The Red Raider football team will open up fall camp in less than a week when they take the practice field on Monday August 4th. As the countdown to practice begins, RedRaiderSports.com will breakdown each position heading into camp with in-depth position analysis. Today we break down the linebackers. The starting three linebackers are set, so who will back them up?
Biggest Question: Which reserves will step up and take the #2 spots behind the starting linebackers?
Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill has vowed to play around twenty-five players each game on defense, so one has to figure that there will be at least three back-up linebackers in that group.
The only reserve linebacker on the strong-side is redshirt freshman Tyrone Sonier (pronounced sahn-yay). McNeill has a lot of faith in Sonier and the young linebacker does not want to let him down. The 6'2", 215 defender is very athletic and should be a competent back-up to starter Bront Bird.
In the middle there is a bit of a controversy as to who will back up Brian Duncan. One of the contenders is junior Victor Hunter. Standing at 5'11" and weighing 256 pounds, Hunter is basically an undersized defensive tackle playing middle linebacker. He made several memorable stops last season which endeared him to Red Raider fans, including a forced fumble on Texas' Jamaal Charles and a goal-line tackle against Oklahoma. However, Hunter missed some of the spring with an injury, and redshirt freshman Sam Fehoko took advantage of his reps. The Hawaiian was arguably better than Hunter in run support and possesses the athleticism to be more effective in pass coverage than Hunter. Fehoko's strong spring culminated in being named Defensive MVP of the Red-Black game by yours truly.
Junior Marlon Williams is the undisputed starter at weak-side linebacker. His backups consist of fellow 2006 high school graduates Blake Collier and Julius Howard. Collier possesses phenomenal speed at 6'2" and 211 pounds and is slightly ahead of Howard at this point. Howard is a solid player; he can tackle, but at this point his lack of ability to play within the scheme is hurting his playing time greatly. Howard was arguably the sole player responsible for Virginia's Mikell Simpson's 96 yard touchdown run on the Gator Bowl. Look for Howard to contribute a little farther down the line in his career.
What We Know Right Now: Bront Bird, Brian Duncan, and Marlon Williams are your starters.
Bird, Duncan, and Williams are exactly what McNeill is looking for in his three starting linebackers: athletic and rangy. Bird, a former Permian Panther, played sparingly his true freshman year, but had a good spring. The big linebacker particularly excels in pass coverage. In the middle is the sophomore, Duncan. A 6'1", 238 pound wrecking ball, Duncan is one of the leaders of the defense. The Baton Rouge native is fundamentally sound and is a good tackler. Williams is one of the more vocal players on the team and his teammates feed off of his energy. The 6'0", 211 pound weak-side linebacker is very athletic and had several interceptions in the spring that would have been returned for touchdowns.
Early Camp Prediction:
Bird, Duncan, and Williams will retain their starting positions and begin to gel as they get used to playing with each other. Sonier will continue to improve and be an adequate back-up to Bird on the strong-side. Fehoko will beat out Hunter for second-string middle linebacker, but will not at any time overtake Duncan for the starting position. Collier will hold off Howard and will be especially effective in blitz situations.