SEC West’s most indispensable defensive players

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Every year, contingency plans are formed by college coaches to deal with the loss of key personnel they might experience over the longevity of the 13-week regular season, but some guys are just nearly impossible to replace.

Here are seven SEC West defenders who are irreplaceable:

Alabama

Adrian Hubbard, LB: Maybe Adrian Hubbard isn’t Alabama’s best defensive player, but in order for Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense to be potent, he must have a Jack linebacker who can continuously get pressure in opponents’ backfields. And rising junior Hubbard is that guy for Saban. Hubbard nabbed 11 tackles for loss last season, and he figures to be even better this year. He’s already high on the NFL’s radar.

Arkansas

Chris Smith, DE: Arkansas’ offensive roster may be somewhat depleted, but the defensive side looks much deeper and more impactful in the front seven. Senior Chris Smith quietly had a sexy season for the Hogs, registering 13 tackles for loss 9.5 sacks, and he was the most consistent defender throughout 2012. Smith must be a catalyst for the Hogs’ defense.

Auburn

Jermaine Whitehead, SS: Auburn doesn’t have a lot of proven players returning, and only one stands out as being close to irreplaceable. The one very solid player in the Tigers’ secondary last season was Jermaine Whitehead. He finished with 86 total tackles, third highest on the Tigers’ defense. Multiple starting positions are still open, but Whitehead has All-SEC caliber ability.

LSU

Anthony Johnson, DT: LSU’s defensive line will feature a completely new look, but the anchor will be Anthony ‘Freak’ Johnson, who is due for a big season. He has the most experience of any LSU returning defensive lineman, and he has all the athletic ability to become a bigger force in the middle for the Tigers. With John Chavis’ history of nasty defensive linemen, coupled with Johnson’s rare ability, one can project Johnson as a high pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Mississippi State

Benardrick McKinney, LB: Now that leading tackler and MLB Cam Lawrence is gone, Benardrick McKinney takes over the reigns of the Bulldogs’ defensive unit. This kid was very impressive as a freshman in 2012, eating up ball carriers to the tune of 102 tackles. McKinney is one of the biggest freaks in the SEC, along with being one of the best linebackers you’ve never heard of.

Ole Miss

Denzel Nkemdiche, LB: Wow, can this kid play. Denzel Nkemdiche went from a no-name, zero-star prospect to a Freshman All-American in 2012. He lived in opponents’ backfields last season, registering 13 tackles for loss. Nkemdiche is almost a safety-sized linebacker who hits like a boss. Without their steady hybrid slasher, the Rebels’ defense wouldn’t be the same. Nkemdiche projects very well in 2013.

Texas A&M

Julien Obioha, DE: Although the Aggies lost two defensive ends in Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy, the one difference-maker defensive lineman who returns with the most experience is sophomore Julien Obioha, who started 12 games as a freshman. It’s obvious the pass rush will need to come from someone other than Obioha, but he’s the key and catalyst to the Aggies’ defensive line.

Photo Credit: Thomas Campbell

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  • Good point on Hubbard, Jon. For the average fan or spectator, the obvious choice would be the middle linebacker. In previous years, the Bama MLB (McClain, Hightower, Johnson, and last year’s Mosley) has been somewhat viewed as the captain of the defense. But if you look closely, Bama’s Jack LB serves as the hammer that makes the defense deadly. One of the memorable displays of the position’s worth came from Courtney Upshaw against LSU in the 2011 title game. In the 2009 title game, the Bama Jack, Eryk Anders, forced the turnover that sealed the victory. The Jack position makes or breaks the Alabama defense. Adrian Hubbard’s play is crucial to the success of the defense. Ryan Anderson made the switch to Jack during the Spring. I don’t know if you seem him, but he doesn’t look pleasant.