AggieYell.com's Jeff Tarpley continues his list of the top players in Texas by position for the recruiting class of 2014. Next up: the linebackers.
1. Hoza Scott,La Porte (committed to Texas A&M)
2. Zach Whitley, Galena Park North Shore (committed to Alabama)
3. Otaro Alaka, Cy-Falls (committed to Texas)
4. James David, Rockdale (committed to Baylor)
5. Josh Walker, Gilmer (committed to Texas A&M)
6. Josh Mabin, Klein Oak
7. Sam Sizelove, Argyle (committed to Kansas State)
8. Christian Sam, Allen
9. T'Kevian Rockwell, Wylie (committed to Baylor)
10. Cameron Hampton, Dallas Carter (committed to Texas)
Teams that traditionally played a 4-3 defense prior to the 1990's had middle linebacker and two outside linebackers. The middle backer or Mike (coach's terminology) was a tackle to tackle player in the box. The strong side linebacker or Sam lined up over the tight end or on the strong side of the defense (the side of the center where the there are more offensive players). Since most teams ran behind the tight end, the Sam was bigger than the weak side linebacker since he had to take on the tight end, shed them, and make a play. The Will (weakside) backer played outside the tackle box in space and as a result was the smallest of the three linebackers and was used most often in coverage.
However, as the spread influence gained popularity, the responsibilities and alignments of each player changed. The Sam stayed on the strong side of the formation but the definition of the strong side changed: it became the side of the center with the most receivers, not necessarily the side the tight end was on. Defenses went to what was described as an Eagle front (based on a five man front from the 1950's) where the Will linebacker moved inside alongside the Mike backer because the Sam linebacker was now outside the box over a receiver. That way, the defense still had six people in the box versus five offensive linemen. The Will was a little faster than the Mike and perhaps a little bit taller. The Sam and Will basically switched responsibilities and so the Sam shrunk in size since they had more coverage responsibilities while the Will became bigger operating against offensive linemen.
Given the preceding, there were some prospects who could play two positions (especially Mike and Will) but for the most part colleges recruited three different types of players for the three positions. This still holds true in the class of 2014.
Scott is best suited to the Will linebacker role. He's a fast player who can come off the edge as a rusher, drop into coverage, and still be physical on the interior. He's athletic and can turn his hips like a corner when he's chasing running backs and slot on pass routes. He also moves well laterally without crossing his feet or turning his entire body in the direction of the ball and doesn't get caught up in traffic because of his balance.
Whitley is a natural Mike linebacker who plays the position in high school. He's capable of seeing things develop and then accelerating through gaps in the offensive line to attack the ball carrier. He is fast enough to play inside to outside and turn plays back in. He's also big enough to take on a blocker and fill a hole.
Alaka is a rangy outside backer who could play either the Will or the Sam. Because of his height, he has great range and can run from sideline to sideline. He's also well coordinated and despite being 6 foot 3 can avoid cut blocks and stay on his feet. He also has a knack for lowering his shoulder and forcing fumbles. He appears to be more adept in coverage than may high school linebackers as he can run with people down the field. He's got great lateral movement and can avoid blocks.
Physically, David may be the most gifted linebacker in the state. He plays at a smaller classification and is a man among boys. He accelerates, strikes people, and has long arms that enable him to wrap up just about anyone. Despite his height, he's really good at avoiding cut blocks and he'll be a lot bigger when he's in a college weight program.
Walker plays both offense and defense and has great feet for someone his size which is why A&M offered him as a Sam where he can walk out on slot receivers. He can jam them and then flip his hips and run with them even if they are a lot smaller. Also, if you send him on a blitz he's great at avoiding blockers in one on one situations. When he lowers his shoulder, he can really strike someone and recoil them backwards. In addition, he's really good with his hands at keeping blockers off of him and escaping to make plays.
Sam is a true old time Sam linebacker who can pursue but also can play over a tight end and has the upper body strength to jam them at the line of scrimmage. Mabin and Sizelove are true Mike backers who are more tackle to tackle players. They are best at absorbing a block and then filling a hole in the box. They take good angles in pursuit and don't overrun things. Rockwell and Hampton are undersized Sam linebackers who look more like safeties. Both have long arms and can keep people off of them and run down ballcarriers. Both have very good lateral movement and agility and Rockwell actually plays safety in high school.