Even the parts that Spencer did not originally bring to the defense they are now all played with his attitude and temp applied. No position needs to be more versatile than the linebackers and that isn't just the hybrid star position.
This defense can show a four-man front look, three-man front, and five. The linebackers more times than not create the variance. There is a lot to learn and then it needs to become memory so in games response becomes reaction.
By the way those are my words. I kind of like that line and might consider a trademark on it as it applies to defensive football. The beauty of what Spencer and his staff are dealing with this spring is that they have a number of experienced linebackers, some with some experience, and just a few that are really completely inexperienced. That make up should allow for moving fast at times and creating a review this spring that will help speed up the defense.
Again, our three categories are presented with returning starters, contenders, and waiting to be discovered.
52 Ryan Simmons, MLB, Sr., 6-0, 235
10 Seth Jacobs, WLB, Jr., 6-2, 220
40 Devante Averette, MLB/WLB, Jr., 6-0, 235
20 Jordan Burton, Star, Jr., 6-3, 210
32 Kris Catlin, WLB, Sr., 6-1, 225
19 Justin Phillips, WLB, So., 6-0, 220
9 Gyasi Akem, Star, So., 6-1, 215
12 Kirk Tucker, Star, So., 6-2, 200
Waiting to be Discovered
50 Josh Mabin, MLB/WLB, RS-Fr., 6-2, 235
45 Chad Whitener, MLB/WLB, So., 6-1, 240
47 Brian Ciszewski, Star, RS-Fr., 5-11, 195
I don't think you need a lot of background on the returning starters as their play speaks for them. Simmons is a sideline-to-sideline player who is aggressive, so much so that he sometimes misses the play out of being off time. His experience is great and it tends to show up at opportune times such as fourth quarter and overtime in Bedlam and in the Cactus Bowl in the fourth quarter with some big plays.
Jacobs was outstanding last season and played while dealing with a good dose of pain and discomfort with a shoulder injury that was corrected by off-season surgery. I tired to say it as many ways as I could last season in the radio broadcasts and on a daily basis the admiration that his teammates, coaches, and observers like myself developed for Seth Jacobs. You could see as the season went on how his instincts and video study helped him be prepared each week.
Those two are a solid pair that will serve as coaches within the position group and on the field.
Josh Furman was a really great find and while he had his troubles sometimes in adapting and learning with just a season to serve on defense at Oklahoma State, he came through with some outstanding plays and is to be commended.
Gyasi Akem, Kirk Tucker and Justin Phillips all saw action at the star, and even safety Jerel Morrow did some duty there. Look for Phillips, who is a huge hitting machine and very athletic, to work at the weak side linebacker with some spot duty in various spots as his assassin-like football skills are called for.
Akem and Tucker will continue to grow into the "star" position, but junior college transfer Jordan Burton out of Kilgore is the most likely to be in that spot. He'll get a rapid indoctrination this spring and we will see. The way he plays safety sure makes it seem like a fit. He has excellent cover skills, but is a physical tackler that is more than eager to come flying in run support.
Devante Averette came through and played well in a brief spell last season before the decision was made not to risk re-injury from his ACL surgery in the late spring. He certainly played enough to show promise and he could play either in the middle or weak side.
Averette and Phillips have developed an off-season rivalry through competition day events and that will likely carry over to spring. Look for a good game of "anything you can do, I can do better" out of that duo.
It is also really good to have Kris Catlin back. The veteran can also play both middle and weak side linebacker positions. Last season, despite being ineligible, he practiced and helped the younger players and served on scout team. Catlin made the sacrifice and you hope he gets rewards this season. He is a smart player that is a solid tackler and does okay in coverage.
The bonuses are Josh Mabin and Chad Whitener. Mabin was injured last season and took his redshirt so he will be eager to get in there and mix it up and improve. Whitener, out of Mansfield, Texas, is a transfer from California who the offensive coaches raved about his work on the scout team defense. He is also a pretty solid hitter that as he learns the defense should be a smart option inside.
Last season, Spencer sometimes wondered who he would play as linebacker because of injuries and youth thinned out in a hurry. Now, linebacker is the land of milk and honey with lots of players and lots of talent.
Don't be surprised if a young linebacker or two isn't considered for a redshirt and not because they aren't ready to play but because they would be saving a year where they could play so much more. It will be fun to watch the competition.