SEC: Tramain Thomas

SEC postseason position rankings: DB

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
5:14
PM ET
Just like there was no shortage of defenses in the SEC this season, there was no shortage of defensive backfields.

Here’s the way we would rank them.

1. LSU: Where do you start? The Tigers had a Heisman Trophy finalist in their secondary (Tyrann Mathieu). They also had the Thorpe Award winner as the best defensive back in college football (Morris Claiborne) and a pair of safeties (Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor) who were both outstanding. They were as deep as they were talented in the secondary and allowed just four touchdown passes and intercepted 13 passes in 10 games against SEC foes.

2. Alabama: In any other league, Alabama would be at the top, and it wasn’t a slam-dunk that LSU would get the No. 1 spot. Mark Barron was the best safety in America. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is poised to be a first-round draft choice, while the Tide’s other cornerback, DeQuan Menzie, was one of the more underrated players in the country. Alabama’s defense was menacing this season, and a big reason why goes back to how much they improved from 2010 to 2011 in the secondary.

[+] EnlargeBacarri Rambo
Dale Zanine/US PresswireGeorgia safety Bacarri Rambo led the SEC in interceptions last season with eight.
3. Georgia: Imagine being as good as Georgia was in the secondary this season, but only third in your conference. Welcome to the SEC. Safety Bacarri Rambo led the league with eight interceptions, while cornerback Brandon Boykin did a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs and was named the winner of the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. In league play, Georgia finished second in pass efficiency defense and tied for second with 12 interceptions.

4. South Carolina: Nobody in the league made more improvement than South Carolina from last season to this season when it came to defending the pass. A big part of that was the Gamecocks’ pass rush, but they also intercepted an SEC-high 15 passes in league games and ranked atop the league in pass efficiency defense. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore led the team with four interceptions. Safety D.J. Swearinger was second on the team with 80 tackles, and linebacker/safety Antonio Allen, who played the hybrid Spur position for the Gamecocks, turned in an All-SEC season.

5. Vanderbilt: It seems like Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson have been playing for six seasons in the Vanderbilt secondary. It always seems that way when two players step in and play the way Hayward and Richardson have since their freshman seasons. Hayward had seven interceptions this season and led the SEC with 17 passes defended. The emergence of Trey Wilson at the other cornerback spot was also a big factor in the way Vanderbilt played defense this season.

6. Mississippi State: Johnthan Banks developed into one of the SEC’s top cornerbacks and had a big year with five interceptions and 14 passes defended. Safety Nickoe Whitley also was a big part of the Bulldogs’ secondary. He was one of the enforcers back there with his customary big hits and four picks, but missed the final four games with a ruptured Achilles tendon. It’s a secondary that’s been together for a while, but the Bulldogs were still ninth in the league in passing defense against SEC competition.

7. Arkansas: There were a lot of bright spots in the Hogs' secondary despite disappointing overall defensive numbers. Freshman cornerback Tevin Mitchel wound up starting and showing a lot of promise. Sophomore Eric Bennett moved from cornerback to safety and wound up fourth on the team with 74 tackles. He also had three interceptions. Senior safety Tramain Thomas was the anchor back there with five interceptions and 91 total tackles, ranking him among the leading tacklers in the league.

8. Florida: Will Muschamp is excited about the young talent in his secondary. Freshman cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy both have a chance to be stars, although both endured their share of growing pains this season. Safety Matt Elam was one of the veterans of the unit, and he was only a sophomore. He played beyond his years with 11.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. This biggest thing working against the Gators this season was youth, and that cost them in some games.

9. Tennessee: Losing safety Janzen Jackson prior to the season was a big blow for the Vols. They finished next to last in the league in interceptions with nine and struggled all season at the cornerback position. The good news for them is that it looks like freshman safety Brian Randolph is a keeper. He was fifth on the team with 55 tackles, and junior college newcomer Izauea Lanier was the Vols’ top cornerback. Tennessee finished the season by giving up 11 touchdown passes and intercepting just six passes in SEC play.

10. Kentucky: The Wildcats didn’t have a lot of depth in the secondary, and it didn’t help any when safety Martavius Neloms hurt his ankle late in the season. Neloms still wound up third on the team with 71 total tackles. Winston Guy played a linebacker/safety hybrid role and had a huge season with 120 total tackles, including 14 for loss. He was a second-team All-SEC selection. Big plays hurt the Wildcats. They gave up 19 touchdown passes, which was next to last in the league.

11. Ole Miss: The Rebels’ defense spent the entire 2011 season on the field, which meant the secondary gave up its share of big plays. In SEC play, Ole Miss finished last in pass defense efficiency. The Rebels gave up 12 touchdown passes and intercepted only three passes. Freshman Nickolas Brassell wound up playing both offense and defense and has a bright future, and sophomore Charles Sawyer led the team with four interceptions and was second on the team with 70 total tackles. It simply wasn’t a season to remember all the way around for the Rebels.

12. Auburn: There wasn’t a lot that went right for Auburn on defense this season, but the Tigers’ struggles in the secondary were particularly glaring. They gave up an SEC-high 21 touchdown passes and finished last in the league in pass efficiency defense. Cornerback Chris Davis has a ton of potential, but was limited early in the season by injuries. Safety Neiko Thorpe finished with 102 total tackles and three interceptions, but the bottom line is that it’s hard to see past nearly 3,000 passing yards allowed.

SEC mailbag: No more divisions?

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
5:00
PM ET
The mailbag is back for your viewing pleasure.

We were hit with a good amount of questions in the past week, so we decided to fill your curious minds.

Signing day is coming up, there are two new teams getting ready to join the league and people are already talking about next year’s SEC champ.

Let’s get to those questions:

Nathan from the Texas panhandle writes: Aggie fan here. My email is in regards to the divisional format of the SEC. I personally think that divisions in a 14-team league are hard to work with since you will hardly see opponents from the division. Why not implement a no division league with a four-team playoff format at the end of the year for the SEC championship game? You keep rivalry games and just alternate opponents every year within the league. League record and rankings would be considered for the four-team slots. Opinion?

Edward Aschoff: First of all, welcome to the SEC … well, almost welcome. You’ll officially join in July, but welcome anyway. The funny thing is that Chris Low and I were actually talking about this exact thing the other day, since basketball has already done it. I know that divisions make it much easier to figure out the teams for the championship game, but I think it would be pretty cool to have just one league with no divisions. The more teams, the harder it is to maintain those traditional rivalries when you have divisions. If you get rid of the divisions, you can maintain every rivalry you want because there would be no obligation to play a certain amount of divisional teams. Alabama-Tennessee would never be in danger and neither would Florida-LSU. You would also have the two best teams in the SEC competing for the championship. Also, “The Rematch” would have happened in Atlanta and there would have been no crying about the national championship because the SEC’s spot would have been settled in Atlanta. I’m all for it.


Brandon Estell from Jonesboro, Ark., writes: With the fairly average recruiting classes, at least ranked that way, that Bobby Petrino has brought to Fayetteville the last couple of years and looking that way again, although it is looking to be picking up come signing day, what is the realistic chance of Arkansas contending for the SEC West title possibly bigger?

Edward Aschoff: As far as the rankings go, Arkansas’ classes haven’t been as high as others in the SEC, but that definitely doesn’t mean that talent hasn’t been going to Fayetteville. Today I looked at some of the unheralded guys who became stars in college and a lot of them played at Arkansas. Just look at the seniors that left. Jake Bequette, Tramain Thomas, Jerry Franklin, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright were pretty much nobodies in high school. Now, everyone knows them. Petrino has done a great job with developing players and I think that if continues the Hogs will be fine. Forget about all the stars and focus on what is happening when they get on campus. Hey, if Arkansas beats LSU, who knows where the Hogs end up last season? Petrino has Arkansas on the right path.


Joe Marina from Orlando, Fla., writes: Hey Ed. I believe you went to school at FL with my sister Jenna Marina. My question is with the recruiting class Muschamp looks to have and also depending on the QB play, I see FL having a much better team than last year. There are still a lot of questions on offense with wide receiver, running back, and QB. But if they play up to their talent, I would say it’s reasonable for FL to win 8 games this year. Would you agree?

Edward Aschoff: Jenna is a great friend of mine. I owe some of my success to her (ask her about our sports reporting project). ... I think that Muschamp’s first “real” class at UF is a pretty good one. He hit the offensive line hard and got the big back that he’s wanted. He could also close with at least one big-play wide receiver. I think this offseason is all about developing a tougher attitude in Gainesville. Muschamp called his team soft at the end of the year and he was right. Florida got pushed around. Can’t do that in the SEC. I think Brent Pease will be very hands on with those young quarterbacks and that offensive line will be worked harder than it ever has. Florida has the talent to compete for the East title, but will it have the attitude? Will it make the necessary plays on offense to help the defense? That schedule is tough with games at Texas A&M and Tennessee to start the year and the season ends at Florida State. Eight wins are possible, but this team has to make a lot of changes on both sides of the ball and has to have a better work ethic.


Tony from Italy writes: With the Big 12 blog leaving Missouri out of many of it's recent conference related post (returning starters/recruiting blogs etc...) when will you start adding them into your blogs on a regular basis?

Edward Aschoff: First off, if you’re in Italy you should be enjoying yourself, not worrying about college football! Please have some gelato for me. As the spring gets closer, you’ll see more Missouri and Texas A&M content. Both schools officially join in July, but any blogs that have to do with the offseason or previewing the fall will have both included. Our recruiting scorecard didn’t have them because it was just a look at where the current SEC teams were. We’ll probably hit both when we look at signing day.


David Whitten from Gadsden, Ala., writes: It seems no one thinks Bama will be very good next season, why is that? They played a lot of players all year and they have experience coming back, maybe the "experts" need to sit back and look at what we were seeing all year then re-think their opinion about Bama.

Edward Aschoff: Not sure where you’re seeing all that. Alabama should be a top-five team to start next season and I honestly think the offense with AJ McCarron and that experienced line coming back with some young talent at wide receiver. I think there will be some hiccups on defense because of all the star power that is gone, but that’s natural. I’m not saying Alabama will be bad at all. I still the Tide will compete for the SEC West and beyond, but you can’t sit there and think that this team won’t have growing pains on defense. You can’t lose that much talent and not take some sort of step back. It happens.


Austin from Conway, Ark., writes: Sooooo, is DGB going to be a Razorback? I know this is the million-dollar question, and of course I'm REALLY hoping this is the case....but starting to get the feeling he might switch directions...thoughts??

Edward Aschoff: Ah, the nation’s top receiver: Dorial Green-Beckham. He’s a stud, for sure, and any team would love to have him. But where will he go? Most of the people that I talk with feel pretty confident that he’ll choose Arkansas, but Missouri is certainly NOT out of it. I think Arkansas is out in front and I think he might be able to catch a couple passes in that offense (sarcasm alert!). If I had to pick, I’d go with Arkansas, but I know that Missouri has done a very good job of recruiting him.

SEC recruiting needs: Western Division

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
9:43
AM ET
With national signing day a week away, we’ll take a look today at the recruiting needs of each SEC team, starting with the Western Division. These needs are based on current rosters and voids that will be created with upperclassmen leaving in the next year or two. We realize that a lot of these needs have already been filled by players who’ve committed (or signed) in this class.

Here we go:

ALABAMA

Defensive back: It’s not quite the exodus Alabama faced following the 2009 season in the secondary, but the Crimson Tide lose three starters back there, including both cornerbacks. And safety Mark Barron was the guy who got everybody in the right spots. Alabama signed two junior college cornerbacks, and they’re already on campus.

Receiver: The top four pass-catchers from the 2011 season, including tight end Brad Smelley, are gone. In particular, Alabama could use a big, physical receiver capable of creating mismatches and making big plays down the field.

Linebacker: The Crimson Tide have never been hurting for linebackers, but they lose three good ones in Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Jerrell Harris. Plus, Nico Johnson will be a senior next season and C.J. Mosley will be a junior. There are some young ones waiting in the wings, but Alabama needs to add to its stable.

ARKANSAS

Receiver: When you lose a pair of record-setting playmakers at receiver like Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, that’s always a good place to start. Greg Childs is also gone, so the Hogs are looking for people to fill their spots.

Offensive line: Finding some reinforcements up front on offense is also a big need for the Hogs. The most pressing need is at tackle. One starter in 2011, Grant Freeman, was a senior, and the other, Jason Peacock, will be a senior next season.

Defensive back: The Hogs like the young defensive backs on their roster, but losing Tramain Thomas at safety will be a blow. Eric Bennett also played well at the other safety, but he will be a junior next season. Another cornerback or two would also be nice.

AUBURN

Receiver: The Tigers need some game-breaking receivers. Emory Blake is back, but he’s going to be a senior, and Trovon Reed hasn’t been able to avoid injuries. The vertical passing game was non-existent this past season, and finding some guys who can get down the field and make some plays is a must for the Tigers.

Offensive line: More than anything else, Auburn needs guards and is very thin there. Christian Westerman is a talented, young guy who’s coming, but the Tigers are going to have to replenish the interior of their offensive line.

Defensive back: The truth is that the Tigers need help on defense, period. But the secondary has really taken it on the chin, especially this past season. Cornerback Chris Davis, a rising junior, has a chance to be special, but he needs some help around him.

LSU

Linebacker: The Tigers are still loaded on defense, but linebacker was the one area they wanted to address with both Ryan Baker and Karnell Hatcher departing, and they did with six commitments from players projected to play linebacker in college. All six are from the state of Louisiana, too.

Quarterback: Zach Mettenberger will step in as the starter next season, but he will be a junior. There’s nobody behind him who’s ever taken a snap in a college game. The Tigers thought they had highly rated Gunner Kiel in the fold, but lost him to Notre Dame. They need another quarterback.

Receiver: Rueben Randle emerged as one of the best big-play threats in the league this past season, but he’s turning pro early. Russell Shepard is set to return for his senior season, and Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry both have a ton of potential. Even so, LSU could use a few more playmakers at receiver.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Defensive line: Losing All-SEC tackle Fletcher Cox early to the pros hurt. The Bulldogs are suddenly behind in their depth. The numbers up front defensively aren’t where they need to be, which makes this a big class for the Bulldogs in the defensive line. Getting a dynamic pass-rusher is a must.

Offensive line: Finding a couple of guys who can help quickly was a priority, and that’s what the Bulldogs hope they’ve done with junior college additions Dylan Holley at center and Charles Siddoway at tackle.

Linebacker: The Bulldogs lost three senior starters following the 2010 season, and Brandon Wilson won’t return next season. What’s more, Cameron Lawrence will be a senior. The most pressing need is a middle linebacker, and preferably one who could step in and play early.

OLE MISS

Running back: One of the first things new head coach Hugh Freeze will look to do is put some pop in the Rebels’ running game. That starts with bringing in some prototypical SEC running backs in terms of size and speed. Jeff Scott led Ole Miss in rushing last season with 529 yards, but at 5-7 and 175 pounds, he’s more of a speed guy or change-up in this league.

Defensive back: The Rebels will take all the help they can get in the secondary. Safety Damien Jackson is gone. Cornerback Wesley Pendleton will be a senior, while cornerback/safety Charles Sawyer will be a junior.

Quarterback: There are several guys on campus who have played, but the Rebels are still searching for somebody who can come in and give them some consistency at the quarterback position. And with Freeze’s new spread offense, finding the right fit will also be important.

TEXAS A&M

Defensive back: The Aggies will jump into SEC play needing to replace three of four starters in their secondary. Both of their starting cornerbacks are gone, in addition to their best safety. So finding guys who can cover will be at the top of their list.

Defensive line: In keeping with the defensive theme, which is a must if you’re going to survive in the SEC, Texas A&M will be looking to replenish its defensive line. Gone are Ben Bass, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Eddie Brown. Building up a deeper defensive line rotation will be critical for the Aggies.

Running back: Depth at running back is another concern. Cyrus Gray, who rushed for 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, is gone. Christine Michael returns for his senior season, but he’s coming off a torn ACL. It typically takes three backs to make it through an SEC season.

Highlight time for Hogs' Adams, Wright

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
8:10
PM ET
Arkansas can thank its record-setting receivers, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, for being ahead 21-7 at the half over Tennessee.

Adams had an unbelievable punt return during which he broke at least six tackles and shook loose for a 60-yard touchdown, his third punt return for a touchdown this season.

Wright's 7-yard touchdown started the scoring for the Hogs, and he also had a circus catch in the second quarter for 40 yards. Dennis Johnson also got into the act with a 71-yard touchdown run as the Hogs sprinted out to a 21-0 lead.

But the Vols hung in there and were able to move the ball in the first half and looked like they were going to pull within a touchdown at the break, but freshman quarterback Justin Worley was intercepted at the 1 by Tramain Thomas.

The Hogs lead 21-7 at the half, but the Vols have dominated the time of possession.

Arkansas is explosive enough on offense and in its return game to strike quickly, but the Hogs could still use a little more consistency on defense.

It also hasn't been quarterback Tyler Wilson's best game in the first half. He's missed some throws that cost the Hogs points, in particular a deep ball that was thrown too long for a wide-open Adams.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino will say goodbye to a special group of players Saturday.

Seventeen seniors will take the field for the last time inside Razorback Stadium when Arkansas hosts Tennessee on senior night.

This group was one of the main building blocks responsible for elevating Arkansas’ football program to where it is today and Petrino acknowledged as much Wednesday.

It helped him get through a tough first year in 2008. The Hogs went 5-7, but finished the season with a 31-30 win over LSU in Little Rock, Ark. The season ended without a bowl, but that win helped give this program momentum into Petrino’s second year.

“The greatest thing about this group of seniors that play their last game here on Saturday is that year they were freshmen and they were all playing as true freshmen, they came to practice with positive attitudes and energy to work and get better and eagerness,” Petrino said. “That’s really what carried us through that year was we had great attitude and great work ethic. It’s certainly paid off here in the last three years.

Since 2008, Petrino and the Hogs have gone 26-9. Petrino even took Arkansas to its first BCS bowl last year and are on the doorstep of another BCS birth this season.

Some of the seniors Petrino and the Arkansas fan base will be saying goodbye to include defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin, safety Tramain Thomas, safety/linebacker Jerico Nelson and wide receivers Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright.

Saturday could be even more special for Adams and Wright, who are just a few catches each from breaking the school record for career receptions held by Anthony Eubanks, who finished with 153. Adams currently has 151 career catches, while Wright has 150.

Wright has recorded 2,629 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career, while Adams has recorded 2,274 yards and 17 scores.

Wright has arguably been the top receiver in the SEC this season, leading the league with 48 catches, 812 yards and nine touchdowns. Adams has 41 catches for 516 yards and one score on the year.

Saying goodbye to those two could be especially hard Saturday.

“They’ve both had a tremendous career here, having a great year this year, have really meant a lot to our football team,” Petrino said.

“You can’t say enough about what they’ve done at the University of Arkansas.”

Lunchtime links

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
12:00
PM ET
Chris and I are on the road, but we left you with some SEC links to get you through the last lunch hour of the week.

SEC helmet stickers

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
2:15
AM ET
It's time to look back at the players who were truly exceptional on Saturday. We're going quarterback-heavy in this one, folks:

Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator, Georgia: Hats off to Grantham and his defense in a 20-12 win. The Bulldogs had to prepare to face one of the league's biggest arms in Tennessee's Tyler Bray. Georgia stood tall and held Bray to zero touchdowns Saturday. It was the first time in 10 games that Bray didn't have at least two touchdown passes. Georgia's defense has only given up 10 touchdowns in six games this year and held Tennessee to minus-20 rushing yards. Players are really starting to get it on defense and are playing a lot more instinctively in Grantham's 3-4 this year.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: He's getting better every game and sliced up one of the league's best secondaries in Alabama's 34-0 win. Vanderbilt had allowed three passing touchdowns heading into Saturday and McCarron got four, along with 237 passing yards. He also went through the night without an interception against a defense that had 14 heading into the game. McCarron also spread the ball around more in this game, completing passes to six different targets.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Shaw made his first start since the opener and totally turned the Gamecocks' offense around in a 54-3 win against Kentucky. Shaw finished the day with a game-high 311 yards and four touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception and threw just 13 incomplete passes. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier definitely made the right choice in benching Stephen Garcia for Shaw. The offense found a passing game and rhythm under its new quarterback.

Tramain Thomas, S, Arkansas: Thomas was a key part of an Arkansas defense that dominated Auburn's passing game in a 38-14 victory. Thomas finished the game with nine tackles and a career-high two interceptions, including a long of 48 yards. He became the first Arkansas player to have two picks in a game since 2007. This is the same Thomas who was yanked in the second half of the Alabama game because of his poor play, but he was too much for Auburn on Saturday night.

Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State: Russell came in after the half after Mississippi State was down 3-0 to UAB and sparked a woeful Bulldogs offense with three passing touchdowns and 166 yards to help the Bulldogs win 21-3. He completed 11 of 13 passes and didn't register a turnover. Russell was as cool as he could be out there and without him, Mississippi State might not have moved the ball much more in the second half.

Arkansas looks to make it the Big Three

September, 20, 2011
9/20/11
1:00
PM ET
There’s a clear Big Two right now in the SEC’s Western Division, and everybody knows who those two are.

LSU is ranked No. 2 this week in the Associated Press poll, and Alabama is ranked No. 3.

The date of their game (Nov. 5) has been circled on everybody in this league’s calendar since last season ended.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesArkansas coach Bobby Petrino's Hogs will face a huge test against Alabama this weekend.
If the SEC is indeed going to make it six national championships in a row, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think it will be either Alabama or LSU hoisting that crystal trophy in New Orleans come January.

But the SEC also has another streak going. Four different teams from the league have won the last four national titles.

Arkansas would love to be the fifth, and the Hogs get their chance on Saturday in Tuscaloosa to prove that the Big Two in the West is really the Big Three.

This is what Bobby Petrino and the Hogs have been building toward ever since he arrived four years ago. They got a taste of it last season with their Allstate Sugar Bowl appearance and won 10 games.

But they judge you in this league by championships, and Saturday’s showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium would be a perfect stage for the Hogs to prove that they belong in the same elite status as both Alabama and LSU.

Are they ready?

We’re going to find out, but they seem to be more equipped than they have been under Petrino to win a game of this magnitude.

For one, it’s the best defense Arkansas has fielded under Petrino. The Hogs are deep and athletic up front, and it’s also a veteran unit. Defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin, linebacker Jerico Nelson and safety Tramain Thomas have all been playing since they were freshmen and sophomores.

If this is a fourth-quarter game similar to a year ago, the Hogs shouldn't be overwhelmed by the pressure.

“We’ve got a lot of experience on our defense,” Thomas said. “We know we’re more than capable of getting a ‘W’ out there. We’re going to come out there focused and confident and take it from there.”

One of the concerns for the Hogs on defense is Bequette’s health. They’re hopeful he’ll be able to play and will be close to 100 percent, but hamstring injuries can be tricky. Arkansas isn't the same without him, either, with his ability to both rush the passer and play the run.

On offense, the Hogs clearly have enough playmakers to stretch that Alabama offense and give the Crimson Tide their first real test of the season.

Even though Penn State is a tough place to play, the Nittany Lions weren’t good enough offensively to seriously challenge the Crimson Tide. The Hogs are.

They’re also getting receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs back for this game. Wright was held out of last week’s 38-28 win over Troy with a knee strain, while Childs missed the game after the death of his grandmother.

“We feel like we have the best receiving corps in the country, so that’s going to help out a lot, having more playmakers on the field,” said Arkansas running back Ronnie Wingo, who’s stepped in for Knile Davis. “It’s just going to make it harder for Alabama to stop the whole offense and look on film and say, ‘What are they going to do here and there with so many weapons?’ ”

Ultimately, what it’s going to come down to for the Hogs is whether they can protect quarterback Tyler Wilson and whether they can run the ball at least a little bit on first and second down to avoid a glut of third-and-long situations.

Alabama’s defense specializes in getting teams in third-and-long.

Petrino has said over and over again that nobody does a better job than Alabama of hitting your quarterback.

Wilson was sacked three times last week against Troy, and the Hogs are playing a true freshman, Mitch Smothers, at one of their offensive tackle spots. The Hogs will need an "A" game from their offensive line and an "A" game from their running game in general.

This year is a little different for Arkansas in that the Hogs had three nonconference games prior to the Alabama game. Petrino said earlier this week that Arkansas used an entire week in the preseason to prepare for Alabama.

The Hogs typically do that for their SEC opener, according to Petrino, but last season that opener was against Georgia. So you can bet that Arkansas’ players have already seen plenty of Alabama tape.

Last season’s loss to the Tide still stings, too, especially the way the Hogs failed to finish the game at home after leading 20-7.

“Pretty much since last season’s game, we’ve been wanting to get back at these guys, and now we have the opportunity,” Thomas said. “We have to seize the opportunity.”

It’s noteworthy that both of Arkansas’ games against Alabama and LSU are on the road this season. So losing this first one would really put the Hogs in a hole.

Petrino has lost three in a row to Alabama and Nick Saban. In fact, Alabama is the only team that Petrino has lost to three times, period, as a college head coach.

It’s also a team Arkansas has to beat if the Hogs are going to step up in class and make it the Big Three in the West.

“For our program and our football team, it’s a win that we need,” Petrino said. “We have not beat Alabama yet, and we certainly need to do that. More importantly, we need to start off the conference with a victory.”
It's never too early to talk about next year's NFL draft, right? Of course not.

Well, ESPN colleague Mel Kiper recently made a list of his top-five juniors and seniors at each position and 12 SEC seniors made Kiper's list -- it would have been 13 if not for the dismissal of former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who is rated as the No. 3 corner on Kiper's list.

Here is the list of SEC seniors on Kiper's list:

Running backs:
Offensive guards:
  • No. 3: Cordy Glenn, Georgia
  • No. 4: Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina
Centers:
  • No. 2: William Vlachos, Alabama
  • No. 3: Ben Jones, Georgia
Inside linebackers:
  • No. 5: Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
Outside linebackers:
  • No. 1: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Cornerbacks
  • No. 4: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Safeties
  • No. 1: Mark Barron, Alabama
  • No. 3: Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
Kickers
  • No. 1: Blair Walsh, Georgia
Punters
  • No. 2: Drew Butler, Georgia
My thoughts:
  • It's interesting to see Demps on this list. Yes, he has incredible speed and there isn't a player in the country that can catch him after he hits a hole and finds some space, but he has size (5-8, 190 pounds) and durability issues. He injured his foot last season against Tennessee when he carried the ball more than 20 times and was never the same in 2010. Demps needs to stay healthy and excel in Charlie Weis' pro-style offense this fall in order to stay on this list. Also, I expect Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden to creep onto this list. He's one of the most underrated players in the SEC.
  • Tennessee's Malik Jackson and South Carolina's Travian Robertson have the ability to nudge their way into the list of top defensive tackles with solid seasons this fall. Also, Arkansas' Jerry Franklin and Kentucky's Danny Trevathan will push get in on the action at linebacker. I think Franklin has, like, 1,000 career tackles at this point.
  • I like the love Hayward got. He hasn't gotten a ton of national attention, but he would start on just about any team in the SEC.

Now for the juniors:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
  • No. 5: Xavier Nixon, Florida
Offensive guards
  • No. 2: Barrett Jones, Alabama
  • No. 5: Larry Warford, Kentucky
Centers
  • No. 5: T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
Defensive ends
  • No. 4: Devin Taylor, South Carolina
Inside linebackers
  • No. 4: Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Cornerbacks
  • No. 1: Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
  • No. 4: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
  • No. 5: Morris Claiborne, LSU
Safeties
  • No. 2: Robert Lester, Alabama
  • No. 3: Janzen Jackson, Tennessee
Kickers
  • No. 5: Bryson Rose, Ole Miss
My thoughts:
  • Well, this junior class sure is stacked. There are 19 SEC juniors on Kiper's list and all of them are impact players in this league. I won't argue many of the players on this list, but I'm going to hold off on putting Wilson on here. He played in just one game last season, and while he did pretty well, I need to see more of him before I place him on a draft list. Cue his 4,000-yard performance this fall ...
  • I saw where my Big 12 blog compadre David Ubben disagreed with Kiper for his decision to put Jeffery ahead of Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Sure, Blackmon has the killer speed that Jeffery doesn't, but Jeffery is a physical beast on the field and was the best in one-on-one situations last season. He'll catch anything, no matter who's around him. I'll take Jeffery as well and he should be just fine at the next level.
  • Five of Kiper's 10 defensive backs reside in the SEC. Memo to all the quarterbacks in this league: throw with extreme caution. One player to keep an eye on this season is Claiborne. He has all the tools to be the top corner in the league this fall and could end up being the top corner in the country.
The SEC leads all conferences with 10 players on the 2011 Jim Thorpe Award watch list, which was released Monday.

The award is annually given to the nation's top defensive back and has 37 players on this year's preseason watch list. Alabama led all schools with three players -- safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick -- making the list.

Florida sophomore safety Matt Elam was an interesting selection. He spent his first year on campus as a backup to Ahmad Black, but Florida's new coaches are excited about the player he could be in Florida's defense. There was a lot of hype surrounding Elam coming out of high school and he could be an exciting player to watch this fall.

Behind the SEC's 10 representatives, the ACC was second with seven, followed by the Big 12 (6), Big
Ten (4), PAC-12 (4), C-USA (2), WAC (2) Big East (1) and Independents (1).

Here is the complete list of the SEC players on the Jim Thorpe watch list:
  • S Mark Barron, Alabama
  • CB Brandon Boykin, Georgia
  • CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
  • S Matt Elam, Florida
  • CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
  • CB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
  • CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
  • S Robert Lester, Alabama
  • S Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
  • S/CB Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee

Edward's SEC all-star ballot

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
10:15
AM ET
In the spirit of next week's MLB All-Star Game, we've decided to get in on the fun with our own shot at building all-star teams in the SEC.

I'll go first, while fellow SEC blogger Chris Low will unveil his team later today.

Since there are two divisions, we're going East versus West. Like MLB, the school from the winning division will be the home team in the SEC championship game. As a bonus, the winning representative will also get unlimited Chick-fil-A during its stay in Atlanta.

(Supplying unlimited amounts of food from The Varsity would leave the team sluggish and bloated before the big game, so we went lighter.)

Without further adieu, here are my East and West all-stars:

EAST

OFFENSE


QB - Aaron Murray, Georgia, So.
RB - Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, So.
RB - Tauren Poole, Tennessee, Sr.
WR - Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina, Jr.
WR - Justin Hunter, Tennessee, So.
TE - Orson Charles, Georgia, Jr.
C - Ben Jones, Georgia, Sr.
OL - Cordy Glenn, Georgia, Sr.
OL - Larry Warford, Kentucky, Jr.
OL - Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee, So.
OL - Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina, Sr.

DEFENSE

DE - Devin Taylor, South Carolina, Jr.
DE - Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, Sr.
DT - Jaye Howard, Florida, Sr.
DT - Malik Jackson, Tennessee, Sr.
LB - Danny Trevathan, Kentucky, Sr.
LB - Chris Marve, Vanderbilt, Sr.
LB - Ronald Powell, Florida, So.
CB - Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, Jr.
CB - Casey Howard, Vanderbilt, Sr.
S - Janzen Jackson, Tennessee, Jr. (consider this like the wacky fan vote because he has yet to return to the team)
S - D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina, Jr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K - Blair Walsh, Georgia, Sr.
P - Drew Butler, Georgia, Sr.
RET - Andre Debose, Florida, So.

WEST

OFFENSE

QB - Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, Jr.
RB - Trent Richardson, Alabama, Jr.
RB - Knile Davis, Arkansas, Jr.
WR - Greg Childs, Arkansas, Sr.
WR - Joe Adams, Arkansas, Sr.
TE - Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn, Jr.
C - William Vlachos, Alabama, Sr.
OL - Barrett Jones, Alabama, Jr.
OL - Bradley Sowell, Ole Miss, Sr.
OL - Josh Dworaczyk, LSU, Sr.
OL - Brandon Mosely, Auburn, Sr.

DEFENSE

DE - Jake Bequette, Arkansas, Sr.
DE - Kentrell Lockett, Ole Miss, Sr.
DT - Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, Jr.
DT - Josh Chapman, Alabama, Sr.
LB - Dont'a Hightower, Alabama, Jr.
LB - Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, Sr.
LB - Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, Sr.
CB - Morris Claiborne, LSU, Jr.
CB - Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, Jr.
S - Mark Barron, Alabama, Sr.
S - Tramain Thomas, Arkansas, Sr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K - Zach Hocker, Arkansas, So.
P - Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss, Jr.
RET - Joe Adams, Arkansas, Sr.

Ranking the SEC safeties

June, 22, 2011
6/22/11
11:30
AM ET
Safeties seem to have more responsibility on the field these days and there are a ton of players in this league that love to mix it up close to the line of scrimmage.

The range of some of these players is amazing to watch. Some are known more for their hitting, while others can get involved in the cover game as well.

Here’s the list we came up with at the safety position:

1. Mark Barron, Alabama, Sr.: It would have been easy for Barron to have turned pro this year, but he opted to stay another year with the Tide. He might be the top safety prospect for next year’s NFL draft and even though he went through spring in a non-contact jersey, the coaches expect him to be back to his old self this fall. Passers beware.

[+] EnlargeTramain Thomas
Paul Abell/US PresswireRazorbacks safety Tramain Thomas has seven career interceptions, including four in 2010.
2. Tramain Thomas, Arkansas, Sr.: Thomas was tremendous last season and showed that he could make plays all over the field. He registered 83 tackles and grabbed four interceptions. This spring was one of his best, as he made tons of plays and could be the league’s ultimate ball hawk this season.

3. Robert Lester, Alabama, Jr.: Lester has already heard his name associated with next year’s draft and plenty of mock drafts have him going in the first round with Barron. He led the Tide with eight interceptions a year ago and was second in the league with 12 pass breakups. He makes Alabama’s safety tandem arguably the best in the country.

4. Brandon Taylor, LSU, Sr.: He’s the leader of the defensive backfield and should be healed from his foot injury he suffered at the end of last season. Before his injury, he started the first nine games, collecting 44 tackles, including four for loss and had five pass breakups. He has great cover skills and should fly around the field if that foot is fine.

5. Janzen Jackson, Tennessee, Jr.: He would be right near the top if we knew for sure that he’d be playing this fall. He withdrew from school this spring to take care of some personal issues, but Tennessee’s staff is hopeful he returns. If he does, he shouldn’t miss a beat with his ability to take away the deep ball. He grabbed five interceptions last season and has some of the best range at the postion.

6. Sean Richardson, Vanderbilt, Sr.: He’s another member of Vanderbilt’s stout defensive backfield. He’s not an interception machine, but he roams all over the field and registered a team-high 98 tackles and had a sack in 2010. Richardson has the talent to compete at the highest level in the SEC.

7. Winston Guy, Kentucky, Sr.: For a while, Guy didn’t get much praise from his coaches, but that has changed this spring after he was more consistent during spring practice. He plays in the box a lot and will be the team’s nickel linebacker as another one of those versatile hybrids.

8. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, Jr.: As a freshman, Rambo looked like he was going to be a major hit in the SEC safety world. He had 82 tackles and three interceptions last year, but lacked consistency at times. If he regains the form he had when he first arrived, he could easily move up on this list.

9. Charles Mitchell, Mississippi State, Sr.: He’s another safety that makes his way all around the field. He was third on the team with 93 tackles and is praised by his coaches for having relentless work ethic and is considered the team’s best tackler.

10. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina, Jr.: The Gamecocks coaches have been very impressed with the progress Swearinger has made. Now in his third year, Swearinger has the talent to be the X factor in the Gamecocks’ secondary. He’s a hard hitter and can move down from his free safety spot to play in the box.
We head into high-flyer mode as we discuss defensive backs today. They are athletic as ever this season, and some teams return a bevy of secondary talent in 2011.

Here’s how the teams look:

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMark Barron decided to return to Alabama instead of making himself eligible for the NFL draft.
1. Alabama: This was an area of the team that was a problem and it wasn’t so much the yardage given up but the lack of consistency, especially in big games (see the Auburn game). This year, the Tide should have one of the best defensive backfields in the country. Safety Mark Barron could have entered the NFL draft, but stayed. And while he was in a non-contact jersey this spring, he’ll be one of the top safeties around this fall. Robert Lester is another solid safety who is also making everyone’s short list of top safeties for next year’s draft. At corner, everyone knows Dre Kirkpatrick, but DeQuan Menzie could be Alabama’s best weapon in the secondary. Dee Milliner is still in the mix at corner and there is a lot of good young talent as well.

2. LSU: No Patrick Peterson? No problem. The Tigers are once again loaded in their secondary with corners Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Both are All-SEC material and Claiborne led the Tigers with five interceptions last season. Mathieu found a way to get to the ball often last season and both should make it tough for any quarterback to throw on LSU this fall. Sophomore Tharold Simon made strong improvements at corner this spring as well. Safety Brandon Taylor is another top player at his position and he should be fine after suffering a foot injury at the end of last season. Youngsters Eric Reid and Craig Loston look like stars in the making at safety.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return five players who started at some point in 2010. Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley each recorded three interceptions and had 50-plus tackles last year. Broomfield should be the Bulldogs' top option at corner, while Banks can play both corner and safety. Charles Mitchell returns at safety and was third on the team with 93 tackles last season. All of Mississippi State’s defensive backs not only have a knack for making big plays down field but they can each play efficiently in the box.

4. Arkansas: This group is a little inexperienced, but there is a lot of talent to go around. Things start with safety Tramain Thomas. Thomas was fourth on the team in tackles last season and grabbed four interceptions. Thomas looked even better this spring, making play after play. Fellow senior Elton Ford should get time at safety, and converted corner Eric Bennett should get reps as well. Hybrid linebacker Jerico Nelson enhances the group when he drops back with the safeties and Isaac Madison returns at one of the corner spots and should team up with Darius Winston. The two have 27 career starts under their belts.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ secondary has to improve after underachieving a year ago, and South Carolina has the weapons to do it. Corner Stephon Gilmore wasn’t at his best last year, but has tremendous cover ability and speed to be tops at his position. Akeem Auguste moved from safety back to his more natural position at corner and should give the Gamecocks one of the top corner tandems in the SEC. DeVonte Holloman moved to the Spur linebacker spot, so there are still questions at safety, but D.J. Swearinger really impressed this spring and some think he’s the most gifted defensive back in Columbia. Replacing Holloman’s spot is going to be tough, and the coaches have yet to find someone to solidify that position.

6. Vanderbilt: This is the strongest part of Vanderbilt’s team. The Commodores return a heap of talent, starting with senior corner Casey Hayward, who was a second-team All-SEC pick a year ago. Hayward led the SEC with 11 pass breakups and had six interceptions. Safety Sean Richardson led the team with 98 tackles and would start on a lot of teams in the SEC. The other safety spot is occupied by Kenny Ladler, who was one of the top safeties in the league last season, even as a freshman. Junior Trey Wilson had a great spring and could move past last year’s starter Eddie Foster on the depth chart.

7. Georgia: Like most positions at Georgia, there’s no shortage of talent. However, there are still questions. Senior Brandon Boykin is solid at one of the corner spots with his natural corner instincts, great speed and is the defensive leader. Sanders Commings is talented and has the best size, but he’ll have to battle Branden Smith at the other corner spot. Smith is a total athlete, but he has to improve his coverage skills. Bacarri Rambo is solid at safety, but he needs to return to the form he had as a freshman. Finding someone to line up next to him is important. With Alec Ogletree moving to linebacker, there is a hole at safety and one of Georgia’s newcomers might have to step in this fall.

8. Florida: The Gators would have been higher on this list had it not been for the dismissal of All-SEC corner Janoris Jenkins. There’s a gaping hole at corner, and the hope is that junior Jeremy Brown can help fill it. He finally played after a severe back injury kept him out for two years, and while he struggled at times, Florida’s coaches were very impressed with his play this spring. Sophomore Cody Riggs was a pleasant surprise at corner last season and is battling unproven senior Moses Jenkins. There is nothing but youth and inexperience behind them. At safety, Matt Elam had a good spring at strong safety, while free safety wasn’t totally locked down by Josh Evans. The good news is that Florida signed six defensive backs this year.

9. Tennessee: This group could be decent, but there are so many questions. We aren’t sure if star Janzen Jackson will return after leaving school this spring. Prentiss Waggner moved from safety to corner last season, where he was an All-SEC performer, and then back to safety when Jackson left. But he might be back at corner this fall. If Waggner is a corner and there’s no Jackson, there’s an enormous hole at safety. If he stays at safety, then there’s one at corner. Fortunately, Brent Brewer, a former minor league baseball player, is a solid safety, and corner Marsalis Teague returns after converting from receiver last season. Incoming junior college transfer Byron Moore should compete immediately for time at corner.

10. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience with four senior starters returning, but the unit has to show that it can be consistent in big games. Safety/linebacker hybrid Winston Guy leads the group with his speed, strength and athleticism, and will move down into the box as the nickel linebacker. Seniors Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley are back at corner after combing for 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior Martavius Neloms began the spring as the starter at corner, but could see more time at safety this fall. Mychal Bailey will line up at safety and was second behind Guy with two interceptions last season. Inexperience behind this group is still a problem.

11. Auburn: Things started off poorly when senior safety Michael McNeil was one of the four players arrested for robbery and later dismissed this spring. McNeil, who started seven games last season, was supposed to be one of the stars of the Tigers’ defense this fall. Now he’s gone and former corner Neiko Thorpe is moving over to safety. The move actually benefits the hit-first defensive back. T’Sharvan Bell is at corner and has the speed and tight cover skills to be one of the best at his position. After that, it’s a free-for-all. Incoming freshman Erique Florence should get an opportunity to come in and play immediately at safety.

12. Ole Miss: This group had to hear about how it was the goat of last season’s 4-8 campaign after allowing 246 passing yards a game. It was a motivational tool this spring, but there’s a lot of work to do. New defensive backs coach Keith Burns was pleased with the spring progress and really liked how JUCO transfer Wesley Pendleton played at corner. He’s competing to take one of those spots from either Marcus Temple, who missed spring with injury, or Charles Sawyer, who had to be pushed at times this spring. The reliable Damien Jackson is back at safety and could line up next to Brishen Mathews, who got good playing time last season, but is still unproven. JUCO transfer Ivan Nicholas and freshman Cliff Coleman will compete for time at safety and corner, respectively.

Hope and concern: Arkansas

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
9:13
AM ET
For the second straight year, hope springs eternal in the Arkansas camp, but there’s also reason for concern.

Biggest reason for hope: A defense with all the right pieces

To win championships in this league, you have to play championship-caliber defense. Everybody knows the Hogs have the firepower on offense to score points in bunches. Now, they have that same kind of firepower on defense to create turnovers, come up with key stops and keep teams out of the end zone. The defensive front should be one of the deepest in the league, and the addition of junior college tackle Robert Thomas (6-3, 325 pounds) this spring only added to the Hogs’ athleticism and size. Senior linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson are back after finishing No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in tackles last season, while senior Tramain Thomas returns as one of the best all-around safeties in the league. It’s easily the most speed the Hogs have had on defense since Bobby Petrino has been in Fayetteville, and it’s also an experienced defense. Arkansas was able to lean on its defense in spots a year ago. This coming season, it may be that the Hogs set the tone defensively in just about every game.

Biggest reason for concern: Youth in the offensive line

The Hogs were a veteran offensive line last season, particularly at tackle, and that was a big reason for their offensive success. It will flip the other way in 2011 when Arkansas is expected to field one of the youngest offensive lines in the league. True freshman Brey Cook worked much of the spring as one of the starting tackles after enrolling early. He’s mature beyond his years and already one of the strongest players on the team, but it’s always a thrill a minute in this league when a true freshman is starting at offensive tackle. Sophomore Anthony Oden could be the starter at the other tackle spot after redshirting last season. Oden was suspended for the opener and was then forced to withdraw from school in the fall because of complications from mononucleosis. The Hogs will be equally young inside, although talented. Sophomore center Travis Swanson and sophomore guard Alvin Bailey both started as freshmen last season.

SEC Players of the Week

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
11:49
AM ET
The SEC league office has announced its top performers for Week 6:

OFFENSE

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia: He was 17-of-20 passing for 201 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in South Carolina's 35-21 win against Alabama. Garcia started the game 9-for-9 and led the Gamecocks on touchdown drives of 82 and 74 yards in the second half.

DEFENSE

Arkansas safety Tramain Thomas: He had a season-high seven tackles along with an interception, two fumble recoveries, a pass deflection and a half-tackle for loss in Arkansas’ 24-17 win against Texas A&M. His interception came in the end zone as time expired to seal the victory for the Razorbacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum: He kicked the game-winning 24-yard field goal as time expired, giving Auburn a 37-34 victory at Kentucky. He also added field goals of 38 and 19 yards for the Tigers. It was the fifth game-winning field goal of his career and third in Auburn’s past seven games (2010 Outback Bowl, 2010 vs. Clemson).

OFFENSIVE LINE

Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod: He graded out at a season-high 96 percent with seven knockdown blocks in Mississippi State’s 47-24 win at Houston. He helped pave the way for the Bulldog offense to grind out 538 total yards, including 409 yards on the ground.

DEFENSIVE LINE

LSU tackle Drake Nevis: He accounted for seven total tackles with 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage, including 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in LSU’s 33-29 win at Florida. He led an LSU defense that held the Gators to 243 total yards and just 12 first downs.

FRESHMAN

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He was 17-of-25 passing for 266 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Georgia’s 41-14 win against Tennessee. He added 41 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including a 35-yard scoring run for Georgia's first touchdown.

SPONSORED HEADLINES