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2011 - The first line of defense

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - An attacking defensive line makes all the difference in the world. Disruptive forces up front can control the tempo of a game with a relentless pursuit of the ball. They are a quarterback's worst nightmare, causing havoc with their non-stop pressure and can negate even the best rushing games by holding their ground.

Here are the top defensive linemen at the FBS level for the 2011 season.


QUINTON COPLES - This talented playmaker came out of last year's UNC scandal unscathed and as a result was showcased along the defensive front week-in and week-out for the Tar Heels. The 6-6, 285-pounder played all along the defensive line and dominated in opposing backfields, leading UNC in both TFLs (15.5) and sacks (10), en route to All-ACC First-Team honors. He is on everyone's shortlist this season for All-American accolades and should produce big numbers as the top preseason pick at defensive end.

BRANDON JENKINS - The 6-3, 260-pounder burst on the scene as a true sophomore in 2010 and emerged as one of the nation's premier playmakers off the edge, racking up a whopping 21.5 TFLs and 13.5 sacks. Jenkins picked up All-ACC First-Team honors as a result in addition to picking up some All-American consideration. He could use to add some more bulk to maximize his draft status, but another big season on the field may make that unnecessary.

Quinton Coples led UNC in both TFLs (15.5) and sacks (10), en route to All-ACC First-Team honors.
VINNY CURRY - A highly productive downlineman for the Thundering Herd in 2010, the 6-4, 260-pound Curry led all defensive linemen in Conference USA in tackles (94) and finished fifth nationally in sacks (12), while placing second in the C-USA in TFLs (18). The First-Team All-conference performer could have bolted for the NFL following that junior campaign, but made the decision to return and finish what he started at Marshall.

DEVIN TAYLOR - After earning Freshman All-American honors in 2009, the 6-7, 250-pound Taylor was tabbed an All-SEC First-Team member in 2010 as a sophomore, leading all downlinemen on South Carolina with 46 total tackles. He registered 12.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks and seven pass breakups as one of the best all-around ends in the conference. His junior year could be his finest as he is one of the key leaders on a South Carolina team looking to repeat as SEC East champs.

ANDRE BRANCH - Ultra-talented Da'Quan Bowers has moved on, but a recent trend of superb athletes at the defensive end position should continue at Clemson, with the 2011 version coming in the form of the 6-5, 260-pound Branch. Developing as a well-rounded end that can play the run or the pass, Branch was overshadowed by Bowers and tackle Jarvis Jenkins in 2010, but still finished with 49 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and four sacks. Those numbers will skyrocket in 2011 as he is now the man up front for the Tigers.

Honorable Mention: Julian Miller (West Virginia), Vince Browne (Northwestern), Jonathan Massaquoi (Troy), Nick Perry (USC), Jake Bequette (Arkansas).


JEREL WORTHY - There is a ton of hype surrounding the centerpiece to Michigan State's defensive line. The 6-3, 305-pound Worthy is as good as it gets at the tackle position and is projected as a top-10 pick in the next NFL Draft if he continues to perform for the Spartans. A tough-as-nails anchor up front, Worthy walks the walk and talks the talk. As a sophomore in 2010, Worthy led all defensive linemen on the team with 40 tackles, including 8.0 TFLs and 4.0 sacks, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. Has played in 26 games in two years at Michigan State with 24 starts. He continues to improve and similar growth in 2011 will result in a monster season and plenty of notoriety.

JARED CRICK - A highly decorated interior lineman for Nebraska, the 6-6, 285- pound Crick was named to several All-American teams a year ago and is a two- time First-Team All-Big 12 selection. The Cornhuskers make the move to the Big Ten this season and a veteran defensive front led by Crick will prove critical against run-happy conference foes. Certainly benefited from having played with Ndamukong Suh in 2009, but kept up the pace last season, recording 70 tackles, 17 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. There is no reason to suspect a letdown as a senior in 2011 and that will undoubtedly result in even more national honors.

ALAMEDA TA'AMU - A huge anchor in the middle of the defensive line for the up and coming Huskies, Ta'Amu has the ability to dominate down low at 6-3, 330 pounds. Started all 13 games for Washington in 2010 as a junior, earning All- Pac-10 Honorable Mention with 39 tackles, 5.0 TFLs and 1.5 sacks. In the new- look Pac-12, Ta'Amu has the potential to be mentioned among the best the conference has to offer.

KHEESTON RANDALL - Playing defensive tackle for the Longhorns comes with a great deal of responsibility, considering the long list of distinguished playmakers in the middle for UT in recent history. This season, Mack Brown is hoping that the 6-5, 295-pound Randall adds his name to that list. An All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2010, the sky is the limit for Randall, who has played in 34 career games, with 22 starts. He posted 39 tackles a year ago, with 13 TFLs and one sack. He is certainly viewed as a playmaker on the rise for Texas and has the ability to pick up national honors in 2011.

MARCUS FORSTON - The 6-3, 300-pound Forston has seen both the highs and the lows in his first three seasons at Miami. Forston was a Freshman All-American in 2008, played sparingly in 2009 due to injury (medical redshirt) and returned to form in 2010, starting 12 of the 13 games he played in. As a sophomore last year, Forston recorded 37 tackles, 12 TFLs, three sacks and one interception. New head coach Al Golden has a solid base to work with in his first season and Forston is certainly one of those key players.

Honorable Mention: Baker Steinkuhler (Nebraska), Kawann Short (Purdue), Kendall Reyes (UConn), Tydreke Powell (North Carolina), Billy Winn (Boise State).

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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