But after watching the defensive line grow softer and softer in the final games of 2012, the position I'm watching with the keenest eye will be the nose tackle. It is Thornton's starting spot to lose. But he gives up 60 or so pounds to his predecessors and has some eager and slightly bigger bodies right behind him. To make it even more intriguing, longtime defensive line coach Rodney Garner is gone. Newly appointed Chris Wilson has already made a name for himself on the recruiting trails. Can he have this line ready for prime time opener AND the grind of the SEC slate?
Returning contenders: Michael Thornton (0 tackles), Taylor
Newcomers: Junior college transfer Chris Mayes, prep school transfer John Atkins, freshmanDe’Andre Johnson
Breakdown: Fourth-year junior Thornton inherited the job from the massive duo of John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. And yet it’s reasonable to wonder how the line will function differently with the 290-pound Thornton in the middle instead of his 350-pound-plus predecessors. Coaches and teammates say Thornton can handle the job, but Mayes and Atkins -- who both weighed roughly 320 pounds -- are lurking behind him on the depth chart. And it’s not out of the question that Taylor could move inside in certain situations, either. The job seems to be Thornton’s to lose, but it would not be a surprise to see several different players lining up inside early in the year as new line coach Chris Wilson weighs his options.