Probably the best word to describe the Big 12 Conference's latest crop of top-level linebackers is "athleticism." With a group that can just as easily drop back into coverage as it can get down on the line of scrimmage and rush the passer, linebackers in the Big 12 have shaped up to be some of the most versatile players in the game. HI.com breaks down the linebacker position in the Big 12 heading into fall camp.
There arguably isn't a better pass rusher in college football than Texas A&M's Von Miller. Not only did he lead the country with 17 sacks and rank fifth with 1.75 tackles for loss per game last season, be he's now playing in new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's aggressive 3-4 scheme, which should only give him more opportunities to get to the quarterback. Miller is such a unique player that the Aggies even came up with his very own position, the hybrid "jack" position, which blends the duties of an outside linebacker and defensive end.
2. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma, 6-2, 232, Jr.
Oklahoma's Travis Lewis has been considered one of the Big 12's best since his breakout debut two years ago as a redshirt freshman. With 109 tackles last season, Lewis led the Sooners for the second straight year and was named first-team all-conference by several publications for his efforts. Though his overall numbers in 2009 did come back to Earth from his 144 tackles and four interceptions in '08, there's no denying that Lewis is still one of the nation's best.
3. Keenan Robinson, Texas, 6-2, 232, Jr.
Keenan Robinson started all 14 games for Texas last season, but it wasn't until the Longhorns' biggest two games at the end of the year when he really started to emerge as a budding star. After posting a career-high 10 tackles in the Big 12 title game against Nebraska, Robinson followed with seven more stops and a half sack against Alabama in the national championship. Assuming he continues his progression, Robinson could be on his way to becoming a star in this league.
4. Brian Duncan, Texas Tech, 6-1, 240, Sr.
Like Texas A&M, Texas Tech underwent a switch to the 3-4 defense this off-season with the arrival of new head coach Tommy Tuberville. In an effort to be more athletic on the perimeter, the Red Raiders decided to move Brian Duncan from inside to outside linebacker. Despite not having played outside linebacker since his freshman season, Tech is hoping to use his athleticism to bolster its pass rush just like A&M does with Miller. That could mean some big numbers for a player of Duncan's caliber.
5. Drew Dudley, Kansas, 6-2, 241, Sr.
Kansas's Drew Dudley isn't nearly as flashy as some of the other guys on this list. All he does is make tackles. After ranking second on the team with 88 stops last season, Dudley emerged as one of the conference's better ball hawks. He did end the year with three sacks, but where Dudley really made his mark was against the run. Considering the running backs KU is set to face this season both in and outside of the conference, he'll be one of the Jayhawks' most relied upon defenders once again.