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2012 Big Sky position rankings: Defensive line
They say games are won and lost in the trenches. Considering Montana State’s depth of talent up front on defense, that’s probably one reason why both the media and coaches picked the Bobcats to win the Big Sky Conference in 2012.
Headed up by All-America tackle Zach Minter, the Bobcats are loaded along the line defensively (as you’ll see below). But MSU doesn’t own a monopoly on D-line talent in the Big Sky. There’s plenty to go around for everyone.
The new season figures to be a big year for the big boys up front on D, especially with four new teams coming to play in the Big Sky. And we’ve got the names to prove it.
Following is our projection of the Top 10 defensive linemen in the Big Sky Conference for the upcoming season. Read and enjoy (or curse, whichever suits you):
TOP 10 DEFENSIVE LINEMEN FOR 2012
1. ZACH MINTER, SR., MONTANA STATE 2011: 52 tkl, 11 tfl, 7.5 sacks, 8 hurries, 3 ff, 1 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: Minter was a unanimous first-team All-Big Sky selection last year, and also made All-America. The Sports Network tabbed him as a first-team preseason All-American this season, so more great things are expected of him. Minter flies to the ball with the kind of speed and quickness that for rare for a defensive tackle, and his 52 tackles tell that tale. Minter’s biography on MSU’s website says he is “perhaps the most productive interior lineman in the FCS,” and that’s no foolin’. The big fella in the middle will be outstanding once again in Bozeman.
2. CODY LARSEN, SR., SOUTHERN UTAH 2011: 26 tkl, 7.5 tfl, 7 sacks, 1 int, 3 hurries, 1 ff, 1 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: At nearly 290 pounds, Larsen is a load to handle in the middle. He was a two-time first-team All-Great West Conference pick, and transitioning to the Big Sky won’t be an issue because Larsen can hold his own against anybody. The Sports Network tabbed him as a second-team preseason All-American. Perhaps his best attribute is his versatility: Larsen has lined up at all three defensive line positions in his three years with the Thunderbirds. Teams in the Big Sky will get a heavy dose of Larsen this season.
3. BRAD DALY, JR., MONTANA STATE 2011: 31 tkl, 13 tfl, 12.5 sacks, 7 hurries, 1 ff. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: Unblockable last season, Daly returns to wreak havoc on Big Sky Conference quarterbacks. Speed rushing is Daly’s forte, and nobody does it better off the edge. Daly was slowed late last year with an arm injury, but not even that slowed him down. The brother and son of two former Bobcat All-Americans, Daly has a great football pedigree. He played primarily on passing downs last year, but his role should increase this season. And with guys like DT Zach Minter and DE Caleb Schreibeis returning, Daly’s impact should be much the same.
4. ROSS BRENNEMAN, SR., NORTH DAKOTA 2011: 32 tkl, 10 tfl, 8.5 sacks, 5 hurries, 1 ff, 1 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: Brenneman’s 8.5 sacks last season were a career high, and it helped the Fighting Sioux (er, wait … ) win a share of the Great West Conference title. At 6-foot-4, Brenneman can disrupt the quarterback in a variety of ways, be it off the edge on the pass rush or by getting his big paws up to disrupt passes. Brenneman is part of a deep and talented front line at UND, and that should free him up again in 2012 to do what he does best. Offensive lines will be tested by Brenneman, and he’ll do his damage in the backfield.
5. TREVOR PLETCHER, SR., WEBER STATE 2011: 36 tkl, 10 tfl, 6.5 sacks, 3 hurries, 2 ff. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: You already saw Pletcher’s name in our Top 10 list of special teams players heading into the new season, but from his defensive end spot is where he truly shines. Pletcher needs four sacks to move into the Top 10 of Weber State’s all-time list, and he should have no trouble getting there in 2012. Pletcher has a really good motor, and it was on display last year when he tied a school record with four sacks in a game in a victory over Idaho State. Pletcher was voted one of four team captains for the new year, and he’ll be up to the leadership role. Just watch him work on the field.
6. CALEB SCHREIBEIS, SR., MONTANA STATE 2011: 64 tkl, 11 tfl, 7 sacks, 6 hurries, 1 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: How can you keep Scheibeis off this list? All he did last year was finish in the top five in the Big Sky in sacks (third) and tackles for loss (fifth) while piling up 64 tackles from his defensive end spot. Schreibeis’ 64 total stops were the most for any defensive end in the league last year. Betchya didn’t know that. Entering 2012, there is no reason to believe Schreibeis won’t be the same player. It’s a game of pick your poison for opposing offensive lines, and Schreibeis will make a big mark on what promises to be the best defensive line in the league.
7. BOBBY ERSKINE, SR., UC DAVIS 2011: 32 tkl, 9.5 tfl, 3 sacks, 2 hurries, 2 ff, 2 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: Media types who cover the Big Sky Conference, along with the league’s sports information directors, thought enough of Erskine to name him to the preseason all-conference team. And why not? Erskine came up big for the Aggies in 2011, even after coach Bob Biggs suggested he wasn’t playing up to his potential in the early part of the season. With his long hair flowing from his helmet (a la the Packers’ Clay Matthews) Erskine has the mentality of a warrior on defense. Erskine is always around the football making plays. Expect that trend to continue.
8. PAUL ENA, SR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2011: 48 tkl, 9 tfl, 3 sacks, 2 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: Ena is focused and ready for a big season. Eastern Washington’s website says Ena was one of only three players on the team to earn an an “Iron Eagle” Award in the spring, which is given for achievements in the offseason in strength and conditioning. Ena doesn’t get a ton of QB sacks but he sure has a nose for the ball. In three seasons Ena has already made seven fumble recoveries, which is just one away from the school record. The Montana Grizzlies wanted Ena in a big way when he came out of high school in 2009, and he’s shown why as a star on EWU’s defense ever since.
9. JOSH HARRIS, SR., MONTANA 2011: 43 tkl, 9.5 tfl, 3.5 sacks, 2 hurries, 1 ff. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: The Grizzlies must replace their entire starting defensive front from last year, which would be a tough task for any team. But UM has a secret weapon in Harris. He’s flown under the radar in the last couple years, mainly because he was ravaged by a season-ending knee injury before the 2010 season started. But he showed promise when he returned to the lineup last year and is expected to reach his full potential this year – which would be huge for a team that is breaking in a new coordinator and trying to integrate eight new starters on D.
10. SULLIVAN GROSZ, JR., CAL POLY 2011: 45 tkl, 11 tfl, 5.5 sacks, 7 hurries, 1 fum rec. THE BUZZ FOR 2012: Grosz established himself last season, emerging as a big-time player as a sophomore. His performance paved the way for big expectations for his junior campaign. Grosz will be again plugged into the middle of Cal Poly’s defensive line, where he earned – and deserved – All-Great West accolades a year ago. Grosz (the name just screams defensive lineman, doesn’t it?) will be a run-stuffing, pass-rushing force again this year, helping the Mustangs transition to its first season as a football program in the Big Sky Conference.
By Greg Rachac, Billings Gazette