NIU Summer Memes: Linebacker Revolution (Pt. I)

Summer Memes MAKES ME FEEL FINE. Blowing through the Jasmin (Hopkins) in my mind.

Previous positional previews: Quarterbacks, Running Backs

All though Northern Illinois is synonymous with running backs, for a time there it seemed like there were studs just oozing out of the linebacking corps for the Huskies:  Nick Duffy (2000-03) & Brian "The Beast" Atkinson (2001-04) running the middle and Javan Lee (2002-04) on the outside.

What happened?  Javan Lee, the only returning starter in 2005, never played his senior year due to injury.  Jason Hutton couldn't come close to matching Beast's production (he was awful) and was eventually replaced by redshirt freshman Tim McCarthy.  McCarthy had pretty decent numbers from 2005-08, but his serious knee injury in 2007 really held him back in terms of living up to his potential.

The outside spots have been kept warm by pedestrian players Keenan Blalark (2005-06), Josh Allen (2005-08), Cory Hanson (2006-09) and a mess of others filling in the other spots.  Not even counting injury-laden guys like Phil Brown or T.J. Griffin.  You can either blame this downfall on the recruiting or Denny Doornbos' terrible defensive scheme from 2005-07 that was more passive than aggressive.

Anyways things have changed a lot since the last couple seasons and 2010 should (hopefully) breathe a second breath in terms of strength at the linebacker position.

The Grizzled Vet

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It seems as though Alex Kube (SR, 6'0" 228) has been around forever.  After redshirting his first year, Kube tore on the scene in 2007 leading NIU with 111 tackles as a strong safety.  He was named freshman All-America and became a fan favorite for his bone-crushing hits.

In the offseason, Coach Kill took over the reigns and decided that Kube was getting a little too big to play in the secondary and decided to move him to linebacker.  Due to the change in defensive schemes and the change in position, it took Kube until mid-season to take over the weakside spot from Cory Hanson.  He finished the 2008 season with 59 tackles and 7 TFL.

This past season, we figured that Kube was going to have one of those breakout years, but that never accumulated.  He finished with 60 tackles and 6 TFL akin to his 2008 stats.  Kube was a ghost on the field all of last season.  What the heck happened?  Here's my theory:

In 2007, Kube weighed 203 lbs.  In switching to linebacker, he bulked up to 220.  In 2009, he weighed just 212 lbs.  It seems as though in trying to get faster, Kube lost way too much weight last year which caused him to be ineffective.  However, this year he's all the way up to 228 lbs...or 234 lbs according to the Northwest Herald.  In the article, Kube gushes about how comfortable he feels in the system and his new body.

"I didn’t totally buy into it," Kube said. "I kept coming back to the fact that I was a safety. I was disappointed in the last two seasons."

"This is my third year in the system," Kube said. "I finally put on the weight I needed to. Now, my confidence is just so huge. I expect big things. I don’t want anything less than a (MAC) championship. "

Baby-Faced Assassins

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In the spring the plan was to switch Pat Schiller to the weakside, so that Devon Butler (SO, 5'11" 224) could take over the MLB position. 

Despite playing in 10 games last season as a true freshman, Butler only had 15 tackles  and 2 TFL in 2009.  That doesn't mean he's not a playmaker though.  At Everglades high school in Florida, Butler accounted 115 tackles, 8 sackes, 4 fumble recoveries, 2 INTs, 2 blocked kicks and 6 DEFENSIVE TOUCHDOWNS as a senior.

Butler has that type of sideline-to-sideline speed that will work perfectly in Tracy Claeys' defensive system.  Scout listed his 40 time as 4.62 coming out of high school and I'm sure it's faster than that by now.  He had an impressive array of schools after him including Kansas State, Rutgers & Wisconsin.  He'll need a cool nickname as he'll likely be the most impactful middle LB since Atkinson.

Schiller likely won't return this upcoming season, so that leaves another spot open for a player to come in and make an impact.

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Tyrone Clark (SO, 5'11" 214) had good enough spring that he was named to the top of the depth chart at weakside linebacker.  Last year Clark made an impact last year in 8 games with 14 tackles 2 sacks, a forced fumble (vs Ohio) and recovery.  The true freshman played his best games of the season against Ohio & CMU, resulting in his first start of his career vs. USF in the International Bowl.  His one sack of B.J. Daniels was for a 20 yard loss.

Clark has put on 12 lbs from his 202 playing weight as a true freshman. The St. Louis native was named to Missouri's Class 6 All-State defensive team as a senior.  He was rated by ESPN as the #88 safety coming out of Mehlville HS and also played on the offensive side of the ball at RB.

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Jordan Delegal (JR, 6'1" 209) is also a candidate to come in and make a huge impact at the weakside strongside linebacker spot behind Kube.

Delegal is an athletic freak with a sub 4.5 40 time, but was an extremely raw last season playing as a true sophomore.  I even made a case this past season that his foolish play on special teams was one of the main reasons we lost in Athens.

Out of high school in Chaminade Madonna high school in FL, Delegal received offers from (Rivals/Scout) Auburn, Iowa, Iowa State, Louisville, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest & Wisconsin.  He committed to NC State, but failed to qualify initially.  He then attended Marshall where trouble ensued and eventually ended up right in our lap at Joliet JC.

He was all over the field last year with 29 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 pbu, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.  His ceiling is just as high as Butlers on the football field and should have things ironed out this season in his second year.

Huskie Fans, what do you expect out of this group in 2010?

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