Linebackers in the 3-3-5 stack defense are asked to wear a lot of hats. While the defensive line is asked to eat up blocks and put pressure on the passer, the linebackers are asked to be the main run stoppers as well as the first line of defense in the passing game. They also have responsibilities to rush the passer in blitz situations. Although I think we would all agree that first and foremost, they will need to be lights out at stopping the run when the team opens the season with Alabama. According to the initial depth chart, the three starting linebackers will be, Wes Tonkery at strong side, Nick Kwiatkoski in the middle, and Brandon Golson on the weak side.
It's a bit of a surprise that Tonkery will start in place of Isaiah Bruce on the strong side. Bruce moved from Spur back to strong side linebacker this season and was projected to be the starter before fall camp. But Tonkery has had, in the opinion of the defensive coaches, the best camp of any of the linebackers and earned the starting spot. Bruce, however, will see plenty of playing time. Not just at Sam, but probably several of the linebacking positions as he has proven to be very adaptable in his short time at WVU.
Nick Kwiatkoski was a bright spot on an inconsistent and injury plagued defense last year. He lead the team in tackles, was third in tackles for a loss, fourth on the team in sacks, and second on the team with interceptions. He'll need to do all that and more if the Mountaineers want to improve on last years 4-8 mark. Kwiatkoski is backed up by redshirt freshman Al-Rasheed Benton.
Senior Brandon Golson wasn't one of the leaders in tackles last year. But he made a big contribution in sacks and tackles for a loss, finishing third and second on the 2013 team. It was his breakout year as he moved into the starting rotation. He's probably best known for his hit on Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, where he sacked the quarterback forcing the ball loose. It was one of the highlights of the 2013 season that only would have been better had he jumped on or scooped the loose ball up.
Golson is backed up by junior college transfer and first year Mountaineers, Edward Muldrow.