RUSH LINEBACKERStarter: Derek Sanchez Sr.
Back up: James Kelly Sr.
Probably no player benefited from the switch to a 3-4 defense more than senior rush linebacker Derek Sanchez. Sanchez (6-3, 203) had been a fish out of water in Ellerson Double Eagle flex system. The previous staff had tried to use him as a quick end with his hand on the ground. He played in eight games the last two years but recorded just two tackles. He struggled to get off blocks, failed to make any plays and was dropped off the depth chart both years. Watching him this spring it's obvious he's a much better player standing up as an outside linebacker uncovered on the weak side of the formation. Sanchez had four tackles including one for a loss in the Black & Gold game. Derek can run, chase and change directions. He should be a lot more effective in this scheme.
James Kelly (24 tackles in 2013) was in the lead for the starting rush linebacker much of spring practice before being bypassed by Sanchez. He made two tackles for the Black team in the spring game. Kelly (6-3, 222) is a former direct admit has played in 23 games the last two years and has started six games. Last year he started the season at whip linebacker but ended the year at quick end. He had a number of nice hits in practice. Kelly is a sure tackler but lacks the ideal range and speed. Pass rush specialist Colin Linkul, who could have helped at this position, suffered a career ending injury and will not play again. Ellerson had used him as a situational pass rusher. Last year Linkul had a career best game against Louisiana Tech with two sacks and a fumble recovery that helped secure the road victory.