2009 Football Position Breakdown: Linebackers

AP Photo

In an effort not to sound like a broken record, I'll omit the long list of great linebackers that have taken the field for the Wildcats in the last two decades.  That said, Kansas State hasn't had an All-Conference player at the position since Brandon Archer was a second-team selection in 2006, and the last two years, a cornerback lead the team in tackles...not a linebacker.  In 2007 & 2008, Kansas State didn't have a single linebacker register over seventy tackles (Justin Roland had exactly 70 in 2007).  When you compare that to the output of players like Archer (106) and Zach Diles (99), and you go back and look at the past performance of that unit in terms of total stops, it's not hard to see why Kansas State has dropped off considerably since the "Lynch Mob" defense finished second in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense in 2002.

These are fairly concerning facts to digest.  However, both of the unit's top tacklers return, and a couple of additions look to make this unit an improved on in 2009.

#44 Josh Berard

Class: Junior
Height: 6-2
Weight: 220
Previous Starter (Y/N): No
Honors: N/A
Official Bio

#58 Clarence Bumpas

Class: True Freshman
Height: 6-2
Weight: 218
Previous Starter (Y/N): No
Honors: N/A
Official Bio

#40 Antonio Felder

Class: Junior
Height: 6-2
Weight: 253
Previous Starter (Y/N): No
Honors: N/A
Official Bio

#39 John Houlik

Class: Senior
Height: 5-11
Weight: 219
Previous Starter (Y/N): Yes (5 games)
Honors: N/A
Official Bio

#56 Alex Hrebec

Class: Sophomore
Height: 5-11
Weight: 238
Previous Starter (Y/N): Yes (6 games)
Honors: Player Representative (2009), Team Captain (2009)
Official Bio

#51 Ulla Pomele

Class: Senior
Height: 6-1
Weight: 228
Previous Starter (Y/N): Yes (8 games)
Honors: Player Representative (2009)
Official Bio

#45 Kevin Rohleder

Class: Junior
Height: 6-0
Weight: 217
Previous Starter (Y/N): No
Honors: N/A
Official Bio

#53 Blake Slaughter

Class: True Freshman
Height: 6-0
Weight: 219
Previous Starter (Y/N): No
Honors: N/A
Official Bio

 

Projected Depth Chart:

  • Starters: Alex Hrebec, John Houlik
  • Backups: Ulla Pomele, Josh Berard
  • Reserves: Antonio Felder, Kevin Rholeder
  • Projected Redshirts: Clarence Bumpas, Blake Slaughter

Justification

Based on what we saw in the Spring Game, and what's listed on the depth chart GoPowercat.com put together after watching the team practice at Fan Appreciation Day, it's probably a safe bet that John Houlik and Alex Hrebec will be leading the linebacker corps this year.  Truthfully, this is somewhat surprising considering that Ulla Pomele has the most starts at the position, and he had the second most tackles of the returning linebackers (58).  However, Houlik has seen playing time in all of his previous three years at Kansas State, and he appeared to be in line to start last year before he got a DUI that kept him out for the majority of the year, especially considering the fact that his 68 tackles in 2007 were tied for third on the team, and he replaced Reggie Walker as a starter later in that season.  I imagine Houlik will start at that position, but if he struggles at all, I wouldn't be surprised to see Pomele take his place.  Or depending on what the defense wants to accomplish, Pomele could take Houlik's place when a larger linebacker is needed, or vice versa when a smaller, more capable pass coverage linebacker is required.

There is no question that Hrebec will occupy a starting spot.  The second-leading tackler on the team last year, Hrebec's 68 tackles were only behind star cornerback, Joshua Moore.  And, get this, during the Spring Game, Hrebec had an eye-popping nineteen tackles.  He's a deceptively effective linebacker given his physical stature, and he simply has a knack for being where the ball carrier is.

Most likely, if he's healthy, I'd expect Josh Berard to backup Hrebec.  Berard was a highly sought after JUCO prospect in 2008, but he injured himself during training camp last season. If healthy and completely mobile, you can expect Berard to see some action.

Juniors, Antonio Felder and Kevin Rohleder, look to round out the backups for the corps.  Felder, a rather large linebacker at 253 pounds, may see more action with his hand down on the line at defensive end.  However, there are certain situations where he may still play as a stand up linebacker.  I'd expect him to get a significant number of snaps between the two positions.  Rohleder, who traditionally got his statistics as a reserve and on special teams, will most likely see that happen again while some of the more experienced players sit in front of him on the depth chart.

As mentioned previously, I would guess that Clarence Bumpas and Blake Slaughter both redshirt.   Both are freshmen (Slaughter was a grayshirt last year), and KSU is poised to lose two contributors this year in Houlik and Pomele.  There's no need to burn their redshirts if they stay healthy.

That said, according to GoPowercat.com, there's a dark horse candidate in the mix for playing time at this position.  Dahrnaz Tigner, who will be profiled in the "Safeties" segment, took reps with the #2 defense behind Houlik.  I anticipate Tigner to back up newcomer (and rising star) Emmanuel Lamur in the hybrid 'Rover' (or whatever they choose to call it here) position that's half safety and half linebacker.  But, as of today, for whatever reason, Tigner has been moved to linebacker for practice, and he's in the two-deep...but this position change is not reflected on the official roster*.  So, I hesitate to profile him with this group, and until the official roster says otherwise, I anticipate him staying at defensive back in the meantime.

*For those of you who don't think that roster is constantly updated, Prizell Brown was a TE on there as of last week, and now he's a DE.  So, if Tigner really will be a linebacker, it would probably be reflected by now.

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