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August 25, 2009

Preseason linebacker power rankings

MORE: RB | WR | TE | T | G/C | DE | DT

We continue our preseason power rankings at each position with the defensive ends.

You can check out our post-spring practice power rankings here . We will update the power rankings each week during the regular season and release the final rankings for the season after the BCS title game.

The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how they fared the previous week, but the power rankings measure overall career performances as well as their most recent results.


1. Brandon Spikes, Florida (6-3/258, Sr.)
He's the emotional and physical leader of what should be the top defense in the nation. Spikes talks a mile a minute on the field - and almost always backs it up with his play.

2. Rolando McClain, Alabama (6-4/258, Jr.)
He's a tough, physical presence in the Tide's 3-4 defense. He's huge, but he moves well and always seems to be around the ball. And for a big guy, he's surprisingly good in pass coverage.

3. Navorro Bowman, Penn State (6-1/232, Jr.)
Bowman emerged as a star last season. If he stays out of the coaches' doghouse, another big season beckons.

4. Greg Jones, Michigan State (6-1/228, Jr.)
He has a plain name and doesn't get much national notice, but we're betting the second part changes this season. The Spartans' defense has become more physical under third-year coach Mark Dantonio, and Jones is a great fit for that scheme.

5. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2/232, Soph.)
He burst on the scene as a redshirt freshman and was a constant, consistent presence for the Sooners' defense. OU already has some injury concerns at linebacker, but Lewis' steady play will ease some minds.

6. Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri (6-2/245, Sr.)
Missouri had some issues on defense last season, but Weatherspoon was a consistent playmaker (155 tackles, giving him 282 the past two seasons). He's not only tough against the run but also adept in pass coverage.

7. Rennie Curran, Georgia (5-11/222, Jr.)
He's small but hits a ton. He flows well from sideline to sideline, and opposing running backs find it hard to get away from him. Curran punishes them when he catches them, too.

8. Rico McCoy, Tennessee (6-1/220, Sr.)
The Vols struggled last season, but don't blame McCoy and the defense. McCoy should be a great fit in new coordinator Monte Kiffin's Cover 2 scheme because of his athleticism.

9. Reggie Carter, UCLA (6-1/240, Sr.)
Carter has been overshadowed by the linebackers at crosstown USC, but he'll get more attention this season. He's tough and makes plays.

10. Pat Angerer, Iowa (6-1/235, Sr.)
Angerer plays with a style somewhat like his last name - with anger. He is a great fit in the Hawkeyes' scheme; he had 107 tackles and five interceptions last season.

11. Eric Norwood, South Carolina (6-1/252, Sr.)
He also has played some defensive end and can be a pass-rushing force. His bulk also makes him a tough run-stopper.

12. Joe Pawelek, Baylor (6-2/240, Sr.)
Baylor looks to be on the verge of getting into a bowl, and while QB Robert Griffin gets a lot of credit for that, don't overlook Pawelek and the Bears' defense. He's productive (227 tackles in the past two seasons), has good instincts and is excellent in pass coverage (six picks and seven pass breakups last season).

13. Stevenson Sylvester, Utah (6-2/230, Sr.)
He had his national coming-out party against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, running around and through numerous Tide offensive linemen on the way to a three-sack, seven-tackle game. Sylvester has good speed and again can be expected to be a playmaker for the Utes.

14. Scott Lutrus, Connecticut (6-3/244, Jr.)
UConn's defense has been one of the nation's best for the past few seasons, though the Huskies don't get much notice. Lutrus is instinctive and productive, and he should break the 100-tackle barrier for the third season in a row.

15. Sean Lee, Penn State (6-2/236, Sr.)
Lee was an All-America in 2007, then missed last season with a knee injury. If he's back to form, he and Bowman will give Penn State the nation's top linebacker duo.

16. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama (6-4/250, Soph.)
If Penn State doesn't have the top linebacker duo, Alabama does, with McClain and this guy. Hightower played with a maturity beyond his years as a true freshman last season. He's huge but moves well laterally. He has great instincts and likely will be turned loose on the pass rush more often this season.

17. Sean Spence, Miami (6-0/212, Soph.)
Spence lacks ideal size, but so what? He runs, packs a wallop and seems to have an innate sense of how to find the ball. He was a little under the radar last season; that won't be the case this season.

18. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina (6-2/230, Jr.)
Butch Davis has one of the best linebacker trios in the nation, and Sturdivant is the standout. He is coming off a 122-tackle season and should be just as productive this season.

19. Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas (6-2/235, Sr.)
Muckelroy emerged as a star last season and will be the leader of what is expected to be a solid Texas linebacker corps this season. He was overshadowed a bit last season, but that should change this season.

20. Keaton Kristick, Oregon State (6-3/230, Sr.)
The Beavers return just three defensive starters, and Kristick is one of them. So not only does he have to be productive on the field, but he also needs to prove he can be a leader. He should be up to the tasks.

(Rankings by Rivals.com staffers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.)

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