Strong linebacking corps have been a staple of K-State defenses in the past. But with the evolution of Big 12 offenses to a more up-tempo style, this unit has taken a bit of a back seat in recent years. Big things are in store for the linebackers in 2014 though, and especially for senior team captain Jonathan Truman.
In 2013, the Wildcats had the unenviable task of replacing all-everything linebacker Arthur Brown, and significant problems with depth. Tre Walker had missed most of 2012 due to injuries, and Blake Slaughter and Truman were mostly unproven. Walker ultimately made the news mostly for baiting Texas at Big 12 Media Days before the season began, but was ultimately overshadowed by an unexpectedly great season from Slaughter, and by Truman, who recorded at least seven tackles in eight games last season. Charmechealle Moore (Mike) and Will Davis played in a number of games and contributed significantly, but were mostly situational players. Dakorey Johnson, a late arrival from the junior college ranks, played in a limited capacity and mostly on special teams.
The name of the game is depth, a word only rarely used in Bill Snyder's second stint at K-State. Although Truman is the only returning starter, Moore and Davis will both join him in the starting lineup, and Johnson should be a significant role player. Junior college transfers D'Vonta Derricott and Isaiah Riddle round out the depth chart. As Truman noted recently "[i]f anybody goes down, we have the people to replace them."
The K-State defense returns a number of veterans this season, although the linebacking crew has been overshadowed by stellar play and high expectations from the defensive line. However, this season might see some balance restored on defense.
For one, the aforementioned depth should make things much easier on the unit as a whole. For another, there is significant experience here. With an entire season now under his belt, Truman is expected to step up and be the leader of the unit, both on and off the field. With Truman getting some press as the strongest player on the team (i.e. he made Bruce Feldman's Top 20 Freaks list), it's likely to be a great season for the senior. He may get some help from Johnson, who played eight games last year and should be a more significant contributor as Truman's primary backup on the weak side. Riddle, another late arrival from junior college, may also see some playing time in the WLB spot.
The athletic Moore showed some useful skills last season, playing mostly on passing downs. He had a breakout performance in the bowl game against Michigan and a strong spring, so it is reasonable to expect good things from him in 2014 and he has the strong-side spot essentially locked up.
Davis, who played well in the spring game and is a Truman-like freak as far as strength, is basically the next Blake Slaughter. The projected starter in the middle, Davis should get some help from speedster Derricott who is considered a tackling missile and is expected to see a lot of playing time this year.
All in all, the linebackers for 2014 should be a significant force in a defense that, at least on paper, could be one of the best in the Big 12.
Keep on the look-out for upcoming position previews as we count our way down towards the opening of football season on August 30th!