Today, we take a look at teams’ ability to stop the run.
1) Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide’s scary front 7 features Courtney Upshaw, CJ Mosley, and Dont’a Hightower. These are three of the scariest players on the defensive side of the ball in the nation. All three are sure tacklers who love to shoot through gaps and blow up the play before it even gets started. Saban will occasionally call corner/safety blitzes, bringing the secondary into the mix. Nobody would try running against the Crimson Tide if their secondary was anything less than fabulous. Yet that’s what teams will have to do- run. Not up the middle, but to the outside. The only way to beat this Tide D is to use speed to the outside. And not many teams have that kind of speed, because Alabama is pretty fast too. Meaning it’ll be impossible to score much against Alabama.
2) LSU Tigers
Drake Nevis and Lazarius Livingston depart to the NFL, but the cupboard is far from bare in the LSU front 7. Kendrick Adams and Sam Montgomery return for their senior and sophomore years, respectively, and both are defensive linemen to fear. Stefon Francois and Ryan Baker may be the best linebacker tandem in the country. Both are battle weary seniors who know what it will take to win. And they will lead their team to do just that. Watch out for DT Anthony Johnson to step up and make some huge plays as a freshman. This is a ferocious defensive front 7 that will plug holes and stuff the run nearly as well as Alabama.
3) Florida Gators
Putting a team that could not put pressure on opposing QB’s if their lives depended on it at #3 is pretty strange, I know. But look at who’s coaching, and his track record. Now go look at the players. I mean beasts. Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd should wreak havoc and become offensive lines’ worst nightmares. Linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic should do the same in the second wave. Basically, teams have to be crazy to even try to run against Florida. The Gators are as loaded up front as they have ever been before.
4) South Carolina Gamecocks
Spurrier’s team is cocked and loaded on both offense and defense, at least in the front 7. But last year, SC’s defense took a backseat to the Marcus Lattimore show. Would anybody believe that the Gamecocks were top 5 in the nation in sacks? That’s right, and they should be even more ferocious this year. Cliff Matthews leaves but Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor and Travian Robinson all come back from that team. Oh and there’s Jadeveon Clowney, who might make an immediate impact. These guys will lead the way to stifle opposing running games. And they’ll do a great job, too.
5) Arkansas Razorbacks
Jerry Franklin and Jake Bequette are two of the game’s least known players. Why? Because their buddies on offense score so much that who needs defense? Whether Arkansas needs it or not, they’ll get plenty of it from Franklin, a big hitting linebacker, and Bequette, a fearsome pass rusher as well as run stopper. Another name to look out for is Anthony Leon, a redshirt senior linebacker who can make the sure tackle for you. This is a solid, but not quite stingy, run defense.
6) Mississippi State Bulldogs
MSU does a lot of things well, and nothing great. Defending the run is one of them. They do have a fantastic defensive tackle in Fletcher Cox, who can stop the run extremely well. Josh Boyd and Shawn Ferguson will help him out in the defensive line, but the linebacker position is a little bit shaky. Mike Hunt (go ahead, get your laughs out of the way now) will be expected to step up big time. Chris Hughes and Deonte Skinner will also have high expectations as rising sophomores to clog holes. This group is too unproven to move any higher, but too talented to move any lower for now.
7) Georgia Bulldogs
Credit has to be given to Todd Grantham and Georgia- they’re talented. The loss of Justin Houston was humongous, and it will be difficult to overcome. But it’s doable because of the talent. If they do, it will be because of Darryl Gamble and Marcus Dowtin, two hard hitting linebackers who know how to stop a running back dead in his tracks. Perhaps the key to this front 7’s success is JUCO transfer John Jenkins, who very well may be the DT version of Cam Newton. But he better be. Because if he is anything short of it, Georgia will suffer. Big time.
8) Auburn Tigers
A name to look out for is Nosa Eguae. He will be the best bet to replace everything Nick Fairley brought to the table- big hits, sure tackles, and harrassing QB’s. But for Auburn’s sake, he needs to do all of those things very well, because there’s nobody else even close to being ready to step up. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of talent between Corey Lemonier and Michael Goggans, but there’s no sign that they are ready to make the huge jump from bench guy to beast guy. Then again, there wasn’t with Fairley either. We shall see.
9) Mississippi Rebels
3:32PM, September 27, 2008. Kentrell Lockett leaps over the line and blocks the PAT in the Swamp. Ole Miss gets that leaping ability and all the other key things Lockett brings back in 2011, like his speed, his sure tackling, and his heart. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, there are no other holdovers from those back to back Cotton Bowl teams. Jonathan Cornell is a major loss at linebacker, and I’m not sure Mississippi can fill it. The Rebels do have DT Shackelford to help out Lockett some, but will it be enough to effectively stop the run?
10) Tennessee Volunteers
Can UT replace Nick Reveiz and Chris Walker? At the bottom of the order here, it becomes a game of how much you are able to do it. And I’m not sure the Vols can at all. I could name names here, but it’s pointless. That’s what ESPN team rosters are for. Daryl Vereen is the “leader” of the group returning, and needs to be huge in order to stop the run. Here’s what it comes down to: who steps up out of nowhere and becomes a star to help him out? If the answer is nobody, then John Brantley can run QB sneaks for 500 yards.
11) Kentucky Wildcats
Danny Trevathan is the real deal at linebacker, but who will help him? Again, there are no known threats in the UK front 7 to assist him, but that’s the fun. Ronnie Sneed is my pick to come out of nowhere and be a shutdown, gap-shooting linebacker that can effectively stop the run. But other than these two, this is a poor front 7 that has no proven dependable players. Look for UK to finish at or near the bottom of the league in rushing yards and TD’s defense.
12) Vanderbilt Commodores
One man. Chris Marve, a bruising linebacker. He will make or break the defensive front 7. He’s the one who will either hold opposing running games to under 500 yards or not. Alas, he is going to be counted on to do way too much, and the entire defense will likely fall apart. This is a terrible front 7 that could not stop a Munchkin from walking through its own front door.