2012 Pre-Spring Preview
12 for '12 -
Biggest D Shoes To Fill
By Richard Cirminiello
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Biggest Senior Shoes To Fill - Offense
One of the many trappings of college football is that it’s forever changing, a perennial revolving door of talent and new faces on every campus and in every corner of the map. Out with the old and in with the new. Yeah, of course you’ll miss watching the exploits of top defenders, like Devon Still, Mark Barron and Melvin Ingram, but those pangs will last just a few weeks, or about as long as it takes for fans to scare up some video clips of their successors.
Like the changing of the seasons, college football moves on at a pace that’s about as anticipated as spring following winter. The junior becomes a senior, the sophomore becomes a junior, the freshman becomes a sophomore, and the redshirt is removed from a whole swath of last year’s talented and upwardly mobile rookies. It’s a timeless process that moves with all of the precision of a fine timepiece.
The sport has lost a slew of senior stars since the end of the bowl season. Big whoop. In their place is a collection of young and relatively inexperienced players eagerly pining to fill the void.
12.Buh-bye: Arkansas DE Jake Bequette
Hello: Chris Smith
Bequette was a heart and soul type catalyst for the Razorbacks, a high-motor end who could also defend the run. He finished third all-time in sacks at the University, making the rest of the front seven better just by being on the field. When Bequette missed three games with a hamstring injury last fall, it was Smith who rose to the occasion. The sophomore performed well when given a chance, ranking fourth on the Hogs with six tackles for loss and third with 3.5 sacks. He’s a different player than his predecessor, giving away about 25 pounds, but displaying better quickness off the snap and around the edge. Now that the second half of his career is about to begin, Smith could get the snaps he requires to double last season’s production.
11.Buh-bye: Miami LB Sean Spence
Hello: Denzel Perryman
Perryman appears to have been constructed in the same lab as Spence, undersized, extremely quick and instinctive enough to never be too far from the ball. As a true freshman, he worked his way up the depth chart, taking over the weakside job after Spence shifted into the middle. Despite starting only five games, he wound up finishing second on the team with 69 stops. A Freshman All-American campaign already in the bank, he’s poised to take flight and become one of the premier young defenders in the ACC. The similarities between Perryman and Spence are unmistakable. The biggest difference might be that the student is actually ahead of the teacher at the same point in their careers.
10.Buh-bye: TCU LB Tank Carder
Hello: Deryck Gildon
Gildon’s second season in Fort Worth couldn’t be more tailor-made for success. Not only has Carder, a perennial all-star, exhausted his eligibility, but so has last year’s backup in the middle, Kris Gardner. Oh, and returning starter Tanner Brock has been exiled for a recent drug arrest. Gildon has suddenly emerged as the prohibitive favorite to start at linebacker alongside Second Team All-Mountain West pick Kenny Cain. The sophomore shares a number of characteristics with Carder, including his sturdy, 6-2, 235-pound frame and excellent range. He appeared in every game as a rookie last season, putting down a nice foundation with 21 tackles.
9.Buh-bye: Oklahoma State S Markelle Martin
Hello: Zack Craig
The Cowboys will use the next few months to find a complement in the secondary to FS Daytawion Lowe now that Martin, an All-American, is off to the NFL. Craig spent all of last season, his third in Stillwater, as the backup strong safety, posting 20 tackles off the bench in 13 games. Not only does he bring the requisite physicality to the defensive backfield, but he’s also shown a penchant for breaking quickly on throws, and getting his hands on the ball. Barring a shift from one of the free safeties, Craig is the clear-cut man to beat as the successor to Martin this offseason.
8.Buh-bye: Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander
Hello: R.J. Washington
Defensive end will be an area of great interest over the next six months, as the Sooners mine replacements for both Alexander and early draft entry Ronnell Lewis. The former led the team with 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks a year ago. For Washington, this season represents his best—and last—chance to approach the lofty expectations that accompanied his arrival from Fort Worth, Tex. as a five-star recruit four years ago. The career backup and situational pass rusher is suddenly a key piece of the 2012 defensive puzzle, needing to take hold of a starting job along with fellow senior David King. On a hopeful note, with Lewis out of December’s Insight Bowl, Washington delivered the first two-sack game of his career.
7.Buh-bye: Cincinnati DT Derek Wolfe
Hello: Camaron Beard
Wolfe, who had a brilliant second half of his career as a Bearcat, quietly played at an All-American level in 2012. His understudy last fall was Beard, one of the top high school players in Indianapolis two years ago. The three-star recruit appeared in five games as a redshirt freshman, earning a handful of snaps, but mostly getting better acclimated with the speed of the game at this level. Now 6-5 and 278 pounds, he’s packed on more than 40 pounds since arriving on campus, yet has maintained the quickness that coaches hope will result in stops for minus yards. Beard is one of the symbols of a Cincinnati D that could be vulnerable up the gut in the early stages of the season.
6.Buh-bye: Clemson DE Andre Branch
Hello: Corey Crawford
Yeah, the Tigers hate to lose a player of Branch’s pass-rushing ability, but the program consistently does about as good a job as anyone in the ACC of producing gifted defensive ends. Odds are that they’ll be just fine sooner rather than later. Not only is Crawford a former four-star recruit from Columbus, Ga., but he spent his entire first season on campus on the two-deep of a league champion. The 6-5, 280-pounder played about 20 snaps a game in 2011, making 29 tackles. The size and technique are in place for No. 93 to join forces with senior Malliciah Goodman and give Clemson a formidable bookend up front. While it might not happen this soon, Crawford has the look of a future star in Death Valley.
5.Buh-bye: South Carolina DE Melvin Ingram
Hello: Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney was going to be a playmaker this season no matter who lined up with him in the trenches. The fact that the big-play Ingram has used up his eligibility simply means that No. 7 is going to enjoy an even bigger spotlight in his second season in Columbia. He is as close to a sure-thing among defensive underclassmen as there is in America, a 6-6, 255-pound terror coming off the edge. Even as a backup in his debut, he still managed to rack up 11 tackles for loss, six sacks and five forced fumbles. Although you don’t get better by losing an All-American, such as Ingram, the Gamecocks might not be any worse. With Devin Taylor on one side and Clowney on the other, South Carolina will still boast one of the nastiest bookends around.
4.Buh-bye: Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw
Hello: Adrian Hubbard
Someone needs to step up and take control of the Jack linebacker position that Upshaw played so well over the past couple of seasons. Hubbard will have a chance during the spring and summer to show that he can be that guy. He’s one of a handful of talented freshmen, along with Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson, who will see a spike in meaningful reps now that Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower are NFL-bound. Hubbard is a unique specimen for a linebacker, a 6-6, 237-pound thoroughbred who can cover a lot of ground with his long gait. He’s a natural as a pass rusher, or when dropping back into coverage. The key for the rangy second-year player will be proving he can handle the rigors of stopping the run in an uber-physical SEC.
3.Buh-bye: Penn State DT Devon Still
Hello: DaQuan Jones
While senior Jordan Hill is locked in at one tackle spot, Jones has the early edge at the other one. The 6-3, 312-pounder has reached the halfway point in his career, and is prepared to take another big step forward in the maturation process. The nation’s fifth-rated defensive tackle of 2010 shares many of the skills that made Still such a force in 2011, including quickness off the snap and the drive to make plays behind the line. Now all he needs is a little more experience than the intermittent reps he got last fall. Jones has a very high ceiling in Happy Valley. The graduation of Still means he’ll get an opportunity to start approaching it in 2012.
2.Buh-bye: Alabama S Mark Barron
Hello: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix
It’s Alabama, where one star’s graduation is another future star’s opportunity. Clinton-Dix was the nation’s top-rated safety recruit of 2011, one of many gems mined by Nick Saban and his staff of assistants. He played in all 13 games as a rookie, contributing on special teams while getting better acclimated with the speed and the challenges of the college game. From a physical standpoint, the 6-1, 205-pounder has all of the tools to bridge the gap to Barron before too long. Like so many young players at this early stage of their careers, though, Clinton-Dix needs to be thrown into the deep of the water in order to gauge just how much time he’ll require to fully bloom in Tuscaloosa.
1.Buh-bye: Nebraska LB Lavonte David
Hello: Zaire Anderson
David meant everything at times over the last few years for the Huskers’ defense. The kid from Miami who needed a JUCO stint before being taken seriously wound up becoming a tone-setting tackling machine. The program is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle once again, scouring the junior college ranks for Anderson. The pair shares a number of similarities, from their less-than-ideal size and foot speed to their knack for constantly being close to the action. While just 6-1 and 220 pounds, Anderson plays a lot bigger than his frame, using the proper technique and a strong upper body to sift through traffic. He closed out a successful two-year stint at Riverside (Calif.) Community College with All-America honors, bagging a whopping 187 tackles and 16 sacks in 2011.
Biggest Senior Shoes To Fill - Offense