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Countdown to Virginia Football: #15 CJ Stalker could lead the team in tackles

But it probably won’t happen this year.

Flow game strong
Virginia Media Relations

Position: ILB
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 225
Year: Sophomore
Hometown: West Chester, OH
Twitter: @clayton_stalker

Following the 2014 season, the Hoos lost all 3 starting LBs (Henry Coley, DaQuan Romero and Max Valles). Because of that, and a general lack of depth at LB, it was assumed that at least one true freshman LB would play last year, which saw a handful of talented LBs in that incoming recruiting class. This included C.J. Stalker, Jahvoni Simmons and Dominic Sheppard, who were considered the 3 most likely to play early. Stalker, having enrolled in January in order to join spring practice, was perhaps the most likely to see action.

Though Stalker played MLB in high school, he was moved to WLB in Mike London’s defense. Perhaps this made sense, as Stalker is good in zone coverage and could be a good pass rusher. And he wasn’t likely to get much playing time ahead of Micah Kiser. But he’s best used between the tackles, because he works well in traffic but has a tendency to get caught up and lose edge contain. At WLB, he wasn’t likely to be used a pass rusher much, and he doesn’t really have the lateral quickness for man coverage. He may actually be better suited as a SLB (rather than WLB), where he could be a pass rusher. All told, despite playing in 7 games, and even starting against Virginia Tech, Stalker totaled just 2 tackles (one solo).

Now, in the new 3-4 defense, Stalker has moved back inside. His strength when taking on blockers and his ability to wrap up ball carriers makes him a good fit in this defense. He’s also still capable of coming on a blitz and bringing down the QB.

Here is Stalker’s junior year highlight video. The quality of the video isn’t always great, and it can be tough to tell what’s going on at times.

The video shows a LB who locates the ball, finds the hole and makes the tackle. That is prototypical ILB. Stalker may not have true sideline-to-sideline speed. Because of that, he fits better as a 3-4 ILB where he’s only really responsible for half of the field. Watch him track down outside runs and option plays from the backside. Watch him drop back in zone coverage and then follow the QB when the play breaks down.

The last ILB from Ohio that the Hoos had was Steve Greer. (Greer was recruited by Al Groh as a 3-4 ILB before moving to MLB in Mike London’s 4-3 defense.) All he did was start as a freshman, lead the team in tackles 3 times and finish 6th all-time in tackles. Stalker won’t get there because of the experienced players ahead of him. But he’ll get a chance to start next year, especially if Micah Kiser leaves after this season. And he could very well lead the team in tackles once he gets onto the field.