Preview: Many options at LB

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It's going to be tough to answer the questions at the linebacker positions
before seeing the unit. A whole lot has changed, including the job descriptions
of linebackers, since the Red Raiders played in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of
For the fourth consecutive year, there's a new defensive scheme than the year
before. This year Texas Tech is moving from the 4-3 defensive scheme to the 3-4
in conjunction with Kliff Kingsbury's hiring and personal preference.
Hopefully the defensive squad will be able to establish roots in the 3-4 this
year and have that scheme be continued into the future.
through yet again -- some seniors will graduate having never played the same
scheme in consecutive years -- and things change arguably the most at linebacker
as their will now be four of them in the front seven.
The 3-4 is an athletic defense that relies on the linebackers to be at the heart
of both run stopping and the short and intermediate passing game.
Which of the four positions do the current players slated as linebackers fit?
That's the big question, and there are certainly signs of positive growth to
indicate depth won't be a major issue here.
Senior linebacker Will Smith was a breakout player last spring and
performed so well he got assigned to middle linebacker where he anchored the
defense. He's a nice cross between athleticism and bulk to stop the run up the
Blake Dees, also a middle linebacker, started the 2012 season as a
marginal drop off from Smith but was at times getting more reps than Smith
midway through the campaign. With two middle linebacker positions, both Smith
and Dees should be seeing a lot of playing time.
However, there aren't a lot of obvious options behind Smith and Dees. Guys like
Sam Eguavoen, Zach Winbush, Kris Williams, Chris
Payne, Micah Awe and perhaps Terrance Bullitt all look
like outside outside linebackers.
At 6-foot-1 and an athletic 220 pounds, look for Eguavoen to be converted to
more of a middle linebacker. Winbush is a secondary option at a Mike linebacker
Tech looks pretty good at outside linebacker though.
Awe is a linebacker the former coaching staff raved about. Williams will start
burning eligibility after redshirting last season. Payne adds depth while
Eguavoen and Winbush also could be in this Sam and Will linebacker mix.
Things get even better when you factor in guys like Pete Robertson and
Chase Robison could play outside linebacker as inbetweeners from
defensive ends last season. Both players could play as down linebackers which
would give the defense a few four down linemen options for things like the
nickel package.
There are so many directions defensive coordinator [Matt Wallerstedt[/db] and
co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Smith can take the
linebacker unit. After sizing the unit up, there's enough depth for a solid
two-deep for the 2013 season.
The trick this spring is learning who fits within the four linebacker positions
and where.
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PRESSURE IS ON: Smith ended last spring surrounded by quite a
bit of buzz and fanfare. He had an excellent spring, in fact. Smith adjusted
quickly, wowed spectators and made plays in team situations. He didn't quite
live up to those post-spring expectations in 2012. Smith wasn't bad -- he was
still an improvement on the team's linebacker play in 2011 -- but was still a
bit of a disappointment based on the high bar he set for himself that spring.
BIGGEST QUESTION: Who plays where? Branden Jackson, Chase
Robison and Pete Robertson have all been moved to linebacker, and Matt
Wallerstedt also inherits multiple returning starters from a year ago. Who are
the best four in the group and how will Wallerstedt fit them all on the field?