- Brian Bennett, College Football
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Rolling on with our post-spring position rankings in the Big East. We turn to the defense now and start up front with the linemen. Remember that depth matters as well as star power:
1. Pittsburgh: The Panthers had the best defensive line in the league a year ago, and that remains the case even without defensive tackle, and Big East co-defensive player of the year, Mick Williams. Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard are the best pair of defensive ends in the league, while tackles Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih are solid at tackle. There's depth, too, with emerging young players like Tyrone Ezell and Shayne Hale.
2. West Virginia: What was a thin position at times last year has become an area of strength for the Mountaineers. Chris Neild is a beast at nose tackle, while Scooter Berry and Julian Miller (nine sacks in '09) bring experience to the defensive end spots in the 3-3-5 scheme. Will Clarke looks like a future star, while junior college import Bruce Irvin is expected to add depth this summer.
3. Rutgers: Three of the four starters return, including senior Alex Silvestro and sophomore Scott Vallone. Jonathan Freeny should be ready for a starting role after recording nine sacks as a rush specialist a year ago, while Eric LeGrand, Justin Francis and redshirt freshmen Andre Civil and Isaac Holmes are around to provide excellent depth.
4. South Florida: Yes, George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul are gone. Still, new Bulls defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said the line had SEC-caliber depth this spring. Tackles Terrell McClain and Keith McCaskill and end Craig Marshall are the veterans of the group. If Ryne Giddins, Julius Forte and junior college star Claude Davis develop as expected, this line could be among the most feared in the league.
5. Connecticut: Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin are moving into their third year as starters at tackle (though Martin found himself in the doghouse this spring). Promising sophomores Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams return at end along with Marcus Campbell, who missed last year because of academics. Getting converted linebacker Greg Lloyd back from knee surgery this summer would help provide depth, and UConn lacks some size on the edge.
6. Cincinnati: Derek Wolfe is an elite run-stopper in the middle, but the Bearcats will need improved production from Dan Giordano, John Hughes and Brandon Mills. Depth is a serious concern behind the starting unit.
7. Syracuse: Replacing Arthur Jones in the middle is no easy task. His younger brother, Chandler, could be ready to break out as a star defensive end after recording 10.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. Mikhail Marinovich could join him in opposing backfields from the other end spot. This line held its own last year but lacks proven stars.
8. Louisville: The Cardinals' defensive line looked like a mess this spring, with no standout ends and lacked size and strength on the interior. Greg Scruggs was moved from end to tackle despite weighing just 270 pounds. It's been a couple of years since the Louisville defensive line truly could pressure opposing quarterbacks with any consistency; at least head coach Charlie Strong knows how to build a good defense.