- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
In 1997, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson made history as the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. No defender has come close to striking a pose since Woodson edged Tennessee's Peyton Manning for the award, and seeing how the Heisman now serves as a glorified quarterback contest, it's unlikely any defender will follow Woodson.
Two defenders who should gain consideration for college football's top honor this fall are the subjects of an interesting discussion between blog colleagues Chris Low (SEC) and Ted Miller (Pac-10). Low and Miller debate the merits of two standout safeties: Tennessee's Eric Berry and USC's Taylor Mays.
Any college football fan worth his or her salt knows about Berry and Mays, two of the nation's most accomplished defenders and the leading candidates for the Jim Thorpe Award. Both safeties are widely projected as top-10 picks in the 2010 NFL draft. I, for one, can't wait to watch Mays live when USC visits Ohio State on Sept. 12.
Could Mays or Berry follow Woodson's path to Manhattan in December?
It seems like a long shot with quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy all returning, but both of these safeties should be on the radar. Tennessee is touting Berry for the Heisman (turn on your mute button before visiting the Web site), while Mays knows his Heisman campaign needs a statistical boost.
Let's look back at how Woodson won the award in 1997 and where Berry's and Mays' best seasons stack up:
Mays clearly needs
a major boost this fall to match Woodson, but Berry isn't far off in terms of production on defense. The difference is Woodson's versatility as a punt returner and as an offensive threat. For all the great plays Woodson made on defense in 1997, arguably his most memorable play was the 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State.
Berry's non-defense production is limited to seven rushes for 32 yards, one reception for three yards and two kickoff returns for 32 yards.
I wish defensive players had a better shot at the Heisman, but as Woodson showed 12 years ago, you need to do more.