HOOVER, Ala. -- Some players were confident.
Texas A&M defensive tackle Julien Obioha said that when you learn how to tackle properly, then you can take down anyone, no problem.
Some players were aloof.
LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith claimed he didn’t even know guys’ names and left it at that.
Other players went the politically correct route.
Mississippi State cornerback Taveze Calhoun wouldn't name names. The list would be too long, he explained.
But around half the time, SEC defenders answered the question at media days last week: Who is the toughest player to tackle in the conference?
“Arkansas. No. 32,” said Mississippi State defensive end Ryan Brown.
“Both of them,” he said, correcting himself. “It’s scary for a defense. You can’t take anything for granted.”
“Leonard Fournette is great,” he said before shifting gears. “As of now, the guy from Arkansas, Alex Collins, he can do it too. It’s going to be difficult between Leonard Fournette and Arkansas.”
A pair of fellow SEC defenders weren’t as wishy-washy on Fournette, though.
“I’d say Leonard Fournette,” said Ole Miss DB Mike Hilton. “For a guy to be that big, that strong and that powerful, he’s going to be a good one.”
Said Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard: “LSU. Fournette. Big, strong and fast.
“Usually you get the guys who are big and they’re going to run straight. With him you’ve got to worry about him using his outside foot and shifting. He’s mobile too. You can’t just say, ‘He’s about to run me over.’”
But what about Chubb?
“Chubb is good,” Bullard said. “He’s just not as big, not as powerful. He still runs hard. He’s not as fast, so it kind of brings him down a bit.”
Vanderbilt linebacker Nigel Bowden might disagree.
“People don’t understand that more so than Todd [Gurley], Chubb was actually a lot harder and thicker,” he said. “Todd Gurley is really explosive. But he’s different. You have to hit Chubb really good because he’s a rock.”
Said Auburn DB Jonathan Jones: “You saw it last year as a freshman. He’s going to be a great back. He’s strong, but he’s fast. He ran like a 10.6 in high school. So he’s fast and he’s big.”
Conspicuously absent from the answers were Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd, who are the only other returning running backs who finished last season in the top 15 of the SEC in rushing.
But then again, it wasn’t as if there was a consensus anyways.
The only thing everyone seemed to agree on was that this could be the year of the running back in the SEC.
“We have to come downhill, strike blocks and when the time comes to hit them, you have to give it everything you’ve got,” Ragland said, “because those guys will make you look silly, run you over and get their yards.”
This fall Ragland will have to face Chubb, Fournette, Hurd and the tandem of Collins and Williams. It sounds unfair when you say it out loud.
“That’s fine,” Ragland said. “I’m a competitor. It’s why I play the game, for situations like that, to go up against guys like that. I don’t want to go up against anyone that’s average.”
Note: Thirteen SEC defenders were polled for this story. Of those that answered, three said Fournette, two said Chubb and two said Williams and Collins.