Thursday, August 25, 2011

Villanova Football 2011 Preview Part Four: Linebacker

Devon Bridges

On paper, the Villanova linebackers are by far the most decimated position group on the entire team. The top four players from last season, Terence Thomas, Marquis Kirkland, Anthony Johnson and Jacob Wade all graduated, leaving very little experience to be had amongst the returning players. That's not to say that there isn't talent amongst the players on the team now, because that's not true, but the linebackers in this scheme must be incredibly stout against the run due to the fact that there are five defensive backs on the field at all times, and they also must be able to cover and blitz with near equal proficiency. With a true freshman starttin in the middle, flanked by two players who have been in the program for at least two seasons, that should ease the adjustment, but it will still definitely be a transition.

Middle Linebacker: Based on what I saw from attending two practices, the starter at the MIKE linebacker is going to be true freshman Dillon Lucas. I never saw the first team defense take the field without Lucas playing in the middle. Lucas was a tackling machine in his four seasons at Shawnee High School in South Jersey, finishing as the school's all time leading tackler. He also demonstrated his toughness by playing through much of his senior season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. As someone with a brother who has torn his labrum twice, I should note that labrum tears have a tendency to reoccur, so it's something to keep a watch on.

Lining up with the second team the two days I was there was redshirt freshman Emeka Ndiche. The book on Ndiche is that he's apparently a very good athlete, but a bit smallish to play in the middle. We'll just have to wait and see.

Outside Linebacker: While he was originally slated to start in the middle, junior Devon Bridges appears to have moved to the outside with the emergence of Dillon Lucas. Bridges is the only returning linebacker to have played in every game last season, but almost all of that playing time was on special teams, where he should still have a very active role this season as he was particularly good there over the past two  seasons.

The presumptive starter at the other outside linebacker spot is senior Jeremy Rodriguez.  In his previous three seasons on the Main Line, Rodriguez has never been fully healthy, but when he has played, especially on special teams he has been quite effective. Despite only playing in seven games last season, Rodriguez is the leading returning tackling amongst the linebackers. Still though, his health will have to be monitored and it seems unlikely that he will play a full slate without getting injured.

The top backup at outside linebacker looks to be junior Patrick Haggerty, who was named the most improved defensive player after spring practice. Haggerty looked to have earned a starting spot until Dillon Lucas came along and pushed Devon Bridges over to the outside. Other reserves at the position who will push for playing time include junior Delano Ferguson, and redshirt freshman Tyrone Armstrong once (if?) he gets healthy.

So you should be able to see that while this group lacks starting experience in the base defense, it does not lack promise. Constant improvement is the most important thing to look for throughout the length of the season.

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