MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — David Long may not wear big shoes, but he still leaves big ones for West Virginia’s linebackers to fill this fall.
There’s no easy way to make up for the absence of his team-leading 111 tackles, but the Mountaineers will need to figure out how to do so while Long embarks on his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans.
A schematic change that relies more on the defensive line making tackles rather than primarily engaging offensive linemen will be part of that process.
Even though they won’t be asked to replicate the Big 12 defensive player of the year, there seems little question that each WVU linebacker will need to take his game up a notch in 2019.
Here’s a look at the projected linebacker depth chart this fall.
Adam Hensley and Charlie Benton
New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning describes his defense as a hybrid of a 3-4 and a 4-2-5, and the Bandit is the tweener player who helps it defy conventional description.
Bandits will roam near the line of scrimmage, often joining the rush but remaining versatile enough to drop back in coverage if a blitz arrives from elsewhere. Cowan, the Alabama transfer, didn’t start playing the Bandit until the second half of spring practice and already looks capable of being a dominant player at the position.
Sandwisch will also see plenty of playing time at a position where the Mountaineers figure to substitute somewhat frequently to stay fresh. The return of Hensley and Benton, who missed all of spring practice recovering from injuries, could make this one of West Virginia’s deeper positions.
Tonkery’s absence from the lineup due to a groin injury was noticeable in late-season losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. The Mountaineers simply ran out of bodies at linebacker, leaving those who did play exhausted late in games. His return to the middle will be a boost.
Interestingly, all three of the Mountaineers middle linebackers are West Virginia natives.
Few players caught coach Neal Brown’s eye the way Chandler did this spring.
“He’s continuing to make plays, and he’s one of our best guys as far as preparing themselves mentally going into practice,” Brown said.
Senior Deomante Lindsay moved to the position from safety. That’s not necessarily surprising. The Will plays opposite the Spear, which is safety-linebacker hybrid. The differences between the positions are subtle.
“We may ask the Spear guy to play a little bit more man coverage than more so the Will,” said outside linebackers coach Al Pogue. “At times, our Will has to actually get in the box and be a linebacker, and rarely do we ask that out of our Spears.”
Each week this offseason, we’ll look at the depth chart at each position for West Virginia. If you missed any, you can catch up here: