Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Defensive end was unquestionably the Big Ten's strongest position in 2008, and a look as who's returning this fall shows another strong group. Sacks leader Aaron Maybin has moved on to the NFL, but a host of standout ends are back.
The Ted Hendricks Award committee seems to agree and included seven Big Ten defensive ends on its preseason watch list of 30 players. There will be a midseason watch list that eventually gets narrowed down to several finalists. The winner will be announced Dec. 9.
Here's the rundown from the Big Ten:
Trevor Anderson, Sr., Michigan State
Brandon Graham, Sr., Michigan
Jammie Kirlew, Sr., Indiana
Greg Middleton, Sr., Indiana
Doug Pilcher, Sr., Illinois
Lawrence Wilson, Sr., Ohio State
Corey Wootton, Sr., Northwestern
Of these players, three jump out as potential front-line candidates for the Hendricks Award: Graham, Wootton and Kirlew.
Graham led the Big Ten in tackles for loss last year (20), while Kirlew ranked second in tackles (10.5) and third in TFLs (19.5). Wootton might be the league's best all-around defensive end, recording 16 TFLS, 10 sacks, seven quarterback hurries, an interception, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
Indiana returns one of the nation's most accomplished sacks tandem in Kirlew and Middleton, who led the nation in sacks (16) in 2007. It's interesting to see Ohio State's Wilson get the nod over junior Thaddeus Gibson, though Wilson can be effective when healthy.