Better, Worse or Neutral: Linebackers

This was the least embarrassing photo I could find in the system of a UW linebacker from 2011.



Losses: Cort Dennison

Returning Players: Nate Fellner (Sr), Princeton Fuimaono (Jr), Garrett Gilliland (Jr), Jamaal Kearse (So), Alec Kimble (So), Scott Lawyer (RS-Fr), Matthew Lyons (RS-Fr), Cooper Pelluer (Jr), Taz Stevenson (Jr), John Timu (So), Thomas Tutogi (Jr), Evan Zeger (RS-Fr)

Additions: Ryan McDaniel

On paper, linebacker is a position that looks pretty solid for the Washington football team in terms of numbers. The losses from last season were limited to one player, Dennison, and a bunch of young bodies return. However, linebacker was arguably the position that played most poorly last season, and you have to wonder just how good a thing it is that all of the under-performing players return.

The loss of Cort Dennison may prove to be good news/bad news. The bad news is that you're losing a guy who was a team leader, played a ton over the course of his career and was a known commodity manning the middle of the defense. The good news is that Dennison wasn't the most physically gifted of players, and the potential of some of the younger players on the roster is higher that Cort's, and there's room for improvement at the middle linebacker position with Dennison moving on.

Dennison's leadership factor -- for whatever stock you put into it -- may be displaced by the move of Nate Fellner from safety up to linebacker. Fellner is a guy who has played as many defensive snaps as just about any player on the roster and could be the stabilizing presence that Dennison was. Fellner will also add some speed to the linebacking corps and a body who can enable the defense to be give a lot of different looks. When Justin Wilcox talks of hybrid players, the move of Fellner to linebacker turned him into one of those guys. Regardless of whether or not he earns a starting spot, Nate is going to be seeing the field quite a bit in a lot of different looks because he gives Wilcox options and flexibility.

Returning starters Timu and Fuimaono were often a point of scorn from the fanbase last season. They, at times, seemed helpless against Pac-12 offensive linemen and got blown out of plays completely. The also looked undersized -- because they were. If the linebacker position is going to improve, it starts with these guys. They were both underclassmen last season (with Timu being a true Freshman) and neither has used a redshirt year, so improvement in the weight room is going to be imperative for these two. The good news is that Timu has put on the kind of weight a Pac-12 linebacker needs to carry to take on blockers, and with a full year of starting under the belts of both players they should improve their on-field production.

The depth at the position will be improved from last season, with several players coming off of redshirts, and a player like Jamaal Kearse who has starting experience and has flashed big play potential. If the starters are not getting it done, Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon will have options on the bench to go to.

The verdict: Neutral

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about improvement from this position, but it seems like for every one there is a question mark to accompany it. While there's probably more room for improved performance from this squad than any other on the team, the play was so uneven last season that it seems best to remain skeptical until the players prove otherwise.

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