WKU Football: Eli Brown Out Indefinitely, Tops Must Fill Hole
Spring football is always full of scary moments. Inevitably, every team has someone go down, and often, it can be a devastating injury on a freak play that changes the direction of the season.
In this case, Western Kentucky football has had its dose of this inevitable issue. Football is a contact sport, and the latest victim is likely starting (and presumably star) linebacker and Bowling Green local Eli Brown.
News of Brown suffering a “foot injury” surfaced late week, and now with two starters gone from last year’s team and the main role player injured, where does WKU turn for some production in the middle of the defense?
In a 4–2–5, quality starting linebackers are especially crucial, but a loss of a few in the room is not as devastating as, say, a 3–4 or 4–3 defense would endure. However, Eli Brown is a supreme talent, a player who contributed significantly at the University of Kentucky in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring to the Tops.
As a rising redshirt senior, Brown surely hopes to get back to health by fall camp, but with an unknown timetable, this foot issue could drag on well into the 2019 season.
With any injury comes an opportunity, so the likely replacements are FCS transfers Clay Davis (Tennessee Tech) and Damon Lowe (Eastern Kentucky). Kyle Bailey is a true junior carrying over from the Mike Sanford era with some experience, but if Brown is not available, somebody is going to have to slide over into the linebacker room, or one of the current linebackers is going to have to come out of nowhere.
Davis, Lowe, and Bailey would seem to be legitimate options, but first of all, they are the only ones who would seem to be surefire role players. However, each one is still a question mark. Clay Davis was super productive at EKU, but can he play on the same level in the FBS? Damon Lowe has a history of injury and has not played real football in a year. Natural linebacker Kyle Bailey has been playing out of position the past few years before returning to the linebacker room for 2019.
The other linebackers were redshirted in 2018, are new, or produced less than five tackles last season. Uh oh.
This has to be frustrating for new WKU head coach Tyson Helton. If one position on the entire roster was vulnerable, linebacker would probably be selected off of a list. Now that Brown is down, how can WKU even muster a legitimate four trustworthy linebackers?
I’m struggling to find a solution. I’m sure Helton and Topper defensive coordinator Clayton White are working on it, but good luck, guys. This is a tough blow on a super talented, underachieving squad. In every other area, WKU has a proven commodity or a collection of guys that could possibly be good enough to fill a hole and be decent.
As Mike Sanford and his staff did, Helton and crew did a masterful job filling in immediate issues, and really, WKU is only left wanting for some good linebackers. The rest of WKU’s defense is stacked with all-conference or all-freshman caliber talent. Devon Key, Ta’Corian Darden, junior college transfer and former N.C. State defensive back Trae Meadows, and other recognizable names anchor the defensive backfield.
On the defensive front, Freshman All-American Juwuan Jones, DeAngelo Malone, Jaylon George, and Jeremy Darvin provide a formidable potential starting defensive line wracked with the ability to produce.
Offensively, youth abounds, but with the insertion of Tyson Helton’s offense, some burners added at receiver, a (still) young but experienced running back room, serious depth at the offensive line, productive tight ends, and several capable quarterbacks, there is not a single position left scrambling for hope.
In the Special Teams department, Helton’s staff massively improved a faction of the team that went from elite to anemic in two years’ time under Mike Sanford. My boy (sorry for the bias), former Hilltopper legend Garrett “G Schwetty” Schwettman and the Special Teams additions look to immediately improve in 2019. With a good long snapper in Ben Reeder, newcomers John Haggarty and Cory Munson, and do-it-all Alex Rinella returning, there is very little doubt the Tops take a natural step forward here.
So again, the question looms about this loss at linebacker: How does WKU recover from a difficult loss, and does it affect them in the first part of the season while Brown gets back into shape? Will this injury linger, or will it resolve itself in the summer and be a complete non-factor?
It remains to be seen, but if one steps back, looks at the potential on the 2019 WKU Football roster, and calculates, surely the Tops should improve on a hideous 3–9 campaign that resulted in a second year coach getting fired barring complete and utter disaster.