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Alternate Title: So there are more than two?
The linebackers in 2010 weren't the greatest. I don't think that's being overly harsh it's just kind of a fact of life. J.K. Schaffer and Maalik Bomar were forced to play nearly every meaningful snap for an entire season. Walter Stewart was the third starter. But he was out of position. At one point during that fateful season UC boasted 4 healthy linebackers in the program. Linebacker was one of the biggest areas addressed in the class of 2011. Nick Temple and Dwight Jackson enrolled early and both had sizable impacts on the linebackers this year. More on that in a bit.
The numbers in the chart below represent the statistical impact of the linebackers on the 2011 defense. The percentages at the beginning represent the percentage of the category that linebackers accounted for.
|Tackle %||TFL %||Sack %||Rush Yards Allowed||YPC|
*The tackle percentages are slightly skewed because of the 2009 season when Brian Kelly went with a 3-4 defense. With a higher proportion of players on the field the linebackers would be expected, and did, capture more of the available tackles. It doesn't make a huge difference to the numbers, but its a relevant point.
There are two big reasons for the dip in production from the linebackers relative to the defensive line and the secondary. 1) The defensive line was dominate. Teams struggled so emphatically for most of the year to get plays up to the second level in the running game. The defensive line simply ate up plays in the backfield. For a lot of games, I am thinking N.C. State and Miami, there simply wasn't much for the linebackers to do.
2) The defense attacked more and blitzed the linebackers far more than in previous seasons. That is why linebackers share of the tackles for loss is so high in a category that is usually the purview of the defensive line. That attacking style was a resounding success. UC lead the nation in Tackles for Loss, was second in Sacks and 4th in turnovers forced. Part of the new style was an emphasis on the nickle package which was frequently used on run downs as a way to get speed on the field to attack the edge. That took a linebacker off the field which again goes back to proportion of players on the field. The lower it is for a position group the lower their production will be relative to the DLine and secondary.
I Was Quite Right On This One
In the pre season I gave the Linebackers a 7. Post season I have a hard time going to 8. The group was good on the year. J.K. Schaffer was his usual dominant self posting a third consecutive 100 tackle season as well as career highs in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (4.5) while and he tied a career high with 3 interceptions. But his running mate Maalik Bomar was most effected by the dominance up front. Later in the year he struggled with a recurring stinger problem that knocked him out of multiple games. Nick Temple was a very pleasant surprise exceeding my relatively high expectations for him starting every game starting with North Carolina State. The Bearcats got a lot out of Dwight Jackson too who was often the point man when Bomar would go out down the stretch. But the depth I expected never really materialized. Ben Pooler was lost for the season after three weeks. Solomon Tentman wasn't 100 per cent back from the ACL that knocked him out last season. Greg Blair wasn't granted eligibility. Depth was a concern again with three true freshman listed as primary backups for parts of the year. Those are forces generally beyond the control of everyone but they prevent the group from going to 8. I give the linebackers a 7.
What's your grade?