Gibbs next man up at ‘coveted’ middle linebacker spot
LARAMIE -- Playing middle linebacker at the University of Wyoming is starting to carry some serious prestige.
The proof is in the pudding.
This program produced the leading tackler in Super Bowl LVI. The most recent graduate is currently being courted by numerous teams and could hear his name called early in this month's NFL Draft.
Life is good at the "MIKE" position in Laramie.
With Logan Wilson making plays in Cincinnati and Chad Muma en route to the pros, Craig Bohl and Co. had a big decision to make this offseason -- who's next?
Answer: Easton Gibbs.
The sophomore from Temecula, Calif., will move from the weak side to the middle, attempting to fill the large cleats left behind by Muma, who was the third-leading solo tackler in the nation last fall with 85. For good measure, the senior also added 57 assists to rank him fourth overall at the FBS level.
Oh, and Muma also tacked on three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Good luck, kid.
"I mean, it's definitely an honor to take over that coveted spot," said Gibbs, who tallied 89 total tackles and a pair of sacks from his outside linebacker spot in 2021. "I'm excited to play there. There are definitely big shoes to fill. I'm looking forward to playing the middle and taking control of the defense and just going out and playing football."
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What does it mean to move from the weak side to the inside?
The transition isn't as crazy as one might think, according to Gibbs. He said simply, there's more space to cover. His position coach, Aaron Bohl agrees, adding responsibility is another key word. In other words, the MIKE is the quarterback on defense.
"He makes a better MIKE than WILL," Bohl said of Gibbs, who said he has added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame this offseason. "The reason he played WILL last year was because we had Chad. When you look at a guy that we want in more space like that, that's the one that runs, he's a really athletic guy and has a lot of confidence in himself and in his ability to play in space. So I think he's really going to excel."
It takes another trait to take over this spot -- confidence.
"You need to carry it to be able to get everyone else to follow you," Bohl continued. "I'm really excited for this transition."
Old habits do die hard. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl joked Tuesday night that Gibbs has accidentally lined up on the outside coming out of the huddle.
"Easton is a smart guy," he said. "As you guys know, that position in our defense is a really, really important position. It's just been somewhat of a natural progression. We've had guys, whether it be Logan, start out at one and then move to MIKE,. then it was Chad.
"Easton is the next guy to follow."
This staff put its faith in Gibbs last fall when they named him a starter over the incumbent, Charles Hicks.
He quickly hit the NCAA Transfer Portal. Gibbs went to work, racking up 24 tackles and a pass breakup in UW's four non-conference games. Five times in 2021 Gibbs rolled up double-digit stops. His best outing came in a 23-13 road loss at Boise State when he finished with 12 tackles and a sack.
Gibbs said he has been sponge since arriving on campus back in 2019. He's soaked up knowledge from all of those guys listed above. Whether that's in the film room, practice field or even the training table, the path to becoming a professional has been clearly laid out.
"It means everything," Gibbs said of that tutelage. "Ever since I've been here, I've had that guy with or in front of me that has done everything everybody dreams about, going to the next level."
Now, it's Gibbs who is passing that wisdom down to the younger guys on this roster.
"Easton is a really good player," said Cole DeMarzo, a recent transfer from Michigan State. "He's a good leader, who has taken me under his wing since I've been here and helped me learn the playbook."
Gibbs said he doesn't feel pressure to replace anyone or do anything superhuman. That's not the task at hand. Instead, he said he'll focus on his game and becoming the best version of himself.
Wilson said that will be plenty.
"You were able to learn from me, Chad and Cassh (Maluia)," he said of Gibbs. "You'll do great things. You got all the tools in your toolbox, you just need to use them."
Is Wyoming becoming "Linebacker U?"
"Yeah," Gibbs said with a grin. "I'd call it that."
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