KNOXVILLE – Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and linebacker A.J. Johnson have been named to the 2013 Bednarik Award Watch List, an award given to the best defensive player annually since 1995.
The initial watch list features 76 players. Semifinalists will be announced on Oct. 29, finalists on Nov. 25 and the winner will be revealed on Dec. 12. Players can be added, meaning the initial watch list serves more as a general guide rather than an actual narrowing of the field.
Notre Dame linebacker Mati Te’o won the award in 2012. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a Bednarik semifinalist in 2012, is the early frontrunner for 2013.
McCullers, a senior, has emerged from a junior college project to become one of the top returning defensive linemen in the SEC. The former 400-pounder hopes to play in the 340-350 pound range next year and will look to improve upon his 2012 campaign when he recorded 39 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and forced one fumble.
Johnson is the SEC’s leading returning tackler after piling up 138 stops in 2012. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior linebacker also recorded 8.5 tackles for a loss and a sack in addition to scoring six touchdowns as a wildcat quarterback on offense.
A total of 15 SEC players made the list, headlined by Clowney, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga