Considering the group's identity is considerably different from last season, that's pretty good news.
An opening was left behind by leading tackler and weak-side (WILL) starter Kavell Conner, who is trying to catch on in the NFL. Strong-side (SAM) starter Kevin Alexander exhausted his eligibility and Brandon Maye, the starter from the middle (MIKE), moved over to WILL.
In an earlier interview with CUTigers, Maye, a redshirt junior, said he feels more comfortable on the outside. But Steele wouldn't say that the move better suits Maye's cut it loose mentality.
"It's hard inside because you're looking through a funnel and it expands at the end," Steele said. "You've got to see peripheral whereas on the outside, it's a little bit more angled. That's not a plus or a minus. It just is what it is. He is comfortable out there."
Maye is battling with redshirt sophomore Jonathan Willard, who continues to impress after recently emerging onto the scene.
"The light switch came on for Tig in bowl practice last year. It just all made sense to him. The fluidity in his movement, his vision, his understanding and everything completely changed," Steele said. "I guess it happens. It continued everyday in the spring and it's continued everyday this fall. He's still learning some things and improving. He just kind of has it and understands it."
It's still wide-open in the three-man race at SAM. Steele named redshirt freshman Quandon Christian the starter following spring practice. Senior Scotty Cooper spent most of the spring nursing an injury.
"Quandon, Scotty and Daniel [Andrews] are all at SAM right now. There's still some sorting out to do with that," Steele said.
He continues to work freshman Justin Parker at MIKE. Steele said the former three-star understands what's going on in the middle, where he's responsible for making the calls on the field.
"He's a smart guy, understands what he's doing," Steele said. "When you get off the field as coaches in the scrimmage, there were some things where he made some mistakes, but he can run, he'll hit you, he's not afraid and he's a smart guy. He's got instincts.
"Those are the things you can't coach in football. You can't coach instincts in linebackers. They've just got it or they don't and he's got it. He's progressing nicely. He knows it's a process."
Corico Hawkins has shown the necessary instincts to man the middle of Steele's system. The sophomore played most of the snaps at MIKE during the Music City Bowl win over Kentucky as Maye was sidelined with an injury.
"He's just been through it. He's been through a season. He's been through a spring practice. He's seen more reps," Steele said.
He's comfortable with Hawkins' progression as he enters his second year.
"Little man, 42, he can move to WILL tomorrow. Justin can play at MIKE right now. Next year he could play at WILL," Steele said. "We'll put the best three rotation out there. It's better to cross-train them, as they've been in the system more than one year."
Linebackers remain in spotlight
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