Red Raider Gridiron | Changes at Linebacker and Cornerback; Fortenberry Eligible

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There are some significant changes at the linebacker and cornerback positions. Rashad Fortenberry received a medical redshirt waiver and will be able to play this year.

There are some pretty significant adjustments that are going to be made at the linebacker and cornerback positions and we need to talk about them.

Linebacker: The LAJ has had a spring preview of positions, while my previews have been best guesses. Now we have some more clarity as to where some players are at on the depth chart.  After the spring and things have shaken out, I'll do my best to get all of the players moved around where they need to be. We have a look at the inside linebackers (via LAJ), the Raider outside linebacker position (via LAJ) and the Bandit outside linebacker position (via LAJ).  In some bad news, Chris Payne tore his Achilles tendon and will most likely be lost for the entire year (LAJ).  In an effort to be succinct, here is what we're looking at from a depth chart perspective:

Weakside Linebacker: Sam Eguavoen, Malik Jenkins, Kahlee Woods & Bobby Esiaba
Middle Linebacker: Micah Awe, V.J. Fehoko, & Caleb Woodward
Raider Outside Linebacker: Dorian Crawford, Collin Bowen, Austin Stewart, & Jacarthy Mack (Possibly looking at Zach Winbush, Keenon Ward & La'Darius Newbold)
Bandit Outside Linebacker: Pete Robertson, Zach Winbush, Andre Ross, & Kris Williams

I think the biggest move here is Crawford and Bowen moving all of the way up the ladder at the Raider spot.  Crawford was a JUCO safety and/or cornerback coming out of JUCO and with the injury to Payne, this certainly makes sense.  Well, sense from the standpoint that it would be really good to have some sort of upperclassman leading the way, but the surprise is the ascension of  Bowen to the second team.  I mentioned that I was concerned about trusting Stewart through this process and maybe that's right.  I suppose the other part of it is that Bowen is ahead of Mack.  Another walk-on that is making a move.

The other part is that we were partly right in that Awe and Fehoko will battle it out for the middle linebacker spot.  The other surprise is that Woodward has already moved to this spot at middle linebacker and they must really love his ability to get up and down the line of scrimmage.  This should be a reminder that the coaching staff doesn't consider the middle linebacker spot a huge guy, but a fast guy.

Let's get to the inside linebackers first.  Here's defensive coordinator on Awe:

"Down in and down out, getting used to running around with that kind of weight, it’s going to be a good spring for him," Wallerstedt said. "We’re running hard right now (in offseason conditioning), but as fast as our offense goes, just getting into a rhythm of playing with that type of weight should be good.

"He’s an aggressive kid, and I think he’s maturing in his voice. Like I’ve said all along, I thought as he continued to get older and earned respect, I think he’ll be a really, really good leader here."

And on the freshman from Ennis, Jenkins, and the freshman from Sherman, Woods:

"Jenkins has traveled around the Big 12 and got experience, so I think as he continues to mature that’ll be good," Wallerstedt said. "Kahlee is a kid that, at Sherman High, I think he was (going) a lot off of just natural ability. He comes in raw, but he’s a sponge right now. He’s learning as we go. He was very productive in some scrimmages we had with our young guys through the course of the season, and then he got set back with that knee."

And Wallerstedt on Crawford:

"He’s got a little bit more range to him as far as length for forcing the ball, keeping the ball inside, being physical on slot receivers and blitzing," Wallerstedt said. "When he was healthy in August, he was a presence off the edge and really created some havoc with our tackles and our running backs. He throws his body around. He needs a good spring. He’s only got one shot left, and he’s been training that way."

Cornerback: We get the cornerbacks too this morning and it's a bit of a surprise (via LAJ):

Boundary Cornerback: Theirry Nguema, Tyler Middleton, La'Darius Newbold, Jeremy Reynolds
Field Cornerback: Justis Nelson, Dee Paul, Martin Hill, Brandon Bagley

The surprise here is that Nguema is a starter heading into the spring and that's a huge surprise.  I had Paul at BCB and as you'll note, he's backing up Nelson at FCB.  Some pretty interesting comments about Nguema and some of the other players, so here's Wallerstedt on Nguema:

"I’ll be curious to see what he does," Wallerstedt said. "He’s getting thicker with his upper body. He’s still real skinny with his legs. But he was a guy that shadowed Bruce Jones every single practice. I mean, he’s into it. He’s going to have to play smart. He’s not a burner either, but he’s probably fluid enough."

Nguema's father is Mark Dye, who played some football and minor league baseball in the day, and his brother is Tony Dye, who has bounced around the NFL a bit after playing at UCLA (via Texas Tech). They have different last names, obviously, but being the father of an adopted child, I've always been more interested in Nguema's story. I'm thinking we might learn a bit more now.

Wallerstedt also talks about Middleton and Newbold. On Middleton:

"They weren’t sure how physical of a runner he was on offense," Wallerstedt said, "and then he came over on defense and in some of our scrimmages with our younger guys, knocked the dog out of some people. We were excited to see that because we didn’t know he had it in him."

And Newbold:

"Can he pick things up here at safety or at Raider, and will he stick his teeth on you?" Wallerstedt said. "That’s been his deal. Now, if he starts to fly around and throw his body around, he could be end up there or maybe at the Raider spot, because he’s talented enough.

"He’s just young. If he gets beat, he sticks his head down. He just hasn’t been consistent."

Links:

Fortenberry Receives Medical Hardship: Pretty good news to hear that RT Rashad Fortenberry did receive a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA on Friday afternoon (via LAJ).  This is going to be pretty significant in looking at the depth charts and glad that I at least was able to wait to hear this news before publishing the the depth chart and eligibility.

Draft Projections: The are some draft projections here for the Texas Tech players (via DMN) and it's just fine, but the leading statement for Eric Ward says that had he come out after his junior year, he'd most likely be drafted.  Isn't this just an awful statement and an impossible thing to prove?  I say that it's impossible to prove because Ward's measurables didn't change at all and he didn't catch as many passes, but I'd guess that his catch rate is similar to what it was as a junior and most NFL scouts would know that the drop in his production was a direct result of having two freshmen quarterbacks who had no problem checking down to the huge tight end.

In any event, my thought is that the NFL figures out who you are most of the time and the general way that a guy falls is a catastrophic injury or a significant dip in production (even then, this isn't always true).  To say that Ward isn't going to get drafted because he returned for his senior year isn't accurate unless you have an NFL personnel person saying that this is true.  Otherwise, it's a poor assumption to make about a player when you don't have anything to base that assumption on other than you think this is true.

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