Around The SEC: Biggest Changes on Defense

Greg Arias

Here it is again, our weekly look around the SEC as this week we dive into the biggest changes on defense from our team site publishers, who share their insight into things from their respective schools. 


Alabama: There always seems to be a unit that has a lot turnover on the Crimson Tide, and this year there are two with the secondary and outside linebackers. Three of the four starting defensive backs in the base defense have to be replaced, along with Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis. Alabama can still build the back end around cornerback Patrick Surtain II and sophomore Jordan Battle looks ready to step up at safety. Meanwhile, Nick Saban re-stocked the pass-rushers in last recruiting class (in a big way), and look for them to quickly push the likes of Chris Allen and King Mwikuta. …Alabama finally released its testing protocol for returning student-athletes,

and Alabama and Ohio State announced a home-and-home for 2027-2028.

—Christopher Walsh, BamaCentral

Florida: It's hard to pick one biggest change on Florida's defense, as cornerstone members of the unit in cornerback CJ Henderson, defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, middle linebacker David Reese II, among others all graduated following the 2019 season. Most big-time contributors found roles with NFL teams, meaning Florida's young defensive talent is tasked with replacing pro-caliber players, which is no easy task. — Zach Goodall, AllGators

LSU: With Dave Aranda out the door as defensive coordinator, obviously the biggest change LSU will undergo is bringing Bo Pelini and his 4-3 scheme back into the fold. Moving back to the 4-3 is something Ed Orgeron has wanted to do since taking over but there was always an extreme level of trust he had in Aranda. The Tigers are arguably the deepest up front, which is important for a defensive line. LSU goes at least three and sometimes four deep at all defensive line positions.

“We've got speed, we can run, we're blitzing,” Orgeron said in March. “I just think the 4-3 is built on speed and aggressive nature, and I think we have it." — Glen West, LSU Country

Mississippi State: The biggest change on defense is unquestionably, well….the whole defense. New head coach Mike Leach hired former San Diego State defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, who is ushering in a 3-3-5 style, reminiscent of the late 1990s MSU teams under then-defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. "I think you could give some B.S. answer and say, ‘We know we have this’, or, ‘We know we have that,’” Arnett told Cowbell Country. “We haven’t got to have a single practice with them. How could any coach honestly know what your guys are good at doing, what you’re good at and what maybe you struggle with? It really is a waiting game. We have to get on the field and practice and figure out in a hurry, ‘Alright, these are our best players. This is what we do well. Now, how do we build the package around those skills and those guys – those top 11 guys?” Defensive installation is far from the biggest news out of Mississippi State these days though. On Monday, star running back Kylin Hill threatened to sit out if the state of Mississippi doesn’t change its state flag. Read more on that by clicking the link below.

Cowbell Corner Q&A with Mississippi State DC Zach Arnett part 1:

Cowbell Corner Q&A with Mississippi State DC Zach Arnett part 2:

Kylin Hill: “Change the flag or I won’t be representing this state”:

— Joel Coleman, Cowbell Corner

Ole Miss 

It seems like defensive turnover at Ole Miss came in an all-or-nothing fashion.

Ole Miss will be replacing nearly it's entire defensive line, but bring back all of a very deep linebacking crew and a young secondary. With a new head coach, there's also a completely new set of faces calling the shots on the defensive side of the ball.

The biggest questions from a coaching standpoint is who will be the one calling the shots. When Lane Kiffin took over in the winter, he actually signed two defensive coordinators. Former Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin and former Michigan linebackers and safeties coach Chris Partridge will share Co-Defensive Coordinator positions. To this point, it's unclear as to who exactly will be calling plays and making the in-game decisions if there is some disagreement.

From a personnel perspective, the Ole Miss defense will run through a deep and experienced linebacking core of MoMo Sanogo, Jacquez Jones, Lakia Henry and Donta Jones. Two edge guys to keep an eye on will be Sam Williams – probably the most talented player on the defense – and freshman Demon Clowney, the cousin of Jadeveon Clowney.

Nate Gabler – The Grove Report

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are having to replace some huge voids, specifically on the defensive line. South Carolina saw Javon Kinlaw, D.J Wonnum and Kobe Smith all make it to the NFL. Identifying their replacements has been a priority. Earlier this year after spring practice, defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said he had high expectations for Zacch Pickens and Rick Sandidge. He's also excited to have Keir Thomas back after medically redshirting Las season follow an infection to his surgically repaired ankle. Kingsley "JJ" Enagbare is another name on that line that should see minutes and hopefully consistent production after showing flashes last year. — Chaunte'l Powell, Gamecock Digest. @chauntelpowell

Tennessee: Replacing familiar faces in Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor, and Nigel Warrior is the biggest defensive challenge. The Volunteers have a lot of natural talent at each position, but it still has to come together at a high level. Tennessee should be fine at safety, but replacing the other two will be tricky. If JJ Peterson can emerge this fall, Tennessee could have one of the more complete linebacker corps in the country, otherwise it will have to play by committee to fill the void. Kivon Bennett looks to be the next man up as a pass rusher, and competition will be stiff with coveted four-star prospects Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph battling for playing time. Expect the defensive unit to have some lumps early, but produce at a Jeremy Pruitt-level as the season progresses. — Matthew Ray, Volunteer Country

Vanderbilt: New defensive coordinator Ted Roof brings a long resume, including winning a national championship as Auburn's coordinator in 2010. Because of the stoppage of spring practice, the exact type of defense Roof will employ remains an unknown, but with several returning starters on that side, there is some experience on hand to allow him to hopefully build a better unit this season. … While changes have been plentiful for the Commodores this off-season, the biggest impact could come from reports that arose over the weekend implicating two former and one current Vanderbilt player in sexual assault allegations.

This is a developing story that has already sent a chill through the fanbase, reminding them of a similar situation where four players were convicted of rape and sentenced to prison for their roles in 2017.- Greg Arias/Commodore Country @gregariassports 

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