The SEC is known for its speedy hit-‘em-in-the-mouth defenses. Defensive ends that flash speed off the edge, defensive tackles that can muscle their way in the opponent’s backfield and linebackers who can run sideline-to-sideline with any 4.40 running back are the new norm.
Experienced, physical and dominant linebackers are coveted players, especially in the SEC.
Let’s look into the crystal ball and take a look at five of the most dominant linebacker duos for 2013:
1. Adrian Hubbard and CJ Mosley, Alabama
2012 combined stats: 148 tackles, 19 TFL and 11 sacks
The Skinny: Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense needs two big-time inside linebackers, another outside linebacker and Jack linebacker who lives in opponents’ backfields. CJ Mosley could be the best linebacker in the country, while Adrian Hubbard could be the most physically gifted linebacker on the team. Mosley is the captain of the defense, but what sets him apart is his ability to cover receivers or tight ends in space. He’s made five INTs and returned three of them for touchdowns in his career. Hubbard, on the other hand, has a higher ceiling with his 6-6, 250-pound frame. He racked up 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2012, and several think Hubbard explodes in 2013.
2. Amarlo Herrera and Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
2012 combined stats: 101 tackles, 11 TFL and eight sacks
The Skinny: Out of the five duos, Amarlo Herrera and Jordan Jenkins are the least known. Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree stole all Herrera’s ink last year, and the All-American Jones started in front of Jordan Jenkins. However, Herrera racked up 70 tackles last season and is the team’s top returning tackler as an inside linebacker. Jordan Jenkins, on the other hand, is a rising superstar. He made 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in limited playing time. This duo will be the nuts and bolts of the new-look UGA defense in 2013. Jenkins could prove to be the best linebacker in the SEC.
3. Mike Marry and Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
2012 combined stats: 160 tackles, 23.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks
The Skinny: Mike Marry is a physically gifted linebacker at 6-5, 258 pounds. Marry has registered 181 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in his three-year career. But Denzel Nkemdiche is a budding superstar. He wasn’t even good enough exiting high school to be a one-star recruit, but this kid exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman last year, making 13 tackles for loss. Nkemdiche isn’t afraid to bring the wood against anyone. Combined, these two made 160 total tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss in 2012 alone. I wonder what they’ll do for an encore?
4. Chase Garnham and Karl Butler, Vanderbilt
2012 stats: 135 tackles, 24 TFL and nine sacks
The Skinny: All Chase Garnham and Karl Butler did last season is produce serious numbers. The duo combined for 135 tackles and 24 tackles for loss, the most of any duo in the SEC. Garnham, specifically, lived opponents’ backfields, making 12.5 tackles for loss, while the hybrid safety/linebacker Butler became a force throughout the season, and he made 11.5 tackles for loss. These two Commodores are ready to have big senior seasons in 2013, and I expect the linebackers and secondary to lead the defense.
5. AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
2012 combined stats: 168 tackles, 13.5 TFL and three sacks
The Skinny: You could make the argument that AJ Johnson belongs in the No. 1 linebacker talks in the SEC, because he’s a future NFL-caliber player. Johnson was one of the few defensive players on the Vols’ defense last year who could even bust a grape. He registered an SEC-high 138 tackles while adding 8.5 tackles for loss. Curt Maggitt, on the other hand, was injured for some of 2012, limiting his overall production. He’s a fantastic athlete who could blow up this year if healthy. Maggitt made 5.5 tackles for loss and made two sacks in nine games, and he returns from a season-ending knee injury.
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