How's Your Unit? - Linebackers
Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
Posted Mar 30, 2013

The most interesting linebacker situations to care about this offseason.

2013 Spring Preview

Top Position Battles - LBs

- More key 2013 spring linebacker battles

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1. South Carolina
While most of the spotlight this offseason and early part of next year will be on Jadeveon Clowney and the phenomenal Gamecock defensive line, there's work to do on a front seven that helped the D finished 11th in the nation in yards allowed and 17th against the run. Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens were good, tough run defenders who made plenty of plays, and while DeVonte Holloman was more of a fifth defensive back than a true linebacker, he was used more like an extra run stopper. All three are gone.

Sophomore Kawiawn Lewis isn't all that big at 221 pounds, but he's going to have to hold up in place of Bowens in the middle. With Quin Smith gone along with Wilson on the weakside, sophomore Cedric Cooper will get the call one he returns healthy. Overall, this isn't a big group, but it's going to be very, very fast and very, very athletic. Superstar recruit Larenz Bryant could be thrown into the rotation right away, while middle linebacker prospect Gerald Turner is a good enough option to get a long look this fall.

2. Nebraska
The Husker linebackers aren't huge, but they can all move and they can all be used in a variety of ways. For a defense that needs to find ways to make plays in the backfield, this group should be turned loose. The corps loses almost all the key parts with Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley gone after doing most of the heavy lifting. The new star of the group should be sophomore David Santos, a 6-0, 225-pounder who saw plenty of work in his first season making 24 tackles with two tackles for loss. Able to play either in the middle or on the weakside, he'll find a role somewhere and should be one of the team's leading tacklers with sideline-to-sideline range and great hitting ability.

It's an open casting call for jobs, and star recruit Josh Banderas might get a long look right away on the outside and Marcus Newby isn't far behind. The 6-2, 220-pound Banderas is a local product who dominated as both a running back and a linebacker, while the 6-1, 210-pound Newby is a speedster out of Maryland who should be a nasty all-around playmaker.

3. Georgia
Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree would've been sure-thing first-team All-Americans had they returned, but they're off to the NFL where they'll be expected to rock right out of the box as almost certain first round draft picks. There's lots and lots of help on the way with Leonard Floyd a special prospect on the outside and Tim Kimbrough, Reggie Carter and Johnny O'Neal three of the top middle linebacker prospects in America. Ryne Rankin isn't that far behind. But they're still new players and Georgia is coming into the season thinking it can win the national title.

Amarlo Herrera is a big hitter on the inside making a nearly unnoticed 70 tackles, while Ramik Wilson and Kosta Vavlas two athletic options. However, watch out for Rankin and Carter to make noise right away. The outside has to find a pass rusher, and while Jordan Jenkins might not be another Jarvis Jones, he's a big playmaker with a burst into the backfield. Josh Dawson and T.J. Stripling will each get plenty of chances to get to the quarterback with everyone now keying on Jenkins.

4. Kansas State
While Collin Klein and the offense received most of the attention, the defense had a little something to do with the Big 12 championship and run to the Fiesta Bowl. Arthur Brown was an all-everything leader and force in the middle of the great run defense, but Jarell Childs, and to a lesser extent, Justin Tuggle, played their part on the outside. All of them need to be replaced, along with backup Blake Slaughter in the middle. It's Kansas State, so there's always a plan with JUCO transfers involved, but Travis Green is the only one coming in ready to see time right away. Nick Ramirez is the one of the team's top recruits, but the freshman middle linebacker prospect needs seasoning. Jonathan Truman was a nice part of the rotation on the outside last season making 25 tackles, but it's going to be a fight for jobs throughout the summer to fill the three spots.

5. Notre Dame
Yes, there was a time when Manti Te'o wasn't a punchline. He'll always be remembered for one of the weirdest stories in sports history, but he was a pretty good college football player, too. Enter Jarrett Grace, a 6-3, 240-pound junior who spent last year as Te'o's understudy, and while he only made 12 tackles, he could quickly blossom if he takes over the job in the middle. Also back is Dan Fox, a solid inside defender who came up with 63 tackles and was granted a fifth year of eligibility, as did Carlo "my people will get you" Calabrese. Those two will get every chance to take over in the middle, while the hope is for Prince Shembo to continue to improve on the outside after a nice all-around season. Lost in the shuffle was Danny Spond, a decent tackler who did his part with 39 tackles in a steady year. However, even with all the returning talent, there could still be plenty of shuffling if one-time star recruit Ishaq Williams blossoms into must-start talent, while one of this year's top recruits, Jaylon Smith, could be too good to keep off the field.

6. Ohio State
How long will it take before Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson are ready? There's a ton of great talent coming in with the 2013 Buckeye recruiting class, but along with the defensive line, the linebacking corps needs immediate help. If Mitchell isn't the nation's best middle linebacker recruit, he's No. 1A, while Johnson and Christopher Worley are terrific talents on the outside. As good as they might be, OSU needs veterans to come through to replace Zach Boren, Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino. Ryan Shazier is a force on the outside, but he needs help. Is Curtis Grant ready to live up to his immense prep billing? It's his time to shine in the middle, while sophomore Josh Perry will get every shot to take over for Sabino on the outside after making five tackles as a freshman.

7. Virginia Tech
The 2012 season might have been a disappointment, but it wasn't the linebackers' fault. The run defense was solid and the pass rush and plays in the backfield were there. Now the Hokies have to try to rebuild with Bruce Taylor gone in the middle, Alonzo Tweedy gone on the outside and the 38 tackles of rover Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. Senior Jack Tyler will be the leader of the group after coming up with a team-leading 119 tackles as a breakout star. Senior Tariq Edwards has the talent, but he needs to be 100% healthy to fill in for Taylor. Sophomore Ronny Vandyke isn't big, but he can move on the weakside and should be a capable replacement for Tweedy. The X factor is Dahman McKinnon, a talented young player who had off-the-field issues but will be a key return.

8. Minnesota
While the Gopher defense wasn't a rock, and big improvements across the board have to come while welcoming in a few new linebackers. Mike Rallis was the heart-and-soul type in the middle, making 80 tackles, while Keanon Cooper was a nice factor on the weakside coming up with 69 stops. Senior Aaron Hill is back on the strongside after making 74 stops, but he's not going to move over to the middle to take over for Rallis. James Manuel is built like a safety and can't work in the middle; he'll almost certainly step in on the weakside. With Ryan Grant gone after backing up Rallis, that leaves a gaping hole on the inside forcing the coaching staff to hope for JUCO transfer Damien Wilson to be ready to roll right away after spending last year at Jones Country Community College. At 254 pounds he has the size, but he has to show right away that he can make the linebacking corps his and can handle everything being funneled his way.

9. Texas A&M
Aggie linebackers aren't in charge of simply holding up against the run; they're supposed to blow things up. Sean Porter was a devastating playmaker in the backfield when he was on, and Jonathan Stewart was a tough tackler in the middle coming up with 81 tackles. Steven Jenkins is back on the weakside after coming up with 78 tackles and 2.5 sacks, and Justin Bass is an interesting option in the middle and Toney Hurd Jr. is a possibility on the strongside, but there's one problem; they're built like defensive backs. They can move, but the Aggies need bigger bodies, and that's where the recruiting class comes in. JUCO transfer Tommy Sanders isn't huge, but he's a 215-pound option on the outside. Darian Claiborne needs time in the weight room, but he's an elite talent, while Reggie Chevis and Jordan Mastrogiovanni are bigger hitters with the raw bulk to be used right away.

10. North Carolina
The Tar Heels didn't sign a linebacker in the latest recruiting class, so it's going to come down to the 2012 reserves to become major factors with do-it-all middle man Kevin Reddick and outside playmaker Dion Gay and his 53 tackles gone from an active and effective front seven. There are a slew of young options waiting to show what they can do around Tommy Heffernan, a 73-tackle, three sack factor on the weakside. Sophomore Shakeel Rashad got in a little bit of time behind Guy at the Bandit, and with good side and quickness he should be a statistical star if he gets the job. 6-2, 215-pound P.J. Clyburn needs to get bigger after spending last year working behind Reddick, and juniors Travis Hughes and Norkeithus Otis will get chances to push for time this fall and at the very least be a big part of the rotation.

- More key 2013 spring linebacker battles