Sprinting to Spring: Linebackers

Texas Tech University graduated two starters and one very talented back-up linebacker at the end of the 2006 season. They totaled 160 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 8 passes defend. Come inside as Football Analyst Mitchell Fish breaks down the players who will replace these seniors and who will be backing them up in Sprinting to Spring: Linebackers.

Defensive Left Strong Side (Sam) Linebacker - The strong side linebacker is usually the largest of the starting linebackers. Expected to line up and cover the opposing offenses tight-ends and be a punishing run stopper, both size and quickness are needed to make this position effective.

Strong Side Linebacker Depth Chart - Kellen Tillman (Starter), Marlon Williams (Back-Up)

Kellen Tillman - Tillman made his second full injury free season a productive one. He tallied 42 tackles, 4 tackle for loss, and 1 sack. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 240 pounds, Tillman was the largest starting linebacker in the 2006 unit and should be the largest in 2007. He has a physical presence and a nasty demeanor along with a penchant for being in the right place at the right time. His biggest liability early in the season was a hot temper that resulted in him being ejected for the TCU game but Kellen recommitted himself and turned into a very solid linebacker. His strength is definitely against stopping the run although he needs to improve in breaking down and wrapping up but with another off-season of work with healthy knees, Tillman should again be ready to take on the Big XII competition as the only returning starter from the 2006 season.

Marlon Williams - Marlon played primarily on special teams last season but is a weight room junkie that should certainly be ready to take a larger role than just his special teams work. While list at 5 feet 11 inches and 225 pounds, it can certainly be expected that he will be larger than that once Spring Practice begins. He is a fast and physical player that doesn't shy away from contact and has no problem hitting anyone with the ball that is near him. While light on experience, he is certainly capable of stepping in and play very well once he becomes more familiar with the defensive schemes that the Red Raiders employ.

Middle (Mike) Line Backer - The middle linebacker is the most important cog not only of a linebacking unit but of a defense as a whole. Responsible for the middle of the field, he is typically the most active of any of the linebackers. While he doesn't have to be perfect at pass defense or run stopping, he must be very good at both. Usually one of the larger linebackers on the team, the middle linebacker must be fast enough to cover running backs coming out of the backfield while large enough to play the run against offensive linemen baring down on him.

Middle Linebacker Depth Chart - Chad Hill (Starter), Victor Hunter (Back-Up)

Chad Hill - Chad Hill is a former walk-on from Coronado High School who might have been the starting middle linebacker in 2005 after Brock Stratton went down were it not for an injury of his own only a few plays later. A 6 feet 1 inches tall and 229 pounds, he has the size and speed to excel at the mike linebacker position. He is a capable run stopper and made several good plays during limited playing time last season, including the up-ending of TCU's Jeff Ballard and meeting Minnesota running back Amir Pinnix in the hole and stopping him for a short gain in Tech's Insight Bowl comeback victory. Hill must continue to improve his lateral movement but should be a very solid if not terrific middle linebacker for the Red Raiders in 2007.

Victor Hunter - While listed as a defensive end on the roster from 2006, Hunter showed that he has the skill and speed to play middle linebacker. At 5 feet 10 inches tall and 260 pounds, he is a massive presence at middle linebacker who has no difficulty taking on mammoth offensive linemen at the point of attack. While he does need to work on his speed and pursuit, Hunter has the talent to be an extremely good linebacker with more seasoning and experience.

Defensive Right Weak Side (Will) Linebacker - The weak side linebacker is undoubtedly the fastest and most agile of any linebacker on the field. Responsible for covering the slot receiver of the opponents offense, the weak side linebacker must be an extremely capable in pass coverage. He also must look to close in and fill cutback lanes and make plays one-on-one against running backs cutting back from the strong side. Another one of the important jobs of the weak side linebacker is timing blitzes extremely well to insure maximum effectiveness, particularly since he will usually be coming from the quarterbacks blind side.

Weak Side Linebacker Depth Chart - Paul Williams (Starter), Ryan Hale (Back-Up)

Paul Williams - Paul Williams appeared on most Texas Tech fans radar in the 2005 season when he was the first player off the bench at both the middle and weak side linebacking positions. Williams showed great potential and made several big plays, including a clutch interception against the Baylor Bears to thwart a drive and keep the defenses shutout alive. Williams seemed to have regressed at the beginning of the season but stepped his play up later in the season and made a hugely important sack against Minnesota. A terrific pass defender and incredibly fast and effective pass rusher, he could become a terror off the weak side and a force against the run and the pass. His biggest asset is by far his outstanding tackling ability and terrific closing speed, Williams will be a hugely important piece to the 2007 linebacking machine.

Ryan Hale - Ryan Hale as a red shirt freshman showed flashes of greatness and seems to be a very natural fit at the weak side linebacker position. At 6 feet and 219 pounds, Hale certainly fits the mold of speed and agility over size. He can cover slot receivers extremely well and while has only seen limited action, did show an ability to blitz effectively. Hale made noise both in 2006 Spring and Fall practice and should be ready for a larger role in 2007 with some additional practice time and game experience.

Come back next time as Football Analyst Mitchell Fish breaks down the Red Raiders last line of defense, the Secondary, and the most underrated players on the team, the specialists.

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