Alabama Crimson Tide: Michael Brockers

The oldest cliché in football is that you win up front.

The more I watch the sport, especially in this league, the more I’m convinced that it’s not just a cliché.

I went back and looked at which schools in the SEC had produced the most offensive and defensive linemen to be selected in the top three rounds of the NFL draft over the past five years.

Any guesses which school topped that list?

Not surprisingly, Alabama and Florida tied with six apiece.

[+] EnlargeTyson Jackson
AP Photo/Butch DillDominant linemen like Tyson Jackson (LSU), chosen third overall in the 2009 NFL draft, have long been a key ingredient on the SEC's best teams.
The Crimson Tide have had four offensive linemen and two defensive linemen taken in the top three rounds of the draft over the past five years. That doesn’t include Courtney Upshaw, who was an outside linebacker in the Tide’s 3-4 scheme and was drafted at the top of the second round last year.

The Gators have had three offensive linemen and three defensive linemen go in the top three rounds.

Right behind Alabama and Florida (surprise, surprise) was LSU with five.

In fourth place was Auburn with four.

And with those four schools, you have the past seven national champions.

Every SEC school but Texas A&M has had at least one offensive or defensive lineman go in the top three rounds dating to the 2008 draft. Von Miller went No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft, but he was an outside linebacker.

Not since Chris Ruhman went in the second round of the 1998 draft have the Aggies had an offensive or defensive lineman drafted in the first two rounds. That’s getting ready to change, because offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is being projected as a top 5 pick in the 2013 draft, and defensive end Damontre Moore could also go in the first round.

In addition to Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky are the only other schools in the league that haven’t produced a first-round selection in the offensive or defensive line over the past five years.

LSU leads the SEC with the most first-round defensive linemen over the past five years with three -- Michael Brockers in 2012, Tyson Jackson in 2009, and Glenn Dorsey in 2008.

South Carolina has put together its best run in school history despite producing very few premium draft selections up front. Defensive end Melvin Ingram went in the first round last year, and is the only offensive or defensive lineman for the Gamecocks to go in the top three rounds over the past five years.

South Carolina hasn’t had an offensive lineman go in the first or second round of the draft since Ernest Dye was taken in the first round in 1993.

LSU is the only school in the league to have produced an offensive or defensive lineman that was taken in the first four rounds each of the past five years.

Mississippi State had defensive tackle Fletcher Cox go in the first round last year, and offensive tackle Derek Sherrod go in the first round in 2011. Prior to that two-year run, the last offensive or defensive lineman from Mississippi State to go in the first round was defensive end Glen Collins in 1982.

Tennessee has gone five straight years without an offensive lineman being selected in the first three rounds of the draft. The Vols haven’t had an offensive lineman go in the first round since tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis went Nos. 7 and 8 overall in the 1991 draft.

Below is a listing for each SEC school of the offensive and defensive linemen selected in the top three rounds of the draft over the past five years:

  • Alabama: 6 (Four OL, Two DL. Three first-rounders)
  • Florida: 6 (Three OL, Three DL. Three first-rounders)
  • LSU: 5 (One OL, Four DL. Three first-rounders)
  • Auburn: 4 (No OL, Four DL. One first-rounder)
  • Ole Miss: 3 (Two OL, One DL. Two first-rounders)
  • Arkansas: 2 (No OL, Two DL. No first-rounders)
  • Georgia: 2 (One OL, One DL. No first-rounders)
  • Kentucky: 2 (No OL, Two DL. No first-rounders)
  • Mississippi State: 2 (One OL, One DL. Two first-rounders)
  • Missouri: 2 (No OL, Two DL. Two first-rounders)
  • Tennessee: 2 (No OL, Two DL. Two first-rounders)
  • South Carolina: 1 (No OL, One DL. One first-rounder)
  • Vanderbilt: 1 (One OL, no DL. One first-rounder)

The 2011 SEC All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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We're taking one last look at the SEC's postseason by putting together our All-SEC bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Connor Shaw, South Carolina: Shaw didn't seem to feel the pressure of a bowl game, as he completed 11-of-17 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 42 yards and another score in the Gamecocks' win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He even gave South Carolina all the momentum in the second half with a touchdown on a Hail Mary to end the first half.

[+] EnlargeVick Ballard
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyMississippi State's Vick Ballard rushed for 180 yards against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.
RB: Vick Ballard, Mississippi State: Ballard ended his career with the Bulldogs with one of his best performances, as he rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries in Mississippi State's win against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. His touchdowns went for 72 and 60 yards.

RB: Onterio McCalebb, Auburn: As Auburn's lead back in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, McCalebb had a game-high 109 rushing yards, including a long of 60. He also recorded a 3-yard touchdown run and caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in Auburn's win against Virginia.

WR: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: Jeffery's day would have been even better if he hadn't been ejected. However, he still caught four passes for a game-high 148 yards and snagged Shaw's Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half. He also had a 78-yard reception.

WR: Tavarres King, Georgia: King tried his best to get Georgia a victory in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. He was Aaron Murray's best friend, catching six passes for a career-high 205 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass that at one point stood as the longest play in Outback Bowl history.

TE: Brad Smelley, Alabama: The Crimson Tide got its passing game going with Smelley in Monday's Allstate BCS National Championship win against LSU. He was AJ McCarron's safety net when plays broke down, and the young quarterback also used Smelley on rollouts. Smelley finished the game with seven catches for 39 yards.

OL: Barrett Jones, Alabama: Behind one of the most versatile linemen in the entire country, Alabama's line held back LSU's defensive front for most of Monday night's game. Alabama ran for 150 yards against LSU's vaunted defense. He also kept McCarron safe, as the youngster was only sacked twice and threw for 234 yards.

OL: Alvin Bailey, Arkansas: He just keeps looking better and better for the Razorbacks. In Arkansas' AT&T Cotton Bowl victory against Kansas State, he helped Arkansas churn out 129 rushing yards, including 4.3 yards per carry, and helped a line give quarterback Tyler Wilson enough time to pass for 216 yards and two touchdowns.

OL: Kyle Nunn, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' offensive line gave up four sacks to Nebraska, but Shaw was still able to throw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. With Nunn's help, the Gamecocks also rushed for 121 yards against the Cornhuskers.

OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: Ballard's outstanding performance for the Bulldogs wouldn't have been possible if not for some solid line play. Jackson had one of his best outings, as he helped Mississippi State rush for 253 yard and pass for another 129. Mississippi State gave up just one sack to Wake Forest.

C: William Vlachos, Alabama: Vlachos had his hands full with the interior of LSU's defensive line, but he more than held his own. He battled all night with LSU's Michael Brockers and allowed him to assist on just one tackle for loss. He provided a ton of protection in the passing game and helped Alabama rush for 150 yards on LSU's defense.

DEFENSE

DE: Jake Bequette, Arkansas: Bequette said before Arkansas' bowl game that the Hogs' defense needed to make a statement. Bequette certainly made a few in his final game with the Razorbacks, registering two sacks, forcing a fumble and totaling three tackles.

DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: The freshman put a nice bow on his first season with the Gamecocks. He put a ton of pressure on Nebraska's backfield with two sacks for a loss of 13 yards, and finished the game with four total tackles.

DT: Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State: Cox wanted to make a lasting impression in his final game with the Bulldogs and he certainly did by totally disrupting Wake Forest's offensive line in the Music City Bowl. He finished the game with seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack, and blocked his fifth career kick, which is a Mississippi State record.

DT: Michael Brockers, LSU: Brockers had a tough time with Vlachos in the middle, but that didn't stop him from making plays. He did a tremendous job of clogging holes in the middle for the Tigers and finished the game with seven tackles, assisting on one for loss, and blocked a field-goal attempt.

LB: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: It came as no surprise that Upshaw was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. He was nearly unblockable for LSU on Monday night. He put immense pressure on LSU's backfield and finished the game leading Alabama with seven tackles, including a sack.

LB: Archibald Barnes, Vanderbilt: Barnes was a true rover for Vanderbilt against Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. He had a game-high 10 tackles, assisted on one for a loss, and blocked a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter that gave Vandy some life late.

LB: Alec Ogletree, Georgia: Georgia might not have come up with the win in the Outback Bowl, but it wasn't because of how Ogletree played. He was all over the field for the Bulldogs, grabbing a game-high 13 tackles, including two for loss, breaking up two passes and getting a sack.

CB: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt: Yet again, Hayward was tremendous in coverage for the Commodores. He grabbed two interceptions and broke up another pass. He was also second on the team with eight tackles, including one for loss. Cincinnati threw for just 80 yards against the Commodores.

CB: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina: Gilmore ended his South Carolina career on a very high note. He recorded five tackles, including one for loss, and an interception. He also returned a blocked extra point for South Carolina's first points of the game. Nebraska threw for just 116 yards on the Gamecocks' secondary.

S: Mark Barron, Alabama: Barron recorded just two tackles, including a sack, but he was outstanding in coverage. He roamed the back part of the field for the Crimson Tide and didn't allow LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson stretch the field at all because of his positioning. Jefferson threw for just 53 yards on Alabama.

S: Matt Elam, Florida: Elam was Florida's most consistent player during the regular season, and he was all over the field for the Gators in the Taxslayer.com Outback Bowl against Ohio State. He finished the game with six tackles, two for loss and a sack.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Jeremy Shelley, Alabama: Talk about redeeming the position that spoiled Alabama's first game against LSU. Shelley hit five of his seven field-goal attempts against the Tigers and even rebounded to hit four of his last five after having his second attempt blocked in the second quarter.

P: Dylan Breeding, Arkansas: He punted four times for an average of 46.8 yards per kick. He had a long of 63 yards and dropped two inside the 20-yard line against Kansas State.

RS: Joe Adams, Arkansas: Surprise, surprise, Adams made another special teams unit look silly. Against Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Adams got things started for the Hogs with a nifty 51-yard punt return for a touchdown. His return sparked a 16-point second quarter for the Hogs.

AP: Brandon Boykin, Georgia: Boykin found a way to put points on the board three different ways in the Outback Bowl. He forced a safety when he stuffed Michigan State's Keshawn Martin on the Spartans' first offensive play, returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown, and caught a 13-yard touchdown late. His punt return was the longest play in Outback Bowl history.
Jordan JeffersonChris Graythen/Getty ImagesLSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was held to 53 yards passing and 15 yards rushing against Alabama.

NEW ORLEANS -- The ride is over.

The emotional roller coaster that was LSU’s season ended tragically inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The team that had shaken off a plethora of distractions and back-to-back games with double-digit first-half deficits never made its way out of the French Quarter as No. 1 LSU (13-1, 8-0) fell to second-ranked Alabama (12-1, 7-1) 21-0 in Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

For once, there was no spark for the Bayou Bengals. The team that had rolled over each and every opponent it faced this season -- and was on its way to a historic finish -- fell flat when it mattered the most.

“You have to play through adversity,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “That’s what our coaches teach us.

“(Alabama) made all the big plays and made all the tough plays tonight and tip my hat off to them for making all the big plays and winning tonight.”

The defense had more bend then it has been accustomed to Monday, allowing nearly 400 yards, five field goals and a late-game touchdown. Still, for staying on the field for 35 minutes that’s pretty good.

For everything the defense did for the offense, it got nothing in return. It got no adjustments, no originality. What it did get was five first downs, 92 total yards, 2.1 yards per play and zero points.

It got an offense that crossed into Alabama territory just once … and that came in the fourth quarter.

Followed by criticism throughout the season, Jefferson couldn’t get his offense moving. He couldn’t run and his arm didn’t help. The vertical passing game LSU promised wasn’t there because Jefferson admitted to holding onto the ball too long on designed deep passes because he wasn’t confident in where Alabama’s defenders were.

Some passes ranged from erratic to short. He was sacked four times and heard boos late in the first half and throughout the second when he took snaps instead of demoted quarterback Jarrett Lee.

Jefferson threw for 53 yards and an interception, and was beautifully contained by Alabama’s defense, rushing for 15 yards on 14 carries.

“I was seeing things clearly,” Jefferson said. “Making decisions with the ball wasn’t an issue.”

Jefferson turned the ball over twice, but it was his ill-advised flip-pass to an unsuspecting Spencer Ware that was extremely devastating. Jefferson thought Ware was ready for the pass, but Ware had turned up field to block before Jefferson released the ball, which was intercepted.

“Other than that, I made great decisions with the ball,” Jefferson said. “Offensively, we just fell short.”

Very short.

Though there was no sign of Lee. He just stood on the sidelines, tossing the ball occasionally to keep his arm warm.

“It’s disappointing,” Lee said. “I would have liked to have gotten some snaps, but it is what it is. Didn’t get any snaps, so you gotta move on past that.”

LSU coach Les Miles' only explanation for not playing Lee was that with Lee’s lack of mobility he didn’t feel as if he could sustain Alabama’s pass rush.

Even with as poorly as Jefferson played, the pounding, wear-‘em-down running game that moved this offense never arrived. The Tigers’ got 12 carries from their running backs. (Leading rusher Michael Ford got four for 1 yard.)

Offensive lineman Will Blackwell said the plan was to run the ball up the middle, but that never materialized so the staff directed runs to outside. Even after those didn't work, adjustments weren't made.

“I feel like we got away from our game plan a little bit,” Blackwell said. “We planned on running it inside and pounding them to maybe get the edge.

“We fell away from that and I don’t know what the reason for that is. Our game plan just fell apart.

“We got away from the things we’ve been doing all season and whenever you do that in a championship game it usually doesn’t work out for you very well.”

LSU finally succumbed to all the adversity. For a team that fed off the negativity, the Tigers weren’t ready Alabama. There was no game-changing play from the Honey Badger, the defense didn’t force any turnovers, there was no emotion in the second half and the offense never showed up.

For the defense, Monday must have hurt the most. They hunkered down near their own end zone and played well enough to win.

In the end, LSU’s defense just couldn’t play both ways for the Tigers.

“It was very disappointing,” linebacker Ryan Baker said. “We were clawing and fighting out there and we were just sitting back watching them go three-and-out.”

Size, speed separate SEC from others

January, 8, 2012
1/08/12
3:16
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NEW ORLEANS -- The rest of the college football world will be watching on Monday night.

But in the Big Easy, it’s strictly an SEC world.

The SEC will make it six straight national championships when Alabama and LSU clash in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in what will be the first matchup of two teams from the same league in the BCS National Championship Game.

The players on both sides said they don’t see the SEC onslaught ending any time soon. Already, several early preseason polls for 2012 include four and five SEC teams in the top 10.

Everybody wants to know what the common denominator is in the SEC’s success.

In short, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said it’s a combination of size, strength and speed mixed in with superior coaching.

“There are a lot of guys who are fast, or they’re big and strong,” Hightower said. “But in the SEC, you’ve got both. You’ve got guys who are 260 and run a 4.5 or 4.6 [in the 40-yard dash], and you see guys who are 200 and 210 pounds that can bench-press 500 pounds. You don’t see that in a lot of conferences.

“It’s that, and I think the coaches here have more of an edge than other conferences.”

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said there’s a level of defense played in the SEC with a level of athlete, particularly in the defensive line, that other conferences can’t match.

“Look at the front sevens in the SEC,” Brockers said. “Where else do you see that kind of size, speed and depth? There are great players all over college football, but every team has them in the SEC, and I’m talking about big guys who can run and make plays.”

Alabama center William Vlachos said LSU’s depth in the defensive line is a perfect example.

“They run three or four off and bring in three or four just as good,” Vlachos said. “There’s no drop-off … in size, speed or strength.”

Depth, period, is something that sets both Alabama and LSU apart.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smarts points to LSU’s backfield on offense. Spencer Ware was the go-to guy to begin the season, but Michael Ford goes into the national title game as the Tigers’ leading rusher. Alfred Blue isn’t too far behind, and 240-pound true freshman Kenny Hilliard has emerged as their most powerful back toward the end of the season.

“By the fourth quarter, your linebackers are tackling them 30 times, and they’re getting tackled for the fourth time and fifth time because they’re sharing all the carries,” Smart said. “They’ve got four really good backs, and that’s what you better have in this league to be good.”

Even when the SEC’s streak hits six in a row on Monday, Hightower realizes there will be some people out there who simply won’t give the league its due.

Never mind that four SEC teams are poised to finish in the top 8 of the final polls for the first time ever or that five SEC teams finished among the top 16 in the final BCS standings.

“I feel like there’s always going to be a debate,” Hightower said. “But if you look at the six straight years of winning the national championship and all the bowl games, the SEC has always been the best overall.”

No lack of respect in the trenches

January, 7, 2012
1/07/12
9:00
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NEW ORLEANS -- The trenches were no place for the meek the last time Alabama and LSU tangled, and that’s where this game will be won on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Alabama center William Vlachos said LSU’s depth up front in the defensive line was staggering, and that every time he looked up there were three or four fresh guys running into the game.

“They’re deep, but they’re also good and very well-coached,” Vlachos said. “They don’t make many mistakes.”

"I was like, 'Dang, he's short,' and he is short. But he's got the leverage all the time. I'm 6-6 and don't know how tall he is, 6-1 or 6-2, but he's under my pads pretty much every play. "

-- LSU's Michael Brokers on Alabama's William Vlachos
That respect is mutual.

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said Vlachos, who’s listed at 6-1 (which is probably a stretch), is one of the best he’s gone against. The 6-6 Brockers has Vlachos by a good five or six inches, which is not always ideal for an interior defensive lineman.

“I kind of took it as funny at first because he’s so short,” Brockers said. “I was like, ‘Dang, he’s short,’ and he is short. But he’s got the leverage all the time. I’m 6-6 and don’t know how tall he is, 6-1 or 6-2, but he’s under my pads pretty much every play.

“Sometimes he’s blocking me and I’m looking over him and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting blocked.’ That guy uses his strength and leverage to his advantage.”

Brockers said the only thing more difficult than going up against Alabama’s offensive line is trying to tackle Trent Richardson.

“After the (first) game, my neck was hurting, shoulders, everything,” Brockers said. “It’s like hitting a brick wall constantly. He gets the ball a lot, so you have to hit him a lot. You can’t know how solid he really is.

“We’ve got to get all 11 hats to the ball. You can’t take that dude down with one guy.”

Richardson rushed for 89 hard-earned yards on 23 carries in the first game against LSU and also caught five passes for 80 yards, but the Crimson Tide were stymied any time they moved inside the 30.

This time, Richardson said Alabama needs to “step on the throat."

Four different times back on Nov. 5, Alabama had a first-and-10 at the LSU 30 (or closer) only to be bogged down by a negative play on first down. Twice they lost yardage, once on a reverse to receiver Marquis Maze. They also had 5-yard penalty on a substitution infraction, and Maze’s pass out of the Wildcat formation was intercepted by LSU’s Eric Reid at the 1.

In overtime, the Crimson Tide had another 5-yard penalty on a substitution infraction with it second-and-1o at the 25.

“Everybody wants to talk about our kickers not making their field goals,” Richardson said. “Those were long field goals. We’re the ones who need to finish drives.”

Maze suggested that Alabama might have gotten too cute with a few of the trick plays and needs to do what it does best on offense and go right after the Tigers.

Of course, that’s easier said than done against an LSU defense that simply doesn’t give up many touchdowns, period, and specializes in knocking teams out of scoring position.

“Here’s the deal. If a couple of those things had worked, we would have been geniuses,” Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. “If we would have just run the ball inside, it would have been the other way. That’s the beauty of this sport. That’s the beauty of you guys (the media). You’ve got to have something to write about. You either make a great call or you don’t.

“Give them the credit on defense. They stopped us.”

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SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12