1-Paul Posluszny-Penn State-Junior
2-Bobby Carpenter-Ohio State-Senior
Also watch for: Marcus Freeman-Ohio State-Sophomore
Although Penn State rotates their linebackers, Paul Posluszny is the best suited for the position and is one of the finest linebackers in the conference. Posluszny recorded 104 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and three sacks last season as a sophomore. Posluszny is every thing you want in a linebacker and will continue to be a force on an excellent Nittany Lion linebacking core. Next is of Ohio State, a prototypical strongside linebacker, big, physical and athletic for his size. Carpenter registered 93 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2004 and is the quiet star of a starting linebacking core that registered 318 tackles last year.
Wisconsin's Mark Zalewski may be the best-kept secret in the Big Ten, but he comes in at third on my list. He isn't the most athletic kid but in terms of having a nose for the ball and stuffing the run, you won't too many better than Zalewski. Zalewski totaled 55 tackles along with 11.5 tackles for loss last year. Coming in at number four is Kyle McKenzie of Minnesota. McKenzie is making the move back to his natural strongside position this season and should be solid for the Gophers defense. McKenzie is very good at reading the tight end and is athletic enough to stick with them in man coverage. McKenzie is the Gophers returning tackles leader for the Gophers with 79 stops.
I really like Prescott Burgess at SAM linebacker for Michigan. The reads are less complex which should help him further adapt to the linebacker position. Burgess has the athleticism to stick with Big Ten tight ends (who have become some of the most athletic in the nation) in man coverage. The question is will he be able to hold his ground at the line of scrimmage; that will be the key for him to succeed. Edmond Miles will replace departed George Lewis on the strongside. Miles isn't as big as Lewis, but he makes up for it with speed and the ability to make plays.
Adam Kadela is returning from injury but I liked what I saw from him last season. He is average in coverage but he is physical and run stopping ability is a strength of his. J Leman returns much needed experience and leadership to the Illini defense. He needs to play with better pursuit angles and his reads are often incorrect but he has raw playmaking ability.
Cliff Avril could rise up this list very quick. He played last year as a true freshman while Bobby Iwuchukwu was out with injury and he has the upper hand to take his job this fall. I really like this kid's future and he will become one of the conference's upper tier backers' with more experience. Jake Powers of Indiana is undersized but he makes plays despite his limitations.
The other guy to watch is former Michigan recruit and current Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman. Freeman will see playing time, namely on passing downs at strong side linebacker with Bobby Carpenter putting his hand down at rush end when the situation dictates. Freeman has the athletic ability to hold his own in both man and zone coverage and should be successful in his role this year.
Ranking the Big Ten's Strongside LBs
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