Often regarded as the quarterback of a defense, leaders at linebacker are counted on for far more than tackles. The men in the middle must be able to facilitate play calls and audibles from the sidelines to the secondary and defensive front, while identifying pre-snap tendencies and taking on an entire spectrum of blocking schemes.
Collegiate linebacker is not a position for the faint of heart and certainly doesn't come easily to most young players. However, certain star performers are naturally inclined to take on an expansive role in the heart of a defense, despite lacking experience at the next level.
The 2014 recruiting class is loaded with talented defenders, but few are ready to challenge for a key role as freshmen. Here's a look at high school seniors set to make a smooth transition and quickly flourish in college football.
Alabama landed another defensive stalwart when Christian Miller offered his commitment to the Crimson Tide in late July. The 6'4", 225-pound outside linebacker is built for Nick Saban's vaunted scheme, which has vanquished opposing offenses throughout the team's two-year title reign.
Miller is a missile off the edge and gets after the quarterback with an aggressive arsenal of moves. The rangy Spring Valley High School star holds his own in pass coverage and is suited to serve as an every-down linebacker when he is eventually called upon by Alabama's coaching staff.
Miller, listed as the top player in South Carolina by 247Sports' composite rankings, also considered offers from Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Clemson and UCLA, according to 247Sports. He found his match in Tuscaloosa, which he explained to AL.com reporter Matt Scalici.
"Their defensive scheme is a perfect fit for me. I'm an outside linebacker that can rush the passer and play in coverage. Alabama typically has to find guys who play defensive end in high school and covert them to that outside linebacker position but that's my natural position so both Coach Saban and I felt I was a perfect fit for what they need at that spot."
He collected 121 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and forced four fumbles as a junior, according to AL.com. Miller's senior season began in grand fashion on Aug. 23, when he tallied 16 tackles, two sacks and a blocked punt against Lower Richland, per 247Sports.
Florida State commit Kain Daub is everything you look for in a middle linebacker prospect. The Sandalwood High School product opted to stay in northern Florida when he verbally committed to the Seminoles in April.
Daub, the nation's No. 3 inside linebacker recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings, already possesses the physical stature of a grown man. He stands at 6'3", approaching 240 pounds. An instinctual defender, Daub delivers rattling hits almost every time he makes contact with a ball-carrier.
He shows every ounce of the downhill speed defensive coordinators crave at middle linebacker and can cover tight ends and running backs in passing situations. Daub is exactly the kind of brooding backer you want lining up over center in a goal-line situation.
The unrelenting disrupter decided to stay close to home in Tallahassee after receiving several scholarship offers. Daub considered Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Miami and West Virginia before ultimately naming Florida State as his school of choice.
"I just love the coaches at FSU and I feel like I would be able to start early there," he told ESPN.com reporter Corey Dowlar.
Outside linebacker Dillon Bates is a key member of Tennessee's outstanding 2014 recruiting class. The 6'3", 220-pound Ponte Vedra High School standout is among the most sure tacklers in the nation and is fully accountable as an all-purpose strong-side backer.
Bates, who still has room on his frame to add another 10-15 pounds without sacrificing quickness, can line up over a tight end or take or shed the block of a charging fullback in the flat. His football IQ is apparent on tape, as he avoids being swept up by offensive misdirection.
Tennessee will only return a maximum of four scholarship players at the linebacker position next year, according to Nooga.com. Bates will be able to immediately battle for playing time as a freshman.
He opened his senior season with 15 tackles and a touchdown in a 52-17 victory over Nease, according to 247Sports. Bates' offer list also includes Alabama, Florida, Texas, Virginia and UCLA, per 247Sports.
Ohio State commit Dante Booker figures to a big part of head coach Urban Meyer's upcoming defensive game plan. The 6'3", 212-pound outside linebacker is supremely well-rounded and displays elite speed (he runs a 4.52 40-yard-dash, per 247Sports).
Booker stars at St. Vincent-St. Mary, a school well known for distinguished alum LeBron James. He landed on the national recruiting scene with a dominant sophomore season that featured 157 tackles and 11 sacks, according to Ohio.com.
Listed as the nation' No. 3 outside linebacker prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings, Booker was a leader on the Fighting Irish squad that claimed a 2012 state championship. The Buckeyes bolstered an already impressive 2014 freshman class when he announced his commitment in May.
He also fielded offers from Michigan, Maryland, Louisville, Illinois, Penn State and Oklahoma, according to 247Sports. St. Vincent-St. Mary head coach Dan Boarman believes Booker will be able to contribute immediately in Columbus.
"He fits in perfectly," Boarman told 247Sports reporter Steve Wiltfong. "They're looking for someone like him. He can obviously play linebacker but I think he can play as a hybrid position. He can rush the quarterback, plus he's not done growing. He's going to get a heck of a lot bigger and he's 6-3, 220-pounds right now."
Already an excellent run-stuffer, Booker has room to build on his frame. Expect him to slide into a starting spot by his sophomore season at Ohio State.
Clifton Garrett is arguably the most explosive uncommitted defensive prospect in the country. He intimidates opponents with raw power, punishing tackling and a sideline-to-sideline mentality of aggression.
The 6'2", 230-pound senior dominates in Plainfield South's 4-4 defensive alignment. He obliterates lead blockers at the point of attack and displays excellent pre-snap awareness with his initial steps of the play.
Garrett, the No. 1 Illinois recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings, made 117 tackles in nine games as a junior, according to The Herald-News. His offer list includes LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, USC, Illinois, Ohio State and Notre Dame, per 247Sports.
Despite options in conferences across the nation, it seems Garrett is primarily focused on attending a Southeastern Conference power. Bad news for the Buckeyes and his home state Fighting Illini.
“Nothing against the Big Ten, but I’ve always liked the SEC,” he told Herald-News reporter Dick Goss. “I feel it’s a different brand of football they play there.”