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August 22, 2011

Preseason top 15: Defensive tackles

Stud defensive tackles are worth their weight in gold, and it's a heck of a lot easier to win titles if you have a top-flight player at the position.

Think of the recent national titlists and who they had playing defensive tackle: Auburn with Nick Fairley last season, Alabama with Terrence Cody in '09, LSU with Glenn Dorsey in '07, Florida with Ray McDonald in '06, Texas with Rodrique Wright in '05, USC with Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody in '04 - well, you get the idea.

That means the teams mentioned in this listing have reasons to be excited about the season, as we continue our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position with a look at defensive tackles.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 29, when we rank all 120 of the nation's quarterbacks. Tuesday, we will look at linebackers. Here are the defensive tackle rankings.

15. J.R. SWEEZY, N.C. STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/293, Sr.; Mooresville (N.C.) High
THE BUZZ: Sweezy enters this season with plenty of momentum, as he had 4.5 sacks in the final five games of 2010 year. Sweezy finished the season with 50 tackles - 11.5 for loss - and 5.5 sacks. Sweezy, a fifth-year senior, will play a vital role for a defense that ranked fourth nationally in sacks per game and sixth in tackles for loss last season.

14. KENDALL REYES, CONNECTICUT
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/295, Sr.; Nashua (N.H.) North
THE BUZZ: This fifth-year senior moved into Connecticut's starting lineup for the final four games of the 2008 season and has remained there ever since. He earned first-team All-Big East honors last season while delivering 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He showcased his athleticism with a 79-yard interception return - not bad for a 295-pounder - against Cincinnati last season. Reyes also has the versatility to play end.

13. ROOSEVELT NIX, KENT STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-0/250, Soph.; Reynoldsburg (Ohio) High
THE BUZZ: Don't let the small size or the MAC schedule fool you; this guy wreaks havoc in the middle. He was the MAC's defensive player of the year last season as a true freshman; the last Kent State player to win that honor was LB Jack Lambert in 1972. Nix had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season to go along with 43 total tackles Nix has excellent technique and an extremely quick first step.

12. TYDREKE POWELL, NORTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/310, Sr.; Ahoskie (N.C.) Hertford County
THE BUZZ: This converted end commanded enough respect to get selected a team captain as a junior last season. He recorded 47 tackles - three for loss - along with 2.5 sacks last season. Powell has earned ample playing time ever since arriving on campus and has developed into a key component on North Carolina's star-studded line.

11. MARCUS FORSTON, MIAMI
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/300, Jr.; Miami Northwestern
THE BUZZ: The Hurricanes would love to see Forston pick up where he left off last season. The former five-star recruit produced 7.5 tackles for loss over his final four games of the 2010 campaign, including three in the Sun Bowl loss to Notre Dame. Forston finished the season with 12 tackles for loss. Although he still has two years of eligibility remaining, Forston is rated as a potential first-round pick in a number of 2012 mock drafts.

10. JOE VELLANO, MARYLAND
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/285, Jr.; Albany (N.Y.) Christian Brothers Academy
THE BUZZ: Vellano burst onto the national scene last year by delivering three tackles for loss and two sacks in a season-opening victory over Navy. That performance set the tone for the rest of the season. Vellano recorded five sacks and 63 tackles - 10.5 for loss - to help Maryland rank 21st nationally in run defense. He also earned second-team All-ACC honors. In a conference loaded with outstanding defensive linemen, Vellano is one of the best.

9. JUSTIN WASHINGTON, ARIZONA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/280, Soph.; Cypress (Texas) Cypress Woods
THE BUZZ: After redshirting as a freshman in 2009, Washington became an important part of the Wildcats' defense last season. He finished with 46 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a blocked kick. He began his Arizona career as an end, then moved inside during his redshirt season.

8. JEREL WORTHY, MICHIGAN STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/310, Jr.; Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne
THE BUZZ: He is heading into his third season as a starter for the Spartans. He is strong and has excellent quickness for a 310-pounder. Last season, he had 40 tackles, eight tackles for loss and a team-high four sacks; he also blocked a field-goal attempt against Michigan. Worthy has 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks in his career. Worthy is a fan favorite for more than his on-field production: He has a tattoo that depicts a Spartan with a shield crushing a player with an "M" - for Michigan, of course - on his helmet.

7. TRAVIAN ROBERTSON, SOUTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/303, Sr.; Laurinburg (N.C.) Scotland County
THE BUZZ: Robertson bounced back from an injury-shortened 2009 to become one of the SEC's best defensive linemen last season. He had 42 tackles, including 10 for loss, and four sacks; he also had two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. He started the first four games in '09 before suffering a knee injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season. He already has a criminal justice degree and now is in graduate school.

6. JOHN SIMON, OHIO STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/270, Jr.; Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney
THE BUZZ: Simon is one of the top weapons for one of the top defensive lines in the nation. As a sophomore last season, Simon had 41 tackles - 8 1/2 for loss - as well as three sacks and two fumble recoveries to help Ohio State rank third nationally in run defense, fourth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

5. KHEESTON RANDALL, TEXAS
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/305, Sr.; Beaumont (Texas) Kelly
THE BUZZ: He is heading into his third season as a starter. He was a reserve as a true freshman in 2008, then became a starter in 2009. While he must become more consistent on a play-to-play basis, he has shown the ability to be a disruptive force. Last season, he had 39 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, a sack, three pass breakups and two blocked kicks.

4. MALIK JACKSON, TENNESSEE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/270, Sr.; Van Nuys (Calif.) Birmingham
THE BUZZ: Jackson, a former four-star recruit, transferred to Tennessee after USC was put on probation last year and immediately made an impact. After playing end early in the season, Jackson was moved to tackle after four games and finished with 48 tackles, five sacks, 11 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, four pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble. His twin, Marquis, is a defensive lineman at FCS member Texas Southern.

3. MIKE MARTIN, MICHIGAN
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/299, Sr.; Detroit Catholic Central
THE BUZZ: A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Martin was one of the lone bright spots for Michigan's defense last season. He has made 24 career starts at nose tackle and has 108 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Martin is a powerful and athletic force and should be the Big Ten's most productive defensive lineman this season.

2. BILLY WINN, BOISE STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/295, Sr.; Las Vegas High
THE BUZZ: Winn will be a three-year starter for the Broncos. Last season, he was one of the anchors of a unit that ranked seventh nationally against the run and second overall. He has been a playmaker from his tackle spot, accounting for 22 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. He's also athletic enough to have 12.5 sacks and six pass breakups in his career.

1. JARED CRICK, NEBRASKA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-6/285, Sr.; Cozad (Neb.) High
THE BUZZ: Crick was a first-team All-Big 12 pick in each of the past two seasons and is trying to become the 22nd Husker to garner all-conference honors three seasons in a row. Crick has had 9.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons and is seventh in school history with 19 career sacks. Crick needs 10.5 sacks to set a school career mark. He also has 32 career tackles for loss.

Rankings and player capsules compiled by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.



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