The key to a good football team at any level starts right in the middle of the defensive line. If you look at just about any championship-winning team, the common denominator is usually a sturdy interior defense.
It's a pretty simple formula. If the defensive tackle occupies several blockers, it allows the linebackers to run free. If the linebackers can run free, it makes running nearly impossible and forces teams to throw.
If the defense knows the offense is going to throw, they can pin back their ears rushing the passer, creating jump balls, fumbles, and miscues, which results in their offense getting a short field to work with. Offenses operating on a short field usually results in points.
As much as we like to dissect the players and the game itself, it's always the team that scores more points than they allow that wins the games.
While it isn't the most attractive position, defensive tackles are the base to build a championship team. Most coaches take this position very seriously and know that it probably means the difference between a BCS bowl and just another good season.
Here are some of these players whose names and numbers we may not hear often when hearing who made the tackle or the sack, but whose selfless actions allow for others around them to use all of their skills to excel.
10. Geno Atkins, Georgia, Senior, 6'1", 290
I was pretty surprised to find out Atkins wasn't going pro with the rest of his Bulldog teammates after last season. While he may have not been projected where he thought he might go in the draft, I think his impact would have been felt by training camp.
Atkins has the ability to blow up offensive plays by penetrating the backfield, and I'm sure he was welcomed back with open arms by coach Mark Richt. Along with Rennie Curran at LB, Atkins should be the anchor of the Georgia defense.
9. Boo Robinson, Wake Forest, Senior, 6'2", 295
Robinson does everything you want a defensive tackle to do, and he excels at the straight up the middle bull rush, which collapses the pocket. While defensive tackle isn't a position where we generally see a lot of sacks come from, Robinson manages to find the passer often enough.
Robinson will have a little more pressure and focus on him this season as the Demon Deacons return only four starters on defense. Head coach Jim Grobe is one of the best in the game, and he feels that even with the losses, his defense may be even deeper than last season.
8. Jahred Odrick, Penn State, Senior, 6'2", 305
Most of the time when you hear a lot about a team's defensive ends, it means something is going on that is very good right in the middle of the defensive line. Aaron Maybin got most of the accolades for the Nittany Lion defense in 2008, but it was Odrick who was doing a lot of the dirty work in the middle of the line.
Odrick had 39 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, last season, which are pretty strong numbers for a big guy. Odrick does all of the things you want to see from a force in the center of the defense, making his presence known against the run and the pass.
7. Vince Oghobaase, Duke, Senior, 6'6", 302
Do not be mistaken in thinking that because Oghobaase plays for Duke, he isn't a good football player. Oghobaase chose Duke over every major program in the country, as he was offered by everyone.
The ACC hasn't gotten the most respect around the country the past few years, but they still manage to hear their players' names called plenty come NFL Draft time, and here is another we'll surely hear early. He has that magical combination of size, speed, and power, which are the tools most coaches are looking for from their players no matter what level of football we are talking about.
6. Malcolm Sheppard, Arkansas, Senior, 6'2", 291
Here we may have one of the most underrated players in the country. I don't hear Sheppard's name a lot this offseason, but he's started 24 games over the last two seasons and is the Razorbacks' defensive captain this year.
Sheppard just seems to be getting bigger and better every year, and he's been a solid contributor since day one. There are some other defensive tackles sure to get more press than Sheppard, but I'm not convinced any of them play as tough and make as big of an impact.
5. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, Junior, 6'4", 295
McCoy looks to be the next great Sooner defensive lineman following in their great tradition. McCoy was a regular last season on All-Conference and All-American rosters, and he looks to have a solid chance to do the same again this season.
While McCoy is an absolute beast in the middle, and many thought he would go to the NFL after last season, some feel McCoy can also play defensive end in a 3-4 formation. He's just a special player.
4. Arthur Jones, Syracuse, Senior, 6'4", 291
A case could easily be made to say that Jones is the best defensive tackle and even the best defensive player in America. Jones has an astounding 31.5 career tackles for a loss, all while playing for one of the worst teams in the country.
I would have had Jones even higher than this, but he is recovering from an injury. The word around town is Jones is 100 percent healthy and is looking forward to another monster campaign for his new head coach.
3. D'Anthony Smith, Louisiana Tech, Senior, 6'2", 298
Smith may be the best player in the country who the fewest people have heard of. Smith has started every game since stepping onto the practice field at Louisiana Tech, and he has been a major contributor in each of the past three seasons.
Smith wowed everyone last season with 65 tackles, five sacks, and anchoring the Bulldog defense, which was 11th in the country against the run. Smith is on the Lombardi watch list for the upcoming season and won't be under the radar much longer.
2. Terrence Cody, Alabama, Senior, 6'5", 365
I thought the player who made the biggest difference to his team last season was Cody. On most of my lists I have him close to the top for both defensive player and overall player in college football for the 2009 season.
Cody came to Alabama, and while he didn't do it alone, he helped make the Tide defense one of the stingiest in the country and one that was nearly impossible to run against at times.
While Cody isn't as effective against the pass, he does all of the things you want from a defensive tackle, especially when it comes to occupying blockers. Cody claims he will be down to 345 by kickoff of the opener, which should make him even more effective. He was already a consensus All-American last year.
1. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, Senior, 6'4", 302
Suh is a Suh-per-star. He's the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and he has that rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism that just doesn't come around too often.
He led the team in tackles last season from the defensive tackle spot, has two interceptions that he has returned for touchdowns, and has caught a touchdown pass playing fullback. Suh's jaw-dropping numbers include 76 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and 7.5 sacks.
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