March 7, 2012

Linebackers making best gains

What we knew about the LBs coming into spring:

The Red Raider linebacking corps was an absolute disaster last year.

Cqulin Hubert and Daniel Cobb struggled as starters and that forced true freshmen Blake Dees and [db]Sam Eguavoen into early action in the old 4-2-5 defense. With a struggling defensive line in front of them, the linebackers weren't able to help stop the run consistently and the Red Raider defense was one of the worst in the country in all aspects of the game.

In the offseason the Red Raiders made a few changes to the makeup of the linebackers.

First and foremost, Tech moved back to the 4-3 defense which puts three linebackers on the field. There's less ground for each linebacker to cover now, and they're all in better positions to stop the run.

The Red Raiders moved Terrance Bullitt to linebacker and recruited a relatively unknown Riverside (Calif.) Community College linebacker named Will Smith and Chris Payne out of Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College. In addition those three new faces at linebacker, Pete Robertson redshirted last season.

So what we knew coming into the spring was there was a better scheme in place from a run stopping standpoint and more depth to work with.

What we know midway through the spring:

The linebackers are the most improved position on the defense overall and that was easy to tell during the first spring practice.

The linebacking corps is just bigger.

Smith was bigger and faster than advertised, Payne looked better than we were expecting and Robertson looked like he made very serious gains in the weight room during his redshirt freshman season. Furthermore Eguavoen and Dees had made some gains in the offseason. Right off the bat, we were cautiously optimistic about the position group.

Unfortunately Hubert has left the team, but Smith, Payne, Robertson, Bullitt, Cobb, Eguavoen, Dees and Zach Winbush seemed to pass him up anyway.

Recruiting Smith and Payne seem like homeruns in retrospect as both have found their way into the starting spring lineup. Payne even missed a couple of days with a knee injury.

As it stands today, Smith starts at middle linebacker while Payne and Robertson play the outside.

Bullitt hasn't done a lot of work outside of walkthroughs because he is recovering from shoulder surgery from multiple shoulder injuries sustained last season.

Projecting the offseason

There's still a lot of work to be done across the board once the spring football practice sessions end.

The best teams make a lot of improvements from spring to offseason conditioning programs to fall camp and that's what Tech will have to do to be competitive defensively.

This can all be personified in Cobb who head coach Tommy Tuberville called out after Tuesday's practice. Cobb has struggled this spring and is somewhere between the second and third team defense depending on the day.

Tuberville said the tools are there for Cobb, but he needs to work on the mental part of the game and learn his assignments.

If Dees and Eguavoen want to see the field in 2012, they're going to have to work on their technique. Both players are young, raw and would have been best served with a redshirt year had the linebackers in front of them not struggled.

Once Bullitt recovers from surgery, we expect him to supplant a current starting outside linebacker. Because Payne is 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, we expect he will be supplanted by Bullitt and work with Robertson and Smith.

In addition to the aforementioned, Tech signees Micah Awe, Kris Williams and Ryan Flannigan will join the fold. We don't expect any of these guys to start, but they can certainly add depth.

Depth is the keyword. Looks like the Red Raiders finally have some at linebacker.

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