July 8, 2009

Ranking the best D-Lines U-M faces in '09

Despite two returning starters that combined for 12.5 sacks, Purdue's defensive line begins the season with little fanfare. End Ryan Kerrigan, who could prove to be one of the Big Ten's best, will aim to change that perception … 








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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Ohio
State


Defensive Linemen: Jr. DE Thaddeus Gibson (left), Jr. DE
Cameron Heyward, Sr. DT Doug Worthington.

One of the Big Ten's most disappointing units in 2008, Ohio State's
defensive line returns an experienced core that still possesses far
more talent collectively than any opponent. Gibson, Heyward and
Worthington combined for just 9.5 sacks a year ago but those numbers
should double and could triple. Entering his junior year, Gibson
appears on the brink of a breakthrough campaign while Heyward could be
the most dominant lineman in the league. 



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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="color: rgb(102, 0, 0); font-weight: bold;">Indianastyle="font-weight: bold;">
Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: 5th Sr. DE Jammie Kirlew
(left), Sr. DE Greg Middleton, Fr.-R DT Nick Sliger.

The Hoosiers, not the
Buckeyes, Nittany Lions or Hawkeyes, surprisingly boast the Big Ten's
best pair of defensive ends. Kirlew recorded 10.5 sacks among 19.5
tackles for loss last year while a healthy Middleton could return to
his 2007 form, when he led the nation with 16 quarterback takedowns.
The presence of one should help the other and vice versa. In the
middle, the coaches are high on the 6-3, 293-pound Sliger.



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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Penn
State


Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: Sr. DT Jared Odrick
(left), Jr. DT Ollie Ogbu, Soph. DE Kevion Latham.

Penn State has to start over on the outside following the departures of
Aaron Maybin and Josh Gaines but there is no despair in State College
thanks to the return of tackles Odrick and Ogbu. Odrick didn't earn a
ton of acclaim in 2008 but he might have been the Big Ten's best
defensive tackle and will enter the fall with that title. Latham, at
6-2, 248 pounds, is similarly built to Maybin and could emerge PSU's
top pass rusher.



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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Iowa

Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: Jr. DE Adrian Clayborn
(left), Jr. DE Christian Ballard, Jr. DT Karl Klug.

The Hawkeyes suffered the exact opposite fate of Penn State, losing
their two interior standouts, Mitch King and Matt Kroul. They combined
for 22 tackles for loss in 2008. The good news for Iowa fans is the
return of Clayborn and Ballard, each of whom played a supporting role
last year but is now ready to assume a leadership post. Klug won't be
an immediate success in the middle but he has all the tools to replace
King as he develops through the season.

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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Michigan
State


Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: 5th Sr. DE Trevor
Anderson (left), Jr. NT Oren Wilson, Jr. DE Colin Neely.

Two of MSU's biggest contributors along the defensive line departed in
tackle Justin Kershaw and end Brandon Long. However, Anderson (eight
sacks in 2008) returns intent on becoming the Big Ten's most disruptive
edge rusher. To do so, he'll need some help and Wilson and Neely will
aim to give it to him. A 13-game starter a year ago, Wilson didn't
produce consistently for Michigan State but wasn't asked to. Neely
started three games last fall but must elevate his game considerably.

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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Purdue

Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: Jr. DE Ryan Kerrigan
(left), 5th Sr. DT Mike Neal, Soph. DE Gerald Gooden.

Purdue's starting defensive line could be one of the more underrated
units in the Big Ten. Kerrigan recorded seven sacks a year ago and is
poised to join the tradition of great ends the Boilermakers have been
producing lately, including Cliff Avril, Shaun Phillips and Ray
Edwards. Neal was a playmaker for PU in the middle, tallying 10 tackles
for loss in 2008. This unit can go from good to great if Gooden or
another first-time starter steps up.

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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Notre
Dame


Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: Jr. DT Ian Williams, Sr.
DE John Ryan, Soph. DT Ethan Johnson.

Outside of Ohio State, perhaps, no other foe Michigan faces will field
a defensive line with as much skill as Notre Dame. However, ND's talent
is extremely inexperienced with only Williams a returning starter.
Johnson and classmate Kapron Lewis-Moore are expected to unleash the
ability they showed to garner four-star status in high school. The
sophomore pair could give the Irish the best pair of bookends they've
had in quite some time.



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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 248);">style="font-weight: bold;">Illinois

Defensivestyle="font-weight: bold;"> Linemen: Sr. DE Doug Pilcher, Sr.
DE Antonio James, Sr. DT Sirod Williams.

The Illini saw plenty of production walk off campus following the 2008
season and will pin their hopes on a pair of seniors in Pilcher and
James that have experienced rather ho-hum careers thus far. Pilcher is
a 24-game starter over the past three seasons but accumulated only
eight sacks during that span. James has appeared in 34 contests but has
just 2.5 career quarterback takedowns. If both players can fulfill the
promise they've shown in spurts, Illinois' front line could become a
dependable unit.




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Defensive Lines






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