Where else would you start when talking about the Tiger-Cats linebackers then with strong side backer, Markeith Knowlton.
The reigning CFL Most Outstanding Defensive player is arguably the most versatile defender in the entire league. On run plays Knowlton can get off a block and make the tackle on a running back -- evidenced by his 71 tackles in 2010 -- and on passing plays he knows how to get after and pressure opposing quarterback’s or he has the ability to cover the opposing team’s most dangerous slot receiver.
Knowlton is adept at providing game-changing plays for his team as well. He notched three sacks, forced four fumbles and picked off three passes in 2010. At 28 years of age, Knowlton is in the prime of his career and will look to lead the Ticats linebacking core on the field in 2011.
Joining Knowlton in the linebacking corps is Jamall Johnson, who should have the weak side linebacker position locked down for Hamilton after putting up back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons in 2009 and 2010. Johnson has endeared himself to Ticats fans and teammates alike by making big-time bone crunching hits on ball carriers a common occurrence. He racked up five sacks in 2010.
Johnson ranked second in the CFL with 101 tackles last season and he will be striving to put up his third straight 100-tackle season in 2011.
During the off-season, general manager Bob O’Billovich dipped into the free agent pool to sign middle linebacker Renauld Williams. The hard-hitting former Roughrider will provide the Ticats defence with the league's top 1-2-3 punch at linebacker.
Williams spent the 2009 CFL season in Saskatchewan, recording 59 tackles and three sacks in 13 games. Last year, Williams inked a deal with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, but an injury suffered near the end of training camp derailed his opportunity to land a spot on the AFC champs.
If Knowlton, Johnson and Williams can play up to their potential, the Tiger-Cats have the tools to boast the league’s most dynamic and athletic set of starting linebackers.
The team's rookie linebackers include the likes of former Michigan State standout Brandon Denson, who impressed coaches at the team's mini-camp in April, and Canadian LB Nathan Kanya, who will have a great opportunity to replace the recently retired Ray Mariuz on special teams.
Of course, with a week to go until training camp, the team may sign additional linebackers in the coming days.