5. Georgia Bulldogs- This is my wildcard defense for 2010. It may be crazy to put them this high in their first season under a 3-4 scheme brought in under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, but talent has never been a question for Georgia. Their defense struggled last season under Willie Martinez, and a new coordinator will automatically give a spark to their defense.
The struggle will come in finding a nose tackle. DeAngelo Tyson looks to be the favorite right now at the position, but freshman Kwame Geathers could push at the position because of his 6-5, 326-pound frame. Justin Houston could be the player to reap the most benefits from playing in the 3-4. In 10 games last season, Houston recorded 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. He is the ideal player for the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end spot the Bulldogs will use him at.
4. LSU Tigers- The Tigers need to find some consistent playmaking on the defensive line. Lazarius Levingston and Drake Nevis provide consistency at defensive tackle, with Nevis ranking seventh on the defense in tackles after not starting a game. Levingston was fourth on the team with eight tackles for loss. The defensive tackle play will be key as the Tigers look for an improved pass rush. They had only 21 sacks last season, and LSU has only freshmen and sophomores to use at the position this season.
If the defensive line can be consistent, this defense could be better than fourth. Kelvin Sheppard returns at linebacker after leading the team in tackles, while sophomores Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois should have good seasons in their first year starting. Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback in the SEC, and his presence improves an average secondary.
3. Florida Gators- Near the end of the season, the Florida defense could make a push for tops in the SEC. However, there are plenty of questions that need to be addressed. The Gators lost 39 career sacks at defensive end and don't have a proven threat on the roster that can get to the quarterback. Freshman Ronald Powell will be counted on at defensive end, but it's difficult to expect a lot out of a first-year player.
The linebackers will be able to run. Brandon Hicks, A.J. Jones and Jelani Jenkins provide elite speed off the edge, while middle linebacker Jon Bostic can run for his 6-1, 236-pound size. Jenkins could also slide into middle linebacker if it makes Florida better.
Janoris Jenkins can shut down one side of the field, but the Gators are still searching for their second cornerback. Even if the second cornerback struggles, Ahmad Black and Will Hill provide solid play at safety to help out on the deep passes.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks- This defense will succeed because of it's veteran presence. Add in one of the most underrated coordinators in the conference with Ellis Johnson, and the Gamecocks will have a strong defense this season. Defensive end Cliff Matthews has to be their pass rushing specialist, while 6-8, 244-pound defensive end Devin Taylor has elite potential off the edge.
Eric Norwood will be difficult to replace at linebacker, but Shaq Wilson's 85 tackles led the team last season. Stephon Gilmore could be among the elite SEC cornerbacks after this season. The unique three-safety set should feature Akeem Auguste, Antonio Allen and DeVonte Holloman.
1.Alabama Crimson Tide- Alabama lost a ton of talent from last season's defense, but those moving into the starting lineup aren't without playing time. Marcel Dareus led last year's defense with 6.5 sacks despite only four starts. Luther Davis and Josh Chapman will round out the defensive line, despite zero starts between the two.
The four starting linebackers have only seven starts between them, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Dont'a Hightower was a starter last season before tearing his ACL. Nico Johnson took his place in the lineup as a freshman, and he is now improved and ready for a potential breakout season. Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris are both juniors, but Harris is the most inexperienced of the four.
B.J. Scott and Dre Kirkpatrick give the Crimson Tide a two-headed sophomore duo at cornerback. Mark Barron will provide the leadership in the secondary at safety.
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