We’ve already gone through the different position groups on offense in SEC.
Now, it’s on to the side of the ball this league is known for -- defense.
More specifically, we examine the top defensive lines, and there are at least five or six in the SEC that would rank among the best in the country.
In fact, defensive line play is one of the things that has separated the SEC from everybody else over the years.
Here’s how we would rank the defensive lines going into the 2012 season:
1. LSU: All you really need to know about the Tigers’ defensive line is that they have three players -- ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan -- who may go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Look for sophomore tackle Anthony Johnson to also become an every-down force this season, and sophomore Ego Ferguson could also make his move. LSU is swimming in talent and depth up front.
2. South Carolina: In his second tour through the SEC, sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney is poised to wreak some serious havoc. His partner on the other side, senior Devin Taylor, is also All-SEC material. Sophomore tackle Kelcy Quarles should take a big step, and senior tackle Byron Jerideau was one of the team’s most improved players this spring.
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ strength up front starts right there in the middle with 350-pound senior nose guard Jonathan Jenkins. Now that he’s been through an entire SEC season, he’ll be even more of a force in 2012. Cornelius Washington adds a real pass-rushing threat at end in the 3-4 scheme after moving from outside linebacker, and senior end Abry Jones had a great spring.
4. Florida: If not for the injuries to junior tackle Dominique Easley and junior end/linebacker Ronald Powell, the Gators would be ranked even higher. Both players are expected back, with Powell facing the longest odds of being all the way back. Junior Sharrif Floyd is back at his natural position of tackle, and keep an eye on junior college newcomer Damien Jacobs inside. He showed up repeatedly around the ball this spring.
5. Alabama: Jesse Williams moves from end to nose guard and has the strength and power to develop into an NFL first-round draft choice. He shouldn’t have any problem making the transition. Damion Square is an accomplished pass-rusher at one end, and talented guys like junior end Ed Stinson have patiently been waiting their turn.
6. Auburn: It wasn’t a season to remember on defense a year ago for the Tigers, but their defensive line should be one of the most improved units in the league if everyone returns healthy in the fall. Junior end Corey Lemonier tied for fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks a year ago, while Dee Ford looks to be healthy on the other side after missing most of last season. The Tigers have some of the best inside depth in the league.
7. Mississippi State: Fletcher Cox’s early departure stings, but his former running mate inside, senior Josh Boyd, is back for his senior season, and junior college newcomer Denico Autry was the rage this spring at end. If Autry turns out to be as good as he looked in the spring, the Bulldogs will have that finisher off the edge they lacked last season.
8. Arkansas: This is a group that could make a significant move upward if everybody stays healthy. Tackle Robert Thomas will be a key in the middle. He should be more consistent this season after coming over from junior college a year ago. Another junior college newcomer, Austin Flynn, was impressive this spring. That’s important because Tenarius Wright is moving from end to linebacker.
9. Texas A&M: Stopping the interior run remains the big question mark for the Aggies, who are moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Junior Damontre Moore is a natural at end and will make his presence felt right away. He rates up there with Jarvis Jones, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Corey Lemonier as one of the top defensive front-seven playmakers in the league.
10. Tennessee: The Vols are counting on a pair of junior college additions to come through this fall -- Daniel McCullers at nose tackle and Darrington Sentimore at end. They’re moving to a 3-4 in their base defense. Maurice Couch could factor in at nose guard or end, and junior Marlon Walls is back at end. Replacing Malik Jackson won’t be easy. He made a ton of plays for the Vols.
11. Vanderbilt: If you’re looking for the SEC’s top breakout players in 2012, junior defensive end Walker May should be near the top of your list. He had 4.5 sacks last season and is coming off a superb offseason. Senior tackle Rob Lohr was one of the more underrated interior linemen in the league last season, and the Commodores’ overall depth across the front has improved greatly.
12. Kentucky: The Wildcats won’t be hurting in the experience department. They just don’t have a lot of proven depth. The junior tackle tandem of Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph gives Kentucky more than 600 pounds of muscle in the middle. Senior end Collins Ukwu was slowed during the spring, but has all the tools to be a big-time pass-rusher in this league.
13. Missouri: The Tigers lost three starters from a year ago, and they’re also undersized up front. They have some talent coming, and sophomore end Kony Ealy is primed for a breakout season. Sheldon Richardson will be a key in the middle. He missed the spring with a shoulder injury. Senior end Brad Madison has All-SEC potential, but is also coming off a shoulder injury.
14. Ole Miss: The Rebels don’t have any depth at defensive tackle, which is a major concern for first-year coach Hugh Freeze. They could also use some help at end, which means getting freshman end Channing Ward eligible this fall is a must. Sophomore end C.J. Johnson played well this spring.