Friday, May 09, 2008

Linebacker U?

Alex Gross looks to build on his Rookie of the Year season (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Gene Boyars)

Columbia's 3-5-3 defensive alignment, which appears to be on its way out after what we saw in the spring game, had mixed results in its two seasons of existence.

It seemed to work well in 2006 as it made the defense quicker and players seemed less locked-in to set roles and they all attacked the ball. In 2007, it was more of a disaster, as the Lions failed to plug up the middle week after week.

But one lasting benefit was the bumper crop of talented linebackers we had on the roster. Alignment changes and some other factors have thinned the linebacker ranks out a bit, which is why I think Columbia will go with a 4-3 defense in 2008. But losses aside, there still is some good talent at the linebacker position.

Jake's Projected Starters

Leading the unit is 2007 co-captain Drew Quinn, who may be our best overall defensive weapon. Drew battled injuries all last season, but he still managed to rack up 62 tackles which was second most on the team. He's also shouldered the huge task of mentoring the younger players and teaching them the playbook. Just thinking about what a healthy Quinn could do in a traditional middle linebacker role is exciting.

Joining Quinn at linebacker is 2007 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alex Gross, who started piling up the tackles in the second half of the season and never stopped. Gross ended up leading the team with 80 tackles, an extraordinary achievement for a freshman. He also had eight tackles for a loss with two sacks. Gross probably needs to add some bulk and strength to be just as effective this coming season, but I think he can do it.

After Quinn and Gross, Lion fans may not be familiar with the rest of the returning key linebackers. But lost in the haze of last year's 1-9 season was the strong play of freshman Matt Moretto, who finished with 45 tackles and two pass break-ups. Moretto caught my eye when I watched some of summer training camp last year, and I think he has a great shot at starting this season. Moretto also needs a little more bulk, so look for him to be in the weight room a lot this summer.

Key Back-Ups

Last year, I thought Marc Holloway was the incoming freshman most likely to see key playing time. But he ended up getting into only three games. I still think he has tremendous potential, and I wouldn't be surprised if he steps it up in 2008.

Another rising sophomore I like is Derek Lipscomb who basically walked on to the team and showed great effort in seven games played last season.

And then there's senior Corey Cameron, who certainly should be in the running for more playing time because of his experience.

Key Losses

Bayo Aregbe made a courageous return to the team last year despite some rough injuries, but he has graduated.

Rising junior Justin Masorti is currently off the roster and will be sorely missed if he does not return for the regular season. Of course, we miss him already.

Key Newcomers

So far, we know of three very strong looking linebackers in the incoming freshmen class.

One is Nick Mistretta from New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep. He is definitely one of our top recruits overall and looks to be the right size already to compete in Ivy ball.

Another is Brendan Mulheran from Lincoln-Way East high school outside of Chicago. I believe Brendan is the player Columbia originally wanted for last season who chose to try to walk on at Notre Dame instead. Now, I believe he is going to be on our roster this season.

And there's Lou Miller's little brother Evan Miller also from national power St. Xavier in Cincinnati. With Lou moving to the defensive line, Evan can team up with fellow St. X grad Drew Quinn at linebacker.


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