August 16, 2006

Veterans dominate defensive lineman rankings

Any of the young offensive linemen vying for playing time in the Big 12 might want to consider taking a redshirt this year. If there ever was a time to sit and learn, this is it.

Seven of the spots in Rivals.com's list of the top 25 defensive linemen are filled with players from the Big 12, tops among all leagues. Three are in the top 10, including Texas' Frank Okam (No. 2), Nebraska's Adam Carriker (No. 6) and Oklahoma's Larry Birdine (No. 7).

Texas and Oklahoma both landed multiple players on the list with Longhorns Tim Crowder coming in at No. 11 and Brian Robison at No. 24 and Sooner C.J. Ah You at No. 15.

The SEC came in second with six selections among conferences, followed by the Big Ten with four and the ACC and Pac-10 with three apiece. The Big East and the MAC each produced one selection.

Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Top Defensive Linemen
1. Gaines Adams, Clemson, DE, Sr., 6-5, 265
There's a good chance that the top pick in the NFL Draft could be a defensive end from the ACC for the second consecutive year thanks to Adams' decision to stay in school for his senior season. He possesses a tremendous combination of size, speed and power. That showed last season when he made 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, forced three fumbles and deflected a school-record nine passes. He needs 13 sacks to break the school's all-time record.
2. Frank Okam, Texas, Jr., DT, 6-5, 315
Meet the Big 12's new premier defensive lineman. Okam hasn't earned that title yet, but we're betting he will by midseason. The Dallas product made some big plays as part of a three-man rotation in the middle of the Longhorns' line in 2005, posting 48 tackles, 11 quarterback pressures and two fumble recoveries. That production earned a spot on the second-team All-Big 12 squad. Expect him to be a lock for the first team and be considered for national honors this year.
3. Jay Alford, Penn State, DT, Sr., 6-3, 288
Linebacker Paul Posluszny gets more pub, but the success of the Nittany Lions defense may rely more on Alford. He's the lone returning starter up front and has developed a reputation for making big plays when needed most. He made two third-down sacks in the fourth quarter in a 31-22 win over Michigan State which gave the Lions the Big Ten title and then had 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble in their Orange Bowl victory over Florida State.
4. Quentin Moses, Georgia, DE, Sr., 6-5, 250
The Bulldogs found their latest defensive star in their back yard. An Athens native, Moses blossomed into one of the SEC's top players in his first year as a starter in 2005. He led the league in tackles for loss (20.5) and finishing second in sacks (11.5). He'll command constant double teams this fall, which should free up space for other talented members of the Bulldogs' front seven to have breakout years.
5. Brandon Mebane, California, Sr., DT, 6-3, 306
To move the ball downfield on Cal's defense you must figure out a way to neutralize this powerful veteran. Most usually fail in that task. The Bears had the second best rush defense in the nation last year as Mebane consistently came up with big plays. He had at least one tackle for a loss in eight games and finished with seven sacks despite spraining an ankle in midseason. He must stay healthy for the Bears to end USC's reign atop the Pac-10.
6. Adam Carriker, Nebraska, DE, Sr., 6-6, 295
When the Cornhuskers visit USC on Sept. 16, the biggest concern for the Trojans offense will be keeping this former three-star recruit out of their backfield. Carriker emerged as the biggest playmaker on one of the nation's top defensive lines last season. He was extremely productive, racking up 9.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback pressures. All that production helped the Huskers lead the nation in sacks and earned Carriker first-team All-Big 12 honors.
7. Larry Birdine, Oklahoma, DE, Sr., 6-3, 258
This fifth-year senior wasn't expected to be on this list. Last year was supposed to be Birdine's breakout season. As part of a three-man rotation at defensive end, he made seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2004. But a torn biceps kept him on the sidelines for every regular season game in 2005. His return gives the Sooners the best pair of ends in the nation, along with pass-rush specialist C.J. Ah You (ranked No. 15).
8. Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan, DE, Sr., 6-3, 272
To earn national attention at a mid-major school you have to post some gaudy stats. That's exactly what Bazuin did in 2005. He led the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss and finished second in sacks with 16 (after only three in 2004) numbers that made him a lock for the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year. He has already earned an early invitation to the 2007 East-West Shrine game.
9. Kenny Iwebema, Iowa, DE, Jr., 6-4, 270
It's tough to believe that none of the major programs in Texas offered a scholarship to this Arlington, Texas product. In his first year as a starter last season he emerged as one of the Big Ten's top linemen. Iwebema earned a spot on the first-team All-Big Ten squad after making 47 tackles - including 10 for a loss - and seven sacks. He also blocked two field goals in a win over Illinois. With a little more experience, expect All-American type numbers this season.
10. Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State, Sr., DT, 6-3, 295
Don't measure this run-stuffing specialist by his stats. The 28 tackles Pitcock made last season are a poor indicator of how much he means to the OSU defense. He often occupies two offensive linemen on running plays, freeing up crucial space for the Buckeye linebackers to maneuver. With Pitcock protecting them up front in 2005, linebackers A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel combined to make 252 tackles and 19.5 sacks.
Best of the rest
11. Tim Crowder, Texas, DE, Sr., 6-4, 270
12. Justin Harrell, Tennessee, DT, Sr., 6-4, 300
13. Mkristo Bruce, Washington State, DE, Sr., 6-6, 255
14. Lawrence Jackson, USC, DE Jr., 6-5, 265
15. C.J. Ah You, Oklahoma, DE, Sr., 6-4, 260
16. Quentin Groves, Auburn, DE, Jr., 6-3, 255
17. LaMarr Woodley, Michigan, DE, Sr., 6-2, 268
18. Andre Fluellen, Florida State, DT, Jr., 6-4, 286
19. Joseph Bryant, Texas A&M, DT, Jr., 6-5, 330
20. Keith Jackson, Arkansas, DT, Sr., 6-0, 300
21. Marcus Thomas, Florida, DT, Sr., 6-3, 290
22. Baraka Atkins, Miami, DE, Sr., 6-4, 275
23. Wallace Gilberry, Alabama, DE, Jr., 6-4, 264
24. Brian Robison, Texas, DE, Sr. 6-3, 267
25. Ramel Meekins, Rutgers, DT, Sr., 6-1, 280

More Preseason Player Rankings:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Offensive linemen | Kickers/Punters | Return Specialists
Wide receivers | Tight ends | Linebackers | Defensive linemen

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