Evander "Ziggy" Hood is not just another departed senior that the Tigers must replace in 2009. Ziggy emerged as the anchor of the Tigers' defensive line last season and was one of the bright spots on an otherwise shaky defense. In April, Hood was rewarded for his play in his senior season by being selected in the first round by the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Now that Hood has moved on to the NFL, senior Jaron Baston will look to become the new anchor for a defense hoping to improve greatly on their performance in 2008.
It is my belief that a good defense starts with pressure up front and that can only be achieved if the interior defensive linemen swallow up the interior of the opposing offensive line, freeing the pass rushers to run wild. Because the Tigers will feature faster pass rushers this season than they have in previous years, defensive tackle becomes a much more important position in 2009. If Jaron Baston is a good plug in the middle (with some pass rushing mixed in there too), the D will take a big step in the direction they want to go this year.
Hood in 2005: 18 tackles, 1 sack
Hood in 2006: 29 tackles, 3 sacks
Hood in 2007: 45 tackles, 4 sacks
Hood in 2008: 52 tackles, 5 sacks
Ziggy did a great job during his career, getting better as each season progressed. His replacement, Jaron Baston, had a breakthrough year last year, earning a starting spot along side Hood for the entire season. He hopes to follow this same path as Hood did after his junior year, assuming the role of "anchor" on the defensive line in his senior campaign. Baston recorded 45 tackles (1 sack) last season and became a fan favorite because of his intensity, so experience will not be a problem at this position. As his playing time goes up this season, his production will no doubt follow.
Baston is going to be expected to be one of the leaders on this young defense because of his starting experience. He has not disappointed thus far, showing a ton of leadership qualities during spring ball this March/April, barking at teammates to step up the intensity, work ethic, etc. I truly expect this senior defensive tackle to give the Tigers exactly what Ziggy Hood gave his team last season. If the Tigers can get consistent production out of Baston this season, the younger players will find it easier to make plays in the passing game and stopping the run. Baston is crucial for the defense's successt this year.
Jaron Baston is probably holding down the most solid spot on defense besides Sean Weatherspoon because he is a rare returning starter. Expect Baston's numbers to mirror what Ziggy Hood produced last season. The key for Baston in 2009 is to be an emotional leader and a non-stop motor in the middle.