August 20, 2011

Preseason top 20: Interior linemen

We continue our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position with a look at interior offensive linemen.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 29, when we rank all 120 of the nation's quarterbacks. Sunday, we will look at defensive ends. Here are the interior offensive lineman rankings.

20. G KYLE WALLERSTEIN, AIR FORCE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/285, Sr.; Canyon Country (Calif.) Canyon
THE BUZZ: Wallerstein performed well enough last season, his first as a starter, to earn second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. He was one of the key performers on a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the nation and helped Air Force rank second nationally in rushing.

19. C BEN HABERN, OKLAHOMA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/292, Jr.; Argyle (Texas) Liberty Christian
THE BUZZ: Habern is heading into his third season as the Sooners' starting center after earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. Habern played 1,070 snaps and delivered 123 knockdowns last season to lead Oklahoma offensive linemen in both categories. That included a 16-knockdown performance against Colorado. He also graded out at 93 percent against Texas and Nebraska.

18. G CARSON YORK, OREGON
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/292, Jr.; Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) Lake City
THE BUZZ: After redshirting in 2008, York has made 22 starts over the past two seasons. He started at left guard in 2009, then moved to the right side last season. York was a key component of a line that helped Oregon lead the nation in points (47.0) and yards (530.7) per game last season. York also performs in the classroom, as he earned Pac-10 first-team All-Academic honors last season.

17. G OMOREGIE UZZI, GEORGIA TECH
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/300, Jr.; Chamblee (Ga.) High
THE BUZZ: Uzzi, a two-way lineman in high school, has excelled on offense for Tech. He was a key reserve on Georgia Tech's Orange Bowl team in 2009 and earned second-team All-ACC honors last season, his first as a starter. Uzzi's blocking helped Tech lead the nation in rushing at 323.3 yards per game.

16. C MOE PETRUS, CONNECTICUT
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/302, Sr.; Montreal (Quebec) Vanier Prep
THE BUZZ: This fourth-year starter earned second-team All-Big East honors and also made the Big East's all-academic team last season. He has started 39 consecutive games over the past three seasons - 13 at left tackle in 2008 and 26 at center in '09 and '10. Petrus' blocking helped former teammate Jordan Todman run for 1,695 yards to rank second nationally in rushing last season.

15. C WILLIAM VLACHOS, ALABAMA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-1/294, Sr.; Mountain Brook (Ala.) High
THE BUZZ: After serving as a backup as a redshirt freshman in 2008, he has started 27 consecutive games at center for the Tide. He was a second-team All-SEC pick last season. Despite his squatty frame, Vlachos is adept at pulling, and he also is a mauler in the middle.

14. G LANE TAYLOR, OKLAHOMA STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/310, Jr.; Arlington (Texas) Martin
THE BUZZ: He is heading into his third season as a starter for the Cowboys, who have one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. He has made 24 consecutive starts and was a first-team academic all-league honoree last season.

13. C T.J. JOHNSON, SOUTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/316, Jr.; Aynor (S.C.) High
THE BUZZ: He will be a third-year starter this season. He earned some freshman All-America plaudits as a guard in 2009, then moved to center last season. He has started 27 consecutive games for the Gamecocks.

12. C PHILIP BLAKE, BAYLOR
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/320, Sr.; Tyler (Texas) JC, preceded by Lennoxville (Quebec) Champlain Regional preceded by Etobicoke (Ontario) Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School
THE BUZZ: He will be a three-year starter for the Bears and has started every game in his Baylor career. Blake, who turns 26 in November, played right tackle as a sophomore before moving to center last season. He was an honorable mention all-league pick in 2010 and should vie for All-America honors this fall.

11. G LARRY WARFORD, KENTUCKY
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/336, Jr.; Richmond (Ky.) Madison Central
THE BUZZ: He was a reserve as a true freshman in 2009, then blossomed as a sophomore last season. He started all 13 games and was a second-team All-SEC selection. Warford has exceptional quickness for a guy with his bulk. He played offensive tackle in high school, first at Oceanside (Calif.) High as a sophomore, then at Madison Central as a junior and senior. His mom lives in Samoa.

10. C SCOTT WEDIGE, NORTHERN ILLINOIS
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/310, Sr.; Elkhorn (Wis.) Elkhorn Area
THE BUZZ: He was a first-team All-MAC pick last season, his first as a starter. He played extensively as a reserve in 2009 but sparingly as a redshirt freshman in '09. He is one of five returning starters along the line for NIU, which set eight single-season school offensive records last season. Wedige was an offensive tackle in high school and enjoys skiing.

9. G BRANDON WASHINGTON, MIAMI
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/320, Jr.; Milford (N.Y.) Milford Academy, preceded by Miami Northwestern
THE BUZZ: Washington earned first-team All-ACC honors last season - his first as a starter - and should be the league's top offensive lineman in 2011. He started all 13 games last season and graded out at 99 percent, the highest grade for any UM starter all season, against Pittsburgh. He also was a defensive tackle of some note as a high school senior.

8. C BEN JONES, GEORGIA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/300, Sr.; Centreville (Ala.) Bibb County
THE BUZZ: He will be a four-year starter for the Bulldogs and perhaps the key figure on a line that has some depth issues. Jones, a captain, is one of just a handful of proven players on Georgia's offense, and it's vital for the line to jell quickly, given the Bulldogs' tough early schedule. Georgia must run the ball better this season than it did last season (73rd nationally).

7. G JOEL FOREMAN, MICHIGAN STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/310, Sr.; Highland (Mich.) Milford
THE BUZZ: Foreman will be a four-year starter at left guard. He's a powerful road-grader and coaches are counting on him to be an anchor for a rebuilt line, which for the second year in a row is replacing three starters. Foreman and Co. must develop quickly to take advantage of perhaps the deepest corps of running backs in the Big Ten.

6. C DAVID MOLK, MICHIGAN
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/288, Sr.; Lemont (Ill.) Lemont Township
THE BUZZ: Molk is coming off a standout season that saw him earn first-team all-league honors. Molk helped pave the way for QB Denard Robinson last season. Molk, who was the No. 5-rated center in the nation coming out of high school, will be part of a Wolverines line that should be among the Big Ten's best under new coach Brady Hoke.

5. C MICHAEL BREWSTER, OHIO STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/305, Sr.; Orlando Edgewater
THE BUZZ: A big contributor since stepping on campus in 2008, he moved into the starting lineup early in his true freshman season. Brewster started 10 games that season and has been a mainstay since. He's an underrated athlete who has quick feet and good balance. Brewster, who considered turning pro, also is a leader whose experience makes him a quasi-coach on the field.

4. C PETER KONZ, WISCONSIN
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/313, Jr.; Neenah (Wis.) High
THE BUZZ: The Big Ten is loaded with good centers, and Konz is the best of them all. He entered the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and hasn't left. Konz had a scare in '09 when blood clots were discovered in each of his lungs. Medication cured the problem, and Konz has developed into a savvy technician who is a team leader.

3. G BARRETT JONES, ALABAMA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/311, Jr.; Memphis Evangelical Christian
THE BUZZ: This ranking is predicated on Jones remaining at guard, his natural position. He has been working out at left tackle and could be the starter there instead. Regardless, Jones is heading into his third season as a starter. He was a freshman All-America in 2009, then a first-team All-SEC performer last season; this fall, if he stays at guard, he will be the best lineman in the SEC. Jones' dad, Rex, played basketball at Alabama from 1982-84.

2. G RYAN MILLER, COLORADO
THE PARTICULARS: 6-8/310, Sr.; Littleton (Colo.) Columbine
THE BUZZ: A starter since his freshman season, Miller has overcome a broken fibula that sidelined him for almost all of the 2008 season and switched positions from tackle to become a dominant guard. He played every offensive snap last season and was called for just two penalties. Miller, who enjoys line dancing, was Colorado's high school player of the year in 2006.

1. G DAVID DeCASTRO, STANFORD
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/310, Jr.; Bellevue (Wash.) High
THE BUZZ: He is one of just two returning starters on Stanford's line, but the good news for Stanford is that both are potential All-Americans (DeCastro and T Jonathan Martin). DeCastro blocked for Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart as a freshman, then was part of a unit that allowed the second-fewest sacks in the country last season. DeCastro, a road-grader who was a first-team All-Pac-10 performer last season, has started 26 consecutive games.

Rankings and player capsules by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.



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