Coming in to this season linebacker isn’t really looked at as a position with a ‘battle’ associated with it, matter of fact it looks to be one of the biggest strengths of the team, but there are still quite a few interesting things happening with the linebacker position in 2011. This year, with an infusion of talent compared to the 2010 squad, Turner Gill hired a new linebacker coach in Vantz Singletary who is the nephew of Hall of Fame linebacker and former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary, and served on his coaching staff for the 49ers in 2009 and 2010.
This year holds for it in store a lot of good things at the LB position. First of all, the Jayhawks are looking at Huldon Tharp returning from an injury that kept him out of the entire 2010 season. Tharp impressed as a freshman, and although he missed his sophomore season, there is still a lot to be optimistic about. Further, scout team super-stud Darius Willis is finally done with his redshirt year and will only help out the linebacking core that suffered from a lack of playmakers and a lack of depth.
The interesting issue here is what to do with two players who have not played linebacker yet for KU. Brandon Bourban and Jimmay Mundine were both well thought of recruits out of HS and could have a solid future at LB, if given the chance. Bourbon was recruited as a running back and Mundine was switched to tight end after Turner Gill took over last season. The issue here is whether these players would be a greater help at their current position or switching to linebacker. There is a contingent out there that thinks that switching these players back to linebacker would be the best move for this team.
Jimmay Mundine has the look of a linebacker, some people even comparing him to a slightly shorter Lawrence Taylor. Mundine came to Lawrence as a LB and it was the defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, who told head coach Turner Gill that he had a great tight end on the roster, he was just currently slotted at LB. After that the switch was made. With the addition of Singletary and a new defensive coordinator, the possibility exists to move him back to linebacker, which would make that position one of the strengths on this team on the defensive side of the ball.
Bourbon was offered the chance to play LB last year and declined, convinced that he would find the field as a RB in the near future. However, Bourbon finds himself in the deepest position group on the team with the likes of James Sims and Rell Lewis to go along with newcomer 4-star recruits Darian Miller and Anthony Pierson. Toben Opurum was a highly touted recruit and he found himself switching positions and now there is talk of him having NFL caliber talent at defensive end. It remains to be seen whether or not Bourbon will see the light and make a transition that could be better for his future.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of these two playing at any position so I can’t speak to how well I think they would fit in to the linebacker situation, but moving from deep position groups that already have established starters and finding their way to a group where they could get more playing time might be more beneficial to the team as a whole and to their careers. This is especially true considering nobody is certain how Hulden Tharp is going to recover from his injury.
Ultimately, I think it will take about half a season of struggling for playing time for these two to make a switch and I think it’s more likely for Bourbon to switch as I see more playing time for Mundine at TE. One thing is for sure, these two are very good athletes and linebacker is one of the most athletically demanding positions on the field, meaning a switch for either of these two only improves the LB core by getting more athletes on the field.