The West Virginia defense is thin at experience throughout the depth chart and it is evident within the linebacker’s core. Heading into fall camp, only two linebackers have had significant playing time and they are David Long and Dylan Tonkery.
Linebacker David Long put himself on the map after the 2017 season, and by the end of this season he will be in the conversation as the Big XII’s defensive player of the year.
Al-Rasheed Benton will be missed in the heart of the defense. The middle linebacker was not only the starter, but was also a leader. His graduation is a big hole, but the Mountaineers had highly recruited Brendan Ferns waiting on the sidelines till an ACL injury in the Spring may have ended his season.
Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson looked for experience to fill the middle of the defense and found it in West Virginia native Dylan Tonkery. Tonkery started at strong side linebacker last year.
There are some new names and faces among the linebackers as we look at who the Mountaineers brought in and bring back. We’ll start with the pre-fall camp depth chart.
Weakside Linebacker (Will) David Long (5’11” 221-lbs) redshirt junior
After suffering from a meniscus injury prior to the 2017 season, David Long missed the first four games of the season. No one was quite sure what to expect in his first game back versus TCU, but he didn’t disappoint. Long harassed quarterback Kenny Hill all day in the backfield and finished with three tackles and two pass breakups.
In the next eight games, he accumulated 73 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks, earning him:
- First team All-Big XII according to ESPN
- ProFootballFocus All-American Second Team
- All-Big 12 Conference Second Team (Athlon Sports)
- All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention (Coaches)
David is poised to have an All-Big XII type of season this year. He comes into the season as an All-Big XII player and will be making his case throughout the season as, not only the best defensive player in the Big XII, but in the country.
Middle Linebacker (Mike) Dylan Tonkery (6’0” 222-lbs) redshirt sophomore
Dylan turned heads last summer by testing elite in West Virginia’s strength and conditioning program. His hard worked paid off, earning him the starting job at strongside linebacker last season. He finished the season with 43 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
This season, he has been moved over to middle linebacker to anchor the middle of the defense that Al-Rasheed Benton did a year ago.
Strongside Linebacker (Sam) Charlie Benton (6’2” 213-lbs) redshirt sophomore
There is no surprise that Charlie Benton has taken over the top spot. When watching his film, the first thing that pops out is his speed and the ability to hit the gap to get into the backfield.
As a redshirt freshman at Butler Community College, he finished the season ranked third on the team with 34 tackles, tied for second with 10 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception
(Will) Adam Hensley (6’2” 235-lbs) junior
Adam has been seeing playing time since he was a true freshman, primarily on special teams. Although being listed as David Longs back-up, Hensley is talented enough to play all three different linebacking positions.
He came out of high school as the number three ranked inside linebacker in the state of Ohio in the class of 2016. The talent is there with Hensley and he will add solid depth to this linebacking core.
(Mike) Zach Sandwisch (6’2” 225-lbs) redshirt sophomore
Zach has only made one appearance in his career as a Mountaineer (Oklahoma State in 2017) and yes, he did record a tackle.
Sandwisch came in the 2016 recruiting class as the:
- USA TODAY American Family Insurance All-USA Ohio Second Team
- AP All-Ohio Division III Defensive Player of the Year
- AP All-Ohio Division III First Team
- AP All-Northwest District Division III Defensive Player of the Year
- AP All-Northwest District Division III First Team
- All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference First Team
- All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference Honorable Mention
Zach will see playing time this year behind Dylan Tonkery, but one of the questions this fall will be, can he make a push to get on the field more to take some of the burden off Dylan?
(Sam) Shea Campbell (5’11” 240-lbs) redshirt junior
The Morgantown native has yet to see any action on the field as a Mountaineer. Being that it is his fourth year in the program, Shea knows what’s expected of him and can put himself in the right positions to make plays.
This spot is still wide open, but Campbell has the skill sets to keep his spot going into opening day.
Quondarius Qualls (6’1” 229-lbs) Senior
Qualls was splitting reps with Charlie Benton at Sam before suffering an ACL injury during spring practice. He was looking to take over the starting spot and have a breakout season in 2018 before the injury.
There’s no timetable on when he will return and could possibly miss the entire 2018 season. This will be a story to keep an eye on, because the Mountaineers will miss his presence.
Exree Loe (6’0” 217-lbs) redshirt freshman
The two-time Pennsylvania Football News All-State First Team Defensive Back was moved to linebacker shortly after he arrived on campus in 2017.
He is extremely athletic and if he can pick up the linebacker position this fall camp, he can find himself among the two-deep.
Brendan Ferns (6’2” 225-lbs) redshirt sophomore
Brendan tore his ACL during spring practice after he was in prime position to take over starting middle linebacker. There is no timetable on when he will return but due to the nature of the injury and the second injury to the same knee, it is doubtful he will make a comeback in 2018.
Josh Chandler (5’10” 228-lbs) freshman
Chandler comes in a decorated freshman:
- 2017 Division All-Ohio First Team
- 2017 Division All-Northeast Inland District First Team
- 2016 and 2017 All-Federal League First Team
- 2017 Academic All-Ohioan
- 2016 Division All-Ohio Second Team
How fast can Chandler pick up the defense will be the question going into fall camp. If he can grasp the responsibilities of the 3-3-5 defense, he might wind up getting some playing time throughout the season.