Pre-spring checkup: Linebackers

March, 5, 2009
3/05/09
2:07
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

All three of the first team All Big East linebackers from 2008 -- Pitt's Scott McKillop, West Virginia's Mortty Ivy and South Florida's Tyrone McKenzie -- have left campus. But the league is still fairly well-stocked at the position. Here's a gauge of how each team is feeling about its linebacker corps heading into spring ball:

Feeling great:

Connecticut: All three 2008 starters return, including stalwart Scott Lutrus and run-stopping middle linebacker Greg Lloyd, who had some academic issues at the end of the season. Lawrence Wilson showed he can be valuable in pass coverage. The Huskies are deep and experienced here.

Louisville: The linebacking spot was a pleasant surprise last season for the Cardinals, who went into the year without any experienced players. Junior college import Jon Dempsey blossomed into a second-team All-Big East performer, and athletic freak Dexter Heyman should be much better with another year under his belt. Louisville has a lot of question marks defensively, but this position should be a source of strength.

Rutgers: Kevin Malast, who was a good senior leader for the Scarlet Knights, is gone, but Ryan D'Imperio will anchor this position in 2009. Senior Damaso Munoz and sophomore Manny Abreu played a lot last season and should give this unit a solid nucleus.

West Virginia: Ivy was arguably West Virginia's most important defensive player in '08, but his production should be replaced by the return of Reed Williams, who took a medical redshirt after double shoulder surgery last year. Williams is one of the league's best linebackers when healthy, and he'll have Anthony Leonard and the speedy J.T. Thomas surrounding him.

Big questions:

Cincinnati: All three starters are gone, which is worrisome enough. Then throw in the fact that the Bearcats may need to find four new starters as they switch to a 3-4. Senior Andre Revels has seen a lot of time as a backup and seems assured of assuming a larger role, and J.K. Schafer played some as a true freshman. A lot will have to be sorted out in the spring.

Pittsburgh: McKillop, the league's defensive player of the year in '08, was so important to this team that his departure raises serious questions. Backups Steve Dell and Max Gruder will be given first crack at replacing him. Outside linebacker Austin Ransom is also gone. On the plus side, Greg Williams is back after a strong debut season and has potential to get much better.

South Florida: McKenzie held together a unit that was depleted by injuries last season, and South Florida often used only two linebackers while playing its nickel packages. Now the most experienced player is Kion Wilson, who had a decent first season after coming over from junior college. The Bulls also have junior Sabbath Joseph and senior Chris Robinson. Juco import Jacquian Williams will be needed to play right away, and incoming freshman Sam Barrington will be given a chance to compete this summer.

Syracuse: Derrell Smith came on last season as a sophomore and is capable of lining up with his hand on the ground. But middle linebacker and team leader Jake Flaherty graduated. With a new defensive coordinator in place, the Orange could go any number of ways with its linebacking corps this spring.

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