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2019 West Virginia Football Position Preview: Linebackers

Mountaineer fans will see a few new faces at the linebacker positions in 2019. The bar was set high by David Long Jr., but this group is poised to have a great season.

Dylan Tonkery
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The most versatile position group on any given defense, the linebacking corps serve as a crucial part to a successful defense. With the departure of WVU all-time great David Long to the NFL, the Mountaineers have some big shoes to fill.

Tony Gibson and his #DAWGS were popular during the Red Bull era, but after he was passed over for the vacant head coaching position, the West Virginia native signed up to be the head defensive coach for the NC State Wolfpack. Gibson and WVU fans alike are looking forward to that September 14th matchup between NC State and WVU at Mountaineer Field.

When Neal Brown came on board, one of his first moves was to bring defensive coordinator Vic Koenning with him from Troy. Since 2016, among non-Power 5 teams, Troy finished 4th in points allowed per game (20.8) and 2nd in takeaways (106). NB trusts his guy, so therefore I do too. He’s also got a pretty funny nickname that isn’t appropriate for this post, but just imagine what work rhymes with “Vic” (and be creative)...

The 4-2-5 Defense

The 4-2-5 defense is a hybrid 4-3/3-4 system that was designed to slow down an effective offensive spread system (useful in the Big 12). The diagram below highlights the basic positioning, but Koenning’s interpretation will be slightly different, as one of the defensive ends will be known as the “Bandit” linebacker. Additionally, one of the defensive backs will play the hybrid SPEAR position (LB/DB) and can play at all 3 levels.

If you want to learn more about the 4-2-5, you can read about it here.

The 4-2-5 defense
Football Toolbox

Who Can We Expect To See?

Linebacker Depth Chart

PROJECTED Bandit Weak Side Middle SPEAR
PROJECTED Bandit Weak Side Middle SPEAR
Starter Quandarius Qualls Josh Chandler Dylan Tonkery JoVanni Stewart
Backup Zach Sandwisch Deamonte Lindsay Jake Abbott Kwantel Raines
Reserve *Vandarius Cowan Exree Loe Shea Campbell Dante Bonamico

Bandit (Outside LB)

Quandarius Qualls, the R-Sr from Farmerville, Louisiana is expected to start at Bandit while VanDarius Cowan is suspended for the first 4 games of the 2019 season. After having to medically redshirt last season due to a knee injury in Spring 2018, he returns at full force this year to provide pressure off the edge. Expect him to still get quality playing time after Cowan returns in Week 5 against Texas.

Weak Side (MLB)

Josh Chandler, a sophomore from Canton, Ohio was chosen as a member of the preseason All-Big 12 Third Team by Phil Steele after championing his role on special teams last season. Chandler led the special teams unit with 7.5 tackles and two forced fumbles as a true freshman. In his 2nd season, Coach Brown will be looking for Chandler to take another big leap and help captain this Mountaineer defense.

Middle Linebacker (MLB)

Dylan Tonkery, the Bridgeport native, has recovered from a groin injury exceptionally well and has solidified himself atop the depth chart. Coach Blake Seiler is really high on “Tonk”, as you can listen to here in a recent interview (13:00-14:12) he gave to He played in just 6 games last season, but finished with 22 tackles and a sack. The redshirt junior is ready to take a huge leap forward in 2019 and captain this defense to a big season.

SPEAR (Outside LB/Defensive Back)

JoVanni Stewart, the senior from Katy, Texas will operate as the starting SPEAR. This position is basically your do-it-all defensive player who can play at all three levels of the defense effectively. It takes a very intelligent and aware player to play SPEAR, so that says a lot about Stewart. Last season, Stewart started 11 games, finishing with 54 tackles, 4 sacks and a fumble recovery.

Notable Reserves Who Are Likely To See Game Action

VanDarius Cowan, from Palm Beach, Florida, is entering his first eligible year with the Mountaineers after transferring from Alabama after his freshman year. He’ll be suspended the first 4 games due to eligibility issues, but Mountaineer fans can get excited to see him rush Sam Ehlinger on Oct. 5th when we welcome the Longhorns to town. The R-SO absolutely thrilled the coaching staff in spring practice, and has only built on that in the fall. A strong edge rusher, Cowan should provide much needed pass-rushing ability that will help our young secondary as the season progresses.

Jake Abbott, the Fairmont native and walk-on, has really impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and skill level. He was recently awarded with the 2019 Tommy Nickolich Award, which goes to the program’s top walk-on. He’ll be entering his R-SO season with the Mountaineers and will likely see some significant game action on special teams and spelling Tonkery on defense.

Deamonte Lindsay, the Martinsburg product, is used to winning. Lindsay was a pain in the butt for my high school (Musselman) all 4 years, as he helped lead the Bulldogs to 2 state championships. He’s paid his dues with WVU, constantly providing support at safety and on special teams, and now he’s in a position to contribute quite a bit to the Mountaineer defense in 2019. I’m cheering for Deamonte.

Charlie Benton, a starter in the season opener vs. Tennessee last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2nd quarter. The R-Jr from Opelika, Alabama is expected to be back at some point this season for WVU, but there is uncertainty as to when that will be. When he does get back onto the field, the defense will certainly welcome him back, as he is an impactful force who can play inside and outside linebacker.