To say that UC had depth issues at the linebacker position is akin to saying that Jack The Ripper had rage issues. It's an absolutely massive understatement. There were times last year when there were four healthy linebackers in the entire program. The lack of depth was endemic for the entire team last year, but the thinnest spot by far was at linebacker. The genesis of the problem is in the infamous 2009 class. Four players from that class were projected to be linebackers, Will Saddler, Tristan Marvin, Angel Clybourn and Malik Bomar. Three years removed just one of those guys, Bomar, is still with the program. Two had to retire due to injury (Clybourn, Saddler), and one was an academic casualty (Marvin) That kind of attrition is bound to cause huge problems for the defense, and it did.
The general pattern of the linebacker production was very much like the pattern outlined in the preview of the defensive line. Early in the year the linebackers were very productive. But as the year wore they became less and less effective. Last year the only linebacker who ever got rest was Walter Stewart when UC went nickle and he wasn't playing DE. But Bomar and Schaffer did not have that luxury, and they played near as makes no difference every meaningful snap. Over the course of the year UC's defense played 70 snaps a game and Bomar and Schaffer played 95 per cent of those. It's no wonder that the numbers got terrible at the end of the year. This year the depth should be much better thanks to a few key additions.
Will - 4 - Malik Bomar
Bomar is kind of the prototype outside linebacker for this defense. He is not that big, just 6'2" 220 pounds, but he is aggressive as hell, has the ability to cover receivers in the flat and can hit like a ton of bricks. John Jancek wants linebackers who can cover ground sideline to sideline and also be able to make plays in the zone on passing down. Bomar had a good year as a first year starter finishing 2nd on the team in tackles with 70 and 4th on the team with 8 tackles for loss. Bomar chipped in with 2 sacks for good measure. He was really banged up at the end of the year and registered 5 or fewer tackles in 4 of the last 5 games. He has put on almost 20 pounds since last year so he should be better equipped to hold up for the season.
Mike - 33 - J.K. Schaffer
A three year starer and a rock in the middle Schaffer has started each of the last 24 games. He has posted back to back 100 tackle seasons. Like Bomar Schaffer is a bit undersized at 6'1" 232 pounds but he flies around and makes a ton of plays. Another 100 tackle season will land him in the top 10 for career tackles at UC. If he stays healthy I don't see how that could not happen.
Sam - 36 - Ben Pooler
This is the toughest call to make for me. Pooler is a transfer from Maryland who is eligible to play this year under the same rule that enabled Ben Mauk to play right away after transferring from Wake Forest. Pooler has not had the best of luck with injuries and I am still wary of that, but ultimately I think the job is going to be his.
Sam - 33 - Solomon Tentman
Could wind up as the starter at the Sam. Tentman was off to a great start last year in camp and was poised to make an impact as true freshman before tearing his ACL. For most of the offseason I was of the mind that Tentman would start. But as the season has come closer I haven't heard anything about Tentman, good or bad, and that is slightly disconcerting. If he is 100 per cent I wouldn't be surprised at all if he started, but for now I just don't know.
Will - 43 - Nick Temple
True freshman who was in for spring. The coaches absolutely raved about him in practices. He is 5'11" and about 200 pounds, 214 according to the official roster, make of that what you will. At this point his name is all but carved from stone on the two deep backing up Malik Bomar.
Mike - N/A - Greg Blair
Blair has yet to matriculate to campus but I haven't heard anything that suggests that he won't join the team for the start of camp. Blair is a big body and more of a traditional Big 10 style MLB. He will back up Schaffer and will probably feature on obvious running downs and goalline packages. More here.
Mike - 46 - Mitch Meador
The other option for the backup middle linebacker. Meador was a defensive end but dropped back to LB in the spring. That might have been a temporary stop gap thing and he could be on his way to the DL during camp. For now he will push for that back up job.
52 - Dwight Jackson
Was in for spring practice. I have had him in my two deep for most of the offseason. But the more I think about it the more I think that he would benefit from a redshirt year. I don't know the staffs position on this matches mine. Jackson could jump into the ranks of the reserves at one of the outside linebacker position, and he might just be a special teams guy this year. I don't really know.
47 - Colin Lozier
Came to UC as a preferred walk on FB. But seeing as there is limited use for the fullback in this offense he moved to linebacker.
44 - Corey Mason
Another prefered walk on. Has the chance to earn a scholarship in the next couple of seasons.
41 - Kevin Hyland
Prefered walk on, I think, from Elder
50 - Innocent Macha
Spectacularly named prefered walk on from Roger Bacon
Still not on the offical roster, not a great sign just two weeks from the start of camp, but I haven't heard anything about him not making it to UC.
Pre Camp Position Rating: 7
The starters should be good to go. J.K. Schaffer tackles 10 people just going to class every day so that's obviously not a concern. Bomar is a good player and should benefit from having some depth behind him with Temple. This is a much deeper group this year and everyone should benefit from not having to play 10,000 snaps again and there is a good mix of veterans and young guns. The improvement from the defensive line and having a little more depth should make this a very productive group.