This is in response to DeadMan's recent diary, which I appreciated, but disagreed with quite a bit, especially in relation to the young players (he tended to dismiss them).
I don't aim to include every single guy on the roster, just the possible starters and key backups I foresee. [note that I removed special teams tackles, thus "non-ST tackles" for some of the guys who had stats strongly inflated by them]
Brandon Graham (20 TFL, 10 sacks)
Ryan Van Bergen (13 tackles)
Greg Banks (6 tackles)
Adam Patterson (1 tackle!)
Graham will be all-Big 10 and maybe an all-American. Van Bergen had a solid season as a fFr backup and should be ready to be a competent but not special starter as a third year soph. Those pointing to Banks and Patterson should keep in mind how little time they saw last year as third year players (especially Patterson!). There is decent chance someone else could see significant time in order to be a starter for 2010, then, such as a converted TE or Roh.
Mike Martin (20 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
Will Campbell, Fr.
R Sagesse (3 tackles)
Martin played very well for a true frosh, and should be a competent starter, but not a stud (yet). Campbell will need to be a decent starter from Day One, as Sagesse barely saw the field, Kates left, and who knows if Helmuth can put on 30-40 pounds in a year. This position will clearly be a weakness, but hopefully not a 6.0 YPC size-weakness, and at least it is building for the future (better than a horrible DL with upperclassmen starters). Ferrara could come back from the OL if there is an injury. Others have mentioned the DEs, but they seem too undersized (260) to me. There would be less need for DTs if a 3-3-5 is frequently played, but a 5th DB isn't available that anyone would go out of their way to get on the field (if Turner is that studly, for god's sake please move him to FS).
Obi Ezeh (98 tackles)
Jonas Mouton (76 tackles)
JB Fitzgerald (2 non-ST tackles)
Marell Evans (4 non-ST tackles)
As was aptly pointed out, none of these guys have a David Harris 6th sense about LB playmaking. But with a 3rd year and a 2nd year starter, they should be solid. Fitzgerald should be competent at ILB while Ezeh (the leader of the group, obviously) moves to the outside. Demens, Evans and Herron are available, but none were able to break into (or stay in) the starting lineup last year, when the opportunities were golden. None of the true frosh seem to have the size or pedigree to play a significant role.
D Warren (52 tackles, 4 PBU)
B Cissoko (15 tackles, 3 PBU)
T Woolfolk (Mgoblue says 9 tackles, 10 of which were ST... ???)
J Turner, Fr.
Warren seemed to take a step back due to injuries, but should be a very good corner this year. Cissoko showed some flashes and some weaknesses, but he was only a true frosh. He should be competent (yes, that's my favorite weasel word) this year. Turner, being a borderline 5 star recruit, should be as useful as Cissoko as a 3rd corner and next option in case of injury, and maybe play some safety if the worst case scenario happens there. Hopefully Woolfolk (or JT Floyd or a position-switcher?) can provide another option for dime/quarter packages.
B Smith rFr
S Brown (64 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 int)
M Williams (7 non-ST tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack)
V Emilien, Fr
Brandon Smith was a very highly rated recruit who missed last year because of surgery. Plenty of good programs count on a guy like him to step up and be a decent starter as a rFr (Texas last year, for example, had two rFr safeties start, and they weren't higher-rated than Smith). I won't get myself started on Brown because I want to be positive about student-athletes, but... hopefully he can be somewhat better. Maybe Turner or Emilien could emerge, or Williams. Clearly the weakest spot, pending more information on the freshmen.
I'm more optimistic about youngsters like Van Bergen, Mouton, Fitzgerald, Cissoko and B Smith than DeadMan was. Nevertheless, this won't be even a very good defense, unless it lucks into some amazing sophomore starters like the 1997 team did. If Graham can command constant double teams, Warren shuts off WRs, and a safety emerges, it could be an average Big 10 defense. If it can simply be more consistent and slightly better than last year's--which I think it can--then the significant offense improvement should take this team to a 7-5 record with the weak non-conf schedule.
My summary of the starters:
All-Conference: Graham, Warren
Very Good: Ezeh, Mouton
Competent (replacement level): Van Bergen, Martin, Campbell, Fitzgerald, Cissoko, Smith
Frighten Me: Brown