In 2016, the linebackers made up the core of one of the Big 12’s best defenses. Elijah Lee and Charmeachelle “Mike Moore” prowled the defensive backfield and provided much needed support to an inexperienced secondary. This year, Lee and Moore are gone, and the linebacking unit has a new coach, Blake Seiler, who made the move from coaching defensive ends when Mike Cox left Kansas State.
Seiler has taken to the new role like a fish to water and describes the linebacking corps as “great linebackers who are great kids and are going to be great players.” If this sounds a bit Snyder-esque, that’s probably a good thing.
Former walk-on and current team captain Trent Tanking is likely to be the star player for the linebackers this year. Last year, he managed considerable playing time as a backup and had an eye-opening day against TCU when an in-game injury to Moore pushed Tanking into the game. He had a career-high five tackles that day, and also snagged an interception at the goal line.
By all accounts, Tanking is great against the pass which should take him far in a spread-happy league like the Big 12. Teammate D.J. Reed said “[Tanking] has really good hands. I feel like he’s going to have a lot of interceptions this year.”
Joining Tanking in the starting lineup will probably be Sam Sizelove and Jayd Kirby. Sizelove has played almost exclusively on special teams so far, and it’s hard to say what his impact as a starter will be. However, he had a great spring playing on the outside and hopes to fill Elijah Lee’s role. Sizelove describes himself as “laid back and goofy” and very different from Tanking in personality and playing style. It remains to be seen if the two can play together on a retooled unit.
Like Sizelove, Kirby has played almost exclusively on special teams so far. His specialty is blocking punts and kicks, and he’s currently fifth in the nation in that category. That athleticism should hold him in good stead playing outside linebacker, especially in Kansas State’s conventional 4-3 alignment.
Da’Quan Patton, a transfer from Trinity Valley (TX) Community College had a breakout spring. Indeed, were it not for Sizelove’s greater experience with Kansas State’s defense, Patton may have cracked the starting lineup. It would not be surprising if Patton were to contribute significantly in 2017.
Elijah Sullivan played mostly on special teams last year, but his speed and athletic abilities should keep him in the mix in 2017 as well. High school teammate Justin Hughes didn’t see any game action last year, but like Sullivan, he should see some playing time on special teams and at linebacker.
This is a unit with new personnel and a new coach, so it may not be quite like the linebacking corps of old. But what the group lacks in experience it more than makes up for in athleticism and enthusiasm. With Tanking in the lead, look for the linebackers to be the surprise of the defense in 2017.