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2020 West Virginia Football Previews - Linebackers

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The linebackers were uncharacteristically the weakness of the 2019 defense, but with nearly everybody back and a high-profile graduate transfer secured, the 2020 edition is poised to take a big step forward.

Key losses: Shea Campbell, Kwantel Raines

Key additions: Jairo Faverus, Tony Fields

The Mountaineer linebacking corps was serviceable if somewhat limited in 2019, understandably struggling to replace the playmaking ability lost with David Long’s departure to the NFL. Scheme aside, the group created just 17.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks last year, which is 1.5 and 2.5 fewer respectively than Long generated on his own the year before. The good news though is that we bring back basically everybody except Shea Campbell, so it’s reasonable to expect progress in 2020.

Mikes

Dylan Tonkery

“Tonk” has had something of an up and down career for the Old Gold and Blue. The Bridgeport native has 31 appearances and 25 starts to his name over 3 seasons and has shown himself to be a guy who can do a job in multiple positions and multiple schemes, but he’s also never been anything more than a solid starter, whether due to injuries arresting his development or otherwise. Either way, the experience and versatility he brings to the linebacker room is invaluable, and he’s going to be a guy who has a say in our success this year, whether he’s actually making the plays himself or helping the newcomers understand where they’re supposed to be.

Tony Fields

Tony Fields is the most recent addition to the West Virginia roster, with the graduate transfer from Arizona committing as recently as August 10th. The former Freshman All-American recorded 287 tackles, 17 TFL, and 8.5 sacks across three season with the Wildcats, and was a huge get for Neal Brown in large part because the other team he was considering was conference rival Texas. Brown has been quick to praise Fields’ engine in the weeks since, and it’s hard to imagine a world where he doesn’t feature heavily into our linebacker rotation, either at the Mike or the Will.

Jared Bartlett

See the Bandit section - Jared Bartlett is a guy that I hold in extremely high esteem, and I expect to see him on the field frequently, whether that’s here or at Bandit.

Wills

Josh Chandler-Semedo

Josh Chandler-Semedo didn’t quite live up to the “Next David Long” hype in his first year as a starter, but there’s no arguing that the guy plays a rock-solid will linebacker. He punches well above his weight (5’11 220) at the point of attack and is as sure a tackler as we have on our defense, finishing second on the team with 70 despite missing two games with injury. Now with a year under his belt and a new number upon his back (#7), Chandler-Semedo is one of the leaders of the defense and is hopefully poised for a season more in line with what we were (probably unfairly) expecting a year ago.

Exree Loe

Loe was recruited to Morgantown as a safety, but after eating his Wheaties for a few years he transitioned to linebacker last year and actually made a pretty good go of it. He’s still probably a bit too small to feature consistently (6’0 212), but he gives us a bit more athleticism and coverage ability than some of our other options so I expect him to again get a good bit of situational work.

Tony Fields

See above. Fields figures to figure into the linebacker rotation somewhere, but exactly where and when is anybody’s guess.

Spears

Tykee Smith

I still remember watching freshman Karl Joseph wreck people in the 2012 Spring Game and just thinking “who in the hell is this guy!?” while sitting there with my mouth agape. Freshman Tykee Smith gave me those same vibes. The guy simply walked onto the field as a true freshman last year and by the end of the first half of the first game it was obvious that he was special. Smith finished 5th on the team with 51 tackles, 3rd on the team with 23 stops (per ProFootallFocus - tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense), and picked off a pair of passes, returning one for a touchdown. The performance was deserving of the Freshman All-America selection that it earned him, and now he figures to be one of the leaders of our defense in year 2.

Jairo Faverus

Faverus represents the first drip from our newly built European pipeline to trickle its way across the Atlantic and into Morgantown. Do not fall into the late 90s NBA stereotype of Europeans being soft - the Flying Dutchman is a proper hard lad and gets downhill against the run really well. Due to the way that the school system works in Europe he’s actually a year older than most of the incoming class, and at 6’0 192 he’s physically ready to compete right now, but there will obviously be an adjustment period as he transitions to playing major D1 football. Learning to play Spear behind an every-down guy like Tykee Smith seems like a great place for him to cut his beak.

Dante Bonamico

Bridgeport native Dante Bonamico is unfortunately a bit too limited physically (5’8 185) to receive every-down playing time, but as a guy who’s made 30 career appearances between two coaching staffs, he clearly does a lot of things really well. He’s been a special teams standout for two years now and has also been productive as a rotational player in the secondary when given a chance. Bonamico is an exemplary program guy and is somebody that we can trust to do whatever job he’s tasked with.

Other Names to Know

Jake Abbott

Jake Abbott is a 6’0 224lb redshirt junior from Fairmont. He’s been used primarily as a special teams guy throughout his career, but he looked serviceable in limited reps against James Madison last year. I can’t imagine we’ll see much of him on regular downs this year, but I expect him to continue to be an asset in the third phase.

Charlie Benton

Benton is a guy who I had really high expectations for when he joined the program two years ago, but he’s never fully recovered from the injury he sustained in 2018’s season opener against Tennessee. I’d love to see the redshirt senior have one last hurrah before riding off into the sunset, but with the staff’s priorities seemingly lying elsewhere it’s difficult to see his path to any meaningful playing time.