So here is installment four-ish of what we anticipate to see this fall. Consider this, if you will, a pre-fall practice prognosis. As always, feel free to opine in the comments section.
If the Rebels are to at all improve on what was statistically one of the worst defenses in the history of the Southeastern Conference (The absolute worst even? Maybe. I'm too lazy and scared to look that one up.), they will need increased production and consistency across the board, and the linebacking corps are no exception to this. While perhaps the most experienced and successful units on the defense, the Rebel linebackers still seem unable to solidify their role and rotation.
Junior Mike Marry will be the mainstay and focal point of this unit. Listed at 6'2" and 248 pounds, Marry has the size needed to play mike linebacker in the SEC. He is tough and plays a really old school, physical brand of football, which is a diplomatic way of saying that he's not as fast or athletic as his counterparts. Still, he's an efficient defender and tackles well. He led the team last year with 81 tackles and did record five tackles for a loss. You wont see him very often as a part of a blitz or chasing down opponents on the edge, but you will see him make the stops he needs to.
In new defensive coordinator Dave Wommack's multiple defensive set - which, really, means we will rotate between a 4-2-5 and a 4-3, with the occasional nickel or dime package - the mike linebacker will be flanked by a "stinger" and a "huskie". The stinger is really a strong linebacker who will blitz and cover tight ends or backs, while the huskie is a tweener outside linebacker/strong safety type of position. The huskie will be in coverage a good bit, but will also be utilized heavily in blitzes and run support.
Listed as the starting stingers in the post spring depth chart are Aaron Garbutt and Denzel Nkemdiche. Two starters? Yeah, that's what the chart says, but it's probably the result of this team lacking real solid contributing depth at linebacker, as well as this staff's work to implement a new defensive system. Garbutt is listed at 6'2" and 200 pounds, and spent much of the season last year at safety. Garbutt's athletic but needs to work on his aggressiveness, especially if he's going to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Nkemdiche is a bit of an unknown. He didn't play last season and, at 5'10" and just under 200 pounds, has the body and skillset an agressive cornerback. The coaches are high on his energy and tackling ability, so if he can learn the defensive system, I think we'll see a lot of him this fall.
Junior Brishen Mathews is listed as starter at the huskie position. He's built ideally for this position, with a 5'11" frame supporting just over 200 pounds of weight. After playing at safety all twelve games as a freshman, Mathews was thought to be one of the rising stars of the Rebel defense. Injury kept him off of the field for all but two games last year, so his capabilities in this system are a bit of an unknown right now. Still, the coaches think highly enough of him and his athleticism to list him as a starter. He's a selflessly fierce tackler, so if he can stay healthy he should be effective against the run and on the blitz. I imagine he could be a bit of a liability in coverage, and will probably be pulled in favor of Ivan Nicholas in passing situations.
Beyond the starters, there's sophomore Ralph Williams, who at 6'0" and 238 pounds should have a significant reserve role on the defense; senior Joel Kight who, at 5'9", isn't big enough to start at mike yet powerful and versatile enough to see action at multiple spots; and sophomore Serderius Bryant, who is coming off an an all-SEC freshman season. Bryant, with time, could become a starter on this defense, I feel. He just plays with such an incredible energy that would make him an asset to any defense.
The only freshman I could see getting time at linebacker is South Panola product Temario Strong. Strong played defensive end for the Tigers, but at 6'2" and 210 pounds, would have to add at least another fifty pounds of muscle to take on that same role in the Southeastern Conference. If he doesn't do that, expect to see him at outside linebacker, where I feel he could excel.