I am not too worried about linebacker in 2012. Now, 2013 is another story, but we look to be solid here for the time being. That is, of course, if we can get Doug Rippy back from his knee injury. But a few freshmen spent some time there and looked good, and I think we have a solid group of guys that can team with Rippy, Jon Major and Derrick Webb to give us good production in the middle of the field. Now there is one thing I'd like to talk about, and that is Patrick Mahnke. He had an interesting year in 2011. He managed to both make a number of big plays (he actually led the team in 3rd down stops, quarterback chase downs, tackles for loss and tackles for no gain), while also giving up a large number of plays (the TD against Cal where the TE dragged him into the endzone was one of many). He played more snaps than Derrick Webb, so he's actually going to be a guy that we really have to replace, and his speed was an asset to our defense. But I do think we've got the talent to be good here in 2012.
- Jon Major, Sr - He finally played an entire season! That's good news after he spent the first part of his RFr year recovering from an ACL tear and his sophomore season was cut short by an MCL sprain. And while he led the team in tackles, he still hasn't quite regained the speed that he showed in high school. Hopefully a good offseason can help him continue to recover from his injuries, because he showed us that he can be a pretty good linebacker in 2011. He started the season playing outside, but had to move Inside (and then back and forth some) after Rippy went down with the knee injury. Without that speed, he's a very solid backer, but if he can get some more of that speed, he can have a special season this year.
Follow the jump to see the boldest of my bold predictions!
- Doug Rippy, Sr - He was still improving when he hurt his knee. He played with power that we hadn't seen out of a linebacker in a while. I hope hope hope he can come back quickly from the injury, because he looks like he could be a difference-maker. Watching him knock offensive linemen back off the line of scrimmage was a lot of fun, and with an improved secondary, I think he is able to do more damage. His coverage skills still left a lot to be desired, so hopefully he spent a lot of his down time after getting hurt watching film and working on his recognition. If healthy, he and Major have two of the starting spots locked down.
- Derrick Webb, Jr - I still don't know exactly what to think about Webb. He's one of the hardest hitters on the team, but he still isn't grasping all of the mental parts of the game. He was out of position often, and his technique would get sloppy as games wore on. If his discipline improves, he may very well find himself as the third starter, but that is a big ‘If'. And while he is a big hitter, he doesn't always play strong, getting knocked out of the hole at times. I have a feeling he gets passed up on the depth chart by the next guy on the list.
- Brady Daigh, So - He only played in 9 games on defense (12 total), but he looks like he's going to be pretty good. I would like to see him get a lot of time inside next to Rippy next year. He has great size and it seemed like he had pretty good instincts. A wrist injury hampered him a bit, but he played through it. I think he is going to be very good for us. He may not get his chance to shine a lot in 2012, but I'm going to pencil him in as one of the starters in 2013. I want to watch him in the spring, especially since Rippy will probably still be recovering.
- Woodson Greer, So - Another guy I'm excited about, but he may get buried a bit on the depth chart. He has great size and speed, so another year waiting and watching may do him some good. He contributed a bunch on special teams and he should again in 2012. He will probably be backing up Major at OLB with an eye on taking over that spot in 2013. Another guy to watch in the spring, and I think he could end up pushing for some playing time.
- K.T. Tu'umalo, So - He saw the field in 6 games in 2011, but as a Safety. He still projects as a linebacker (eventually), but for now he just doesn't have the bulk for it. What is promising though, is that he has very good speed and looked solid in coverage. If he can get bigger and stronger without losing any of that speed and quickness, he could be another guy that we can go ahead and pencil in as a future starter at linebacker. He didn't quite look like a fulltime safety, but I think he could be a linebacker with very plus grades in coverage.
- Lowell Williams, So - He still hasn't seen the field on defense, but he got some time on special teams in 2011. Unfortunately, he's still just really small for a linebacker, barely breaking the 200 lb mark. He's also got a small frame, so we'll see if he can keep on getting bigger. In what I've seen from him in summer practices, he looks like he's got good speed, but that will only take you so far. I think he continues to get passed on the depth chart by the younger guys. Of the sophomore LBs, he's the only Hawkins recruit, the rest were brought in by Embree & Co.
- Hunter Shaw, RFr - Walk-on
- Casey Walker, RFr - Walk-on
We look good at linebacker for 2012, and I see our future starters already on the roster (unless we get some very talented guys coming in). And don't forget that Will Harlos will most likely eventually move to linebacker as he gets bigger. Greer, Tu'umalo and Harlos are fast Linebackers, and Daigh isn't too slow himself. The coaches have talked about getting faster on defense, and you can already see that with the group of guys that they brought in. This year, linebacker isn't our highest priority, but we could use 1 (or possibly 2 if Harlos looks like he won't be switching positions for another year or two) guy coming in as a freshman. My bold statement at linebacker? Brady Daigh ends up starting a number of games at ILB alongside Major and Rippy. I know that's not the boldest of statements, but how's this for bold: 2013 Starters will be Daigh and Tu'umalo inside and Greer outside. Bam, that's a prediction for two years from now!