When you have a post like Top 25 Offensive Players in the Big East for 2007, there eventually has to be a yang, and that yang is finally here to do its thang.
By the way, the changing "i" to "a" fad just recently made its way to Card Chronicle Headquarters, so I plan on taking full advantage of it while I can.
25. Brandon Renkart (LB, Rutgers) -- A state championship winning quarterback at Piscataway High who spent his first two seasons at RU as a wide receiver, Brandon Renkart is going into his senior season as one of the best linebackers in the Big East. He notched 3.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in his first season on defense a year ago.
24. Peanut Whitehead (DE, Louisville) -- The most heralded defensive recruit in Louisville history started ten games as a true freshman and recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss. The already large Whitehead has added muscle in the offseason and appears poised to follow in the footsteps of the great recent U of L defensive ends Dewayne White and Elvis Dumervil.
23. Chris Robinson (DE/LB, South Florida) -- As a redshirt freshman, Robinson recorded seven sacks from a defensive end position he was relatively unaccustomed to. Now as a sophomore, he's competing for one of the two vacant starting linebacker spots opposite veteran Ben Moffitt. He'll likely start the season at LB, but don't be surprised if Jim Leavitt utilizes Robinson's versatility and moves him back to DE if he thinks it will help the unit.
22. Aaron Berry (CB, Pittsburgh) -- Berry is the unfortunate Panther saddled the task of replacing All-Big East performer and first-round draft pick Darrelle Revis. Despite the pressure, the sophomore performed admirably during the spring when he was asked to cover Derek Kinder man-to-man and hold down the wide side of the field every day in practice. He was on Kinder in the Spring Game when he picked off a pass, helping the defense defeat the offense 62-48.
21. Darius Butler (CB, Connecticut) -- Butler has been Uconn's top cover man since he arrived on campus, intercepting four passes in each of his first two seasons. After two years of being the young upstart, he now assumes a role as one of the veterans looking to revive the reputation of the Huskies as a team with a consistently stingy defense.
20. Earl Heyman (DT, Louisville) -- Each year it seems that there is one Cardinal who, despite a solid season, is completely overshadowed by a fellow defensive lineman (because it's Louisville, so there's no way they could possibly have more than one quality player on defense). Don't be surprised if that poor chap in 2007 is Heyman, who will be forced to vie for media attention with the likes of Adrian Grady, Peanut Whitehead and Brandon Cox. As a sophomore, the Ballard High product started all 13 games including two at defensive end when the line was hindered by injuries.
19. Haruki Nakamura (FS, Cincinnati) -- The most underrated player on arguably the Big East's best defense has to be Nakamura, who recorded 66 tackles from his free safety position in 2006, good for third best on the team. Expect the senior's role to increase and his numbers to jump drastically in 2007 as new head coach Brian Kelly plans on switching to a one-high safety look as opposed to the two-high safety look employed by former coach Mark Dantonio.
18. George Selvie (DE, South Florida) -- Viewed as one of the best defensive NFL prospects in the Big East, Selvie was a Scripps Freshman All-American in 2006 when he recorded 5.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 84 total tackles. His big moment came when he scooped up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown in USF's 24-19 upset of West Virginia. Because he redshirted his freshman season after an injury in the Bulls' opener against Penn State, Selvie is eligible to declare for the draft after this season, although most expect him to return to Tampa for at least one more year.
17. Quinton Andrews (FS, West Virginia) -- Another freshman All-American, Andrews developed a reputation for being a big hitter during his first season in Morgantown, leading the team with 80 tackles. He also wasn't bad against the pass, picking off a team-best five passes. Unfortunately, the offseason has been less kind to Andrews, who was recently arrested and charged with obstructing an officer.
16. Ron Girault (FS, Rutgers) -- A Second-Team All-Big East performer in 2006, Girault intercepted three passes and recorded 69 tackles for the Texas Bowl champs. Girault was the very last high schooler offered a scholarship in Rutgers' 2004 recruiting class, but in the three years since, he's turned himself into one of Greg Schiano's most valuable players.
15. Jamaal Westerman (DE, Rutgers) -- A graduate of Notre Dame Academy in Brampton, Ontario, Westerman earned Second-Team All-Conference honors a year ago when he led Rutgers with eight sacks, and was second on the team with 13.5 tackles for loss. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after he made six tackles, 2.5 sacks, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and broke up a pass against Connecticut on Oct. 29.
14. Adrian Grady (DT, Louisville) -- After breaking his fibula in the season opener against Kentucky, Grady made just two starts in 2006, but his performance towards the end of the season and in the spring have many believing he is more than ready to fill the freakishly large 19-year-old shoes left by Amobi Okoye. Grady's ascent to the leadership role on defense was evident when he was asked to field questions at the press conference introducing Steve Kragthorpe as U of L's new head coach. When asked his first impression of Kragthorpe, the always candid Grady replied: "He gives us a really good vibe. I felt a lot more comfortable around him than the first time I met the other guy that was here."
13. Danny Lansanah (LB, Connecticut) -- Uconn's leading tackler the past two seasons, Lansanah tallied a career-best 99 stops to go with two sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in '06. He also proved to be one of the Huskies' most able pass defenders, intercepting four passes. The senior showed no signs of slowing down in the Spring Game when he recorded a team-best 10 tackles as the first-teamers predictably drilled the backups 41-10.
12. Mike Jenkins (CB, South Florida) -- One half of arguably the best corner back tandem in college football, Jenkins is actually considered by many to be USF's best pass defender despite having numbers inferior to those of teammate Trae Williams. In his junior season he intercepted just one pass, but broke-up a team-best 15. A freak athlete who toyed with the idea of coming out for the NFL Draft after the Bulls' PapaJohns.com Bowl victory in December, Jenkins is expected to play on Sundays by just about everyone who predicts that sort of thing.
11. Terrill Byrd (DT, Cincinnati) -- The anchor of a run defense that held seven teams to fewer than 100 rushing yards last season, Byrd recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on his way to earning First-Team All-Big East honors. The Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2005, he has started all 24 of the Bearcats' games since he arrived in the Queen City. New head coach Brian Kelly's reliance on Byrd skyrocketed two weeks ago when junior defensive end Trevor Anderson announced his intention to transfer.
10. Ben Moffitt (LB, South Florida) -- Moffitt, who has led USF in tackles the past two seasons, tallied a team-leading 112 stops last season, and established himself as the leader of one of the best linebacking corps in America. But Stephen Nicholas and Pat St. Louis are gone, meaning the pressure is on Moffitt to perform like never before. Not that it's anything Moffitt can't handle. The Paul Bunyan-esque linebacker married his high school sweetheart before he'd even graduated from high school, and has juggled school, class and taking care of his wife and two children since he arrived on campus.
9. Joe Clermond (DE, Pittsburgh) -- The preseason Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List member led the conference in tackles for loss with 16.5 in 2006, and ranked 15th nationally with 1.38 per game. Clermond, a senior, had at least one tackle for loss in seven consecutive games to close the year and in 10 of 12 games overall. With H.B. Blades gone, Clermond becomes the undisputed leader on a defense hoping to carry Pitt to its first bowl game in the Dave Wannstedt era.
8. Jameel McClain (DE, Syracuse) -- Sadly for Orange fans, it appears that McClain is the Amadeus of the F. Murray Abraham career that is the 2007 Syracuse defense. The preseason Bronko Nagurski Watch List member led the Big East in sacks last season with 9.5, and his 14.5 tackles for loss ranks sixth in school history. He was named to the Big East's Second-Team Defense, and was a semifinalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation's best lineman. Though labeled as undersized by NFL scouts, McClain is going to have to play like Landon Middlecoff if he wants Syracuse to be competitive in his senior season.
7. Trae Williams (CB, South Florida) -- The knock on Williams this offseason is that his numbers a season ago were inflated because opponents were trying to avoid teammate Mike Jenkins. Even if that's the case, what he did in '06 was awfully impressive. The First-Team All-Big East performer led the conference with seven interceptions, and broke up nine passes, second-best on his team to Jenkins' 15. Williams certainly isn't going to be picked on in his senior season, so he'll have ample opportunity to prove that last year wasn't a fluke.
6. Keilen Dykes (DT, West Virginia) -- A First-Team All-Big East selection in 2006, Dykes led a run defense that allowed just 93.3 rushing yards per game but was let down by a secondary that surrendered an average of 243.3 through the air. Dykes, who has played every position on the defensive line during his three years in Morgantown, was recently named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List.
5. Mike Mickens (CB, Cincinnati) -- Mike Jenkins will be a better pro and Trae Williams has the more impressive stats, but there is no one who could convince me right now that Mike Mickens isn't the best pure cover corner in the league. He's one of only two corners (Cal's notorious Daymeion Hughes being the other) to rank in the top 10 nationally in passes defended in each of the last two years. In his first two seasons he's broken up an absurd 29 passes and twice been named to the All-Conference team. He possesses tremendous speed and instincts, and turns his hips without breaking stride as well as anyone in college football. See Louisville game for more information.
4. Courtney Greene (FS, Rutgers) -- As a sophomore starting all 14 games in 2006, Greene was the leader of a secondary that finished the season ranked sixth in the country against the pass. He led the team with four picks, and his 82 tackles were second best to Devra Thompson's 83. With unprecedented hype surrounding the Scarlet Knights heading into this season, the pressure is on Greene to lead the secondary to success similar to that of which it saw a year ago.
3. Malik Jackson (LB, Louisville) -- Overshadowed by Amobi Okoye and Louisville's oft-discussed offense, Malik Jackson may have turned in the best 2006 season in the Big East that no one talked about. The junior started all 13 games at outside linebacker and finished second in the league in both sacks (9) and tackles for loss (16). In the Cardinals' first BCS bowl game, Jackson recorded four tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and recovered a fumble. Alongside the experienced duo of Lamar Myles and Preston Smith, and with the addition of former prized recruit Willie Willaims, Jackson figures to be the leader of what might be the best set (or quartet) of linebackers in the conference.
2. Eric Wicks (SS, West Virginia) -- One of just two unanimous selections to the All-Big East First-Team Defense a year ago (Amobi Okoye was the other), Wicks was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and returns to Morgantown for his second senior season. Despite his position, the constantly blitzing Wicks led the Mountaineers with seven sacks to go along with 73 tackles and 11 tackles for loss in 2006. Rich Rodriguez is relying on the experience of Wicks and Quinton Andrews to squash the problems in the secondary that doomed any shot WVU had at a national championship last season.
1. Eric Foster (DT, Rutgers) -- Easily the best pro prospect that the Big East has to offer on the defensive side of the ball, Foster earned First Team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America last year after recording 51 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six sacks. He's been named a preseason First-Team All-American by Athlon and The Sporting News among others. In addition to his exceptional size and quickness, Foster was a major boon to the '06 Scarlet Knight squad because he concocted the now famous locker room chant ESPN cameras caught on film after both the wins over Louisville and South Florida.