Last year in the SEC, there were enough heroes on defense to fill up a team of Marvel Avengers. Terrence Cody, starting nose tackle on the national champions Alabama, was like the Incredible Hulk, demolishing offensive lines and breaking through blockers to reject kicks (two blocked FGs).
Brandon Spikes was Iron Man, an intelligent leader with tons of weapons at his disposal. A versatile performer, Spikes could stop the run (52 tackles in nine games), rush the passer (three sacks), or drop in coverage and make plays (four career pick sixes).
To round off the team, Eric Berry was Spider-Man. A heralded five-star recruit with great power, Berry had the responsibility of holding a Tennessee defense together through a coaching change. Playing a hybrid safety/linebacker role, Berry racked up 83 tackles en route to winning the Thorpe Award and finishing second in career interception yardage. So, what new Avengers will save their teams from danger?
Wait. Doesn't this guy play for Vanderbilt, where people are more known for their trust funds than bowl appearances?
Nonetheless, Marve is the heart and soul of this Vandy D. He has 246 tackles in two seasons and makes plays all over the field. His ability to stop the run and man the middle of the field could help contain up and coming runners in the SEC East like Jeff Demps at Florida and Randall Cobb of Kentucky.
You can't ignore a guy with stats like this, and a hunger to make plays even those his team has sub par talent.
Powe is definitely the leader of the Rebels' defense going into 2010.
At 330 pounds, he is a hoss in the middle and a preseason All SEC selection (nationalchampsnet.com). Going into the 2011 NFL draft, he's one of the best nose tackle prospects and is faster than Cody, running a 5.16.
On the field, Powe often faces double teams but still can stuff the run. This was on display when he had four solo tackles in the Cotton Bowl versus Oklahoma State, helping hold the 'Pokes to only one touchdown. This season, Powe will be the premiere run stuffing nose tackle in the SEC
In 2009, Houston was in opposing teams' backfields so much, he could pay property taxes. He made only 10 starts, but Justin finished with 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The toughest games brought out the best in Houston as he finished with six solo tackles against LSU and Georgia Tech, both top 10 teams.
Justin is a hybrid linebacker/end, and his ability to wreck an opposing teams run game and disrupt the passer will be a great asset to a Bulldogs program in this season of changes and transition (seven new starters on defense;new quarterback).
Without a doubt, LSU's junior corner Patrick Peterson picks up Joe Haden's mantle as top cover corner in the SEC. As a sophomore, he wasn't targeted much and only had two picks. But when quarterbacks threw his way, Peterson punished them with 13 pass breakups.
Often called to shadow a team's best receiver, Peterson held Julio Jones and AJ Green to seven catches between them. LSU is thin defensively, and Patrick will be counted on to shut down opposing teams passing attacks, especially Ryan Mallett and Bobby Petrino's spread offense.
Peterson's playmaking ability (one pick six and field goal block returned for TD) could help relieve the inconsistent Jordan Jefferson and LSU's new freshman backs from shouldering too much of a load offensively.
After playing two years in the shadow of studs like Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, and Javier Arenas, Barron is the big man on campus.
He does have great size for a safety at 6'2" and 215 pounds. He's also a ball-hawk, tying for the SEC lead with four picks and returning one 77 yards for a touchdown against South Carolina.
He can also stop the run as the last line of defense. For example, he had eight solo tackles in 'Bama's closest game with the Tennessee Vols, adding a clutch pick for good measure. As one of three returning starters, it's up to Barron to be the hero on his defense and put less pressure on McElroy and Ingram to try to win shutouts.
If Barron plays at an All-American level (which he's capable of doing), Bama should have no problem repeating as SEC and BCS champs.