Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the linebackers.

It looks like the Tiger-Cats will once again field the league's best linebacking group. It is almost unquestionable that Markeith Knowlton, Jamall Johnson and Rey Williams form the league's most intimidating trio of linebackers. Their accomplishments speak for themselves. While Williams and Johnson were division all stars last year, it was a bit of a down year for Knowlton. Injuries played a part in that, I fully expect him to bounce back and return to the form that made him the CFL's top defender in 2010.

Behind the three all-star-calibre starters are a plethora of talented, starter-quality backups. The Cats signed Kevin Eiben away from the Toronto Argonauts in what might turn out to be an important acquisition. If one of the starters was to go down, Eiben could fill in admirably. Ray Mariuz returns for another season of stellar special teams play and some spot defensive duty, and so is Ike Brown. Brown missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a knee injury in training camp last year, but after a year off, and with a contract extension, Brown looks poised to pick up where he left off in 2010.

The Tabbies also have two young guys worth watching in Patrick Jean-Mary and Byron Bullock. Jean-Mary was selected in the fifth round of last year's draft and Bullock played sparingly with the Roughriders two seasons ago and was on Hamilton's practice roster late last season. Both will make their biggest contributions on special teams this season, but they could be two players to keep an eye on for the future.

The Ti-Cats have very little to worry about when it comes to their linebackers. Even if one of the starters was to get injured, the team has enough talent backing them up to almost not miss a beat. This is one unit where most everything is set prior to camp. If everything goes as planned, the unit will be a dominant force once again.

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