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After losing more than 200 tackles, Syracuse is relying on its unproven linebackers for 2019

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ When Syracuse coaches told Tyrell Richards he was reverting to linebacker from defensive end, there wasn’t an immediate change for the redshirt-sophomore. One of the first things Richards adjusted to was walking into a different meeting room for positional work in Manley Field House this past winter. Richards was surrounded by veteran linebackers — like Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams — and learned the position he was originally recruited for. Richards said Armstrong and Williams led question-and-answer sessions, reviewed film with underclassmen and provided veteran guidance. Absent from the room was Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner, two graduated starters on last year’s squad that won 10 games. Throughout the 2019 spring season, no clear starting linebackers have emerged other than Armstrong, whom SU head coach Dino Babers said has done “the best job” so far. The senior Armstrong represents one of the answers on the roster that features question marks at linebacker. Babers billed Saturday’s spring scrimmage as a chance for rotational players like Richards, Williams, and freshmen Mikel Jones and Lee Kpogba earn a more-significant role. As a whole, the unit will need to replace 207 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks and two interceptions from 2018. The group of veterans and rookies can carry over last year’s success into one of the most anticipated seasons in recent-program history. “There’s a lot of candidates,” Babers said.  “… It’s not so much watching (Armstrong), it’s watching all those other guys and see what they’re gonna be willing to do and how they’re wanting to develop.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textArmstrong, a 6-foot-2, 234-pound senior, adopted the program staples and learned from veteran linebackers for three seasons. Parris Bennett and Zaire Franklin developed into program stalwarts while Armstrong appeared in 12 games as a freshman and made 16 tackles. In 2018, he rotated in SU’s third-down package with 45 tackles and started at strong-side linebacker against Pittsburgh.His two fumble recoveries ranked third in the Atlantic Coast Conference as he asserted himself on special teams. Armstrong saw his future role emerge in the two extra weeks of bowl practice, when younger players were able to learn the system and Armstrong already knew select packages. During the spring, Armstrong has continued his focus on leadership while “correcting the little things,” like precise footwork and tackling form. “It’s my time to step up and be a leader,” Armstrong said. “Just communicating with the defense, making sure I know other people’s position other than myself.”Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorWilliams, a transfer from Butte College, has studied SU’s playbook while trying to carve out his own role on the defense. When he joined Syracuse last season, he said he looked for the “big hit.” While Williams tied for second on special teams tackles (three), he rarely saw snaps at outside linebacker. Guthrie told Williams to constantly review film, and the rest would follow. An emphasis on assignment and alignment carried the senior transfer through the spring. Not only does he know which gap he’s responsible for on specific plays, but he also understands if the defensive linemen should be in a one- or three-technique and where the secondary should be positioned.Like upperclassmen before them, Williams and Armstrong have led extra film sessions. They regularly text the position’s group chat after classes and encourage meet-ups at about 6 p.m. in Manley. They review 2018 game film as well as practice tape, but they don’t review SU’s mistakes, Richards said. Instead, they track offensive-gameplans and spy pulling guards. “The linebackers that really want it, they come up,” Williams said. Richards, a frequent attendee of the meetups, said the film has helped him adjust after injuries shifted him to last season’s defensive line. Richards’ versatility cements him as part of a younger crop of linebackers that Babers said “show up” on tape because of their explosiveness. But, their eagerness has led to rookie mistakes. The key, Babers said, is to allow Richards, Jones and Kpogba to take the first step as opposed to chasing a play down after misreading it. Standing on the turf field in Manley, the linebacker unit stood behind five trash cans representing an offensive line. SU coaches filled out the skill positions. Before each snap, they called out coverages, and the linebackers reacted as if it were in-game. Some flared toward the flats, others hook-curled in pass protection. It was months before the real games would start, in the midst of the doldrums of spring ball, but the drill was a benchmark test for a player’s IQ. It was a way to find out who was ready to stand out in Syracuse’s unproven linebacker group. “Everybody is a different style player,” Williams said. “And now it’s up to the coaches to figure out who’s gonna be where and who’s gonna do what.” Comments Published on April 10, 2019 at 11:13 pm Contact Nick: nialvare@syr.edu | @nick_a_alvarezlast_img read more