Central Michigan Chippewas 2018 position group preview: Linebackers

Junior linebacker Malik Fountain tackles a Northern Illinois University player during the game on Nov. 24 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Central Michigan began fall practice on Aug. 3, meaning the 2018 season is just around the corner. For more position group previews, check Central Michigan Life over the days leading up to kickoff:

Position: Linebacker

Projected starters: Malik Fountain, Alex Briones, Trevor Apsey (all seniors)

Key backups: Michael Oliver (junior), Trevor Conklin (junior)

Breakdown: John Bonamego said he was thrilled to have a group of linebackers like this 2018 unit. 

“These guys can undoubtedly play with the best in our conference and to me is one of the best overall positions I’ve coached,” Bonamego said. “They all know each other tendencies and play well together. They get after the ball. I expect them to lead this defense.”

Fountain is the team’s returning leading tackler from the last two seasons. The former All-Mid American Conference First Team in 2016 and Second Team player in 2017 has recorded 181 tackles over the last two years. He also has 12.5 tackles for loss in that time, 10 of which came in 2016.

As one of the team leaders named by Bonamego at the Chippewas' Media Day, Fountain says he’s ready to make that next step.

“I don’t really feel a lot of pressure, I just need to put some of the younger guys in a position to be successful,” Fountain said. “I have to show that I know the system. Becoming more of a leader is something I’ve always wanted to be.”

Bonamego said he trusts him with a bigger role in his last year.

“Malik has made plays for us over the past few seasons time and time again,” Bonamego said. “He’s one of the smartest players on this team’s with reading an offense. He will be key to our success.”

Briones, who started 12 games next to Fountain, was third on the team with 83 tackles and was in a three-way tie for the most solo tackles with 55.

Apsey wasn’t a starter a season ago, but appeared in all 12 games mostly on special teams and is passing situations. He totaled 20 tackles with 12 solos. 

Defensive coordinator Greg Colby said having these returning starters in the linebacking corps should help make the front seven “as good as it’s ever been.”

"I hope we see a defensive that's relentless and flies around the field. I want us to be physical and smother people. That's what we are preaching. If we do that, it doesn't matter what our scheme is or what I call. It all works if they play that way. So far, so good."

As for depth behind the three seniors in the middle of the Chippewas defense, Oliver is one Bonamego mentioned.

Oliver is expected to see time at linebacker after playing in nine games a season ago. He recorded 68 tackles, 41 of which were solo. He had two tackles for loss. 

Trevor Conklin, brother of former Chippewa and current Minnesota Viking Tyler Conklin, also could see an increased role. He saw action in eight games in 2017 where he added three tackles.

Newcomers to the position include freshman Nick Apsey, brother to Trevor Apsey. Other freshman include Steven Spenner and Carlton Cleophat, who were both two-star recruits in the 2017 recruitment class according to the 247Sports Composite.

Along with the defensive line, this linebacking core returns the most experience at any position on the CMU football roster. Fountain and Briones should be put in the position to lead the team in tackles once again.