Dienhart: Big Ten East linebacker unit rankings

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Big Ten East linebacker unit rankings

B1G HIGHLIGHT - Michigan State corrals the interception off Riley Bullough's body.

Linebackers need to be a special breed of crazy and talent, willing to take on big offensive linemen and fullbacks with power while also having the speed to chase down running backs. And no school in the East has a better collection of LBs than Michigan State.

[ MORE: East OL | East receiving corps | East backfields | East DL | East predictions ]

Here’s my ranking of Big Ten East linebacking units.

1. Michigan State. Lots of talent in East Lansing. Senior Riley Bullough will be one of the Big Ten’s best. He is Mr. Spartan, a true leader and Michigan State legacy who bleeds Green and White. Senior Ed Davis is expected to be back for a sixth season after a knee injury KO’d him in 2015. Sophomore Andrew Dowell teems with potential and could be a future star. Junior Jon Reschke is starting-caliber, along with fellow juniors Chris Frey and Shane Jones.

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2. Ohio State. Darron Lee and Joshua Perry will be missed, but talent looms. The unabashed star is junior Raekwon McMillan, the next Buckeye superstar who may be the top LB in America. Speedy junior Chris Worley is ready to bloom with Lee gone early to the NFL. Ex-Ohio Mr. Football Dante Booker is another blue-chipper who has waited his turn. It’s now. Redshirt freshmen Justin Hilliard and Nick Conner are in the wings.

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3. Penn State. Linebacker U is in good shape. The staff welcomes back senior Nyeem Wartman-White from a knee injury that ruined 2015. Senior Brandon Bell and junior Jason Cabinda are returning starters. Cabinda paced the club with 100 stops last season. Bell notched 12.5 TFLs. Sophomores Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper need to take the next step.

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4. Michigan. If there is one area that is a concern on this otherwise stellar defense, it’s the linebackers with players like Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan gone. Everyone is stoked about Jabrill Peppers move to LB from safety. His speed and athletic ability will make him a terror playing closer to the ball. Seniors Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray also look to start. Keep an eye on true freshman Devin Bush, a touted early enrollee. Elysee Mbem-Bosse is another freshman with promise.

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5. Indiana. Long a weakness, this group looks like one of IU’s best in years for a defense that welcomes back eight of its top 10 tacklers from 2015. The foursome of juniors Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver along with seniors T.J. Simmons and Clyde Newton can make plays. Oliver is the best of the bunch, pacing the club with 112 tackles last year. No Hoosier had eclipsed the century mark since 2000.

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6. Maryland. It begins with returning starters Jalen Brooks and Jermaine Carter, both juniors. Carter is the unit’s bellwether, a potential All-Big Ten selection. Sophomores Nnamdi Egbuaba and Brett Zanotto offer depth. Former linebacker/quarterback Shane Cockerille is also in the mix.

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7. Rutgers. This is a big area of concern for new coach Chris Ash. All three starters from 2015 are gone–and depth is lacking. The staff is counting on junior T.J. Taylor to play a role as he comes off injury. Sophomores Deonte Roberts, Trevor Morris and Brandon Russell need to develop. And keep an eye on sophomore Najee Clayton, a former safety who brings speed and athletic ability to the rehabbed unit.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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