As teams continue to hum through fall practice benchmarks (first pads practice, first contact scrimmage), let's talk a little snap, crackle, and pop. There's nothing more unique to football than the tackle, and nothing more gratifying than seeing an opponent stopped dead in his tracks.
The hit is the lone surviving vestige of ancient Roman sport. It's a decisive, bone-crushing shiver of a blow that overcomes an opponent in a millisecond -- a kinetic kill that draws an unsettling groan from the crowd. While we at The Rivalry, Esq. always put safety first, there's something that's just plain awesome about a big hit. A tough tackle doesn't just stop play, it wrests momentum from the offense and transfers it to the defense.
In a league that prides itself on defensive domination, we figured there was bound to be a few pile-drivers in the house. Here are my picks for the scariest in the conference:
5. Amari Spievey (CB, Iowa)
Last season Spievey racked up 68 tackles and four interceptions. Additionally, he disrupted six passes and forced a fumble. One of only two Big Ten players to make the Thorpe Watch List, this 190 pound corner is a dangerous combination of speed and hustle that knows how to lay the wood down.
4. Thaddeus Gibson (DE, Ohio State)
In 2008 this successful sophomore did more than wrap around opposing offensive lines: he wrapped up opponents in the backfield, cementing himself a place on the defensive line in the process. This brief bio says it all:
"26 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 TFL in 2008 … 6-yard sack in opener with Youngstown State … sack against Troy … four tackles in Big Ten opener with Minnesota … forced a Wisconsin fumble … forced a Purdue fumble and recorded two TFL, a sack and six tackles against the Boilermakers … returned a Michigan State fumble 69 yards for a touchdown … 3-yard sack and five tackles against Penn State … two TFL and an 11-yard sack in Fiesta Bowl."
3. Navarro Bowman (LB, Penn State)
Like a cheetah in the open savanna, Bowman's quickness and decisiveness make him a predator in open space. In 2008, he made 61 solo tackles, including 16.5 for a loss and 4 sacks. He also forced two fumbles with his fearless tactics.
2. Greg Jones (LB, Michigan State)
Described by one source as "raw" and "instinctive," the first team All Big Ten and Preseason Offensive Player of the Year led the Spartans in tackles in 2008. The 6-1, 228 pound Jones has recorded over 205 career tackles, including 22.5 for losses and 6.5 sacks. It's no surprise that Jones is a preseason candidate for the Butkus Award (top collegiate linebacker), Lombardi Award (college lineman of the year) and the Lott Trophy (defensive player of the year).
1. Jay Valali (DB, Wisconsin)
Don't let his diminutive stature fool you (5-9, 197 lbs), this kid bites like a snake and hits like an elephant. As Adam Rittenberg describes:
He knocked the 'M' decal off the helmet of Minnesota running back Shady Salamon last November and delivered huge blows against Ohio State, Indiana and others. He led the team in forced fumbles (3) in 2008 and knocked out four players from games.
Valai also led Badgers defensive backs with 56 tackles (35 solo).
"He thinks he's Brian Dawkins," cornerback Aaron Henry said. "With Jay being so small and compact, he can hit somebody and it'll seem like a bullet hit 'em."
As Valai steps into a bigger role this fall for the Badgers, his goal is simple.
"Controlled violence," he said. "That's the key."
King of the blackout, Valali earns our top honors on the hit list.