Coachs Corner: Linebacker

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As a follow up to our breakdown and analysis of the Golden Hurricane linebacker corps, we dive into the mind of Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship for his thoughts on the three linebacker positions, as well as the depth-chart in the early part of fall camp.
Returning starter Shawn Jackson got a look at middle linebacker in spring practice, but then moved to the weak side, or WILL position. Once there, he continued to be a playmaker while adjusting to dropping into coverage in the new 4-3 scheme.
"Shawn Jackson, we started off the spring with him trying to play some middle linebacker and realized as we went through, if you looked at how he did this past fall, once the coaches moved him over to the side, and they moved him up on the line some, he became very productive," Head Coach Bill Blankenship said this summer. "It's kind of interesting. I can't explain it, but clearly Shawn works very well on the side, keeping things to his inside. It's almost like he sees one side of things instead of having to look from the middle.
"He's very effective, but he just needs to perfect his technique. He is still a young player just playing instinctively and needs to learn how to do a little better job, but he had a good spring."
Sophomores Mitchell Osborne and Donnell Hawkins are battling for time behind Jackson. Both earned playing time as true freshmen last season.
"Mitchell Osborne shows glimpses of being really a special player," said Blankenship. "He's got to work on his consistency. He comes from a really good program and knows how to do it, plays hard. He was banged up, a little bit like James Roberson, so he hasn't been able to be out at (spring) practice all of the time and missed a few days, but I think he's got a really good upside.
"Donnell Hawkins is kind of a Willie Carter on defense. He's really fast and really explosive, but doesn't know yet what he can do. Once he figures it out, he'll be hard to keep off the field."
On the other side of the field, at CANE linebacker, Tulsa saw the return of junior DeAundre Brown, who led the Hurricane in tackles in 2009 before sitting out last season. After the conclusion of spring practice, Coach Blankenship explained how exciting it was to have Brown back in the fold.
"DeAundre is good to get back," he explained. "He really had played well and has shown what he can do. Essentially CANE is the same position that we were calling our SPUR guy. It's kind of a hybrid safety, slash outside linebacker. DeAundre is perfect for that.
"He's put on some weight since he played a year ago. I think he has really matured himself. Missing last year really did something to him, I mean it helped him kind of get focused and realize his priorities. He had a really good spring and has taken care of business for the most part."
At the beginning of fall camp, Brown was being pushed heavily by senior Alan Dock, who has played in 29 career games.
"Alan Dock is kind of that journeyman guy that can play anywhere and do anything," said Blankenship. "He's so smart. Alan graduated after three years. He didn't even have a redshirt year, so he'll play his fourth season, and Coach (Brent) Guy has great confidence in him.
"He's undersized. He shouldn't be able to do what he does, and yet he just makes plays. We are really enjoying Alan Dock."
Also fighting for time at the CANE spot is sophomore DeWitt Jennings, an excellent athlete with good speed.
"DeWitt Jennings had a really good spring," Blankenship described. "We've got a good problem, we've got some guys that can play. DeWitt is going to play really well there. He's really smart and another great work ethic guy. If you tell him to do it, it gets done. He's going to have a great career."
In the middle of the defense is the senior leader of the linebacker group, returning starter Curnelius Arnick.
"Arnick is a jewel," said Blankenship. "I think this conference doesn't have any idea how good Arnick is yet. I was concerned when we moved him inside initially, but he reacted and responded perfectly. That's almost the perfect position for him now.
"He has the speed to play outside, but he fools people with how big he is. He does not look like a big, physical linebacker, but he is, and he has the speed to play outside. It's the perfect place for a senior to be inside where he can see it all and keep everybody lined out. He's done really well there."
Behind Arnick is seasoned youngster Cody Wilson, who was the starting middle linebacker in Tulsa's 2010 season opener against East Carolina. He played in 12 games last year and made the C-USA all-freshman team.
"Cody Wilson is still in the learning stage, but he'll play a lot," Blankenship noted. "He has some game experience himself and is in a great position behind Arnick to continue to get playing time and to grow, but still learn. The biggest thing for Cody is he hasn't played a lot of football. Not many people know that coming out of high school, I think he only played part of his junior year and then his senior year.
"He doesn't have a lot of football history in terms of being able to see it and go make plays. That's really probably the thing he's struggling with a little bit more, just the continuity and reps that you have to take to get good at something. He's just got to see it more and more, and he'll have it, because he works at it."
Depth Chart
WLB1 - Shawn Jackson, So., 6-0, 238
WLB2 - Donnell Hawkins, So., 6-1, 217
WLB3 - Mitchell Osborne, So., 6-2, 210
MLB1 - Curnelius Arnick, Sr., 6-1, 230
MLB2 - Cody Wilson, So., 6-0, 229
MLB3 - Trent Martin, Fr., 6-2, 220
CANE1 - DeAundre Brown, Jr., 5-11, 211
CANE2 - Alan Dock, Sr., 5-10, 207
CANE3 - DeWitt Jennings, So., 5-10, 200
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