Rennie Curran will have the most tackles on the team AGAIN this year. He had a total of 115 tackles last year, which was second best in the SEC. I think he will have a little less, because Jeff Owens is back. Projected Total Tackles: 110 (Solo: 60, Assists: 50)
I'm going with my breakout defensive star of 2009 for the most sacks on the team and this is Rod Battle. I think he has a lot to prove and Jeff Owens will attract a lot of attention on the defensive line. Projected Total Sacks: 8.5 (Solo: 7.0, Assists: 1.5)
Bryan Evans will have the most interceptions on the team this year. He has the talent to make some key picks at safety this year. Projected Interceptions: 6
I'm not a big predictor of statistics simply because I don't really care who accumulates the best statistics throughout the year. All I care about is what key tackle, pass, or interception changed or sealed the game. Even though season statistics are supposed to represent the overall production of a player, they don't always measure the intangibles and key plays that really make or break a season. For instance, Alex Rodriguez is nearly automatic for at least 35 home runs or more, but season stats don't show how most of those home runs came against subpar pitching against teams who are far from being playoff contenders. His statistics in big game situations have always been below average and his playoff stats are worse than that. Why call him the great hitter in the game if he can't hit the best pitchers in the game? Hey, I've digressed but the point is my defensive stat leader will revolve around who makes the biggest defensive plays for the Bulldogs this year, not the one who piles up big numbers against small teams in even smaller situations. My defensive leader will go to Jeff Owens. He's the hardest worker on the team, carries a level of leadership this squad desperately needs, and seems to rise to the occasion when the Dawgs need a big play. He won't lead the team in tackles, sacks, or interceptions. Those stats will go to Rennie Curran (131 tackles), Roderick Battle (8 1/5 sacks), and Reshad Jones (4 int), but Owens' quick feet and immeasurable strength will help create those three outcomes for the aforementioned defensive players. Look for Owens to work with Geno Atkins to plug up the running holes, find ways to get through blockers and create hurries, and finally expect constant double-teams that will open up one-on-one blocking for the defensive ends. Just like we've seen for over two years now is his ability to make huge plays when the game is on the line. At the end of the year, he'll accumulate 9 hurries, 12 tackles for a loss, and 3 1/5 sacks when the game is either on the line or a key stop needs to take place in order to end a drive. Note: these stats are considered key plays not overall season stats. Jeff Owens is the unquestioned leader of this defensive team and he'll work hard to erase last year's injury and reestablish the Junkyard in the Dawgs defense. Give me a Mark Lemke-type with a tough schedule like UGA has, not an airbrushed athlete who pads stats playing the Royals. Jeff Owens will step up in the Fall just like Lemke when it truly mattered. Don't believe me? Check Cooperstown for Mark's bat. Check Saturday nights for Jeff's uniform pants.
Tackles: This question is too obvious - which can set up a major letdown - but I don't think this guy's gonna have any trouble. Not only is he the best player on our defense (who is a little under-sized), but he is the most underrated linebacker in the SEC - Rennie Curran. The guy is a beast, and I pray that he stays for another two years. My favorite thing about Rennie is the fact that he loves our beloved Bulldogs as much we do. Rennie will finish with 80+ tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Sacks: This was a little tougher for me to pick. Had Justin Houston not been suspended for the first 2 games I'd probably pick him, instead I'm going to go with the guy whose been getting the most throughout the summer practice session. Roderick Battle will lead the team with 7.5 sacks, but Houston will be right on his heels with a pure 7. With Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins in the middle of our defensive line, our ends are going to have a hay day.
Interceptions: I don't think we are going to have any one guy with a boat-load of picks. I do think we are going to have 3 guys with 3 picks. I think we have one of the best safety tandems in the nations with Reshad Jones and a relatively unknown (outside of Georgia Fans) Bryan Evans. These two guys and Brandon Boykin will all have significant impacts on our turnover ratio.
The only obvious answer to this question is Rennie Curran. Curran is quickly becoming one of my favorite all-time Bulldogs, and he certainly has the tackles and impact to support it. One of the quickest (by this, I'm referring to how quickly he closes in on a ball-carrier) and surest tacklers I've ever watched play, he will easily lead the team in tackles, locking down 100+ total tackles. The other two major defensive statistics, sacks and interceptions, are a little more open. Although it wasn't the case last year, the norm is certainly that a defensive end will lead the team in sacks. Coming out of spring practice, I wasn't sure Rod Battle would even earn a starting job. Now, after hearing great things out of fall camp, it's sounding like Battle is ready to prove that he is capable of living up to the potential he flashed early in his career. I think Battle will lead the team in sacks, getting close to double digits and adding many more quarterback hurries. As for interceptions, I have to stick with my Breakout Defensive Player, Bryan Evans. Evans is one of the fastest players on the team, and his ball skills as a former cornerback should help him pick off 5 or 6 passes this season.