With spring practice getting underway for every team in the coming weeks, let’s dive into the defensive returners. SDS breaks down the top 10 returning tacklers and other key defensive players for 2014.
Here is the SEC East breakdown with the top returning tacklers for every team:
- Gators return seven of the top 10 tacklers, including leading tackler in linebacker Michael Taylor, who made 62 total last season.
- The defense’s biggest playmaker returns in DE/LB Dante Fowler, who made 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven QB hurries and three forced fumbles.
- Florida also returns top cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who recorded 11 pass breakups and three INTs during his All-American freshman season.
- Florida’s biggest defensive concern is the secondary, with corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson gone, along with safety Cody Riggs, who transferred to Notre Dame.
- Georgia returns eight of the top 10 tacklers, led by All-SEC linebacker Ramik Wilson, who racked up an SEC-leading 133 tackles, along with 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and seven QB hurries.
- Safety/linebacker hybrid Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed from the program, and he leaves behind a sizeable hole as the defense’s most pure talent.
- Georgia’s strength in 2014 will be rushing the passer, and the defense returns both rush linebackers in Leonard Floyd (9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 22 QB hurries) and Jordan Jenkins (12 TFL, 5 sacks, 23 QB hurries).
- The one player they need more from is rising sophomore safety Tray Matthews, who played in eight games last season due to injuries and made 36 tackles.
- Kentucky returns eight of its top 10 tackles, but they will lose top tackler Avery Williamson to graduation. Williamson made 102 tackles in 2013.
- Top linebacker/defensive end combo Bud Dupree is the biggest playmaker, and he had a big year last year, making 61 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
- The combo of Dupree and DE Za’Darius Smith should be rather potent, and the Cats will rely on both to create havoc in backfields.
- Defensive back Blake McClain is going to be a baller. He recorded 59 tackles and five breakups last year as a freshman.
- Mizzou returns four of its top 10 tacklers from 2013, but they lose top tackler Andrew Wilson to graduation. Wilson has been a staple in the Tigers’ aggressive and impressive defense.
- Safety Braylon Webb returns as the top tackler from last year, and he racked up 89 tackles as a defensive back. That’s impressive.
- The obvious loss here is defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, who combined to make 33.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks.
- The biggest returning player is linebacker/defensive end Markus Golden, who racked up an impressive 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in a backup role.
- The biggest area of concern is the secondary, which loses three starters including All-SEC corner EJ Gaines.
South Carolina Gamecocks
- The Gamecocks return six of the top 10 returning tacklers, including their leading tackler in linebacker Skai Moore, who racked up 56 tackles and also led the team with four INTs.
- Four of the top 10 tacklers were defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, along with two corners in Jimmy Legree and Victor Hamption. The defensive line and cornerbacks are the biggest defensive concerns.
- Spur Sharrod Golightly not only has the best name on the team, but he played well in a first-year role, making 47 tackles and six tackles for loss.
- The one player who needs to emerge this spring is defensive end Darius English, who will look to replace either Clowney or Chaz Sutton.
- The Vols return six of the 10 top tacklers from 2013, including middle linebacker AJ Johnson, who made 106 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. He’s made two straight 100-plus-tackle seasons.
- Another offseason for safety Brian Randolph (75 tackles, 4 INTs) and corner Cam Sutton (39 tackles, 2 INTs) will be huge for a growing defensive unit and secondary.
- The biggest issue is replacing four defensive line starters, headlined by Corey Miller. That’s the biggest defensive focus this offseason.
- Tennessee will get back linebacker Curt Maggitt, who returns from an injury-filled 2013 campaign. Will he finally become the breakout player we all anticipated?
- The Commodores return just four of the top 10 tacklers from 2013, and leading tackler in safety Kenny Ladler graduated.
- The top returning tackler is linebacker Darreon Herring, who made 84 tackles, three tackles for loss and 11 passes defended.
- One player who has to be more of a prolific star is defensive end Caleb Azubike, who is the Dores’ fourth leading returning tackler. Azubike made 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
- The secondary is the biggest concern with all four starters gone, headlined by safety Kenny Ladler and corner Andre Hal.
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