It's more than the middle of the defense, it's the center of attention for WKU.
Since David Elson has been the head coach, he's made it a priority to be strong up the middle. In a 3-4 alignment, much of that falls on the Toppers' inside linebackers. With new defensive coordinator Mike Dietzel taking over the responsibilities of the inside linebacker, he's reiterated Elson's central thinking.
"We think that's part of our strength," Dietzel said. "I think our noseguard position, our two inside backers and our free safety are among our top players on defense. When that's the case, you've gotta feel pretty good about where your starting point is when you're building your defense."
Junior college transfer Thomas Majors is part of that foundation up the middle and has been impressive in fall camp. He's risen from fourth on the depth chart to the expected starter at the Mike linebacker spot.
The biggest challenge so far has just been getting everyone on the same page in communication.
"It's been pretty rough because at inside linebacker, you have to be a leader," Majors said. "You've gotta know everybody's position and know where the defensive line, your front is lined up. It's been a task, but I wouldn't say it's hard. You've just gotta study, get in that book and that's what I've been doing."
Majors will be alongside another JUCO experienced linebacker, in senior Taurean Smith, who started one game last year for WKU, but was a force in nickel situations.
This spring, Smith was named the most improved linebacker and carried that momentum into camp.
"Taurean's really been, probably one of the most consistent players we've had throughout camp," Elson said. "He's been very solid, really done a good job and really stepped up his leadership role. I've been very pleased with him as well."
Behind those two are seniors L.J. Harbison and Darvis McBride and junior Chris Bullard. McBride had ten starts last year, while Harbison added five more.
"We've got a solid, solid linebacking corps right now," Dietzel said. "We've got a mike and a will that are both physically, got a lot of skills and are both playing well. We've also got to guys in the two-deep that are backing them up, that either one of them could go right in and start a game for us and could be starters for us."
Over the past few practices, there's been a few complaints among coaches and palyers of a lack of fire and intensity overall. It's picked up the last few days, with the mock 'scrum' SEE 8.26 PRACTICE NOTES after practice yesterday and better effort today. But the strength of getting back begins in the middle.
Majors said he can already see improvements that need to be made and he's willing to facilitate them to make the Toppers better.
"Honestly, I feel like we've got a little bit more work to do," he said. "I don't think we're mentally tough, as far as running to the ball every play and stuff like that. I'm gonna try to talk to Coach, or just talk to the team and just do it as a team, without the coaches, just running after practice on days we don't have to run and get some extra running. We're huffing and puffing on three plays and we're not gonna go three and out all the time. We've gotta be in shape."
Because the strength won't be that formidable, if it's gassed.
Check Out InsideHilltopperSports.com's insider's only look at today's practices, including a report on a pair of significant injuries
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