Make-or-break position battle: TCU LBs

With Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Paul Dawson gone, TCU has a gap to fill at linebacker. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This week we’re highlighting the make-or-break position battles for every program in the Big 12. We continue the series today with the TCU linebacker battle.

Here’s where the battle stands midway through preseason camp:

Contenders: Freshman Mike Freeze, junior Sammy Douglas, freshman Montrel Wilson, redshirt freshman Ty Summers, freshman Alec Dunham, freshman Semaj Thomas.

What happened last season: TCU had the No. 1 scoring and total defense in the Big 12 last season, and their dominant duo of senior linebackers were a big reason why. Paul Dawson won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and became an All-American last season, while his sidekick Marcus Mallet chipped in 100 tackles.

The experience they brought to the second level of the Frogs’ defense was invaluable, and they left with a combined 432 career tackles and 56 tackles for loss. Their top backup, Jonathan Anderson, also graduated. Only one contender to start in 2015 (Douglas) actually played last year, but he was primarily on special teams.

What they offer: A ton of athleticism. This offseason, Gary Patterson has repeatedly said the duo of Dawson and Mallet at linebacker was the “slowest group we’ve ever had at TCU.” Their 40 times during the draft process -- between 4.8 and 5.0 seconds -- proved he’s right.

This young group is full of guys who can run in the 4.5 range. Freeze has ideal size, too, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. His range and instincts have made the early enrollee middle linebacker a frontrunner to start as a true freshman.

What TCU will do with its strongside spot is hard to tell right now. Douglas has experience. Summers, a former high school QB, is an intriguing project. Dunham enrolled early and is catching up. And then there’s Wilson, who’s rising in fall camp. The former Baylor commit is another big 6-foot-3 athlete and is transitioning from safety to linebacker.

Prediction: Patterson and his defensive staff will keep pushing these linebackers throughout August until two go out and prove they can be trusted. Freeze will be the guy in the middle, and the Frogs end up rotating ‘backers next to him until they get results. Fortunately, the Frogs are stout enough along the defensive line to make these youngsters’ job a little easier. Opposing teams will definitely attack them early on, but they’ll be in better shape by Big 12 play.