Back tonight to talk about linebacker. All three starters from last season are returning including, All-Everything Scott McKillop. The rest of the depth chart is filled with young and unproven talent.
Starting out at the SAM linebacker the returning starter Adam Gunn has emerged over the last season as a solid player. Gunn improved during the course of last season and seems completely comfortable in the defensive scheme. His impact this season is going to be on the running game because of his good position and tackling. Behind Gunn on the depth chart is Brandon Lindsey or Nate Nix. Lindsey has been a solid player in camp but with a established starter in Gunn he is probably going to factor in on special teams and in garbage time. With Nix the coaching staff appears to be bringing him along slowly after making the decision that his position is the SAM linebacker. Nix has talent but he is going to need to continue to work hard in practices and in the weightroom to get a shot at playing time.
Middle linebacker is a position that starts and ends with Scott McKillop. Last season, McKillop was an absolute tackling machine and made an immediate impact as a first year starter. He is a preseason All-American and a finalist for the Butkus Award. What is interesting to look for in McKillop is if he can keep up the pace he has already set for himself. Playing with an improved defense could give McKillop the freedom to be one of the top players in the nation. Enjoy the last year of this amazing player. Backing up McKillop is Max Gruder who will mainly contribute to the defense as a special teams player. Shayne Hale, who is being redshirted, may be the future starter at middle linebacker or he may be a defensive lineman who knows.
At the WILL linebacker there may be a big problem. The returning starter Shane Murray is a perfectly solid player who only continues to improve at the postion. Currently, Shane Murray is listed as day to day with a knee injury and if he isn't ready to go on Saturday we could see another experimental player at linebacker. Special teams standout Austin Ransom is the pick of the coaching staff to start at the WILL linebacker if Murray isn't ready to go, problem is Ransom is a converted safety/wide receiver.
Ransom has been a major force on special teams but he hasn't had time to learn the position of WILL linebacker. I believe he is being considered for this spot because of Bowling Green's use of 4 and 5 wide receiver sets but I don't have much trust in the coaching staff about this move. We have seen the converted safety to linebacker experiment fail before and I hope this time is different but we will see. My problem with this move is that Tristan Roberts is the backup on the 2 deep and is a natural linebacker. He is an unproven quantity at this level but he has been in the system for a full two preseasons. Greg Williams is another redshirt freshman who looked fairly good in camp but it seems that he has fallen down the depth chart a bit.
Linebacker could be a stregnth if our starters remain healthy or if one of the young talented backups make an impact. Our future seems to be fairly set though because after this season we will lose two starters.
Tomorrow I'm going to close out the season previews with the secondary and special teams.