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2009 Nebraska Football Spring Preview: Linebackers A Plenty!

 Last year Bo Pelini walked into his first spring practice wondering where his linebacking unit was. He finally located them standing behind a post, difficult to locate because they were so thin (insert collective groan).

Bo Pelini started his first season with one returning starter, Phillip Dillard, at linebacker. Tyler Wortman had played in 2008 due to injuries to Bo Ruud and Lance Brandenburgh, but that was the extent of the experience. The depth chart looked so bad going into spring practice that Cody Glenn switched positions from running back to linebacker.

This year the linebacker position is so loaded that Latravis Washington switched to quarterback, leaving no less than 12 players to vie for playing time at three positions. What a difference a year makes - this year you couldn’t throw a rock at the Husker football team without hitting a linebacker.

Can Phillip Dillard work his way back into a starting middle linebacker role?
Photo by Dennis Hubbard.

The switch for Glenn appeared to work out well as at times he played like a man possessed, while at others he made silly mistakes. Even though an unfortunate suspension ended his season after nine games, Glenn ended up fifth in total tackles with 51. He had six tackles for loss, four pass break-ups and a forced fumble.

Phillard Dillard played in nine games, but suffered an ankle injury against Baylor and missed the remaining fives games. He finished the season with 38 tackles and a half sack. Colton Koehler started the season a relative unknown, but played in seven games and eventually replaced Dillard as the starter. Koehler got his first career start in the Gator Bowl and finished the season with 16 tackles, including eight against Kansas State and a safety against Baylor.

Matt Holt was another surprise, earning his first career start against Texas Tech. He played in nine games, finishing with a total of 14 tackles, including eight against Texas Tech. He suffered an injury during the Kansas game and missed the rest of the season due to should surgery.

Beyond Dillard, Blake Lawrence has the most experience of this year’s linebackers. Lawrence played in ten games at the will spot and started two games including the Gator Bowl. He finished 2008 with 21 total tackles and had an interception against Clemson that lead to a Alex Henery field goal.

The talk before the start of spring practice was whether or not Dillard could fight off middle linebacker of the future Will Compton. After Mike Ekeler’s recent comments it appears that Dillard may have to worry about fighting Colton Koehler and Matthew May for playing time as well.

Redshirt freshmen Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, and Sean Fisher are highly-touted newcomers expected to compete for a starting role. Compton is widely considered Nebraska’s middle linebacker of the future while Whaley and Fisher will compete for the outside linebacker roles.

Who are the projected starters? Right now, who cares? Pelini won’t make a depth chart for spring practice, and with this many linebackers vying for playing time there’s no reason why he should as the competition will continue well into fall. There will be a depth chart come fall and someone will be starting, but given that the Huskers first two games are against Sun Belt conference teams Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State expect a number of different linebackers to see playing time. This will give Compton, Whaley, or Fisher time to grow into starters without necessarily exposing the defense early in the season.

Nebraska started three linebackers only three times last season. Whether that is due to the Big 12’s shift to the spread offense or because of the 2008 depth issues is debatable. If the 2009 group, particularly the will and buck positions, can show enough speed they’ll see the field more than their 2008 counterparts.

Who Goes Where?

Brian Christopherson at Husker Extra was kind enough to lay out the position battles going into spring, also noting that this does not represent a depth chart.

At the WILL: Blake Lawrence, Alonzo Whaley, Matt Holt, Matthew May
At the MIKE: Colton Koehler, Phillip Dillard, Will Compton, Matthew May (he's swinging between MIKE and WILL)

At the BUCK: Sean Fisher, Micah Kreikemeier, Graham Stoddard, Blake Lawrence (swinging between the WILL and BUCK)

A look at the class breakdown:
Phillip Dillard - Sr
Colton Koehler - Sr

Thomas Grove - Jr
Blake Lawrence - Jr
LaTravis Washington - Jr - switched to quarterback

Mathew May - So
Matt Holt - So
Joseph Camarata - So
Austin Stafford - So - no longer with team

Sean Fisher - RFr
Tanner Foxhoven - RFr
Will Compton - RFr
Micah Kreikmeier - RFr
Matt Manninger - RFr
Alonzo Whaley - RFr
Graham Stoddard - RFr
Sam Meginnis - RFr

Freshman Recruits:

Robert Barry - Fr - Walk On
Colby Starkebaum - Fr - Walk On
Chris Williams - Fr  - Scholarship
Devin Paulsen - Fr - Walk On
Eric Martin - Fr - Scholarship