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The Scaaary Recruiting/Depth Discussion We Should Be Having: Linebacker

Gary Johnson (Will Gallgher/IT)
Gary Johnson (Will Gallgher/IT)

Much of our consternation about defensive recruiting has been focused on the Defensive Line. For good reason. It’s always crucial to get yours there every year. But even after Herman’s purging and our inability to secure 2018 DEs, the youth on our roster is more promising than the conventional wisdom holds. Holdovers like Nelson, Roach and Omenihu are proven assets. And I can make a pretty compelling argument that we’ll have good depth behind them (barring multiple injuries and bad luck) with players like Cummins, Fitzgerald, Wilbon and Graham on developmental schedule. Holes start to show up in 2019 (which is why the 2018 DL matter), but we have to trust the development process.

The 2018 class DB domination neatly addresses pressing need and depth on the back end. Houston Lamar CB Anthony Cook is the hopeful final cherry on top. We’re good to go.

Linebacker is a darker story. It’s Exorcist scary. Next year and beyond.

First, a definition of terms: I mean traditional(ish) linebacker. Literally, the dudes backing the DL. Our Rover and Mike positions. Hager, McCulloch and Bimage can’t help us there, even if we call them LBs on the roster. They’re edge guys and Hager continues to log half of his snaps inside the OT.

Second, as I’ve carried on about before, depth isn’t just a bunch of familiar names stacked on a depth chart. It means proven or very promising players. I hate theoretical depth. I’ve watched Longhorn fans pretend we have depth for years because they can list four guys at a position, never minding the fact that I don’t want to see any of them in games.

Lets look at our current returning snapshot with their 2018 seniority designation:

Gary Johnson – Senior
Anthony Wheeler – Senior
Edwin Freeman – Senior
Cameron Townsend – Junior
Demarco Boyd – Sophomore

We need to fill two starting spots and find two legitimate reserves for 2018. Can you do it? Not easy, is it? How about for 2019? Our three most experienced traditional linebackers all depart. Townsend and Boyd are our returning seniority. If we can’t sell that playing opportunity, our staff shouldn’t be allowed to drink coffee because it’s reserved for clos-uhs. Dale Carnegie courses all around.

Let’s break down the 2018 shallow chart….

Gary Johnson
 is a sure starter, if not a potential star. So we’ve got one 2018 job with a big check mark. He can play either LB role, but he’s ideal at Rover.

Anthony Wheeler hasn’t given us what we need at Mike. He plays slow, lacks instincts and after 23(!!!) starts, he’s still getting caught flat-footed on basic concepts. In the 2017 Thinking Texas Football season preview, I called Wheeler a test of Orlando’s teaching ability. I’ll recopy that passage again for 2018.

Edwin Freeman is a former hybrid safety that has shown flashes and football speed. I think he’s better playing in the low 230s than his current 245. Tom said nice things about him in the summer and then buried him under the depth chart. We’ve got an offseason to figure out why. Basically, we need Freeman to win the Gaskamp. Not too much to ask.

Cameron Townsend was a smallish high school spread busting LB playing mainly outside and stunting. So far, a better HS football player than college projection. His athleticism didn’t grow with his body weight and it wasn’t overwhelming to begin with. Can he recast himself in the weight room?

Demarco Boyd has some dawg in him and the personal foul combo possibilities with his brother are intriguing but he’s buried on the current depth chart. He’s not really what the staff wants at LB in terms of mobility and range.

Conversion Possibilities?

The safety to LB conversion is a time-honored staple and something we’ll see even more in the spread-o-centric future, but the only clear physical type candidate for that conversion is….Deshon Elliott? Which is like solving Mike linebacker with Sam Ehlinger. Heyyyyy, wait a minute. 

As for the outside candidates moving inside, Bimage, Hager and McCulloch are bad fits.

2018 Recruits

In the current fold, Byron Hobbs and DeMarvion Overshown are both promising athletes, but need development, weight, strength, teaching and, ideally, redshirts. They’re also Rovers or future B-Backers. Their developmental path will be a bit longer, but if they hit, the payoff will be outsized. 2018 contributors? Probably not. 2019 may even be too aggressive.

Ayoldele Adeoye is wavering to OU 
and I’m not sure his fax makes it here in February. He’s your Mike, but a traditional one who won’t offer the coverage value-adds or sideline pursuit of the current Jefferson/Johnson combo. Pure foot speed can be overrated inside if quickness, recognition and “play fast” are there, but is he an ideal fit for what we’re doing? Beggars can’t be choosers.

A&M commitment (soon to be OU commitment?) Dashaun White is what what I’m looking for. He’s 6-1, 220, moves well, but he can also do traditional linebacking things. Forget the national rankings. I view him as at least as important as Adeoye. Fight tooth-and-nail for both.

Prospects can come into the picture late, whether it’s a promising wildcard JUCO LB named Will Honas (offers from Iowa, Kansas State, California – three staffs with the ability to identify LB play) who could offer immediate relief or some other late developers or gifts that come out of nowhere (the linebacking version of Toneil Carter would be most welcome). I find the idea of Honas (or any quality JUCO LB) particularly compelling as an immediate contributor who can be an invaluable stop gap between three 2018 graduating seniors and the 2018 recruiting class developmental timeline.

Try filling out our depth chart without a guy like that.

Developmental Wild Cards

Texas now has real program oversight, a good teaching LB coach/DC who will fit his defenses to his material and, it seems, an actual S&C model that gets guys stronger and in shape. That means our accustomed historical write-offs aren’t certain. We have a chance to be surprised.

Let’s hope we are.