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Meet the SEC East Division's Most Indispensable Football Players

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJune 13, 2013

Meet the SEC East Division's Most Indispensable Football Players

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    Being the best player on your team is one thing, but being the most indispensable is another. 

    Great players are often backed up by a stable of quality players behind them, which is where Georgia finds itself at running back and Florida's secondary currently stands.

    But what about those positions that aren't so deep?

    Where can one injury change the fate of an entire team's season? 

    Keeping up with what's becoming a June tradition for the SEC Blog, we take a look at the SEC East's most indispensable players in this slideshow.

Florida Gators: QB Jeff Driskel

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    Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel didn't exactly set the world on fire last season in his first full year as the Gators' starting quarterback, but he's all that head coach Will Muschamp has at the moment.

    As a sophomore last season, Driskel completed 63.7 percent of his passes (156-of-245) for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Efficient? Sure. But Florida was one-dimensional by choice last year, and Driskel was part of that dimension rushing 118 times for 408 yards and four touchdowns.

    Tyler Murphy sits behind Driskel on Florida's depth chart, but it's Driskel's show in Gainesville. 

    Florida needs to establish a downfield threat in the passing game, and Driskel's primary responsibility this spring was to develop one. If he goes down, the hopes Gator Nation have of finally stretching the field goes with him.

Georgia Bulldogs: QB Aaron Murray

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    This one is a no-brainer.

    Georgia is loaded and deep at virtually every position on its offense, but having a viable backup behind quarterback Aaron Murray is one of the biggest (and only) questions facing head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

    The job would be Hutson Mason's if Murray misses time, but can he do what Murray does? I don't think so.

    Murray set single-season touchdown records in 2011 and 12, throwing for 35 and 36 touchdown passes, respectively. He has great accuracy, a firm grasp of the offense and played much smarter last year than he did as a sophomore.

    But Murray's presence is huge for another reason. Georgia's defense suffered massive roster turnover, which means that its effectiveness in 2013 is up for debate. I've gone on record saying that the newcomers will actually play better than the All-Star cast that left last season. 

    I could be wrong, though. If I am, it might not be that big of an issue because we know that Murray can lead the Bulldogs if they're forced into shootouts.

Kentucky Wildcats: LB Avery Williamson

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    While most of the attention paid to the Kentucky program this offseason will center around the offense—and, in particular, the quarterback position—the Wildcats' fate in head coach Mark Stoops' first season will rest in the rather capable hands of linebacker Avery Williamson.

    Williamson led the team and finished second in the SEC in tackles last season with 135 and is being counted on to step up and become the leader yet again for the linebacking corps and entire defense. 

    Injuries played a big part of Kentucky's failures last season, but the Wildcats actually have a talented front four coming back.

    It's up to Williamson to be the quarterback of that defense and get it in the right spot. If he can, Kentucky may turn some heads.

Missouri Tigers: WR Dorial Green-Beckham

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    Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham didn't exactly turn heads during his true freshman campaign, but he came on strong down the stretch catching 21 of his 28 passes and four of his five touchdowns during the last five games of the season.

    This year, Missouri is counting on him to break through and live up to the recruiting hype that followed him to Columbia. 

    The 6'6" 220-pounder has the size to go over the middle and be a possession receiver, has elite speed and can go up over opposing defensive backs to bail his quarterback out. Missouri needs him to do all of those things if the Tigers are going to kick start their offense.

    That's not to say that fellow wide receiver Marcus Lucas can't have a solid season. He can. But if Green-Beckham steps up, he will make the stagnant Tiger offense dangerous again.

South Carolina Gamecocks: DE Jadeveon Clowney

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    No need to be a contrarian or step out on a limb with this pick. Of course South Carolina's most indispensable player is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

    Who else would it be?

    South Carolina has some issues with its linebackers, but the front and back end of the defense is solid. But if Clowney can't do Clowney things—you know, like living in the backfield, constantly demanding double-teams and chip blocks and being an overall nuisance—it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Gamecock defense clicks.

    Fellow defensive end Chaz Sutton is one of the most underrated defensive ends in the SEC and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is no slouch, but can those guys match Clowney's production if he's out?

    Not a chance.

Tennessee Volunteers: LB A.J. Johnson

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    Tennessee has undergone some major changes on both sides of the ball. A new offense with several new players, new coaching staff and a scheme on defense.

    The one thing that will help the Vols be more consistent on defense in 2013 is "stability," and linebacker A.J. Johnson is the one who has to provide that.

    The junior inside linebacker led the SEC in tackles a year ago with 138, and that kind of production simply can't be replaced. Johnson has a nose for the football, has developed into a leader and is being counted on by the staff this season.

    Defensive coordinator John Jancek commented on his importance on WNML in Knoxville on Wednesday (via: Examiner.com):

    A.J.’s extremely important. He’s the guy that sets the fronts and has all the communication responsibilities. Any time you’re the middle linebacker, that’s a badge of honor and says a lot about you as a leader. It’s someone that has to have great command. His success is crucial to our defense.

    There are going to be some bumps in the road for the Vols. Just how big those bumps are depends on Johnson.

Vanderbilt Commodores: Andre Hal

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    Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal was a preseason first-team All-SEC selection by Phil Steele and is being counted on to be one of the leaders in that Commodore secondary along with safeties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall.

    Hal had 48 tackles and two interceptions last season, had 12 kickoff returns for 275 yards and was named a second-team All-SEC performer according to the Associated Press.

    Fellow senior Steven Clarke will likely line up opposite Hal at the other cornerback spot, but behind them, there's nothing but inexperience. Does Brandon Banks have what it takes? Will freshman Ryan White emerge? These are questions Vanderbilt fans don't really want to ask right now.

    Head coach James Franklin needs Hal to be a lockdown corner. If he can be, look out SEC East.

     

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