The 2021 football season is right around the corner for the UCF Knights. It’s a new era with head coach Gus Malzahn running the show, With a new season comes new expectations. Today, we’re going to look at the linebackers.
The linebackers, like the rest of the defense, struggled last year. Unlike the other defensive position groups, COVID didn’t hit, but the group lost one of its top players due to a disciplinary dismissal, but it opened the door for younger players to get good playing time. The linebackers suffered the most due to an offense that operated way too fast and a constant running of the nickel defense, which tired the players down. With Malzahn running an offense that should afford the defense with some more rest, and with new defensive coordinator Travis Williams bringing in a new attitude and energy, the linebackers stand to benefit.
The linebackers gained by subtracting last year
Almost nowhere do you get better when your most experienced starter gets booted off the team. It happened when Eric Mitchell was dismissed and Tatum Bethune took over. Despite the late start, Bethune proved to be a tackling machine, vaulting up to third in total tackles with 57 and in the top five with 7 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. When Eric Mitchell was dismissed, he had 40 tackles, so the sky is the limit for the junior. Junior Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste also got more playing time after Mitchell was dismissed.
This group is stacked
Aside from Bethune and Jean-Baptiste getting great playing time last year, senior Eriq Gilyard is back to lead the defense. Gilyard was second on the team in takles with 59 and led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. With Richie Grant moving to the NFL, Gilyard becomes the top holdover. Joining an already talented crew is redshirt senior Bryson Armstrong. The transfer from Kennesaw State comes with a good resume. The two time Big South Defensive Player of the Year was a two time second team AP FCS All-American as well. Despite the shortened COVID season last spring, Armstrong comes to UCF with 314 career tackles, 40 tackles for loss, and 18.5 sacks in 45 games. He also left KSU with 13 different school records. Yeah, he’s pretty good. Redshirt junior Jermaine McMillian made a lot of noise during spring football, garnering praise from multiple players in multiple position groups. He should be in the rotation as well.