The leader among the linebackers should be sophomore weak side backer Jelani Jenkins (6-0, 230). Jenkins played middle backer a year ago and was a little bit undersized at the position but finished second on the team in tackles with 76 and first among SEC defenders in tacklers for his Freshman All-SEC year. He will be counted on to lead this group and has taken on a much more vocal mindset heading into 2011.
Junior Dee Finley (6-2, 220) has had a strong spring and offseason but has yet to really make a dent enough to get on the field. He won't beat out Jenkins, but he should get more playing time in 2011 on the weak side. Also in the mix at the WILL is sophomore Darrin Kitchens (6-2, 230), he is really athletic and was impressive on special teams in 2010. He is quality depth and should play as well.
Manning the middle backer (MIKE) that he was supposed to last year will be junior Jon Bostic (6-1, 240). As a freshman he showed flashes of tenacity that disappeared as a sophomore as he was worried about making a mistake. He seemingly has his head on straight and is expected to be the pillar in the middle of the line in 2011.
Redshirt freshman Michael Taylor (5-11, 220) seems to play with a chip on his shoulder on every down which is what they want. However, he does play out of control every once in a while. If he can contain himself, he could really make a dent in the playing time in 2011 and allow the defense to do some things. True freshman Graham Stewart (6-1, 216) should redshirt in 2011 and I would expect they would move guys around if injuries were to happen to allow Stewart to redshirt.
On the strong side (SAM), junior Lerentee McCray (6-2, 252) seems to be the man when fall camp starts. McCray is a missile after the ball, but plays a little better on the edge in my opinion. He has really transformed his body and is the best at the position right now.
Behind McCray on the technical depth chart is redshirt freshman Gideon Ajagbe (6-2, 230) who hasn't done anything in college yet and the jury is out on what he will do this year. He does come with good size and athleticism, but we don't know much more than that right now.
We have to mention sophomore Ronald Powell (6-4, 240) at SAM, because he will get some reps at the position at times when the defense goes to a 3-4 look. Powell has size, strength, agility, and the awareness to play in traffic as a linebacker, but is also the starting BUCK or weak side end.
Sophomore Neiron Ball (6-2, 222) would have been a promising addition to the 2011 linebacker group, but will instead miss the season recuperating from an illness and subsequent surgery. He is doing fine, but a decision will be made before next season on whether he can continue on the path he was on before the illness.
What to Expect:
Jenkins will be the leader of the group and should be the leader of the entire defense. His whole persona has changed from when he arrived and he seems much more willing to accept that leadership role.
Bostic and Taylor are important here as a pure middle linebacker needs to emerge and do his thing in this defense. In a 3-4, we could see both Bostic and Taylor on the field at the same time with Powell and Jenkins and that would be a menacing group of linebackers to say the least.
The SAM backer is McCray's to start the fall, and we will have to see how that develops moving forward.
The group should be better than last year with more size and I believe more tenacity as a group. It should be a unit that really forces the issue on the opposing offenses it faces.