The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

October 10, 2012

Pass defense will play key role in SEC title race

(Continued)

In the most recent draft, Claiborne, Alabama safety Mark Barron, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick were selected among the first 17 overall picks. LSU had to replace cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist removed from the Tigers' 2012 roster for a violation of team rules.

Even after losing all those stars, the SEC still boasts some of the nation's best defensive backs. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, Reid and Banks are regarded as potential first-round draft picks.

"I really think you're going to get a lot of bigger, stronger, quicker DBs in the SEC," Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. "Not that there's not guys like that in the other conferences, but there's going to be bigger numbers in the SEC. I think the type of receivers you go against on your own team is a factor. We had A.J. Green here pushing guys like (former star cornerback Brandon) Boykin."

The connection between pass efficiency defense and SEC championships might seem odd for what's generally a run-oriented league. Of the 14 teams in the SEC this year, only Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee have attempted more passes than carries. Overall, 30 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams throw the ball more than they run it.

Although most SEC teams prefer to run the ball, this league does feature plenty of quality quarterbacks. The SEC has come a long way since last year, when the league didn't have anyone ranked among the nation's 20 most efficient passers. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley calls it "probably as experienced and talented a group as they've had in the league in a while."

The list of SEC quarterbacks includes at least three probable early-round draft picks in Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Tennessee's Tyler Bray and Georgia's Aaron Murray. But the quarterbacks enjoying the most team success don't throw nearly as often as those guys. This is one league in which it isn't a backhanded compliment to refer to a quarterback as a game manager.

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