With spring practice getting underway for every team in the coming weeks, let’s dive into the defensive returners for every team. SDS breaks down the top 10 returning tacklers and other key defensive players for 2014.
Here is the SEC West breakdown with the top returning tacklers for every team:
Alabama Crimson Tide
- The Tide return five of the top 10 tacklers from 2013, but they will be obviously without their leader linebacker CJ Mosley, who racked up 108 tackles and was named college football’s top linebacker.
- The two biggest returners are linebacker Trey Depriest and safety Landon Collins. Both have All-American potential and return a combined 135 tackles.
- The biggest concern on Nick Saban’s mind this spring is his secondary. With safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri gone, only Collins returns big-time potential. Saban has to identify corners who can play the ball in the air much better than last season.
- The Hogs return seven of the team’s top tacklers from last season, including the top two tacklers in Alan Turner and Braylon Mitchell.
- The best player returning is defensive end Trey Flowers, who passed up a shot at the draft to return for his senior season. He racked up 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, along with three forced fumbles. He’s a player!
- To improve upon a weak run defense, the Hogs have to get physically bigger in the front seven, particularly at linebacker. The defense also needs better athletes in the secondary.
- The Tigers return six of their top 10 tacklers from 2013, but leading tackler and top corner Chris Davis graduates.
- The top returning tackler is linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, who had a breakout season in 2013. He made 66 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and six QB hurries.
- Another underrated clutch player returning is Star Robinson Therezie, who led Auburn with four INTs.
- The obvious guy to replace is defensive end Dee Ford, who had a big-time season. Look for rising sophomores Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel to grow into monsters.
- Seven of the Tigers’ top 10 tacklers return next season, but the leading tackler in linebacker Lamin Barrow graduates.
- The obvious concern for LSU is replacing defensive tackle duo Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson. Ferguson finished fifth in total tackles, and Johnson added nine tackles for loss.
- One key this spring will be to get tackle Christian LaCouture and linebacker Kendall Beckwith ready to contribute immediately.
- LSU is known for their NFL secondary play, and they return several in the secondary for 2014, including veteran corner Jalen Mills and rising sophomore Tre’Davious White.
Related: LSU spring football forecast
Mississippi State Bulldogs
- The Bulldogs return eight of their 10 top tacklers from 2013, including the top tackler in linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who racked up 71 last season. He’s an NFL prospect.
- The two top losses are safety Nickoe Whitley and linebacker Deontae Skinner; both had a ton of experience and leadership.
- Defensive lineman Chris Jones should be a monster next season, and corner Taveze Calhoun is going to be a big player next season.
Ole Miss Rebels
- The Rebels return eight of the team’s top 10 tacklers, including the leading tackler Serderius Bryant. Bryant had a breakout season in 2013, making 78 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
- Top safety Cody Prewitt returns, and he made an SEC-high six INTs last season, along with 71 tackles and two forced fumbles.
- The biggest loss will come from linebacker Mike Marry, who has been a staple on defense.
- The defensive line led by Robert Nkemdiche, Isaac Gross and CJ Johnson should have tremendous ability and depth.
Related: Ole Miss spring football forecast
Texas A&M Aggies
- The Aggies return seven of the top 10 tacklers for 2014, with leading tackler Steven Jenkins having graduated.
- Texas A&M had the SEC’s worst scoring defense and worst run defense in 2013. It wasn’t because of the lack of talent; it had more to do with the youth that saturated the defense.
- The most stable unit is the secondary, with returning starters Howard Matthews and Deshazor Everett, but the front seven is of utmost concern, particularly the defensive line.
- One player who has to take a big step is end Julien Obioha.
Related: Texas A&M spring football forecast
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