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NCAA Football Big 12 FootballKansas State Wildcats

Kansas State’s Key Unit: The Linebackers

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State comes into the 2013 season attempting to defend its first ever Big 12 title. One of the key reasons they were top dog last season was their defense, led by guys like Meshak Williams and Arthur Brown.

The defensive pressure up front forced teams into passing situations, where the stud core of defensive backs could take over. The result: Kansas State had one of the most dominant defenses in the country, and arguably the best defense in the Big 12 (with TCU also being in the conversation).

Guys like Brown, who led the Wildcats with 100 tackles in 2012, were not only aggressive and talented on the field, but they were leaders of the defense. Their team/family mentality showed, as every player did their job, and very rarely were mistakes made.

Unfortunately though, the linebacking core gets thinner and younger as we head towards the2 013 season. Brown, along with Jarell Childs, Justin Tuggle, Jared Loomis and Roman Fields are all gone, and now it’s time for some younger guys to step in and step up.

Leading the charge will be senior Tre Walker, who recorded 19 tackles in 2012. Next to him will probably be a mash-up of guys like Trinity Valley CC transfer Dakorey Johnson, Tate Snyder, David Smith and possibly four-star recruit Nick Ramirez.

Now, the linebackers aren’t the only group on defense that is losing talent, but they’re arguably the most critical.

Everything in a defense hinges on linebacker play, especially in the Big 12. With offenses that are fully capable of running their offense on the ground or through the air, with true dual-threat quarterbacks at the helm, the linebackers have to be able to make quick reads and move in support of either the d-line or secondary, depending on the play.

Miss a read, and a running back gains five yards instead of two, or zero. Miss another read and that five yard slant turns into 15.

It’s critical that the young guys at linebacker get up to speed quickly during the spring and summer, and with as much as Kansas State is returning on offense, they’ll be matched up against a good sample of what they’ll be facing week to week in conference play.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter @thedsportsrant