BIG 12 PREVIEW: Ranking the Big 12 Linebackers

By at July 23, 2010 | 12:28 PM | Print


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The Big 12 South continues is dominance in the defensive rankings at the linebacker position, where the league’s most dynamic players make their homes south of the Arkansas River.

Here are the league rankings for linebacker:

1. Texas
Returning Starters:
Two
Strengths: Size and speed, as you’d expect in Will Muschamp’s 3-4 defense. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are big, active players who can run downhill and tackle with authority. While Jared Norton is a new starter at one of the inside linebacker positions; he’s a senior with several years of experience who redshirted last year because of injury. Weaknesses: So-so in pass conference, but with UT’s secondary, it doesn’t matter. UT’s group does well what it’s asked to do.

2. Texas A&M
Returning Starters:
Four
Strengths: Von Miller is the Big 12’s most exciting defensive playmaker, a relentless, high-energy pass rusher who finished with 17 sacks. The Aggies have a ton of experience otherwise; this is the lone strength of A&M’s leaky defense. Five guys totaled more than 40 tackles. Weaknesses: Toughness against the run. There hasn’t been much.

3. Oklahoma
Returning Starters:
One
Strengths: Travis Lewis runs as well for his size as just about any linebacker in the Big 12. By the end of his freshman year, Ronnell Lewis had become one of OU’s best backers. Brent Venables often coaches up the players here beyond their actual physical talent. Weaknesses: Lewis sometimes runs around blockers instead of taking them on. The middle linebacker job is wide open, with Austin Box and Tom Wort battling it out for the role.

4. Texas Tech
Returning Starters: Two
Strengths: Brian Duncan and Bront Bird are opportunistic playmakers who usually make the tackle right in front of them. This is one area where Mike Leach recruited well on defense, so there’s depth and talent. Weaknesses: Sam Fehoko and Julius Howard have some experience, but lack the down-to-down exposure they’ll get this year. The whole bunch is learning a new defensive scheme, as well.

5. Missouri
Returning Starters:
Two
Strengths: Andrew Gachkar and Will Ebner are dependable run-stoppers, combining for 158 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year. Mizzou is working on a more aggressive scheme that should benefit these guys in pass coverage. Weaknesses: The Tigers have to replace Sean Weatherspoon, one of the best linebackers in school history. The replacement, Xavier Gooden, is talented, but obviously not yet in Weatherspoon’s class. Missouri’s linebackers are decent pass rushers, but not terrific in pass coverage.

6. Nebraska
Returning Starters:
One
Strengths: Will Compton can do some damage when he diagnoses a play quickly. For his size – 6-6, 225 – Sean Fisher is surprisingly fast sideline-to-sideline; he almost runs like a defensive back. Junior college transfer LaVonte David was the nation’s best JUCO linebacker last year. Weaknesses: Compton was often a step slow before Phillip Dillard took his job. Then again, he was only a redshirt freshman. Fisher needs to get lower and more physical on traps and short-yardage plays.

7. Oklahoma State
Returning Starters:
One
Strengths: Orie Lemon, recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out in 2009, is OSU’s best defensive player. The Cowboys are young, but talented. Some of Mike Gundy’s better recruiting classes are about to kick in. Weaknesses: Justin Gent and James Thomas haven’t produced much for their talent level and experience. Lemon has to show he’s recovered from the injury.

8. Kansas
Returning Starters:
Two
Strengths: Just a sophomore, Huldon Tharp had 59 tackles last year and is on his way to becoming one of the league’s best linebackers. Drew Dudley is a capable pass rusher and is serviceable against the run, as well. Weaknesses: Depth and talent is lacking behind Tharp. KU’s recruiting under Mark Mangino was spotty at best, and he didn’t do much work here.

T9. Kansas State
Returning Starters:
One
Strengths: Like Nebraska, KSU typically plays only one or two linebackers; Alex Hrebec is the best of that bunch. He’s played a bunch in his first two seasons. Weaknesses: A lack of talent and depth. Size is an issue; K-State’s backers aren’t terrific in pass coverage.

T9. Colorado
Returning Starters:
One
Strengths: Hefty bunch – all three projected starters are north of 230 – who will play well against the run. Brian Cabral is a long-time, well-considered position coach. Jon Major is poised for a big year. Weaknesses: Outside of CU’s secondary, the Buffaloes aren’t terribly fast, which affects play vs. spread and passing offenses.

11. Baylor
Returning Starters:
One
Strengths: Antonio Johnson is a small, active player (77 tackles, 2 sacks) that can be used as a weapon as a pass rusher. He’s an adequate coverage guy, as well. Weaknesses: Baylor must replace two very good linebackers in Joe Pawelek and Antonio Jones, and the Bears don’t have anybody right now who can do it. This is the Bears’ biggest defensive weakness.

12. Iowa State
Returning Starters:
Zero
Strengths: Youth? ISU’s bunch could be pretty good in two years and Paul Rhoads is the right coach to spearhead the development. Weaknesses: Experience, depth, speed. ISU is starting over on defense. Here especially.

Check Out Our Full Big 12 Preview: Big 12 Coaches, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Lines, Defensive Lines, Linebackers, Commentary, 12 Best Players, Ten Overrated Players, Ten Underrated Players

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