OLB -- Tyronne Pruitt, JR, 5’11, 218 lbs
MLB -- Jolonn Dunbar, JR, 6’1, 244 lbs
OLB -- Brian Toal, JR, 6'1, 238 lbs
Other guys who should see time
LB -- Mike McLaughlin, FR, 6’0, 245 lbs
LB -- Kevin Akins, SO, 6’2, 205 lbs
LB -- Robert Francois, SO, 6'2, 235 lbs
This unit should be the strength of the team. The group has speed, football smarts, good size, depth and experience on its side. Inevitably Linebackers are critical to any defense, but as I said in April, I was very encouraged by the productivity of the Linebackers last year. For the first time in a long time, the second team saw significant playing time. And when given the chance they stepped up. Now despite losing two starters, we will field a group that has onfield experience under their belts.
The biggest question mark remains Brian Toal’s health. When healthy, he is arguably the best athlete on BC’s roster -- a good special teamer, a good goalline back and a Linebacker looking for the big play. The big play mentality hurt him last season as he missed some tackles and was out of place on a few others. I don’t expect that to be an issue this year. I think his continued maturity and wake-up call from injury will provide a discipline to his play that was missing last season. Things I don’t know: if he will be on the weakside as much this year or how he will be used in blitz packages? He is a playmaker and a healthy Toal should be a first team ACC Linebacker.
One of the biggest surprises of last year was the play of Jolonn Dunbar. The converted RB came on and immediately made an impact. He became our best open-field tackler and seemed very comfortable running the defense from the middle. While he didn’t get the picks that Ray Henderson did, his play was dynamic enough to knock a few balls lose.
Tyronne Pruitt will get the other starting spot. Although he didn’t make the same impression as Dunbar, he still played very well last year. He’s smaller than Ricky Brown, so I don’t know how Spaz will use him as a starter (weakside or strong side). I remember him looking totally lost in coverage against Clemson. By Boise State he looked like a pro.
Two guys who have never played a down as Linebackers for BC could also pay big dividends. One is Redshirt Freshman Mike McLaughlin. He is a local product who was heavily hyped during recruiting. Early word from practices is that he is the real deal and will get time spelling Dunbar. The other exciting move was seeing Kevin Akins listed as a Linebacker. Coming over from Corner surprised many. But in this defense, the Linebackers are asked to do more than the Corners, so I am all for putting a tweener like him in the middle. Hopefully he will adjust quickly.
It’s pretty obvious that I like what our Linebackers have to offer. Although our depth serves as insurance against injury problems, I hope everyone starts the year healthy. A good rotation made a huge difference last year and if we are limited to four players instead of six regular guys, things might start to break down. I think the defense will surprise people and that Dunbar and Toal will make All-ACC teams.