Baddest in the land

KIRK PENTON

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Labour Day has come and gone, which means the CFL season is officially underway.

When you think of football in the summer, you often think of pretty-boy offensive players prancing around in the sunlight and the heat.

When you think of football in the fall, however, you picture hard-nosed defensive players caked in mud with blood dripping off the tips of their noses. And they're not cold at all, even though they're wearing short sleeves.

Defence wins championships, so while the receivers are over on the sidelines huddling in front of those big heaters, the following warriors will be leading their respective teams in the quest to win the Grey Cup.

After polling fellow Sun Media football writers and some coaches, here are the top 10 defensive players in the CFL right now:

10. Lance Frazier

DB, Saskatchewan Roughriders

This football magnet is having a season similar to the interception-filled one B.C.'s Ryan Phillips turned in last year. Frazier, a halfback in just his second season, leads the CFL with five picks, and he's a big reason why the Green and White have the league's best turnover ratio.

9. Brent Johnson

DE, B.C. Lions

A list of the league's top defensive players would not be complete unless this man -- one of only two Canadians to crack the top 10 -- was on it. The 31-year-old out of Kingston, Ont., is second in the CFL with seven sacks, and the Lions allowed the second fewest rushing yards in the first half. Johnson is a huge reason why.

8. Jonathan Brown

DE, Toronto Argonauts

The Boatmen's defence has taken a beating on the field this season, not to mention in the press, but Brown has been a beacon of light in the darkness that has become Toronto's season. The 6-foot-4, 257-pound Oklahoma native is on pace for 12 sacks, which would be one shy of his career high.

7. Keron Williams

DT, Montreal Alouettes

Landing in the top 10 isn't bad for a guy who got released just before the season began. The Calgary Stampeders wanted bigger D-linemen than the 6-foot-1, 260-pound Williams, so they sent him packing. The Alouettes scooped him up, and he has made them look smart for doing so. His speed and agility have led to six sacks, which leaves him tied for third in the league. Size, schmize.

6. Dario Romero

DT, Edmonton Eskimos

Despite a slow start to the season, the former Montreal Alouette is rounding into fine form on a defence that has eight new starters and is just getting an identity. His numbers won't wow you (he is fifth in the CFL with five sacks), but his leadership and fiery nature make him a defensive coach's dream.

5. Anton McKenzie

LB, Saskatchewan Roughriders

All he had to do was take over for Reggie Hunt, one of the most beloved Riders of the last decade. After McKenzie's first-half performance in his first season as a starter, people in Regina are likely saying, "Reggie who?" The weak-side linebacker is tied with teammate Sean Lucas for the league lead with 47 tackles, and he's also chipped in with a pair of forced fumbles.

4. Zeke Moreno

LB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The man with the best nickname in the CFL -- Zeke (And Destroy) Moreno -- is another great defensive star on a bad team. The middle linebacker led the CFL in tackles last season, and he's only two off the lead through the first half of this year. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that his mom was a linebacker in a San Diego women's tackle league.

3. Doug Brown

DT, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

He doesn't rack up the stats, but the tallest man in the CFL (he's 6-foot-8 and not afraid to remind you about it) is having a monster season. Despite being routinely double- and triple-teamed, he leads the Blue and Gold with four sacks. That's an indictment of Bomber defensive ends Gavin Walls and Tom Canada, but it also speaks to Brown's dominance.

2. Cameron Wake

DE, B.C. Lions

The league's top rush end is not long for this league. The quarterback cruncher leads the loop with nine sacks, and no defensive lineman has more than the 31 tackles he produced in the first half. Last year's rookie of the year has all the tools an excellent defensive end needs: speed, size and power, and he puts to good use. He'll be going into his option year next year, which essentially means he's off to the NFL.

1. Maurice Lloyd

LB, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Shocked? We are too. The heart of Gang Green's defence may be anonymous to the average CFL fan, but he has to be considered the front-runner for the league's top defensive player. The 5-foot-11, 235-pounder has been credited with preserving two Rider victories this year after stuffing Hamilton's Jesse Lumsden and Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds in short-yardage situations late in those games. That's a cool statistical category to lead.


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