In the FCS Huddle: Ten FCS defensive linemen to watch

10:25 AM, May 25, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Get you motor running ...

Talk to people who are around the top defensive linemen in the Football Championship Subdivision and they all seem to point out their relentless drive on the field.

The best of the best, whether ends or tackles, consistently wreck havoc in opposing backfields, and no coach has to worry about their stars taking plays off.

Seeing them across the line of scrimmage is not for the feint of heart.

Following are 10 FCS defensive linemen to watch this season:

Frank Beltre, Towson, DE, Sr., 6-3, 245 - An aggressive, driven player who keeps getting better, Beltre is entering his fourth year as a starter. The All-CAA Football talent helped the Tigers post an amazing turnaround in winning the conference title last year. He had 68 tackles, including 12 for loss, and four sacks. He has 30.5 tackles for loss in his career.

J.T. Cleveland, Sam Houston State, DT, Sr., 6-0, 290 - Cleveland was the anchor on a deep and talented Bearkats' defensive line last season. He pushes aside offensive linemen with his strength, but for a big man, Cleveland moves very well on his feet with lateral quickness. His 46 tackles, including nine for loss, led the Bearkats' D-linemen. He was a high school teammate of 2010 Walter Payton Award winner Jeremy Moses of Stephen F. Austin.

Willie Jefferson, Stephen F. Austin, DE, Sr., 6-6, 230 - The 2011 Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year casts particularly imposing size to offensive players, but it's his ability to blow past offensive linemen with his speed that is most effective. Last season, the 6-foot-6 strongman posted 15 sacks to tie for fourth in the FCS. It included a four-sack demolition of Northwestern State.

Cody Larsen, Southern Utah, DT, Sr., 6-4, 272 - A versatile player, Larsen was used at end, nose tackle and 3-technique last season, but he will concentrate more at D-tackle this year. He combines a high-end motor with terrific strength. He was part of 26 stops last season, including seven sacks. He added three quarterback hurries in his relentless pursuit.

Joseph LeBeau, Jackson State, DE, Sr., 6-1, 245 - After transferring in from Arkansas Baptist Community College last year, LeBeau went on to win the SWAC Newcomer of the Year award. He gets off the ball very quickly as a game- changing edge rusher. Last season, he totaled 15.5 sacks (his 1.41 per game was second-best in the FCS) and 24.5 tackles for loss (2.23 per game, ranking fourth in the FCS right behind teammate Donavan Robinson). He also forced three fumbles while making 75 tackles.

Zach Minter, Montana State, DT, Sr., 6-1, 285 - The Bobcats' four-man defensive line could be the best in the FCS, and its anchor, having enjoyed a breakout season last year, helps set the physical tone. The unanimous All-Big Sky Conference selection is extremely productive, totaling 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and eight QB hurries. He uses his upper body to fight off blocks and quickness to pounce into the backfield. He has an exuberant personality as well.

Nolan Nearhoof, Robert Morris, DE, Sr., 6-2, 280 - There's a lot to be said about being a smart player. Nearhoof already is a two-time selection for both the All-Northeast Conference first team and its Scholar-Athlete award in football. He has the size of a defensive tackle, but with rush speed. With 16 career sacks, he is three off the school record. He had 60 tackles last season, bringing him to 137 in his career.

Ben Obaseki, Indiana State, DE, Sr., 6-3, 235 - Obaseki has been outstanding for three seasons while the Sycamores' program has enjoyed a turnaround from FCS also-ran. He is a strong one-on-one tackler who already has totaled 36.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and 17 QB hurries in his career. Obaseki, a Buck Buchanan Award finalist last season, also switched off to fullback and scored on all five of his carries in goal-line situations.

Blake Oliaro, San Diego, DE, Jr., 6-5, 250 - After missing the 2010 campaign, Oliaro's return to the field last year was exceptional. A former defensive back, Oliaro's statistics were better than fellow Toreros defensive end Mario Kurn, a 2010 All-America. Oliaro had 57 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and six QB hurries while the Toreros tied for the Pioneer Football League title. He is fast on the edge and relies on an intelligent style of play.

Brent Russell, Georgia Southern, NT, Sr., 6-2, 291 - The two-time finalist for the Buchanan Award has helped the Eagles reach the FCS semifinals in each of the past two seasons. In one-on-one matchups, Russell stands up opponents with outstanding leverage and strength. He excels despite often drawing double- teams. The 2011 Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year has 45.5 tackles for loss and a school-record 20.5 sacks in his decorated career.

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