With Matt Campbell and Jon Heacock’s 3-2-6/3-3-5 defensive scheme, the linebackers get a lot of opportunities to shine. This core returns a lot from last year, but what it did lose is a lot to replace.
Joel Lanning - The former quarterback turned linebacker will be a huge hole to fill. Lanning led the Cyclones in total tackles last season and had six sacks. Lanning was the middle linebacker and the emotional leader of the defense.
Mackenro Alexander- He was never a star on the defense, but was always a solid piece who provided depth. Alexander was 13th on the team in tackles last season.
Only a couple guys who got reps last year are gone, but there will still be a huge hole to fill.
O’Rien Vance - The new starting middle linebacker, the 6’1 and 235 pound freshman will be getting the starting nod and will have some high expectations.
Michael Rose - A 6’3, 210 lb true freshman who has impressed coaches so far. Expect to see him get some playing time as the season goes along.
Cordarrius Bailey- 6’3, 224 lb red shirt freshman from Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Rory Walling- 5-11, 203 lb red shirt freshman from Des Moines, Iowa.
Chandler Pulvemacher- 6’2, 204 lb true freshman out of Hartland, Wisconsin.
Gerry Vaughn- 5’11, 211 lb true freshman from Atlanta, Georgia.
Ryan Reighard- 5’11, 202 lb true freshman from Washington, Iowa.
Kendell Jackson- 5’11, 212 lb true freshman from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa.
Caleb Young- 6’0, 205 lb true freshman from Lemont, Illinois.
Derek Greiner- 5’11, 229 lb redshirt freshman from Williamsburg, Iowa.
Leader of the Pack:
Marcel Spears Jr. - One of the best players on the defense, Spears Jr. led the team in solo tackles last season and was second on the team in total tackles. He had two interception last season, which happened to be the two biggest picks of the season.
You could also make the case for Willie Harvey, but I chose Spears because of how many plays he had in the clutch last season. However, you can’t go wrong with either of these players as the leader of this core.
Bobby McMillen III - He will be the back up middle linebacker, but with another potential 3-4 scheme and a freshman starting middle linebacker, McMillen will get his fair share of snaps. The junior played a few snaps last year and racked up a couple tackles, but another offseason under Matt Campbell should turn him into a very solid piece.
Similar to last season, the linebacker unit will be very good and one of the main reasons a 3-4 scheme will work. Marcel Spears Jr. and Willie Harvey will both improve from their all Big 12 campaigns from last year, leading the defense again. O’Rien Vance has a ton of potential, yet is inexperienced, but he should still contribute at a high level for the elite Cyclone defense. The depth of Bobby McMillen III, Jake Hummel, and Reggan Northrup will prove to be very important over the course of a brutal Big 12 stretch.