Position rewind/preview: Linebackers
Today we continue our look at the defense and focus on the linbacker position where it was the emergence of Jalen Reeves-Maybin that was the key for that unit.
The challenge now is finding more production around Reeves-Maybin. We take a look at where that production might or might not come from with our continuing rewind and preview series.
2014-15 REWIND/PREVIEW: LINEBACKERS
Volquest.com pre-season question: Will the young players step-up?
The question in the pre-season is who would help A.J. Johnson. With all the spread offenses the Vols faced, the defense was in the nickel formation most of the time and only played with two linebackers on the field a great deal. Still the pre-season question was could Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a special teams stand out in 2013, emerge as productive linebacker and the answer was a resounding yes.
Outside of Johnson, the Vol linebackers had 14 combined tackles heading into the season. Reeves-Maybin finished 2014 with 101 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, an interception and 2 fumble recoveries.
He also continued to be a factor on special teams all season. On defense, the Clarksville native's speed in the open field showed up immediately in 2014 in coverage and on third down.
Thanks to Kenny Bynum and Jakob Johnson the Vols found a way to be productive down the stretch of the season with A.J. Johnson off the team.
[rl]19 - The number of tackles recorded at the middle linebacker position by someone not named A.J. Johnson. It's obviously a huge question to answer this spring.
6 - Number of full time scholarship linebackers on the roster. Maggitt counts as a half as he plays more defensive end than linebacker.
1st - With 101 tackles, A.J. Johnson became the first Vol in school history to lead the defense in tackles for 3 straight seasons.
Eye towards spring:
The obvious question is who will play in the middle. Mid-term enrollee Darin Kirkland, Jr. will not get the chance to show himself this spring thanks to a shoulder injury. Jakob Johnson is out this spring following shoulder surgery. That leaves Kenny Bynum and Gavin Bryant in the middle. And the obviously need for depth and production is great making it a very important question for the Vols.
Reeves-Maybin has obviously showed what he can do and so the spring is more about guys like Cortez McDowell, Dillon Bates, who will be limited, and Chris Weathered.
Where do they fit in? Can someone slide inside the help the middle linebacker position and what can John Jancek use to build depth.
Obviously depth is important, but with all the five defensive back packages it's not as paramount as it once was in terms of just having number. However, with the void in the middle and the limited number of scholarship linebackers, building depth is a must both inside and out. It's going to be interesting to see how Jancek and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen get creative to try and build some depth.