Scouting the Huskies: Linebackers

By: Thomas Frank Carr
Beat Writer

The Nittany Lions take on the University of Washington in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl on Saturday December 30th. Most Penn State fans have not seen Washington this year so reporter Thomas Frank Carr has studied the film to find out more about the 10-2 Huskies.

Today we are taking a look at the linebackers.

Overall Position Grade : B

It hasn’t all been injuries that have affected the Washington Huskies this year. The defense has been playing most of the year without preseason All-American senior linebacker Azeem Victor. Victor was suspended before the season for a violation of team rules and was ultimately suspended indefinitely for a DUI arrest during the season. Victor was by far the team’s best linebacker and their best athlete. Without him they lack size and elite physicality in the middle of their defense. It may not be everything it could have been, but this is still a very solid unit that benefits greatly from the talent in front of them.

ILB Ben Burr-Kirven

6’0”, 222 lbs

Stats to Know: 79 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FF

Breakdown:

Burr-Kirven is very similar in many ways to his teammate Keishawn Bierra. They’re both undersized linebackers who flow very well to the ball and are good in pass coverage. They both struggle to disengage from linemen when they reach the 2nd level of the defense. The difference between the two is the aggressiveness with which Burr-Kirven plays. He flies to the ball with convection and aggression. This is a good quality to have in a well-schooled linebacker who was talented enough to replace star linebacker Azeem Victor, even before he was suspended indefinitely. He’s a quality starter who can be a disruptive force if given the freedom to roam and attack. It will be on Penn State to take advantage of his bulldog demeanor and force him out of position.

Completely Arbitrary Individual Positional Skills:

  • Speed: B+
  • Strength C+
  • Agility B
  • Acceleration A-
  • Tackling B+
  • Play Recognition B+
  • Block shed C-
  • Fundamentals: A-
  • Pass Coverage B+

ILB Keishawn Bierria

6’1”, 223lbs
Stats to Know: 49 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FF, 2 FR

Breakdown:

The Huskies use all their size and girth up front and deploy smaller, faster linebackers who can flow quickly to the football. That is the best description of Bierria. He’s a quick-twitch athlete who can run sideline to sideline and rally to the football. Bierria is not a thumper and won’t shed blocks very well if he’s engaged on the 2nd level, but he can beat blockers to the spot and plays with great discipline. He’s good in coverage but again, isn’t physical or big enough to handle dominant tight ends. While he has limitations, he doesn’t have to be dominant for the Huskies to be successful. He’s quick enough and a good enough tackler to bring down backs and receivers who deploy into his zone or his side of the field.

Completely Arbitrary Individual Positional Skills:

  • Speed: B+
  • Strength C+
  • Agility A-
  • Acceleration B+
  • Tackling B
  • Play Recognition B+
  • Block shed C-
  • Fundamentals: A
  • Pass Coverage B+

 

OLB Tevis Bartlett

6’2”, 236

Stats To Know: 43 tackles, 12 TFL,  4 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR

Breakdown:

It’s a bit of copy and paste when it comes to the linebackers for the Huskies. Like the two inside defenders, Bartlett is a very well coached, disciplined and tenacious linebacker who excels in run defense, but is aided by the size and power in front of him. Bartlett has the added responsibility of setting the edge of the Washington defense and usually takes the side of the field that the tight end is lined up on. He’s a good athlete, but is by no means anyone who jumps off the film. However, he makes the plays that are there for him to make. He leads the team in tackles for loss and is the reason that teams struggle to run to the outside vs the Washington defense. He rarely loses contain and forces runs inside. He’s not incredibly agile and will sometimes disappear in pass coverage. Beating Bartlett to the corner is the key to defeating Washington. With as much size and power inside, it’s imperative that Penn State establish a ground game to the outside.

 

Completely Arbitrary Individual Positional Skills:

  • Speed: B-
  • Strength B
  • Agility B-
  • Acceleration B+
  • Tackling A-
  • Play Recognition A-
  • Block shed B+
  • Fundamentals: A
  • Pass Coverage C