The best DTs in the Big XII

It's not easy ranking defensive tackles in this conference. There's usually quite a few. Well, this year is the same, but most of them are localized to a smattering of teams. That's good for those teams, though, as it means they have some titanic tandems going into the 2005 season, but we are about the invidiuals, so let's just get down to it.

10 - Derek Marso (Kansas State) – 6-3, 285, Sr. – The Wildcats will be sporting a lot of experience across the entire face of the defensive line and it should be one that has a knack for getting into the backfield. Marso has that, a good 3-gap guy, but with his size, he's capable against the run as well.

He has decent leverage, but his strength isn't his strength, it's his feet and hands as he's quick off the ball and not easy to stand up.

Marso's biggest asset, though, is the help he's getting, especially from the rush ends, K. State sporting one of the better tandems in the conference. With a good pass rush on the outside, that will create a lot of opportunities inside for Marso and fellow interior lineman Quintin Echols to create a little havoc of their own.

2004 Statistics: 11 games, 22 tackles (6 SOLO, 16 ASST), 5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 pass break up

9 - Remi Ayodele (Oklahoma) – 6-3, 301, Sr. – There are going to be a few players that capitalize just as much from their teammates as they do their own ability and Ayodele probably tops the list. He's physical at the point of impact and has good feet and quickness coming off of the ball.

Ayodele probably does need a little more development with his hands, Remi still showing some fairly bad habits that you develop at being dominate at the lower levels. He was that, having transferred from junior college a year ago, but hasn't quite been molded totally into Oklahoma's system as of yet.

The luxury Remi has is who is going to be right beside him, Dusty Dvoracek almost completely back to health. If Dusty is good to go come the season-opener, Ayodele is going to have some opportunities all year to do some cherry picking in gaps left open by the constant double-teams you can expect on Dvoracek.

Those are his opportunities this year and Ayodele has the athleticism and size to reap the rewards.

2004 Statistics: 12 games, 11 tackles (3 SOLO, 8 ASST), 3 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 pass break up, 2 quarterback hurries

8 - Titus Adams (Nebraska) – 6-3, 300, Sr. – There are some that would tell you that amongst the experienced defensive interior at Nebraska, Adams might be the best. Very athletic for his size, extremely quick off the ball, Adams can usually get up field as consistently as he can stop the run.

You'd expect some pretty good quickness, though, as Adams was recruited as and started out at Nebraska as a rush end, but was later moved to the middle because he could simply do it all.

And Adams along with his teammate on the inside, senior Le Kevin Smith are going to have one thing this year that they didn't have almost any of last year, which hampered them seriously in the end.

Help.

Due to injuries along the interior, both Adams and Smith rarely came out of games and for anyone playing the defensive line, that's a tall task over an entire year. They both have solid back ups in junior college transfers that have been part of the team since January, so you could see an even better all around group this year.

They were already good against the run, but the pass rush just didn't exist due to many reasons, attrition being key. Now, though, you could see Adams take a starring role on a unit that should have plenty of them.

2004 Statistics: 11 games, 37 tackles (17 SOLO, 20 ASST), 8 tackles for loss, 9 quarterback hurries

7 - Red Bryant (Texas A&M) – 6-4, 312, So. – Either the conference as a whole must be down in defensive interior talent or you have to be pretty darn good to make a top ten list as a sophomore.

Bryant is the latter, debuting for the Aggies as possibly their next big defensive star.

He's obviously got the size, but he's quick off the ball, can play the 1 or 3 technique effectively and the best thing is, you've only seen the surface of what this kid can do.

He just needs time to develop and a little help around him and he'll get that from fellow interior guy, senior John Jolly and a couple of good rush ends, the best being sophomore Jason Jack.

What you have along this line are mismatches and potential double-teams and frankly, if you can get one double-team across the entire face of the line, you have just changed the way an offense has to play you.

They should have that on the outside with Jack, but Bryant isn't going to go unnoticed as well. It's just going to be up to offenses to pick their poison. One way or another, Bryant's sophomore year should be another good year as he develops into one of the conference's best.

2004 Statistics: 12 games, 34 tackles (9 SOLO, 25 ASST), 3 ½ tackles for loss, 1 ½ sacks, 2 pass break ups, 2 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked kick

6 - Vaka Manupuna (Colorado) – 6-1, 290, Sr. – Typical to what you expect of someone the size of Manupuna, he's a horse against the run. Great leverage, plus he uses his hands well in close.

What's missing with Manupuna isn't the ability to get into the backfield as I think he has that. Rather it's the help he's going to need to get it done. Right now, you can bet that if there's a double-team on the interior, Vaka is the one with the target on his chest.

Senior James Garee makes the move from the outside to the inside this year and his quickness off the ball in the three-gap is going to be key if Manupuna is going to be able to exhibit the full repertoire he has.

If that happens and both Abraham Wright and Alex Ligon can get a good push from the outside, than Manupuna is in for a big year. If not, it will be a long one of fighting at least two guys off the ball all year instead.

2004 Statistics: 13 games, 41 tackles (22 SOLO, 19 ASST), 3 ½ tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles

5 - Nick Leaders (Iowa State) – 6-2, 290, Sr. – Here's one that got out of Nebraska and since he arrived at Iowa State, I am sure that Husker fans have wished they could have kept him at home. Nebraska's loss, though, has definitely been the Cyclone's gain.

First thing you get out of Leaders is someone extremely good with using leverage and knocking this kid off the ball isn't easy. He'll stuff the run first, but once you think he's just a one-gap guy, he'll get up the field very quickly. So quickly in fact, he can block kicks. How many DTs do you know that tallied 3 blocked kicks in a year?

Nick will have beside him, junior Brent Curvey a solid player in his own right and ISU has a pretty decent pair of rush ends.

The only problem for Leaders this year is the same problem Titus Adams and Le Kevin Smith faced last year, in that there's them and after that, well, there's them. Attrition is going to be a big factor with Leaders and his teammate on the interior and it will be that, that decides his season more than what he can do.

The kid should go out as a success, though, he's going to be a tired one when it's all said and done.

2004 Statistics: 12 games, 50 tackles (29 SOLO, 21 ASST), 11 tackles for loss, 3 ½ sacks, 1 pass break up, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 fumble recovery, 3 blocked kicks

4 - Larry Dibbles (Texas) – 6-2, 285, Sr. – This guy's a horse. Not much else you have to say, if you as an offense want to run, you might want to go another way.

What I like about Dibbles isn't what is necessarily stated as one of his most common traits, but I like his backside pursuit. In order to be successful there, you have to have a few key ingredients:

Good feet as you are almost always having to negotiate a variety of bodies between you and the person with the ball

Good speed as pursuit is worthless if you can't ever catch anyone

Intelligence, because guys that are good in pursuit are usually the guys that can think ahead and know that while they don't have the speed, if they take good angles, they can still make the play.

Dibbles has those intangibles from what I see and best of all, he's got Rodrique Wright standing right beside him all year long. You combine that with junior Tim Crowder on the outside and once again, Texas is going to have one of the most potent defensive lines around.

Each will benefit from the other, but I think Dibbles could end up benefiting the most, because as of right now, he's the one that will see more one-on-one situations this season.

2004 Statistics: 12 games, 49 tackles (23 SOLO, 26 ASST), 5 tackles for loss, 1 ½ sacks, 6 pass break ups, 9 quarterback hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble

3 - Le Kevin Smith (Nebraska) – 6-2, 305, Sr. – The fans of other teams will be typical in their response to me ranking a Cornhusker so high. Man, I must be biased.

Uh uh, because you haven't seen this guy at his best.

Last year as you saw in the notes on Adams, this guy wasn't coming off the field unless he was having a coronary and for any 300 pounder that has to play almost every minute of every game all year, especially when their own offense was not staying on the field, that's just damn tough.

What you are likely to see from Smith this year, now that he has help behind him in junior college transfer Ola Dagunduro and help on the outside with two outstanding junior rush ends in Adam Carriker and Jay Moore; you are going to finally see what this guy can do.

He's extremely quick off the ball, almost impossible to push back off the snap and if he's got help around him, can get up field with the best of the bigguns on the defensive interior.

Honestly, he's got it all and this year, he'll have a chance to prove just how much that is.

By the end of this season, I fully expect that this ranking that could be considered a little high right now will end up being pretty close to right.

2004 Statistics: 11 games, 43 tackles (18 SOLO, 25 ASST), 11 tackles for loss, 2 ½ sacks, 4 quarterback hurries

 
2 - Dusty Dvoracek (Oklahoma) – 6-3, 294, Sr. – Believe it or not, I battled with this one, wondering aloud if I should put Dusty one spot higher. That's saying something when this guy barely played last year and was even kicked off the team for a time.

To me, there's reason for it, two years ago Dvoracek absolutely wreaking havoc on everything in sight. He's got the size, speed, feet and nobody has to wonder about his intensity.

And no, it wasn't his off the field issues or even his bicep that ultimately got him pushed to number two.

It was his help.

Some will say that it's not accurate in rating a guy based on his help, but I'd say that you wouldn't see what this guy can do unless he has some and the guy at the top just has a little bit more.

Junior Larry Birdine and junior college transfer C.J. Ah You should offer some help to at least try and get the double-team off of Dusty, but he doesn't have the consistency he's going to need to see that more often than not.

It's no secret that if this kid is healthy he's an absolute machine and could end up being a first round pick. But, he's going to have to do a lot on his own, well, at least more than the guy ranked at the top.

2004 Statistics: 2 games, 5 tackles (1 SOLO, 4 ASST), 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass break up, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 fumble recovery
2003 Statistics: 14 games, 40 tackles (20 SOLO, 20 ASST), 16 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 pass break up

1 - Rodrique Wright (Texas) – 6-5, 305, Sr. – Statistically you'd say that Wright shouldn't be where he's at right now, other guys down this list having better and in some cases, markedly better years.

Like Dvoracek, though, you can't necessarily judge him on a year, where he wasn't exactly healthy and last year, well, he wasn't exactly healthy.

The year before that, Wright had an eye-popping 30 quarterback hurries.

That's incredible and when you combine that with solid leverage, despite his height and about as good of hands and feet as you are likely to see, just from a physical standpoint, Wright could be the future prototype for the defensive big boys in the middle.

He's got it all and the best of all, he's got a ton of help around him this year. Yeah, he had plenty last year, which allowed him to have a very productive year despite the nagging injury.

Now that he's healthy and with the guys around him, look for a year where Wright didn't even have to stay, a year where he'll probably be glad he did. And you never know, he might actually be on a team that can say they beat Oklahoma.

Ok, maybe that's stretching it a bit.

2004 Statistics: 11 games, 36 tackles (18 SOLO, 18 ASST), 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass break ups, 7 quarterback hurries


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