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Here's 10 NFL players you want to come to your defense

Remember when choosing a fantasy football defense was as simple as picking a single unit some time late in your draft?

The times are changing as more on-line leagues are incorporating individual defensive players into the mix.

Linebackers, who usually dominate the tackle statistics, are as valuable as running backs on that side of the line of scrimmage. The National Football League's top 15 tacklers last season were linebackers. So it's not that far-fetched to say that London Fletcher-Baker was the LaDainian Tomlinson of defensive players last season.

Not all the national fantasy publications break down individual defensive players. Fantasy League Football, Rotowire Fantasy Football Guide, Sporting News Fantasy Football Owners Manual and Fantasy Football Index all do. All leagues are different, but generally defensive players earn points for touchdowns, tackles (solos and assists are sometimes differentiated), sacks, interceptions, passes defensed, fumbles forced and recovered.

Your league may allow you to play defenders without regard to position; others mandate a certain number of linebackers, linemen and backs.

Some of the defensive stars are household names: Fletcher-Baker of the Redskins, Buffalo's Aaron Schobel, Miami's Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, Baltimore's Ray Lewis and Chicago's Brian Urlacher. Here are 10 others to remember if you don't want to spend time in the film room:

*Jared Allen: Don't be too scared of taking the Chiefs' end because he'll miss the first two games after violating the league's substance abuse policy. "Two weeks is nothing," said Allen, whose original four-game sentence was halved by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "People roll their ankles and stay out two weeks. Getting the two games back really does mean a lot." Last season Allen led all linemen with 65 solos and added 7 1/2 sacks plus six fumble recoveries -- double the total of any other defensive lineman.

*Dre Bly: After four seasons with the Detroit Lions, the ninth-year cornerback figures to start opposite Champ Bailey with the Denver Broncos. That means he'll be thrown at a lot and although his interception totals aren't gaudy (13 over the past three years), he made an Atlantic Coast Conference-record 20 career pickoffs -- including 11 in one season -- during his college career at North Carolina.

*Derrick Burgess: There won't be a big demand for Oakland Raiders in fantasy drafts, but this end is a worthy pick. Burgess spent a lot of time on the field for a 2-14 team and responded with 51 tackles and 11 sacks. No player has more sacks (27) the past two seasons and since the Raiders figure to be lousy again, he's sure to get plenty of chances again in 2007 to pad his stats.

*Tamba Hall: As a rookie, the Chiefs' end started all 16 games and was in on 62 tackles, including eight sacks, and forced five fumbles.

*Chris Hope: The Tennessee Titans' strong safety led all defensive backs with 89 solos among his 121 tackles and had five interceptions, a fumble recovery and a score.

*Aaron Kampman: Only San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, with 17, had more sacks than the Packers' end, who registered 15 1/2 . He was also in on 89 tackles, including 59 solos, last season, giving him 171 total tackles over the past two years.

*Antonio Pierce: The New York Giants' seventh-year linebacker had 107 solos among 139 tackles, giving him 398 total tackles since becoming a starter in 2004.

*DeMeco Ryans: All eyes were on defensive end Mario Williams, whom the Houston Texans made the first overall pick of the 2006 NFL draft, in the process bypassing both quarterback Vince Young and running back Reggie Bush. But Ryans, a linebacker selected No. 33 overall, turned out to be the real prize. Ryans, who never recorded more than 62 total tackles in any of his three seasons at Alabama, led all linebackers with 125 solos among his 155 tackles last season, to go along with 3 1/2 sacks. "I feel a lot more comfortable now," he said. "In year one my head was spinning coming in. It was a lot tougher last year, but now I know the defense and I'm familiar with it so it's a lot easier."

*Asante Samuel: The New England Patriots cornerback's first name means "thank you" in Swahili and he made fantasy owners say those words last season with a career-best 10 interceptions and 24 passes defensed, which led the league. But he's after a new contract, holding out, and his situation bears watching in training camp.

*Adrian Wilson: The Arizona Cardinals' strong safety does a bit of everything -- 74 solo tackles, five sacks, four interceptions, two touchdowns and two fumble recoveries. In the past three seasons he's accumulated 293 tackles, 14 sacks, eight interceptions, six fumble recoveries and three TDs.

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Big week for Mets

The New York Mets face a couple of possible playoff contenders this week, playing three in Milwaukee on Tuesday through Thursday and heading to Wrigley Field for three with the Chicago Cubs starting Friday.

That's not necessarily great news for All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, who is just 19 for 97 (.196) in his career against the Brewers and 15 for 62 (.242) versus the Cubs.

It's a different story for catcher Paul Lo Duca and outfielder Shawn Green. Lo Duca is 48 for 154 (.312) with 21 RBIs in his career against Milwaukee and Green is 53 for 175 (.303) with seven homers against the Cubs.

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Start your engines

Kasey Kahne will be making his fourth career start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of today's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (2 p.m., ESPN; Radio 550 AM). Only an accident on the 160th and final lap last year kept him from a third consecutive top-10 finish on the historic track.

Kahne, who ended up 36th, lost control and crashed head-first into the wall with his car suffering hard damage. Though he's 24th in the driver standing, he'll start fifth today.

In 2005, Kahne finished second to Tony Stewart and placed fourth in 2004. He's started from the No. 4 spot in both of the last two years and led for 40 of his 480 career laps at Indy.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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