As was the case with the defensive line, this unit will see plenty of returning experience. Again, several talented turnbacks will resume their Falcon careers. Leading the list is 2019 second team all-Mountain West Demonte Meeks. Lakota Wills and TD Blackmon will also be back in the lineup.
Over the last few years, this unit has been a strength of the team. Along with the defensive line, the linebackers have done a very good job of containing opponent’s running games. Opposing teams have averaged only 113.8 yards per game, and considering that the Falcons play run-based teams Army, Navy, and Wyoming every year, that is a record to be proud of. Analytics company SportSource Analytics recently tweeted an analysis of the top run defenses in college football, and it noted that over the last three years, the Falcons are #4 in the country in lowest percentage of rushes allowed greater that 12 yards, just above San Diego State at #5.
The ten #CFB defenses the last three years to give up a 12+ rush less than 7% of rush attempts:— SportSource Analytics (@SportSourceA) March 27, 2021
Wills and Meeks have played an important part in that performance, and many of the younger players who played a part last year return this year.
- Lakota Wills
- Caleb Humphrey/Brandon Gooding
- Demonte Meeks
- Alec Mock
- TD Blackmon
- Johnathan Youngblood
Outside Linebacker/Spur Linebacker
- Ethan Erickson
- Noah Bush
Prior to the postponement last year’s season, Meeks was named to the All-MW first team. In 2019, he had racked up 98 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 4 QB hurries. In part time duty the previous year, he had picked up 16 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks while biding his time behind Kyle Johnson and Brody Bagnall.
Due to the fact he sat out last year, and with several other outstanding linebackers returning to the league for a fifth year, he most likely will not be named to the preseason first team, but expect him to be in the conversation by the end of the year.
Wills has a level of talent comparable to Meeks, but has been dogged by injuries throughout his career. As a freshman four years ago, Wills broke into the starting lineup for the third game of the year against San Diego State. He went on to pick up 47 tackles, including 6 for a loss and 2 sacks. He also had one interception.
In his sophomore year, he was injured in the fourth game of the year, and missed several games. When he came back his performance was affected and he ended the year with 21 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
In 2019, he missed five games with injuries, but was able to accumulate 36 tackles, including 6 for a loss and 2 sacks and a fumble recovery.
An injury-free year for Wills in 2021 would go a long way in making for a successful year for the Falcons.
Although Blackmon has only made a couple of appearances in a game for the Falcons, he is the sixth highest rated recruit of the Calhoun era. He was penned in as a starter last year before the season was pushed back and he took the turnback option.
The fourth linebacker position is generally filled by a hybrid linebacker/defensive back that the Falcons call the Spur linebacker. Grant Thiel did an excellent job at this position 2 years ago, making 50 tackles breaking up 4 passes, and having a big hand in the defensive play of the year for college football, Tre Bugg’s 99 yard interception return for a touchdown. It’s not clear exactly who will fill the position next year, but Ethan Erickson is a leading candidate. He played at the free safety position last year, making 21 tackles and breaking up one pass. The Falcons have two safeties returning from turnback to help fill out the defensive backfield.
Mock is a rarity for the Falcons. He entered directly to the Academy without spending time at the Prep School, and he started at a key position as a freshman. He may not start this year, but he will see extensive playing time. In three games last year, he made 13 tackles, including a sack. He was injured in the third game, and missed the rest of the season.
Youngblood is another freshman who showed promise last year. In five games he made 22 tackles and had two QB hurries. He began fall camp as a fullback and was converted back to his high school position when the turnbacks took place.
The other three players, Noah Bush, Caleb Humphrey, and Brandon Gooding saw a good amount of playing time last year. My preview of the defensive line included Gooding, as he is capable of playing both positions. He has exhibited good pass rushing ability when the situation calls for pressuring the QB.
Next week we will look at the defensive backs.