Spring football has already started for most Mountain West teams, and the rest will start hitting the field in the next few weeks. We are going to spend the next few months previewing each position group and where each team stands. So far, we have looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, and defensive linemen. This week, we are going to take a look at the linebackers.
The Broncos return all of their linebacker production, including super senior Riley Whimpey. Depth should be better; grad transfer Brock Miller is also returning, and we recently learned that he was injured most of last season. Zeke Noa and a great recruiting class should provide some nice depth. Brandon Hawkins has also been making some noise in spring camp.
According to their roster, it looks like Lawson Hall is coming back. The Second Team All-Mountain West performer will be a huge boost to this defense. There are some depth questions at linebacker, but the starters will be really solid.
Chad Muma is back, and this unit is stacked. The Cowboys front seven should be one of the best in the conference and is a force in stopping the run. Their linebackers are also really solid in dropping into coverage.
San Jose State
I thought Harmon should have won defensive player of the year, and he will be a popular pick for the award this year. This unit is loaded with senior experience and should be a major strength for the Spartan defense.
I am a little hesitant putting this unit here considering how awful they were against the run. But, Muasu is a game changer, and Todd Graham will have these guys trending in the right direction.
The front seven for the Rams is going to be really good next year. Colorado State made major steps in the right direction on the defensive side of the ball under Addazio. I expect this unit to be solid, but the small sample size makes them difficult to evaluate.
The Falcons are returning a ton of defensive talent that did not play last year, and they are always solid at linebacker. The speed and shiftiness of this linebacker crew will be a strength of Air Force’s defense.
San Diego State
Led by Cade McDonald, this unit should be spectacular in 2021. The Aztecs continued their reputation of being a defensive team that is stout against the run. This year’s schedule will present them with more challenges, but they should be one of the top units in the conference.
Losing Brandon Shook is a significant loss. He was one of the biggest surprises for the Lobos last season and was one of the few bright spots on an inconsistent defense. I’m confident that this unit will improve, but there isn’t enough there to put them in the “Good” category yet.
The Bulldogs struggled in nearly every defensive facet last season, and linebacker was no exception. If there was a positive in the COVID shortened season for the Bulldog defense, it was that their young players gained plenty of experience. I think this unit will be improved in 2021 but not quite strong enough to land in the “Good” category.
This unit was really bad this past season, and it is hard to see it looking much better this year. They struggled to get at the quarterback last year and surrendered a staggering 255 yards per game on the ground. Like their defensive line, this unit needs to improve significantly if the Rebels are going to contend for a bowl.
The new coaching staff will really need to place an emphasis on this unit. The defense struggled last year. The Aggies were a mess with coaching and attrition issues. Blake Anderson is a well respected coach who has built a really solid staff. I think they will be improved, but this unit has a long way to go.
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.