Courtney Upshaw Leads SEC West's Most Unknown Defensive Players
As spring games have finally come to a close, fans are bragging extensively about their star players who are sure to shine in 2010.
And in the SEC, there is certainly no shortage of stars.
Mark Ingram, AJ Green, Ryan Mallet, and Julio Jones are all big-name offensive players within the conference.
The SEC has always been known for its top-notch defenses too, and 2010 should be no different.
Chris Marve, Patrick Peterson, Mark Barron, and Jerell Powe are among the star defensive players returning to wreck havoc on opposing offenses.
I have created a four-part series of the five most unknown offensive/defensive weapons in each division of the SEC.
Now, it's time for the SEC West's defense.
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw returns to Alabama with the expectation of starting and making a big impact on the Crimson Tide's 2010 defense, opposite of Marcell Dareus.
Upshaw has seen plenty of game experience in his first two seasons at the Capstone, tallying up 21 tackles as a freshman and 15 tackles last season, including his huge fumble recovery against Texas to seal the victory.
Upshaw will be expected to fill Eryk Anders' big shoes at the jack linebacker position, where Anders totaled six sacks in 2009. Upshaw demonstrated his improvement in Alabama's spring game, looking just as explosive as Dareus coming off the edge.
Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
Junior linebacker Jerry Franklin comes back to Arkansas after a sensational sophomore season. In only his second season in Fayettville, Franklin became the leader of a young linebacker corps, leading the team with 94 tackles.
In his first two seasons, Franklin has occupied the weak-side linebacker spot, but has been challenged by coaches to get bigger in the weight room, possibly meaning a move to the middle of the defense.
Coach Petrino insists that the Razorbacks will have their defense together in 2010, and a lot of that will lie on the shoulders of Franklin.
Darren Bates, Auburn
As a freshman in 2009, Darren Bates started every game at safety, playing a huge role in the Tigers' defense.
Bates finished the year with 69 tackles and one interception on the season, and was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.
In 2010, Auburn is planning for Darren Bates to add some bulk and move to linebacker, where he will have more opportunities for "back-breaking" hits.
If Bates can add some weight to his frame, he could be a nice complement to Josh Bynes in the Tigers' linebacker corps.
It's obvious that defensive tackle is not the sexiest position on the field, but thanks to players like Terrence Cody and Dan Williams, the position is no long an afterthought.
In 2010, it could be senior Drake Nevis who emerges as the SEC's next great defensive tackle.
Last season, Nevis made a huge impact in on LSU's defense, and he was not even a starter. In 12 games, Nevis led all LSU defensive lineman in tackles with 48 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and four sacks.
Nevis possess great agility for a 6'1", 292-lb. lineman, which could mean seeing a lot of Drake Nevis in your team's backfield.
Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State
Coming out of high school, defensive end Pernell McPhee signed with Mississippi State, but failed to qualify and was forced to spend his first two years of college at Itawamba Community College.
McPhee made the best of his time at JUCO and finally signed with the Bulldogs for good in 2008.
McPhee made a huge impact in his first year in Starkville. He started in every game except the opener, and recorded 56 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and five sacks, and has already been named to the 2010 Lombardi Watch List.
McPhee returns with a year of experience in the SEC, and has added 10 pounds of muscle to his already monstrous frame.
Watch out for McPhee to become one of the top defensive linemen in the SEC in 2010.
Johnny Brown, Ole Miss
Safety Johnny Brown comes back for his senior season as the only returning starter to Ole Miss' secondary.
In 2009, Brown played and started in 12 of the Rebels' 13 games—missing Northern Arizona—and recorded 51 tackles and one interception on the season.
In 2010, Brown will be expected to lead the Rebels' inexperienced secondary.
Look for SEC quarterbacks to try to exploit Ole Miss' young secondary, which should result in a lot of play-making opportunities for Brown.