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Thursday, June 30, 2011
Ranking the Big Ten defensive tackles

By Adam Rittenberg

It's time to take a closer look at the Big Ten's top defensive linemen. We'll start off with the tackles before examining the ends.

Jared Crick
Nebraska's Jared Crick is the best of a strong group of defensive tackles in the Big Ten.
Defensive tackle is arguably the Big Ten's strongest position, along with center and possibly wide receiver. Three teams boast potential first-round draft picks at tackles, and there's no shortage of space eaters throughout the league.

Note: Some players see time at both line spots, but they'll be ranked at the position where I think they'll play more this fall (i.e. Ohio State's John Simon at end).

Here are the top top entering 2011:

1. Jared Crick, Nebraska, senior: The Huskers got a big boost when Crick decided to return for his senior season. He put up monster numbers for a defensive tackle in 2010, leading the team in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17) and finishing with 70 total tackles. A unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection, Crick earned second-team All-America honors and is one of the leading candidates for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

2. Mike Martin, Michigan, senior: Like Crick, Martin enters his senior season on the NFL radar and could be one of the league's most disruptive defenders. He lacks the stats of some other players on this list, but he creates just as many problems, if not more, for opposing teams. One of the strongest players in the Big Ten, Martin has started the past two seasons at nose tackle and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2010.

3. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, junior: The hype machine has cranked up for Worthy, as colleagues Todd McShay and Mel Kiper project the Michigan State junior as a top 10 pick in the 2012 draft. Worthy led Michigan State defensive linemen with 40 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. He boasts both size and tremendous explosiveness inside.

4. Kawann Short, Purdue, junior: Overshadowed by line mate Ryan Kerrigan in 2010, Short should dominate the spotlight this fall after a terrific sophomore season. He led Big Ten defensive tackles in both sacks (6) and tackles for loss (12.5), finishing fourth in the league in both categories. Short dropped some weight during the offseason to improve his stamina. He should be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors.

5. Mike Daniels, Iowa, senior: Like Short, Daniels will take on a more featured role this season following some key personnel losses. He turned in a solid junior season, recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks en route to earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Daniels fits the mold of previous Iowa standout tackles -- a bit undersized but strong and disruptive -- and the Hawkeyes need a big season from him.

6. Devon Still, Penn State, senior: Don't be surprised to see Still climb up this list, especially if he picks up where he left off in the Outback Bowl. Still recorded 3.5 tackles for loss against Florida and led Penn State in both sacks (4) and tackles for loss (10). His injury troubles are in the past and he's ready to lead a line that needs to regain its edge this fall.

7. Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska, junior: Expect big things from Steinkuhler in his second season as a starter. He earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors from the coaches in 2010 after recording 46 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 4 quarterback hurries. Steinkuhler should benefit from playing alongside Crick, who will command double teams.

8. Akeem Spence, Illinois, sophomore: Illinois hopes Spence can play a big role in replacing first-round draft pick Corey Liuget. A talented young player with tremendous strength, Spence started all 13 games alongside Liuget in 2010 and recorded 45 tackles, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. He made multiple freshman All-America squads for his efforts.

9. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, sophomore: This is a projection pick, but Hankins is a name to know entering the 2011 season. He looked very impressive at times this spring and has the size and strength to dominate inside for Ohio State. With John Simon likely spending more time at defensive end, the Buckeyes will lean on Hankins to shore up the interior. Hankins had 16 tackles and a sack as a reserve in 2010.

10. Patrick Butrym, Wisconsin, senior: Butrym already is taking on a greater leadership role after the departure of All-American J.J. Watt, and his on-field production should increase this fall. He tied for second on the team in quarterback hurries (3), and finished third in sacks (2.5) and tied for fourth in tackles for loss (3) last season.

Just missed the cut: Northwestern's Jack DiNardo, Indiana's Adam Replogle, Purdue's Bruce Gaston Jr., Michigan State's Anthony Rashad White.