Published July 31, 2012 - 8:00am
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SDS is getting into the Olympic spirit, and the ceremonies carry us just about right into the start of football season. We will be handing out SEC Podium Awards for the top three players at each position. Next up are the defensive ends.
Now we can get down to business with what the SEC is known for: the defensive line. We’ll start with the defensive ends and work our way inside for the next Podium Awards. The SEC claims the fastest defensive ends in the country, and many won’t argue with us, either.
Gold: Sam Montgomery, LSU
Entering 2011, Sam Montgomery was not a common name in SEC football. Coming off a season-ending knee injury the year before, Montgomery burst onto the scene and had a breakout year few expected, outside of Baton Rouge. With a year of experience under his belt and the opportunity to get bigger, stronger and faster, Montgomery will be a quarterback-hungry fiend this season. He racked up 9.0 sacks last year. Expect that number to increase this year. He also added 13.5 tackles for loss. Montgomery is just another talented lineman on a team that has no shortage of playmakers at the position. He’s the perfect height and weight to be a hybrid end and linebacker, much like his counterpart Barkevious Mingo. Speed is the name of Montgomery’s game, and look for him to live in opponents’ backfields this season.
Silver: Corey Lemonier, Auburn
If two people could tie for a metal in the Olympics, I would put Montgomery and Lemonier 1A and 1B. But there can only be one gold medal winner, and that belongs to Montgomery. But just an inch behind Montgomery is Auburn’s standout end Corey Lemonier. He actually displayed slightly better numbers than Montgomery in 2011. Lemonier is the top returner along the defensive line in sacks (9.5 a year ago). He posted just as many tackles for loss as Montgomery, too (13.5). He will benefit greatly from playing under new defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who coached for the Atlanta Falcons in the same capacity. Van Gorder’s defense will be in full attack mode, and Lemonier will be leading that charge. He is the cornerstone to a defensive line that was very questionable last year and has turned into a strength this year.
Bronze: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is easily the most gifted defensive lineman to come through the SEC in some time. He will remind you of former Florida Gator Jevon Kearse Florida back in the day, who was appropriately labeled ‘The Freak’. Steve Spurrier confirmed at SEC Media Days that he and his staff held a tight reign on Clowney during his freshman season. It certainly looked that way because he was used sometimes sparingly. I fully expect this young man to have a breakout season in 2012. The only thing that will stand between him and his domination of the SEC is Jadeveon Clowney. He will improve on his 2011 numbers: 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles.