So in my last article, I went through the list of available options on the offensive side of the ball for the fan vote of the 75th Anniversary Team of the Reese’s Senior Bowl. I would encourage all fans to cast their votes here https://www.seniorbowl.com/75thteam/. Also, if you have not attended the annual game in Mobile, Alabama I highly encourage everyone to do so. Now I wanted to take a look at the defensive side of the ball for the team.
Defensive Tackle – Ted Washington (Louisville), Bryant Young (Notre Dame), Booger McFarland (LSU), Marcus Stroud (Georgia), Kevin Williams (Oklahoma State), Darnell Dockett (Florida State), Kyle Williams (LSU), Geno Atkins (Georgia), Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), Grady Jarrett (Clemson), Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State)
Fans are tasked with picking three at a position that doesn’t get a great deal of appreciation in the football world as they do the grunt work. Their effort doesn’t always produce the stat line that fans want, but their efforts to free up others on defense to make plays or be stout in run defense are still very much appreciated. Guys like Donald (29.5 sacks) and Jarrett (28.5 sacks) stood out with monster production from the interior line. Someone like Javon Hargrave who as a product of South Carolina State, had 37 sacks in his career, used his Senior Bowl experience to open some more doors for his pro career.
Defensive End – Chuck Smith (Tennessee), Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), Kyle Vanden Bosch (Nebraska), Dwight Freeny (Syracuse), Trent Cole (Cincinnati), DeMarcus Ware (Troy), Jason Taylor (Akron), Elvis Dumervil (Louisville), Tamba Hali (Cal), Cam Jordan (Cal), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue).
Again tasked to pick three, the folks at the Senior Bowl don’t make this an easy position group to pick. With a veritable who’s who of players who had great pro careers and took their opportunity at the Senior Bowl to propel themselves. In the case of Strahan, Ware, and Taylor, they were honored with NFL Hall of Fame inductions. Others, like Dumervil, Jordan, and Freeny were and are fun to watch at the pro level. The guys on the edge of the defense get the spotlight based on the sacks they record through the seasons.
Outside Linebacker – Pat Swilling (Georgia Tech), Cornelius Bennett (Alabama), Bryce Paup (Northern Iowa), Joey Porter (Colorado State), John Abraham (South Carolina), Clay Matthews (Southern Cal), Von Miller (Texas A&M)
To me, this was always one of the most dynamic positions on the defensive side of the ball. At outside linebacker, depending on schemes players could see themselves in blitzes to attack the quarterback, in coverage to cover running backs in short zones or in the flat, and always aware of slot receivers wherever those routes would take them. In addition, they could be tasked with lining up as a defensive end and going up against an offensive tackle at the snap. Players like Miller, and Matthews were versatile in their play to aid in coverage and blitz/against the run. Joey Porter and Pat Swilling excelled at attacking the offense in the backfield. Swilling left Georgia Tech as the all-time sack leader (now 5th).
Inside Linebacker – Levon Kirkland (Clemson), Derrick Brooks (Florida State), Al Wilson (Tennessee), Brian Urlacher (New Mexico), Lance Briggs (Arizona), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama), Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), LeVonte David (Nebraska), Demario Davis (Arkansas State), Bobby Wagner (Utah State), Shaquille Leonard (South Carolina State), Fred Warner (BYU)
This time, fans get to pick four from a great group and once again the staff at the Senior Bowl picked a solid group. Fanboy feelings aside (I’m a Seminoles alumnus and fan) Brooks had a standout career in college and continued it into the NFL. Guys like Warner, Wagner, and Urlacher certainly used the opportunity at the Senior Bowl to springboard into the NFL. Also, guys like Warner and Ryans could fly around the field and make plays in any situation.
Safety – Carnell Lake (UCLA), George Teague (Alabama), Blaine Bishop (Ball State), Brian Dawkins (Clemson), Mike Brown (Nebraska), Bob Sanders (Iowa), Roman Harper (Alabama), Nick Collins (Bethune Cookman), Eric Weddle (Utah), Devin McCourty (Rutgers), Harrison Smith (Notre Dame), Quandre Diggs (Texas), Kevin Byard (Middle Tennessee State), LeRoy Butler (Florida State)
Safety has always seemed to be one of those spots that help in coverage but had some of the hardest hitters. Probably why guys like Dawkins, Weddle, Sanders, and Harper all stood out to me. McCourty, Byard, and Butler while they could deliver the hit seemed better in the coverage assignments. Picking three from this group is tough.
Cornerback – Aeneas Williams (Southern), Dale Carter (Tennessee), Sam Madison (Louisville), Patrick Surtain (Southern Miss), Rashean Mathis (Bethune Cookman), Marcus Trufant (Washington State), Tim Jennings (Georgia), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tenn State), Richard Sherman (Stanford), Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina), Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama), James Bradberry (Samford), Tre’Davious White (LSU)
Outside of quarterback, it would be hard to find a position as scrutinized as a cornerback. They get the spotlight on them every blown play and unless they are a shutdown type of corner, they get singled out more often than not. Picking three in this group is a tough choice for any fan of the game. Smaller school stars like Rodgers-Cromartie, Mathis, and Jenkins all used their opportunity to attend the Senior Bowl to springboard into great careers in the NFL. In the case of Madison and Surtain, they would become teammates at the next level with the Dolphins (and fan favorites in South Florida).
Kicker – Steve Christie (William & Mary), Todd Sauerburn (West Virginia), Phil Dawson (Texas), Nate Keading (Iowa), Mike Nugent (Ohio State), Nick Folk (Arizona), Mason Crosby (Colorado), Chris Boswell (Rice)
Some powerful and accurate legs in the kicker category. Guys like Folk, Boswell, and Crosby proved vital with a game-winning kick and all three carried their success from college into solid pro careers. All three rank among the lead leaders in all-time accuracy and field goals made.
Punter – Brad Maynard (Ball State), Dave Zastudil (Ohio), Donnie Jones (LSU), Dustin Colquitt (Tennessee), Pat McAfee (West Virginia), Kevin Huber (Cincinnati), Thomas Morstead (SMU)
Players like Maynard and Colquitt got a lot of distance on their respective punts, both coincidentally are in the top 10 in career punting yardage. Then there is McAfee who averaged 46 yards per punt in his time in the NFL. The booming sound when the punter makes contact with the ball is oftentimes one of the “wow” moments to see.