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This Group Would Make Butkus Proud

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - They are "Terminators" on the gridiron. Perfect killing machines with the bodies of Greek gods and nasty demeanors to boot. They usually make the defensive calls and play the game two or three steps faster than anyone else. No single defensive player can change a game's landscape the way a linebacker can.

There have been some greats at the position over the last few seasons and 2003 looks to be another banner year for LBs across the nation.

ROD DAVIS - Without a doubt, the very best linebacker in the country. At 6-3, 246 pounds, this Southern Miss Golden Eagle can do it all. Last season, he earned All-American status after finishing with 168 total tackles, including a whopping 122 solo stops. In addition, he was responsible for 23.5 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. He must be accounted for on the field at all times and is a difference-maker on every snap of the ball.

Jonathan Vilma
Jonathan Vilma led the Hurricanes in tackles (133) his junior year.
JONATHAN VILMA - A true leader on the field, Vilma is every bit as responsible for Miami's recent success as any player in uniform. At 6-2, 220 pounds, he may seem a bit undersized for the middle, but he certainly plays much bigger. Vilma loves the physical aspects of the game and is one of the hardest hitters in the country. On the short list for most postseason awards, this Hurricane looks to build on a highly successful junior year in which he led the 'Canes in tackles (133), while being named a First-Team All-Big East selection. All- American honors are certainly within the grasp of this talented tackling machine.

KARLOS DANSBY - A First-Team All-SEC selection in 2002, the 6-5, 235-pound Dansby is a part of perhaps the nation's best linebacking unit at Auburn. He finished fourth on the team in tackles in 2002, with 75 total stops. He did however, lead the team in sacks (four) and TFLs (10), with three INTs and two fumble recoveries. He will be a vocal leader on what could be one of the country's top defensive units in 2003.

COURTNEY WATSON - Despite playing in just 10 of Notre Dame's 13 games in 2002, this All-American still led the team in tackles (90), while showing the kind of complete skills that could have him highly sought after at the season's end. At 6-3, 235, Watson is big enough to make plays head on, while having the necessary athleticism to get it done all over the field. Watson added 10 TFLs last season, with three sacks and four interceptions, turning his four picks into 123 return yards and one TD.

MICHAEL BOULWARE - If any linebacking corps can rival that of Auburn's it may be Florida State. The 6-3, 225-pound Boulware continues to mature into one of the nation's finest LBs. His junior year continued to show his skills, as he finished second on the team in tackles (127), with four TFLs, one sack, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. A complete sideline-to-sideline player, Boulware is destined to follow his brother (Peter) into the NFL.

TEDDY LEHMAN - A throw-back type of linebacker who just finds a way to get the job done. A defensive leader for the Sooners in 2003, Lehman earned First-Team All-American honors last season, was named the Chevrolet National Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Butkus Award. The 6-2, 243- pounder finished the season with 112 total tackles, adding 12 TFLs, two sacks and two INTs. On one of the nation's toughest defenses, Lehman will undoubtedly shine. If he continues to grow as a player, more postseason accolades are sure to follow.

D.J. WILLIAMS - One of the most highly-sought after players from the high school ranks a couple of year ago, Williams has certainly not disappointed. The 6-2, 249-pound Miami Hurricane seems to be able to do anything he wants on the field. Last year, he finished second on the team in tackles with 108, being named a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award and earning Second-Team All- Big East honors. He shared the team-lead in TFLs (16), adding four sacks, eight PBUs and two forced fumbles. Despite his large frame, he runs like a DB and hits like a ton of bricks.

KENDYLL POPE - This Seminole lacks the prototypic body of a standout linebacker (6-2, 212), but Pope more than makes up for it with his play on the field. He has eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau in each of his last two seasons, including leading the team in 2002, with 131 stops. He also collected 12 TFLs and two interceptions. Pope will be aided by fellow backer Boulware and emerging star Allen Augustin this season, which should help his numbers only increase in 2003.

*WILDCARD - AHMAD BROOKS - One of the most anticipated arrivals in Charlottesville last year, Brooks did not qualify and was forced to spend the year at Hargrave Academy. Al Groh has done a solid job at Virginia in his short stint there, but if the Cavs can get the 6-2, 249-pound phenom on the field this year, a run at the ACC title could be a reality. The National Defensive Player of the year in high school, Brooks tallied an eye-popping 207 tackles as a senior, including 144 solo stops. A true tackling-machine, he will be one of those players that could vie for postseason awards despite being just a freshman.

Others to Watch: Derrick Johnson (Texas), Matt Grootegoed (USC), Richard Seigler (Oregon State), Daryl Blackstock (Virginia), Grant Wiley (West Virginia), John Leake (Clemson), Bryce McGill (Fresno State), Dontarrious Thomas), Tony Bua (Arkansas) and Gino Capone (Penn State).

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

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