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June 10, 2010

These triplets are a nightmare for offenses

Wednesday, we gave you a look at the nation's best offensive "triplets" -- the best combination of quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Today, it's the best defensive triplets -- lineman, linebacker and defensive back.

Frankly, picking the team with the No. 1 trio was extremely easy; the problem came when we had to pick the actual triplet package for that team.

As we pointed out with the offensive triplets, this isn't necessarily the most talented trios, but it is a list of trios who already have produced. Here's a look at the top 15.

BEST DEFENSIVE TRIPLETS (DL/LB/DB)
15. TEMPLE
The triplets: E Adrian Robinson, LB Elijah Joseph, FS Jaiquawn Jarrett
The buzz: Temple's turnaround from laughing-stock to MAC title contender has come because of coach Al Golden's emphasis on defense. Robinson is a big-time pass rusher. He was the MAC defensive player of the year last season, when he had 12 sacks, five forced fumbles, 46 tackles, three quarterback hurries and three pass breakups. Joseph is expected to be the Owls' top linebacker this season. He had 63 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss last season. Like most Owls defenders, he has a nasty streak and hits a ton. Jarrett was another first-team all-league performer. He was second on the team with 76 tackles and had three picks, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble.
14. OREGON
The triplets: E Kenny Rowe, LB Casey Matthews, SS Javes Lewis
The buzz: The Ducks expect to be stingier on defense this season. Rowe had 11.5 sacks last season, including three against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Rowe is extremely quick off the edge but must work harder to become more proficient against the run. Matthews, whose dad, Clay, was a 19-year NFL veteran, had 81 tackles last season, along with three sacks and five pass breakups. Lewis was an effective first-time starter last season as a sophomore, with 78 tackles, two picks and five pass breakups.
13. LSU
The triplets: T Drake Nevis, LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Patrick Peterson
The buzz: LSU's offense was shaky last season and could be so again, so the defense is going to have to lead the way. That shouldn't be a problem. Peterson has a chance to be the best cornerback in the country. That might sound funny when you consider he has just three career interceptions, but when he bears down, you cannot complete a pass against him. Sheppard emerged as one of the SEC's best linebacker last season, after the arrival of John Chavis as coordinator. Sheppard had 110 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Nevis also benefited from Chavis' arrival; he had made 33 tackles in his first two seasons but had 50 -- including four sacks -- last season.
12. CLEMSON
The triplets: E Da'Quan Bowers, LB Brandon Maye, SS DeAndre McDaniel
The buzz: Bowers has the potential to be one of the best ends in the nation -- and a high first-round pick. He has four career sacks in his two seasons, but a legit goal is doubling that total this season. Bowers made 46 tackles last season, and it's time for him to become more of a playmaker. Maye had 95 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks last season, but he still was overshadowed by teammates. Maye should have more of the spotlight to himself this season. McDaniel was one of those who overshadowed Maye last season. Actually, McDaniel overshadowed most defenders everywhere last season, when he had eight interceptions and 98 tackles. He possesses good ball skills and also lays the lumber, obviously good traits for a safety.
11. WEST VIRGINIA
The triplets: T Chris Neild, LB J.T. Thomas, FS Robert Sands
The buzz: There are some questions about West Virginia's offense this season, but there aren't any about the defense. The Mountaineers' unit has a chance to be the best defense in the Big East and one of the top 20 or so nationally. Neild heads a strong three-man line. He takes up a lot of space in the middle and had 35 tackles last season. Thomas had 76 tackles, seven tackles for loss, five pass breakups and two interceptions last season. Sands, who is 6 feet 5, is heading into his third season as the starter. He had 65 tackles, five picks and eight pass breakups last season. He has good speed and covers a lot of ground with his long strides. Worth noting is that Thomas and Sands are from south Florida, which has been a fertile recruiting area for WVU. But the assistant who recruited that area so well for the Mountaineers was Doc Holliday, who is the new coach at Marshall.
10. MIAMI
The triplets: E Allen Bailey, LB Colin McCarthy, CB Brandon Harris
The buzz: Bailey, who also can play tackle, has been a solid player for the Hurricanes and has caught the eye of numerous NFL scouts. But it's time for him to make the jump from "solid" to "star," and he definitely has the skill set to do so. He had 34 tackles and seven sacks last season, and he needs to reach 50 and 10, respectively, for UM's defense to hit its potential. McCarthy, like Bailey a senior, has been productive -- when healthy. He had 95 tackles last season and has shown good coverage skills during his career. Harris has the ability to be a true shutdown corner. He had two interceptions, 15 pass breakups and three forced fumbles last season, and has a shot at becoming an All-America selection this season.
9. TCU
The triplets: E Wayne Daniels, LB Tank Carder, FS Tejay Johnson
The buzz: With the departure of star E Jerry Hughes, Daniels needs to emerge as the Horned Frogs' premier pass rusher this season. He had 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season, and he must become more productive off the edge. Carder had 89 tackles last season and has a chance to be the best linebacker in the Mountain West this season. He's solid against the run and excellent against the pass, as evidenced by his 10 pass breakups. Johnson had 59 tackles and three interceptions last season, and he will be TCU's best defensive back this fall. He has good size and speed and understands the nuances of TCU's 4-2-5 defensive set.
8. ARIZONA STATE
The triplets: T Lawrence Guy, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden
The buzz: Guy doesn't get enough notice as one of the nation's best tackles. He had 37 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season, and he was a key component on a unit that led the Pac-10 and finished 13th in the nation in total defense. Burfict lived up to his high school hype as a true freshman last season. He's a devastating hitter who made 69 tackles last season. As he becomes more acclimated to the defense -- and curbs his freelance tendencies -- he will be a true force. He and Guy are the centerpieces of what should be one of the nation's five or six best defensive front sevens. The secondary has some issues, but if Bolden is 100 percent after a knee injury cut short his '09 season, the Sun Devils should be fine. Bolden has excellent speed and is a tough, aggressive shutdown corner.
7. OKLAHOMA
The triplets: E Jeremy Beal, LB Travis Lewis, FS Quinton Carter
The buzz: For all its problems last season, Oklahoma still ranked eighth nationally in total defense. Beal should be among the Big 12's -- and nation's -- leaders in sacks this fall. He had 11 sacks, 70 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles last season. He has 20.5 career sacks heading into his senior season. Lewis has been a productive starter since his redshirt freshman season, with 253 tackles in those two seasons. He had 109 last season and always seems to be around the ball. Carter is expected to be the standout in a rebuilt secondary. He has good range and is a big hitter. He also had four picks and five pass breakups last season.
6. TEXAS
The triplets: E Sam Acho, LB Keenan Robinson, CB Aaron Williams
The buzz: Last season was Acho's first as a starter, and he responded by leading the Longhorns in sacks with nine. He also had 59 tackles and two forced fumbles. Robinson hasn't received much national attention, but that should change this season. He was the Longhorns' third-leading tackler last season and should lead them in that category this fall. He does need to become more of a big-play guy, though. Williams, a junior, is the latest in a long line of star Texas defensive backs. He has four interceptions and five pass breakups in his first two seasons and could double both those numbers this fall.
5. NEBRASKA
The triplets: T Jared Crick, LB Sean Fisher, CB Prince Amukamara
The buzz: Crick was the Huskers' other tackle last season, when Ndamukong Suh was wreaking havoc. Crick, though, put up some notable numbers, too, with 73 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries. The question, of course, is can he be as productive when he's the one getting double-teamed. Fisher looks to be the best player in an undistinguished linebacker group. He had 35 tackles as a redshirt freshman last season and is expected to play a much bigger role this fall. Amukamara already is a big-timer and was a big reason the Huskers led the nation in pass efficiency defense. He had five picks and 11 pass breakups to go along with 64 tackles last season.
4. OHIO STATE
The triplets: E Cameron Heyward, LB Ross Homan, CB Chimdi Chekwa
The buzz: Heyward is on the cusp of stardom. If he has the season that's expected of him, he will be a top-five pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Heyward, who has the size and bulk to also play tackle, had 46 tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Homan may not be overly physically gifted, but he's a heady player who led the Buckeyes with 108 tackles last season. He also had five interceptions and five pass breakups. Chekwa will be a third-year starter this fall. He has three interceptions and 20 pass breakups in his career, and he made a career-high 43 tackles last season.
3. IOWA
The triplets: E Adrian Clayborn, LB Jeremiha Hunter, SS Tyler Sash
The buzz: Clayborn should be a fixture on preseason All-America teams. He is physically gifted, has a high football IQ and plays with a mean streak. He had 11.5 sacks, 70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles last season. Hunter is the lone returning starter at linebacker for the Hawkeyes. He has been in the proverbial shadows the past few seasons but should emerge as a key playmaker this season. Hunter was Iowa's second-leading tackler last season with 87, and it's not inconceivable that number could jump by 30 or so this season. Sash is a big-play guy for the Hawkeyes. He had five picks, 85 tackles, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles last season.
2. ALABAMA
The triplets: E Marcell Dareus, LB Dont'a Hightower, SS Mark Barron
The buzz: Dareus didn't start last season, but he still led the Tide with 6.5 sacks. He had 33 tackles overall, and his one interception was a big one -- he returned it for a score in the national title game against Texas. Expect Dareus' numbers to soar with more playing time this fall, and expect to see him go in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. Hightower is returning from a severe knee injury, but coaches don't seem to have any worries about his health. Hightower is a big guy (6-4/250) who can run, and he also can deliver a blow. Look for him to become a team leader with the departure of star LB Rolando McClain. Barron is the only returning starter in the secondary, and he is coming off a highly productive first season as a starter. He led the SEC with seven interceptions and added 11 pass breakups. He also was second on the Tide with 92 tackles. His leadership abilities will need to come to the fore for a young and untested secondary.
1. NORTH CAROLINA
The triplets: E Robert Quinn, LB Quan Sturdivant, FS Deunta Williams
The buzz: We just as easily could have had T Marvin Austin, LB Bruce Carter and CB Kendric Burney as the Heels' triplets. Yes, the Heels are loaded on defense. Depending upon who you believe, all six guys could go in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. Quinn is a big-time pass rusher. He had 11 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hurries and six forced fumbles last season. Sturdivant can run, makes big plays and is highly productive (202 tackles the past two seasons). Williams covers a ton of ground and has six picks and eight pass breakups last season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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