SEC: Izauea Lanier

We continue to rank all the positions in the SEC and turn our attention to groups of defensive backs the conference has to offer.

Past rankings:
On to the league's secondaries:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTyrann Mathieu is a force to be reckoned with in the LSU secondary.
1. LSU: The Tigers bring back a load of talent here. Tyrann Mathieu and his Honey Badger persona return, but he might not be LSU's best pure corner. While Mathieu has a true knack for finding the ball, no matter where he is, junior Tharold Simon, who replaces Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, might have the best cover ability on the team. Junior safety Eric Reid takes the back end of the field away and will challenge to be one of the nation's top safeties this fall. The coaches are still waiting for safety Craig Loston to break out, and his solid spring was an encouragement. Keep an eye on safety Micah Eugene, who turned heads this spring.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs have some depth concerns and some players will face early-season suspensions, but the Bulldogs are loaded at the top. Bacarri Rambo is one of the nation's best safeties and he has a very solid partner in Shawn Williams, who led the Dawgs in tackles last year. Seniors Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are back, but will likely sit out the start of the year because of suspension. That leaves Malcolm Mitchell, who moved from receiver, to fill in and he's no stranger to defense. The coaches are also excited about youngster Damian Swann, who will play early.

3. Alabama: With three starters gone, this group is drawing a lot of comparisons to the 2010 unit that struggled at times. However, this batch of DBs insists it'll be more prepared this fall and shakes off the comparisons. Veteran Robert Lester is back at safety and is an All-SEC-type player. Junior cornerback Dee Milliner has 16 career starts under his belt and is an underrated talent, and the coaches are expecting to get a lot out of junior college transfers Travell Dixon and Deion Belue. Keep an eye on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has the talent to be a star in this league.

4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs own one of the league's best corner duos in seniors Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Banks might hold the title as the league's best returning cover corner. Darius Slay is also another corner to watch, as he has some legit playmaking ability. Junior safety Nickoe Whitley is back as well and he would have had better numbers if not for a ruptured Achilles tendon that cut his 2011 season short. He grabbed four interceptions in nine games and should be 100 percent this fall.

5. Florida: This group was pretty young last year, but now has some quality experience under its belt. Safety Matt Elam is the best of the bunch and should challenge to be the league's top safety this year. Sophomore Marcus Roberson had a solid freshman season and has the makings to be a top cover corner in this league. The other corner spot is up for grabs, but keep an eye on sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy, who the staff is very excited about. Josh Evans had a good spring at free safety, but he'll have his hands full fighting off sophomore De'Ante Saunders, who started nine games last year.

6. Missouri: The star of this group is junior corner E.J. Gaines, who recorded only two interceptions, but he broke up 16 passes in 2011 and is bonafide All-SEC candidate. Across from Gaines is senior Kip Edwards, who returns for his second year as a starter and has 37 games to his credit. Edwards turned into a solid cover man toward the end of last season. Seven players return with starting experience, including safeties Kenronte Walker (four starts), who was named the team's most improved safety this spring, and Braylon Webb (four), who had a strong freshman year.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are down three starters, but they aren't without talent. Senior safety D.J. Swearinger, the lone returning starter, is one of the league's top safeties and is solid against the pass and the run. Vet Akeem Auguste returns after missing all of last year with a foot injury, and he's back at corner after moving to safety in 2010. The questions begin with sophomores Victor Hampton (corner) and Brison Williams (safety). Hampton has the talent to succeed, but has some maturing to do. Williams struggled in his only start last year, but the staff really likes his upside.

8. Vanderbilt: Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are gone, but the Commodores still possess some pretty good talent in the secondary, starting with corner Trey Wilson, who had a solid 2011 in Hayward's shadow. The coaches like what they've seen from junior corner Andre Hal, and safety Kenny Ladler could be a real player at free safety. Expect Eric Samuels and Javon Marshall, who have both see plenty of field time in their careers, to get into the safety rotation this fall.

9. Auburn: The Tigers' secondary took some lumps last year, but certainly has experience back there. Three veteran starters are back with 33 combined starts from a year ago. Fifth-year senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell didn't go through spring while he recovered from knee surgery, but has the talent to be a top corner in this league. Juniors Chris Davis (corner) and Demetruce McNeal are both back and sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, who had a solid freshman campaign, will get time at safety.

10. Tennessee: Tennessee gave up 7 yards per attempt last year, but things could turnaround this fall. Tennessee has a lot of game experience at corner, including senior Prentiss Waggner, who is the leader of the group. Sophomore Brian Randolph had a solid freshman campaign and junior Brent Brewer is returning to the other safety spot after suffering an ACL injury in late October. Izauea Lanier was ruled ineligible this summer, meaning Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon will compete with Justin Coleman for a corner spot.

11. Arkansas: Sophomore Tevin Mitchel had a solid first year in Fayetteville and is on course to have a true breakout year this fall. Junior Eric Bennett is holding down one of the safety sports and started 13 games in 2011 after moving from cornerback last spring. The staff is still waiting on senior corner Darius Winston to live up to the hype that followed him from high school. Freshmen Kelvin Fisher Jr. and Davyon McKinney will get their chances to play this fall and help with depth.

12. Ole Miss: The Rebels should be better against the pass this year and things start with veteran safety Charles Sawyer, who has All-SEC quality and should have had at least three more than the four interceptions he recorded last year. Former JUCO transfer corner Wesley Pendleton had an impressive year last season, but looked even better this spring. Nickolas Brassell is gone, but the coaches hope to get more out of former freshman standout Senquez Golson, and junior Brishen Mathews returns from back injury to take the hybrid Husky position.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats must replace two starting corners, but the coaches feel good about senior Cartier Rice and redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. Caffey, who moved from running back, might have the most upside and was one of Kentucky's top players this spring. Senior starting safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton are back. Neloms had a solid spring and racked up 71 tackles last year. Behind them, the Wildcats are full of unproven youngsters.

14. Texas A&M: This is where the Aggies could really struggle. Texas A&M ranked 109th nationally in pass defense last year and could start three sophomores in its secondary this fall. Senior safety Steven Campbell can be a real playmaker for this group, but he's struggled to stay healthy during his career. Senior Dustin Harris has shown flashes on defense, but left spring as a backup to sophomore Deshazor Everett. Sophomore Floyd Raven, who was impressive this spring, has the edge over JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs at the other corner spot. The coaches are hoping this is a more athletic group in 2012.

SEC lunch links

June, 1, 2012
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A look at what's making news in the SEC:

Recapping the weekend scrimmages

April, 16, 2012
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While there were six SEC spring games this weekend, six other teams also took part in scrimmages over the the weekend:

ARKANSAS

Quarterback Tyler Wilson had yet another big scrimmage for the Razorbacks. Wilson completed 39 of 49 passes for 448 yards and three touchdowns during Friday's scrimmage. Wilson completed 20 consecutive passes at one point.

Wilson has yet to throw an interception in Arkansas' three spring scrimmages. He led the offense on scores on seven of the offense's 11 possessions Friday.

The good news for Wilson is that his production has come against the first-team defense. The bad news for Arkansas is that his production has come against the first-team defense. But maybe Wilson is just playing that well this spring.

Wide receiver Marquel Wade led Arkansas with nine receptions for 98 yards, while tight end Chris Gragg caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown on Friday. Receiver Javontee Herndon added five receptions for 73 yards and two scores.

Defensive tackle Robert Thomas led the defense with four sacks, while defensive end Austin Flynn added three sacks.

Wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, linebacker Tenarius Wright and tight end Austin Tate all sustained injuries Friday, but coaches didn't feel they were serious.

Check out more from Arkansas' scrimmage here and here.

KENTUCKY

The Wildcats took part in a very spirited scrimmage Saturday. It was one that left coach Joker Phillips proud of both the offense and defense.

The 90-minute scrimmage featured the first-, second- and third-team offense and defense. The offense started things well, with quarterback Maxwell Smith leading a 70-yard drive on 13 plays. He capped the drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver La'Rod King.

Smith finished the scrimmage completing 25-of-38 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns. King also led the offense in receiving with seven catches for 76 yards and two scores.

Kentucky's defense stepped up considerably after that, allowing just one touchdown and a field goal on the next 10 possessions, including seven three-and-outs.

You can find more info on Kentucky's scrimmage here.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Despite a fast start by the offense, the defense won Mississippi State's scrimmage Friday after forcing five turnovers late.

The first- and second-team defense held the offenses to four touchdowns and a field goal on 27 possessions. They also registered seven sacks and four interceptions.

After quarterback Tyler Russell led touchdown drives of 75 and 80 yards on the offense's first two possessions, the defense stepped up, forcing a few three-and-outs for the first- and second-team offense.

Russell had an impressive outing inside Davis Wade Stadium, passing for 310 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Wide receiver Joe Morrow had arguably the play of the day when he caught an 83-yard touchdown pass. He sprinted 50-plus yards to the house after spinning off of cornerback Corey Broomfield about 30 yards up field. Morrow finished with 103 receiving yards, while tight ends Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill registered 110 and 75 receiving yards, respectively.

The player of the day might have been senior cornerback Darius Slay, who intercepted three passes.

Head coach Dan Mullen missed the practice after the birth of his daughter Friday.

For more on Mississippi State's scrimmage, check here and here.

OLE MISS

It was an air affair in Oxford, as Ole Miss quarterbacks combined for eight touchdowns in the Rebels' Saturday scrimmage.

Barry Brunetti finished the day with 119 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 41 yards and two more scores.

But he didn't do much to separate himself from junior college transfer Bo Wallace, who threw for 113 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball five times for 32 yards and another score.

However, both had their hiccups, as Wallace completed less than 45 percent of his passes and Brunetti threw two interceptions. Coach Huge Freeze told reporters after the scrimmage that he had mixed emotions about both, but felt Wallace played a little better Saturday.

"Standing out there it's real clear to me our quarterbacks, our personnel, we don't quite understand the game," Freeze said. "Third-and-2 we don't know those things. We have very little awareness of those at times. We get in second-and-5s and we get negative plays because we try to do more than we can do. Then it puts you in third-and-8, instead of just keeping it third-and-5. There's so many things that we have to understand."

Brunetti threw two 20-yard touchdowns, one to wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan and one to receiver Vince Sanders. Logan also caught two touchdown passes from Wallace, who also hit receiver Terrell Grant for another score.

For more on Ole Miss' scrimmage, you can go here and here.

TENNESSEE

Justin Hunter picked up right where he left off the last time he played inside Neyland Stadium.

After missing most of last season with an ACL injury, Hunter caught three passes for 70 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown pass in his return to Neyland.

Quarterback Tyler Bray completed his first seven passes of the day and finished with 180 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-23 passing.

While Hunter had a solid outing, sophomore wide receiver Jacob Carter was the top receiver of the day, catching four passes for 102 yards.

Marlin Lane, who has improved a lot this spring, had the big day that he needed with his 71 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

Defensively, the Vols got sacks from defensive linemen Jordan Williams, Willie Bohannon and Steven Fowlkes. Defensive backs Justin Coleman, Izauea Lanier and Rod Wilks added six tackles.

For more on Tennessee's scrimmage, go here.

TEXAS A&M

As the quarterback race continues in College Station, redshirt sophomore Jameill Showers stood out in Texas A&M's scrimmage over the weekend. He threw for more than 150 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception, but only after it was dropped by a receiver.

Showers played in seven series with both the first- and second-team offense.

Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel split snaps with Showers, throwing for more than 150 yards and two touchdowns as well, but he threw two interceptions, with one that was returned for a touchdown by junior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr.

None of the offenses' possessions reached double digits in plays. Turnovers, sloppy play and penalties hurt the offense in the Aggies' first open scrimmage of the spring.

"We just have to be more consistent in our play on both sides of the football, and that's why we're here," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "For the quarterbacks to go operate the way they did, checking plays and moving around, it's encouraging. It gives us a real starting point."

Sophomore linebacker Donnie Baggs, junior linebacker Charlie Thomas, junior linebacker Domonique Patterson and senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart all registered sacks in the scrimmage.

For more on the Texas A&M's scrimmage, go here and here.

SEC lunch links

September, 27, 2011
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A Tuesday stroll around the league:
Coming off Tennessee's bye week, the Volunteers' coaching staff is making some changes to its depth chart before Saturday's game with Buffalo.

With receiver Justin Hunter out for the season with a torn ACL, junior Zach Rogers is listed in Hunter's spot at the X position. Rogers has five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown on the season.

Freshman DeAnthony Arnett, who had a breakout game against Florida two weeks ago with his eight catches for 59 yards, is listed as the backup to starter Da'Rick Rogers. Former running back Rajion Neal, who has seven career catches, is also listed as a backup to Rogers.

On defense, sophomore cornerback Izauea Lanier is listed as the starting corner opposite junior Marsalis Teague. Freshman Justin Coleman had started two of the first three games for the Vols.

Junior linebacker Herman Lathers, who fractured his ankle in early June, isn't currently listed on Tennessee's two-deep, but was doing some jogging at practice Monday.
Everyone is looking for the next Nick Fairley.

Everyone would love to have their own Cam Newton.

So as we look around the league at some of the newcomers from either the junior college ranks or who have transferred in from other schools, we'll try to find them.

Could Georgia noseguard John Jenkins be the beast in the middle that Fairley was? Does Barry Brunetti have what it takes to have a Newton-like impact at Ole Miss?

Here is a look at some of the new athletes around the league to keep an eye on this fall:

ALABAMA
  • Duron Carter, WR: Carter could be a big-time playmaker for the Tide, but he has yet to enroll because of transcript issues. The former Ohio State and juco wideout is the son of star former NFL receiver Cris Carter.
  • Quinton Dial, DL: Dial could play both inside and out, but is currently getting quality reps at defensive end for Alabama. The former juco standout has made quite the impression on his head coach and he seems to be in line for a starting spot.
  • Jesse Williams, DT: Like Dial, Williams transferred in from the juco ranks in January and has also performed well in practice. He's gotten reps all around the line, but could also be in contention for one of the end spots. He's a massive lineman at 6-foot-4 and 319 pounds.
ARKANSAS
  • Alonzo Highsmith, LB: The juco transfer is an extremely athletic linebacker and has really impressed since his arrival. He stepped in at the starting weakside linebacker spot on Day 1 of preseason camp and appears to have the edge there heading into the season.
  • Robert Thomas, DT: Speaking of athleticism, the Razorbacks might have found their most athletic defensive lineman in Thomas. The juco transfer got a ton of reps this spring with Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones out with injuries, and is currently competing for a starting spot.
FLORIDA
  • Dan Wenger, C: He earned an extra year of eligibility after concussions cut his Notre Dame career short. He's reuniting with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci and is not only competing for the starting spot at center but has become a leader on the offensive line.
GEORGIA
  • John Jenkins, DT: He was a giant gem of Georgia's 2011 class and was expected to snatch the starting noseguard position. However, the juco standout has had injury issues and hasn't been in the best shape. At 6-foot-4, and 340 pounds, people are hoping he can be a force in the middle this fall, but he's currently behind Kwame Geathers.
  • Jarvis Jones, LB: Jones transferred in from USC last year and takes over as the starting strongside linebacker. Georgia's coaches feel that with his speed and athleticism he could be a more versatile player than former stud Justin Houston.
LSU
  • Zach Mettenberger, QB: If Jordan Jefferson is indeed punished for his alleged involvement in a horrific fight outside of a Baton Rouge bar, Mettenberger's time could be now. He matches his cannon of a right arm with tremendous accuracy and might have the best skill set of any of LSU's current quarterbacks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Brandon Maye, LB: Maye transferred from Clemson and with the Bulldogs looking to replace three starters at linebacker, Maye is expected to make an immediate impact at middle linebacker. He had a slow start to fall camp, but improved throughout.
OLE MISS

  • Barry Brunetti, Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt, QBs: All three are vying for the starting quarterback spot and all have done well since the spring. Brunetti transferred from West Virginia, while Mackey and Stoudt are former juco athletes. Brunetti has the edge at quarterback, but Mackey was on top this spring and won't make things easy for the sophomore. Stoudt isn't as athletic as the other two, but has been very sharp with his passing ability.
  • Uriah Grant, Gilbert Pena, DT: Both players were brought in to add some beef in the middle of Ole Miss' line and both could end up starters for opening day. Both have dealt with injuries, but that really hasn't slowed their on-field production in practice.
  • Wesley Pendleton, CB: Pendleton had an impressive juco career and has really caught on in Ole Miss' defense. He's in the thick of it for one of the starting cornerback spots and has shown that he might be the Rebels' most athletic defensive back.
TENNESSEE
  • Alex Bullard, OG: He transferred from Notre Dame and was granted a hardship in order to play this fall. Bullard has moved all along the line this preseason, but it looks like he could be in the running for one of the starting guard positions.
  • Maurice Couch, DT: A lot is expected from Couch, who hopes to fill one of the spots in the middle of Tennessee's line. It hasn't been an easy preseason for Couch, who suffers from asthma, but he has made improvements. He'll contribute at noseguard and the three technique this fall.
  • Izauea Lanier, CB: Though he made his mark playing safety in junior college, Lanier is competing for time at corner. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he's a bigger corner, which coach Derek Dooley likes.
  • Byron Moore, DB: Moore appears to be a "tweener" on defense. He could play safety or corner for the Vols. With Tennessee running a lot of nickel formations, Moore should see the field in some capacity this fall.
VANDERBILT
  • Jordan Rodgers, QB: Rodgers missed the 2010 season and missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, but is No. 2 at quarterback. The younger brother to Super Bowl champ Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Rodgers is a player coach James Franklin has been especially excited about seeing.

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