By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - They are free to roam the middle of the field, looking to lay the lumber on the ball-carriers and receivers that dare to enter their domain. The job of the linebacker is to be instinctual, to be in the right place at the right time and deliver punishing hits.
Here are the top linebackers in the FBS heading into the 2010 season.
GREG JONES, MICHIGAN STATE
While this Spartan looks a little small for a linebacker (6-1, 228), there is
no denying that he plays much bigger and is regarded among the best in the
country. Jones has earned All-American honors in each of his first three
seasons at MSU, including being named a consensus first-team member in 2009.
The 2009 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year finished third in the nation in
tackles (154), with 13.5 TFLs and nine sacks. The ultimate defensive playmaker
Jones heads into his senior season ranked eighth on the school's all-time
tackles list (359). The Spartans may not be lifting the Big Ten trophy at the
end of the season, but that won't stop the accolades from raining down on
QUAN STURDIVANT, NORTH CAROLINA
On one of the best defenses in the entire country, Sturdivant stands out as
the leader. Perhaps the most NFL-ready LB heading into the 2010 campaign, this
Tar Heel has the ability to do it all. The 6-2, 230-pound senior can make
plays all over the field and is rarely caught out of position. He earned
First-Team All-ACC honors in 2009, finishing with 79 total tackles and 12
TFLs. UNC's offense definitely plays second-fiddle to the defense, which is
chock-full of All-American talent throughout. The Tar Heels aren't ready to
win the ACC, but opponents will definitely know they are in a fight week-in and
CHRIS GALIPPO, USC
Following in a long line of stellar LBs at USC, Galippo had a strong sophomore
season in 2009, earning some All-American honors, while being a semifinalist
for the Butkus Award. The 6-2, 250-pound middle linebacker finished last year
with 70 total tackles, eight TFLs, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced
fumbles. The Trojans are under new management and will begin serving a
postseason ban this year, but that shouldn't prevent Galippo from once again
putting up big numbers, as the team's defensive leader.
MIKE MOHAMED, CALIFORNIA
Mohamed is a veteran LB who has played in all 39 games for the Golden Bears
over the last three seasons. The 6-3, 245-pounder came into his own last year,
becoming a full-time starter, earning All-Pac-10 First-Team honors, leading
the conference with 112 total tackles, with 8.5 TFLs, two sacks and three
INTs. On quite a few preseason All-American lists, expect big things from
Mohamed in 2010. The Golden Bears are always in the mix when talking about the
Pac-10 title, and this senior LB will do everything in his power to keep that
ALEX WUJCIAK, MARYLAND
A throwback type of LB, this Maryland Terrapin just keeps getting better.
Regarded as one of the top playmakers at his position in the entire country,
the 6-3, 245-pound Wujciak followed up Second-Team All-ACC honors in 2008,
with First-Team honors in 2009. As a junior last season, he ranked second in
the ACC with a team-high 131 tackles (eighth nationally), with 8.5 TFLs and
two interceptions. The Terps are not in a position to return to the top of the
ACC standings, but expect to hear Wujciak's name mentioned often regardless of
where Maryland finishes up.
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Kelvin Sheppard (LSU), Casey Matthews (Oregon), Josh
Bynes (Auburn), Tank Carder (TCU), Mario Harvey (Marshall).
MARK HERZLICH, BOSTON COLLEGE
The legend of Herzlich will follow him forever, as the standout LB, who was
the ACC Player of the Year, an All-American and a finalist for the Butkus
Award in 2008, missed the entire 2009 season while battling and beating a rare
form of bone cancer. In 2008, he amassed 110 total tackles and led all LBs
nationally with six interceptions, two of which he returned for TDs. While
Herzlich is expected to play this season, it remains to be seen if he can
return to form. At less than 100-percent, he will still be a driving force on
the BC defense. If he makes it all the way back, he will stockpile most of the
defensive awards by season's end.
TRAVIS LEWIS, OKLAHOMA
After breaking Brian Bosworth's school record for tackles by a freshman in
2008 (144 stops), the 6-2, 232-pound Lewis once again picked up All-Big 12
First-Team honors with 109 total tackles as a sophomore in 2009. As instinctual
as they come at the linebacker position, the third-year Sooner might not remain
in school after the 2009 campaign, as he has everything needed to excel at the
next level. The Sooners took it on the chin in 2009, but expect Lewis to be one
of the main reasons the team returns to form among the Big 12 elite in 2010.
BRUCE CARTER, NORTH CAROLINA
Another extremely gifted Tar Heel, the 6-3, 235-pound Carter has a complete
skill set. With above-average strength, speed and athleticism, this senior
will surely be mentioned among the best OLBs in the country. Carter has
started 33 career games, including all 13 as a junior in 2009, where he racked
up 65 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, two sacks and an interception returned for a TD, en
route to All-ACC Second-Team honors. If he stays healthy, it will be difficult
to keep him off the First Team this season.
VON MILLER, TEXAS A&M
The first Aggie to be tabbed a First-Team All-American since cornerback Jason
Webster in 1999, the 6-3, 240-pound Miller led the nation in sacks (17), while
amassing 21 TFLs. Miller is regarded as a hybrid player, who can also line up
along the defensive front with his hand on the ground. He projects to be a big-
time pass rushing threat in a 3-4 system in the NFL. The Aggies aren't exactly
stacked with All-American talent throughout the roster, but Miller is as good
as it gets at his position.
ROSS HOMAN, OHIO STATE
The linebacker position at Ohio State has become a launching pad for many a
talented player of late, and this year may be no different. Compared favorably
to 2007 Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis, the 6-0, 227-pound Homan may
just carve out an award-winning career in Columbus as well. As a junior in
2009, Homan was a Second-Team All-Big Ten member, racking up a team-high 108
total tackles. With above-average speed and playmaking ability, the sky
is the limit for this Buckeye, as he should be a driving force in Ohio State's
run toward a Big Ten title and perhaps much more.
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Akeem Ayers (UCLA), Michael Morgan (USC), Chris
Walker (Tennessee), Wayne Daniels (TCU), Lawrence Wilson (UConn).