Lavonte David and the Top 10 Linebackers of the Big Ten
Nebraska senior Lavonte David enters the 2011 season with impressive credentials. He broke former Cornhusker linebacker Barrett Ruud's team record with 152 tackles last year.
He represents the best of a Big Ten crew of linebackers that lacks a first- or second-team All-Big player from last year. It does feature some talented underclassmen, including two linebackers apiece for Penn State and Wisconsin.
Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State join Nebraska with one representative on the top 10 list. Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern and Purdue failed to place a linebacker on the list.
10. Gerald Hodges, Penn State Nittany Lions
Linebacker U's first representative on the Big Ten top 10 list is junior Gerald Hodges (No. 6 in the picture). He's a converted safety who showed a lot of potential at linebacker last season.
If he doesn't deliver up to the expectations of his coaches, look for Penn State linebacker Khairi Fortt to step up and perform well. Other players who just missed this list included Michigan State's Chris Norman and Ohio State's Etienne Sabino.
9. Ian Thomas, Illinois Fighting Illini
Senior Ian Thomas has started the last 25 games for Illinois and has compiled 162 tackles in the last two seasons.
He was tutored by two Illini linebackers—Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey—who are preparing for their first NFL seasons. Thomas should finish the 2011 season with at least 100 tackles.
8. Gary Tinsley, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Inside linebacker Gary Tinsley not only led Minnesota in tackles, but finished ninth in the Big Ten with 90. He accomplished this feat in his first year as a starter.
New head coach Jerry Kill is looking for Tinsley to anchor the Gophers defense. The senior linebacker should enjoy another strong season and possibly warrant consideration for Big Ten honors.
7. Kenny Demens, Michigan Wolverines
Your first impression might be to think junior Kenny Demens is a running back for the Wolverines. Instead, he's a hard-hitting linebacker who may remind Big Ten fans of former Michigan linebackers Larry Foote and David Harris.
Last year, Demens replaced Obi Ezeh seven games into the 2010 season and finished with 82 tackles. With teammate Mike Martin anchoring the defensive line, Demens should be able to put up at least 100 tackles in 2011.
6. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin Badgers
Junior Mike Taylor will be starting his third year as a Wisconsin linebacker. Last year he finished second on the team with eight tackles for a loss.
Taylor also had two interceptions in 2010. He and teammate Chris Borland (No. 4 on this list) should give the Badgers a solid shot at division and conference titles in the Big Ten.
5. Andrew Sweat, Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State has a rich tradition in developing top-notch linebackers and senior Andrew Sweat appears ready to join that elite group. He finished with 41 tackles and three tackles for a loss in 2010.
Sweat's numbers might have been higher last year except he was playing with two excellent senior linebackers in Brian Rolle and Ross Homan. Rolle and Homan have moved on to the NFL, so now it's up to Sweat to lead the middle of the Buckeye defense.
4. Chris Borland, Wisconsin Badgers
Chris Borland looked like a natural at linebacker in 2009. He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss.
Borland missed most of last season due to shoulder problems. This year he plans on partnering with teammate Mike Taylor (No. 6 on this list) to shut down opposing offenses and give the Badgers a chance to win their second consecutive Big Ten title.
3. James Morris, Iowa Hawkeyes
Meet James Morris, the finest sophomore linebacker in the Big Ten. He was a first-team Freshman All-American in 2010.
Morris had 70 tackles and four pass breakups last season. He was also credited with 2.5 tackles for a loss. Morris will be the Hawkeyes' middle linebacker and is expected to compete for Big Ten honors in 2011.
2. Michael Mauti, Penn State Nittany Lions
There is little doubt among college football experts that Penn State's Michael Mauti is the second-best linebacker in the Big Ten going into the 2011 season. The Nittany Lion senior was unable to play a full season last year due to ankle and shoulder problems.
Mauti still managed to finish 2010 with 67 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss. He is the classic sideline-to-sideline linebacker that we've grown accustomed to seeing in a Penn State uniform.
Look for Mauti and teammate Gerald Hodges (No. 10 on this list) to anchor the Nittany Lions rushing defense.
1. Lavonte David, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska senior linebacker Lavonte David isn't afraid of contact (or should I say "collisions"). In 2010 he was selected the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection.
David had more than 10 tackles in eight 2010 games. He also had six sacks and 10 pass breakups. He is quick and has great instincts for a junior college transfer playing only his second year as a Nebraska linebacker.
If the Cornhuskers capture division and conference titles in their first year in the Big Ten, a lot of credit will probably go to the solid performance and leadership of Lavonte David.