CMU Boasts Depth at Linebacker

MOUNT PLEASANT - The deepest position on the 2004 Central Michigan University football team may well be at linebacker where no fewer than eight players with a combined 19 letters are battling for playing time.

"It is a deep position, one where we have a great balance of veterans and some promising newcomers who could push for playing time," said Central Michigan University head football coach Brian Kelly. "We have a lot of versatility at linebacker and it should be one of the strengths of our football team."

At drop linebacker, two converted safeties-- senior James King (three letters) and junior Jason Smith (two) -- are among the three who will see action. The other is junior Jimmy Reese (two).

King led the Chippewas in tackles a year ago with 143 and needs 158 stops this year to set a career record for tackles. The 6-1, 204-pounder has 329 career tackles and the record of 486 is held by Brian Leigeb.

CMU's drop linebackers are led by senior James King(middle). Joining him are junior's Jason Smith (left) and Jimmy Reese (right).

"James gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of his ability to get into pass coverage as well as stop the run," Kelly said. "He's got a nose for the football and we felt by moving him up from safety to drop linebacker would get him around the ball even more."

Reese is a 6-1, 231-pounder while the 6-1 Smith is now up to 220 pounds from 200.

"Jimmy will play when somebody wants to grind it out because he's a physical player," Kelly said. "Smith is a cross between the other two, more of the prototype drop linebacker."

A trio of seniors anchor the inside linebacker slots in three-year letterwinners Omari Colen, Jonathon Nelson and Anthony Tyus Jr., and all have been starters throughout their career.

The 5-11, 224-pound Tyus has played all 35 games in his career and was second in tackles to King a year ago with 125. He has 233 for his career.

"Anthony has had a great camp," said Kelly. "He's flying around the field, and right now he's earned himself a starting job."

The 6-1, 236-pound Nelson has been plagued by injuries throughout his career while the 6-1, 209-pound Colen missed the final 10 games in 2003 with a leg injury.

"We need Jonathon and Omari to remain healthy so that we can count on them all season," said Kelly.

Sophomores Doug Kress (one) and Leython Williams (one) saw action in 2003, Kress at a safety slot. Redshirt freshman Thomas Keith is another youngster who should play this season.

"Williams (6-0, 216) and Keith (6-1, 226) are two extremely physical young linebackers who will see more and more action as the season progresses," Kelly said. "They lack experience right now but they can run from sideline-to-sideline and make plays."

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