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On Campus: The last line of defense

The glamour positions on the defensive side of the football reside in the secondary and the really good ones play with a swagger.

Cornerbacks are charged with preventing big plays down the field and keeping their offensive counterparts (wide receivers) from being a factor in the game.

Safeties come up and support the run, while also suring things up on the back end against the pass.

Here are the top FBS defensive backs heading into the 2012 season:

CORNERBACKS:

DAVID AMERSON - North Carolina State has the market cornered (pun intended) on the premier playmaker in the secondary in the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Amerson. He had an extraordinary sophomore season in 2011, setting both school and ACC records with a whopping 13 interceptions (second most in FBS history). An aggressive ballhawk with a wide receiver's mind-set, Amerson is a special talent. Great size, exceptional speed and great instincts make him the complete package. If he can continue to get the job done in 2012, it will likely be his last season in Raleigh.

TYRANN MATHIEU - The best defensive player in the country last year, the All- American Mathieu was a finalist for the Heisman and a big part of LSU's run to the national title game. The 5-9, 175-pounder had a huge sophomore campaign in 2011, leading his team in tackles (76), with 7.5 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. He also returned two punts for touchdowns. The "Honey Badger" may have to make the move to safety in the NFL, but is obviously more than capable to play either position in the college ranks. While he may not match last year's remarkable stats, he is still a premier playmaker.

XAVIER RHODES - A top-notch cover corner, Rhodes' numbers weren't eye-popping last year for Florida State (43 tackles, one interception), especially following 2010, when he was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. However. teams stayed away from his side of the field when at all possible. At 6-2, 215 pounds. he is a formidable deterrent down the field and presents a physical challenge for each and every wideout that lines up opposite him. Unlike a lot of corners, Rhodes is a sure tackler and will be highly regarded by NFL brass if he can put together another strong season in 2012.

DESMUND TRUFANT - The younger brother of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, Desmund has a lot of the same skills. Washington's 6-foot, 185-pounder plays man-to-man very well and has good size and speed to match up with most receivers. Last year, the standout defensive back finished with 64 tackles, 14 pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Consistency is the key with Trufant in 2012.

NIGEL MALONE - The 5-10, 185-pound Malone made an immediate impact for Kansas State last season. The junior college transfer heads into his second season in Manhattan following a 2011 in which he racked up 58 tackles, 10 pass breakups and seven interceptions (fourth nationally), en route to All-Big 12 first-team honors while also earning some All-American accolades. It will take another big year to put him among the 2013 NFL Draft's upper echelon of cornerback prospects. It is a pretty safe bet that his numbers will continue to be noteworthy.

HONORABLE MENTION: Demarcus Milliner (Alabama), Brodrick Brown (Oklahoma State), Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Micah Hyde (Iowa), Carrington Byndom (Texas).

SAFETIES:

TONY JEFFERSON - After being named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010 as Oklahoma's fifth defensive back, the 5-10, 200-pound Jefferson played a good portion of his sophomore season last year as a hybrid linebacker/safety, finishing with 74 tackles, 4.5 sacks and four interceptions, en route to All-Big 12 honorable mention. Coach Bob Stoops is moving Jefferson back to his natural position at safety, where his leadership, above-average tackling and cover skills seem to be tailor-made for the position. An absolute difference-maker with a penchant for making big plays, Jefferson will be a vocal leader for the Sooners defense in 2012 and should see his draft stock soar with another big season in Norman.

T.J. MCDONALD - USC is loaded on the offensive side of the football this year, but the defense is in good hands as well, starting with McDonald. The 6-2, 205-pounder earned some All-American honors as a junior last year and in the process joined his father Tim as the only father/son First-Team All-Americans in school history. He also was tabbed an All-Pac-12 first-team selection in 2011, racking up 67 tackles and three interceptions. He has the versatility to play either strong or free safety and continues to get better. This will mark his third season as a starter for the Trojans, who have their sights set on returning to the national spotlight after serving their penance for their prior transgressions during the Reggie Bush years. McDonald is probably already NFL ready and will solidify himself near the top of the draft, provided he stays healthy and continues his strong play.

ERIC REID - It is easy to hide in the shadow of great players and with an LSU secondary that features Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Brandon Taylor, Reid could have certainly gotten away with it last year. However, the 6-2. 210- pounder had a big season in 2011, earning Second-Team All-American honors, as well as All-SEC second-team honors as a sophomore. He finished the year with 76 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Reid is a strong tackler with above-average instincts. LSU has produced some serious NFL talent over the last few seasons on defense, and with Reid and Mathieu pacing the Tigers secondary this year, the trend is likely to continue.

ISAIAH LEWIS - The Big Ten churns out playmakers on the defensive side of the football at a high rate and Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis should be near the top of the list in 2012. As a sophomore in 2011, the 5-10, 195-pounder amassed 74 total tackles and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. It was his first season as a starter for the Spartans and the sky is the limit for Lewis, who was an All-Big Ten second-team member as a sophomore. MSU will need a leader on defense and Lewis is as likely a candidate as any to assume that role.

BACARRI RAMBO - A First-Team All-American in 2011, this Georgia Bulldog also earned All-SEC first-team honors last year, posting 55 tackles and finishing second in the nation with eight interceptions. Rambo found himself in a bit of trouble, though, as he will serve a four-game suspension to start the 2012 campaign for violating teams rules (drugs), but the 6-0. 218-pounder remains among the best in his class at the safety position. Even with potentially missing a third of the season, Rambo's draft status may remain strong if he can distance himself from his off-the-field errors in judgment.

HONORABLE MENTION: Matt Elam (Florida), Robert Lester (Alabama), Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Ray Ray Armstrong (Miami-Florida), John Boyett (Oregon)