Big Ten's Top 10 Defensive Tackles: Is There Another Suh Ready to Excel?
Detroit Lions All-Pro Ndamukong Suh has become the new prototype for defensive tackles in college football, especially those who hope to make it to the NFL. He is strong, agile, aggressive and quick. Suh led all defensive tackles in the pro game with 10 sacks last year.
Suh is also a former Cornhusker, so it may come as no surprise that the No. 1 defensive tackle in the Big Ten is Nebraska's Jared Crick. He led his team with 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 2010. Crick also had 70 tackles and was a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection.
Crick is joined in the Top 10 by teammate Baker Steinkuhler (No. 4) to provide formidable opposition to any team attempting to run the ball against Nebraska. Purdue also placed their starting defensive tackles on this list.
The rest of the Top 10 features defensive tackles from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. The list lacks representatives from Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin, though honorable mentions go to the Badgers' Patrick Butrym, the Wildcats' Jack DiNardo and the Hoosiers' Adam Replogle.
Take a look at the 10 defensive tackles who should shine in the Big Ten this year.
No. 10 Defensive Tackle: Bruce Gaston Jr., Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue's Bruce Gaston Jr. played in all 12 games in 2010 as a true freshman and started the last 10. He finished with 26 total tackles (15 solos and 11 assists), 4.5 tackles for a loss and one sack.
Gaston is the first of the three sophomores featured in the Top 10, and he is surrounded by veteran tackle Kawann Short (No. 5 in this list) and Gerald Gooden (rated No. 10 at defensive end). If Purdue has any aspirations in competing for the Leaders Division title, they will need a solid contribution from Gaston and his defensive linemates.
No. 9 Defensive Tackle: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State Buckeyes
The second sophomore in our Top 10 list is Johnathan Hankins. As a reserve in 2010, he had 16 tackles and a sack.
Since teammate John Simon will probably start at defensive end and slide occasionally to tackle, the Buckeyes will lean on Hankins to clog up the middle of the line. He is a 6'3", 320-pound tackle who showed plenty of strength and maneuverability in Ohio State's spring practices.
No. 8 Defensive Tackle: Akeem Spence, Illinois Fighting Illini
Akeem Spence (No. 94) of Illinois is the third and final sophomore in the Top 10 list, and he started all 13 games last year as a freshman. He finished the 2010 season with 45 tackles.
Spence also was credited with two quarterback hurries, one sack and one fumble recovery. He was a first-team selection on several freshman All-American squads.
No. 7: Defensive Tackle: Mike Daniels, Iowa Hawkeyes
Look out, Kirk Cousins! Here comes Hawkeye defensive tackle Mike Daniels!
Daniels needs to be the leader on the Iowa defensive front, and he should be up to the task. The Iowa senior had 11 tackles for a loss and four sacks in 2010.
Though he seems a bit smaller than other Big Ten defensive tackles on this list, his consistency and perseverance paid off with an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team in 2010...
No. 6 Defensive Tackle: Devon Still, Penn State Nittany Lions
The Florida Gators may have beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl, but they remember Devon Still. He managed to record 3.5 tackles for a loss in the bowl game.
The Penn State senior is expected to provide similar performances in the Big Ten this year. Still led the Nittany Lions with 10 tackles for a loss and four sacks in 2010. If he stays healthy, Still could finish a lot higher than No. 6 on this list.
No. 5 Defensive Tackle: Kawann Short, Purdue Boilermakers
Junior Kawann Short is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than teammate Bruce Gaston, Jr. (No. 10 on this list) and is coming off of a fantastic sophomore year.
Short led Big Ten defensive tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks in 2010. As a two-year starter at tackle, he has accumulated 88 tackles (60 solos and 28 assists).
Expect Short to record at least 35-40 solo tackles this year.
No. 4 Defensive Tackle: Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska Cornhuskers
How many times this year will we see Baker Steinkuhler (No. 55 in the picture) and teammate Jared Crick (No. 94 and No. 1 on this list) swooping down to tackle helpless opposing quarterbacks?
Steinkuhler enters his second year as a defensive tackle starter, and if he improves on his 2010 season, opposing teams will have a tough time running the ball against Nebraska. Last season, he had 46 tackles and four quarterback hurries.
The Nebraska junior also had four tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. If teammate Crick gets double-teamed by offensive linemen, Steinkuhler will be a threat to spend quality time in opposing backfields.
No. 3 Defensive Tackle: Mike Martin, Michigan Wolverines
Michigan senior Mike Martin deserves a lot of credit. He played for a woeful Wolverine defense in 2010, but still managed to create havoc for opponents.
Under former head coach Rich Rodriguez, Martin played nose tackle. New Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is implementing a traditional four down linemen set that should free Martin up to make more stops.
Martin earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year and has caught the attention of NFL scouts as they look at collegiate talent at defensive tackle. In his three-year career at Michigan, he has 107 tackles (50 solos and 57 assists) and 6.5 sacks.
No. 2 Defensive Tackle: Jerel Worthy, Michigan State Spartans
What makes NFL draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper drool? Apparently, it is Michigan State junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.
Kiper believes Worthy will enter the 2012 NFL draft as the top defensive tackle and be selected eighth overall. McShay is more enthusiastic in predicting Worthy will be the No. 5 pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
As a sophomore last year, Worthy led all Spartan linemen with 40 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and four sacks. Kiper says Worthy is a "good size" for an NFL defensive tackle and "plays with an edge and should be scheme-versatile."
Spartan fans and Worthy's teammates are hoping for another stellar effort in 2011 that will help MSU to the Legends Division and Big Ten titles.
No. 1 Defensive Tackle: Jared Crick, Nebraska Cornhuskers
The word "solid" describes Nebraska's senior defensive tackle Jared Crick. He is a solid leader on and off the field and has put together a scary set of statistics as a starter the last two years.
Crick had 70 tackles in 2010 and 73 in 2009. He had 17 tackles for a loss last season and 15 as a sophomore. He has averaged 9.5 sacks a year as a starter.
Crick was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection and second-team All-American in 2010. He is listed as a preseason All-American pick at defensive tackle by five sports entertainment web sites.
Like Worthy, I believe Crick would settle for a Legends Division title and a Big Ten title in 2011.