When you have four linebackers on the field then those players simply have to make an impact. Thankfully for Army fans in 2018, the linebackers were a dominant group that did everything well and some things excellently.
It is frustrating that after such a dominant year the Black Knights will have to bring in some new starters due to graduation. Kenneth Brinson and James Nachtigal are gone and, in a worst-case scenario for the defense their production wouldn’t be matched by the players coming in leaving the Army secondary exposed and causing a total breakdown in defensive stability.
Thankfully there are players in place that make this doomsday level thinking seem unlikely.
They key to this unit will be Mike linebacker Cole Christiansen. Christiansen, a team captain, was the second best player on the unit last season as a junior behind Nachtigal. He picked up just one sack, but his value came in his ability to roam sideline to sideline on his way to 77 tackles. For this defense to be a success in 2019, Christiansen will have to up his personal numbers into the high 80s in tackles, while also leading the unit with his ability to adjust and make the right defensive checks on the field.
The Will (weakside) linebacker spot is a position where Army has experienced depth, if not guys who have made a ton of plays of defense so far. Arik Smith (11 games, four tackles) and Ryan Parker (13 games, 14 tackles) both know how to prepare for games at the college level and what is expected of them on the backside of the defense. These are guys who will be counted on for edge pressure in obvious passing situations.
The Rush linebacker spot is going to be manned by junior Jeremiah Lowery and senior Donavan Lynch. The two players saw plenty of game time last season, combining for 10 tackles in backup roles. This is a pure run-stopping position, usually lining up inside the tackles to start the play but with the mandate to find the ball at the point of attack and stop ball carriers from breaking into the secondary.
The Sam (strongside) linebacker spot will be shared by senior Amadeo West and junior Joe Stephenson. When looking at players on the team that could (and are needed) to improve on their 2018 stats and production, then West is one of the players who receives a double underline. He played in just five games last year, but in those games he picked up 14 tackles. He is a candidate to get into the high 60s in tackles this season as he gets more involved in a down by down basis.
This is a group that has to replace two stars, but has the talent to do so. Look for very little drop off in the play of the Army linebackers from a year ago as a collective unit.