Tulane Defense: Linebacker

At the end of the 2002 season Tulane led the nation in turnover margin with a plus 22 mark. Unfortunately, after the graduation losses from the 2002 team and the severe rash of injuries the 2003 defense wasn't as effective at creating turnovers and scores and the turnover margin declined from plus 22 to plus 5

What a change even a year can make in college football!
Take Tulane's defense as the case in point, in 2002 the secondary was comprised of three seniors with extensive starting experience and highly talented junior Lynaris Elpheage, arguably the best football player on the Tulane football team at that time, that unit benefited from the tremendous pressure applied from a senior laden defensive front to generate 44 turnovers.

At the end of the 2002 season Tulane led the nation in turnover margin with a plus 22 mark. Unfortunately, after the graduation losses from the 2002 team and the severe rash of injuries the 2003 defense wasn't as effective at creating turnovers and scores and the turnover margin declined from plus 22 to plus 5. As the offense was more efficient in 2003, the decline in defensive effectiveness was the probable culprit in the decline of the won-lost record from 8-5 to 5-7.

To focus more closely on the linebacker unit, we have to look back at 2002 and examine expectations of that unit at the beginning of that season.

In conducting our examination, we find that although going into 2002, linebacker looked to be the weakest aspect of the defense. But the emergence during the 2002 season of starters at middle linebacker in Brandt Quick and at will linebacker in Anthony Cannon solidified the unit despite early season injuries and the mid-season loss of senior Nick Simpson.

Last season combined with the return of 2001 C-USA All-Freshmen linebacker Brandon Spincer, 6'2 210, and the addition of freshman middle linebacker Kelvin Johnson, 6-2 252, the linebacker unit substantially improved personnel-wise over in 2002. So, while it can be said that for much of 2002 the experienced defensive front carried the linebackers, that wasn't case the last year and it's not the case now.

In fact linebacker looks to be the most solid area on the defenwive side of the ball. However, there's a caveat: the number of returning experienced players at linebacker is not great. There's football talent, physical ability and experience but not numbers. In fact only seven upperclassmen linebackers are on the roster and one, senior Gerald Brobbey, is primarily a special teams player. Junior Brandon Spincer, who played linebacker previously, moved to strong safety in the spring and may remain there. In short, while the game rotation should be fine, numbers-wise, deep depth is lacking. Injuries are not wanted or needed at this position in 2004.

The linebacker depth chart from the official Tulane website - www.TulaneGreenWave.com follows:

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Cl.
SLB 39 Antonio Mason 6-0 217, Redshirt Jr.
OR 41 Wesley Heath 6-0 225 Redshirt Sr.

MLB 33 Kelvin Johnson 6-2 252 So.
OR 46 Blake Baker 5-10 236 Redshirt Sr.

WLB 11 Anthony Cannon 6-0, 233 Jr.
OR 36 Patrick Benford 6-0, 230 So.

Notice that the players at each position are listed as co-starters.

For the purposes of considering the individual players, we will consider Brandon Spincer with the defensive secondary. Let's look at the individuals at the linebacker position.

Outside Linebackers
Antonio Mason - Has played in 17 games and made 2 career starts, both coming in the seasons final few weeks. Seemed to make great strides as the season progressed. Has produced 28 career total tackles in limited playing time.

Wesley Heath - Redshirted in 2003 after injuring an ankle during preseason camp and missing the entire season. Participated in contact without restriction during spring practice. Has played in 35 career games and made 19 career starts. Came to Tulane as a strong safety prospect before moving to linebacker. For his career Wesley has amassed 147 total tackles, 12 tackles for losses for 43 yards, 1.5 sacks 1 forced fumble and 3 recovered fumbles. Add 4 pass breakups to those totals and you have the outline of a playmaker. Considered by some analysts to be a bona fide NFL prospect.

Anthony Cannon - Although somewhat undersized, he's an explosive linebacker constantly around the action, 'AC' is a potential All-American candidate whose strength is his quickness and instincts. Some observers feel he could project as a strong safety in professional football. Has played in 24 games during his career and made 23 starts. Altogether AC has produced 216 tackles, averaging 9 tackles per game.

Patrick Benford - Played in all 12 games as a true freshman, made a start at linebacker in the season finale against East Carolina. Involved in 37 tackles. Might eventually convert to middle linebacker as he appears to be better suited for that spot.

Gerald Brobbey - A running back in high school who converted to linebacker from the secondary while at Tulane. Was named Tulane's Special Teams MVP after the 2003 season, having played on nearly every special teams play over the past two seasons. Nearly all of his 28 career tackles have come on special teams duty. Scored a touchdown after a lateral from Lynaris Elphage on a punt return against UAB in 2002.

Middle Linebackers
Kelvin Johnson - The big inside run stuffer that the Tulane defense has lacked for years. A Conference USA All-Freshman Team selection after playing in all 12 games and making three starts. Totalled 49 tackles in essentially a part time role.

Blake Baker - An undersized linebacker for this era who is both more physical and quicker than you want to give him credit for, Baker has totalled 87 tackles in his career. Presently, he's listed as the co-starter at middle linebacker with rising sophomore Kelvin 'Ferg' Johnson. All told, Baker has made six career starts with five coming in 2002. Blake will play extensively on special teams where's he's been a mainstay since his sophomore season and will probably play middle linebacker mostly in passing situations.

Jimmy Coleman - Reportedly brings excellent speed to the football field. Versatile enough to have been used as a running back as well as a defender in high school. Extremely athletic, as well as quick, Coleman reportedly ran a 14.2 second 110 meter high hurdles in high school. Speed and athleticism could propel him into service on special teams.

Michael Cox - Tall, rangy type who will make the move from safety to outside linebacker in college. Has excellent athleticism, as attested by his high school track participation in the high hurdles event. Also blocked three punts while in high school. Was an All-Metro Track performer after running a best of 14.03 in the 110 meter high hurdles last spring. Speed and athleticism make him a prime candidate for special teams duty. Does not appear to have the upper body strength to play linebacker in college yet. At the Nike Camp in 2003, Michael ran a 4.61 40, a 4.19 20 yard shuttle, had a 32.4" vertical jump, but benched only 7 reps.

This group should be physically improved and have more experience than it did a year ago. And Chris Scelfo has given Eric Schumn a pair of extremely fast and athletic freshmen. Cox and Coleman need only to improve their overall strength, especially their upper body strength to become contributors.

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