GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Comprised of 15 players in Furman's new "3-4" defensive system, the linebacking corps sports a mix of experience and youth heading into the 2017 campaign.
The biggest challenging facing the unit is replacing the loss of inside linebackers Carl Rider and Byron Johnson to graduation. In moving their tassles, Rider and Johnson departed with a combined 58 starts and 543 tackles — big production their projected replacements, fifth-year seniors Dillon Woodruff and Adekunle Olusanya, will be challenged to match.
"Dillon has played a good bit of football and has had a really good preseason camp," said head coach Clay Hendrix. "He's a good effort guy...tough, smart, and durable.
"AK has also played a good bit of football and has been healthy since coming back in the spring. Those two guys would be our starters if we played tomorrow."
Woodruff, whose career began at quarterback, where he made five starts as a freshman and sophomore, has seen action in 19 games and registered three starts at linebacker over the last two years, totaling 49 tackles. Olusanya, meanwhile, has appeared in 24 games and logged duty at both linebacker and safety, tallying 68 tackles over his first three seasons of play.
Set to claim backup duty to Woodruff at middle linebacker is junior Tyler Voyles (28 tackles in '16), and at Olusanya's weak side post redshirt sophomore Alex Burch will get the call.
According to Hendrix, the Paladins' inside linebacking contingent could also offer a glimpse of its future through a pair of highly regarded freshmen, Reynard Ellis, an Alabama All-Classification Super All-State Team pick at the athlete position last year at Birmingham's Shades Valley High School, and Elijah McKoy, a two-way prep standout from Georgia's Darlington School.
"Reynard has a lot of ability. For him it's just a matter of how quickly he can grasp things. In Elijah's case, he's made the switch from safety, so he's having a little catching up to do.
"Those two guys are really talented, and given the nature of the position we're going to rep a bunch of guys over the course of the season and play four, possibly five of them."
The two outside linebacking positions will carry the "Spur" and "Bandit" monikers, with one of the program's top players, redshirt junior Joe Farrar, who made nine starts and totaled 51 tackles a year ago, set to man the Spur post and be backed up by sophomore Jordan Willis.
"Joe has had a really good camp. He's played a lot of football for us, and the position really suits him...kind of that half- safety, half-linebacker type guy who can do a lot of things well. And Jordan is a really good effort guy with a lot of experience on special teams. We will play both of them."
Wade Smith, a redshirt sophomore, will also push to see action and contribute on special teams.
Three young performers, redshirt freshman Chris Washington, redshirt freshman Dillon Vann, and sophomore Donavan Perryman, are in the mix at the Bandit position, with Washington on the inside track to start.
"I think Chris is that guy in the old system who didn't really have a position. He's not really a true defensive end, hand-on-the-ground guy, so this is a good position for him. We'll play two, maybe three guys there. All three have gotten reps and done some good things, as has Adrian Hope, but right now we'd like to probably redshirt him as well as Zion Carroway and Jeff McElveen.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information