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|Tech Sports News|
Last week we previewed the returning defensive lines in the ACC, and this week we'll take a look at the linebackers. Like their counterparts in the trenches, the ACC linebacking corps are very impressive, and you'll recognize a lot of names.
Boston College could return all three starting linebackers this year. The key word is could. Brian Toal had offseason surgery to repair an injured shoulder, but his status for this season is still unclear. If he returns, he'll combine with Tyronne Pruitt and Jolonn Dunbar to form one of the most imposing groups of linebackers on the east coast.
They'll be even better this year as a group, because they'll be playing behind a defensive line that returns all four starters. Backup linebackers Mark Herzlich, Kevin Akins and Robert Francois all have some experience, and they will add quality depth.
Clemson's linebackers are talented, but there are some question marks. Tramaine Billie missed last season with a broken ankle, and then in the offseason, he ran into academic difficulties. Returning starter Nick Watkins also had academic problems in the offseason. If everything is straightened out on that front for the season, they should combine with Antonio Clay to form a solid group of linebackers.
However, there isn't a lot of experienced depth behind those three players, and an injury or some other problem could end up being very troublesome for the Tigers.
Duke's linebacker corps is led by one of the most underrated players in the ACC. Michael Tauiliili has led the Blue Devils in tackles each of the last two years. He is a hard-nosed, instinctive defender. However, he is the only returning starter at linebacker for Duke. The success of this group will depend on new starters Tim Ball and Vinny Rey.
Florida State always has very gifted linebackers. They lost Lawrence Timmons and Buster Davis to the NFL after last season, however they do return the very athletic Geno Hayes at weak side linebacker. They'll start former Virginia Tech recruiting targets Derek Nicholson and Marcus Ball at the other two linebacker spots.
This will be a talented group, as usual. However, they aren't that big. As a strong side linebacker, Ball is listed at just 213. Hayes is 218, and Nicholson is 230. They'll rely on their speed, instincts and aggressiveness to be successful.
Georgia Tech lost KaMichael Hall to the NFL, but they return starters Gary Guyton and Philip Wheeler. Guyton will slide to Hall's old spot on the weak side this year, while Wheeler will continue to hold down the middle linebacker spot. He is a great athlete and a perfect fit for Georgia Tech's blitzing style defense, as evidenced by his nine sacks last season.
R-Freshman Anthony Barnes and sophomore Shane Bowen will battle for the starting spot at strong side linebacker. However, there isn't a lot of depth in this group, and an injury to a starter could hurt them a lot.
Maryland could be in trouble at linebacker this year. Only Eric Henderson returns. David Holloway and Wesley Jefferson have both moved on. Henderson is a solid ACC linebacker, but the rest of the unit is unknown. The coaching staff does believe rising r-freshman middle linebacker Alex Wujciak has the potential to be a star, but they aren't sure when that will happen. The Terps look to be thin on the second level of their defense this year.
Miami isn't as loaded as you might think at linebacker. They have some solid depth, but no standouts. Sophomore Colin McCarthy passed returning starter Tavares Gooden at strong side linebacker in the spring. Glenn Cook, Romeo Davis and Darryl Sharpton will all get a chance to start at middle linebacker. If Cook doesn't start at middle linebacker, he could start on the weak side.
Overall, there are a lot of question marks for Miami at linebacker. They have a lot of players with chances to earn a spot in the lineup, but they don't currently have an All-ACC caliber linebacker on their roster, at least not based on last year's performances. Linebacker is the weakest link of Miami's defense.
It looks like North Carolina will struggle at just about every position this year, including linebacker. They return one full-time starter in Durell Mapp, and Chase Rice and Martel Thatch have also seen some starting time. However, this isn't the most talented group in the world. True freshmen Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter could make their way into the 2-deep this fall, and possibly even start.
NC State will likely start three seniors at linebacker this year. James Martin II, Ernest Jones and LeRue Rumph are the three players, and Rumph is the only returning starter. The problem with this group is that there is no true middle linebacker. They have all played outside linebacker in the past. Right now, Martin is the starter at middle linebacker. Depth is also an issue. There are no proven backups on the Wolfpack roster.
UVA returns all four starters in their 3-4 defensive alignment, and they are all pretty good ones. Jon Copper and Antonio Appleby man the inside positions, while Jermaine Dias and Clint Sintim come off the edge. Sintim could be ready to have a breakout season. The Hoos should also have more depth this year. John Bivens could challenge for playing time at one of the inside spots. This should be one of the ACC's best units in 2007, if the starters can remain healthy.
By most accounts, Virginia Tech will have the best group of starting linebackers in the ACC this year. Vince Hall returns, as does Xavier Adibi. They are both considered to be among the top linebackers in the nation. Senior Corey Gordon will start at whip, and if his on-field performance matches his athleticism, he should have a good season. With three senior starters, Tech will have one of the most experienced units in the conference.
The only question mark is depth. Brett Warren would likely do a solid job at mike if Hall were to go down, and Purnell Sturdivant improved at backer in the spring. However, they are still untested in game situations.
Wake Forest's Jon Abbate left early for the NFL Draft, which was a mistake since he didn't get drafted. However, the Demon Deacons do return two very effective starters in Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux. Curry is the most underrated linebacker in the ACC. He's big and athletic, and he just has the look of a good football player when you see him on the field. Arnoux seems to always find himself around the football, with three fumble recoveries last year.
The question mark will be
middle linebacker Eric Berry. He has performed well when he's gotten playing
time in the past, but can he do it over the course of an entire season? And with
just about every position for Wake Forest, depth is an issue.
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