Linebacker Still A Danger In 2005

Beginning today and extendng over the next two weeks, we will overview each position and the players with returning eligibility at each position on the Tulane football team

Beginning today and extendng over the next two weeks, we will overview each position the players with returning eligibility at each position on the Tulane football team.

We're going to start with linebacker, the position that in retrospect appears to have been the weakest unit on the defensive side of the football in 2004 and with chances for improvement on 2005 seeming problematic. And this with the player who is argubly the team's best defensive player, Anthony Cannon, lining up as part of the unit.

The roots of the problem at linebacker are twofold and interrelated; they are: 1. lack of numbers and 2. inability to compensate for the failure of two of those players to report in physical condition that would enable them to participate in preseason workouts in the New Orleans climate.

The final preseason llinbacker depth chart looked like this:
SLB 39 Antonio Mason..................... 6-0, 220, Jr.-R
OR 41 Wesley Heath..........................6-0, 225, Sr.-R

MLB 46 Blake Baker.........................5-10, 220, Sr.-R
39 Antonio Mason..............................6-0, 220, Jr.-R
33 Kelvin Johnson............................. 6-2, 245, So.

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

The depth chart for the Navy and Army games looked like this:
SLB 39 Antonio Mason ....................6-0, 220, Jr.-R >br> 38 Michael Cox ................................ 6-4, 189, Fr.

MLB 11 Anthony Cannon .................6-0, 233, Jr.
33 Kelvin Johnson .............................6-2, 255, So.

WLB 41 Wesley Heath .....................6-0, 225, Sr.-R
36 Patrick Benford ........................... 6-0, 230, So.

Since neither Johnson nor Benford got off the bench much in the early going, the Green Wave was essentially covering the three 'backer spots with five players. As the season wore on, Johnson began to play a little more but eventually injuries and physical limitations began to catch up with Baker and his playing time decreased although he played a good deal in the second half of the Army game. Neither Cox nor Benford see much action on defensive scrimmage snaps. So essentially, as the season winds down, Tulane is covering the three linebacker positions with four players, including Kelvin Johnson, who did not play in the second half of the Army game.

The move of Cannon to middle linebacker puts a player (many feel he projects as a strong safety for the NFL) with superior quickness inside and improves the run support on plays at the edge and outside. It also makes it difficult for teams to run away form Cannon, who when playing Will linebacker lined up on the side opposite the tight end. However, AC's size makes it difficult to project this move as a solution for next season.

Ferg Johnson's struggles this season have been discouraging, as there's no one comparable on the Green Wave football team as far the impact brought to a tackle is concerned. And there's no difficulty in his locking up and bringing ball carriers down. A complete return to the good graces of the coaching staff for 2005 will do much to provide the Green Wave with a physical, run stuffing pounder at the Mike linebacker and ensure the return of AC to a more natural position at Will linebacker.

As far as production goes, Cannon is once again theleader with 90 tackles, 7 tackles, 4 tackles for losses, an interception, 2 passes broken up, and 4 quarterback hurries.

Mason is a solid second with 56 tackles, 7.5 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 fumble forced and 1 fumble recovered. IOn limited action, Kelvin Johnson has totalled 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks and an interception.

The numbers problem faced this season by defensive coordinator Eric Schuman and linebacker coach Garrett Chachere will be compounded in 2005 with the loss of Heath and Baker.

The key at linebacker in 2005 will be Johnson. If her returns to the form of the second half of the 2003 season, the Wave will field a solid linebacker corps, highlighted by Cannon, a potential All-American. Depth will still be virtually non-existent except for Cox and Benford and freshman Jimmy Coleman, 6-0 195, who's redshirting this season. The risk with Cox are the questions as to whether his spindly build will inhibit his ability to take on linemen. Coleman is about the same. Both of the true freshmen run very well and lack of quickness at linebacker is becoming less of an issue other than with Johnson and Benford. Eventually Schuman's defense will be less vulnerable at the edge and outside and that will alllow greater opportunities to jam the middle of the box.

Tulane probably needs 4 linebackers in this recruiting class, two inside and two outside. Major impact players on the order of Anthony Cannon would be welcome at both spots. Quickness and size are both required.

Here are some notes on returning players.
Kelvin Johnson: when Johnson strikes the ball carrier the play is usually over. He doesn't slide off.
Antonio Mason: solid player, runs well too, but has to improve getting off blocks when blockers get their hands or pads on him.
AC Cannon: Usually the best defender on the field, on either side. He's relentless, he's a sound tackler, and he can and does routinely run people down and doesn't ever quit on a play.

We'll look at quarterback position tomorrow.


Tulane Insider Top Stories