Hot Reads: Ranking the defenses in the SEC - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Hot Reads: Ranking the defenses in the SEC

Defense wasn't the problem for Will Muschamp and Florida last year, and it shouldn't be a concern now. (Source: University of Florida Communications) Defense wasn't the problem for Will Muschamp and Florida last year, and it shouldn't be a concern now. (Source: University of Florida Communications)
If Alabama is hunting another national title, Trey DePriest (33) needs to hunt quarterbacks as well as his predecessor. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications) If Alabama is hunting another national title, Trey DePriest (33) needs to hunt quarterbacks as well as his predecessor. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications)
(RNN) - "The perception that the SEC is becoming more of an offensive league is skewered" - the biggest lie told since someone said Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity.

The game, period, is turning toward offense. College football's most popular conference has never been one to lag behind, even if that next step is taken reluctantly.

The NFL Lite already had the best athletes on defense, and now they’re hitting the field faster, bigger and earlier.

This is the 'Hot Reads' ranking of the conference's defenses entering the 2014 season:

1. Florida

It's Florida. The Gators always have skilled, athletic players on defense. Linebackers Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison return as the leading tacklers from a year ago. Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III planted his flag in the turf last year and dared receivers to approach it. He ranked third in the SEC with 14 passes defended via break-up (11) or interception (3).

And in true Gator fashion, they reloaded up front with recruits and reserves from last year that will play full-time this season.

One to watch: Alex Anzalone - The injuries started in spring practice last year, and they never stopped. If his name is on the depth chart at middle linebacker, a good defense gets that much better.

2. Alabama

You can't win in this league without stopping the passing game (who ever thought we'd see the day when we could say that?), and Bama's secondary doesn't have star power at this point. But people poked at this unit all last season, and it still finished 11th in the country in passing defense, so there's that.

In the most predictable news ever, the Crimson Tide's front seven is just fine. The line returns production at every position, most notably A'Shawn Robinson and his team-high 5.5 sacks, and it added even more talent with blue chip Da'Shawn Hand. Look for Dee Liner to live up to his namesake now that space is cleared in front of him.

One to watch: Trey DePriest - He's the secondary's most valuable player. Yes, DePriest plays middle linebacker, but the man in that spot last year, C.J. Mosley, considerably reduced the time passers had to exploit holes behind him.

3. LSU

The defensive line is stacked, as usual, and Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter ranked first and tied for second on the team in sacks last season. There's talent everywhere in the secondary, but none of it is proven, and safety Jalen Mills' arrest in June didn't help.

We didn't mention the linebackers only because time won't allow. But they're gooooood.

One to watch: D.J. Welter - He is the top returning tackler, but last season's inconsistency could have been resolved with a steadier hand at middle linebacker.

4. Mississippi State

Remember when the Bulldogs had those two good cornerbacks named Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks? Now they have two good cornerbacks named Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love.

And with nine starters returning, they have so, so much more. Bernardrick McKinney and the rest of the linebackers can close space quicker than government offices close for holidays.

One to watch: Chris Jones - He's 300 pounds, and he gets into the backfield like he's toting an invitation.

5. Ole Miss

They need someone to emerge as a pass rusher, plain and simple. There are no glaring weaknesses across the board, just a lot of things that could be done better, and putting more pressure on the quarterback would go a long way in helping the Rebels take the next step forward.

Safety Cody Prewitt led the SEC in interceptions in 2013, and he's the anchor of what could be the best secondary in the conference, possibly one of the best in the country. Linebacker Serderius Bryant was in full-on beast mode last season.

One to watch: Robert Nkemdiche: It doesn't appear he will be a pass rusher extraordinaire in the Jadaveon Clowney mold, but it was obvious his learning curve decreased with each game last season.

6. South Carolina

No disrespect to No. 1 overall draft pick Clowney, but tackle Kelcy Quarles was the MVP of last year's defense - as proven by his top-five SEC rankings in sacks (nine) and tackles for loss (13.5). He's gone, too.

It's expected half-brothers Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. will make up for those losses, though with not nearly as much fanfare. If the Gamecocks get the knots straightened out in their secondary, we're looking at contenders on the national stage.

One to watch: J.T. Surratt - The defensive line is Carolina's bread and butter, so this big tackle better do lots of baking.

7. Georgia

You want pass rushers? You came to the right place. Six members of the front seven are back with a vengeance, and even the backups look strong. Senior inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera both had more than 100 tackles last year

That secondary, though. Three fourths of the unit are gone, but depending on your view of the world, that may be the best thing to happen to this team all offseason.

One to watch: Leonard Floyd - This kid is walking electricity, and his 6.5 sacks last year led a defense that hangs its hat on rushing the passer.

8. Auburn

The Tigers' secondary gave up more turf than the French in the Louisiana Purchase, but shockingly, who's playing coverage is one of this team's least worries. Jermaine Whitehead, Robenson Therezie and Jonathon Mincy are the core of a group of defensive backs that caught a lot more tackles than you want from the back part of your defense.

Other than at tackle, where three seniors can line up, there are question marks everywhere. Will defensive end Carl Lawson's knee allow him to get on the field, much less be any type of factor? Since that's not likely, who will play opposite Montravius Adams? Will the linebackers hold together after all the offseason shifting?

One to watch: Cassanova McKinzy - The first underclassman to lead the team in tackles since 2008 was still just figuring things out as a first-year starter last season. If you want to see where the action is, follow No. 8.

9. Tennessee

Paging Curt Maggitt, you're needed on the defensive line. The Volunteers' star-in-the-making linebacker missed all of 2013 recovering from injury, but expect him to line up with his hand on the ground now that he's healthy.

Tennessee lost six seniors and four starters, and that's just from the line. Ouch. The encouraging thing is the pass defense ranked a respectable 27th in the nation with 211 yards allowed per game, and all of the starters back there are returning.

One to watch: Brian Randolph - He's as reliable a safety as there is. His 75 tackles and four picks were awesome numbers for his position, and the Vols need just as much or more this season.

10. Arkansas

It's not often a tackle actually leads the team in tackles, but that's what Arkansas has returning in junior Darius Philon. With him and beastly defensive end Trey Flowers occupying space, life will be pretty sweet for the other two guys on that line.

There is tons of experience at linebacker, but the secondary? Well, let's just say that's the next step in the building process.

One to watch: Deatrich Wise Jr. - Philon and Flowers will give offensive lines headaches, and Wise will be there to clean up. He's also a pretty nifty dancer.

11. Vanderbilt

The Commodores are moving to a 3-4 scheme and for the love of grass stains, what took them so long?

Their personnel is much more suited for that system. There is beef across the line, which is exactly what linebackers want to hear. Speaking of which…

One to watch: Nigel Bowden - Fans didn't see him because he redshirted last season, but they should get more than an eyeful in 2014 - as will quarterbacks.

12. Kentucky

Avery Williamson was the SEC's most underrated defensive player the last two seasons, and now he's gone. So is every bit of depth on the interior line.

So what do the Wildcats have besides an impressive recruiting class? They have Alvin Dupree with his seven sacks and spots on the preseason watch lists for the Nagurski and Bednarik awards. On the other side of the line they have Za'Darius Smith, not to be outdone with six sacks last year.

They also have an experienced and deep secondary that, hopefully, will scratch together more than three interceptions.

One to watch: Blake McClain - He has the potential to wreak havoc as a nickelback, and he's only a sophomore.

13. Texas A&M

Hey, remember when Johnny Manziel… just kidding.

No, but seriously, at least facing Manziel in practice every day made a defense with issues, umm, less issue-ful??

Darian Claiborne, an all-SEC linebacker as a freshman, and tackle Isaiah Golden were dismissed from the team for drug charges, so the Aggies' best chance at stopping someone doesn't come until they get to the very back of the defense. That ain't good.

One to watch: Deshazor Everett - It's possible that a cornerback could lead the SEC in tackles. That was said half-jokingly, emphasis on half.

14. Missouri

The front seven got gutted, losing two starters on both the line and at linebacker. There is less of a concern up front where defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray are expected to fill the shoes of some pretty outstanding departures.

But inexperience and injuries have already hit the linebackers, and the only thing you need to know about the secondary is that there isn't much to know.

One to watch: Kentrell Brothers - He had surgery this past spring, but he should start at middle linebacker this season. He better because they need him.

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
  • What will be the top defense in the SEC in 2014?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    31 votes
    127 votes
    62 votes
    Mississippi State
    20 votes
    Ole Miss
    20 votes
    South Carolina
    39 votes
    32 votes
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