Former 5-star Christian Jones, a physical freak whose speed and size were off the charts, never really lived up to expectations, due to poor coaching by former LBs coach Greg Hudson and three position changes. Once Jeremy Pruitt showed up and switched Jones to the hybrid SAM role, however, it seemed to be a natural spot for him. He didn’t get drafted, but due to being the physical specimen that he is, the Chicago Bears gave Jones a shot to make an NFL roster
Jones finished his senior season with 56 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. He also had 6 QB hurries, according to cfbstats.com. Despite his stats dropping off from 2012, we saw a much more complete Chritian Jones last season. He bullied offenses who left him unblocked as part of their schemes, as he was too athletic in space for offensive linemen. He displayed great burst off the line, and really improved his power-rush as the season went on. If Jones had been fortunate enough to play in this role for two years, he may well have been a high draft pick.
Ukeme Eligwe played back-up to Jones last season, and had a lot of people excited to see what he could showcase this spring, but due to a lisfranc injury, had to sit out. Coach Fisher seems to think Eligwe will be ready for fall camp, however he won’t rush him back on the field due to the abundance of talent at linebacker. Eligwe played sparingly in mop-up duty, as well as being a punishing hitter on special teams. He finished the 2013 campaign with 23 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2 sacks. Because Eligwe is the only player who saw meaningful snaps in this role last year, he will have an advantage as long as he’s healthy for fall camp.
Stepping up and taking advantage of Eligwe’s injury, though, is former 5-star Matthew Thomas. Thomas recorded 4 tackles, 2 TFL, and a sack last season in 4 games of action until a shoulder injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Due to his combination of size, length, and burst, Thomas could be extremely versatile for the ‘Noles. He will play all three linebacker positions. Thomas played very well in the spring game, excelling in every facet of the game.
Ro’Derrick Hoskins is another player who will see some playing time in the SAM role. Standing at 6’3” and weighing 235 lbs., he has the size to make an impact. He has the speed and range to make plays across the field. Hoskins was the surprise of the spring game, recording 2 sacks and returning an interception for a touchdown. I don’t expect him to start, but with Eligwe’s injury, he can continue to show the coaching staff what he’s got.
Incoming freshman Jacob Pugh will also have every opportunity to earn playing time. Already blessed with the size (6’4″, 236 lbs.), Pugh has to show that he can play every facet of the game. What impressed me most when watching his film was his ability to read plays and react quickly, something that many young linebackers struggle with. I think he is the most likely of the three freshman LBs to see playing time.
Kain Daub is another incoming freshman who hopes to push for playing time. Daub was rated a 5-star player for most of his commitment, and his film certainly backs that up. He has sideline-to-sideline speed and range, and is a punishing hitter. He was set to enroll early, but had issues with the NCAA Clearinghouse. A video recently published on Noles247.com shows an out-of-shape Kain Daub running drills at the June Jimbo Fisher Camp. He looked slow and winded; he really needs to get that under control unless he wants to be redshirted for the year, which is very likely at this point.