Decimated on defense

Football fans may see some high-scoring games involving Southeastern Conference Eastern Division teams this fall. That's not a credit to the offensive talent returning but an indictment of the defensive talent coming back.

The latest hit: Georgia's best defensive player, cornerback Paul Oliver, will make himself available in the National Football League's supplemental draft this summer after being declared academically ineligible for 2007. Oliver, who would've been a senior this fall, is the ultimate shut-down corner. He limited Georgia Tech superstar Calvin Johnson to two catches for 13 yards in last year's regular-season finale.

In addition to Oliver, Georgia's defense must replace its 2006 starting ends, Charles Johnson and Quinton Moses (both taken in Round 3 of the recent NFL Draft), ultra-productive linebacker Tony Taylor and safety Tra Battle.

Defending SEC and national champ Florida was hit even harder, losing nine of its 11 defensive starters from 2006. Four of these – end Jarvis Moss, safety Reggie Nelson, linebacker Brandon Siler and cornerback Ryan Smith – were underclassmen. Moreover, Moss and Nelson were first-round NFL Draft picks.

Florida also must replace its top three defensive tackles from 2006 – Ray McDonald, Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris – along with end Joe Cohen, linebackers Earl Everett and Brian Crum and cornerback Reggie Lewis.

The Gators' only returning starters on defense are safety Tony Joiner and end Derrick Harvey, who started four games after Marcus Thomas was dismissed from the program.

Tennessee, the other member of the SEC East's Big Three, has seen attrition hit its defensive ranks, as well. The Vols lost their two best linemen, Justin Harrell (Round 1) and Turk McBride (Round 2), to the NFL Draft. Senior cornerback Jonathan Wade (Round 3) and senior linebacker Marvin Mitchell (Round 7) also were good enough to be drafted.

Counting tackle Matt McGlothlin (out of eligibility), defensive backs Antwan Stewart (out of eligibility) and Demetrice Morley (dismissed), Tennessee must replace six defenders who started at least 10 games last fall and two more – Harrell and cornerback Inquoris Johnson – who would've started every game if not for season-ending injuries.

Bottom line: There may be a lot more 34-31 scores than 20-17 scores in the games involving SEC East teams this fall.


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