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PRESEASON PRACTICE UPDATE: Linebacker Preview

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: August 23, 2012
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Aug. 23, 2012

Linebackers Preview:

"So far the guys are working hard," said defensive run game coordinator and linebackers coach Corey Hetherman. "There are high expectations this year trying to become more physical and play a little faster."

Topping the list of linebackers is veteran co-captain Craig Wilkins.

"We're expecting to do a couple different things with him again, just like we did with him last year in certain packages," said Hetherman.

Wilkins, who has been named a Preseason All-CAA selection, Preseason All-American by College Sports Journal, and a four-year captain, collected 111 tackles a season ago, including 14.5 tackles for loss to lead the Monarch defense in 2011. The first defensive Monarch to crack the century mark in stops, Wilkins posted double figure stops in four games including a career-high 17 tackles against Hampton and averaged 8.5 tackles per game to rank him 12th in the league,

But it's not just the tackles with Wilkins as among his stats from last year include a pair of interceptions, three pass break-ups, five defended passes, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble.

An emphasis with the linebackers as noted by head coach Bobby Wilder early in the preseason was pass coverage in the middle of the field, which the coaching staff feels will be improved with moving Wilkins from a rover to the mike linebacker.

John Darr, who rotated into the starting second group last year, has looked good in preseason at the strongside linebacker position. Darr tripled his production from his freshman season and was fourth last year on the defense with 63 tackles, including a career-high 10 tackles at William & Mary, nine tackles against CAA Champion Towson, and eight stop at Georgia Southern in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

"I've been seeing John Darr play a lot," said Rodney Hunter. "I'm excited about how John Darr is playing because he's playing down hill and playing fast and covering well."

"Definitely playing much better than he did last spring and last season," added Wilkins. "He's more down field and blowing stuff up."

At weakside linebacker the Monarchs look forward to the return of Rodney Hunter to the turf.

"He's doing well on pass coverages and hitting down hill on the run," said Wilkins.

Hunter appeared in all 11 games in 2010 as a true freshman where he made 31 tackles, which included a season-high 10 stops versus Savannah State.

Wilkins and Hunter both noted the addition of Caleb Taylor and how quickly he has fit in and learned the schemes and will factor into ODU's defensive equation.

Taylor, one of three FBS transfers this season coming to Old Dominion from the University of Virginia, was highly prized recruit coming out of nearby Phoebus high school in Hampton. Taylor was considered the No. 22 player in the state of Virginia by rivals.com and the No. 26 linebacker in the nation according to Scout.com, and No. 42 LB in country by ESPN.com as well as a three-star prospect by all three organizations. Coming from a tradition of winning, he helped the Phantoms to three-straight state titles.

Redshirt junior Xavier Duckett, and redshirt freshman Rob Mahan will all be contributing this season as will sophomore Neal-Anthony Hale

"He plays hard, physical, and head hunting as always," Wilkins commented about Duckett's play this preseason and said, "He's out here competing. He's out here working hard trying to earn a spot on the defense," he said about a possible back-up in Mahan. Hale should also see his nine tackles from a year ago dramatically increase.

Sophomore James Faircloth and redshirt freshman Mike Lennox as well as newcomers Larry Alston III, Calvert Cook, Terrell Reid, and TJ Ricks add to the depth.

Alston was named Second Team All-State All-Groups and was First-Team Group II All-State, All-County, and All-Shore selection who helped the Huskies win their second Central Jersey Group II title in three seasons, while Cook was a First Team All-Eastern District honoree as a senior in 2011 and Second Team All-Eastern District selection as a junior in 2010 amassing 105 tackles and an interception Reid, recipient of the summer strength and conditioning award among the newcomers, totaled 109 tackles in his career, including eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss and also forced seven fumbles. , while Ricks, who joined the Monarchs prior to camp was a First Team Defense and Second Team Peninsula District honoree at nearby Kecoughtan High School in Hampton.

"I think as days have been going we've been proving - defensive line, linebackers, db's - that we've been getting better throughout the day," said Hunter of the way preseason has gone. "Two-a-day practices, improving from the morning practice to the later practice, we just all out to work hard and by September 1st we'll be ready go."

And expect the linebackers to be fully prepared.

"Coach Hetherman is a video freak. He loves to watch film," said Wilkins of his position coach. "He's instilled that in us. We definitely watch a lot of film as a group. He's great with X's and O's. He used to be a quarterback so he knows offense and he teaches us offensive thing and teaches us offensive concepts. He's also very good with technique so we definitely do a lot of technique work."

"He knows the in's and out's of football on both sides," added Hunter. "He's able to help me and all the other linebackers help pick up and anticipate the offensive players are going to get ready to run. "

"Our biggest thing is we want to do is play down hill this year," said Hetherman of his group's goals going into the season. " We want to play physical, we want to be collision people, and we'll go from there."

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