Just like the defensive linemen before them, the 2009 linebacking core will include just one starter from last year’s trio. Overall, only five out of 11 starters from 2008’s top-ranked defense will be returning for the Horned Frogs next season.
Departing seniors Jason Phillips and Robert Henson, who combined for 157 tackles, will try their hand at the next level. Phillips is the more likely of the two to be drafted at this weekend’s NFL Draft, despite recent surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee. Phillips suffered the injury during February’s scouting combine.
Phillips’ presence in the Frogs’ defense will be missed. Last season he had a team-leading 57 solo tackles including 13 tackles for loss, second only to teammate Jerry Hughes. There’s a reason pro scouts have Phillips rated as one of the top middle linebackers in the draft and a potential day-one pick. Making up for the loss of a player of his stature will be a tall order.
Henson, an All-Mountain West Conference selection along with Phillips in 2008, was a valuable contributor on defense last year as well. Henson could be a late-round draft pick or an undrafted free agent.
Expected to fill in their shoes are sophomores Tank Carder and Kris Gardner, as well as redshirt freshman Greg Burks. Carder is expected to start at middle linebacker in 2009.
The unit’s lone returning starter, senior Daryl Washington, should be quite a force at outside linebacker. Washington has freakish athletic ability and has a chance at putting together an award-worthy season in 2009. In 2008, Washington was fourth on the team in total tackles with 63. He also had three sacks and one interception, as well as a dominating performance at the Poinsettia Bowl.
The latest addition to the linebacking corps is new recruit Tanner Brock from Copperas Cove High School. Brock enrolled early and participated in spring practices. He could push Crader for playing time at middle linebacker.
Returning starters: Daryl Washington
Starters lost: Jason Phillips, Robert Henson
Other returning players: Tank Crader, Kris Gardner, Greg Burks
New additions: Tanner Brock