CN Spring Cleaning: Inside Linebackers

The eighth in a series of football position progress reports on CycloneNation.com features the inside linebackers, where defensive coordinator John Skladany feels much better about his two-deep.

Pre-Fall Depth Chart:

MLB Brandon Brown, 5-11, 230, SR
Matt Robertson, 6-1, 230, R-SO
Ron Prelow, 6-0, 230, R-FR

WLB Tyson Smith, 6-2, 240, F-SR
Jamarr Buchanan, 6-2, 230, R-JR
Chris Campbell, 5-11, 220, R-SO
Taylor Schrage, 6-1, 205, R-FR

Newcomers:

Tim Dobbins, 6-1, 245, JR, Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) CC
Nick Frere, 6-2, 215, FR, Muscatine HS

Spring evaluation:

Some unexpected stiff competition broke out at inside linebacker, where a pair of veteran seniors were pushed by some unproven youngsters.

Brown was supposed to have a decisive edge at MIKE linebacker, given his three years of playing experience and handle on John Skladany's defensive system. But that wasn't entirely the case, as Robertson put himself in position for extensive playing time this fall.

In comparing the two linebackers, Dan McCarney said Brown has more athleticism and tools to play the position, but Robertson's hustle and playmaking this spring put him in contention. When all of the dust settled, Brown gained a slight edge over Robertson, but it's pretty clear that this war's not over yet.

Coaches also got their first extensive look at Prelow, a member of the 2003 recruiting class. However, Prelow was very inconsistent this spring, and still looks a step slow on the football field.

The Cyclones moved a couple of players to the WILL linebacker position this spring, so growing pains were to be expected. It was also expected that Smith would have a decisive edge over Buchanan, a little-used SAM linebacker since coming to Ames as a walk-on.

But Buchanan's improved play this spring, combined with Smith's recovery from a severe broken leg in 2003 made this battle closer than expected. Entering his fifth year at ISU, Smith will be the favorite to start the season opener against Northern Iowa, but it's unreasonable to expect him to play an entire game as in the past. That's where Buchanan comes into play.

Fall outlook:

Skladany has to be happy with the improved depth at linebacker, as he now knows he can go to battle with four linebackers in two different spots. The Cyclones can now give Brown – hampered with a shoulder injury throughout his college career – more rest early in the season to keep him fresh. Given the nature of his leg injury, Smith can now be eased back into play with Buchanan also in the mix.

Buchanan gained consideration this spring because of his superior pass defense skills. Whereas Smith was slow in covering passes after spending much of his career at rush end, Buchanan excelled because that was one of his biggest responsibilities at SAM linebacker. Expect coaches to use Buchanan in passing situations this fall, while preferring Smith in other downs.

ISU expects Dobbins to provide immediate help at inside linebacker this fall. At 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, the JUCO transfer is built like former Cyclone signee Tyrone Tucker, and combines better-than-average speed with that stature. He'll likely play MIKE linebacker.


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