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2011 Big Sky position rankings: Linebackers
@FCS_Football Tweeted something that caught my eye the other day: “635 hours until kick off.” There’s even less than that now.
Yep, there are fewer than 30 days before the season opener, and we here at the CGI are getting close to wrapping up our annual rankings of the Top 10 players at each position entering 2011.
Today, we give you our list of linebackers.
The Big Sky lost some stellar talent at this position from last year, not the least of which was Eastern Washington’s J.C. Sherritt, who won the Buck Buchanan Award at season’s end.
This list would look different, too, if Montana State’s Aleksei Grosulak hadn’t injured his knee during spring practice … although the Bobcats’ reigning defensive MVP is aiming for a swift comeback.
Nevertheless, here is our list. Enjoy.
TOP 10 LINEBACKERS
1 - A.J. Storms, Sr., Idaho State
Comment: 246 tackles in two years? Wow.
2 - Zach Johnson, Sr., Eastern Washington
Comment: Primed to emerge from J.C. Sherritt’s shadow.
3 - Nick Webb, Sr., Weber State
Comment: The Wildcats’ unquestioned leader on D.
4 - Scott McKeever, Sr., Northern Arizona
Comment: High-motor man lives in opponents’ backfields.
5 - Caleb McSurdy, Sr., Montana
Comment: Led team in tackles, and will surely improve.
6 - Basim Hudeen, Sr., Idaho State
Comment: Hofstra transfer had 100 tackles in first year with ISU.
7 - Jordan Tripp, Jr., Montana
Comment: Third-generation Griz came of age in 2010.
8 - Jody Owens, Jr., Montana State
Comment: Speedy playmaker has all the tools.
9 - Ryan Rau, Sr., Portland State
Comment: Gritty competitor led Viks in tackles in ‘09 and ‘10.
10 - Clay Bignell, Sr., Montana State
Comment: Defensive leader has been plagued by injuries.
Idaho State’s defense has had its share of problems in the last few years, but A.J. Storms certainly isn’t one of them. Storms moved to outside linebacker two years ago and proved to be a natural. The attacking Storms led the league in tackles at 13.3 tackles per game in 2010, and is a Buchanan Award candidate this year.
Zach Johnson has started every game of his career at Eastern Washington, and College Football Performance Awards selected him as one of the top 41 returning linebackers in FCS in 2011. Johnson is a proven big-game performer: He had 15 tackles with a pair of sacks while helping the Eagles beat Delaware 20-19 in the national title game.
When Nick Webb makes a tackle, he doesn’t need any help. His most impressive statistic is this: Of Webb’s 186 career tackles, 117 have been unassisted. Webb made a team-leading 99 stops last season, and 69 of which were solo. Webb was a no-brainer pick for the preseson All-Conference team.
I was in the minority, but I picked Scott McKeever for the preseason all-conference team because I think he’s primed to have a big year. McKeever only had 52 tackles last season, but did tons of damage. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder set up shop behind the line of scrimmage, leading NAU with 9 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks.
Caleb McSurdy’s impact wasn’t always front and center on the field last season, but one look at the stat sheet showed what he is made of. McSurdy was the top tackler for Montana a year ago with 112 stops, including 7 1/2 for loss. He had 45 tackles in the final three games of the season, including 17 in the season finale against MSU.
Basim Hudeen is a great compliment to Storms at Idaho State. Hudeen reached the triple-digit mark in tackles last season after transfering from Hofstra (which dropped its program), including a 14-tackle effort against SEC foe Georgia. … As rangy as Jordan Tripp is, it’s no wonder he makes plays. Tripp, who follows in the footsteps of dad Bryan and grandpa Gene at UM, had 99 tackles (9 for loss), 3 1/2 sacks, an interception for a TD and three fumble recoveries as a sophomore. … The speedy Jody Owens has been doing damage on defense at Montana State since his freshman year. Owens is a prototype outside ‘backer, and can play both the run and the pass effectively. … You think Ryan Rau isn’t intense? Think again. Rau brings experience and leadership – not to mention quickness – to the Vikings, who are making strides under second-year coach Nigel Burton. … Clay Bignell might be the toughest player on this list. After a stellar sophomore year, Bignell survived a life-threatening back infection in November of 2009 and missed the ensuing spring before his junior season. He missed more time due to a dinged-up ankle last year, but he still played a key role in the Bobcats winning the Big Sky.
NOTE: This is the seventh installment of a nine-part series in which we project the Top 10 players at each position in advance of the 2011 Big Sky Conference football season – summer transfers be damned!
By Greg Rachac, The Billings Gazette