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June 7, 2012

Ranking the Big Ten: Defensive tackle

As Nebraska moves into its second season in the Big Ten Conference, HuskerOnline.com will get you ready with ranking analysis pieces breaking down each position in the league. Today, we look at the defensive tackle position in the Big Ten heading into 2012.

1. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue, 6-3, 310, Sr.
After receiving a third-round grade from the NFL advisory committee prior to the draft, Kawann Short decided to return to Purdue for his senior season. That stock will go up if Short has the season many believe he's capable of. He squats more than 600 pounds and can bench more than 400, and coach Danny Hope said he tried harder during spring practice than he did last year. For a guy that collected 6.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss, that's not something Big Ten offensive lineman want to hear.
2. Johnathan Hankins , DT, Ohio State, 6-4, 317, Jr.
He's only started for one season and his 2011 statistics (11 tackles for loss, three sacks) aren't mind-boggling. But the potential Johnathan Hankins has flashed caused Mel Kiper Jr. to put him at No. 11 in his 2013 draft rankings. Hankins will team with fellow standout John Simon to give Ohio State one of the conference's best defensive lines.
3. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State, 6-1, 298, Sr.
After losing stud defensive tackle Devon Still to the NFL, the Nittany Lions need a big year from Jordan Hill. The senior posted 59 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year, but appears ready to carry more of the load this season. New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has already called Hill one of the best college defensive lineman he's ever been around. The Nittany Lions will need Hill, who returned to school after being projected as a mid-round pick in the NFL draft, to live up to that high praise.
4. Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska, 6-6, 290, Sr.
Baker Steinkuhler had to grow up in a hurry last year after fellow tackle Jared Crick was lost with an injury midway through the season. He wasn't dominant, but his progress as the year went on was promising. His best game (nine tackles and a sack) came against Northwestern and he had four tackles in late-season matchups with Michigan and South Carolina.
5. Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois, 6-1, 305, Jr.
A junior with loads of potential, Akeem Spence has caught the attention of NFL scouts with his size and athleticism since he stepped on campus. He's still working on turning that promise into production, but he came closer last year, finishing fourth on the team with 69 tackles. But to truly become the player Illinois desperately needs him to be, he has to improve on his 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

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