Fall Position Preview - Linebackers

With less than 50 days to Washington's September 3rd opener versus Rutgers, it's time to ramp things up with our fall position previews. Today we take a look at one of the stronger position groups at Washington - the linebackers. 

It's well-established that Washington, statistically-speaking, had the best defense in the Pac-12 last year. And they did it as a complete group despite a number of graduations and defections to the NFL. 

Two of those players that stepped up as senior leaders were SAM Cory Littleton and BUCK Travis Feeney, and they really pulled their weight. They combined for 28.5 of the 91 total tackles for loss produced by the Husky defense in 2015. That's nearly a third of all the TFLs, not an insignificant number.  They were also the only two UW defenders to have at least 10 tackles for loss. 

Their expected replacements, Psalm Wooching and Joe Mathis, combined for 10.5 tackles for loss. Of course there are mitigating circumstances: Mathis was playing defensive end and Wooching was not starting. But there's reason to believe they can step up as the two seniors coming to replace the two departed seniors. 

But the real reason Washington fans should be enthusiastic for the Huskies' defensive prospects this fall is two other names: Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria. The MIK and WIL tandem led UW with 172 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. 

Those four upperclassmen will anchor Washington's linebacking attack, one that now has a reputation to uphold and the talent to do just that.

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Linebacker (By Class)

Joe Mathis (6-2, 256, Sr.)

Psalm Wooching (6-4, 230, Sr.)

Azeem Victor (6-3, 227, Jr.)

Keishawn Bierria (6-1, 226, Jr.)

Sean Constantine (6-2, 232, Jr.)

Connor O'Brien (6-3, 240, Jr.)

Matt Preston (6-2, 219, So.)*

Jake Wambaugh (6-1, 230, So.)*

Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 215, So.)

Tevis Bartlett (6-2, 229, So.)

DJ Beavers (6-0, 224, RFr.)

Bryce Sterk (6-4, 242, RFr.)

Jusstis Warren (6-2, 250, RFr.)

Kyler Manu (6-1, 237, RFr.)

Myles Rice (6-4, 246, Fr.)

Amandre Williams (6-3, 223, Fr.)

Camilo Eifler (6-2, 214, Fr.)

Brandon Wellington (6-0, 215, Fr.)

Ryan Bowman (6-1, 260, Fr.)*

*=walk-on

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Projected Depth Chart 

BUCK (weak side outside)

Joe Mathis (6-2, 256, Sr.)

Connor O'Brien (6-3, 240, Jr.)

Myles Rice (6-4, 246, Fr.)

Jusstis Warren (6-2, 250, RFr.)

Ryan Bowman (6-1, 260, Fr.)*

WIL (weak side inside)

Keishawn Bierria (6-1, 226, Jr.)

Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 215, So.) OR

D.J. Beavers (6-0, 224, RFr.)

Brandon Wellington (6-0, 215, Fr.)

Matt Preston (6-2, 219, So.)*

MIK (middle)

Azeem Victor (6-3, 227, Jr.)

Sean Constantine (6-2, 232, Jr.)

Kyler Manu (6-1, 237, RFr.)

Camilo Eifler (6-2, 214, Fr.)

Jake Wambaugh (6-1, 230, So.)*

SAM (strong side outside)

Psalm Wooching (6-4, 230, Sr.)

Tevis Bartlett (6-2, 229, So.)

Bryce Sterk (6-4, 242, RFr.)

Amandre Williams (6-3, 223, Fr.)

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Where do the linebackers stand heading into the fall? 

From a health standpoint, UW needs to get Ben Burr-Kirven, Connor O'Brien and Sean Constantine back to full fitness. There's nothing to suggest the nicks they suffered during spring ball were long-lasting, so the linebacking corps should be at 100 percent strength.

Replacing Littleton and Feeney continues to be the biggest talking point for the linebackers heading into the fall. Starting the 2015 season, the Huskies were breaking in a new starter - Azeem Victor. The three other starters - Littleton, Feeney and Keishawn Bierria - had 41 combined starts to that point in their UW careers.

Contrast that to 2016, where once again the linebackers will be breaking in a new starter in Psalm Wooching. The other three projected starters - Bierria, Victor and Joe Mathis - have 34 total starts between them. To Wooching’s credit, the senior has played in 32 games so far despite no starts, so he does know what it’s like to play a bunch. He played in all 13 games this past season. 

There’s more similarities: like last year, the Huskies will not have any players past their starting four linebackers that have a start. None. Scott Lawyer was the main linebacker off the bench in 2015, eventually starting four times. One of those was a start for Victor after the junior MIK was ejected for a targeting call in the win at USC.

So in a repeated theme, it’s going to be up to some of the reserves to play above their pay grade and possibly spot start in a pinch. Sean Constantine, Connor O’Brien, Ben Burr-Kirven, Tevis Bartlett, and D.J. Beavers seem to be the ones closest to getting their first starts in 2016 based on how they played last year and their work this past spring. 

And that’s a great position for UW Linebackers Coach Bob Gregory to be in, having a number of talented backups chomping at the bit to impact the game. It means there should be some spirited competition behind the starting four this fall, and that will make all the linebackers better. 

We haven’t even talked about the two blue-chip freshmen that just enrolled - Myles Rice, Amandre Williams, Camilo Eifler and Brandon Wellington - and what they may bring to the linebacking mix this fall. With so many players in front of them in the ‘seating chart’, does Gregory have the luxury of redshirting both?

Or will they accept the challenge head on and force Gregory into some tough choices heading into the week of the Rutgers game? Rice and Williams went through spring football, so they do have a bit of a leg up - but is it enough?

Watching the backup shuffle at all four linebacking positions should be the biggest talking point once practice starts Monday, but how Mathis and Wooching push forward in an attempt to replace Feeney and Littleton’s production will also be worth a note or two.



Chris Fetters is the Managing Editor of Dawgman.com. Read more from Chris here. Follow Chris on Twitter: @Chris_Fetters




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