Fresno State has used a 4-3 base defense under Coach Pat Hill. But with so much depth and speed at the position the Bulldogs could employ four or maybe even five linebackers at any time.
Linebacker Coach Tom Mason returns a plethora of young talent mixed with some veterans. If the unit can overcome the injuries, it has a chance to be best group of linebackers in the program's history.
Dwayne Andrews anchored the middle of the Bulldog defense the last three plus years. His replacement will lack experience to say the least. The most experienced is junior Ryan McKinley (6-2, 220) who moved from the outside to the inside last season to backup Andrews.
However, the Bulldog coaching staff could move another outside backer to the inside to fill Andrews void. Senior Ahijah Lane (6-1, 225) has played inside and outside in his three-year career. He filled in at weak side linebacker in 2005, starting one game at Nevada.
Last season he was thrust back into the starting lineup due to injuries to the projected starters on the weak side. Lane finished 2006 fourth on the team in tackles with 64 and had 1.5 sacks. He has 93 career tackles and 3.5 career sacks. Lane lined up at middle linebacker at times in the Bulldogs' pass defense. His experience and leadership make him a likely candidate to assume the starting spot in the middle with a strong spring.
McKinley has started one game in his career but has played in 23 of 25 games in two years. He has 22 career tackles but most of his time has been spent in spot duty and special teams.
Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Nico Herron (6-3, 240) is the future at the position. He had a spectacular redshirt season on the scout team. Coach Hill spoke of possibly moving Herron to defensive end but that talk has subsided. He will battle Lane and McKinley for the middle linebacker spot and with a good spring he could possibly become a four-year starter.
Senior Marcus Riley (6-0, 220) became a starting linebacker as a redshirt freshman, starting seven of 12 games. He was leading the team in tackles as a sophomore through the first ten games in 2005 before being lost for the season against No. 1 USC with a knee injury.
Prior to the injury NFL scouts were already salivating at Riley's speed, athleticism and run-stopping capabilities. He returned from his knee injury less than a year later but was not close to being 100%. He played in just four games and recorded just three tackles.
Riley has 93 career tackles and three career sacks. A fixture on the weak side, he will be in a battle for his starting spot against sophomore Quaadir Brown (6-0, 210) and possibly Lane, who started all 12 games last season at weak side linebacker. Riley must have a great spring. Despite being the most experienced linebacker on the team, he faces stiff competition.
Brown returns after sitting out last season as a medical redshirt. Brown was the first Pat Hill recruit to graduate high school early and report to spring ball just months after signing his letter of intent in 2005.
Brown played in all 13 games as true freshman, mostly on special teams finishing with 16 tackles and three tackles for loss including two sacks. He received a good amount of time against Louisiana Tech in place of the injured Riley and took a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown, displaying his great speed.
Brown followed his freshman season up with a great spring and was atop the depth chart heading into fall camp. However, an injury cut his camp short and eventually cost him his season. With Brown and Riley both healthy, it wouldn't be a shock to see Brown filling in on the strong side vacated by former three-year starter Alan Goodwin.
Senior strong side linebacker Trevor Shamblee (6-1, 220) came on strong late in the season only to suffer a season-ending knee injury against Louisiana Tech. He is still rehabbing his knee but is ahead of schedule.
He recorded 21 tackles including 2.5 for loss in nine games last season. Shamblee will likely avoid any contact drills in spring but should return close to 100% by the start of fall camp. If he shows even a glimpse of his speed this spring it will be a very positive sign for the former JUCO track star.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) is going to make some noise this spring. Jacobs was named the scout team Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and for good reason. The former high school middle linebacker is a relentless defender with great strength and speed to match.
He will be in a battle for a starting spot at either outside spot and should see significant playing time this season. Jacobs was also a standout high school wrestler and with his great leverage and quickness could make an excellent rover in a revamped 3-4 set.
Sophomore outside linebacker Ryan Machado (6-0, 210) played in eight games last season recording seven tackles. He battled last year for a spot at outside linebacker. Machado was the starting weak side linebacker in fall camp after Brown went down with an injury, until Lane was moved to the weak side from the strong side.
His style of play is reminiscent of a young Manuel Sanchez but he could find himself lost among the bigger and stronger linebackers Coach Hill has recruited. Machado will probably benefit more than any other linebacker on the squad with a strong spring.
Redshirt freshman Robert Schenck (6-2, 250) is arguably the Bulldogs' most intriguing linebacker prospect. Despite being the heaviest linebacker on the team, he is one of the fastest. He has 4.5 forty speed and was the third fasted player at the 2005 Fresno State Football Camp.
Schenck has added a bit more weight during his redshirt year but still must find a home on defense. He was first slated to play either inside linebacker or possibly defensive end when he signed in 2006. But more than likely will see more playing time on special teams and on the outside in 2007. His size and speed already set him apart, a great spring will get him into the lineup somewhere.
Sophomore linebacker Todd Chisom (6-1, 220) has the most work to do among all the linebackers. He is listed as a middle linebacker and will probably have to have a stellar spring if he hopes to make the two-deep.
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