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Friday, August 15, 2008
Ranking the Big Ten safeties

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
 Anthony Scirrotto (right) has led Penn State in interceptions the last two years.

The position rankings are winding down, and the safeties are up next. The league's notable departures include Michigan's Jamar Adams, Illinois' Kevin Mitchell and Minnesota's Dominique Barber. But several teams, including Penn State and Ohio State, return formidable safety tandems.

Here's a look:

1. Anderson Russell, Jr., Ohio State -- To stay on top, Russell must increase his interceptions total. A strong tackler with NFL potential, he ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season (63) and broke up five passes but failed to record a pick.

2. Anthony Scirrotto, Sr., Penn State -- The Big Ten's top playmaking safety has led Penn State in interceptions the last two years. Scirrotto is durable, making 26 consecutive starts, and the co-captain should duplicate or exceed his 2006 production after struggling with off-field issues last fall.

3. Otis Wiley, Sr., Michigan State -- Wiley sizzled as a sophomore, leading Michigan State in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10). He backslid a bit last season but should return to form as a senior. 

4. Kurt Coleman, Jr., Ohio State -- A carbon copy of Russell in productivity, Coleman collected one more tackle and had one fewer pass breakup. Like Russell, interceptions are the next step for the talented junior.

5. Shane Carter, Jr., Wisconsin -- Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions with seven last season and will continue to make plays for the Badgers. If he dramatically improves his tackling, he'll soar up the list.

6. Austin Thomas, Jr., Indiana -- Underrated junior led Indiana with 112 tackles last fall and should take another step this year. Thomas is the Big Ten's leading returning tackler among safeties. 

7. Brendan Smith, Jr., Northwestern -- Smith can be a difference-maker for a Wildcats secondary that sorely needs one. He's a natural playmaker with five career interceptions but must stay healthy after being dogged by shoulder and knee injuries.

8. Tramaine Brock, Jr., Minnesota -- I'm a little leery to include a junior-college transfer, but all indications suggest Brock will make a major impact in the Gophers secondary. A ferocious hitter, Brock locked up a starting job this spring and should set the tone for the defensive backs.

9. Brandon Harrison, Sr., Michigan -- Harrison certainly has the speed to be a star, and with added experience, he should turn in a strong final season. The versatile senior started 10 games last fall, collecting 6.5 tackles for a loss, five pass breakups and an interception.

10. Brett Greenwood, So., Iowa -- A promising young defender, Greenwood ranked second on the team in pass breakups (7) and tied for third in interceptions (2) despite starting as a redshirt freshman. The former walk-on should continue to blossom this fall alongside Harold Dalton.