During spring practice, head coach Tommy Tuberville stated that he wanted to find 25 players on defense that he thought could play. With the season just around the corner, it's time to speculate who those 25 players might be (for offense and defense) and how they might fit into the grand scheme of things. This is not a top 25 list and the players are not listed in any particular order other than they're the top 25 players who I think will make an impact on each side of the ball. We'll alternate between offense and defense.
Defense: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1
Offense: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1
#25 | Cody Davis | 6-2/200 | SO | FS
Rationale: Davis is solid, but not spectacular. He'll lay a hit on just about anyone and has absolutely zero fear. I mentioned during the spring that Davis and Mitchem could lose playing time to some of the defensive backs in that 2009 recruiting class as I tend to think that they may be more of what Willis and Tuberville are looking for, which are safeties that can cover significant ground. There's still something to be said for a guy like Davis, who probably has more talented competition, but he may be the best combination of size, speed, and enough know-how between the ears to make it all work. I also shouldn't discredit the fact that he walked in last year as a redshirt-freshman and started almost the entire year. That's saying something.
#24 | Julius Howard | 6-1/208 | SR | OLB
Rationale: The fact that Tuberville and Willis have transitioned to a 3-4 is the best thing to ever happen for Howard. Howard was always a fringe player that would play at some sort of safety spot covering slot receivers, but now, he's full-time. I think Howard will essentially have the same responsibilities, but the one thing that I hope we see out of Howard and the rest of the defense is pressure on the defense. I get the feeling that Willis and Tuberville are pretty comfortable with Howard's coverage skills as I think this will be his primary responsibility. But I also hope that Howard, especially in this type of position, is let go just a bit and is allowed to let his speed put some pressure on the defense.
23-21 after the jump.
#23 | Aundrey Barr | 6-3/238 | RS-FR | OLB/DE
Rationale: On the official depth-chart, Barr is right behind starter Brian Duncan at that pass-rushing OLB/DE spot. Technically, this is listed as a defensive end position, but I see Barr as more of a pass-rusher than a guy that goes into coverage. I should also mention that during the spring, Tuberville said that he thought that he could get both Duncan and Barr on the field at the same time. I mention this with Howard and I'll mention it here, which is the idea that maybe the most simple and biggest difference between what Ruffin McNeill did and what Tuberville wants to do is that McNeill put pressure on the opposing offense in a very traditional method, i.e. defensive ends rush the passer and occasionally, you send a linebacker to blitz. Tuberville on the other hand wants the opposing offense constantly guessing. Barr will see time this year. He's very raw and I think that the current staff owes a bit of gratitude to McNeill for getting somewhat late commitments from guys like Barr and Knighton.
#22 | Donald Langley | 6-2/275 | JR | DT
Rationale: Langley has a leg-up on his competition after being able to practice with the team this spring. Just to catch everyone up, Langley originally comitted to play at Tennessee, left after Phil Fulmer left, played a year at Copiah-Lincoln C.C. and then landed at Texas Tech. Right now, Langley is backing up Myles Wade at the defensive tackle position, but I don't think that Tubs and/or Willis are married to Langley being at any one position. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but I can envision a lot of the JUCO players lining up in various spots along the line. The staff has already toyed with the idea of Wade at DE, why wouldn't they do the same with Langley or Rumph. I have no doubt that Langley will see the field next year, most likely at a number of positions.
#21 | Tyrone Sonier | 6-2/225 | JR | ILB
Rationale: Sonier and Fehoko were signed in the same class and they were very similar players. Both were defensive ends in high school and both had the same type of profile, which was that they both rushed the passer. Both players have had to learn new positions under the old staff. Fehoko was projected as an inside guy and Sonier was projected as a SLB. Now the roles have been reversed a bit as Fehoko is looking to play that OLB position and Sonier continues to back-up Bird. What I'd really love to see from Sonier is a demon on special teams and then be the guy at the ILB spot after Bird graduates. This defense and the special teams should be getting more production out of a backup linebacker that has managed only 3 and 2 tackles for the previous two years. Granted, Sonier has always been behind Bird, but he needs to get on the field and make some plays. I think he needs to show the staff that he deserves this ILB spot next year and he'll do whatever it takes to do that this year.
Thoughts, comments, agreements and disagreements are welcome.