It’s that time again. We have made it through the entire offense and covered the defensive line last week. In this week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly,” We will be taking a peek at the best linebacker units in the Mountain West.
The linebacker unit has been plagued by injuries in recent years and has been a question mark since the departure of Leighton Vander Esch. Those question marks should finally be answered this coming season. Riley Whimpey started coming into his own late in the season and emerged as a leader on this side of the ball. Zeke Noa should be healthy and be a run stopping force at the middle linebacker position. Kekaula Kaniho has proven to be a leader at nickel. I also like the addition of graduate transfer Brock Miller. Along with Benton Wickersham and Brandon Hawkins, the Broncos should be able to go two deep at linebacker.
Replacing Mykal Walker won’t be an easy task, but Justin Rice was a first team all-conference selection last year and will be primed to lead the Bulldog defense. Fresno State was inconsistent on the defensive side of the ball, but I think they will take a step forward this year with solid linebacker play.
Similar to the Bulldogs, the Falcons lost a major contributor in Kyle Johnson. Johnson was a run stopping force who also did a nice job of dropping into coverage. But the Falcons have another all-conference linebacker ready to step it up in senior Demonte Meeks. The front seven should be an area of strength for the Falcons in 2020.
The Wolf Pack will be the trendy pick to win a West Division that has a ton of turnover. But I think Nevada is going to take a few steps back on the defensive side of the ball. Losing Gabriel Sewell will hurt that defense. They will need their guys in the trenches to overcome some deficiencies in the middle.
San Diego State
In my opinion Kyahva Tezino was a special talent and won’t be replaced easily. I think this defense will have some struggles early in the season as they adjust to the coaching changes. The Aztec linebackers will have their setbacks early in the season, and that will keep them from being among the elite units in the conference.
Like I said with Tezino, Logan Wilson was a special talent and should be an early pick in the year’s NFL draft. Wyoming will be solid in the trenches, but they have some glaring deficiencies in the back half of their defense. Wilson was all over the field, but it seems like the Cowboys always have someone who fits that mold. Who will it be in 2020?
David Woodward was in the hunt for defensive player of the year until he went down with an injury. Now, he has decided to enter and looks like he will go in the middle rounds. The Aggies not only have to replace their quarterback, they also have to replace the leader of a defense that took a noticeable step back after his injury.
Solomon Mautatia is gone and was the most notable linebacker on a Hawaii unit that struggled mightily against the run. Todd Graham will instill a different level of toughness on this team, but they just don’t have the guys on their roster to take the steps they need to on the defensive side of the ball. Hawaii didn’t really address the need during the recruiting cycle either. Isaiah Tufaga will help, but he currently has to sit a year after transferring from Oregon State.
I probably should have put the Lobos in the “Ugly” category, but I think Rocky Long is a magician and will somehow make this unit look competent. I also like senior linebacker Teton Saltes. I think he has the ability to be the leader of the New Mexico defense.
The Rams don’t have any big names at the linebacker position, but they took significant steps forward in 2019. The addition of Steve Addazio at head coach will also instill another level of toughness into a crew that needs to take another step forward. I don’t think they will quite reach the “Good” level yet, but the Rams will be okay at linebacker.
San Jose State
Losing Ethan Aguayo is catastrophic for a defense that already struggled mightily to stop the run. The Spartans are a trendy pick entering the 2020 season, but their defense is going to continue to be a major liability. They will need some of their junior college recruits to come in and make an immediate impact.
Their top two linebackers graduated and they hired an offensive-minded coach. Doesn’t exactly seem like a recipe for success. UNLV will take steps in the right direction in 2020, but it won’t be at the linebacker position, and it probably won’t be on the defensive side of the ball.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Stay tuned for next week’s edition, as we will be previewing the secondaries of the Mountain West.