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Friday, August 12, 2011
From good to great: SEC edition

By Edward Aschoff

We always hear about players who are on the cusp of greatness. They have the ability to be premier athletes not just in their own leagues but on the national scene.

They've shown flashes in the past, but now people expect them to become stars.

The SEC is known for breeding top talent year in and year out, and there are a handful of players who fit this very description lurking throughout the league this season.

Here are some of those players you should keep your eye on:

LSU's Morris Claiborne
LSU's Morris Claiborne takes over the No. 1 cornerback spot from NFL first-round pick Patrick Peterson.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU: The high-flying junior was overshadowed by first-round draft pick Patrick Peterson last year, but he actually put up better numbers. Claiborne, who started opposite Peterson, led the Tigers with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups. He also recorded 37 tackles. Now he has the No. 1 corner spot and, like Peterson, he has the ability to take an entire side of the field away from a quarterback. He might not be as athletic as Peterson, but he can fly and his coaches believe he'll be one of the top cover-corners around this season. He's rangy, which great instincts and is ready to become a household name in the defensive backs fraternity.

Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: Lemonier enjoyed a season in which he was named to the SEC coaches All-Freshman team in 2010. He played in 14 games, recording 17 tackles and two sacks. But he'll be asked to do a lot more this season, as he steps into a starting role opposite Nosa Eguae along the defensive front. The 6-foot-4, 234-pound lineman is one of the faster and more athletic linemen in the league and Auburn’s coaches expect him to have a breakout year this season. His teammates raved about his improvements and production during the spring, and he should be drawing double-teams in no time.

Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: For years, Florida's coaches and players have fueled the Chris Rainey hype machine. He has accumulated more than 1,600 rushing yards and is easily one the most elusive player in the conference, but he hasn’t shown his full potential. His very embarrassing and very public suspension last year cut into his production, but when he returned, he showed he was Florida's best offensive player. Now Rainey could get the bulk of the reps at running back while also lining up in the slot. With Jeff Demps running track this spring, Rainey was the star of Florida’s backfield and he thoroughly impressed Florida's new coaching staff. He doesn't have great size, but his speed and agility make him tough to grab.

Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia: Ogletree began his career at Georgia as a safety, but has moved to inside linebacker, where he made quite a bit of noise this spring. While he played in 12 games last season and recorded 34 tackles, he should put up even better numbers at his new position. Ogletree can absolutely fly around the field and injecting that safety speed into the front seven tremendously enhances Georgia's defense. Ogletree has bulked up to 236 pounds, but kept his speed, making him a nightmare for opposing backfields.

D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina: Swearinger has finally found a home at strong safety. He bounced around from corner, free safety and strong safety during his first two seasons, but is now entrenched at strong safety and he couldn't be happier. Swearinger oozes athleticism and big things are expected from the junior this fall. Swearinger was known more as a player who played like he was flying off of a launching pad, but insists he's changed his game and wants to prove that he can also be a cover guy as well. He has great range and speed, so he should be busy both inside and outside of the box this fall.