Less than one year removed from a pre-season ranking of third in the nation, the once-mightily-thought-of Crimson Tide placed only three athletes in four positions (Freddie Milons was named to two slots) on the pre-season team. So let's take a quick look at how the talented conference breaks down.
QUARTERBACK: The media voted Casey Clausen (TN) first team, with Rex Grossman (FL) and Rohan Davey (LSU) tied for the second unit. I wouldn't quarrel with Davey in that slot. When he was ‘on' in 2000 Davey was probably the most effective quarterback in the SEC. Only injuries and inconsistency dropped him to second-team on my ballot. But Clausen and Grossman over Wayne Madkin of Mississippi State?
If anyone doubts that the media gets caught up in big-school versus small-school hype, look no further for evidence. All Madkin does is beat you--and the last time I checked that was the test of a quarterback's worth.
RUNNING BACK: First let me point out that fullbacks were lumped in together with tailbacks, guaranteeing that the real unsung heroes would be left off the final list. But Dicenzo Miller (MSU) and Cedric Cobbs (AR) were voted first-team, and Derek Watson (SC) and Earnest Graham (FL) made the second unit. Though Watson was my choice for first-string (despite his ‘sportsmanship,' he was the best all-around back Bama faced last season), I can't argue much with this group. All are deserving.
TIGHT END: Time for some partisanship here, as my choice was Terry Jones Jr. I'll readily admit to some bias, as I can remember interviewing the young Jones back two years ago when he was fresh off starting as a true freshman and still nervous with the media. But though fans are prone to judge a tight end's worth based on number of catches, the NFL and most coaches beg to differ. For them, a tight end is judged first, second and third on blocking--and if he can also catch then so much the better. The media, by the way, chose Kentucky's Derek Smith (see my point?) with Robert Royal of LSU (a fine athlete) second-string.
WIDE RECEIVER: A deep and extremely talented pool of receivers will ply their trade this season in the SEC, so it's really impossible to come up with a definitive two. The media went with Jabar Gaffney (FL) and Josh Reed (LSU) for first string, with Georgia's Terrence Edwards and Bama's Freddie Milons on the second unit. This BamaMag employee had Milons listed first-string, but I can't quarrel with the outcome.
RETURN SPECIALIST: Milons was first string over Vanderbilt's Ray Perkins in this spot with both the media and me.
CENTER: Though there was no distinction between guards and tackles on the media ballot, they did designate a separate vote for centers. Odd. Mississippi's Ben Claxton was the choice of the media, with the often-injured Zac Zedalias of Florida second team. My vote went to Georgia's Curt McGill.
OFFENSIVE LINE (includes both guards and tackles): Since guards are not voted on separately, the more high-profile offensive tackles invariably dominate this list. Mike Pearson (FL), Jon Stinchcomb (GA), Terrence Metcalf (MS) and Kendall Simmons (AU) made the media first team, with Fred Weary (TN), Kenny Sandlin (AR), Cedric Williams (SC) and Melvin Paige (SC) second team. My list included those first teamers with Dante Ellington getting a mention for second-team.
But in retrospect I probably should have followed the advice of Tide senior defensive end Aries Monroe. I stopped by the Alabama Football Complex a day or so before I had to submit my ballot, reasoning that who better than the players would know who deserved all-star honors. And when asked which name he would write in were he voting for All-SEC offensive lineman, Monroe's classic response was "the entire Mississippi State line."
Pearson, Stinchcomb, Metcalf, et al are quality athletes, but I think Aries has a point.
PLACEKICKER: In a highly predictable result, the media named Florida's Jeff Chandler first, backed up by Tennessee's Alex Walls. Me? I voted for Neal Thomas. And my reasoning was simple. I've seen all three perform, and Thomas can easily kick as long and as straight as the other two. But more importantly I see Alabama kicking a lot of field goals this season, providing Thomas with the point-total edge in that contest.
PUNTER: Who is the best punter in the league? Who knows? But a glance at last season's statistics give a significant edge to Auburn's Damon Duval, so yellow hair or not he made both our ballots. With seven votes (out of 81 cast), Arkansas' Richie Butler ‘earned' second team.
Not enough hair dye, I guess.
DEFENSIVE LINE: First two questions: with all the extremely talented D-Linemen playing this season in the SEC, why was the media only allowed to vote for three line slots? And second, tackle and end are very different positions, requiring unique athletic skills. So why were both lumped together as just ‘defensive line?' If anyone can figure those two out, please let me know.
But to the actual ballots, Tennessee's John Henderson and Florida's Alex Brown led the way with 80 and 65 votes respectively, and Will Overstreet (TN) snuck on the first squad with 28 votes. Bama's Kindal Moorehead led the second group (25 votes) with DeMarco McNeil (AU) and Dorsett Davis (MSU) also selected. My votes went to Henderson, Brown and Moorehead. Interestingly, an out-of-state writer (not knowing who I worked for) pointed to Moorehead's name and said, "Talk about getting by on past reputation. He didn't even play last season."
Obviously he hasn't watched Alex Brown sleep-walk his way through games versus opponents without an orange 'T' on their helmets. Past reputation indeed.
INSIDE LINEBACKER: With more SEC teams playing a 4-3 than a 3-4, why did the media vote for four linebackers (2 inside and 2 out)? Another mystery of the universe, I guess. The media selected Trev Faulk (LSU) and Saleem Rasheed (AL) first string, with Andra Davis (FL) and Dominique Stevenson (TN) on the second unit. All four athletes are very good, so I can't quarrel too much. But along with Rasheed, my ballot included Mississippi's Eddie Strong.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Media votes went to Kalimba Edwards (SC) and Mario Haggan (MSU) for the first team, and Eddie Strong and Bradie James (LSU) second. Along with Edwards, I voted for Faulk on the outside. And with all due respect to Rasheed (who deserves his position as first-string at middle linebacker), Edwards and Faulk should be considered the two top returning linebackers in the conference.
By the way, Alabama fans should note that when asked about All-SEC candidates before the balloting, to a man the various Tide players said "Brooks Daniels." "But I can't vote for an athlete who didn't even start last season," I protested. "Just wait. You'll see," was the reply.
DEFENSIVE BACK: Again, why is there no delineation between corners and safeties? But regardless of that question, the SEC media selected Lito Sheppard (FL), Pig Prather (MSU), Sheldon Brown (SC) and Tim Wansley (GA) to its first team. Florida's Todd Johnson (who led the SEC last season in interceptions) was on the media's second team, along with Syniker Taylor (MS), Andre Lott (TN) and Ken Hamlin (AR). My ballot included Sheppard, Wansley, Brown and Johnson.
How can a superior athlete like Johnson with the stats to match his ability not make first team?
Not a good enough nickname, I guess.