You know, I think I could begin the analysis of every team, every season starting with this post. The bottom line is, if you don't have talent in the Big Ugly department, you aren't going to win any championships.
I have said it many times and I will continue to say it as long as it remains relevant... a winning season begins in the middle of the defensive line. Boom. That is not novel but it is indisputable. For best evidence please see: Glenn Dorsey, LSU National Champs 2007; Terrence Cody, Alabama, 2009 National Champs; Nick Fairley, Auburn, 2010 National Champs. If you can wreak havoc from the nose guard position, every other position on defense becomes more productive. It comes down to this basic tenet... if you can get a serious push from the nose and draw two blockers there, you will have an end, linebacker or safety running free to make a stop at or behind the line of scrimmage. It's not rocket science... it's not even economics (which apparently is harder than rocket science). The outside rush and the ability to have a safety free in run support both come down to solid nose guard play. We struggled at this position last year, but this year we have two bonafide 350 pound players sharing snaps at this position, Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins. And that will be the starting point of the turnaround for this defense.
Whether Jarvis Jones or Sanders Commings has a great season depends greatly on the play at nose guard. A disruptive force in the middle creates opportunities for the rest of the defense. This is true whether we are playing a wide open passing offense like Boise State or the triple option of Georgia Tech. In passing situations, if we get a sufficient push from the middle then the QB can't step up in the pocket... which means he can't easily step into the throw, has to throw early or has to move. If we get a strong rush from the edge, moving is not much of an option so that leaves a hurried throw as the alternative to a sack. Naturally, hurried throws lead to less accurate throws. The progression doesn't happen as described if the push from the middle is weak. We should see marked improvement in our 3rd down pass defense based on this position alone. On run defense, it comes down to hats on hats and if they need two men to block the nose, we have an extra hat running free. Stopping a guy like Marcus Lattimore begins with solid play at nose guard.
Conversely, the success of our offense can reliably be linked to the soundness of our center. If our center is solid and he can communicate effectively down the line of scrimmage, we are in the best position as an offensive unit. A strong center makes the guards and tackles better. We are going to need that this year. This translates to both our running game and passing game.
Based on the guy we have snapping the football and the two behemoths at nose guard, I am optimistic about our chances to win the SEC East this season. Obviously four year starter, Ben Jones, is a beast at center. He performed exceptionally well against Terrence Cody as a true freshman and has only gotten better. As such, he is currently viewed as the top NFL prospect at center in the nation. We couldn't ask for more from this position and we will receive a great effort this season from one of this team's most ardent leaders.And on the defensive front, the emergence of Kwame Geathers and the addition of John Jenkins has added a dimension that was wholly absent from last year's squad. This addition will be more than enough to elevate the play of our ends, linebackers and safeties. These improvements will be the hallmark of our success on defense in 2011.
In my narrow view... if you want some reason for optimism about the 2011 season, look no farther than the middle of both lines. Exceptional play there equates to exceptional results on the scoreboard. Every time.