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2012 Draft Preview: Inside Linebackers

Posted Apr 19, 2012

SAN DIEGO – Chargers.com will devote several weeks to previewing the 2012 NFL Draft, detailing prospects by position so you can familiarize yourself with the names and faces that will shape the future of the franchise and the NFL.

We’ve already looked at specialists, safeties, tight ends, defensive ends and offensive tackles. Today we’ll review the top inside linebackers in the draft pool.



Chargers angle: Takeo Spikes is entering his 15th NFL season, outrageous for a linebacker, but had a solid 2011 season and led the Chargers with 119 tackles.

Donald Butler started all 16 games next to Spikes and became one of the better players on San Diego’s defense despite entering his second year with no NFL experience, making 102 tackles and several game-changing plays.

San Diego hopes last year’s second-round pick Jonas Mouton can recover from a shoulder injury that prevented the rookie from playing a game, as contributions from him would help keep Spikes and Butler fresh.

The Bolts also signed veteran Demorrio Williams, formerly of the Chiefs, to play nickel linebacker. Bront Bird and Andrew Gachkar are special teams guys entering their second seasons.



VONTAZE BURFICT, Arizona State

6-foot-1 3/8, 248 pounds

“I heard I’m not coachable at times, but I think that’s probably my pride and joy. I love being coached. I want to get better and hopefully be in the Hall of Fame one day.”

Notes: Led Arizona State with 68 tackles in 2011 and earned second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010 with 90 tackles, including 8.5 for loss … Gained weight up to 260 before his junior season, thinking it would help him, but feels it slowed him down, so he dropped weight before the Combine … One of the most polarizing players in the draft, Burfict’s college career was marked by hard hits, dynamic plays, untimely penalties and questions about his judgment and behavior.

NFL.com bio

AUDIE COLE, North Carolina State

6-4 1/8, 246 pounds

“At first I wasn’t even planning on ever fighting. It was just something to try out. I started getting into sparring. I went up to Detroit and sparred with a lot of people. I’d go down to Toledo and spar. Every day I was going somewhere and fighting with someone. I had three official fights. Two of them were in the gold gloves, and I ended up winning it, the regional one.”

Notes: Moved to middle linebacker as a senior and made 122 tackles as an honorable-mention All-ACC performer … Made 16 tackles against Cincinnati and Georgia Tech and caused a fumble after a 19-yard sack in a win over North Carolina … Played Sam linebacker in 2010 and made 97 tackles, 10.5 for loss … Started his last 37 games at N.C. State … Played quarterback in high school and is a former Golden Gloves-winning boxer.

NFL.com bio

DON’T’A HIGHTOWER, Alabama

6-foot-2 ¼, 265 pounds

“The chance to be a key part of our national championship team this year made for the perfect end of my Alabama career.”

Notes: The eight-time Alabama Defensive Player of the Week was a captain on the vaunted defense that led the NCAA in scoring (8.8 ppg), total defense (191.3 ypg), rushing defense (74.9 ypg) and pass defense (116.3 ypg) … A consensus first-team All-American, Hightower led Alabama with 81 tackles and added 9.5 tackles for loss … Started 41 games for the Crimson Tide and played a role on two national championship teams … Tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in 2009.

NFL.com bio

MYCHAL KENDRICKS, Cal

5-foot-11 1/8, 239 pounds

“I gather my team up. I’m always communicating. There’s not too often where I let my team slip or whoever’s around me. I’m always asking what their jobs are, just so they know what mine is. That’s the key, communication, especially on defense.”

Notes: The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, Kendricks made 106 tackles, 14.5 for loss … Started at outside linebacker in 2009 and 2010, making 8.5 sacks as a junior … Lit up the NFL Combine with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, a 39.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot-7 broad jump … Played in all 51 games during his four seasons at Cal … Father led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71.

NFL.com bio

LUKE KUECHLY, Boston College

6-foot-3 ¼, 242 pounds

“I think ‘instinctual player’ is something that always pops up for a lot of people. That and I think I’m a smart player. I do a pretty good job of preparing myself and that’s something I take pride in.”

Notes: One of the most productive linebackers in college football history in terms of tackles, Kuechly recorded 532 career stops in three seasons at Boston College, second only to Northwestern’s Tim McGarigle since the NCAA began recording tackle stats in 2000 … Averaged 14 tackles per game for the Eagles … The two-time consensus All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year led the nation with 191 tackles in 2011, winning the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy … Put on 5-8 pounds of muscle after the season, but surprised some with his speed and athleticism at the Combine.

NFL.com bio

TRAVIS LEWIS, Oklahoma

6-foot-1 3/8, 246 pounds

“I’ve always been good at firing people up and getting people excited about the game. That’s something that I want to continue to do in the NFL. I think that’s one of my most valuable traits.”

Notes: Led Oklahoma in tackles his first three seasons and returned for a chance at a national championship despite the potential to be a high-round draft choice as a junior … Broke his foot before the 2011 season, but rushed back to finish with 51 career starts and 431 career tackles as a team captain despite his production dropping due to injury … Earned first-team All-Big 12 accolades with 109 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss in ’09 … Broke Brian Bosworth’s freshman record at Oklahoma with 144 tackles, including 11.5 for loss and four interceptions in ’08.

NFL.com bio

BOBBY WAGNER, Utah State

6-foot 3/8, 234 pounds

“My favorite part about today was probably running the 40 and then hearing all the whispers after, so I figured I did (well).”*

Notes: A three-time first-team All-WAC performer, Wagner finished his career with 445 tackles … Made 147 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions in 2011 … Named the North’s Most Outstanding Player at the Senior Bowl … Missed the Combine and Utah State’s first pro day with pneumonia, but displayed impressive athleticism at the second pro day … Carried a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack around campus.

NFL.com bio

*As reported in The Herald Journal



OTHER NOTABLE INSIDE LINEBACKERS
Name School Height Weight
Tank Carder TCU 6-2 3/8 236
Chris Galippo USC 6-1 1/2 241
Najee Goode West Virginia 6-0 1/8 244
James-Michael Johnson Nevada 6-0 1/8 241
Steven Johnson Kansas 6-0 1/2 239
Shawn Loiseau Merrimack 6-0 1/2 244
Caleb McSurdy Montana 6-1 1/4 245


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