Big East preseason position rankings: Linebacker
You know them, you love them, you can't live without them. They're are Big East preseason position rankings, and today we look at the linebackers.
1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers might have the best 1-2 punch in the league at linebacker, with senior Reed Williams back after taking a redshirt last year and J.T. Thomas looking ready to cause some serious damage. Pat Lazear has had a good camp and fills out a terrific trio of tacklers.
2. Connecticut: Scott Lutrus is one of the top defensive players in the league, and position mates Lawrence Wilson and Greg Lloyd are going into their third year of starting alongside him. The depth behind them, though, is untested.
T-3. Pittsburgh: It's a testament to Pitt's depth that the Panthers could lose 2008 defensive player of the year Scott McKillop and underrated outside linebacker Austin Ransom and still rank this high. They bring back starter Greg Williams, who really progressed in his first year of playing, as well as fifth-year guys Shane Murray and Adam Gunn. Throw in promising freshman Dan Mason, Max Gruder and senior Steve Dell, and this is maybe the deepest corps in the league.
T-3. Rutgers: Don't be surprised if Ryan D'Imperio wins this year's defensive player of the year award. He is by no means a one-man gang, though, as senior Damaso Munoz and either Antonio Lowery or Manny Abreu will start next to him on the outside.
5. South Florida: Kion Wilson is an all-league anchor in the middle who could very well rack up a 100-tackle season. Veterans Chris Robinson and Sabbath Joseph are trying to establish themselves as bona fide starters, If not, then skilled newcomers Jacquian Williams and Sam Barrington should be ready to step in.
T-6. Louisville: Senior middle linebacker Jon Dempsey was a second-team All-Big East selection last season and should gain from his first year of Division I experience. A big key for this unit is how Brandon Heath will fare as the rover. Heath has always had talent but has yet to fully harness it.
T-6. Cincinnati: Hard to know exactly where to rank the Bearcats, who are breaking in all new starters and will need a lot from their linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. Andre Revels has played a lot and should be a leader in the middle. Former Notre Dame quarterback Demetrius Jones will try to make a successful transition to defense. Linebacker wasn't the biggest strength of the Cincinnati defense the past two years, but the position has been solid under Brian Kelly.
8. Syracuse: Hate to rank the Orange last yet again, but it's hard not to given how many guys at this position have left the team since the spring. Derrell Smith, who has played a little of everywhere, should be good as a junior, and Doug Hogue is trying to make the move from tailback. Everything else is a question mark.