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Thursday, August 27, 2009
SEC position rankings: Defensive backs

By staff

Posted by's Chris Low

The SEC has some outstanding players in the secondary, but there are also a few holes to fill around the league:

1. Florida: The real question with the Gators is how many of their second-team players could start for other teams in the league. They have eight or nine players who are SEC-ready. Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins are the best cornerback combo in the country, and safety Ahmad Black had seven interceptions last season.

2. LSU: First-year defensive coordinator John Chavis loves what he inherited in the secondary, which should be the strength of the LSU defense. Patrick Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC. Chad Jones has settled in at free safety where he belongs, and cornerback Jai Eugene is one of the most improved players on the team.

3. Tennessee: Any secondary that includes Eric Berry has to be ranked pretty high. But the Vols return four of their top six defensive backs from a year ago, and all four have multiple starts. Brent Vinson and Dennis Rogan are premier athletes, and freshman Janzen Jackson may end up starting somewhere before the season is over.

4. Alabama: The Crimson Tide were a little shaky last season with their cornerback depth opposite Javier Arenas, who's developed into one of the league's best lockdown corners. Safety Rashad Johnson was a huge part of the 2008 defense and will be missed, but the Tide have seven of their top eight DBs back plus talented freshman Dre Kirkpatrick.

5. Georgia: Had cornerback Asher Allen not left early for the NFL, the Bulldogs would really be set this season in the secondary. Senior cornerback Prince Miller and junior safety Reshad Jones are two of the top players at their positions in the league. Freshman cornerback Brandon Smith is also pushing to crack the rotation.

6. Vanderbilt: Some might be surprised to see the Commodores this high after losing a player the caliber of D.J. Moore early to the NFL. But Myron Lewis might be a better all-around corner than Moore, and senior free safety Ryan Hamilton is a three-year starter who intercepted four passes a year ago. Vanderbilt is also getting Jamie Graham on defense.

7. South Carolina: Talent isn't the problem for the Gamecocks, especially their young talent. Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman are future stars. But any time you have true freshmen playing such key roles in this league, it's trouble. Just ask Florida two years ago. Senior strong safety Darian Stewart has All-SEC potential.

8. Ole Miss: There aren't many question marks concerning the Rebels' front seven on defense, but the secondary isn't especially deep. Cornerbacks Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn improved during the second half of last season, and senior safety Kendrick Lewis is a big hitter and a strong leader. All three were starters a year ago.

9. Auburn: Losing two experienced players like Aairon Savage and Mike McNeil is always a blow. Savage tore his Achilles during the offseason and is out for the season, and there's no timetable on when McNeil might return from a broken leg. The Tigers really like sophomore cornerback Neiko Thorpe, and senior safety Zac Etheridge returns after leading the team in tackles last season.

10. Kentucky: The Wildcats get a few extra props because senior cornerback Trevard Lindley is roaming around back there. He's the best corner in the league and a playmaking machine. But there's not much experience around him. Cornerback Paul Warford returns after being academically ineligible last season.

11. Arkansas: The Razorbacks brought in a couple of junior college players to help after giving up 22 touchdown passes last season. Anthony Leon and Rudell Crim will play big roles, but the loss of starting cornerback Isaac Madison to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason may be tough to overcome.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost three starters in the secondary, with senior Marcus Washington being the lone returning starter. They struggled against the pass a year ago and will be leaning on several younger players in 2009. That said, sophomore safety Charles Mitchell is one of the league's brightest up-and-coming players.