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Big Ten Bloggers: 5 Thoughts on DL
Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy
Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy
Posted Jun 24, 2011

CFN's Big Ten Bloggers put the conference's defensive linemen under the microscope

Dan Cronin: On Who are the Big Ten’s Best Returning Defensive Linemen?

In 2010, the Big Ten Conference saw an outstanding class of defensive lineman put on a show each and every Saturday. An eye-opening five Big Ten defensive lineman became first round NFL draft picks. Whenever there's a departing star player, there's also an opportunity. Players may leave but the spotlights just shift to find the next superstars. The players forced into the shadows by the likes of Ryan Kerrigan and J.J Watt will find their way into the light in 2011 and showcase why they have the ability to play football on Sundays in the future. (That is assuming that there actually is football on Sundays in the future.)

Vince Browne, Northwestern: With all of the big name programs in the Big Ten, it's easy for the guys in Evanston, Illinois to get lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake, this guy has got everything you could want in a defensive lineman. The 6-5 senior has seen significant time on the field since his freshman year and has not disappointed. His junior season was highlighted with seven sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Browne will be the leader of the Wildcats’ defense in 2011, and he looks to be loaded for a big year.

Jared Crick, Nebraska: The new kids on the block will be looking to make some noise in 2011, and Mr. Crick will be leading the charge. The 6-6 monster holds the Nebraska single game record for sacks(5) and tackles for loss(7). Crick has tremendous vision on the field locating the ball carrier and promptly burying him. Yes he will be playing against all new teams and all new players, but I don’t see him missing a beat. Expect nothing less than first team All-Big Ten honors from this sensational young man.

Kawann Short, Purdue: No Ryan Kerrigan- no problem. Well not exactly, but Kawann Short will be the guy to step up this year and become the anchor of Purdue’s defensive line. With all eyes on Kerrigan, Short quietly put together a great sophomore season by starting all 12 games, picking up six sacks, and 12.5 tackles for loss. Opposing offensive lines will now be game planning around stopping him, but Kawann Short will stand tall in 2011 and show why he is a standout defensive lineman.

Bart Doan: On Who Will be the Next Breakout Defensive Lineman in the Big Ten?

It was a scene that played out too many times in Ann Arbor the last few seasons, like Sean Combs changing his rap nickname and never coming up with something better than what sounds like a Disney Channel character. Michigan gets rung up for around 40 points, and on Monday, rumors abound that someone is unhappy and ready to transfer. It happened to DE Craig Roh, most notably. Rumors swirled like a flushed urinal (apt comparison to Michigan’s D) that Roh went into the coaches’ offices and asked for a transfer because he didn’t like how he was being used on defense. Normally, the player gets branded as “whiny.” In Roh’s case however, he got branded as “right on the money.” Roh started 8 games at outside linebacker, and 5 at defensive end in Michigan’s “only works on EA Sports and in the Big East” 3-3-5 base defense alignment.

Breakout is spelled by two numbers: 4 and 3. That’s what the new Hoke regime is moving to, and no one should be happier than Roh. Roh was a top 100 national recruit as a senior for his pass rushing skills. He has an oft-noted odd down stance, and has the wingspan of Tayshaun Prince to disrupt in more ways that with just pure speed and strength. Greg Mattison, who has engineered some of the best defenses in the NFL in Baltimore must be salivating at the thought.

For Roh’s skills, the 4-3 will allow him more pure pass rushing downs, rather than trying to have him go all “Nutty Professor” and attempt to fill 7 roles with one guy. It may be effective in Hollywood, but this is the Big 10, and nothing is further from Hollywood. Roh should see an increase in his numbers across the board. It’s insane for a player of his size to have so few pass breakups at the LOS, but so it goes when you’re bouncing around weekly. Everything should improve for Craig, who registered 2.5 sacks last year and 13 tackles. He was dubbed by many, including as a frosh All-American. The time seems right for him to exceed that inaugural promise. In other words (horrible pun alert), Roh, Roh, Roh your boat, right into the opponents backfield. It’s coming en masse in 2011.

Phil Harrison: On Which Team has the Most Riding on the DL Position?

Remember when mom and dad decided to move, and you were the new kid at school? All eyes were fixated on sizing you up and trying to determine which click to stamp on your forehead. Those first few days were paramount towards creating your image, and you wanted to make a good first impression. You needed to make a good first impression.

Welcome to Nebraska’s new classroom this year. As the new kid on the block in the upgraded Big Ten 12.0, they are looking to set the tone of what kind of team they are going to be known as, and nothing will have an affect more than by winning now. To impress its new neighbors, Nebraska will have to do something that is ingrained in their DNA, and have superb play on the defensive line.

It’s hardly a new concept as the ‘Husker’s trump card has been defense for years. It’s partly because their offense has been predicated on ball control throughout its storied history, but mostly because that’s what Big Red is all about. When the Cornhuskers are rolling full-boar, its because the “black shirts” are dominating at the point of attack and making cameo after cameo appearance in the opponent’s backfield (see Ndomikung Suh starring in “The Texas Offensive Line Massacre of 2009”). Just like in years past, the offense is more than likely going to be built on running the ball (a lot) with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead. From there, it will be up to the defense to dominate-Again.

So, is this fall’s DL up to the task? While a player like Suh only comes around once a generation, there is still a lot to like. Like then, in 2011 the strength should again reside with the defensive tackles. With the supremely talented senior Jared Crick and junior Baker Steinkuhler returning, the base is there to anchor the middle of a dominating line. On the ends, If Cameron Merideth continues his development, and the coaching staff can find a serviceable option to fill the hole left by the departure of Pierre Allen, then U of N could be well on their way towards bullying the rest of the division out of their lunch money in Indy.

What better first impression to make than Champion of your new class?

Phil Harrison: On Which Big Ten School is Today’s DL U?

There have been many outstanding defensive lineman in the Big Ten, but one school stands out from the rest-and its not even close. The current school laying claim to fame as DL U in the Big Ten has had a total of 35 defensive lineman selected in the draft (18 since 1990). They can boast about hearing a DL prospect having their name called in the first round eight times. This team’s colors are red, but they wear their “black shirts” with pride. Defensive Line University of the Big Ten Conference has got to go to the University of Nebraska.

Did we mention that its not even close? Ohio State, who can usually hold a candle to any program as far as NFL draftees go, is in a tie for a distant second place (22) with Penn State. Case closed. Nebraska grows two things: corn and big kids who want to mix it up in the trenches as lineman. They celebrate wanting to be like Ndamukong Suh or Grant Winstrom, not the star quarterback.

And there is more coming this year. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to watch Nebraska play, you are about to be introduced to the next legitimate NFL DL prospect in Jared Crick. The folks in the former Big XII know about him, and the entire Big Ten Conference is about to be initiated by cruel and unusual intentions by the 6’6” All-American senior. It’s no mistake that he is mentioned in a few spots in this week’s version of the Big Ten Blog (and rarely do we all agree).

The mistake, would be to argue that any other team could be considered as Defensive Line U other than the boys from Lincoln.

Bart Doan: On Who Will be the Conference’s Next First Round NFL Defensive Lineman

“We’re not worthy!” Wayne and Garth had it right. They can pass that quote on to every defensive lineman in American not named Jerel. That’s right, kids, we managed to slip a Wayne’s World reference into a college football column. The same way that Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy slips O-linemen on a weekly basis to terrorize opposing backfields.

Of course Worthy could render me an idiot by choosing to stay his senior season, choosing calculus over seven figure paychecks, but I’ll play the odds here, pending injury. He’s your next top five defensive lineman picked in the NFL draft.

Jerel has all the earmarks of a special player at the next level. Defensive tackles aren’t supposed to lead the team in sacks, but that's exactly what Jerel did. Highlighted by a 1.5 sack effort in a stirring comeback against Northwestern. You name it, he did it. He led all linemen on the team in tackles. Tackles for loss. Probably led them in chicken wings eaten per week, too.

Worthy’s a bit of a mixed bag. Hateful on the field, completely otherwise off of it. He’s a fixture in Athletes for Action sports ministry. He has attitude, too. As a frosh, he famously called out Michigan senior DB Morgan Trent. MSU proceeded to win the game, as they have in both of Jerel’s seasons.

Worthy is a bit of a throwback. Not that he can’t drop back into zone coverage, but he’s best used filling gaps with this 305 lb frame and overpowering anyone in his way. He projects incredibly well at the next level for what NFL types look for in their interior linemen.

In spite of his size, Worthy is lauded for his athleticism. Of his 8.5 sacks last year, they averaged over 6 yards lost per sack. In other words, those aren’t 3 yard loss coverage sacks when the QB is just looking to make something out of nothing as best he can. Those numbers mean Jerel is putting himself in the backfield unannounced, before plays could be run to their fullest.

In short, save the emails saying I’m up “insane (Jared) Crick and I’ve lost my paddles” by calling Jerel the next great NFL DL out of the Big 10. Watch the kid play. Wayne and Garth surely were right. I guess that makes Jerel the Aerosmith of football, or something like that.

Please follow Aaron Calhoun on Twitter @ACalhoun_CFN, H.D. Handshoe @BlockONation, Dan Cronin @Djc5353 and Phil Harrison @peharrison