Thrice is nice on defense, too

Bob from Connecticut writes: How about a triplets list for defense (lineman, linebacker, and DB)?

Brian Bennett: At the end of June, I presented my list of the league's top offensive triplets, or combination of quarterback, running back and receiver. Defense isn't quite the same, because it's not like a nose tackle can fake a handoff to an outside linebacker and throw a bomb to the strong safety. Still, it's a fun idea, and hey, it's early July without a lot going on. So you shall get your wish, Bob.

Let's limit ourselves to one defensive lineman, one linebacker and one defensive back from each team. Here is the way I'd order them:

1. West Virginia

DL: Chris Neild

LB: J.T. Thomas

DB: Robert Sands

Rationale: It's hard to go wrong with this group. Neild is the best and fiercest nose tackle in the league, while Thomas should be the captain and a breakthrough player at linebacker as a senior. Sands just might be the best defensive player in the league at safety. If one of these guys doesn't hit you on a play, consider yourself lucky.

2. Pittsburgh

DL: Greg Romeus

LB: Dan Mason

DB: Dom DeCicco

Rationale: Romeus is the reigning league co-defensive player of the year, so there's an obvious place to start. At linebacker, I could have gone with either Mason or Max Gruder, but I think Mason is poised for stardom. Defensive back was the toughest call, because I also like Jarred Holley at safety and Antwuan Reed had a standout spring at corner. I chose the steady play of DeCicco at safety.

3. Cincinnati

DL: Derek Wolfe

LB: Walter Stewart

DB: Drew Frey

Rationale: Wolfe rivals Neild as an immovable object in the middle of the line, while Stewart is a dynamic playmaker who can play standing up or with his hand on the ground. Frey is the most experienced member of the secondary and will be counted on to lead a young group.

4. Rutgers

DL: Jonathan Freeny

LB: Steve Beauharnais

DB: Joe Lefeged

Rationale: The hardest decision here was which defensive linemen to pick, as Rutgers has several good ones, including Scott Vallone and Alex Silvestro. I went with Freeny, who had nine sacks in a mostly reserve role a year ago and could add to those totals as a starter in '10. I've written previously about Beauharnais special skills, and the hard-hitting Lefeged takes over Devin McCourty's leadership role in the defensive backfield.

5. Syracuse

DL: Chandler Jones

LB: Derrell Smith

DB: Shamarko Thomas

Rationale: How about a little love for the Orange? This might be the year when Chandler Jones breaks out of the shadow of his older brother, Arthur. You could put Smith or Doug Hogue here at linebacker and be in great shape. And Thomas had a terrific freshman year.