2014 Tiger Football Position-by-Position Preview: Linebackers
Part two in a ten part series previewing the 2014 St. Xavier Football Tigers: Linebackers
LOLB: Clark Campbell
SLB: Kyle Oliver
MLB: Connor Barnes
ROLB: Dylan McFarland
SPRING PRACTICE BATTLES
Barnes is safe, but seniors Trace Amshoff, Parker Maddox, and junior Logan Butler will be seeking to unseat one of the other seniors at the top of the depth chart.
There’s no hiding from it; replacing Andrew McCormick, Spencer Foy, Wes Parker, Malik Carr, and Evan Caffee all at once is almost an impossible task. Faced with the daunting proposition of filling the shoes of one of the best linebacker corps in recent Tiger Football history, this year’s linebackers have their work cut out for them. However, there is more than a fair share of bright spots.
You couldn’t choose a better rock to start the reloading process than Connor Barnes. He’s big (6’2″ , 190 lbs.) and quick with superior instincts off the snap of the ball. When we talk about a middle linebacker, he is essentially the heart and soul of the defense, the quarterback on the other side of the ball. The middle linebacker is the coach on the field during games, and all the other players on defense play off of him. You can’t really have better intangibles than Barnes possesses. He’s enthusiastic yet humble, and all he wants to do is get on the field and in the weight room and get better, faster, and stronger. He’s also dealt with injuries for multiple periods in seasons prior, so he is used to toughing it out while being nicked up. If you wanted to make a mold of what an inside linebacker should be, you make a mold of Connor Barnes.
Sam linebacker Kyle Oliver candidly summed his thoughts on his role: “A linebacker’s job is to set the tone.” And, wouldn’t you know it, Oliver can definitely set a tone for the defense. He’s a bit undersized (6’0″, 190 lbs.), but what he gives up in size he more than makes up for with pure grit. He is tough as nails and shies away from no one; his game isn’t always pretty, but it’s effective. Plain and simple, this is a guy you want to go to war with.
The most interesting two players to watch, however, may be the two outside linebackers. Although Clark Campbell is a senior, he is still a newcomer in the sense that this season will be his first playing on the defensive side of the ball, as he bounced around the wide receiver and running back positions in his first three seasons. He could become a stalwart from his position on the left edge of the defense, as his elite athleticism will make him a demon coming off the edge. Although he might need to add some weight to his body over the course of the season to have better bulk and avoid injuries, Campbell has major potential; he has the speed and agility to cover tight ends or even slot receivers one-on-one, while still packing enough power to shed blocks and make plays in space against an opponent’s running game. His pure quickness and athleticism could prove to make him a ferocious pass-rusher, too. We will have to see just how defensive coordinator Bart Bruner utilizes Campbell, but one thing is for sure; Coach Bruner should be extremely excited to plug this athlete into the defensive equation.
In addition to being critically-acclaimed for his numerous vines, Dylan McFarland also has the potential to become an absolute stud on the right side of the defense. Of all the linebackers, McFarland most closely resembles the pillars that are graduating from a size standpoint (6’2″, 202 lbs.). The thing that could potentially turn McFarland into a star is his deceptive speed and agility for his size; as a junior last season, McFarland was able to make some huge hits covering kickoffs because he was able to generate such a huge amount of force in such a small amount of time using his size and speed. Much like Campbell, McFarland could potentially supply valuable versatility as a guy who can be a monster stopping the run, blowing up blocks and neutralizing an entire side of an offense line, and also pin his ears back and be an animal rushing the passer.
While these linebackers don’t bring to the table the size that characterized last year’s group, they do bring just as much, if not more, speed and quickness to the equation. Barnes and Oliver are guys who can cover sideline-to-sideline, and the outside linebackers could become downright scary. If I’m Coach Bruner looking at this group of guys, I am licking my chops and chomping at the bit to see just how good the group can get.
As long as Barnes stays healthy, this unit could shape up to be a pretty darn good linebacker corps. Without a doubt, the x-factor is the outside linebackers. Campbell and McFarland have the ability to take this group to the next level and change the way teams approach the Tiger defense as a whole, and they are excited to start to bring that vision to life. In the words of Campbell, “I think we are going to shock a lot of people.”
Next up: Running Backs