My 2020 SU Football preview Pt. 7: Linebackers

SWC75

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Linebackers
Seniors: none
Juniors: Tyrell Richards 6-4 234
Sophomores: Geoff Cantin-Arku 6-4 228; Mikel Jones 6-0 211; Lee Kpogba 6-1 224;
Freshmen: Ishmael Goulbourne 6-3 207, Abrahim Kenneh 6-0 202, Steve Linton 6-5 224, Anwar Sparrow 6-1 204, Stefon Thompson 6-0 235 Marlowe Wax 6-0 230
Gone: Andrew Armstrong, Ben Honis, Kadeem Trotter, Juan Wallace, Lakiem Williams. Armstrong, Honis and Williams graduated. Trotter and Wallace transferred.

This will be the third straight year that we have no returning starters at the linebacker position. The trend off the last two years is that the new guys get off to a shaky start, start to figure it out in mid-season and are playing pretty well by the end of the season, at which point things had been mostly decided. That could happen again. Dino has promised that will not happen again and it seems unlikely to as we have no senior linebackers this year. Unless the new guys are so good that they are all going to jump to the NFL, we’ll get to see them grow up over the next couple of years.

Last year I was very concerned for the depth: not in terms of quality or experience but in terms of numbers of players. We had 19 linemen, 7 linebackers and 22 defensive backs on defense. You don’t normally run out of players for a position in football, as you can in basketball if there are injuries and foul trouble and in baseball in along extra inning game, (remember them?), if you use everyone on your roster. With 7 guys for three positons, we could have been in real trouble with a wave of injuries. The roster has 6 freshmen linebackers but we’ve lost so many guys we still have seven linebackers only they are younger.

Which leaves us to discuss quality and experience. We had two four star recruits last year at this position, Mikel Jones and Lee Kopgba, (pronounced Koba). One problem: Jones, who saw considerable action last year and looked good, is 6-0 211. Kpogba is a bit bigger at 6-1 224. Babers has stated that he needs big linebackers for this defense: they are going to do a lot of ‘line backing’ and will sometimes set up on the line of scrimmage. He needs guys who can hold their own in the heavy traffic. Tyrell Richards, who was listed as a defensive end last year and is 6-4 234 is more the type he’s looking for now. In the spring depth chart, Richards was the ‘Will’, (Weakside linebacker), backed up by Kpogba. Jones was behind Geoff Cardin-Arku (6-4 230) at the ‘Mike’, (Middle linebacker). The ‘Sam’ (Strongside- meaning the side the tight end lines up on, linebacker), was Steve Linden, 6-5 226 backed up by the now departed Kadeem Trotter (6-2, 226).

Tyrell Richards was named our most outstanding special teams player for 2019 for his kick coverage. He had 6 tackles on kick returns and 16 overall, including 3 for losses of 21 yards, all sacks, he also caused a fumble and intercepted a pass. He looks to emerge as the star of this group and will be the one most likely to line up with the linemen as he was a defensive end last year. Syracuse.com last year: “Richards is one of the most athletically gifted players on the Orange roster. At 6 feet, 4 inches and 236 pounds, the Brampton, Ontario, native has developed a reputation for his sideline-to-sideline speed and powerful hitting over his first two years on campus.” Kendall Coleman, who he might have replaced as he stayed a DE: ““Tyrell is just a freak of nature athletically,” Coleman said. “The kid genetically doesn't make sense. He's got the frame where he can be down there in a three-point stance and play down there. He's also got the size for it, but he's also got the speed and the smarts to drop back and play in coverage, see the whole field and talk to those guys to make those calls.” Amazingly, he was only a 2 star recruit. Goes to show ya.

Geoff Cantin-Arku played in 9 games last year, mostly on special teams and recorded a single tackle. Is he a place holder for Jones or did he beat him out because of his size? GCA was a 3 star in his own right. Nunes: “Cantin-Arku took the spring by storm and is listed as the starting Mike linebacker this season. He looks to have pushed ahead of incumbent Mikel Jones, who played a good bit last season. This is a big move for the sophomore and he looks to take advantage of the new defensive scheme under Tony White.” Sounds like the real deal to me.

Mikel Jones was ranked in the top 25 outside linebackers in his high school class. So why is he a Mike at Syracuse? Maybe in this defense the Mike is the one guy who won’t line up with the D-lineman and who thus has to cover the most territory. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman and started four, three as a Sam and one as a Will in a defense where those positons were different than they will be in this one. He made 38 tackles, two for a loss, one for a shared sack. He was a third team freshman All-American according to pro Football Focus. Nunes: “Jones is currently a backup for the Syracuse Orange but is part of a group of linebackers who could usurp starting roles from listed starters. Jones will still see the field in plenty of action, especially with how good of a run-stuffer he is compared to the rest of the group…. Why isn’t Jones listed as a starter after finishing last year in a starting role? Dino wants the linebackers to get bigger, and Jones is behind the 6’4” Geoff Cantin-Arku in the middle spot. (6’4” Tyrell Richards and 6’5” Steve Linton are starting in the outside spots.) But that isn’t discouraging Jones at all
“Everything will work out how it plays out,” Jones said. “I’m just looking forward to proving myself. I’ve never had a problem proving myself. I’ve been doing that my whole life.” Interesting that they referred to him as ‘a good run-stuffer’. Sometimes good things come in small packages. Mike Singletary wasn’t a big guy, either. Neither was Nick Buoniconti.

Lee Kpogba didn’t progress has quickly as his fellow four-star, Mikel Jones. He played in 11 games, mostly on special teams and got one tackle. Nunes: “The most current depth chart has Kpogba as the second-string weakside linebacker behind Tyrell Richards. Even if he’s not starting, you’ll likely see plenty of the promising young player (on special teams and in spots on defense).” He and Jones visited and committed on the same day. Kpogba said about this: “We were talking about it during the trip like we could both commit here, join the program and help them reach a level they haven’t reached yet.” Not in a while, anyway.

Ishmael Goulbourne was recruited as an impossibly small defensive end but at 6-3 he could grow into a good-sized linebacker. He redshirted and didn’t play last year but didn’t get much bigger adding two pounds. Nunes: “With the shift to the 3-3-5, Goulbourne moved to the outside linebacker position this season along with Steve Linton and Tyrell Richards. That’s likely in the hybrid pass rush flex role that Tony White is instituting. It was also his natural position coming out of high school, so pass defense isn’t completely foreign to him. By the look of it Goulbourne is outside the two deep coming out of the spring, but may work his way towards it as the season progresses.” He was a three star but not at this position.

Steve Linton played in three games as a freshman and got two tackles, both in the blow-out win over Duke. His high school coach said that if SU makes him into a defensive end he’ll gain the weight for it: “if you give this kid one year, you’ll see him at 245 pounds.” Nunes: “Linton moved positions from defensive end to linebacker this season, even though he added ten plus pounds to his frame with a year of college strength and conditioning. It seems he’ll slot into that hybrid LB/DE position of the new defense, similar to Tyrell Richards. He moved up to the number one spot at strong side linebacker on the spring depth chart as well, so expect him to get starters minutes, even if that doesn’t hold.” He was a 3 star recruit.

Anwar Sparrow was a late recruit due to academic issues, a 3 star from Virginia. Nunes said he “brings a lot of speed and play-making ability (19 tackles for loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles as a high school senior) with him — which should excite most. That skill set probably means a future weakside linebacker role. Ideally, he’s able to redshirt this season, though, if the team’s health allows.” His size makes me wonder about his future at this position.

Stefon Thompson is also from Virginia but joined the team in the spring to get a head start. At 6-0 235 pounds he already has the heft they are looking for. We got him away from Wisconsin. Nunes: “At six feet tall, Thompson may be a little bit smaller than the typical linebackers we’ve been bringing in lately. A redshirt year is most likely incoming, but with a new defensive scheme, you’d assume pretty much everyone could fight for playing time.” He is, of course a 3 star.

I discussed Marlowe Wax with the running backs. He could wind up there or here, depending on where he’s needed. He’s got a similar build to Thompson’s and the same number of stars. He was “Named the 2019 Baltimore Sun All-Metro co-Defensive Player of the Year after a senior season which saw him rack up 111 tackles, 23 TFLs, five sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and three interceptions…. given the speed that most running backs possess, he could become a decent candidate for playing time within the four game redshirt rule. He’ll most likely redshirt but look out for him down the line.” (Nunes)

Abrahim Kenneh was a football player/wrestler for Nottingham High school in Syracuse. He’s a preferred walk-on in football.

It’s going to be fun watching Richards, Cantin-Arku, Jones, Kpogba, Goulbourne, Linton, Sparrow, Thompson and Wax grow up in these next two seasons. There might be a few times in the early going when it’s not much fun but these guys are going to turn this positon into one of strength for the first time since Franklin and Bennett were here.
 

Trueblue25

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The “I’m irrationally high on these guys, Trueblue players of the year” goes to Cantin Arku and Mikel Jones. They’re listed at the same position but things change and despite his size, Jones is a weapon on the field.

Cantin Arku is the linebacker version of Trill imo, incredibly versatile swiss army knife guy thatll make an impact at all levels.
 

721Comstock

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Jones has put on some weight, according to more recent reports.

Linton got a shoutout from TD in his most recent interview as an under the radar guy on D who is playing well.
You’d imagine that if the QB is saying that about an OLB, that they’ve spent some quality time together at practice. ;)

Wax is a LB now.

I’m not worried.
Richards is plug and play, he’ll be at least as good as the guys who left were. I think better, by season’s end.
GCA is a freak athlete, and has the requisite size.
Don’t sleep on Mikel, he didn’t get all that run last year for nothing. Him being not listed as a starter may just be a motivational tactic - we’ve seen Dino do that before.
Which - if the reports of weight gain are legit - may have worked

Given that YOU GET AN EXTRA YEAR! AND YOU GET AN EXTRA YEAR!! this Fall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both of Thompson or Wax get some run.
 

kcsu

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Jones has put on some weight, according to more recent reports.

Linton got a shoutout from TD in his most recent interview as an under the radar guy on D who is playing well.
You’d imagine that if the QB is saying that about an OLB, that they’ve spent some quality time together at practice. ;)

Wax is a LB now.

I’m not worried.
Richards is plug and play, he’ll be at least as good as the guys who left were. I think better, by season’s end.
GCA is a freak athlete, and has the requisite size.
Don’t sleep on Mikel, he didn’t get all that run last year for nothing. Him being not listed as a starter may just be a motivational tactic - we’ve seen Dino do that before.
Which - if the reports of weight gain are legit - may have worked

Given that YOU GET AN EXTRA YEAR! AND YOU GET AN EXTRA YEAR!! this Fall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both of Thompson or Wax get some run.
Another key is that the 3 3 5 is a downhill attacking D. Vs a read and react. Allowing the kids to play freer. Allowing them to use their athleticism. I like systems that are uncomplicated, food that is uncomplicated, its usually in business,the kitchen and hopefully on the field the best approach. We might not see it until the second half of the season but i think the kids are going to flourish in this system.
 

SWC75

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Another key is that the 3 3 5 is a downhill attacking D. Vs a read and react. Allowing the kids to play freer. Allowing them to use their athleticism. I like systems that are uncomplicated, food that is uncomplicated, its usually in business,the kitchen and hopefully on the field the best approach. We might not see it until the second half of the season but i think the kids are going to flourish in this system.

I love a disruptive defense that doesn't let plays develop and turns some of them into offensive plays. We had that under Shafer. When Dino came in, there was a lot of talk about how his preferred defense was one that just made it difficult for the other team to keep up with his offense- keep them in front of you, the rubber band that doesn't break concept. Well, the first four years we haven't much offense that can't be kept up with and our defense broke far too often. Maybe now we use defense as a weapon.
 

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