Thursday, July 22, 2010

IU's Quest For Ideal Linebacker

Let’s say you’ve just been named the dude assigned to recruit future linebackers to Indiana University. Yes, Indiana already has such a dude in Mike Yeager, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s say Mike has just been named USC’s new head coach after Lane Kiffin is revealed as the latest Russian spy and is deported to Moscow (Yes, this would explain some of Kiffin’s odd behavior while he was the coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers. It would not explain Al Davis).

Anyway, as the linebacker recruiter, you need to get impact players, aggressive players, players who can deal with the run and the pass, rush the quarterback and handle all the spread offenses that now rule college football.

That sounds easy enough, but is it?

For this we’ll turn to Yeager, who has juggled the jobs of recruiting coordinator as well as linebacker coach for IU. It’s a dual role that’s becoming rarer these days as teams make recruiting coordinator a full-time position.

Should IU go that direction? That’s a debate point for another day. For now, let’s stay on topic and ask ourselves, what does Yeager look for in a linebacker?

“The first thing is a guy who has the ability to play hard,” he says. “He’s got to have a good motor to play sideline to sideline as hard as he can every single play. If he does that, he has a shot.

“After that I like to see a physical player who can get off blocks and make plays at the point of attack.

“After that I like to get some speed out there as well. Those are the three things you really look for.”

In an ideal world you’d have a guy who is 6-3 and 245 pounds with 4.4 40-yard dash speed and an 800-meter runner’s endurance.

Or would you?

“You can have a guy who runs a 4.7 or 4.8 who can run a 4.7 or 4.8 on game day in pads,” Yeager says. “You have a lot of guys who can run a 4.4 or a 4.5 in shorts, but play slow. To me, speed is the game speed and the ability to play fast when the ball is snapped.”

Playing fast involves more than fast-twitch muscle and speedy times. You have to anticipate, read plays, be in position and study film. All those things factor into game speed.

“That comes back to football smarts,” Yeager says. “You need the ability to stay on your read and not get sucked up in play-action pass. You’re looking for good players. There are not a whole bunch out there. There are not thousands and thousands of great players. There are a lot of good athletes out there, but you’ve got to find good players.”

IU hopes it has found those players. If so, they are young in the aftermath of losing graduated veteran linebackers Matt Mayberry, Will Patterson and even Justin Carrington.

Tyler Replogle is the only true veteran in the group. That means the young guys will have to step up. If IU has done its job in recruiting and developing, they will.

Yeager likes the talent. He doesn’t expect there to be a performance drop off. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s wise analysis.

All we can tell you for sure is Lane Kiffin can’t help.

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