According to ProFootballFocus, David Long was one of the best linebackers in the country. Roquan Smith of Georgia won the Butkus Award for best linebacker, yet David Long finished only decimal points in terms of grades behind Smith according to PFF. Linebackers can often get overshadowed in Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 scheme since so much depends on the defensive line and the safeties. That isn’t the case with Long.
2018 West Virginia Mountaineer Linebackers
|David Long Jr
The aforementioned David Long, Jr. is the weakside disrupter in this scheme. Long, standing only 5’-11” is a tad short for a weakside backer but you wouldn’t know it if you watched him play. Long has the instincts to diagnose a play the moment the ball is snapped, the speed to blitz the quarterback or play in coverage, and the tackling fortitude to garner 16.5 TFL (tackle for loss) despite playing only 8 games. Long suffered a meniscus injury and missed the first four games. Once he game back, he was a tackling machine, collecting over 8 tackles a game.
Dylan Tonkery, who helped fill in for Long during his absence, is set to take over the middle of this defense. Tonkery, only a sophomore, proved to be a quick learner and now with a starting position nailed down, will be expected to make the calls on the defense. Tonkery played all three positions last year and that experience will help him in knowing his defense.
The strongside lineback looks like JUCO transfer Charlie Benton. Benton, as a redshirt freshman last season at Butler Community College finished second on the team with 10 TFL but also proved to be able to handle pass coverage.
As it seems to be, the Mountaineers suffered early injuries that threatened their depth. First Quondarius Qualls suffered a knee injury, then Brendan Ferns suffered another knee injury, his third in three years. The Qualls injury is especially devastating since Quon was pushing for a starting position or at least immediate backup.
Redshirt sophomore Zach Sandwisch will backup Tonkery in the middle. Sandwisch has now been in the program two years and its time to show what he can do. Sandwisch has the size to be an effective tackler and showed good coverage skills in high school.
The backup strongside ‘backer position looks like it is up for grabs between Adam Hensley, Shea Campbell and Luke Williams. The injury to Qualls means the staff is going to rely on maybe a jack-of-all-trades player who can play both outside position rather than give a straight second unit. When analysts talk about lack of depth for the Mountaineers, this is a position that should concern fans. One injury to the starters could spell disaster. We saw last year when Benton was out during the VT game, Brendan Ferns took one misstep and it allowed Josh Jackson to sprint for a touchdown.