Big 12 spring battle spotlight: TCU LBs

How will TCU address two critical vacancies in the middle of its defense? A closer look at another key position battle in the Big 12 going into spring practice:

Departed: The Frogs' top three linebackers all graduated. Paul Dawson left as the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American playmaker. His partner in crime, Marcus Mallet, logged 100 tackles as a senior. Top backup Jonathan Anderson, a 10-game starter in 2013, has also moved on. There's significant void in production and experience without them.

Spring contenders: Junior Sammy Douglas, sophomore Paul Whitmill, redshirt freshman Ty Summers, freshman Mike Freeze, freshman Alec Dunham.

Summer contenders: Freshman Semaj Thomas.

The skinny: Never heard of those contenders? That's perfectly understandable. Dawson and Mallet didn't need too much help in 2014, and whoever takes their place has large shoes to fill. The Horned Frogs' trio of senior linebackers combined for 266 tackles and 35.5 tackles for loss. Douglas, now the veteran of this group by default, logged 17 tackles and a sack as a reserve last year but has mostly been relegated to special teams. Gary Patterson's staff is excited about the potential of Summers, a converted high school quarterback who redshirted last year, and Whitmill enters his third year in the program with a shot to make a move. He and Douglas waited their turn, and now they have to deliver. Three-star signees Freeze and Dunham enrolled early and will get thrown right in the mix for snaps this spring.

Prediction: It's a fairly wide-open battle going into spring ball, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the freshmen in this group proves he deserves a chance. Linebackers coach DeMontie Cross should be able to tinker with combinations this spring and in fall camp until he finds what the Frogs needs. Douglas, an athletic 'backer who's bulked up more than 30 pounds since joining the program, figures to be the answer for outside spot. The inside linebacker job is a tougher call, but the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Summers has proven to be a quick learner. As long as his shoulder has healed up, I like his chances.