Nowhere to run: The SEC's best run-stuffing defensive tackles
Defensive tackle is not a glamorous position.
Every Saturday, DTs line up inches from an interior offensive lineman and crash into them, hoping to knock them out of the way (or go right past them) to in turn knock down a ball carrier. It doesn’t sound fun, but someone has to do it.
Some players, like Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, are so good at clogging lanes that teams throw multiple blockers at them, mucking up their schemes while trying to stop that player from making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. We honored some of those players earlier this week on our “No-Stat Stars” list. There’s also a slew of talented defensive linemen coming in, many of whom could rack up big totals early in their careers.
Which returning players have the skills and stats to back up their run-stopping reputations?
A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
2014 stats: 49 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss
Robinson, who recently missed some time with a knee/ankle sprain, is an absolute load at nose tackle in Alabama’s 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds, he’s a terror for opposing running games. As an honorable mention All-SEC selection, he flashed all the skills necessary to anchor Alabama’s stout run defense. He’s helped, of course, by Jonathan Allen, a run-stuffing defensive end in his own right, and having those two line up next to each other leaves offenses with few running lanes.
Taiwan Johnson, Arkansas
2014 stats: 26 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks
After moving from end to tackle last fall, Johnson was a solid contributor between future NFLers Trey Flowers and Darius Philon and was a big part of the Razorbacks’ excellent run defense. With those two gone, Johnson will now line up alongside Bihjon Jackson in the middle to form a formidable pairing. Johnson is a bit undersized, listed at 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds last fall, but he makes up for it with a motor and quickness to get past interior linemen.
Montravius Adams, Auburn
Auburn’s defense crumbled in the second half of 2014, but you can’t pin the blame on Adams. He was one of the few stalwarts on the defense to make it through the season healthy, and he’s been a steady performer during his first two years with the Tigers. With many of the Tigers’ top defensive line performers from a year ago departed, Adams has added leadership to his prodigious size and talent this spring. With Carl Lawson and DaVonte Lambert both healthy, Adams’ sole responsibility will be plugging the middle of the line.
Melvin Lewis, Kentucky
2014 stats: 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks
Last fall, Kentucky had Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, two soon-to-be NFL draft picks, sucking up every runner that came their way. That didn’t leave a lot of work for Lewis, but the rising senior will lead a (hopefully) improved Kentucky defense this fall. The 6-foot-4, 342-pound Compton, Calif. native has impressed his coaches this spring, and after starting every game last season he’s going to be the leader of UK’s 3-4 defense as they transition to the new scheme this fall.
Harold Brantley, Missouri
2014 stats: 54 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks
Brantley is the only repeater from the No-Stat Stars. Playing alongside two terrors last fall, Shane Ray and Markus Golden, Brantley provided a lynchpin in the middle of Missouri’s excellent run defense. He’ll lead a fresh group of defensive linemen this year, with three new starters, both with his play and his loud “encouragement” of his teammates. With Josh Augusta, a mountain of a DT alongside him, Brantely should be freed up to knock around some running backs this fall.