The SEC is certainly known for its fast and physical defenses. Just ask anyone outside of the conference or any coach across the country if there is one word to describe the SEC, and I guarantee the majority will say defense. Just like Oregon coach Chip Kelly said after the loss against LSU last year, “The SEC just has a little different type of player running around out there”.
We boast fast defensive ends, even faster linebackers and ball-hawking secondaries that we like to call the Erasers, because they erase the mistakes of the front seven.
This year is no different, as top defenses look to exert their will on lesser opponents and physically punish them.
We’ve already looked at the offenses, and here are the preseason defensive power rankings:
Top Shelf: Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU
These four teams – Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU – should finish in the top four in overall defense in the SEC. Alabama has the best coach and defensive schemer in the country in
Kirby Smart Nick Saban. Even though the Tide are replacing three of four in the secondary and two linebackers, the talented younger players will develop throughout the season. There will be a drop off, but not as bad as expected. Florida returns 10 of 11 starters led by linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and the Gators’ secondary may very well be the tops in the SEC. LSU’s defense, with coordinator John Chavis, will be sick once again. They have NFL talent all over the defensive line, but the Tigers are replacing three of four in the secondary and two linebackers. Georgia returns nine starters from a physical defense, led by SEC-leading sacker Jarvis Jones (13.5) and All-SEC safety Bacarri Rambo. This group is fast and physical, something that has been missing from UGA in the last several years.
Next Level: Mississippi State and South Carolina
One of these two – South Carolina – has an opportunity to make it to the top shelf and be a top 10-caliber defense in the country. South Carolina boasts a studly defensive line, but the Gamecocks are replacing one linebacker and the coveted SPUR, in addition to three of four in the secondary now that Akeem Auguste is out for the year. This group could be vulnerable early until the younger players gain some experience. Mississippi State may seem a bit of a wild card as a next-level defense, but just because you don’t want to believe it. MSU returns seven on defense, led by SEC-leading returning tackler Cam Lawrence (123 tackles) and possibly the best SEC corner in Johnathan Banks. MSU’s defense will be better than expected.
Middle of the pack: Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M
We enter yet another year where Arkansas has a stellar offense, and yet we still wonder when the Hogs’ defense will make progression. The strength is up front on the line. The Hogs are a little thin at linebacker but are a little deeper in the secondary. Watch out for linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright. Auburn returns 10 of 11 on defense, led by their nasty defensive line and end Corey Lemonier. Brian VanGorder is bringing a little bit of a different mentality to this defense than last year. They could end up a little better than middle of the pack. Tennessee has a talented first-team defense, with little depth on the line or at linebacker. The secondary is deeper than the last few years, but the Vols are transitioning over to a 3-4 scheme under Sal Sunseri. Linebackers AJ Johnson and Curt Maggit are players. Texas A&M presents a formidable cast of linebackers in Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter, but the best player on defense is end Damontre Moore. This group, like Tennessee, is changing schemes but back to a more-traditional 4-3. The secondary, however, is very inexperienced and unproven, and the inexperience will have to develop quickly.
Not sold yet: Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt
Kentucky’s strength on defense is along the line, led by 335-pound Mister Cobble. But behind Cobble, Kentucky has loads of questions, replacing three linebackers and two defensive backs. This unit could be in trouble if it does not develop quickly. Missouri has an okay defensive front with featured tackle Sheldon Richardson, but questions abound with this group. That’s never a good thing in this league. The good news, however, is that the Tigers have a solid linebacking corps and a great corner in EJ Gaines. We’ll wait and see how they transition over to the SEC in the first couple of weeks. Ole Miss had the league’s worst defense last season, giving up 419 yards-per game. The good news is that eight are back, including DB Charles Sawyer and LB Mike Marry, but this unit will need to improve vastly if it wants to be competitive this season. I like where the Vanderbilt program is headed, but the defense is more of a question mark than the offense. The Dores lost their top three players from last year. It will be tough getting last year’s middle-of-the-pack defense back to form.