Cream of the Crop: Six Defensive Studs Welcomed to College Football in '09
I come through with my promises.
In the second part of my "Cream of the Crop" presentation, I have six more players who will make differences at their respective schools at some point in their careers.
Please feel free to leave comments on these players. I also know that I'll get comments on players who I didn't select, but it is in no way biased. I just wanted to choose a few players we should all keep an eye on.
These defensive studs are:
Craig Loston, Safety, LSU
Loston, ranked the top safety in this class and the seventh overall player by ESPNU, has great "dimensions" for a top-tier safety (6'2'', 193 pounds).
He is technically a safety, but has been praised for showing versatility as a returner and receiver. This diversity he shows has earned him the dubbing of a "triple-threat."
Despite his pure athleticism, don't expect him being like Chris Gamble, a former WR/CB for Ohio State, would would play both sides every game.
Loston is truly a special talent, and will stay at safety and maybe some return opportunities.
Strengths: Great pass defender, great reaction timing, amazing physical talent, has excellent elevation ability, and can pick the ball out a huge crowd, can play lock-down defense in zone or man-to-man defense, can cover a ton of ground in a small matter of time, and awesome instincts.
Weaknesses: Not great at tackling receivers/ backs in open field at angles.
Where he stands in '09: A player like does not come around often at all. Expect him to split time at receiver and safety, with most of it at safety.
He could end up being the fifth receiver in shotgun, third-and-long situations. He will have a hard time finding his way to return opportunities behind Trindon Holliday and Keenan Williams, but expect his presence to be heard for the Bayou Bengals this year and for time to come.
Dorian Bell, Outside Linebacker, Ohio State
Bell is the fourth-ranked OLB in this class and the 33rd best player overall in the incoming field of freshman. Bell has been known to make a living in the opponent's backfield.
If he lives up to all of his high school hype, he should continue a long legacy of talented Buckeye linebackers, and despite his size (6'0'', 220 pounds), he could make an immediate impact for this re-crafted Buckeye defense.
Strengths: Explosive playmaker, great strength, great quickness off the edge, clever instincts, great initial burst and closing speed, amazing acceleration and good at changing direction and speeds, great range and ability to chase down ball carriers, difficult to seal off, can match up with receivers in the slot and cover them or play back in zone coverage, amazing blitzer and amazing at anticipating the snap count, great at wrapping up ball carriers and is a disciplined open-field tackler.
Weaknesses: Doesn't have the size of an ideal linebacker and struggles sometimes when jammed early at the line.
Where he stands in '09: With the departures of Seniors James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, Bell will have an excellent and equal chance to earn a starting spot.
Ross Homan is the lone returning starting linebacker, and will likely hold the spot. That means Bell will contend with players like Austin Spitler, Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat, and others for those final two spots.
Bell is pure talent, and will definitely contribute on defense and special teams.
Craig Roh, Defensive End, Michigan
As the No. 4-ranked Defensive End and the 48-best player overall in this class, Roh is a somewhat undersized lineman (6'4'', 225 pounds) who puts fear in the quarterback's eyes.
Roh's commitment to Michigan is part of coach Rich Rodriguez's replacement scheme of linemen including Terrance Taylor.
Strengths: Has a good "get-off" and quickness at the snap, displays great swim moves, gets great separation and can easily shed blockers, keeps good balance off the line of scrimmage and has good lateral movement, good football instincts, and has the speed to tackle players from behind and force quarterbacks out of the pocket.
Weaknesses: Small for his position and needs to bulk up more and not the greatest change-of-direction ability.
Where he stands in '09: Like Bell, Roh's position on his team has become depleted with players leaving over the off-season. His ability alone gives him a good opportunity to start on the Wolverine line.
It's possible he could redshirt, but with the line situation in Ann Arbor, my gut feeling is Rodriguez will have Roh ready for their first game.
Manti Te'O, Outside Linebacker, Undecided
Considering: USC, Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame, BYU.
Second only to USC-bound quarterback Matt Barkley in this class, Te'o will make the school he chooses extremely happy.
Te'o has won the Dick Butkus Award as the nation's premier linebacker, and is expected to start where ever he goes.
Strengths: Great size for the position ( 6'2'', 230 pounds), plays will unteachable intensity, has the perfect combination of speed, strength, and power when chasing and bring players down. Usually forces blockers upright and running backs to change directions, has great moves to avoid blockers, great burst and dangerous when closing in on a target. Has great range, first step, attitude, and blitz ability.
Weaknesses: Needs to develop his ability to move laterally through traffic to a player, and needs to be able to view and understand his reads quicker and easier.
Where he stands in '09: Like I mentioned before, Te'o is a tremendous player who will without a doubt make an impact next year and probably start.
My feeling is he will end up deciding between UCLA and USC, but will eliminate USC and tell Rick Neuheisel he wants to be a Bruin.
Ray Ray Armstrong, Safety, Miami (FL)
Armstrong (pictured in introduction slide) is considered to be the best all around athlete in the class because of his size.
Standing at 6'4'' and 215 pounds, Armstrong has the ability to play any skill position and his size is ideal for a receiver, quarterback, or safety.
Strengths: All-around natural athleticism and ability, a huge problem for defenses when he has the ball, a big and sturdy player who has top-end speed. He is very elusive and powerful, has All-American potential a most skill positions, great hands, excellent jumping ability, great open-field tackling, and great ball skills.
Weaknesses: Not always good in pass coverage, and sometimes takes a bad first step/break on the ball.
Where he stands in '09: Armstrong is one of few players who probably every since coach looked at recruiting. His athleticism alone makes him irresistible.
While he will play a lot at safety, look for Randy Shannon to use him to his fullest ability, by returning kicks and punts, playing in the slot, lining up under center or in the shotgun.
If he produces as much as he is hyped to, we could have a bigger, stronger Devin Hester on our hands.
Vontaze Burfict, Inside Linebacker, USC
Despite having a mouthful of a name, Burfict is the top-ranked Inside Linebacker and 16th-ranked player overall. His services are headed to Los Angeles, where Pete Carroll will use him as part of reloading a defense which most of its starters.
Strengths: Great mix of speed and size, very athletic for his size (6'2'', 244 pounds), has a long reach, great ability to slip tackles, and get through traffic towards the ball carrier, deceptive side-to-side velocity which makes him very unique, and is hard to put a body on when running in the open field. Great tackling skills and change-of-direction and velocity.
Weaknesses: Has been known to expose his body to cutoff blocks and has a hard time of breaking blocks once he's engaged. Burfict also needs to improve his first steps, improve his reads, and dropping into coverage quicker.
Where he stands in '09: On a defense that loses a lot of talent and experience, Burfict will lead a new defense with tremendous potential. Don't be surprised if Burfict earns the starting spot and has this defense up their in the rankings yet again.