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2021 Houston Preseason Position Previews: Linebackers

Health is the biggest concern, but there’s some interesting talent at backer for the Coogs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Houston at UCF Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Houston’s still transitioning on defense, from its coordinator to its talent. Linebacker is the perfect example of that. Guys who are build like defensive backs are listed at linebacker for Houston this year, but some of them could be their best options. It’s just weird to think that someone weighing less than 200 pounds can be considered a linebacker, but that’s where the game is headed. Injuries hurt Houston last year, but the staff brought in talent to build needed depth. Now it’s just a matter of who will play.


OTHER POSITIONS: QB, RB, WR, OL, DL


Donavan Mutin

Put it this way, Houston needs Mutin to be healthy all year in a big way. His absence last year was extremely noticeable, and if anything he provides a physical presence that can set the tone for the defense. With a handful of new players to the position entering the picture, he’ll need to show them the ropes to get them up to speed. Two years ago he had 61 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and the staff has high expectations for him this year.

Deontay Anderson

The former safety feels like a great fit at linebacker. He just has to learn the position. Houston utilized undersized Grant Stuard at the position last year, and he led the team in tackles. Can Anderson do the same in 2021? The former Ole Miss transfer proved to be physical when he played safety, so he should be just fine at his new position.

Jovanni Stewart

Ok so I’ll admit I don’t understand this one. Stewart on the official roster is listed as a linebacker, but my guess is that he’s still the nickel but they’re calling him a linebacker. At 5’9”, 194 pounds, he’s clearly not a linebacker, but his play is consistent with one. A natural near the line of scrimmage, size doesn’t matter to him when he’s on the field because he knows how to make plays against players that are bigger than him. Houston’s not going to line him up inside (or maybe they will, I have no idea at this point), but he’ll be a factor on the edge.

Mannie Nunnery

Nunnery backed up Stuard last year, and filled in well when he saw the field. Originally recruited as a safety, the move to linebacker seemed inevitable. Nunnery’s highlight tape was full of him blasting unsuspecting wide receivers and ball carriers, so moving him here made sense when it happened. Like Anderson, he’s still learning the position, but his natural instincts will help him figure it out.

Jordan Carmouche

Carmouche’s been in the rotation for years now, but hasn’t ever secured a starting spot. With Mutin back, he figures to be next in line behind him, which could mean a big year for him. He brings solid size and physicality to the position, so it’s just a matter of opportunity for him.

Malik Robinson and Elijah Gooden figure to be the next guys in line and both could play a big part in the rotation if injuries play a role. Amaud Willis-Dalton moved from defensive back last year and appeared to get more comfortable as the season went along. TJ Marshall, Jalen Garner, Ken Savanah, and Blake Okoye are all freshmen who will have to wait their turn for now.

Outlook

Mutin and Anderson will be the starters, with Stewart on the outside. From there is where things get interesting. Multiple players have seen the field for the Coogs, but none have emerged as reliable options. Gooden and Robinson are two to watch for this group, though Nunnery is another intriguing option. Houston needs consistency from their linebackers, and a clean bill of health for the year wouldn’t hurt either.