Countdown to Kickoff: 22 Days...
Malcolm Munroe (graduated)
Depth Chart Speculation
|Brandon Watts (R-Sr)
|Tremayne McNair (Jr)
|Tyler Marcordes (R-So)
|Jabari Hunt-Days (R-So)
Daniel Drummond (R-Sr)
Anthony Harrell (R-So)
|Kyle Travis (Jr)
|Quayshawn Nealy (R-Jr)
Beau Hankins (R-Fr)
PJ Davis (Fr)
|Marcus Allen (R-Fr)
The continuity in this group is going to be big. A group that last year may have been our best position group brings back basically everyone and figures to be our best defensive unit this year. However, once you get past the starters, this unit is very short on experience which makes it what I'll call a "delicate" unit.
At strong side linebacker, Brandon Watts is highly athletic and a really good linebacker. He was Tech's 5th-leading tackler last year with 77, only 10 short of Isaiah Johnson's team-leading 87. A high school safety with the body of a linebacker, Watts starts the year just inside of the top 30 of NFL Draft Scout's OLB rankings. However, a good year there could see him break the top 20 and become a lock to be drafted. Behind him is Tremayne McNair, a junior who got quite a lot of recruiting hype and who has played the last two years on special teams...and has yet to record a tackle as a Yellow Jacket. That's what I look at and refer to as a concerning lack of experience. Behind him is Tyler Marcordes, a guy who got a couple of chances last year when Attaochu was off the field (Middle Tennessee State, in particular) but ended up being the guy that offenses ran right at knowing that he couldn't make tackles. When I asked him before last season, Jerry told me that he expected Marcordes to really stand out as a backup. He did...just in the wrong way. If he gets another chance this season and doesn't grasp it, it could be his last.
On the weak side there's All-ACC candidate and 2012's 4th-leading tackler Quayshawn Nealy, who had 79 tackles on the year. Nealy's mobility is a big deal for run support and pass coverage, and the speedy combo of him and Watts are a big reason that this unit is such a strength. His speed also enables Jerry to be more aggressive, knowing that if he misses and a guy bounces out into the flats that Nealy has the speed and skills to catch up, wrap up, and stop the play without any further damage. Behind him are the tandem of Beau Hankins and PJ Davis -- yes, the very same that signed this February after committing only a week before signing day. Hankins appears to be a solid backup whose specialty is in run-stopping (he could also play MLB if needed, as he did in high school). Davis was a strong safety in high school, very fast and a very hard-hitter who will be seeing time on special teams this year. However, he appears to have had a really good camp and could be a package-type guy when Nealy isn't on the field. (In this instance, it'd be Hankins in rushing situations and Davis in passing situations due to his mobility.) Behind them is Marcus Allen, the high school ATH initially thought to be a BB who's since converted to play OLB. Allen should be a solid player, but may just be a victim of a little more talent in front of him. He's very much an under-the-radar guy who could end up switching to SLB if it means getting more time.
The middle features Jabari Hunt-Days, the stud who given another year could be a legitimate All-American candidate at MLB. Hunt-Days is a great run stuffer and a total physical specimen. In fact, at this point he's listed as the top MLB in the 2016 Draft Class. (I realize how little that means, but it still speaks to his ability amongst those his age.) Behind him are the tandem of Daniel Drummond and Anthony Harrell. Drummond this year will be putting the finishing touches on what has been a very eventful college career. He started as a B-Back before moving to linebacker, was arrested for Boating Under the Influence (also known as "Boating") last summer on Lake Lanier, was the starter at MLB in Blacksburg before promptly losing the job to Jabari, and then lost his father over the course of last season. He's a serviceable backup, but I can't help thinking this year will be the end of the road for his football career. Harrell, on the other hand, made a tackle in 11 of 14 games last year as a redshirt freshman and provides JHD with a solid backup, even after Drummond is gone. Because he's the same age and will be stuck in Jabari's shadow until graduation, whether Harrell is starter quality we'll never know, lest JHD get injured or leave after next year for the Draft. Behind them is junior Kyle Travis, whose role has grown but may never allow him to significantly contribute past special teams.
Our starters will be the most solid set of linebackers in the entire ACC and might be the best unit on the team, but the guys behind them lack experience. Given the age of Watts and Nealy, it'll be important that they get significant time on the field so that there's a "contingency plan" of sorts for once they leave.
Confident in our linebackers? Are they as good as I think, or am I just drunk on Kool-Aid again?