Veteran linebackers look to anchor defense

Senior linebacker Andrew Jackson tackles sophomore linebacker Zane Ramey during spring practice drills. Jackson is a two-time all Sun Belt first team selection and core piece to the Topper’s defense next season. 

Lucas Aulbach

While WKU will go to bat with an entirely new starting lineup on the defensive line this season, the guys right behind them are some of the most experienced on the team.

The linebackers, already a strong point on the WKU defense last year, are led by a group of seniors that will be vital members of the Topper backfield next fall.

The anchor of the group is senior linebacker and two-time first team all-Sun Belt Conference honoree Andrew Jackson.

Jackson has been at the core of much of how WKU stops opposing offenses the past two season, leading the team in tackles in 2011 with 109 and in 2012 with 122.

He isn’t the only playmaker in the defense backfield, though. Jackson is joined by fellow senior linebackers and brothers Xavius Boyd, a starter who recorded 79 tackles last season, and Bar’ee Boyd, who racked up 28 tackles.

Sophomore linebacker Daqual Randall saw a little action last season but could see more this year as WKU exercises its depth. He said he has learned three important rules to playing under the upperclassmen.

“Play hard, play fast, and don’t fear no one,” he said.

The group has caught the eye of defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

Serving in his first season on the WKU coaching staff, Holt said their experience over the past couple of seasons should serve the linebackers well as the defense adjusts to life under an entirely new coaching staff.

“We’ve got a good group of linebackers — a lot of experience there with four or five guys that have played a lot of football for us,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve got to keep learning the package, got to keep learning how to practice hard all of the time.”

Holt said he has been pleased with the physical style Jackson brings to the WKU defense.

Jackson, who reportedly toyed with the idea of entering the NFL Draft after the 2012 season before ultimately deciding to return for his senior year, could really break out this season if he brings it on every down, Holt said.

“He’s learning the defense like all of them and he’ll keep improving,” the coach said. “What Andrew needs to do is keep on learning to play fast every down after down after down and we’ll be just fine.”

While they have brought a lot to the table the last two years, a lot will be expected of the linebackers this season once again.

Last season WKU linebackers combined for 260 tackles over the course of 13 games, an average of 20 per game.

They might have to repeat or improve on those numbers for the Toppers to succeed this time around. Last year the linebackers had the benefit of playing behind a defensive line that started four seniors — this year, they will back up a line that will feature four new starters.

The linebackers, like the rest of the defense, are also learning a new playbook under the new coaching staff.

Xavius Boyd said the biggest issue for the linebackers right now is learning the playcalls — the aggressive style is still there.

“The calls are different so we’ve got to learn the calls, but as far as the blitzes, they’re pretty much the same,” he said.

Holt said he expects the linebackers to improve as spring practice rolls on. The Toppers will be on the practice field for another two weeks before the spring game April 20.

“We have miles to go, but we are improving,” Holt said. “We have a lot of stuff in, the kids are picking it up pretty well, and we just have to keep practicing.”