Keonta Jenkins And the Sam Linebacker Role

Virginia Tech
Brent Pry will have unique linebacker roles at Virginia Tech. (Ivan Morozov)

We’re getting to the point of the summer where it’s hard to come up with things to write about. Virginia Tech will begin football season soon. We aren’t sure of the exact dates, but we know Media Day will be either August 8 or 10, and practice will start sometime before that. But until then, we’re stuck in the purgatory that is the time between peak recruiting season and the start of practice.

This is the time when I probably should take a vacation right before the grind hits, but nevertheless, here I am, and I’m ready to talk about something other than recruiting, NIL or conference realignment. I’m ready to start talking about real, actual football again. For me, how the Virginia Tech linebackers perform in the Brent Pry scheme is one of the most interesting storylines moving forward. Not only how they perform, but how each position looks on the field, what each player is asked to do, etc.

The three linebacker positions in Pry’s scheme aren’t cookie cutter positions. They each have some unique things, particularly the Sam spot. I’m probably less familiar with the Mike spot and what Pry needs from his players there.

Today’s article will talk more about the Sam and Will spots, one particular Brent Pry player at Penn State who played both positions, and we’ll tie it all in with Virginia Tech football and Keonta Jenkins.

The Curious Case Of Brandon Smith At Penn State

If you follow recruiting, you probably remember Brandon Smith. He was a 5-star linebacker from Louisa County, Virginia who signed with Penn State. He played in Happy Valley for three seasons where he was coached by Brent Pry.

Smith had an interesting career. A fantastic athlete, he left Penn State after his junior season and declared for the NFL Draft. He was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round. However, his college career didn’t quite live up to the hype of his recruitment, and the numbers don’t really indicate that he would go on to be drafted. He finished with 132 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and four sacks in three years. Not bad, but certainly not the line that you would expect from a former 5-star recruit.

Of course, there are other ways to look at it, and I’ll use Pro Football Focus to do so. Before we get into that, I want to point out that Smith spent one year starting at Sam and one year starting at Will. The results were wildly different.

Brent Pry’s Sam lines up on the wide side of the field. It is about athleticism and running in space. It’s not as physical a position because generally the Sam is getting blocked by wide receivers and running backs. Meanwhile, the Will lines up on the short side of the field. He plays in a phone booth with tight ends, offensive tackles and even offensive guards at times. It is a much more physical position than Sam, while the coverage responsibilities are less strenuous. While the Sam finds himself matched up against wide receivers in space, the Will is generally matched up against tight ends and backs in a smaller area.

In short, the two positions are totally different, and very few people are going to be able to do both of them well…not even a 5-star recruit. Which brings us back to Smith. Here are his PFF grades from his two years as a starter. He played the Sam in 2020 and the Will in 2021…