The Ohio 3?
Columbia is reaping Ohio's bumper crop of linebackers
Strong defensive lines are a rare commodity in the Ivy League. Right now, only Harvard seems like a team with a front four or front three that you can call fearsome. That means the linebackers at just about every other Ivy school need to pick up the slack.
If Columbia uses the same 4-3 defense it featured in the Spring Game, the competition should be fierce for those three starting spots.
One slot is definitely taken as Drew Quinn will hopefullY be 100% healthy after playing through the pain most of last year. He still played in all 10 games and make his mark as the team's second leading tackler. Quinn is uniquely dangerous against the run and the pass, and I expect him to make a big dent against the mostly short-passing attack you see in the Ivies these days.
After Quinn, the picture is not as clear. Surely Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alex Gross has an inside track to one of the two remaining slots, but nothing is certain on Norries Wilson's team. My main concern about Gross is his 202-pound frame, but he will likely bulk up a bit by training camp.
Clark Koury was having a great junior year in 2007 before he went down with an injury. He too was showing a great ability to defend the run and the pass, especially in the win over Marist where he picked off two passes and had two key tackles for a loss.
Quinn, Gross and Koury are all from Ohio, meaning we could see an all Buckeye state starting linebacking corps. Fellow Ohioan Lou Miller is being moved to the defensive line, otherwise he'd be in the running at linebacker as well. But his younger brother Evan Miller, might make an impact as a freshman this season. The younger Miller was the top linebacker on high school powerhouse Saint Xavier's 15-0 state championship team.
One more Ohioan with a shot to see decent playing time is sophomore Derek Lipscomb, who impressed everyone after basically walking on to the team last year.
But a couple of New York guys could break up the Buckeye party. Sophomore Matt Moretto made a great impression last season with 45 tackles and an interception. His weight is also a question at 196-pounds, so we'll be looking closely at his new numbers when camp starts.
Also from New York is incoming freshman Nick Mistretta who already has a huge amount of positive buzz surrounding him. Mistretta played just over the border at New Jersey power Don Bosco Prep where he was named a first-team all-state linebacker. At 6"2 and 225 pounds, he should be ready to make an impact.
Last year, I thought sophomore Marc Holloway was the best bet to make an impact as a freshman. He did get into some games, but he was overshadowed big-time by guys like Gross and Moretto. I still think he has a lot of the tools to succeed in this league and he could surprise this year.
Another guy not to forget is senior Corey Cameron who started two games last year and could lend some needed veteran experience on the field.
With what looks like the demise of the 3-5-3, (again, that's an educated guess, not an official announcement), the sheer number of linebackers on the roster is a lot smaller. Andy Shalbrack and Augie Williams are now listed as safeties, which was really where they played last year anyway.
But this all means that the three linebackers on the field will have to shoulder more responsibility. Columbia needs to make this a strength if it wants to succeed in 2008.