack up many yards. Promising RB Derrick Henry broke his leg in last week's scrimmage. He's expected to make a full recovery, so his public unveiling will come next fall. Alabama has a bunch of promising runningbacks who'll get action.

Defensive concerns: the secondary was vulnerable to good passing teams last year and it lost its two best players, Dee Milliner and Robert Lester.

Defensive line is solid, still looking for a rush end. Linebackers are led by C.J. Mosley, an All-American last year.

Auburn 2 p.m. on CSS/ESPN3

This year's A-Day Game is the first for new head coach Gus Malzahn and the last for the storied oaks at Toomer's Corner.

Malzahn took over for fired Gene Chizik after a dreadful 3-9 season. Malzahn was the offensive coordinator in 2010 when Auburn made its undefeated national championship run.

The trees were allegedly poisoned by an Alabama fan. Despite heroic efforts to save them, they will be taken down after one, final rolling following the spring game. It's sure to be a bittersweet moment.

Auburn's practices have been closed, but Malzahn said he and the staff want to make the scrimmage as "game-like as possible, not only for ourselves, but for our fans."

The focus of Auburn's offensive rebuilding is the quarterback position, where somebody will have to run Mazlahn's swirling, quick-snap attack. In last week's scrimmage QBs Kiehl Frazier and challenger Jonathan Wallace each threw TD passes. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will take his time before naming a starter. He has said both QBs still need a lot of work.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who comes to Auburn from South Carolina, has an even harder rebuilding job. The Tigers gave up 420 yards and more than 28 points per game last year. For AU, the battle to rebuild starts with improved tackling.

Young linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy have a lot of promise. Keep an eye on freshmen Justin Garrett and JaViere Mitchell, who are vying for the crucial "star" position in Ellis' 4-2-5 scheme.

The Tigers have saved two practices to keep working on what they learn after Saturday's A-Day game.

Arkansas 3 p.m. on ET ESPN3

New coach Bret Bielema has to piece Arkansas back together after last year's collapse under interim head coach John Smith, who stepped in after Bobby Petrino's embarrassing dismissal. last spring.

It will be fascinating to see what the Razorbacks do on offense this spring.

Bielema's offensive reputation at Wisconsin was based on a no-nonsense rushing attack. But then he went and hired offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who has coached noted passers Drew Brees at Purdue and Tyler Bray, who threw for 3,600 yards last year at Tennessee. Chaney spreads it out to produce high-scoring, air-oriented attacks.

With Tyler Wilson leaving for the NFL draft, the Hogs need a quarterback. Chaney has been complimentary of all the QBs in the race for the position and of the passing game. Brandon Allen is the leader in the race to take over at QB.

The defense is pretty solid, and very experienced with four linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs returning.

LSU 3 p.m. ET

LSU's offense returns plenty of weapons. The defense lost seven starters after six players declared early for the NFL draft. Coach Les Miles has a lot to reveal and resolve before next year.

First, the good news:

QB Zach Mettenberger is back after an up-and-down year. He played better later in the season and should be a highly efficient SEC quarterback by next year. Stephen Rivers is the likely backup. Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig were highly recruited young quarterbacks who will get some work Saturday.

Keep an eye on whether the run-first Miles lets his guys air it out a little more than usual this spring.

Jarvis Landry caught 56 balls for 573 yards last year and appears to be the star among a talented group of receivers. But Odell Beckam, who gained 713 yards on 43 catches in 2012 and Quantavious Leslie are also outstanding.

The Tigers lost the entire defensive front. That's bad, but not as bad as it would be at a school with less talent. LSU has a host of youngsters who can step up, among them, down linemen Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.

Their play inside will determine how effective the ends can be as pass rushers. Check out converted LB Ronnie Feist, who could really make an impact as a rush end.

The linebacker corps needs work – Kevin Minter's early departure to the pros may be the hardest loss on the team to overcome. He was the heart of the defense with more than 120 tackles last year. The good news is the Tigers have a lot of talented linebackers ready to step in.

Two solid returnees in the secondary are Jalen Collins and Craig Loston.

Tennessee 3 p.m. ET on ESPN3

The big story at Rocky Top is the search for a quarterback.

The Tennessee offense is hurting for skill players, and finding somebody to replace Tyler Bray at QB is the chief problem for new coach Butch Jones.

The springtime competition between junior Justin Worley and freshman Nathan Peterman produced no clear leader, and it's doubtful Jones is going to declare a frontrunner after Saturday. Two freshman signees will join the competition in the summer.

The run game returns intact. Martin Lane and Raijon Neal return with about 1,400 yards between them. Lane has had some disciplinary issues that cost him a few practices.

The offensive line is excellent.

Tennessee's defense was horrid last year – half the teams the Vols played scored more than 40 points. It's hard to pinpoint any particular area in more need of rebuilding than any other. So keep an eye on everything.

Miss. State 2 p.m. ET

Mississippi State hit a late-season slump that tarnished an otherwise good season. The Bulldogs are at a crucial point in Coach Dan Mullen's tenure, where they are challenged to live up to higher expectations.

MSU returns depth and experience in the offensive line.

QB Tyler Russell and RB LaDarius Perkins are back. Russell, who passed for almost 2,900 yards and 24 TDs last year, needs somebody to throw to this season – the Bulldogs lost their four top receivers. He threw four interceptions in the Bulldogs' last scrimmage, drawing Mullen's ire.

State lost a star in Cameron Lawrence at LB, but a good group is returning. The secondary needs work after losing three starters.

The defensive line may be better than last year. David Turner returns to coach the position. Turner coached DL at State in 2007 until 2009, when he left to go to Kentucky.

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