Puzzle Pieces – Linebackers

We look at the members of the WVU Football Class of 2006 and where they could fit into the roster and depth chart in their initial year on campus.

There's always a bit of uncertainty in projecting where a just-signed recruit will land on the depth chart or roster. A lot of things can change between February and August, and that six-month period is just a precursor to a player's college career. Injuries and attrition at certain positions can cause position moves. A new player might show an aptitude for a different spot than he was recruited for. Position coaches, always on the lookout for more talent, might successfully lobby head coach Rich Rodriguez for a change in assignment.

With all those factors in mind, however, it's still fun, and worthwhile, to look at the incoming class and see where the newest Mountaineers might best fit into the WVU system. We'll start this series out with a fairly easy assessment – linebacker.

West Virginia signed two linebackers in this class, Anthony Leonard and James Thomas. Leonard was the first WVU commitment (July, 2005), while Thomas followed closely behind. Both are solid players with good pursuit speed that figure to be able to play either inside or outside in WVU's 3-3 scheme.

Leonard (6-2, 215 lbs.) doesn't have eye-popping 40-yard dash times, but has "football speed". That is, he takes less time to get from point A to point B than many other players, including those with quicker sprint clockings. For an example of this, think of former All-American Grant Wiley. He wouldn't win many footraces, but there weren't many people that could beat him to the ball, either. While Leonard can't be compared to Wiley just yet, it also would be unfair to think that he can't cover the field from any of the linebacker positions in West Virginia's defense. Several observers have noted that Leonard had no problem getting to the sideline to make plays from his middle linebacker spot at McKeesport, and although his current build suggests an initial outside spot, he could also easily grow into an inside-sized player.

Thomas, likewise, is an instinctive player with a nose for the ball, and one that has good speed off the corner to boot. Credit for those abilities has to go to his father, J.T., a former star linebacker for the Mountaineers. The younger Thomas (6-1, 210 lbs.), looks to be more suited to an outside spot, and will likely begin his career at WVU at one of those positions.

One big factor impacting the destination of the two freshmen is the logjam at middle linebacker. Returnees Jay Henry and Marc Magro are proven, reliable performers at the spot, but they will likely be pushed hard by redshirt freshman Reed Williams, who opened some eyes with his practice performances this fall. With three game-ready players in the middle, it's likely that Leonard and Thomas will get at least a look at the outside spots in their first days as Mountaineers. Of course, Henry will be graduating after this year, which will open up the depth chart a bit. Of the two newcomers, Leonard is more likely to move to the inside should the need arise, but any such decisions are probably at least a year down the road.

Neither player will be counted on to provide immediate help, so both will be able to work their way into the WVU system without a great deal of pressure to perform early. In the absence of any major problems at the position, look for both to redshirt during their initial season at West Virginia.

Up next, a look at the wide receivers in this year's class.


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