Football: Experience the key for linebackers

It is the deepest, most experienced unit for this year’s No. 22 Horned Frogs football team and the unit head coach Gary Patterson trusts more than any other on the team.The linebackers for this year’s team have established themselves as forces to be reckoned with in college football.

The member of the unit who was perhaps most honored and recognized in the off-season was junior Jason Phillips.

During the 2006 season, the Waller native was second in tackles with 73 while starting as a sophomore. In addition to being honored as a preseason All-American by, Phillips was named to the Lombardi Award Watch List, an annual award honoring the nation’s best linebacker or lineman.

Phillips, in an Aug. 18 article, said football coaches compliment the linebacker and the Frogs for the team’s old-school style of play on defense.

“When I talk to a bunch of the coaches, they all like to talk about how we play,” Phillips said. “They all seem impressed about how fast we fly around and the number of different guys who end up making plays. We’re more of a team than just one or two players. And that’s reflected in our defense.”

Much of the group’s success could be attributed to Patterson’s unorthodox 4-2-5 defense.

In the 4-2-5 set, Patterson said the role of the linebackers is to be the link between the defensive line and the coverage in the secondary. It takes the veteran experience the team has at that position in Phillips, senior David Hawthorne and junior Robert Henson, among others to command the unit.

“That’s one of the places we’re very deep at, so the linebacker position is one where we trust that we’ll make a lot of plays,” Patterson said.

Expected to start alongside Phillips is Hawthorne, one of five seniors returning from one of last season’s best defensive units. Hawthorne totaled 43 tackles and started in all 13 games last season.

Adding depth to the unit is Henson, who was able to earn his second consecutive honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference accolade in a reserve role. The Longview native was third in tackles with 64 and picked up seven and a half tackles for loss along the way.

Sophomore Daryl Washington and senior Darius Ingram also figure to contribute to the linebacking unit in reserve roles.

When responding to a statement he made in a July 18 article stating that this group of linebackers was the best he has had while at TCU, Patterson smiled and said the hard work put in by the current group of linebackers makes them a cut above.

“They’re the best as far as athletically and knowing what they have to do,” Patterson said. “They’ve started since they were redshirt freshmen, and they’ve played a lot of ball games.