Part of this whole projecting the depth chart series is intrigue. Until the first snap of the season, you can’t be entirely positive who is going to start and where. While that is the case for most positional groups for the Cincinnati Bearcats, its not as true for the linebackers. That’s not to say there aren’t some tough decisions that head coach Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman (who also happens to be the linebackers coach) are going to have to make, but we probably have a good idea of who the primary starters are. That level of consistency could be a good thing for a team that is trying to build on the foundation of Fickell’s first year.
The top returning tackler on the roster, Young is a leader for the defense and if the Bearcats are into giving out captain titles for positional groups, he’s the linebacker’s best option. Young led the team in tackles for loss last year and is going to play a major role in the ascension of this defensive unit.
Hype is building for White’s sophomore season. Its easy to understand why considering how well he played down the stretch in 2017 once given a full-time starting gig. White was a four-star recruit and one of the first big prospects turned into a star under Fickell and his staff. His ascension is just beginning.
Figuring out the third starter at linebacker isn’t an easy task, but it also shouldn’t be all that difficult. While its certainly possible that freshman Ty Van Fossen will be given a shot right away, its much more likely that a guy with proven playing experience like Joel Dublanko or Ty Sponseller or a will team up with Young and White. Redshirt freshmen RJ Potts and Kyle Bolden should also have a larger claim to a starting chance and don’t forget about Tyrell Gilbert, who played linebacker most of last year but could shift back to safety.
The second unit is where there are more questions that answers. Let’s assume Dublanko gets the starting gig next to Young and White. That means Potts, Bolden, Sponseller and Van Fossen are going to be competing for the three spots on the second team. Whoever is left out should still get playing time, just not nearly as much.
I may have tipped my hand a little earlier, but Dublanko seems like the safest choice to be a day one starter. The sophomore played in all 12 games last season and that might be enough to give him a leg up, especially since the Bearcats need help in the secondary and Gilbert can provide that. Young and White are as etched in stone as anyone on the roster.
If he hadn’t redshirted last season, Potts had the potential to be a breakout candidate right along with White. After sitting out a year and learning the system from the sidelines, he is going to be pushing for a starting gig sooner rather than later. Bolden also has a lot of upside while Sponseller played in 11 games last year so he’s not just going to be forgotten. Additionally, while I didn’t put him on the first or second team projection and think he could be back at safety, Gilbert played a lot of linebacker last season, so he could add a wrench into the mix if the Bearcats decide not to mess with his role. Gilbert is a first team talent, so Dublanko could end up on the second team in that scenario.
What does that mean for Van Fossen and transfer Jaylyn McKinney? For Van Fossen, its possible he could redshirt, while McKinney is going to have to adapt to a limited role and perhaps some special teams work.