Football Guide: Positional grades for linebackers
Projected starters: Scooby Wright III, sophomore (middle linebacker); DeAndre’ Miller, sophomore (weak side linebacker); Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea, junior (strong side linebacker)
Backups: Derrick Turituri (sophomore), Cody Ippolito (redshirt sophomore), Hank Hobson (senior), Jake Matthews (sophomore), Sir Thomas Jackson (redshirt junior), Jamardre Cobb (true freshman), Ryan Dunn (redshirt freshman), Haden Gregory (redshirt junior), Alex King (redshirt sophomore), RJ Morgan (redshirt freshman), Brandon Rutt (true freshman), Antonio Smothers Jr. (junior), Tre Tyler (true freshman), Marquis Ware (true freshman)
Departures: Jake Fischer (graduation), Marquis Flowers (graduation), Brian Keyes (no longer with program), Cole Ramseyer (no longer with program)
Returning stat leaders:
Scooby Wright III (2013-14) — 83 total tackles, one interception and 9.5 tackles for loss
Sir Thomas Jackson (2013-14) — eight total tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss
Last season’s linebacking core featured established linebackers Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers and was a strength of an otherwise average defense. However, Fischer and Flowers, the top-two tacklers, both graduated and need to be replaced.
Their combined 192 tackles accounted for just under 70 percent of the total tackles made by starting linebackers last season. Replacing that kind of production will not be easy and likely will not happen.
Filling those starting spots is DeAndre’ Miller and Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea, and between them there are a lot of unknowns. The duo needs to perform from the onset or there will be changes made rather quickly.
The lone mainstay from last year’s starters is Scooby Wright III. The 6-foot-1 linebacker is tied with safety Jared Tevis for the most total tackles amongst returning players (83) and will be a focal point of the defense as a whole.
Wright III played last season as a true freshman and impressed coaches and fans alike. He was named a freshman All-American by 247sports.com.
If he can help the other linebackers progress, this unit will be considerably better as the season progresses than it currently is.
—Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter @HouseofPayne555