Thursday, September 2, 2010

Position Breakdown 2010: Linebackers

: Ben Jacobs, Kyle Knox, Travis Brown, Jeremiah Toma, Pat Su'a, Shawn Plummer, Daniel Salinas, Damion Whittington, Sonny McCree, Mario Moore, Steven Plevney
Newcomers: Ofa Fifita, Lester Fontenette
Lost: Nico Herron (transfer)

Ben Jacobs
Sr, 6'4", 240
Las Vegas (Silverado HS)

Early in his career, Ben Jacobs was pegged as a future star at the linebacker position. Jacobs has always been a hard hitter, and has great knowledge of the position. Two years ago, Jacobs turned the corner in his fitness, hardening his body and cutting his body fat immensely. He now enters his senior year as a team leader on defense who is ultra-committed to performance on the field and in the film room, neither of which are new traits. Jacobs is a run stopping specialist, especially between the tackles, but has had a tougher time with consistency in pass coverage and lateral (sideline to sideline) movement. That consistency has been magnified by the rest of the defense's performance during his tenure. All in all, Jacobs is essentially all you want in a middle linebacker, and can be a star when surrounded with the right personnel.

DaCo on Jacobs: Ben Jacobs has a lot of the qualities we've talked about for guys like Chris Carter and Ryan Colburn. Combined with his on-field traits, it's hard not to root for him to be great (not that you'd want to). But as good as Jacobs is, he might not be the best middle backer on the team (see below), which isn't to diminish his ability at all, but rather speak highly of another. His leadership, commitment and track record have his spot secured, though, and it's likely his senior year is the monster one he's capable of.

Kyle Knox
Jr, 6'1", 215
Los Angeles (St. Bernard HS)

If there's one thing Kyle Knox has been known for in his Bulldogs career, it's his ability to deliver the knockout hit, a traditional Fresno State prerequisite. Knox is built like a tank, is strong and fit, and has truly impressive open field top speed. That explains his hitting ability, but fails to explain his inability, to this point, to take a stronghold on his weakside backing position. Knox has been given every chance to shine in that role, and at this point is looking over his shoulder. Tools wise, Knox is about as good as it gets. He just needs to master his craft.

DaCo on Knox: Knox is a head scratcher supreme. If there was ever a guy you saw on the street and would bet that he's a linebacker, Knox is him. You see what he's capable at times in practice, and you want so bad for him to be great, because you know what's possible, and you know what it could do for the defense.

Travis Brown
So, 6'2", 235
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

As the 2009 season came to a close, it was clear to see Travis Brown was being worked more and more into his future (and now) starting role. Brown showed promise early on as a true freshman, and became visibly more comfortable as his game action increased. With an offseason of experience added to that freshman year, Brown is now prepared to man the strong side from the get-go of the 2010 season. The former 4-star recruit has given every indication he is ready to perform up to those standards starting this season.

DaCo on Brown: Travis Brown looks like he belongs out there, which is another way of saying he is good at what he does. At the least, Brown is much more confidence-inducing than former starter Nico Herron, who really should have been a defensive end.

Jeremiah Toma
R-Fr, 6'0", 215
Sacramento (Grant Union HS)

Jeremiah Toma is arguably the most exciting prospect at the linebacker position, which is saying a whole lot. His athletic ability stands out as something special, but that's only part of the reason his future is so bright. Toma has made the move from outside backer to a middle backer, and has leapt over several talented teammates to grasp the backup role behind senior Ben Jacobs (see above). Jacobs even shared some first team reps during camp, highlighting just how impressive, rapid and drastic Toma's acclimation has been.

DaCo on Toma: I'd like to say that Toma is the man in the linebacking unit, but it's only fair (and smart) to wait until he carries his performance from practice time to game action. Toma has taken me by storm with his talent in practice, and has given me every reason for me to think he'll be a machine when his time comes.

Pat Su'a
R-Fr, 6'2", 220
Bakersfield (Highland HS)

With the amount of praise just thrown upon Toma, you would expect whomever follows him on the breakdown to receive a much less regarded description, just by default. But Pat Su'a has arguably made just as big a splash as Toma, setting the Bulldogs up for a happy future at linebacker. Su'a can play all three spots in the Bulldogs base 4-3 set, but for now is listed behind Travis Brown. Su'a is yet another hard hitter who has an extremely bright future, and potentially present.

DaCo on Su'a: If Toma is 1, Su'a is 1A on the list of scene-burster-on-ers. Su'a is a more muscle-bound linebacker, especially in the legs, and is decisive (a trait often taken for granted). It will be exciting to see Su'a and Toma tag team offensive skill players for years to come.

Shawn Plummer
Jr, 6'0", 210
Clovis (Clovis HS)

Arguably the speediest linebacker of the group, Shawn Plummer has begun to carve his niche as the __ and long pass defender specialist. Plummer has done a fair job in this role, and has tenacity in his game, which has helped him with special teams performance as well. In this year's fall camp, Plummer was seen as the main competition for Kyle Knox, and may see increased time on the weak side if Knox stumbles in that role.

DaCo on Plummer: Plummer is quick and accelerates very well, making him niche-worthy in pass coverage. He's actually also shown a more well-rounded ability this fall, but still isn't the best option for a starting linebacker. He's maximizing his talent, though, which is all you can ask of a player.

Daniel Salinas
So, 6'0", 205
Galena, TX (North Shore HS)

The true sophomore out of Texas might have the best nickname on the team, although we're biased, having given it to him. It goes a little like this: "The bumper that fell off the back of the bus of Salinas!" (2:05-2:18) Sure it's a tad modified, but it rolls off the tongue better that way. Salinas is a stout linebacker with outstanding instinct from his middle backer position, yet has fallen behind Toma to the third spot in the lineup, which provides insane depth to that spot. Salinas shows very good lateral range and is in on seemingly every tackle, but it's still a mystery as to how he fits in the Bulldogs' plans, since he currently ranks behind a younger talent.

DaCo on Salinas: I have no problem taking credit for the Salinas nickname. It's earned the one uncontrollable laugh it deserved already, so that makes it worth it. Before the arrival of Toma and Su'a, Salinas was the man to keep an eye on. Stylistically, Salinas reminds me of his linebackers coach, Tim Skipper. If he works his way up to that level, obviously he'll be a star.

Damion Whittington
R-Fr, 6'1", 245
Norco (Norco HS)

Damion Whittington is another former outside backer who sees most of his time in the middle. Despite his listed size, Whittington is actually more known for his speed. He is indeed very range-y and adds unfathomable depth to the middle, where he currently is 4th on the charts. Given the depth in the middle, however, it's conceivable that he or another backer could move to the outside at some point.

DaCo on Whittington: Whittington remains an intriguing possibility at linebacker. His name will occasionally come up in conversation, as word was out early on his speed trait. That part of his game is still there, but he hasn't showcased his overall ability as much as others in 11-on-11 work to this point. He is a redshirt freshman, so he has plenty of time to develop.

Sonny McCree
Sr, 5'11", 235
Fresno (Edison HS)

Sonny McCree seems to have found a home at linebacker after a trial run at tight end a couple years ago. Physically, McCree is built similarly to Salinas and Whittington. His biggest value has and will continue to be on special teams, where he contributes to one of the best units in the country on a year-to-year basis. McCree is a name few will recognize, but his role on the team is valuable.

DaCo on McCree: McCree is an easy eval because he is what he is. He's a reliable backup with experience at the linebacker position, but will make his impact on special teams.

Mario Moore
So, 6'0" 185
Riverside (Citrus Hills)

Mario Moore is a linebacker stuck in a free safety's body. Moore has some of the best instincts in pass coverage of this group (which led to several interceptions in camp), and has plenty of speed to boot. Even at his listed weight of 185 pounds, Moore likes to deliver the biggest hits he possibly can. Moore has been a pleasant surprise during his tenure as a Bulldog, but it will be tough for him to crack the lineup unless he can specialize in a Plummer-like role.

DaCo on Moore: If the gamble wasn't so big and so much wasn't on the line for a single football game, the curiosity of Mario Moore's talents could be explored in a live game scenario. Moore is clearly undersized at his position, but he has good skills against the pass and has great speed. If Moore gets reps at linebacker this year, he will have my attention.

Ofa Fifita
Fr, 5'11" 235
San Bernardino (Arroya Valley)

With all the hype (deservedly so) around Fresno State's crop of receivers and defensive backs, guys like Ofa Fifita and Lester Fontenette (see below) have been in their shadows. Fifita, however, showed he is a force to be reckoned with already as a true freshman, a trait that can be applied to numerous members of this class. Fifita will now have a redshirt year to develop in the program and will be intriguing to watch when he emerges in the spring next year, and even more so when fall 2011 rolls around.

DaCo on Fifita: FSDogs1 has a residence in camp Fifita, while I am about ready to make an offer for my own place. Considering he's a true, Fifita has surprised with his perceived comfort out on the field.

Lester Fontenette
Fr, 6'0", 205
San Diego (Madison)

Lester Fontenette comes into the program as a linebacker, but he could be the most versatile player on the team. Fontenette could easily have been a safety, running back and even defensive end, but is being given the role of outside linebacker to start his career. The freshman out of Fresno State's latest pipeline (San Diego) missed a large portion of open camp this year, but displayed elite athletic ability at the position during the time he saw.

DaCo on Fontenette: With Lester Fontenette added to the pot, it's becoming evident that Tim Skipper has the players he needs on his team, and concerns about the defense's future can be placed elsewhere. Fontenette has always been more of an athlete type, and will now get to focus on learning one position. Given that, Fontenette may actually have the highest ceiling of anyone of this group.

Steven Plevney
R-Fr, 6'2", 215
Palmdale (Knight HS)

Steven Plevney has the chance to pull a Rocky-like upset if he can achieve more than special teams time as a Bulldog. Plevney received a fair amount of reps during camp this year, and did nothing to suggest he's quite up for that task. Plevney is amongst a group featuring a juggernaut of talent though, and can only gain from working with them.

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