SEC: Daren Bates

Spring blooms in the SEC

April, 10, 2013
One of the most rewarding parts of spring practice for coaches is finding those pleasant surprises, whether it’s players who fly in under the radar and step up at positions of need or players little-used to this point who look like they’re going to be key contributors in the fall.

Several of those guys have emerged this spring in the SEC.

Here’s a look:

Sterling Bailey, DE, Georgia, RSo.: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham cross-trained his defensive linemen at all three positions this spring, and Bailey stood out at both end and nose guard. He’s poised to be a valuable run-stopper for the Bulldogs after playing in only three games last season as a redshirt freshman.

Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri, RSo.: Brothers appears to be all the way back from the broken leg he suffered in preseason camp two years ago. He’s pushing Darvin Ruise hard for the starting weakside linebacker job and has been impressive this spring. Brothers had 14 tackles last season and didn’t make any starts.

Justin Garrett, LB/S, Auburn, Jr.: Stuck behind Daren Bates the past two seasons and playing only sparingly, Garrett has gone from an undersized linebacker to the “Star” in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme. He’ll be part-linebacker and part-safety and has shown the kind of speed and tackling ability this spring that Johnson is looking for at that hybrid position.

Joe Morrow, WR, Mississippi State, RSo.: Morrow has been a spring sensation for the Bulldogs in the past, but it’s yet to translate during the season. He caught just five passes last season as a redshirt freshman and was plagued by a bum knee. But this spring, Morrow has been much more consistent and has given his teammates and coaches confidence that he can be a go-to receiver. He’s an inviting target at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and a tough matchup for smaller cornerbacks.

Floyd Raven, S, Texas A&M, Jr.: A backup cornerback a year ago, Raven has moved to free safety and is currently sitting atop the depth chart. His athleticism and playmaking skills make him a natural back there. He’s intercepted Johnny Manziel a couple of different times in scrimmages. The key will be fully understanding his role at safety and what all that entails. If he gets that down, look out.

Dontavis Sapp, LB, Tennessee, Sr.: First-year coach Butch Jones said following Saturday’s second scrimmage that Sapp has been “amazing” this spring. Some pretty lofty praise for a guy who made just 17 tackles last season. But with a new staff and a new defensive scheme, Sapp has prospered. The former safety can play any of the three linebacker positions and is a fixture on special teams.

Austin Shepherd, OT, Alabama, RJr.: The Crimson Tide lost three starters from an offensive line that most people considered the best in the country a year ago. Shepherd, entering his fourth year in the program, has waited his turn and has the edge right now over junior-college newcomer Leon Brown in the battle for the starting right-tackle job.

Mitch Smothers, OG, Arkansas, RSo.: Smothers has found a new lease on his football life under first-year offensive-line coach Sam Pittman. After redshirting last season, Smothers has played his way back into the starting lineup at left guard. He was a starter at tackle to open his true freshman season in 2011, but was benched after the first four games and spent the rest of the season watching from the sideline.

Carlos Thompson, DE, Ole Miss, RJr.: A big get for the Rebels out of high school, Thompson has played in just 11 games during his first three years on campus. He redshirted last season to get stronger, and the Ole Miss coaches have been impressed with the results. He’s been more physical and has held up better at the point of attack. With C.J. Johnson out for the rest of the spring with a broken fibula, Thompson has made the most of his opportunities. He could be a breakout player in the fall for the Rebels.

D.J. Welter, LB, LSU, RJr.: Academics derailed Welter last season after he played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2011. The feeling coming into the spring was that Lamin Barrow would move from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker to replace Kevin Minter. But so far, Welter has played well enough in the middle that the Tigers haven’t felt like they needed to move anybody.

Midseason review: Auburn

October, 16, 2012

Record: (1-5, 0-4 SEC)

Things can obviously change very quickly in the SEC, but it’s stunning to see how far Auburn has fallen just two years removed from winning a national championship. That 2010 title is but a fleeting memory these days on the Plains. Auburn has won just one game this season and had to hold on for dear life to win that one over Louisiana-Monroe. It’s been a struggle the entire way on offense, as the Tigers haven’t been able to generate any firepower in first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler’s new system. They made a change at quarterback this past week and replaced Kiehl Frazier with Clint Moseley, but the results were the same. In six games, the Tigers’ quarterbacks have combined for three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Auburn’s also the only team in the SEC averaging fewer than 300 yards per game in total offense. All of the Tigers’ woes can’t be blamed on the quarterback position, either. The offensive line has had its own issues and has allowed 19 sacks, which is tied for last in the league. Defensively, it hasn’t been much better. The Tigers are ranked 12th in the league in total defense. They played their best game against LSU in a 12-10 loss, but have given up an average of 31 points in their other three SEC contests. Going back to last season, the Tigers have now lost six straight SEC games and seven of their last eight. Fourth-year coach Gene Chizik is hearing it from the fans, too, and it’s only going to get worse if the Tigers limp to the finish. It’s telling that they’re a touchdown underdog to Vanderbilt this week. A loss in Nashville would likely mean a winless season in the SEC, which hasn’t happen at Auburn in more than 30 years.

Offensive MVP: WR Emory Blake. There just hasn’t been much to get excited about on offense. The Tigers have scored only nine offensive touchdowns in their first six games. The only semblance of consistency has come from Blake. That is, when the Tigers have been able to get him the ball. He leads the team with 26 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: LB Daren Bates. Junior defensive end Corey Lemonier has the best sack totals, but Bates has been a better all-around defender to this point. He has an SEC-leading 70 total tackles and leads the Tigers with 5.5 tackles for loss. He also has an interception and has recovered a fumble.

Did you know?

October, 5, 2012
It's time to take a look at some weekly notes from the SEC and ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Alabama and LSU are tied for the longest active streak of being ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll at 22 weeks each. Georgia is fifth at three weeks.
  • Alabama and LSU are tied for the longest active streak of being ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll at 23 weeks each. South Carolina is fourth at eight weeks and Georgia tied for fifth (with Florida State) at six weeks.
  • On offense, the SEC teams run the ball 56.0 percent of the time, which is the third highest percentage of all FBS conferences. The Mountain West runs the ball 59.6 percent of the time while the Big Ten is at 56.6 percent. In the SEC, teams run the ball an average of 38.1 times per game and pass the ball 29.9 times per game.
  • SEC teams are scoring an average of 33.2 points per game, which is third among all FBS conferences. The Big 12 leads the nation at 41.0 points per game and the ACC is second at 33.9 points per game. Last year, the SEC scored at an average of 27.3 points per game, which was the lowest since 2008 (25.6 points per game). After five weeks last season, SEC teams were scoring at a 31.2 points per game clip.
  • SEC defenses are allowing an average of 20.86 points per game, which is third among all FBS conferences. The Big Ten leads the nation at 19.84 points per game and the Big East is second at 20.33 points per game. Last year, the SEC defenses gave up an average of 20.7 points per game, which was the lowest since 2008 (20.5). After five weeks last season, SEC teams were giving up an average of 20.0 points per game.
  • In nonconference games this season, SEC defenses are allowing 17.03 points per game.
  • Arkansas’ Dennis Johnson became the SEC career record holder for kickoff return yardage last week. In his career, he has 2,755 yards (on 115 returns), which surpassed Brandon James of Florida’s total of 2,718 yards (112 returns).
  • Zach Mettenberger has completed 60.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield and has been worse than 50 percent in only one game (Auburn). The Tigers are 13-0 since the start of 2010 when they complete more than 50 percent of their throws of 15 yards or more.
  • LSU’s defense has pressured the quarterback on 59 of 161 (36.6 pct) of opponents’ drop-backs this season. Barkevious Mingo leads the Tigers in pressuring the opposing quarterback 13 times. Sam Montgomery is second with eight. Of those 59 plays, 41 of them (69.5 pct) came when the Tigers sent four or fewer pass-rushers.
  • Jeff Driskel has at least one rush that gained 20 yards or more in each game this season. Driskel gained two of the four 20-yard runs on bootlegs. For the season, Driskel is averaging 11.1 yards per carry on designed running plays and 9.4 yards per rush on scrambles.
  • Georgia already has 11 touchdowns of 30 yards or longer this season which is one fewer than they had all of last season. The Bulldogs have 43 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, six more than any other FBS team.
  • Todd Gurley has eight rushes of 20 yards or longer this season, tied for the most in FBS. Fellow freshman, Keith Marshall, has five such runs. Last season no Georgia player had more than six rushes of 20 yards or longer and as a team they had a combined three 20-yard rushing touchdowns. Gurley (four) and Marshall (three) have a combined seven 20-yard rushing touchdowns already this season.
  • Georgia has run the ball on 62.8 percent of its first-down plays, averaging 6.9 yards per rush.
  • Marcus Lattimore has run for 358 yards and three touchdowns in two games against Georgia in his career. Lattimore is averaging 3.2 yards before contact against Georgia and has more 10-plus yard rushes against the Bulldogs than any other opponent.
  • Mississippi State’s opponents have converted a first down on third and at least 7 yards on just 3 of 28 attempts this season (10.7 percent), tied for the lowest percentage in FBS.
  • Tyler Russell completed 7 of 9 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown after a play-action fake last year against Kentucky.
Arkansas at Auburn
Auburn holds an 11-9-1 advantage in the series … Teams have split the last 10 meetings with Arkansas winning four of the last six matchups … Auburn is tied for fourth in the nation in kickoff returns with Onterio McCalebb third in the nation … Tiger linebacker Daren Bates leads the SEC and is tied for fifth in the nation in tackles per game … Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is ninth in the nation in receiving yards per game and Dylan Breeding is ninth in the nation in punting … Arkansas ran 98 plays on offense at Texas A&M last week, the most by an SEC team since 2007 and tied for the ninth-highest single-game total in SEC history.

Mississippi State at Kentucky
The Wildcats lead the series with the Bulldogs 21-18 … UK leads 13-7 in games played in Lexington … State is making the trip to Lexington in back-to-back years (State won, 28-16, last year) … Wildcats made the trip to Starkville in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002 … State has scored 144 points through the first four games, which is the most by a Bulldog team since 1994 … Bulldogs lead nation in turnover margin (3.25 margin) and interceptions per game (2.25) … MSU’s Darius Slay leads nation in interceptions (four) and teammate Johnthan Banks (three) is sixth .. Wildcats’ Avery Williamson is tied for 19th in the nation in tackles per game.

LSU at Florida
Florida leads series with LSU, 30-25-3 … The teams have met every year since 1971 … Since 2000, the teams have split the last 12 meetings … LSU has won the last two meetings, 41-11 last year at LSU, and 33-29, in 2010 at the Swamp … Florida’s last win over LSU came in 2009 at Tiger Stadium (13-3), which is the last loss by LSU at home … Gators are fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and 10th in scoring defense … Florida and LSU’s special teams excel -- Gators’ Caleb Sturgis is tied for fifth in the nation in field goals and Kyle Christy is 10th in punting; Tigers’ Brad Wing is 13th in the nation in punting.

Vanderbilt at Missouri
The Tigers lead the series, 2-1-1 … This is the first meeting between the two schools since 1958 (Vandy, 12-8) … The game was the first game at Missouri for then-head coach Dan Devine … Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy has 2,343 career rushing yards, which is third in school history … His 21 career rushing TDs is fourth in school history … The Tigers, behind Marcus Murphy, are fourth in the nation in punt returns with Murphy seventh … Missouri is also tied for ninth in the nation in tackles for loss per game … Vandy is eighth in the nation in pass defense and Carey Spear is tied for fifth in the nation in field goals per game … Vandy is one of four teams (Florida, Miss. State and Texas A&M) to lead SEC this season in least amount of passing TDs allowed (two).

Texas A&M at Ole Miss
The Aggies lead the series with Rebels, 4-0 … A&M is the third team from state of Texas to play at Ole Miss this season … Rebs looking to break seven-game loss streak in SEC home openers (last win was versus Vanderbilt in 2004) … Texas A&M leads nation in net punting … Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore is second in the nation in tackles for loss per game and tied for second in sacks per game … Texas A&M and Ole Miss are tied for third in SEC with 13 rushing TDs this season (19-UGA; 16-LSU) … A&M is tied for SEC lead in least TDs allowed (five with Alabama and South Carolina).

Georgia at South Carolina
For the first time in the Georgia-South Carolina series, both teams are ranked in the top 10 coming into the matchup … Georgia leads series, 46-16-2, and 19-8-2 in games played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia … The Gamecocks have won the last two meetings … USC head coach Steve Spurrier is 14-5 lifetime against Georgia while UGA head coach Mark Richt is 7-4 against South Carolina … The Gamecocks have won nine straight games (Florida, Citadel, Clemson, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, East Carolina, UAB, Missouri, Kentucky) dating back to last season. It matches the longest winning streak in school history, set in 1984 … The Bulldogs are second in the nation in passing efficiency, eighth in scoring offense, 11th in rushing offense and 11th in total offense … UGA quarterback Aaron Murray is third in the nation in passing efficiency while freshman tailback Todd Gurley is fifth in kickoff returns, tied for sixth in scoring and tied for 19th in rushing and all-purpose rushing … The Gamecocks are second in the nation in sacks, sixth in scoring defense, seventh in rushing defense, eighth in passing efficiency and tied for ninth in tackles for loss … Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is 10th in the nation in passing efficiency and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is tied for 12th in tackles for loss and tied for 18th in sacks.

Top performer: Tackles

May, 14, 2012
Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the top tacklers.

Past producers:
The SEC returns three of the top 10 tacklers from 2011, but don't let that fool you. There's still a lot of quality out there on those SEC defenses. Last season's tackling king, Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan, is gone, and so are his 143 tackles. But the league's No. 2 tackler is back.

Here's a look at the top tackler returning in the SEC:

Cameron Lawrence, LB, Mississippi State: He was second in the SEC with 123 tackles and had 50 solo stops. He also averaged 9.5 tackles per game. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder found ways to take down opposing offensive players by roaming all over the field for the Bulldogs. Lawrence started on the outside, but made his presence known on many different areas of the field with his speed and relentless attitude. Lawrence picked up right were he left off this spring, and the coaches expect him to be just as valuable this fall. It'll be tough to stop Lawrence from taking the tackling crown in 2012.

The SEC returns two more of its top tacklers:
  • Daren Bates, LB, Auburn: He registered 104 tackles, including 59 solo, and averaged eight tackles a game.
  • Jonathan Bostic, LB, Florida: He registered 94 tackles, including 60 solo, and averaged 7.2 tackles a game.

Those three will certainly get their chances to fight for the crown, but there are other players to keep an eye on as well this fall. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at Alabama, but that means Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley will have the chance to take some of that lost production.

Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson was a stud last season with his team-high 98 tackles, so he'll definitely be in the race this season. So will South Carolina's Devonte Holloman, as he moves back to the Spur position that he lost last season to Antonio Allen, who led the Gamecocks in tackles. Georgia's Jarvis Jones will also take a crack at it. He was the best when it came to making plays behind the line of scrimmage last season, but you better believe offenses will look to protect the backfield more against him. That means he'll have more opportunities to make plays past the line, and he's just as deadly when he isn't rushing the passer.

Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry had a solid season in 2011, accumulating 81 total tackles. He's turned into a better player, and with the Rebels lining up in all sorts of different defensive formations, he'll be moving all around the field to make plays. Also, keep tabs on Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and defensive end/linebacker Tenarius Wright. Highsmith had a tremendous 2011 season, racking up 80 tackles, and with the team's top tacklers gone, expect his production to increase. And if Wright stays at linebacker, he'll have more opportunities to add to his tackling numbers.

Two other players to watch out for are Texas A&M linebacker Jonathan Stewart and Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham. Stewart led the Aggies with 98 tackles last season, and Garnham moves into Chris Marve's spot in the middle. A spot where Marve registered a team-high 91 tackles.
We move to linebackers today in our postseason position rankings.

Defensive lines are very important in this league, but there are other guys in the box who have to be pretty reliable as well in this league. This league has done a pretty solid job of producing some top talent at this position as well.

You can see what are preseason linebacker rankings looked like here.

And here are our postseason rankings:

[+] EnlargeDont'a Hightower
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireDont'a Hightower had career highs in tackles (79), sacks (3.0) and interceptions (1) this season.
1. Alabama: This unit was at the top of our preseason rankings and didn't budge throughout the season. When you have two All-Americans in Courtney Upshaw, who was the defensive MVP in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, and Dont'a Hightower it's pretty understandable to see why. Those two combined for 136 tackles, including 29 for loss. Nico Johnson was fourth on the team in tackles, while C.J. Mosley added 37 of his own. Alabama's defense was first nationally in total defense and first in rushing defense, allowing 74.2 yards per game.

2. Georgia: Linebackers are essential to any 3-4 defense, and the Bulldogs' group did quite well in 2011. Georgia ended up with one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones, who led the SEC with 19 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He also had 49 quarterback hurries. Michael Gilliard was third on the team behind Jones with 65 tackles. While Alec Ogletree missed part of the first half of the season, the speedster still finished with 52 tackles, including 7.5 for loss. Cornelius Washington, Amarlo Herrera Christian Robinson combined to add 101 more tackles, as Georgia's defense ranked fifth nationally.

3. Arkansas: Arkansas' defense had a lot of bend in it last season, but the linebackers found ways to make plays. Newcomer Alonzo Highsmith was third on the team with 80 tackles, led with 12.5 tackles for loss and had 4.5 sacks. The star continued to be Jerry Franklin, who led the team in tackles (101) for the fourth straight year. Then there was Jerico Nelson, who was all over the field as that hybrid linebacker/safety. He came away with 70 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Ross Rasner, who played outside with Nelson, added 53 more tackles and two sacks.

4. Florida: The Gators' defense ranked eighth nationally in part because of the aggressive play of its front seven. Jon Bostic commanded the middle, leading the team with 94 tackles, including 10 for loss. Jelani Jenkins seemed to come more into his own outside, finishing third on the team in tackles. The big surprise was Lerentee McCray, who played both Sam linebacker and the hybrid Buck. He was one of Florida's most active linebackers and grabbed 7.5 tackles for loss. Ronald Powell started at the Buck, but saw most of his production from defensive end.

5. Vanderbilt: The Commodores entered the season needing to replace three starting linebackers and ended the year with a very impressive linebacking corps. It was led by vet Chris Marve, who was 10th in the league in tackles. Archibald Barnes had a solid year at the Will, ranking fourth on the team in tackles and grabbing two interceptions. Chase Garnham and Al Owens manned the Sam position and combined for 72 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Against conference foes, Vandy's rush defense ranked fourth in the league.

6. LSU: The Tigers were in search of that dominant middle linebacker all season and might have found a budding star in Kevin Minter, really grew into the position by the end of the season and was fifth on the team in tackles. He started 11 games, but shared time with Karnell Hatcher, who finished with 24 tackles. Ryan Baker was LSU's best linebacker, was an outstanding leader and was fourth on the team with 64 tackles. Stefoin Francois was the starter at Sam, but he accumulated just 11 tackles, while backup Tahj Jones registered 27. Still, LSU owned the No. 2 national defense.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks saw improvement from this group as the season went on. While the defensive line got a ton of credit, the linebackers did their part in securing the defense's No. 3 national ranking. Antonio Allen spent some time in the box at the Spur position and led South Carolina with 88 tackles and had 9.5 for loss. Rodney Paulk and Shaq Wilson, who returned from injury, rotated at the Mike and combined for 109 tackles. Will linebacker Reginald Bowens added 44 tackles.

8. Kentucky: The Wildcats owned the SEC's top tackler in Danny Trevathan (143), who should have received more national attention. Trevathan was one of the most active defenders around at the Will. Winston Guy played the hybrid linebacker/safety and was third in the SEC with 120 tackles. Ronnie Sneed added 71 more tackles. Kentucky's defense was much more aggressive under new defensive coordinator Rick Minter and got more exotic looks from its linebackers.

9. Mississippi State: Cameron Lawrence was a beast for the Bulldogs in 2011. He was second in the SEC with 123 tackles, and had 49 solo. Senior Brandon Wilson added 94 more tackles. Brandon Maye, who transferred from Clemson, was expected to make a bigger impact for the Bulldogs, but played behind Wilson and was 11th on the team in tackles. Sophomore Deontae Skinner added 69 tackles and Mississippi State ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in total defense.

10. Tennessee: The Vols' top three tacklers were linebackers. The leader was senior Austin Johnson, who finished the season with 81 tackles, including 41 solo. Next were two true freshmen on the outside in A.J. Johnson (80) and Curt Maggitt (56). Both freshmen experienced up-and-down seasons, but were SEC All-Freshman selections. Herman Lathers, who was a projected started, missed 2011 with a fractured ankle, and after the big three, the Vols didn't get a ton out of their linebackers, as Dontavis Sapp was their next most productive linebacker with 20 tackles.

11. Auburn: The Tigers' defense really struggled in 2011 and gave up more than 200 rushing yards a contest. Auburn had to basically start over at linebacker, but lone returning starter Daren Bates had a heck of a year, ranking fourth in the league with 104 tackles. He really tried to make sure he played all over the field last fall. After that, the play was up-and-down. Senior Eltoro Freeman took over in the middle halfway into the year and finished with 58 tackles, while Jake Holland and Jonathan Evans combined for 83 tackles.

12. Ole Miss: The Rebels' defense had all sorts of problems defensively, including allowing 256.5 yards per game and 21 rushing touchdowns. The linebackers took a major hit with the absence of D.T. Shackelford, who missed the season with a knee injury. Mike Marry stepped up at the Mike and led Ole Miss with 81 tackles and five for loss. Freshman Serderius Bryant and junior Joel Kight combined for 122 tackles. Damien Jackson played the Spur and added 64 tackles, but Ole Miss' defense ranked dead last in the SEC.
There were plenty of SEC players who made improvements in 2011. Complacency wasn't an option for these players, therefore, they made tremendous strides.

Today, we'll look at players who either improved their play, rose from the ranks of reserve to really impress or returned from injury. I'll go first with my five players who I thought made the most improvement from 2010 to 2011. Chris will follow up with his top five later today. We haven't communicated about our choices, so we could have some that overlap or we could have five completely different picks.

Regardless, this should create some pretty fun debate for readers.

Here's a look at my five most improved players in the SEC:

    [+] EnlargeFletcher Cox
    Nelson Chenault/US PresswireMississippi State's Fletcher Cox is projected to be a first-round pick in April's draft.
  • Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: As a sophomore, Cox started 11 games and accumulated 29 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. But last year, he proved to be one of the top defensive tackles in the SEC. He had 56 total tackles, including 14.5 for loss and five sacks. He also blocked two kicks, recovered a fumble and forced a fumble. He's expected to be a first-round pick in April's NFL draft.
  • Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: As a reserve, Mathieu had a productive year in 2010, when he ranked first in the SEC and fifth nationally with five forced fumbles and tied for first in the league with three fumble recoveries. He also led LSU with seven pass breakups. He became a national star and a Heisman finalist in 2011, as he tied for the team lead with 76 tackles, tied for first nationally with five fumble recoveries, and tied for fourth with six forced fumbles. He was also fifth nationally with a 15.6 average on punt returns and took two back for touchdowns.
  • Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Montgomery missed most of 2010 with a knee injury, but still managed two sacks. Last season, you would have never guessed that he was coming off an injury. Montgomery was one of the league's most productive players off the edge, ranking sixth in the SEC with nine sacks and had 13.5 tackles for loss.
  • Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt: He finished the 2010 season as Vanderbilt's second leading rusher with 331 yards and had three touchdowns. He looked like a completely different player in 2011, becoming one of the top running backs in the SEC. He was third in the SEC with 1,193 rushing yards and was second with 14 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged 5.7 yards per carry in conference play.
  • Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas: Wright left Arkansas as one of the best receivers to ever step foot in Fayetteville, but he saved his best season for last. After catching 42 passes for 788 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, Wright was the SEC's top receiver last season with 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also led the league with 93.1 yards per game.

Here are 10 more that just missed the cut:
AlabamaUS PresswireCourtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and C.J. Mosley are part of what could be the best linebacker corps in the conference.
Today we take a look at the SEC linebackers. The front sevens in this league are always good and 2011 shouldn't be any different.

Here's how the teams stacked up:

1. Alabama: There are a lot of strengths on this Alabama team, but the linebackers should be very fun to watch this fall. Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower are back to full speed and are considered top players at their positions. With them back, the Tide should have a much more aggressive pass rush. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley improved even more this spring and will get time in the middle when Hightower is outside at the "Jack" position. Mosely blossomed as a freshman and could be a star in the making. Jarrell Harris seems to finally be coming around and Chris Jordan gives them another body in the front seven.

2. Florida: This group struggled to stay consistent at times last fall, but the new coaching staff was pleased with the progress it made this spring. There is a lot talent out there and now there are two distinct leaders in Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic, who should occupy the middle when the Gators go to the 3-4. Both are tremendous athletes and should be a solid duo this fall. Florida also has former No. 1 high school prospect Ronald Powell playing that linebacker/defensive end hybrid spot called the Buck. He’ll stand up a lot this season and should elevate himself near the top of the SEC pass-rushing list. Cal transfer Chris Martin earned a ton of praise last year on the practice squad and will be a hybrid as well. Converted safety Dee Finley will play outside and there is some good, but young, depth in the wings.

3. Arkansas: This area of the team improved a lot during the season and this spring. It’s headlined by Jerry Franklin, who has led the Razorbacks in tackles the last three seasons. He has 271, including 21.5 for loss in his career. Strongside hybrid Jerico Nelson was second on the team in tackles and has the speed to get all over the field. Nelson will occasional drop back and play safety as well. This linebacker tandem will be one of the best out there this fall. The major plus for the Razorbacks is that there is finally some really good depth at the position. Bret Harris, Jarrett Lake and Terrell Williams came on strong on the outside this spring, while Ross Rasner was making strides until he was arrested and suspended indefinitely this spring.

4. Georgia: There is no shortage of athleticism in Georgia’s linebacker corps. Alec Ogletree moved down from safety and while he’s bulked up, he’s still got tremendous closing speed and will make a ton of plays at middle linebacker. Next to him is defensive leader Christian Robinson, who left spring as one of Georgia’s most consistent linebackers. On the outside, USC transfer Jarvis Jones will occupy the weak side and the coaches feel he might be more of a complete player than Justin Houston. On the other end, Cornelius Washington might not be getting a ton of publicity, but he’s no slouch and can run with the best of them.

5. LSU: Like most of the Tigers’ positions, this one might not have a ton of in-game experience, but the athleticism is too good not to praise. LSU lost leading tackler and monster in the middle Kelvin Sheppard, but there should be enough able bodies to make this unit one of the tops in the league this fall. Ryan Baker is now the leader out there and can keep up with some of the best offensive weapons out there. He’ll play on the weak side, while converted safety Karnell Hatcher moved down from safety and took reps at middle linebacker, but could find his home outside. Sophomore Kevin Minter spent his spring trying to fill Sheppard’s void and has made vast improvements. Senior Stefoin Francois provides veteran depth for the Tigers on the outside, while there are a few young, able bodies ready to contribute as well.

[+] EnlargeDanny Trevathan
Mark Zerof/US PresswireKentucky's Danny Trevathan, left, led the league with 144 total tackles.
6. Kentucky: Things start with one of the nation’s best in Danny Trevathan. He led the SEC with 144 tackles a year ago and the word out of Lexington is that he’s looking to be even better this fall and wants to move around the field a lot more. Ronnie Sneed returns as the starter in the middle, after grabbing 61 tackles a year ago. He made some nice improvements this spring. Ridge Wilson will be another hybrid on the outside, and will occasionally lineup as a rush end for the Wildcats. The talented Winston Guy, who has played just about everywhere on Kentucky’s defense has finally settled into his home at linebacker and should play closer to the line of scrimmage and be a nickel linebacker.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks got an immediate upgrade to this position with the return of Shaq Wilson, after he missed last year with a hamstring injury. Wilson is known as the quarterback of the defense and led South Carolina in tackles in 2009. The player that could really make noise in this unit is DeVonte Holloman, who is moving from safety to the hybrid Spur position. He’ll drop back into coverage and rush from the outside to give the Gamecocks another weapon in the pass rush. Upperclassmen Reggie Bowens and Rodney Paulk will get some reps in the middle this fall, while Damario Jeffery and Quinn Smith will compete for time outside.

8. Tennessee: The Volunteers are still trying to find out what this group is made of. Junior Herman Lathers will be back after he heals from an ankle injury this spring and he’s the most experienced player at the position. He had 75 tackles last season and will man the weak side for the Vols when he returns. Senior Daryl Vereen should get time at strong side, but he still has some developing to do. Senior Austin Johnson, a converted fullback, will get time in the middle with All-SEC freshman pick John Propst. The jury is still out on this unit and youngsters like A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Christian Harris will have to develop quickly.

9. Auburn: The Tigers are almost back to the drawing board at linebacker. Both Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens are gone, leaving Daren Bates as the lone returning starter. Bates is a converted safety, but settled nicely into the linebacker position well last fall. Inexperience looms after that as sophomore Jake Holland is a projected starter in the middle and junior Jonathan Evans will get time at weakside. Former junior college standout Eltoro Freeman, has the potential to be a menace, but has yet to truly step up for the Tigers. They’ll need that light bulb to go on this year.

10. Mississippi State: First thing’s first -- the Bulldogs must replace three starting linebackers this season. That won’t be easy or fun in Starkville. But help could be on the way in Clemson transfer Brandon Maye, who was a three-year starter with the Tigers. Coach Dan Mullen said he’s a player they expect to come in and take one of those openings at linebacker. Mississippi State still has senior leader Brandon Wilson, who players fed off of this spring. Chris Hughes and Cam Lawrence also made strides, but expect a lot of rotation from new defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.

11. Vanderbilt: Chris Marve is one of the top linebackers in the nation. He’s got great field instincts and matches his skill with the best of them. Just having him on the field makes this group better. But after him, the Commodores have a lot of questions. Vanderbilt must replace outside linebackers John Stokes and Nate Campbell, and though there are six candidates, they have just start among them. Coming out of spring, juniors Tristan Strong and Archibald Barnes and sophomore Chase Garnham are the leading candidates to see valuable playing time.

12. Ole Miss: Losing D.T. Shackelford was an enormous blow to the Rebels. Not only was he Ole Miss’ best defensive player but he was the emotional leader of the team. He was going to carry this team as far as he could go. Now, the Rebels have a wealth of inexperience to deal with. Things got even worse when sophomore linebacker Clarence Jackson was dismissed following his arrest for public drunkenness. The pressure is now on incoming freshman C.J. Johnson, who was the top prospect coming out of the state of Mississippi. He could jump right into Shackelford’s spot. Mike Marry and Ralph Williams worked in Shackelford’s spot this spring and Joel Knight returns as a starter outside.

Opening camp: Auburn

August, 4, 2010
Schedule: Practice starts Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET. The first day in full pads is Monday, August 9.

What’s new: Auburn was the only team in the SEC that didn’t have any turnover on its coaching staff. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a few changes. The Tigers plan to play Daren Bates some at outside linebacker after he led all SEC freshmen in tackles last season at safety. This will be his first look in his new spot. He was recovering from shoulder surgery and didn’t go through spring practice.

Sidelined: Offensive line signee Shon Coleman is battling leukemia and won’t be playing this season. Only one other player from the Tigers’ top-5 signing class didn’t make it to campus. Receiver Jeremy Richardson failed to qualify academically and will attend junior college.

Key battle: Junior college newcomers Brandon Mosley and Roszell Gaydon will resume their battle for the right tackle spot. Mosley had forged slightly ahead exiting the spring in what was a close race for the final starting spot on the Tigers’ offensive line.

New on the scene: True freshman running back Michael Dyer and true freshman receiver Trovon Reed shouldn’t have to wait long to get their hands on the ball. On defense, true freshman linebackers Jake Holland and LeDarius Owens provide depth at a position that was painfully thin a year ago. True freshman Jeffrey Whitaker is also a strong candidate to play early at defensive tackle.

Breaking out: Senior Mario Fannin is a player who has bounced around between different positions and been the consummate team guy. This is his time to step up and be the guy. Running backs coach Curtis Luper has already predicted that Fannin will be a 1,000-yard rusher as long as he stays healthy.

Don’t forget about: Aairon Savage is one of three senior safeties returning from injury, joining Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil. Savage was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury and the entire 2008 season with a knee injury.

All eyes on: Junior quarterback Cameron Newton. He won the starting job in the spring and gives the Tigers an added dimension with his ability to both run and pass. The 6-6, 250-pound Newton also gets a second chance to show what he can do after having his career cut short at Florida following off-the-field trouble.

Quoting: “Last year, we started 5-0 and finished 3-5, and that’s not going to get us anywhere. We lost key games. Coach (Gene) Chizik has talked about it in the offseason, that finishing those games is how you move from good to great.” -- Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes

Senior-laden Auburn 'better equipped' in 2010

May, 20, 2010
If you’re looking for the SEC team with the most seniors in key spots next season, look no further than the Plains.

The team Auburn puts on the field in 2010 will easily be one of the most experienced in the league. The Tigers return 14 projected senior starters, including four returning starters in the offensive line, four starters in the front seven on defense from a year ago and both kickers.

[+] EnlargeJosh Bynes
Kim Klement/US PresswireLinebacker Josh Bynes, who led the team in tackles last season, is one of seven seniors on defense.
All told, the Tigers list 24 seniors on their roster.

And while quarterback Cameron Newton will be a first-year starter, he’s projected to have five senior starters around him.

Defensively, senior safeties Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Mike McNeil aren’t all necessarily projected as starters as they try to bounce back from serious injuries, but just having them on the practice field every day and in the locker room should be invaluable as the Tigers try to make their move in the Western Division next season.

Granted, a surplus of seniors doesn’t guarantee you anything in this league. But senior linebacker Josh Bynes said it’s the right kind of seniors that makes up this class, which is why he’s so eager for the fall to get here.

“It gets back to experience and leadership, having guys who’ve been there and gone through the things we have,” said Bynes, who led Auburn with 104 tackles last season. “We have a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who’ve played now on this defense. The chemistry is going to be tremendous. When we get the numbers right, and we will, I can’t wait to see what this defense can do.”

At linebacker, that means more numbers, which is where incoming freshmen LaDarius Owens and Jake Holland could come in handy in the fall. Freshman linebacker Jessel Curry is already on campus and went through spring ball, while the Tigers plan to move sophomore Daren Bates from safety to outside linebacker.

Bates missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, but was a hitting machine during his freshman season as one of the best freshman safeties in the SEC.

“We’re much better equipped [to make a run for the title] for a lot of reasons,” Bynes said. “It’s our second year under coach [Gene] Chizik, and we have veteran guys who’ve done it before and know what it takes in this league.

“Our expectation level is high. The second year, a lot of guys are coming back and we’re very focused. Coach Chizik has been very demanding, but we’ve been very demanding.

“I think we’re up to the challenge.”

One thing to keep in mind is that the Tigers have to play 11 straight weeks again in 2010 before they get a bye. That grind wore on them last season, which no doubt contributed to their losing five of their last six SEC games.

But that’s where the added depth -- and a senior-laden roster -- should help when they get in the throes of that gauntlet next season.

“I know we’ll respond better, because we’ve all been through it,” Bynes said. “We know what to look for. We know how to handle it. Plus, we’re going to be fresher for that final stretch.”

Spring superlatives: Auburn

May, 13, 2010
We spotlight Auburn today and take a look at where the Tigers were the strongest and the weakest coming out of the spring.

Strongest position: Offensive line

Key returnees: Senior left tackle Lee Ziemba, senior left guard Mike Berry, senior center Ryan Pugh, senior right guard Byron Isom.

Key departures: Right tackle Andrew McCain

The skinny: The only negative is there isn’t a lot of experience behind the starters. Otherwise, Auburn has a chance to put one of the best offensive lines in the league on the field in 2010. The Tigers return four senior starters who should be even better the second time around in Gus Malzahn’s offense, not to mention offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’ blocking schemes. Ziemba has 38 starts under his belt and Pugh 32 starts. Both are All-SEC caliber players. Berry sat out the spring after undergoing offseason knee surgery, but should be good to go when preseason practice resumes. The left side of the Tigers’ line should be particularly strong. Junior college newcomers Brandon Mosley and Roszell Gayden battled it out for the right tackle job this spring. Mosley, a converted tight end, ended the spring with a slight lead, but Gayden will give it another shot in the fall. Staying healthy will be key. That and backups Bart Eddins and John Sullen stepping up and providing some quality depth.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes (104 tackles, six tackles for loss), senior outside linebacker Craig Stevens (95 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), sophomore safety/outside linebacker Daren Bates (70 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss)

Key departures: Adam Herring (12 tackles).

The skinny: It’s a wonder Bynes and Stevens are still standing after all of the snaps they had to play last season. They both were on the field for every defensive snap in the overtime win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Both players are solid, too. It’s just that there aren’t a surplus of definitive answers after Bynes and Stevens. The Tigers plan to move Bates to outside linebacker after a stellar freshman season at safety. But it’s difficult to say right now how Bates will adjust to his new position. He was unable to go through spring practice after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Junior Eltoro Freeman is also a possibility after an up-and-down first season at Auburn. Freeman, who transferred in from junior college, has to shake his inconsistency if he’s going to be a starter. If Bates can successfully make the transition during preseason practice, he’ll be the third starter and play more of a hybrid role. The Tigers like the idea of getting more speed on the field at linebacker. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof made it a point to cross-train guys at different position this spring. Sophomore Jonathan Evans, who started against Alabama last season, will be a key backup at several different spots. True freshmen Jessel Curry, Jake Holland and LaDarius Owens may also find their way into the rotation. Curry enrolled early and went through spring practice.

Auburn spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Onterio McCalebb, RB Mario Fannin, WR Darvin Adams, OT Lee Ziemba, C Ryan Pugh, LB Josh Bynes, LB Daren Bates, CB Neiko Thorpe

Key losses

QB Chris Todd, RB Ben Tate, TE Tommy Trott, DE Antonio Coleman, CB Walter McFadden

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Ben Tate (1,362 yards)

Passing: Chris Todd (2,612 yards)

Receiving: Darvin Adams* (997 yards)

Tackles: Josh Bynes* (104)

Sacks: Antonio Coleman (10)

Interceptions: Walter McFadden (6)

Spring answers

1. Newton named No. 1: Auburn went out and got Cameron Newton from the junior college ranks to be its quarterback, and Newton didn’t disappoint this spring. He’s a 6-6, 242-pound specimen who can both run and throw and quickly earned the confidence and trust of his teammates with the way he performed and diligently went about his business. Auburn coach Gene Chizik named Newton the Tigers’ No. 1 quarterback at the conclusion of the spring, and it’s going to be hard to wrest the job away from him.

2. Picking up the pace: If you think the Tigers played fast on offense last season, wait until you see them in 2010. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn wants to play even faster, keeping defenses off balance, and thinks he has the personnel in place to do that next season. It helps that it will be the second time through Malzahn’s system for most of these guys. If Newton responds in the fall the way the Auburn coaches think he will, look for the Tigers to delve even deeper into Malzahn’s playbook.

3. Bates moving up: Even though he didn’t practice this spring because of a bum shoulder, Daren Bates made a little news. The Tigers plan on moving him to a hybrid linebacker role after he earned Freshman All-SEC honors last season at safety. The idea is to get faster on defense, and Bates was one of the Tigers’ most aggressive tacklers last season. It’s also a way to build depth at linebacker, which was a huge problem a year ago. Bates is a quick learner. He proved that last season after arriving in August and starting all 13 games.

Fall questions

1. In a rush: Chizik says the Tigers have to be a better power running team next season. Who’s going to be the go-to guy at running back now that Ben Tate is gone? Senior Mario Fannin will get the first crack after bouncing around between receiver and running back the last two years. Onterio McCalebb is healthy again and more of a change-of-pace guy, while redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock has also shown some promise. And, oh yeah, coveted freshman signee Michael Dyer arrives this summer. The best news is that Auburn returns four of five starters in the offensive line.

2. Defensive depth: The Tigers simply didn’t have the numbers nor the depth a year ago to play consistent defense for 12 games, which is a big reason why they lost five of their last six SEC games. They should be a little deeper next season, especially when everybody from the 2010 signing class gets on campus. Still, there are concerns. It’s never ideal to count on true freshmen, which means players such as sophomore linebacker Eltoro Freeman and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Nosa Eguae need to come through in a big way next season.

3. Walking wounded: The Tigers have three veteran safeties returning from serious injuries – Mike McNeil, Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge. There’s a chance all three could come back and make major contributions, and there’s also a chance that they won’t ever be able to get back to where they once were. Savage has missed the last two seasons because of injuries, and Etheridge had a scary neck injury last season. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof is hopeful on all three, but will reserve judgment once he sees them on the field in the fall.

Auburn's Chizik feels a need for speed

March, 26, 2010
One of the first things Auburn coach Gene Chizik wants to do in bolstering his defense is to put more speed on the field in 2010.

In particular, the Tigers should be faster at linebacker with sophomore Daren Bates moving over from safety, where he started all 13 games a year ago as a true freshman.

Bates' move will also give Auburn more depth at linebacker, and it sounds like Bates will play more of a hybrid role as an outside linebacker with a lot of coverage responsibilities.

Chizik termed it a "nickel mentality" and said Bates could still wind up playing both linebacker and safety.

The Tigers weren't necessarily slow on defense last season, but they did wear down toward the end of the season. Their lack of depth was a big reason, as was the 11-week gauntlet to start the season without a bye.

Bates is still recovering from shoulder surgery, so he wasn't out there Wednesday when the Tigers opened spring practice.

Getting some guys back in the secondary helped facilitate Bates' move to linebacker. Safety Mike McNeil should be healthy after missing all of last season with a broken leg, and Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge are also former starters trying to work their way back from injuries.

It sounds like the Tigers may use a 3-4 alignment some on defense next season.

"We're trying to get as much speed as we can on the field," Chizik said. "Sometimes that involves moving guys closer to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes linebackers become defensive ends. Sometimes safeties become linebackers. We're always into the speed movement."

Position superlatives: Auburn

March, 18, 2010
Today, we take a look at what should be the strongest and weakest positions for Auburn in 2010:

Strongest position: Offensive line

Key returnees: Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom, Mike Berry, Bart Eddins, John Sullen

Key departures: Andrew McCain

The skinny: The Tigers' offensive line played the whole way last season with essentially five guys, and four of those starters are back. The 6-8, 310-pound Ziemba should be one of the best left tackles in the league, while Pugh was a second-team, All-SEC selection at center last season. There’s plenty of depth, too, when you look at the other players coming back, not to mention a pair of junior college newcomers – Roszell Gayden and Brandon Mosley – who are on campus and will go through spring practice. Whether it’s running the football or throwing it in 2010, the Tigers will have the experience and talent up front to get it done.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens, Eltoro Freeman, Jonathan Evans

Key departures: None

The skinny: Bynes and Stevens both had extremely productive seasons in 2009. The problem was that they had to play the whole game because the Tigers only had four scholarship linebackers available most of the season. Freeman should be better mentally and physically his second year in the program after coming over from junior college, and Evans was forced into action against Alabama and collected eight tackles. There’s some talk that the Tigers may take a look at Daren Bates at linebacker this spring. As a freshman safety last season, he was fourth on the team with 70 tackles. However it shakes out, Auburn needs to build more depth at the position. Highly rated freshman signee LaDarius Owens will be another one to watch.

Auburn to practice in the mornings

February, 23, 2010
One change Auburn coach Gene Chizik plans to make this spring is the Tigers will practice in the mornings. They held most of their practices during his first spring in the evenings.

The tentative start date for Auburn's spring practice is now March 24.

Obviously, one of the big storylines this spring on the Plains will be the quarterback competition. Junior college newcomer Cameron Newton, who started his career at Florida, is probably the guy to beat. But Chizik said Newton would start dead even with the rest of the guys and that nobody was putting any pressure on Newton to come in and be a superstar right away.

The other junior college newcomer who could make an immediate impact is offensive tackle Roszell Gayden, who signed in December and will go through spring practice. The Tigers are pretty set right now everywhere on their offensive line but right tackle, which is where Gayden could be a factor.

Sophomore safety Daren Bates, coming off shoulder surgery, will be limited for the spring and likely held out of most of the full contact work. Aairon Savage, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, will work at both cornerback and safety this spring.

Top running back signee Michael Dyer won't be on campus until the summer, which means senior Mario Fannin has a big opportunity to show this spring what he can do at running back. Fannin has moved around from slot, to receiver, to running back the last couple of years.

The guy who may replace Fannin in that multi-purpose role is redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock, who was a quarterback in high school. He rushed for 28 touchdowns his senior year, and Chizik said the Tigers want to try him out at a couple of different spots to utilize his skills in the open field.

The 10 best true freshmen in the SEC

December, 15, 2009
We’ve seen the SEC’s All-Freshman team, and a few Freshman All-America teams are floating around out there.

But who were the top 10 true freshmen in the SEC in 2009?

Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWarren Norman broke Herschel Walker's freshman record for all-purpose yards.
Based largely on their production and performance this season, and to a lesser degree their potential, here you go:

1. Warren Norman, RB, Vanderbilt: Led the SEC with 1,941 all-purpose yards and broke Herschel Walker’s freshman record for all-purpose yards. Rushed for 783 yards to finish eighth in the league in rushing and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.

2. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: Led all SEC freshman receivers with 43 catches for 735 yards and six touchdowns. Jeffery finished sixth in the SEC in receiving yards per game (61.2) and also averaged 17.1 yards per catch.

3. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Started at cornerback all 12 games for the Gamecocks. He led the team with nine passes defended and was fifth with 52 tackles. Also returned punts and lined up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation in the win over Clemson.

4. Daren Bates, S, Auburn: Started all 12 games at safety and was fourth on Auburn’s team with 63 tackles, which led all SEC freshmen. Included were 2.5 tackles for loss, and he also had an interception for the Tigers.

5. Chad Bumphis, WR, Mississippi State: Started in six games and led the Bulldogs in catches (32), receiving yards (375) and receiving touchdowns (4). Also had a rushing touchdown and returned kickoffs and punts.

6. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: Backed up Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and was second on Alabama’s team with 642 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Also caught 14 passes and showed off his explosiveness with a 52-yard touchdown run against Arkansas.

7. Washaun Ealey, RB, Georgia: Only started in two games, but led the Bulldogs with 639 yards rushing. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and averaged 103.4 yards in his last five games. Ealey had 183 yards on the ground in the win over Georgia Tech.

8. Johnthan Banks, S, Mississippi State: Started in seven games and tied for second on the team with four interceptions, which led all SEC true freshmen. He intercepted Tim Tebow twice in the Florida game and returned both for touchdowns.

9. Orson Charles, TE, Georgia: Capable of lining up at several different spots in the passing game, Charles started in two games and was third on Georgia’s team with 21 catches for 366 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 17.4 yards per catch.

10. Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama: His role increased after Dont’a Hightower went down with a knee injury. Johnson started in two games and had 25 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and he also broke up two passes and forced a fumble.