Tuesday, July 03, 2007

2007 Position Previews: Linebackers

This is the fourth part of my position by position breakdown of the 2007 roster.

LINEBACKERS

This team’s defense has a chance to be the best Spaziani has ever put out on the field. We are quick, experienced and big up front. The key to the squad will be the Linebackers. I also think new leadership and this talented unit will give Spaziani more flexibility than he’s ever had. Expect him to continue on last season's use of delayed and zone blitzes and plenty of substitutions.

Overview
In every preview magazine, the editors provide one consistent disclaimer -- Brian Toal’s potential medical redshirt. Toal has been dinged with various neck and shoulder problems for two seasons. Playing both ways certainly didn’t help matters. I have no inside information regarding his health but predict he will sit this season out. I think it would be the best solution for both Brian and BC. For Brian it gives him some much needed time to recover. For BC it gives us a little more depth heading into the 2008 season (when we will be very young). Based on how poorly the Glasper situation played out and Brian’s father’s influential presence in the critical recruiting territory of New Jersey, I think it will be the Toal’s call on if he plays. I want Brian to sit and think the defense will be fine without him. He’s a playmaker when healthy, but this unit has enough talent and production to do fine without him. Take a look at Toal’s contribution to last season’s defense.

Games PlayedTackles Sacks INTsFumbles recovered
Toal’s PCT
of 2006 total
16%15%0%40%14%


As you can see Brian was an important part of the squad, but not the most dominant player. Yes, we could use him, but the void he leaves is replaceable this year.

The Players
Kevin Akins, JR, 6’2, 212lbs
Brian Toal, SR, 6’0, 232lbs
Darius Bagan, FR, 6’2, 240lbs
Jolonn Dunbar, SR, 6’0, 233lbs
Robert Francois, JR, 6’2, 240lbs
Mark Herzlich, SO, 6’4, 230lbs
Mike McLaughlin, SO, 6’0, 250lbs
Tyronne Pruitt, SR, 5’11, 220lbs

Dunbar is an outstanding player. I’ve been surprised and disappointed that he has not received more preseason honors. I think he can be first team All-ACC. If he stays healthy and the team reaches the ACC Championship, I think Dunbar has a shot at the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He’s got good speed, hits hard, has a high football IQ. Last season he greatly improved his pass coverage ability and put together the best season by a BC Linebacker since Stephen Boyd. Toal, if he plays (see above), is a very talented player who has a tendency to freelance. Francois contains all the tools but disappeared for times last year. I expect a more solid consistent season from him this year. Pruitt is smallish, but a solid tackler with good speed. Herzlich exceeded all expectations as a true freshman last season. In addition to his size, he’s got great instincts and is a very consistent tackler. As he gets more playing time he’ll be expected to drop into coverage more often. While mostly untested in coverage, I think Herzy will be up for it. Akins was a another pleasant surprise last season. Spaz used the converted corner as a blitz specialist and Akins proved very disruptive. However, he and our usage of him got somewhat exposed against Navy. The Middies ran right at him and eventually over him. He didn’t have the strength to shed the bigger blockers. I expect him to adjust this year and hope he’ll continue to dominate on passing downs. McLaughlin cracked the two-deep as a Freshman but saw less and less time as the season progressed. I think his playing time this season will depend on Toal’s health. Bagan was highly touted out of high school. I think he’ll see some solid minutes this season.

Outlook
With Toal this would be our best Linebacking group ever. Without him, we are still one of the top LB units in the conference. I expect big things out of Dunbar. The question mark will be the progression of Pruitt, Herzlich, Akins and Francois. If they all get better, BC will be the best defense in the ACC.

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