December 17, 2009
We're closing out the last ten years by assembling the best in one place on the Doc's All-Decade team. It's a democratic enterprise: Vote below for the best linebacker. The top three vote-getters will appear on the final team later in the month.
Rocky Calmus • Oklahoma (1998-2001)
The leader of back-to-back top 10 defenses as a junior and senior, including the unit that held Texas and No. 1 Nebraska to 14 points apiece and shut out high-powered Florida State to finish a 13-0, national championship season in 2000. Calmus was a two-time consensus All-American and left OU in 2001 as the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus Award winner as the best linebacker in the nation.
E.J. Henderson • Maryland (1999-2002)
Big middle 'backer led the Terps' shocking run to the ACC championship in 2001, then ran the honors table as a senior: Consensus All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award winner and the Bednarik Award's pick as the nation's best overall defensive player.
Teddy Lehman • Oklahoma (2000-03)
Replaced Calmus at weakside linebacker and virtually repeated his predecessor's list of superlatives, earning back-to-back All-America honors, the '03 Butkus Award and (for good measure) the Bednarik Award as the leader of a top five defense that led the Sooners into the BCS title game against LSU.
Jonathan Vilma • Miami (2000-03)
Vicious hitter led dominant 'Cane defenses in tackles three years in a row on teams that amassed a 46-4 record with one national championship and two No. 2 finishes over the course of his career. Vilma was first team All-Big East three times and an All-American as a senior.
Derrick Johnson • Texas (2001-04)
Four-year starter ended his career with more than 450 total tackles, 60 tackles for loss, nine interceptions and 11 forced fumbles, good for back-to-back All-America nods as a junior and senior and a pair of national honors -- the Butkus Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the best overall defensive player -- in 2004.
A.J. Hawk • Ohio State (2002-05)
Fast, physical outside linebacker was an All-American in 2004 but made his mark a year later as the leader of the nation's top run defense, totaling 95 total tackles (16.5 for loss) en route to the '05 Lombardi Award.
Paul Posluszny • Penn State (2003-06)
Four-year starter set the school record for tackles, winning the Butkus as part of the Lions' Big Ten championship season in 2005 and becoming only the second player (along with Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald in 1995-96) to win the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player two years in a row.
Patrick Willis • Ole Miss (2003-06)
'06 Butkus winner led the SEC in total tackles two years in a row and was the league's defensive player of the year as a senior opposite the conference's worst offense.
James Laurinaitis • Ohio State (2005-08)
Three-time All-American led the Buckeyes with over 100 total tackles all three years as a starter (though most were chalked up as assists), taking his turn at the Nagurski as a sophomore and the Butkus as a junior for outright Big Ten championship teams that went on to play for the BCS title both years.
Rey Maualuga • USC (2005-08)
Hyped recruit debuted as a freshman All-American on the much-hyped 2005 team that fell seconds short of the national championship, eventually growing into a two-time All-Pac-10 pick and All-American leader of the dominant 2008 defense that allowed fewer points per game than any other team this decade. Maualuga may have also delivered the decade's hardest hit, on UCLA's Patrick Cowan in 2006.
Brandon Spikes • Florida (2006-09)
Three-time All-SEC pick and two-time All-American is also a two-time national champion, playing a leading role on the top 10 defense that held the Oklahoma juggernaut 37 points below its season average to seal the Gators' second BCS title in three years in 2008. Spikes reprised that part this year for a unit that finished fourth nationally in total defense and third in scoring D.
Rolando McClain • Alabama (2007-09)
Consensus All-American and latest Butkus winner was the brains and brawn at the center of the Tide defense that finished the '09 regular season ranked second nationally in rushing and total defense and first in scoring after holding the mighty Tebow and Co. to just 13 points in the SEC Championship game.
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