Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Linebacking Questions

Columbia needs another Zach Olinger

A number of readers have asked about the linebacker situation for the Lions in 2015.

They have good reason to ask, because there are a lot of questions.

That's in contrast to the defensive line, which at least on paper looks about as good as that unit has looked on a Columbia team in many year.

But there are some reasons to be optimistic about the second line of the defense, and a few hopeful bets to make on a couple of individual players.

First off, it's important to note that DE Toba Akinleye has played as a hybrid linebacker to great results over the past three seasons. If new Defensive Coordinator Paul Ferraro continues that practice, you have to factor that as a major positive for the LB's overall. 

The biggest reason for optimism is experience. Three returning linebackers have an enormous amount of playing time. Senior Max Keefe has the most experience and put in a solid year last season in his first turn as a starter. Junior Gianmarco Rea was a starter in all 10 games as a sophomore last season and was the second leading tackler on the team. And junior Keith Brady played in every game and finished 2014 with a respectable 32 tackles.  

Two guys who were off the team last year could make an impact this fall. My bet is junior Mark Cieslak will play an important role and could be a starter. The other returnee, Bergen Catholic grad Parker Tobia, should get a chance to contribute.

A potential veteran wildcard is Kevin McCarthy, moved to LB from the safety position. 

I'm about as high as you can be on the two incoming freshmen from Illinois, Cal Falkenhayn from the deservedly venerated Loyola Academy and Jason Vravrick from Stevenson HS. They may not be ready to start anytime this season, but Columbia needs them to provide quality depth and push the starters as soon as possible. The other freshman LB, Sean White, is making the transition from playing safety in high school. His speed could make him a factor too.

Talent and depth are always a concern, but the biggest need here is for a leader. The Lions need someone with talent to also emerge with attitude like a Zach Olinger '14 or an Alex Gross '11.  

New Linebackers Coach Justin Stovall is tasked with the job of finding that player and making sure Columbia gets the commanding Mike linebacker just about every team needs. 

1 comment:

oldlion said...

Jake, it is hard to mention any Columbia linebacker other than Des Werthman, Josh Martin (OK, he was a DE for us most of the time) or Rory Wilfork in the same breath as Alex Gross, especially after Alex had to reinvent his game following the cheap shot injury he suffered at Lafayette. Olinger was a good player in his second and third years but his performance tailed off significantly in a very subpar senior year.