Army Spring Depth Chart Review: Mike LB

Army was the first in the FBS to complete spring drills. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler will review each Black Knight position to project a starter, a backup and a player to watch. Today he'll discuss the Mike linebacker position.

MIKE LINEBACKER
Starter: Colby Miller #45 Sr.
Back up: Gino DeBartolo #10 Jr.
Third String: Tyler McLees #40 So.


The Mike linebacker is the most wide open position on the depth chart in my opinion. Last year's starter, Geoffrey Bacon, was moved to free safety this spring. Senior Colby Miller (6-1, 209) was named the starter after spring practice but the staff actually plans to have sophomore Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires start at Mike linebacker if he can remain academically eligible. Fusilier-Jeffires started at free safety last year as a plebe. He replaced Ty Shrader at free safety after halftime of the Northern Illinois game. He started nine of the last ten games missing a game with a concussion. Fusilier-Jeffires finished second on the team with 88 tackles, picked off one pass and successfully defensed three others. Of all the plebes that started last season, Brandon looked the part of an FBS football player. He is the son of former Houston Oiler Pro bowl wide receiver Heywood Jeffires. Fusilier-Jeffires physical play earned Phil Steel's second team Freshman All-American honors as well as honorable mention on the All-Independent team. Fusilier-Jeffires, like most young players, made a number of mistakes as he tended to go for the knock out hit by tackling too high and at times forgot the fundamentals of squaring up and bending his knees which caused him to miss some tackles. He did demonstrated excellent instincts, athleticism and hitting ability. Brandon sat out spring practice as he focused on academics. The team will not know if he's eligible till July. Losing Fusilier-Jeffires would be a huge hit to this defense.

Senior Colby Miller (6-1, 205) had a great spring and ended after the Black and Gold game at the top of the Mike depth chart. He's entering his senior season still looking for his first varsity letter but made a name for himself this spring by recording a number of big hits. The last few years he was captain of the JV defense and one its best players. Miller is a fiery, aggressive defender who reads the opposing offense's plays well. Colby is a big effort player who competes, hustles and will stick a ball carrier who gets in his sights. My concern is that in the flex defense the Mike linebacker has to cover a lot of ground and play inside out. Miller has rather pedestrian speed. I worry we will see a replay of last season when Ty Shrader started the year at free safety. The coaches have to love Miller's effort and smarts. I worry that Miller, like Shrader, will be exposed athletically as not being a legit FBS player.

Former JV quarterback Gino Debartolo (6-2, 200) was moved to linebacker this spring and earned the backup spot. It was a good move for Debartolo. Gino had played quarterback the JV team the past two years and saw time with the varsity in the 2011 blowout win over Fordham. He had a difficult time at quarterback handing the ball in the 2012 spring game and during the JV season. Debartolo is now entering his junior season and he wasn't going to win the quarterback job. Gino is a good athlete who can run. He showed this spring that he is willing to hit anything that moves. He needs to improve his tackling and understanding of the defense but that should come with additional experience.

Sophomore Tyler McLees is a 5-11, 215 pound linebacker who played linebacker last year on the JV team. He is a graduate from St. Anthony's in Melville, N.Y., which is the same school that produced former Army football captain and linebacker Frank Scappaticci. Tyler's game is similar to Scappaticci in that he is a big effort player who can fill a run gap. McLees is a tough, intense and physical linebacker. He's definitely a football player but, similar to Miller, I'm not sure if he's fast enough to be a top notch Mike linebacker. McLees lacks the ideal foot speed to get to all the plays in the alley. He's more of a run plugging between the tackles type of inside linebacker in my opinion.

Sophomore Greg Bender (6-0, 205) and junior Tunde Akinniyi (6-1, 197) fill out the current depth chart. They're not currently in the mix and will probably see most of their time on the JV team. One player to watch is sophomore Marcus Poling. He had an audition early this spring at Mike linebacker but his bid was derailed by an injury. It's uncertain if his future is at Mike linebacker but he has a lot of natural ability. Marcus was the offensive MVP at USMAPS in 2011 at fullback and played running back on the JV team last year. Poling is a workout warrior. When he was in high school, at a junior combine, he ran a 4.46 forty yard dash on a soft grass field, posted a 37.5 inch vertical leap and a 9'1 broad jump. At the end of the combine he was awarded the Combine King medal, the Fastest Man award and the prize for the top defensive back. Marcus has run a 10.89 100 meters and ran the anchor leg of his school's 4x100 meter relay team which won three state championships.

The player to watch this fall will probably be the productive Mike linebacker who started at USMAPS. He won't start as a plebe but should compete for a starting role down the road. We'll discuss him and the entire class of Incoming new recruits in the ArmySports.com scouting reports after R-day.

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