The Minot State University football team's defensive strategy relies on its linebackers to make the majority of the tackles.
Linemen are asked to control the gaps at the line of scrimmage, giving the players behind them room to run and make plays.
That's a responsibility the Beavers' linebacking corps takes seriously.
Minot State University senior linebacker Josh Weidler practices shedding blocks during an Aug. 18 practice at Herb Parker Stadium.
"We feel like we set the tone out there," said MSU senior Chad Marshall, who is entering his fourth season as a starter. "Part of that 3-4 defense is unselfish defense. Those guys up front, they get us in position to make plays a lot of the time. We take a lot of pride in being in position to make plays for those guys."
Marshall (79 tackles in 2012) and junior Casey Weinmann (83 tackles) return on the inside after leading the Beavers in tackles last season.
Seniors Josh Weidler and Jeff Buchert return at the outside positions, making MSU's linebackers the Beavers' most battle-tested unit. Weidler led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013, and Buchert picked off a team-high three passes.
Outside Linebacker (Will)
1. Jeff Buchert Sr. 6-1 215
2. Matt Sumlin So. 6-2 190
Inside Linebacker (Mike)
1. Casey Weinmann Jr. 6-0 203
2. Uepati Fatilua Sr. 6-0 220
Inside Linebacker (Sam)
1. Chad Marshall Sr. 6-2 215
2. Jesse Ili Sr. 6-0 220
Outside Linebacker (Stud)
1. Josh Weidler Sr. 6-2 210
2. Mitch Matthias So. 6-4 205
"I think they bring a little speed in the run game," MSU linebackers coach Zac Rudolph said. "There's three of them right now that fill the hole pretty decent in the run game and there's three of them that cover decent. We just gotta do a good job mixing and matching with who our opponents are gonna be."
Rudolph, who played for the Beavers from 2008-11, said this is the deepest MSU linebacking group he has seen.
Senior inside linebacker Uepati "Norm" Fatilua saw action in all 11 games last season and recorded 43 tackles. Sophomore Matt Sumlin - who made the switch from wideout to defense after appearing in four games last season - will add athleticism on the outside. And senior Jesse Ili could compete for time at inside linebacker after transferring from Fresno State (Calif.), where he earned a start at fullback in 2012.
"We have a lot of interchangeable parts in that linebacking room," Marshall said. "There's a lot of guys that can really do it and, I feel like, a lot of guys that can step out there and fill the void. No one's gonna go out there and hurt us."
Buchert, who is still listed on MSU's roster as a defensive back, possesses the coverage and ball skills of a secondary member.
"I still like to consider myself a DB from time to time," he said. "They keep me in the circle and it feels pretty nice having that knowledge in the game.
"Making a play on the ball, it's always been fun. I love playing offense and (interceptions are) my only time to play offense."
Rudolph said the depth chart is nowhere near concrete, but with the linebackers' varying skill sets, he has plenty of options at his disposal.
"I would love to do a rotation because we do got a lot of them," he said. "If some guys start separating themselves, then obviously, the best player will play. Ideally, we'll be fresh just about every series."
Daniel Allar reports on Minot State University athletics and assists with high school coverage. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.
Editor's note: This is part four of an eight-part series breaking down each unit of the Minot State University football team. Offensive linemen will be featured in Monday's paper.