Unit analysis: Linebackers

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Football

The linebacking unit should be one of the strongest on the defense this season. The unit will have to replace Dede Lattimore at the MIKE position, but the unit is loaded with depth and young talent. The real question is how the depth chart will look with a 3-4 set coming in 2014 and how the extra linebacker will be used throughout the season.

Here is the roster from the 2013 season at the linebacker position:

Zack Bullock – 6’3″ 213 lbs. – Redshirt sophomore

Reshard Cliett – 6’2″ 220 lbs. – Redshirt junior

Ruben Garcia – 6′ 236 lbs. – Redshirt junior

CJ Garye – 6’3″ 228 lbs. – Redshirt sophomore

Corian Hamilton – 6′ 232 lbs. – Redshirt sophomore

Nigel Harris – 6′ 190 lbs. – Freshman

Dede Lattimore – 6’1 237 lbs. – Senior

Hans Louis – 6′ 215 lbs. – Redshirt junior

Antoine Pozniak – 6’2″ 220 lbs. – Redshirt sophomore

Rahmon Swain – 6′ 208 lbs. – Junior

Tashon Whitehurst – 6’3″ 193 lbs. – Sophomore

Mitchell Wright – 6’3″ 203 lbs. – Freshman

Here is the depth chart for the linebackers after the year was over:

SAM: Cliett/Whitehurst

MIKE: Lattimore/Bullock

WILL: Harris/Swain

The linebacking unit became a strength of the defense last season. Dede Lattimore had an outstanding year at the MIKE position while Reshard Cliett had a big year at the SAM position despite battling a shoulder injury during the year (still played through it). At WILL, Nigel Harris emerged as a budding star, beating out Tashon Whitehurst and others at the position. Several players were hurt during the year including Ruben Garcia who missed the entire year due to an ACL tear before the season and Hans Louis (late in the year), but overall, the unit played well and continued to show flashes of greatness under first year defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan.

Here are the players that are no longer with the team after the end of the season:

Dede Lattimore – Graduated, NFL

Mitchell Wright – Non-football injury, career is over

With that, here is the returning roster for the 2014 season:

Zack Bullock – 6’3″ 221 lbs. – Junior

Reshard Cliett – 6’2″ 220 lbs. – Senior

Ruben Garcia – 6′ 244 lbs. – Senior

CJ Garye – 6’3″ 228 lbs. – Junior

Corian Hamilton – 6′ 228 lbs. – Junior

Nigel Harris – 6′ 215 lbs. – Sophomore

Hans Louis – 6′ 215 lbs. – Senior

Rahmon Swain – 6′ 218 lbs. – Senior

Tashon Whitehurst – 6’3″ 215 lbs. – Junior

Auggie Sanchez – 6’2″ 244 lbs. – Redshirt freshman – Moved from FB to LB during the spring

Here is the incoming class of LBs for the 2014 season:

Jimmy Bayes – 6’3″ 197 – 4-stars

Josh Black – 6’2″ 225 lbs. – 3-stars

Juwuan Brown – 6’2″ 210 lbs. – 2-stars

LeGrande Harley – 6’1″ 220 lbs. – 3-stars (JUCO)

Nick Holman – 6’2″ 227 lbs. – 3-stars

Vincent Jackson – 6’3″ 245 lbs. – 3-stars

The linebacking unit is one of the most interesting units on defense entering the fall. With talks of the defense going to a 3-4 more than before, there could be a lot more playing time for the linebackers in 2014. If the defense plays the 3-4 style, we could see outside linebackers like Tashon Whitehurst, CJ Garye, and newcomers like Vincent Jackson and Jimmy Bayes get a chance to play.

The MIKE position is a wide open battle entering the fall. Auggie Sanchez, the converted fullback (redshirt freshman) made strides, but faces a lot of competition. Ruben Garcia is a player to watch along with returning senior Hans Louis (missed spring after off-season knee surgery). Two incoming players, LeGrande Harley and rising prospect Nick Holman, will all push for playing time at the MIKE position. At the SAM spot, Cliett is the man, there is little debate about that. He missed the spring as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, but he’ll be set for the fall. The real story will be his back-up. Will Tashon Whitehurst hold the spot or will one of the incoming freshman (who could be defensive ends in a 3-4 set) push him for a spot. At WILL, Nigel Harris continues to turn heads and rise after an impressive freshman season. He should be man to beat entering the fall with the back-up spots being the real battles. The other stories will be the returning players like CJ Garye, Corian Hamilton and the incoming freshman like Josh Black who all will be battling for depth chart spots if the battle. Will some players moved to defensive end like a Vincent Jackson? We will have to wait and see.

My projected depth chart in the 4-3 set:

WILL: Nigel Harris/Rahmon Swain or Jimmy Bayes

MIKE: Auggie Sanchez or LeGrande Harley/Nick Holman/Hans Louis

SAM: Reshard Cliett/Tashon Whitehurst or Bayes

Here is a projected 3-4 depth chart. Again, its just an educated guess by myself so put the pitch forks down:

OLB: Nigel Harris/Rahmon Swain

ILB: Auggie Sanchez/LeGrande Harley or Nick Holman or Hans Louis

ILB: Reshard Cliett/Tashon Whitehurst

OLB: Vincent Jackson/Jimmy Bayes or Zack Bullock

(again, just a prediction. No one is really sure who will line up at OLB and on the edge. Will Cliett line up on the very end, possibly. Could Jackson line up there as an edge linebacker and put a hand down off the edge like a defensive end in a certain package? Again, all questions that will be answered in the fall. So before telling me how wrong a fan blog is at predicting something no one knows, please bring your certified depth chart to the debate. No fan knows who will be in the two deep, not a soul. This is here to create chatter. )

Grade: B. Trust me, I want and should rate the unit higher but without an established middle linebacker (losing Lattimore hurts) it will be a lower grade until they can get a player entrenched there. The outside spots are solid with Cliett, Harris, and incoming talent like Bayes to bolster the outside spots. If they go to a 3-4 set in the fall more, they will have the personnel to fill out for an extra linebacker/speed rusher to hold down the unit.

 

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