One of the most consistent issues with the Panther defense last season was missed tackles and assignments in the linebacker corps. At first glance it doesn't appear the position should get any better considering Georgia State lost one of the most productive players and a team leader in now New York Giant Jake Muasau. However there are a number of talented play makers at linebacker this season that will be counted on to not only replace Muasau's production but his leadership qualities as well. Two sport athlete Mark Hogan is a model of consistency that has a knack for making big plays. Robert Ferguson is a two year part time starter that has never been in better physical condition. Those two will anchor the Panther defense and will be counted upon to seal up what was a porous run defense in 2011. However, the linebacker position is hardly a two man show. The primary candidates to see some reps this season are Jarrell Robinson, Allen McKay, Blake Wyatt, Cole Moon, Davis Knowles, and Kyle Vorster among others.
One of the most important positions on the Panther defense is the "Wolf" position. This is a safety/linebacker hybrid that will play close to the line at times as well as drop back in coverage. Former linebacker Dexter Moody was the primary candidate to fill this position, but he was dismissed from the team during Spring practice. Outside linebacker Akeen Felder was projected to be his replacement, but injuries hindered his progression as well. Therefore the door was opened for someone to step up and claim the position. No one would have predicted it, but that someone turned out to be walk on Mitchell Vinson. Vinson was the star of spring camp and came away having been named the starter at the wolf position... for now. It remains to be seen with a healthy Felder if he will be able to hold on to that position, or if another candidate could rise from obscurity much like Vinson did.
Robert Ferguson- Ferguson has started a number of games over two years of Panther football at outside linebacker, but now he has moved to the inside and will be one of the most important players on the field for Georgia State this fall. He has bulked up and is in the best shape of his career, something that will be used as he tries to plug up the Panther's run defense. Missed tackles and blown assignments plagued Georgia State last season and are things that have to be eliminated. Most importantly, though, the Panthers need a leader. The defense was pushed around in the fourth quarter last season and no one was seen stepping up and taking responsibility for rallying his teammates to get that last one stop. That kind of leadership will be Ferguson's primary assignment, and something he needs to excel at if Georgia State is to be successful.
Mark Hogan- Georgia State's two sport star is back with the football team after spending the spring and early summer with the baseball team and he spoke with the AJC this week. He lost some weight for baseball, but has been yet another Ben Pollard success story as he is now back up to 215 and has never been in better physical condition. Hogan is the second leading tackler in GSU history with 110 tackles. He has incredible instincts and a great nose for finding and making a play on the ball. The increased size and strength combined with those instincts should make Hogan a formidable force anchoring the Panther's linebacking corps. Hogan and Ferguson will both be utilized in a variety of blitz packages and should see their sack numbers increase in 2012. If they both can play at a high level and be the leaders of the defense, GSU could have a specihttp://www.sbnation.com/admin/entries/new_node/2872838?community_id=307al season.
Jarrell Robinson- The redshirt sophomore from Portal, Ga saw action in nine games last season, collecting 22 tackles and four for a loss. He is very athletic but has the size to go along with that athleticism to be a very productive linebacker. Robinson is one of the most confident players on the team and could be a special player for the Panthers, but he has to show the coaches that he has learned from mistakes and is ready to be a leader. He was having a breakout spring and seemed to have really turned a corner, but then was suspended and missed the spring scrimmage for a violation of team rules. Robinson needs to take that next step for the Panthers, and if he does then he will be an incredible asset to his team.
Allen McKay- McKay has spent the last two seasons backing up OLB Jake Muasau and was productive in doing so last season. He made 16 tackles on the season, including 3 for a loss and a sack. He was named the most improved player of the defense in spring 2011 and was having another productive spring this year before suffering an injury. McKay will likely be in the rotation at LB and see significant minutes again 2012.
Cole Moon- Moon came to Georgia State as a heralded fullback prospect, rated as a three star by Rivals.com, but has seen his GSU career largely defined by constant shuffling of positions and injuries. He started off as a linebacker and was a productive back up and special teams member in 2010. He was moved to tight end in 2011, but suffered a broken thumb and missed the season for surgery. Moon has no returned to the defense and looked to be one of the candidates to have a breakout spring before suffering yet another injury and missing the majority of camp. Moon is just flat out a great football player. No matter where he ends up he has the talent to be successful. If he remains at linebacker, and can stay healthy, then look for him to return to being a special teams ace and one of the key linebackers of the bench for the Panthers.
Davis Knowles- Knowles is a former walk-on that received an award this past spring for his hustle. He was one of the best performers the entire spring at the linebacker position and really shined in light of injuries to Ferguson, McKay, and Moon. Knowles is one of the most prototypical middle linebackers the Panthers have. He has very good instincts and is very skilled against the run. While he will likely be relegated to special teams duties and reserve duties, Knowles proved he is more than capable of seeing significant reps.
Blake Wyatt- Wyatt has been a do it all type player for the Panthers in his career, serving as a backup linebacker and on multiple special teams units. He missed all of this past spring due to an injury, but should be ready for fall and will likely be one of the leaders on kick coverage.
Kyle Vorster- Vorster joined the program in January after taking a grey shirt offer for fall of 2011. Basically that means he committed in 2011 but did not join the team until January and is counted toward the 2012 recruiting class.Vorster frequently played alongside Knowles this past spring and performed very well. He will likely also be relegated to special teams duties but will be a significant contributor in his time in blue and white.
Joe Peterson???- Peterson was one of two players signed from Dothan, AL that have yet to make it in to school. SB Nation spoke with Peterson via text last week and he said that there were some issues of certain credits transferring and that Georgia has a different grading scale than Alabama, thus lowering his GPA, but that he was still hopeful that he would be on campus in time for fall camp. Drew Champlin of the Dothan Eagle reported that OL signee Aaron Thomas will be attending Tuskegee University, and that Curry remains hopeful Peterson will be admitted. Curry also said that if he is a part of the team that Peterson will definitely be seeing the field this fall.
Wolf (Safety/Linebacker Hybrid)
Akeen Felder- Felder was the special teams captain in 2011 and was given the Leadership Award following the 2012 spring camp. With Moody no longer on the roster, Felder looked to be in line to secure the starting role at the Wolf position. With the new 4-2-5 offense the Wolf position is considered the fifth defensive back, but will also play close up to the line to stop the run. Felder is one of the more able players to fill the role, but was one of the many who caught the injury bug this past spring. Felder will likely be elected a captain again and will see significant playing time whether he starts at wolf or not, but he will have to beat out a slew of candidates in order to do so.
Mitchell Vinson- Vinson transferred to GSU after spending one season at West Georgia. He has been through a lot in his career, including overcoming an injury that he thought might have ended his football career. But he was finally healthy this spring and received a rare opportunity to see some significant reps. He made the most of his chances and was a major bright spot for the defense. He was constantly around the ball and making plays, whether it was forcing a fumble or grabbing an interception, Vinson was a continuous highlight reel. His play was noticed by the coaches and he was singled out as one of the surprises of camp and was told if he kept it up, he would be the starting wolf this fall. While he certainly has a long way to go to prove he is ready for that, Vinson is one of the hungriest players on the team and will be ready to perform in his final season as a Panther.
Kail Singleton- Singleton has starred on special teams for the Panthers in his first two seasons while collecting 36 tackles and making one start at safety against Houston last season. He is a very versatile athlete that seems to be productive no matter where he lines up. The rumors have been that Singleton has been working out at the Wolf position this off season, and honestly there may not be a better natural fit for that spot on the Panther's roster. He is very fluid and can cover well, but is a very hard hitter and would be a force against the run. The wolf position battle will be one of the most watched during fall camp and Singleton will definitely be a major factor.
D'mario Gunn?- Rumors have also circulated that D'Mario Gunn has been working out at the wolf position this summer. He was a starter last season at cornerback and had moved over to safety during the spring. For most of camp, however, he was running with the second team defense. He is one of the better athletes on the team, and it was somewhat puzzling not to see him with the first team. But more on that later... If Gunn truly does switch to the Wolf position then the battle could be over rather quickly. Gunn is a tremendous athlete and is not afraid to lay the lumber on a ball carrier. While I am not sure he has the size the play that close to the line consistently, it would be interesting to see how his athleticism would give him an advantage there. Certainly plenty of questions remaining to be answered this fall...
Bryan Williams- Williams was a signee in the 2012 class that will likely be the future at Wolf for the Panthers. At 6'3 and 199 pounds he has the perfect frame for the position and will likely take a redshirt this year to improve his strength and to get in better shape. Williams is also the younger brother of Arthur "Bully" Williams, who was the Panther's starting tight end the last two seasons.