My look at the preseason All-SEC team moves on by checking in on the inside linebacker position. The talent in the SEC is such that most of the picks have been debatable. Most statistical leaders from 2013 have moved on to the NFL, leaving behind many underclassmen who could follow in their footsteps.
Inside linebacker is a different story because two of the top five from last season return, making this an easy choice. My preseason All-SEC linebackers for 2014 are Ramik Wilson of the Georgia Bulldogs and A.J Johnson of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Wilson far outclassed most competition a season ago. He finished with 133.0 total tackles, which was 20 more than the next closest competitor. Add in 11.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and three pass break-ups and you wonder how Wilson wasn’t defensive player of the year for 2013. He truly was a sideline-to-sideline, do it all kind of middle linebacker.
Wilson accomplished this despite a complex defensive scheme and players around him who looked lost for most of the season. With Jeremy Pruitt calling the defense in Athens and a simplified scheme, Wilson should be able to play even faster than he did in 2013. By December he will separate himself, and not only will he be first team All-SEC, but he will also take home player of the year honors he probably deserved a year ago.
Volunteers’ star linebacker A.J. Johnson is coming off a good campaign as well. He finished top five in the league in tackles with 106.0 and added in 8.5 tackles for loss. The rising senior from Gainesville, Ga. will be looking to build off of that success and take his game to the next level.
Johnson will be counted on as the leader of his defense. Butch Jones and company need him to step-up and make the big plays in 2014. After a few rough seasons in Knoxville, Johnson can help the Volunteers turn the corner and truly make a push back towards the top of the SEC East. For that to happen, Johnson needs to take it to another level.
Both of these players have track records of success and both should be on everyone’s all-conference lists when 2014 concludes. The only question that remains is just how high their ceilings are and what can they lead their teams to in their final collegiate seasons.
We’ll soon find out.