COUNTDOWN 2008 - Linebackers

With the departure of Misi Tupe and Mark Dodge, the Aggie defense will be looking at an entirely new starting lineup at linebacker. Will the young guys be able to step up and play at the Big 12 level? Aggie Websider's Chip Winfrey takes a look.

So much has changed for the Texas A&M football program since this time last year. An entirely new coaching regime is in place, and the team will operate in different base formations on both sides of the ball. Most of the defensive starters are gone, along with many on the offensive side, as well. But for the Aggie linebacker corps, the story might as well be: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The Aggies have been perilously thin at linebacker in recent seasons–all the more troubling considering they had been employing a defensive set that utilized only TWO of them–and although this year's team will return a couple of experienced players with very legitimate potential to become outstanding linebackers, the fact remains that in 2008, the unit will once again be lacking in numbers, experience, and proven depth.

Mark Dodge and Misi Tupe are gone, but on the positive side of the equation, juniors Matt Featherston and Anthony Lewis will return, and both of these players have very promising, legitimate talent. It's unlikely, however, that both of them will be on the field at the same time, as each will be counted on to man the inside-backer spot in the 4-3 defense the Aggies will utilize this fall.

Featherston (6-2, 235) recorded 33 tackles for the Aggies in 2007, and has seen action in every game during his first two seasons. Featherston arrived in Aggieland from Poughkeepsie, NY, after drawing attention to himself by earning MVP honors at the Max Emfinger All-America Classic in Shreveport following his senior high school season; and by the time his career at A&M is finished, he could prove to be a recruiting coup for the Aggies.

6-foot-2, 245 pound junior Anthony Lewis, out of Haltom City, played in 12 games for the Aggies last fall, recording 22 tackles. As a high school senior, Lewis was named the #8 linebacker prospect in the country by one of the largest recruiting publications, and may yet have the potential to become a threat at his position in the mold of some of the great linebackers from the glory days of the Wrecking Crew. In a 4-3 defensive set, the middle linebacker is counted on to be the "unmovable object," stopping anything that comes his way, and Lewis just might be up to that challenge.

Von Miller, a 6-3, 214 pound sophomore, will move from defensive end–where he earned freshman All-Big XII honors last season–to one of the outside linebacker spots this fall. Miller racked up 22 tackles at DE in 2007, including four tackles for loss and two QB sacks. The fleet-footed pass rusher will make the move to OLB in ‘08 to bring some experience, and very promising talent, to a unit in serious need of quality starters.

At the other outside linebacker spot, the likely starter headed into this season is Garrick Williams (6-2, 217), a redshirt freshman from Desoto who played wide receiver in high school. Williams impressed coaches during the spring with his east-west speed and mobility, which could make it difficult for opposing rushers to beat the Ags to the corner this fall.

Beyond those four, the competition is virtually wide open for someone to step up and earn his way onto the field. Newcomers Aaron Buckley, Ricky Cavanaugh, and Andrew Wolridge will all have a chance to compete for an opportunity to garner playing time in a backup role this season.

For the most venerated position on the defense among the Aggie faithful, a lot of work remains to be done in order to revive--and rebuild--the unit that once sent a virtual parade of All-Conference and All-American linebackers to the National Football League.

The return of the "Wrecking Crew" linebackers will likely not happen this season, but the unit does return a couple of players in Featherston and Lewis who have a chance to at least offer an occasional reminder of the unit's glory days. For 2008, however, the best the Aggie nation can hope for is solid play from its starters, and no injuries. Should that pan out, this group will have a shot at providing quality support to what should be a solid defensive line this season.

Aggie Websider Grade: C-

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