Tuesday, August 25, 2009
SEC position rankings: Defensive line
By Chris Low
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Now we're getting down to where you win and lose games in the SEC. The defensive linemen in this league are outstanding:
1. Ole Miss: Ed Orgeron recruited a few talented defensive linemen before he left Ole Miss, didn't he? The Rebels go about nine or 10 deep, and they all can play. Tackle Jerrell Powe is in great shape and wreaking havoc inside, while Greg Hardy is one of the most feared pass-rushers in the college game.
2. Florida: In any other league, the Gators would be at the top. Junior end Carlos Dunlap is a 285-pound pass-rushing machine. He and fellow end Jermaine Cunningham combined for 15.5 sacks last season. The Gators are also imposing in the middle with tackle Lawrence Marsh, but there's great competition up and down the line.
3. Alabama: Looking at the Alabama defensive front now is reminiscent of what LSU looked like up front when Nick Saban left the Bayou. Nose guard Terrence Cody is the ultimate run-stuffer, but 296-pound sophomore end Marcell Dareus may be the best of the bunch.
4. LSU: Just because the Tigers are fourth, don't discount them moving up in these rankings by the end of the season. Tackle Charles Alexander looks to be healthy, and big Al Woods (all 325 pounds of him) is finally playing up to his potential. Junior Drake Nevis is LSU's best all-around tackle, and senior end Rahim Alem is coming off an eight-sack season.
5. Georgia: The Bulldogs have the best tandem of tackles in the league in Jeff Owens, who's back from a season-ending knee injury a year ago, and Geno Atkins. The problem is finding someone to get to the quarterback off the edge. There's not a proven pass-rusher on the team.
6. Tennessee: The most underrated defensive line in the league may belong to the Vols. Tackle Dan Williams is as solid as they come, and end Chris Walker is poised to have a breakout season. Watch Gerald Williams at the other end, too. He and Walker are the kind of bookends the Vols have lacked the last few seasons on the outside.
7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are ranked a little higher than some of their numbers from a year ago suggest they should be, but this ought to be the most improved defensive line in the league. The addition of junior college tackle Pernell McPhee gives Mississippi State a dominant presence in the middle along with senior Kyle Love.
8. South Carolina: If the Gamecocks can keep everybody out of the training room and the court room, they should be OK. Tackle Ladi Ajoybe is suspended for the first three games. End Clifton Geathers has been suspended indefinitely, and tackle Nathan Pepper has knee problems. How much will we see Eric Norwood at end this season?
9. Auburn: Depth is the biggest problem for the Tigers. They simply don't have any up front. We know senior end Antonio Coleman can play, but the Auburn defensive staff is having to move people around to plug holes. Michael Goggans may have to play both inside and outside this season.
10. Vanderbilt: Losing end Steven Stone (broken foot) for at least the first four games was a downer. Stone tied for the team lead in sacks with five last season. Vanderbilt's other starting end, Broderick Stewart, has also battled injuries. The Commodores can't afford for anybody else to go down.
11. Arkansas: Tackle Malcolm Sheppard is an All-SEC-caliber player, but he can't do it alone. Arkansas has to get more production and more consistency out of its guys up front this season. The Hogs were last in the league a year ago in rushing defense and didn't get to the quarterback much.
12. Kentucky: One player doesn't make a team, but the loss of senior end Jeremy Jarmon was a crippling blow for the Wildcats up front. They don't have an end on their roster who's ever recorded a tackle in a college game. Inside at tackle, they need junior college newcomer Mark Crawford to have a big year.