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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The Big 12's top 10 linebackers

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

We've already looked at the conference's best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Let's flip across the other side of the ball and take a look at the conference's top 10 linebackers.

Part two will be up this afternoon.

6. Emmanuel Acho, Texas

The slightly lesser-known half of the Acho brothers, Emmanuel Acho should join his brother Sam as two of the key cogs in one of the nation’s best defenses. He made just two starts last season, but 36 of his 45 tackles were solo and he also added 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He’ll have a bigger role for the Longhorns in 2010, and will be itching for it after being held out of the spring game after offseason surgery. Expect him to move up from the All-Big 12 honorable mention he earned as a sophomore.

7. Will Ebner, Missouri

Ebner is one of the hardest hitters on this list, and he’ll have a chance to deliver plenty of said hits after taking over the starting job at middle linebacker last season for the injured Luke Lambert. His 78 tackles earned him an All-Big 12 honorable mention. He earned the respect of the coaches for his hard hitting from the first day he arrived on campus, and he’ll use a stout 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame to do it this season.

8. Drew Dudley, Kansas

Dudley hasn’t had a chance to showcase his talent for the new Kansas coaching staff after being forced to sit out of contact drills during the spring. He left the spring as the backup to Justin Springer in the middle of the defense, but once he’s back in camp this fall and healthy, he should reclaim his spot and help the Jayhawks defense once again. With 88 tackles in 2009, he begins his senior season as the team’s leading returning tackler.

9. Bront Bird, Texas Tech

Bird has to deal with a position change -- a move from the outside to the inside of defensive coordinator James Willis’ 3-4 -- but has the talent to make the adjustment. He also has the size; he gained 12 pounds to move to 252 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. He should surpass his 56 tackles from a year ago and solidify his status as one of the best linebackers in the Big 12.

10. Huldon Tharp, Kansas

Tharp earned Freshman All-American honors after making 59 tackles as a true freshman in 2009. At 6-foot, 217 pounds, he'll be one of the most talented players on the Kansas defense and will anchor the weak side.