Linebackers play a critical role in any defense, but for the Cincinnati Bearcats, it is taken to an extreme. It begins and ends with the fact that linebackers coach Marcus Freeman is also the defensive coordinator. Freeman, who is in his second season at his current post, knows linebacking inside and out. He played the position for four years at Ohio State and even went on to get a shot at an NFL job. Since then, he has been coaching linebackers all over, with jobs at Kent State, Purdue and now UC.
Freeman took over a defense that was used to employing talented linebackers. In the year before he was brought into the fold, Eric Wilson was just finishing off his stellar final two years, tackling everything that moved. Even without Wilson, Freeman got to work with some talented folks last year and that should continue in 2018.
Jaylyin Minor stepped right in and became the tackler extraordinaire that the Bearcats lost when Wilson finished his collegiate career. Minor, a junior college transfer, had an American Athletic Conference-high 125 tackles last season, as he came into his own with more playing time. Unfortunately, Minor reached the end of the line and will not be able to attempt replication.
Other than Minor, however, the group will return pretty much in tact, as freshmen Demarco Baker and Patrick Mileham, who did not log any playing time last season, are the only other linebackers from 2017 no longer on the roster.
When we did this exercise last year, there was a lot of potential but not a lot of experience in this group. That’s not the case now, as several guys who proved themselves will get a chance to do it again.
Junior Perry Young and sophomore Jarell White are the top players. Young had 101 tackles last season, including a team-high nine for loss. White, who was a four-star recruit from the Cincinnati area, showed why as he slowly worked himself into more and more playing time in 2017. He started each of the last four games of the year and finished with 46 tackles, 2.5 for loss and even half a sack.
White is joined by fellow sophomores Ty Sponseller and Joel Dublanko, who did not have the same type of breakout years, but are still more than reliable contributors. Dublanko played in all 12 games in 2017 and Sponseller got into 11.
Redshirt freshmen RJ Potts and Kyle Bolden both have a ton of potential, especially Potts, who was a four-star recruit and has a versatile skill set considering he can also play safety. Speaking of, as we talked about last week, Tyrell Gilbert can shift between safety and linebacker as well.
As for new players, the Bearcats have transfer Jaylyn McKinney and true freshman Ty Van Fossen. Of the two, Fossen has the best chance at earning playing time. He was a top 50 recruit in Ohio and a three-star prospect for the heralded 2018 recruiting class. McKinney is a graduate transfer from Liberty.