Next up in our early look at each position group in the SEC is the front seven. Here's a quick look at how each team in the SEC East shapes up heading into the offseason at defensive line and linebacker:
Florida: The Gators lose Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCalister (draft) up front but do return nose tackle Caleb Brantley and defensive tackle Joey Ivie, both starters. Helping to fill the void at defensive end is the promising Cece Jefferson, who had 8.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman, including 5.5 in the final month of the season. They’ll also add early enrollee Jordan Smith, an ESPN 300 defensive end out of Georgia. At linebacker, replacing Antonio Morrison will be the toughest task, and the Gators are overall thin there after junior Jeremi Powell chose to leave the team. Jarrad Davis, who was second to Morrison on the team in tackles with 98 and had 11 tackles for loss, does return. Guys such as Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin will have to step up; redshirt freshman Rayshad Jackson will join the group and the Gators added an early enrollee at the position, three-star linebacker David Reese.
Georgia: The Bulldogs will have to rebuild up front but have some promising young players to do it with. They lost linebacker Leonard Floyd to the draft and defensive linemen James DeLoach, Chris Mayes and Sterling Bailey are all outgoing seniors (as are linebackers Jake Ganus and Jordan Jenkins). Defensive end Trenton Thompson appeared in 12 games as a true freshman and will be back to lead the way up front. He’ll be joined by DaQuan Hawkins, who started the TaxSlayer Bowl as a freshman. At linebacker there is returning talent in the form of Lorenzo Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith. Kimbrough was the team’s third-leading tackler (67), Carter appeared in all 13 games and Patrick started the regular season finale vs. Georgia Tech and the bowl game as a true freshman while appearing in 11 games. Smith appeared in 12 games and collected 20 tackles.
Kentucky: The Wildcats lose Josh Forrest, Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson at linebacker, and on the defensive line Cory Johnson and Farrington Huguenin depart. Large junior-to-be defensive tackle Matt Elam (6-7, 360) returns as does promising defensive end Denzil Ware. Junior college products Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell could contribute on the defensive line after completing their first season on campus in 2015. Strongside linebacker Jason Hatcher, who started five games, returns after a promising final month of the 2015 season and could be a key piece in 2016 and the group could get a boost from Nebraska transfer Courtney Love, who will be eligible after sitting out 2015.
Missouri: There was only one senior in the Tigers’ starting front seven, but it was their best player: linebacker Kentrell Brothers. Second-team All-SEC defensive end Charles Harris (18.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks) returns, as do a pair of SEC All-Freshman team members, defensive end Walter Brady (12.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks) and Terry Beckner Jr. (eight tackles for loss, three sacks). Josh Augusta, who started 12 games at defensive tackle, and Rickey Hatley, who started seven, also return. At linebacker, Brothers is gone but Michael Scherer enters his senior season after starting all 12 games and finishing second on the team in tackles (93). Strongside linebacker Donavin Newsom (63 tackles, nine tackles for loss), also started all 12 games and returns.
South Carolina: The news of Skai Moore’s intention to return was welcomed news in Columbia. The linebacker led the Gamecocks in each of the last three seasons and will be a stabilizing force for a group of linebackers that all return (T.J. Holloman, Bryson Allen-Williams, Jonathan Walton). Defensive ends Marquavius Lewis and Boosie Whitlow and defensive tackle Dante Sawyer will all enter their second year on campus and will be relied upon to take a step up.
Tennessee: There’s a solid foundation to build around with defensive end Derek Barnett and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin returning. They'll lead the way for what should be a productive front seven. Defensive ends Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis and defensive tackle Kendal Vickers are also back, and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., who had a productive freshman season, returns next to Reeves-Maybin. Overall there is only one departing senior on the Vols’ season-ending two-deep up front (defensive tackle Owen Williams).
Vanderbilt: The good news -- first-team All-SEC linebacker Zach Cunningham will be back. That's huge. It softens the blow of losing another key linebacker, Stephen Weatherly, to the draft and outgoing senior Darreon Herring, the team's second-leading tackler in 2015. Look for Nigel Bowden, a 2014 SEC All-Freshman team member whose 2015 was shortened by injury, to play an increased role at linebacker. Landon Stokes, who started the final five games at outside linebacker, also returns. Up front, the Commodores regain the services of both defensive tackles who started significant time, Nifae Lealao and Jay Woods, and defensive end Adam Butler but must replace outgoing senior defensive end Caleb Azubike.