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May 8, 2014

Linebackers' progress eases concerns about departures of Tyler and Edwards

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster lost two valuable cogs to his defense when Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards departed after basically three years of terrific play.

How good were those two? Well, they combined for 59 career starts, 456 tackles, including 55 for a loss, and 15.5 sacks.

But Foster felt optimistic about his group of linebackers following spring practice, as all improved and consistently started making more plays. In fact, as spring practice rolled along, Chase Williams, Deon Clarke and Dahman McKinnon became more and more noticeable in scrimmages.

Faced with the unenviable task of replacing Tyler at the mike linebacker spot, Williams rose to the challenge this spring. Though not quite as instinctive as Tyler, he’s just as athletic and his knowledge of the defense enabled him to get his teammates in the right positions. Behind his leadership, Tech’s defense dominated in the final spring scrimmage, holding the offense to 106 total yards in more than 80 plays. He also helped his White team dominate in the annual Maroon-White game.

“He had an outstanding spring,” Foster said. “He had his best spring since he’s been here. We’ve got him at the mike spot. He’s played both positions, but having him at one spot and having him get all those reps … he played really, really well. I’m pleased with him. He did a good job of getting us lined up and being fundamentally sound. I’m pleased with where he is.”

At the other linebacker spot – backer – Clarke and McKinnon waged quite a battle for the top spot on the depth chart. Clarke came out of spring practice on top, but the battle for the starting job will carry into next August.

Clarke resembles Edwards in terms of size and length, but he may be faster and more athletic. He needs to take care of business off the field – he was suspended twice last season – but he possesses the potential to be the next in a line of playmakers at the position.

McKinnon made a lot of plays this spring as well. One of the fastest players on the team, he recorded seven tackles and forced a fumble in the second scrimmage– his best performance of the spring.

In essence, Clarke and McKinnon are No. 1 and No. 1a at the spot.

“Deon really stepped up,” Foster said. “He’s been very active and made a lot of plays in the blitz game. In the last week, he really took a step forward. D-Mac [McKinnon] had a productive scrimmage in the first and second scrimmages, and he’s been around the ball a lot. Both of those kids can really run.

“We’ve just got to be consistent. I think we’ve got two really good players right there. In the end, I’m not sure those aren’t our two best guys. But we’re going to keep it where it is right now as far as that competition and getting a good push and getting everything we need on and off the field.”

Foster was asked about moving ether Clarke or McKinnon to mike linebacker to get arguably his two best guys on the field at the same time. He said the staff may look at doing that down the road.

“We’ll talk about it,” he said. “They’re [the mike and backer spots] similar positions and yet they’re different. I don’t want their heads spinning. I want them to be able to perform.”

As it stood coming out of spring, Andrew Motuapuaka was listed as the backup behind Williams at the mike linebacker position, though he fractured a shoulder blade in the final scrimmage of the spring. Going into spring practice, Foster thought Motuapuaka could challenge Williams, but Williams’ experience and knowledge put him ahead. Motuapuaka learned a lot this spring and figures to be someone to watch down the road.

“I think he’s going to be a really good player,” Foster said. “I really do. Physically, he has a lot of tools. He just needs to get there mentally. He saw everything. It’s not like we were going through a progression. It was slowing down for him, but not as quickly as I wanted. He’s going to be better for it. He saw a lot, and he showed flashes. I’m excited about his future and his potential.”

2014 SPRING DEPTH CHART (as of April 22)

Mike linebackers

36 Chase Williams (6-2, 215, r-Sr.)

54 Andrew Motuapuaka (5-11, 241, r-Fr.)

56 Sean Huelskamp (6-1, 212, So.)

34 Josh Eberly (5-7, 219, r-So.)


40 Deon Clarke (6-2, 221, Jr.)

35 Dahman McKinnon (6-1, 208, r-So.)

50 Jameion Moss (6-1, 212, r-Fr.)

53 Drew Burns (6-3, 214, r-So.)