Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's become a premium position to fill in
the NFL, as getting a bull in the interior of the defensive line has become
the cornerstone of a great defense. The best defensive lineman in the recent
NFL Draft was Arizona State's Terrell Suggs, who went 10th to Baltimore. So
why did three defensive tackles go ahead of him in the draft (Dewayne
Robertson to the Jets, Johnathan Sullivan to the Saints and Kevin Williams to
The interior line is where it all starts. A terror inside can do a lot of
damage, taking on multiple blockers, clogging things up and making teams run
outside where the quicker players can make the play. They can also collapse a
pocket with a good inside push and force quarterbacks to improvise on the run.
A player that can do both is the model that the NFL is desperately seeking.
With that being said, here is a look at the big uglies in the middle that will
give offensive coordinators fits this year.
VINCE WILFORK - One of the biggest linemen on this list, at 6-2, 350 pounds,
this Miami Hurricane reminds a lot of people of former Miami standout and now
All-Pro tackle Warren Sapp. As a sophomore last year, Wilfork finished with 46
total tackles, with 15 TFLs and seven sacks. A huge road block in the middle
of the line, Wilfork has surprising agility and always seems to be disrupting
things upfield. It doesn't hurt to play with some of the best defensive talent
in the country, but Wilfork is just as vital to Miami's defensive scheme as
anyone on the roster.
|A huge road block in the middle
of the line, Vince Wilfork has surprising agility and always seems to be disrupting
BRANDON KENNEDY - Could the best interior lineman in the country play in the
Sun Belt? Perhaps, and the North Texas Mean Green are happy to call him
one of their own. Kennedy is a stout, powerful tackle at 5-10, 312 pounds, but
shows the athleticism and quickness of an end. He started all 13 games last
season and finished third nationally in TFLs (24), while ranking fourth on the
team in tackles (76) and leading the Sun Belt in sacks (10). A two-time First-
Team All-Conference selection, while earning Sun Belt Defensive Player of the
Year honors in 2002, Kennedy is the complete package in the middle. Double and
triple teams didn't stop him last season and may not be enough to slow him
down in 2003.
TOMMIE HARRIS - Returning from an injury-plagued sophomore season, this 6-3,
290-pound Sooner is poised for a big season. As a true freshman in 2001,
Harris finished the year with 34 tackles and 17 TFLs, earning Freshman All-
American honors. Last season was a wash however, as the man in the middle for
Oklahoma amassed just 25 tackles, four TFLs and two sacks. With one of the
best defenses in the Bob Stoops' regime, Harris should have little trouble
bouncing back with a difficult 2002 campaign.
TIM ANDERSON - An integral part of the national championship team a year ago,
the 6-4, 290-pound senior will be on everyone's short list in terms of awards
for interior linemen this time around. A Second-Team All-Big Ten selection in
2002, Anderson is one of those underrated players on the Buckeyes who will be
called upon to provide veteran leadership for the younger players. With a non-
stop motor, Anderson has a chance to go from a solid player to a very special
one in 2003.
RANDY STARKS - A third-year player at Maryland, who could be the top defensive
performer in the ACC this season. At 6-4, 315 pounds, Starks is a mountain of
a man in the middle for the Terps. It's not just the size with Starks, as he
is also one of the strongest players on the team, bench pressing 440 pounds
and squatting a school-record 765 pounds. As a sophomore in 2002, Starks
earned Second-Team All-ACC honors, after finishing third on the team in
tackles with a whopping 93. He added 12.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks and a team-high 17
JORDAN CARSTENS - One of the Big 12's most underrated players, Carstens is a
lunch-pail type who gives all-out effort on every play. A former walk-on, the
6-5, 305-pound Iowa State Cyclone has put up consistent numbers since he
stepped on the field in 2000. That year he finished with 48 total tackles. In
2001, Carstens was a Third-Team All-Big 12 selection, finishing with 81 total
tackles. This past season, he put it all together, collecting 103 total
tackles, with 13 TFLs and five sacks and 27 QB hurries, en route to Second-
Team All-Big 12 honors.
* WILDCARD - DARNELL DOCKETT - An All-American player who needs to make better
decisions this season. In 2002, Dockett was suspended for the Sugar Bowl for
some off-the-field problems and his career in Tallahassee was in question. If
the 6-4, 280-pound Seminole puts those problems behind him, he can regain the
form that had NFL brass drooling over his potential. Last season, Dockett
finished with 57 tackles, seven TFLs, two sacks and 17 QB hurries. He has been
reinstated by Bobby Bowden and will play in the season-opener in Chapel Hill.
With a defense returning 10 starters from a year ago, FSU has a chance to
become an elite team again. Dockett could play a big part in that.
Others to Watch: Rodrique Wright (Texas), Haloti Ngata (Oregon), DeMarco
McNeil (Auburn), Shaun Cody (USC), Marcus Tubbs (Texas), Anttaj Hawthorne
(Wisconsin), Travis Johnson (Florida State), Rodney Leisle (UCLA), Chad Pugh
(TCU) and Doug Goodwin (Boston College).
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at