At this point in the summer season, many a linebacker is chomping at the bit to hit.
While the quarterbacks and wide receivers have had ample time to get in sync during the 7-on-7 passing season, and the defensive backs get to cloak receivers and have had occasion to work on multiple zone coverages, the linebackers can only sit and wait for the allotted team contact days to pursue backs of all shapes and sizes.
Just ask senior linebacker Austin Laurie what the 7-on-7 season does for the defense.
“It’s mostly for the defensive backs because it can help with their steps and working zones and reading coverages,” he said after a 7-on-7 scrimmage with Seneca on Thursday. “For the linebackers, it’s mainly working a zone and stepping up to the drag. Knocking receivers off routes, that’s about all.”
Morris will end its summer season before the mandatory dead period to start the regular season starting Monday as the team will finish in pads and with contact.
“It’s much more fun when you get to hit somebody because you can put the hammer down,” Laurie said.
Last year Morris’ two main linebackers were Jeff Perry and Nic Countryman and the third spot in that depth chart was occupied by Josh Lincoln. All were seniors and are off to greener pastures right now.
That leaves a crew of linebackers for Morris this year who have had only a sample size of experience at the varsity level.
“We’re replacing two very good linebackers in Jeff Perry and Nic Countryman. But Austin Laurie got some good experience last year when Nic got hurt,” Morris coach Alan Thorson said. “When that happened both he and Josh Lincoln split time at the position. So, Austin got some good time in last year. He’s doing a good job. He’s really becoming a leader. He’s vocal and a physical kid. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s a physical kid and he’s going to be the leader of that defense.”
Morris defensive coordinator John Courter admits that his defense has been blessed in his days as a varsity coach.
“I’ve been spoiled the last couple of years. We’ve had lower numbers at the linebacker position, but higher quality,” he said. “They are not bad this year, though. They have a nice solid base coming in and (sophomore) coach Matt Seidel has done a good job with that. But we don’t have that one monster we normally have. What we’re trying to do is keep Austin in the middle and then it’s a matter of who is going to be in the best spot.”
Who is going to be in line for that “best spot’” will be up to a select few candidates this fall.
“Most of the positions, the spots aren’t really even penciled in right now. So everybody has a free shot at the positions,” Laurie said. “Most of the players are ready to go. Most of us know the position already. We’ve been pretty solid so far. Our unit is getting it together. We’re on the same page most of the time. We just have to keep communicating.”
Courter says that he’s seen some good things from those other candidates.
“Robbie Meucci has been a nice surprise for us and has stepped up. (Matt) Feiden didn’t play for us last year, so he has a little bit of inexperience, but he is learning quickly,” he said. “There’s a few that are really starting to get their spacing and to talk, but then there are others who are slower to progress. But after another week, and especially with camp, I think we’ll all be on the same page. After that it’s just a matter of finding out who can take the hit and fill the hole.”
Thorson said that there are also others who will get a chance to show what they can do between now and the time the team kicks off at home with Minooka at the end of August.
“As far as the rest of the linebackers, Matt Feiden had to sit out last year with an injury, but he’s coming into his own. Robbie Meucci is really doing a good job and both of them are juniors,” he said. “Triston Layne is also a senior who got some experience last year; I think he’s going to be another solid guy for us. Those four guys right there are solid, and Chase Hansen is another one who has rotated in and he’s another option.”
Despite not having a wealth of varsity experience, Courter does point out that they have had the privilege to watch quality linebacking up close and personal.
“The benefit is this. Because we have had such high quality linebackers in the past few years, these current players have watched them play and practiced with them,” he said. “I’m not going to change the defensive style. They have listened to it for four years now. Yeah, they didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, but they also were practicing with them every single day. So the basic knowledge is there. They know what they need to do, it’s just a matter of training them to get there. Is it a disadvantage? Yes. Everybody would love to have a three-year varsity starter.”
In the meantime, the Redskins have a little over a month to work out the kinks.
“Communication has been huge. Our biggest problem right now is spacing. We have to have better spacing with the linebackers,” Courter said. “Everybody’s progressing and everybody is learning. But it’s a whole different game when you put the pads on and have to hit. The next biggest battle is going to be to get the linebackers to work with the linemen.”
Which the Morris brass is hoping will happen at camp next week.
“Everybody’s got to be on the same page,” Laurie concluded. “We play the whole summer together and we’ll be there by the start of the season. We’ll be ready to go.”