As Linebacker Week comes to an end here at Down the Drive, its time to put on our prognosticator uniforms (complete with coke bottle glasses) and take a stab at predicting how the depth chart will shake out at the position. Luckily, the task is made a bit easier because of the return of two starters.
What? You think because Cincinnati has two new defensive coordinators its suddenly going to sit its top tackler and unit leader? Wilson is a Butkus Award contender who will be attempting to build on his team-high 106 stops from last season.
He's not as sure a thing to start as Wilson, but only by a fraction. A starter in nine of the last 10 games of 2015, the sophomore has already proven he can withstand the rigors of playing in a starting role. His 59 tackles from a year ago trail only Wilson and safety Zach Edwards among returning players.
There are a host of options for the third starting linebacker spot, but no obvious pick. Jaylyin Minor had the most productive 2015 season among the options (35 tackles). Kevin Mouhon is a former four-star recruit who played in nine games as a freshman. Antonio Kinard is a senior who can hit hard and has a great build. Franklin Bruscianelli is entering his senior season but has played in just three games prior to this year. Mike Tyson, who is listed as a safety, is an intriguing option should Tommy Tuberville, Robert Prunty or Jeff Koonz decide to shake things up. Then there’s newcomers like Tyquan Statham and Ty Sponseller, a pair of true freshman that might just play from day one a la Jenkinson.
No matter who wins that third starting job, the Bearcats will have plenty of mix-and-match pieces to spell the top of the depth chart and provide different looks and tactics as they attempt to find more defensive success in 2016.
Even with just one start under his belt last season, Minor’s proven ability to produce makes him the safer pick to flank Wilson and Jenkinson. However, expect that third spot to be a fluid one, with different players getting a start or two as the campaign progresses.
Sure, Tyson was projected as a backup in the secondary as well, but his versatility could lead to fewer starts but more snaps as he shifts between roles. Mouhon will push Minor the hardest for the other starting job if he can live up to his potential.
As an aside, even though Statham may not get first or even second team reps right away, he is a player to keep an eye on. Even though Sponseller has a bit more experience at linebacker than Statham, who was ranked a top 100 running back by 247Sports, the athletic ability that Statham possesses could push the defensive coaching staff to get him into games quickly. The 6’0", 214-pound freshman was ranked the No. 43 athlete in the country and should line up on the outside and use his speed to bring a pass-rushing element to a unit that accumulated just one sack last season.