“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
All Big Ten 2006: Defense
The official teams just bucket players into three categories: line, LB, and DB. I think this is dumb. For instance, all four first-team DBs are cornerbacks. Uh... okay. This list breaks the line down into DT and DE and the defensive backs into CB and S. Linebackers are still one big bin.
Remember: Notre Dame worthies are included, though this is way less funny for the defensive side of the ball.
1. Lamarr Woodley, Michigan
If you read this blog, you know about Woodley. He has 11.5 sacks and equal-if-not-greater contributions that only show up in OCD game charting. He is the face of the Michigan defense that was so magnificent for 11 of Michigan's 12 games and one of the premiere defensive ends in the country. Justifying his inclusion is like justifying Troy Smith's.
1. Anthony Spencer, Purdue
If Spencer's luck holds -- and let's hope it doesn't -- he'll be playing for the Detroit Lions next year. He was a capital-M Man without a defense in 2006. Anything the Boilermakers managed to do right on that side of the ball was a direct result of something Spencer did. And lord, he did a lot: a Matt-Rothian 26.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. His most impressive/depressing statistic, though was his 86 tackles, second on the team. At defensive end! Spencer was the Kevin Garnett of the Big Ten in 2006. Like Garnett, he should be commended for not snapping and breaking the neck of any of his incompetent teammates.
2. Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
Alternated terrifying edge rushes with equally terrifying (to Ohio State fans) wild run irresponsibility early. As the season wore on the former remained and the latter dwindled, making Gholston scary to only one set of fans. I don't like the idea of him next year, and that's what this list is: Michigan players I love and opposing players I hate. So, yeah. I hate Gholston. Congratulations.
2. Brian Mattison, Iowa
Doesn't have the stats a few others do, but what can I say? I just like the guy. Uh... hate the guy. You know what I mean. When I UFRed the Iowa-Michigan game, he was all over Michigan's zone running game. When I did a tape review of the Iowa-Ohio State game, he was the only guy with a concept of containment and the only guy capable of getting to Troy Smith. Those were Iowa's two biggest games of the year, and he was one of the best players on the field in both
1. Alan Branch, Michigan
Mountain of a defensive tackle who didn't rack up a ton of flashy stats except this one: #1, as in Michigan's rushing defense (despite those, uh, hiccups versus Ohio State, which only served to bring that defense back down into the realms of the mortal). Branch is a disruptor on the interior and a guy you single block at your peril, just like...
1. Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State
A sure first-rounder in April's NFL draft, Pitcock was far and away the best player on Ohio State's defense, crashing through interior lines like they were made of the slightest cotton en route to eight sacks, eleven tackles for loss, and a lot of easy plays for his linebackers.
2. Ed Johnson, Penn State
I know Alford had more sacks and tackles for loss, but when I watched Penn State it was Johnson who was the more consistent of the two Penn State tackles. Alford is a penetrator who relies a lot on quickness and runs himself out of plays here and there, while Johnson is one of those 6'0", 310 pound fireplugs that drives people into the backfield with remarkable regularity. Johnson made more plays than his partner, but fewer of them showed up in his statistics.
2. David Patterson/Terrance Taylor/Jay Alford, OSU/UM/PSU
Yes, this is a cop out. Each benefited from playing next to the above terrors. Alford is a penetrator and a playmaker like Pitcock, while Patterson and Taylor are more in the mold of Johnson. Each filled the space next to their partner with a second playmaking defensive tackle and created havoc in opposing offenses.
1. David Harris, Michigan
Made the leap from pretty good to outstanding his senior year, tracking down backs sideline-to-sideline on all manner of run and pass plays. Other than Branch, he was the man most responsible for Michigan's #1 rush defense. Criminally left off the Butkus finalist list, he's the best Michigan linebacker I can remember (this extends only back to Jarrett Irons, freaked out 40-something Michigan fans). He played nearly every snap Michigan's defense faced and made only one glaring error, a busted coverage that led to Wisconsin's touchdown. I hate the idea of a middle linebacker other than him.
1. J Leman, Illinois
Does anyone remember how awful the Illinois defense was a year ago? Probably not. If you have data about the 2005 Fighting Illini in your head, you are wasting space that could be more productively used with something like the jeans preferences of squirrels. Well, I know nothing about the sartorial splendor of squirrels (imagine Lou Holth thaying that five timeth fath), but I do remember that the 2005 Illinois defense was an abomination.
So if I told you that the 2006 version of same was above average, you'd want to hand out a medal. Well: here's the medal. Leman racked up 152 tackles, 19 for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles as the Illini shot up to 40th in total defense. He was the guy running around against Ohio State stuffing the Buckeye's six million second-half runs. He was... good. Which is weird to say about an Illinois player, let me tell you.
Also: his first name is "J". No period. No abbreviation. Just a letter. He is also unmistakably rocking a mullet in that headshot. Rocking a mullet and wearing an American flag tie. He is Joe Dirt, linebacker. That demands recognition.
1. Dan Connor, Penn State
Outperformed his more touted partner in the opinion of most Penn State fans, and that's good enough for me. He was a force in the PSU games I watched, slightly more likley to burst into the backfield and maul an unsuspecting running back. His 103 tackles came from an outside linebacker position, while Posluszny's 108 came in the middle: slight advantage Connor.
2. Paul Posluszny, Penn State
Probably didn't deserve the Butkus last year (AJ Hawk) or his finalist status this year (arrrrgh David Harris), but still a damn good linebacker. Against Michigan he refused to stay blocked on the second level, slanting and shedding his way to bottle up Mike Hart time and again. Though Hart would finish with 112 yards, they would be his toughest of the season.
2. Mark Zalewski, Wisconsin
I'm mildly upset at my own list here, which is virtually ignoring the Big Ten's fourth badass defense: Wisconsin. They have a couple first-teamers in the secondary, but hardly any representation up front, largely because they suffer from the same problem Ohio State wide receivers do: too much balance. Zalewski doesn't have a million tackles but he does have a mohawk and a bad attitude. (I was briefly tempted to have the second team linebackers be Zalewski, Prescott Burgess, and Shawn Crable so I could make some comment about pityi ng the fool who tries to run on them, but I was quickly tackled and injected with sedatives when I mentioned it. And thank God for that.)
2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
My position on Laurinaitis and his magic, leather-magnetized hands has been made clear: dude is way overrated and belongs nowhere near the Butkus finalist list or the All-American teams he'll no doubt feature on. I blame two people: Troy Smith and Brent Musberger. Smith is the primary motor for Ohio State's #1 ranking and Musberger's intolerable boosterism of him during the Texas game, Iowa game, and every other game was repeated so often that it became true in the minds of the brainwashed masses.
...but he does have his good points. He is fast, able in zone drops -- to get Drew Tate to throw the ball right at you you have to be in good position -- and a good blitzer. If he's kept clean he will fill and tackle ably. He's not bad by any stretch of the imagination and... sigh... deserves a place on this team. But on the second team, dammit, until he defeats a block. Any block.
1. Leon Hall, Michigan
I was confused about the Hall hype -- top corner in the draft, Playboy All-American -- going into the season, thinking him more a Jeremy Lesueur type who would be first or second team all conference and a second or third round pick. I was wrong. Hall is the best Michigan corner since Woodson, solid against both the run and the pass, a superb tackler and technician. He does not have the outrageous athleticism of someone like Justin King, but makes up for it with instincts and smarts. A probable top-ten pick in April's draft.
1. Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin
By all rights should be playing for Purdue with that last name, but the Badgers are glad to have him. Ikegwuonu's matchup with Manningham was the most difficult the Michigan sophomore faced all year -- his long touchdown victimized Allen Langford -- as he found his outs, slants, and the like blanketed, leaving Michigan almost no margin for error on those throws. That's all you can do as a cornerback.
2. Justin King, Penn State
Let's get this out of the way: he can't tackle worth a lick. Run at him and he may as well be a ballerina. But in pure coverage terms, he might be the best in the league. Living up to the recruiting hype, as corners tend to do, his athleticism is NFL-caliber and his instincts are good. Hard to beat deep and hard to sit down in front of, King is a thorn in the side of opposing passing games.
2. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
A jam artist and a tough customer in run support, Jenkins is an up-and-comer in the league. If he manages to rein in his aggression and be smarter about when to back off, he'll be a complete corner. As of now he still gets burnt-crispy deep with some regularity. This year it wasn't relevant since Ohio State got so many sacks and faced so many hobbled or plain bad quarterbacks.
1. Roderick Rogers, Wisconsin
Rogers didn't have to do much against the run thanks to the imposing Wisconsin front seven (their absence from this team should not reflect poorly on them -- it's a tough year to get on this team up there). Free to play centerfield, Rogers picked off two passes, broke up seven others, and was key in Wisconsin's #1 ranked pass efficiency defense -- a number that's overstated due to the Badgers' Minnesota-worthy schedule but still damn impressive.
1. Brandon Mitchell, Ohio State
Ohio State safeties are beginning to bother me like Ohio State kickers do. Where do they unearth these people, and do they have a patent? I bet there's a lab somewhere.
2. Anthony Scirroto, Penn State
I give up and give in to five interceptions. I don't like doing this, but I begin to understand why there are four cornerbacks on the All Big Ten first teams.
2. Jamar Adams, Michigan
Michigan rotated four safeties all year, but what they really did is rotate three guys through free safety and have them play next to Adams, a solid run defender who's comptetent-ish in pass coverage. Yes, it's a weak year for safeties.