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2015 West Virginia Mountaineers Football Unit Preview: Linebackers

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Led by one of the top linebackers in the nation, Nick Kwiatkoski, and the returning Jared Barber, the Mountaineer linebacker corps stands to be the second strongest unit on the team behind the highly-touted secondary.

ESPN Preseason All-Big 12 LB Nick Kwiatkoski looks to lead the Mountaineer defense in 2015
ESPN Preseason All-Big 12 LB Nick Kwiatkoski looks to lead the Mountaineer defense in 2015
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Led by one of the top linebackers in the nation, Nick Kwiatkoski, and the returning Jared Barber, the Mountaineer linebacker corps stands to be the second strongest unit on the team behind the highly-touted secondary. If the unit stays healthy throughout the season, and builds on the third down defensive numbers from the 2014 season, the West Virginia defense will become on of the most feared units in the Big 12 and possibly the country.

The 2015 Linebacker Corps

Name Class Ht Wt
Nick Kwiatkoski r-Sr. 6-2 235
Jared Barber r-Sr. 6-0 232
Isaiah Bruce r-Sr. 6-1 234
Shaq Petteway r-Sr. 6-0 230
Edward Muldrow III r-Sr. 6-3 215
Sean Walters r-Jr. 6-2 228
Justin Arndt r-Jr. 5-11 210
Hodari Christian r-So. 6-0 225
Alex Brooks r-So. 5-11 225
Marvin Gross Jr. r-So. 6-2 215
Al-Rasheed Benton r-So. 6-1 235
Xavier Preston So. 6-2 236
David Long Fr. 6-0 205
Troy Lilly Fr. 6-0 210
Max Chefren Fr. 6-1 220
Ross Harvey Fr. 5-10 215

Key Losses

The Mountaineers lost Wes Tonkery and Brandon Golson to graduation following the 2014 season. Tonkery was the ying to Kwiatkoski's yang in 2014 and racked up 69 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and an interception in 12 games. Golson, in the weakside position, accounted for 34 total tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 11 games.

The Breakdown

Sam (Strongside) LB

Nick Kwiatkoski will get the start at Sam, his natural position, after playing the middle in 2014 due to Jared Barber's injury. Nick comes into this season riding a wave of confidence from an outstanding junior season. Kwiatkoski accumulated 103 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks in 2014, has been named one of ESPN's All-Big 12 linebackers. Kwiatkoski has also been named to the 2015 Rotary Lombardi Award watchlist, and is one of Mel Kiper's top linebackers in this upcoming NFL draft.

True Sophomore Xavier Preston will be spelling Kwiatkoski, and should see plenty of playing time early in the season as Dana Holgorsen looks to get his defensive starters some rest during games that are in hand. Preston played in seven games in 2014, and accounted for 2 tackles. Dana Holgorsen and Tony Gibson see plenty of potential in Preston, and will look to build around him in the future.

Isaiah Bruce is third on the depth chart at the Sam position. Bruce has had a decent career as a Mountaineer but his production has declined each year since his redshirt freshman season. Isaiah should still manage to see a good amount of playing time this season, but it is doubtful he will be as productive as years past unless everything suddenly clicks for him.

Mike (Middle) LB

Fifth year senior Jared Barber will man the starting Mike position after sitting out all of 2014 while recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered the previous year. Barber remained active with the Mountaineers during his recovery, acting as a de-facto assistant coach. Barber is a natural leader in the unit and, beside Kwiatkoski, should have a very productive season. Barber accounted for 71 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble during the 2013 season and should be able to have just as much of an impact, if not more, in 2015.

Al-Rasheed Benton is slotted in as Jared Barber's backup. Benton did not see any starts in his redshirt freshman season but did see action in all 13 games, accounting for only 6 tackles. There is a significant drop off in terms of production from Barber to Benton, but Al-Rasheed should be able to sit under the proverbial learning tree behind Barber and be set up to take over the starting spot in 2016.

Listed next on the official depth chart, behind Benton, is former walk-on Justin Arndt. Arndt was rewarded a scholarship this past spring due to his work ethic. Justin has seen action in 22 games as a Mountaineer, accumulating 17 total tackles and a forced fumble in that time.

Will (Weakside) LB

Redshirt senior Shaq Petteway will look to have another productive season as he takes the reins of the Will position. Petteway has been a solid player for the Mountaineers and racked up 40 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks as a backup in 2014. Petteway, while smaller than most linebackers, has impressed the coaching staff this fall. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Tony Gibson even went as far to say that Petteway was the most productive defensive player early on in Fall camp.

Following Petteway is redshirt junior Sean Walters. Walters has showed a great work ethic and has worked his way up the depth chart. He has only played in a handful of games, but should be a good hand to help spell Petteway this season.

Noticeably missing from the depth chart is Edward Muldrow III. Muldrow played in 12 games in 2014, but has seemingly disappeared during this Fall camp. Coach Holgorsen addressed Muldrow's status in his press conference on Tuesday, noting that while the team is one hundred percent healthy, Muldrow has yet to practice this fall.

Player To Watch

True sophomore Xavier Preston is making a case for himself after drawing heavy praise from Dana Holgorsen following the Gold-Blue Spring Game in April.

"I like our senior linebackers, but they better watch No. 53 because Xavier Preston might be our best defensive football player at this time." - Dana Holgorsen

Preston worked his way into the two-deep during fall camp, and is listed as Nick Kwiatkoski's backup. He should get a good amount of playing time before we head into the meat of schedule when conference play begins. Look for Preston to be a star in this defense in the coming years.