Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012 Linfield Football Spring Review: Linebackers

#23 Dom Forrest will be looking to swallow up the opposition in 2012.
For the 1st time since 2009 the Linfield College defense will have a group of returning starting Linebackers anchoring the ‘Cats 4-2-5 defense. Before the start of the 2011 season there was some in the Linfield faithful that had questions about a group of sophomores stepping into the starting roles. I understood that, especially starting the year versus a talented CLU offense, but those questions where quickly put to bed as Dom Forrest and Tim Edmonds led the ‘Cats with 10 and 9 tackles a piece and Tyler Robitaille chipped in with another 4. During that game you saw the talent of all three guys, and from that moment, I knew the LB core was in great hands moving forward.

You may ask me: “Hey WC11, if Linfield plays a 4-2 front how come you have three guys listed as starters?” The reason I listed three is that while Forrest started all season at Sam Backer (strong), Edmonds and Robitaille split starts at Will (weak side backer) and I think they’re both worthy of that status. All three share the strength of having speed, but beyond that, they have different skill sets that play off each other well. Forrest is a supremely well rounded football player: bright, explosive, a sound tackler, and getting more comfortable as the quarterback of the defense. Tim Edmonds is a freakish athlete at Will and has shown that he has all the tools to be a dominate defensive player (see CLU playoff game). And Tyler Robitaille is just savvy as hell. He would be the 1st to tell you he’s not the biggest LB around but his ability to close is exceptional and he packs a mean pop for being listed at 190lbs. All three have areas to improve upon but Linfield fans should be in for a treat for the next two seasons watching these guys in the defense.

The next wave of Wildcat Linebackers is formidable. Senior-to-be Brian Dundas proved his value and worth late last season as injuries provided Dundas with an opportunity and he made the most of it. He’s a guy that will continue to push for more time and a larger role in the defense. Keep an eye on him in 2012. Louie Colasurdo will be a valuable veteran presence and will have his chance to earn his spot in the rotation at Sam Backer.  Our last returning vet is Billy Simon.  Billy is fearless and a heck of an athlete.  I feel he'll make a big contribution during the season as the opportunities present themselves.

Rounding out our returning linebackers is a solid group of sophomore players that are looking to expand their roll in the upcoming season. Newcomer Wes Meng transferred in this spring from Oregon State and Nick Fairhart, Cody Mariner, and Mason Haye each have stand-out Linebacking pedigrees. In getting glimpses of these four during spring ball there is no doubt they each can play in the ‘Cats defense but it’s a matter of being ready when the opportunity comes calling.

As a whole, I’m looking forward to see where this group goes in 2012. Going back to last season’s opening game vs CLU, I remember talking to one of the defensive coaches afterwards about the ‘Cats new linebackers. He just chuckled and told me how often our LBs were out of position during the game but their SPEED closed down those gaps so quickly that CLU couldn’t expose it. He summed up the conversation by saying “Once they figure out what they’re doing…watch out.” I couldn’t agree more.

Returning Starter 
Dominique Forrest, 5-11 215, Jr, Portland, Ore.
Tim Edmonds, 5-11 205, Jr Portland, Ore.
Tyler Robitaille, 5-11 190, Jr San Jose, Calif.

Steady Vets
Brian Dundas, 6-0 215, Sr, Bellingham, Wash
Louie Colasurdo, 5-10 215, Jr, Portland, Ore.
Billy Simon, 5-11 205, Jr, Tracy, Calif.

Up and Coming 
Wesley Meng,  6-0, 220 So, Gresham, Ore.
Nick Fairhart, 6-0 210, So, Morton, Wash.
Cody Mariner, 5-10 195, So, Elk Grove, Calif.
Mason Haye, 6-1 210, So, West Linn, Ore.

Talking Ball with Linfield Linebacker Coach Phil Rombach 
Linebacker Coach Phil Rombach will be entering his 6th year on the 'Cats defensive staff.
(Wildcat11) Coming into 2011 you knew the talent was there but it was just a matter of seeing what happened when the lights came on. The results were darn good, IMO. Looking back on last season, from a Linebacker perspective, what were the biggest positives that came out of the year? 

(Phil Rombach) Last year our linebackers were all first year starters, which was both a challenge and a blessing. It was a challenge as many of our guys, Robitaille and Forrest in particular, had changed positions and were still adjusting early in the season. There were some growing pains, but the guys caught on quickly and we all recognized the immense potential this group had. The backers worked hard every day to master their trade and as a result their play improved significantly as the season progressed. By the end of 2011 we had a dang good group of linebackers. We really saw this group emerge last year as having not only the athletic potential, but the work ethic and leadership capabilities necessary for our defense to be successful.

(WC11) For the 1st time since 2009 Linfield has returning starting linebackers. How has this spring been different for you over the previous few seasons with regards to your returning personnel? Has the experience made a notable difference over the course of the spring? 

(P.R.) It has definitely made a difference. With many of our backers returning, we’re able to focus more on fine tuning our play and correcting our weaknesses. For many, this means correcting/mastering individual technique and/or understanding the big picture of our defensive scheme. As the backers become more comfortable with their own position it enables them to take a larger role in leading and calling the defense. That is the biggest challenge for the backers this year; to take ownership of the defense and fill the leadership void left by the graduating seniors, in particular the DB’s.

(WC11) Let’s talk about your returning starters. You have Dom Forrest back at your Sam (strong) Linebacker and Robitaille and Edmonds back at Will (these two split starts during 2011). It’s an impressive trio of players that are all three blessed with speed, intelligence, and play-making ability. Tell us what makes these three standout and what areas of improvement have you been stressing to them during the off-season? 

(P.R.) Dom, Robi & Timmy are guys that we are counting on to elevate their game this season. These three are blessed with speed and are very explosive players. They’ve seen significant playing time early in their careers and we are challenging them to avoid complacency. Dom is working on becoming a more physical presence in the middle, Robi is working on his strike and vision in his zone coverage, Timmy is working on the mental aspect of the game and becoming a consistent tackler. The key for these guys is to identify their weaknesses and continually work to improve upon them. If they do that they have the potential to be great players at Linfield. The three of them have shown great work ethic this off-season and throughout spring ball. They should be very exciting players to watch next year.

(WC11) I like your returning vets in the program right now. Dundas started vs Lewis and Clark and played significant snaps in the playoffs, Colasurdo has a great command of the defensive schemes and is a physical player, and I think Billy Simon has excellent speed and explosiveness. These guys are going to have plenty of opportunities to make an impact in 2012. Tell us where these three vets have improved this off-season? 

(P.R.) We are definitely blessed with great depth at the linebacker position with Dundas, Colasurdo and Billy. Dundas has impressed the coaches with an improved understanding of the defense. He also is very fast, uses great technique and is one of our most physical backers. Colasurdo probably has the best understanding of our defense and is a consistent player. Billy is a guy who has played three different positions for us but has found a home at the Will Linebacker position. Once he develops a better understanding of that position he could be a key contributor. Depth is something that will dictate our success throughout the season and into the playoffs. These three players must rise to the occasion, push the starters and be able to rotate so players stay fresh.

(WC11) You have a sizable amount of Sophomore talent in the program right now. Being a young linebacker in the Linfield system isn’t an easy job. Can you tell us a little of what’s expected of a Linfield LB and what are the attributes you and the staff look for when recruiting this position? 

(P.R.) Our defensive system creates a steep learning curve for young linebackers. The variety of fronts, blitzes and coverages that we run are challenging to master. We’ve been fortunate to find young backers who are up to the challenge. When we recruit linebackers we look for players with physical talent; a good frame, speed, agility, and an explosive strike. We also look for players that are smart, hard workers, leaders on the field and love the game of football. It takes a special player to be successful in our system and we’re lucky to have a number of these guys in our program and in the incoming recruiting class. As coaches we are very privileged to work with these young men every day.

(WC11) Your linebackers are going to have big expectations of them next season. They’re going to have a lot of attentions and eyes on them especially early in the schedule. Just where do you see this group of Linebackers and this defense going in 2012? 

(P.R.) There are big expectations for this group not only because they’re talented physically but because of the need we have for leadership on the defense. Throughout the spring this group has shown they have what it takes to be the leaders we expect them to become. I’ve been very pleased with the hard work and dedication they’ve shown not only at practice, but also in their off-season training. I’m confident this group of young men will meet the expectations set before them and will be a force for our defense next year. There’s no doubt our defense will represent Linfield well, playing tough physical fast football, and playing with class.

A big thank you to all the Linfield Linebackers who have come through this program. We have a great position group and much of that is due to the linebacker lineage we have here at Linfield. Thank you all. Catdome.

No comments: